04-07-12 Diamond Goal/Distance and Century II

During late March and early April, the weather conditions at Blairstown, NJ were very good. The ridge was working often and many 1000 point flights were being flown by excellent pilots such as Ron Schwartz. One begins to suspect if Ron was to get a real diamond for all his 500km + flights, he would probably be a millionaire! On Saturday April 7th, the weather forecast looked very promising. The winds were predicted to be weak in the morning and progressively escalate during the day. This would prove to be very important since I didn’t have the experience necessary to takeoff in very windy conditions, which are common for “record” days. The thermals were predicted to be blue, but go fairly high (5500-6000ft) which was more than enough to make it across the transitions.

A couple days before the flight, I worked with Rollin Hasness on my Gold Distance/Century II application. Rollin informed that I in fact earned a Century III award when I thought the flight could only get me Century II! But more significantly, and what nearly made me fall of my seat when I read his email during class was that Rollin also told me I earned Diamond Goal, since I declared and made all of my turnpoints in a closed course task. For a short while, I thought I earned my first Diamond, so I immediately started planning to do Diamond Distance on the promising ridge day forecasted for Saturday. However, after some deliberation with friends and club-members, I looked into the rules and showed the badge dude that a 3 turnpoint task can’t be done for a Diamond Goal. He agreed and apologized for getting my hopes up, but I told him not to worry, that I’ll probably have Diamond Goal on Saturday anyway! Because of the mix-up, I was already ready to go for Diamond Distance, and I said screw it, I’ll just get both at once! So I declared a 395km Out and Return with a quick lap on our ridge which would be good for both Diamond Distance and Goal from Millbrook-Buffalo Mountain- Microwave Tower- Snyders- Millbrook.

The day began in the complete darkness at 4:30AM. I intended to sleep until 5:30, but restlessness got the better of me. I rolled around in the bed until 4:45, at which point I conceded I would not be able to sleep any longer. I quietly made my way down to the kitchen, made myself a quick oatmeal breakfast and got in the car. Everything was prepared the day before so I simply drove out and was on my way to the airport. By 5:30, I was departing Brooklyn as twilight started to engulf the city. As I drove over the NJ Turnpike, I looked over the clear, unstable skies over Manhattan that were getting progressively absorbed by the twilight and then noticed the full moon setting to the West. It was an incredible surreal sight, and listening to the song “High Beech” by May Blitz, which totally encapsulated the moment, made it simply heavenly. At that moment, I knew that this was a really special day and for whatever reason, everything was going to work out.

I came to the airport a little before 7AM and saw Ron Schwartz doing his final preparations for yet another big flight. After his sound advice to, “Take it easy, you have all day,” I ran his wing and set him on his way. At this point, the wind was only 6 knots aloft and how he managed to fly the ridge and start his task, I will never know.

I planned on taking off at 9AM, so I had plenty of time to make my preparations. Gregg Leslie happened to be at the field and was complaining about hitting his head one too many times in his ASW27 and how he wasn’t up for a flight that day. He told me he was gonna stick around the whole day, so I asked him to be my official observer, which he agreed. Afterward, I made all of the necessary preparations: uploading my declaration on the Colibri, hooking up the trailer, putting the retrieve kits into the car, untying the glider, etc. I was very happy that I was able to take my time since I got to the airport earlier than expected. By 9AM, I was on the line, ready to takeoff. Here we go!

After a good tow to 2400ft, I released over the ridge and observed many gliders in the local area. Not good… they think the ridge isn’t working too well. I got down onto the local ridge and was just floating along at 50 mph probably no higher than 100ft above the trees. I wasn’t particularly thrilled, but the wind was getting stronger, and after a quick run on the local ridge, I headed to my startpoint to the NorthEast. After I joined the Millbrook Ridge after the short transition from our Local Ridge, I tried to stay high. The further I go on this ridge, the farther I get away from fields. Because of this, I tiptoed my way over to the startpoint, as V3 buzzed right by me. The ridge was weak, but I knew that the weak lift, would be enough to get me to the landable terrain, albeit uncomfortably. Once I started the task, I quickly turned around and made my way back to the local ridge. Now I needed to climb up to around 3000ft to make the transition across the Delaware Water Gap, my first major obstacle.

