Over the past three months, cold NW winds have been blowing through NJ and PA which provides for good ridge lift along the long Allegheny Mountains, and many hours of excellent soaring. By January 15th, I have flown 6 times on the ridge and therefore was checked out for ridge cross country flying. I declared a 100km Out and Return with my eyes set on getting the Century I Badge. After my good friend Intis drove me out to Blairstown Airport, I got to work preparing the glider and the colibri. The whole gang was out there, preparing all of the Aero Club Albatross gliders for ridge flying, quite a sight! Guys like Intis Dzenis, Glenn Fischer and Paul Seifried got Sweet Red, the club 1-26 ready to fly and out on the line, while I was briefed a final time by Ron Schwartz. After I strapped in, Ron signed my declaration, the was towline hooked on and off I was to the ridge!
After a high tow, I released and dove onto the ridge, trying to get a good feel for what was going on before crossing the intimidating Delaware Water Gap. After a couple fast runs on the local ridge, I flew Northeast, just past the Millbrook powerlines to get a good start for more OLC points. Down on the ridge, going 70 mph I quickly made it to the DWG, and now I had to climb up to at least 3000ft to safely cross the inhospitable terrain. After struggling a bit to climb up in the weak blue winter thermals, I saw a Red-tail hawk a wing span away and finally connected with a workable thermal. I let myself drift downwind to the secondary, shadowed ridge while I was climbing to make the crossing shorter and just made it to 3000ft. Off I went across the Gap and embarked on me second cross country flight!
I tiptoed slowly over the poorly shaped ridges and stayed high above the ridge through Wind Gap. After a couple turns, I easily crossed Wind Gap and now had a beautifully shaped ridge ahead, but very few landable fields in the valley below and Allentown’s Class C airspace above. In this narrow window, I dove down onto the ridge, since I felt more comfortable being in the consistent cushion of rising lift rather than limping up high and dolphing at minimum sink, and being unsure how the lift was in this inhospitable area. I flew fast through this area and got to Lehigh Gap, my turnpoint in a jiffy. However, rather than turning here, I decided it would be much more interesting to keep going to the end of our ridge, Hawk Mountain. I still had plenty of time and the ridge was working pretty well, so let’s go!
After I crossed the Allentown tunnel, I saw the ridge ahead got a bit less defined and there was another substantial area of fairly unlandable terrain. I elected to climb up and ride high in the thermals, and got to about 3800ft. I really needed 4000ft, but I figured if I could connect a couple thermals along the way, then I would be fine. Sure enough, I hit a couple thermals along the way and made it to Hawk Mountain, no problem. Just as I nearly made Hawk, I saw Paul Siefried in the club 1-34R! After we waved at each other, I proceeded to the end of the mountain. Just as I turned around right at the end of the mountain, I realized well now I gotta get back home! I hit a thermal, though it only went up to around 2800ft. I figured, however, that I could keep going along the ridge up high and hit a good ridge thermal to get me high enough to cross the very poorly shaped ridge in front of me. However, as I kept going, I hit nothing… unworkable stuff… nothing… nothing. Crap, I was now down to 2000ft over a small hill with unlandable ridge ahead of me. At this point I turned around and tried to make it back to the thermal I left behind me. As I am sinking lower and lower on the poor ridge, I looked over to the valley on the downwind side of the ridge and saw all the nice fields there, and nearly banked over and bailed, but then I realized if I did this, then I would be committed to landing out. I quickly looked over my right wing and saw a nice big field I could go to if I fall under the crest. I joined the ridge at minimum sink not much higher than the crest, and it gave me weak ridge lift that got me to a ridge thermal. I worked the sucker up as high as I could go, around 3100ft.
At this point, I did not want to make the same mistake I made last time being directly over the ridge, so I pushed out into the valley, trying to find a thermal to get me high enough to get across the poor terrain. I connected with a thermal that got me to 3400ft and at this point I conceded this was probably the best I could get, and perhaps I could hit a thermal in the valley as I am heading parallel to the ridge. Sure enough, I connect with another thermal and climb up to 3800ft and I made it back to the good ridge near the Allentown tunnel. At this point, I was much more relaxed, heading home on a decent ridge with the sun starting to set behind me. I crossed Wind Gap a little lower than ideal and scared myself a little, but hit lift where I needed it to keep going. The Delaware Water Gap crossing was not a problem and once I made it past the upper reservoir, I banked over and came home to Blairstown. It was quite a flight and an amazing first ridge cross country experience! Thank you so much Ron for helping with the forms as official observer, Intis Dzenis for driving out and crewing for me and everyone else at Blairstown airport for being supportive!
Find the flight track here.