I hit a thermal in the usual spot by the campground and I started my slow climb in the weak blue lift. I thermalled with Nikola Gradinski, who peeled off upwind above me. I stuck with the thermal and drifted downwind into a better position for the transition to make the crossing as short as possible. At 3000ft, I was over the “shadowed” ridge, but in a perfect place to go for the microwave tower, which highlights the end of the workable ridge on the other side of the DWG. I made it across with a little to spare, and was on my way towards Hawk Mountain, the end of the “Blairstown” ridge. Before Wind Gap, I did one turn in a thermal and followed the descending terrain across the Gap. I made it at crest to the following ridge and flew low and fast in this area. The ridge past Wind Gap and before the Ski-Area is well defined, but has few landable fields. I have found that I am more comfortable being low and hauling in these sections rather than high up and unsure if the ridge is working below me. I crossed the ski-area, Lehigh Gap and the Allentown Tunnel quickly as the ridge started to work moderately. Past the tunnel, I slowed down a bit since there are no landing options in that area. The ridge is also less defined, but workable. I started to work the thermals in this section to get higher since the section by the town of Snyders, where the road crosses the ridge really flattens out. I climbed up around 2500-3000ft, but was comfortable since I have went through that section last time at 2200ft. At this point, I am starting to think about the transition from Hawk Mountain to Second/Sharp; a formidable five mile, upwind jump.

Halfway across the flat area, I climbed up to 3000ft and I started probing the area upwind of the ridge. I didn’t hit anything workable and as I started to get lower, I jumped back to the working ridge near Hawk Mountain. I hit a thermal and worked it up to 3500ft and then I tried the upwind transition again. I was a lot lower than desirable, but I figured if I could hit a thermal on the way and maybe just some “good air”, I could make it. When I got down to 2700ft, I hit a thermal and worked it up to 3100ft. The thermal started to peter out, and there was no point working it when the lift diminished to the point where I was drifting more than I was climbing. After I climbed up, I saw I had the glide made and aimed at the gap at Second Mountain. It was going to be tight, but I was positive I had it made…. until I hit the lee sink.

As I got closer to the ridge, I hit the falling air associated with the lee of the mountain. I started falling like a set of car keys and it started to seriously doubt if I would be able to make it around the gap high enough to work the ridge life on the other side. Many things were going through my mind as I hit the strong sinking air.

1) Am I gonna make it, or not… am i gonna make it or not?

2) Oh [expletive]!, I am too low to bail back to Hawk Mountain. (As I hit the sink, I looked out the corner of my eye and saw that if I turned around at this point, I would go through the same sinking air and I was guaranteed to landout on the way back)

3) Don’t be such a wimp! Taz said when you hit the lee sink, just keep punching through, it will end.

4) Okay, there are fields before the Gap and after the Gap. I have seen Schwartz’s track where he went right in the middle of the gap and right into the field on the other side. That is where I am probably going to end up.

Then the lee sink subsided, it was gonna be really tight. I went right through the middle of the gap and turned left onto Second Mountain not much higher than the trees. I was at 1500ft MSL, and the valley below me was at 1000ft MSL, and the ridge was around 1400ft MSL at most. I was a little surprised that the ridge was as small as it was. The ridge lift was choppy and gusty because of Sharp Mountain shadowing the ridge a mile upwind. My first thought was to get away from the gap as it is probably sucking some of the air through it. I floated along the ridge and dogboned a promising gust of wind, and kept floating along away from the gap. Hallelujah, I hit a thermal! I worked the lift and climbed up to 4500ft and made a beeline for Sharp Mountain. I got lucky that I hit the thermal because shortly after I made the transition, a pilot in a 1-36 got stuck on the ridge for 40 minutes before he fell out into a field below, and Gus Johnson in a 1-26A barely climbed out after getting stuck there as well.

Sharp Mountain is a sorta-well shaped ridge with just about no landing options below. It progressively gets higher with the terrain the further South you go and is no more than 500ft high above the wooded valley below it. After my experience on Second Mountain, I had absolutely no intention of getting down on that rotten ridge. I stayed high in the thermals and tiptoed my way across the terrain below. The sink between the thermals were noticeable and I would be losing a lot more height than usual in the glides. As I got close to Tremont, a town which is close to the end of the flyable section of this ridge, I worked a thermal to 3800ft and saw I had the glide made to Bear Mountain. I pushed out and worked the thermal streets across the transition and made it comfortably to Bear. I wasn’t high enough to keep going to the Mahantango, the final ridge I had to jump to, so I fell back onto Bear Mountain. The first thermal I hit, I worked to 3000ft and pointed upwind to the Mahantango. I hit a thermal street and made it to the other mountain at 2500ft which was very comfortable. Phew! I am done with the hard part!

At this point, all I needed to do was to make it to the end of the Mahantango, my first turnpoint. The ridge was now working very well since the wind started to really pick up. The Mahantango is a low ridge that is no more than 500ft high in many places, but it is well shaped. I was working the ridge a good 500ft above it going 60 mph, something that which was a luxury I wasn’t used to since I have been flying mostly weak ridge all winter. This section was a lot more relaxed than any other ridge I flew since there are fields everywhere. As I was moving along on the ridge, I smelled the putrid smell of manure as I hit a thermal. I was not initially delighted by the smell, but when I came back to this location, I appreciated it much more! After a short while, I was coming up to the Susquehanna River. The river was an awe-inspiring, though not a formidable obstacle. The section of ridge before the river is very steep and it gave me a big boost so I made it across the river with plenty of height to spare.

The section of ridge past the river got a big trickier. For whatever reason, (wave suppression?), this section of ridge got significantly softer. I was about 150ft above the ridge at 50 mph, which is solid, but significantly lower than what I was working before I crossed the river. As I got closer to my turnpoint at the end of the tip of the ridge, Buffalo Mountain, I slowed down and did a circle in a fragment of lift to stay a bit higher. All of a sudden, the Colibri and my GPS started beeping like mad and after I visually verified with the GPS that I hit the turnpoint, I turned around to head back. As I started heading Northeast, the first thought that struck me was, “Man I am far away!” It became very apparent how I am in a glider 120 miles away from home and somehow had to make it back! Anyway, back to work.

Coming back across the Susquehanna was a bit more interesting than when I crossed it flying to the first turnpoint. The ridge didn’t boost me as much this time! However, I saw that the ridge was very nice on the other side, and that if I got into trouble, I could bail off downwind across the top into fields. It was something though crossing 1000ft AGL above a giant river though! The transition went smoothly and I was ridge running the Mahantango fast and high again. Once I passed the little town of Pillow, I started to think about the crossing back to Bear Mountain. I again smelled the manure, yelled hurrah! and worked the lift up to 3000ft. As I was making the jump, I sank down to the crest of Bear Mountain, though was not particularly worried since the wind was very strong and there were plentiful fields in the valley below. I flew the ridge closer to where it ends to put myself in a good place to thermal off the ridge towards Sharp. I hit a thermal and worked it up to a little over 4000ft, again letting myself drift downwind with the lift. I now headed towards Sharp Mountain.

The first good thermal I hit once over Sharp, I worked up to 5000ft. I saw Hawk Mountain in the distance and since the wind in this area shifted to around 300-310, I thought I should be able to make it with the substantial quartering-tailwind. As I started heading toward Hawk, I saw the mountain rising up in my canopy, and quickly pushed upwind back to Sharp. Damn! I gotta come back to this shoddy ridge again, rats! Once I came back, I hit a really strong thermal which I worked to 5500ft. Once I centered it, I pegged the vario a couple times, and was really surprised that the thermal was fairly smooth and organized in its center. The wind was howling so it was unexpected that the lift would work so well. I was now positive I could make the jump back to Hawk. As I was gliding, I glanced at the Instantaneous Glide Ratio reading I have on my GPS, and saw it said 12-1! I was going 60 mph, but I had a quartering tailwind! Oh well… I hit a couple more thermals along the way and made it to Hawk at 4000ft. This gave me plenty of height to make it over the flat area on the ridge.

I made it across the flat section with not too much to spare, but with enough to not get particularly worried. I was now back on “our” section of ridge and all I had to do was do a lap on it and then back to my startpoint. The ridge was simply bombastic. In many sections, I was at 2500ft going 60 mph, which is 1000ft above the ridge. I couldn’t really go faster since the turbulence would’ve really battered the crap out of me, and I couldn’t go slower because I needed the control authority to counteract the strong thermals. Once I got to the Ski-Area, I actually needed to constantly open my divebrakes as I hit the closely spaced thermals to not bust 2800ft, the floor of the Allentown Class C airspace. I made it pretty easily across Wind Gap and then I made it to the Microwave Tower, my second turnpoint. I placed the turnpoint before the Delaware Water Gap so I wouldn’t need to cross it unnecessarily. As I headed back on the ridge for another lap, I hit an immense thermal that came from “Fitch’s Quarry”. Initially, I thought I was just gonna go through it and that’s it, but as I kept moving along the ridge, it just kept getting stronger and stronger. I felt it would be a crime not to circle in a thermal that was fully pegged and did four turns and gained 2000ft! I looked at my track and it showed that the climb peaked out at 1400 fpm!

After I made a quick run to Snyders and back to Wind Gap, all I had to do was cross two Gaps and make it back to my startpoint. Generally when I cross knobs and gaps, I go diagonally across as to go the shortest route. But the wind was so strong now that if I did this, it would both be less safe and probably not as quick as going by another method. Before I hit the Gaps, I would hit a thermal which I worked to a desired height. Then I went upwind in the thermal street that brought the thermal to where I was and went upwind until I was parallel to the ridge I was crossing to. Then I dove onto the ridge and all was well. I was able to cross Wind Gap fairly comfortably as a result.

When I was to cross the Delaware Water Gap, I decided to climb up using the thermal source that gave me the 1400 fpm lift. I hit the thermal and did a turn in it, and drifted so much that I had to dive back to the windward side of the ridge. I then worked the thermal by “dogboning” it, in order to not put my back to the wind and drift over to the other side of the ridge. After I got to around 4200ft, I started to push upwind. I went what I thought was very far, but in reality I went probably no more than two miles upwind and was just going very slow against the 35 mph winds aloft. I made the transition across the Delaware Water Gap high and made it back to my startpoint at 2700ft. At this point, all I wanted was to get back home. I have been flying for almost 8.5 hours! Once I made it to the bailout point, I jumped off with the intention of doing a base-to-final to 25. I felt a lot more comfortable being at 800ft on final using spoilers to come down than doing a pattern in the rotor and going upwind on base leg and doing a difficult approach. The crosswind was ferocious, 20mph, but not very turbulent. I landed with a bit of sideload on the wheel as I slipped as much as I could and quickly came to a stop. I stayed in the glider as I simply couldn’t get out at that point, and I didn’t want the glider to blow away. Jimmy Angelou and Taz got the tractor and pulled me to the tiedown with me in the cockpit holding the divebrakes open and with my hand on the stick in case the glider took off on its own.

When I got out, I was completely drained. I failed the, “Put the tiedown rod through the wing test” and took the Colibri and stumbled my way into the club shed. I asked another pilot to give me a seat since I was too tired to carry anything. I then downloaded the flight and checked to see if I hit the turnpoints. Seeyou said I hit the turnpoints okay! Hallelujah! I then stumbled to the shack and really took a breather. I drank water and ate an energy bar, the only food I ate all day. Progressively, everyone was returning from their big trips and by the time Schwartz came back, I was semi-functional. He landed right at his tiedown and got out as merry as ever. How the heck does he do it!? He sat in the frickin glider for over 10 hours and he was ready to run around the airport and yell Yippee at 72 years old, and here I am after an 8.5 hour flight practically brain-dead! After I put away the glider and the retrieve kits I went with most of the gang went to dinner at the Blairstown Inn. I left Blairstown at around 10:30pm and made it home around midnight. What a day!

Daniel Sazhin

Find the flight log here.

See the post the OLC team wrote about the flight. Incidentally, it was their 563rd, and I was flying a 1-26 numbered 563.

(Epilogue: The flight was good for Diamond Distance/Goal, Century Badge II and 4 state records. )