It was very very blue and the pictures really show it. It was kind of funny editing them because they got all disorganized and I had to piece together what came before what. To the folks that read my reports and are totally lost looking at the pics, just know that I was as lost trying to figure out what went where!
Anyway, it was a really fascinating ridge day, which lasted from dawn till dusk. I got in late the night before, got the club LS-4 together and went to bed quite late… 12:30am. Couldn’t get to bed earlier. With rather poor rest, several of us got out to try the dawn wave. I took the first tow and while we had quite a bit of what felt like rotor, I failed to connect. 25 minutes later, I was back on the ground. I took another tow to the ridge, again trying to sniff out some wave, but no joy.
So now I am on the local ridge at 7:20am, trying to figure out what to do. My original task assumed I would be using the wave, so my start point was downwind of the ridge. I decided to attempt the free triangle national record and set off toward Hawk Mountain.
I bumbled along slowly… I was still half-asleep and there was no rush as the thermals were not all that great. No rush to sit along at Hawk Mountain to wait for the first climb to get to Sharp.
Once I got to Hawk, I did get stuck. I moseyed around, not particularly enthusiastically. But at 8:40am, I hit a solid 3.5 knotter, smooth all the way around. I was amazed that I hit a climb that solid, that early. Just as the day kicked on, I felt a switch go off in my head. Let’s go!
The thermal only got me to 3300ft, but I managed to find the blue street to take me upwind. The lift was being pulled through a little gap from Second/Sharp Mountain. I normally use this particular line once I am on Second, but today it extended all the way to Hawk. I floated along and slipped onto Sharp, having went 7 miles into a 20 knot headwind, having lost only 1200ft or so.
Sharp worked great, though I was again not particularly exuberant in driving hard. The Sharp to Bear jump is the hardest jump along and we normally get stuck there quite a long time. I floated along, waiting for an honest climb. And I found it, climbed to 3200ft and started again my float upwind. This was one of the lower transitions I had done there, but the street was honest and I cleared Bear quite comfortably.
Bear to Mahantango was done similarly, but this time at 2800ft. No sweat there. On the Mahantango, let’s go. Down on the trees, 90-100 knots. Let’s make miles.
Approaching the end of the Mahantango, now I had to think about the last big upwind jump to the Tuscarora. This one didn’t go as smoothly as the previous ones; I got stuck on the end of the ridge for about 25 minutes. I ended up going backwards and found a climb that only got up to 2600ft. I elected to do the “Wildcat option” on this transition. This is a rather exciting way to make this upwind jump, going 7.5 miles mostly around 1500ft above the ground and completely relying on the good air in this area to keep me up. WIldcat is a little ridge just behind the Tuscarora, but in that little valley the air works quite well. It is very landable, though it requires being completely committed… the ridge is only 350ft high or so, so if I were to drop out of the band and onto the ridge, it is quite likely I’d fall off. The strategy is not to fly the ridge… it is to use the good air well above it. This worked out quite well and got me close enough to the gap in the Tuscarora. Now it was a matter of dumping the nose and shooting through, around the corner. I rounded the corner at 1200ft, quite low, but 800ft above the river underneath. The landing options are good, but this is quite an exciting way to go and saves a huge amount of time.
Now on the Tuscarora, it is time to make some speed. It is only 10:40am, but my average speed was quite meager. If I were to make the big triangle, I needed to really get a move on.
The ridge worked great, mostly 90-100 knot sort of stuff. The transitions across to Sleepy Creek and Great Northern worked out quite fast and well.
Looking out ahead, the sky looks so blue and murky. Certainly not the kind of look we normally associate with Spring days. But the wind was forecasted to be strong enough for the Massanutten, so let’s give it a go.
Passing by Front Royal, I connected with the ridge. The wind is weakening, though the band is working nicely several hundred feet above the ridge. I coasted in to Harrisonburg, got the turn and got out. Now it is a matter of racing back before the high pressure builds in. The wind was to weaken and get more SWerly over time.
At the NE end of the Massanutten, now I have to make the trickiest jump of the day. The wind shifts to 260ish and only 12 knots. This actually makes the jump to Great Northern much trickier because I would no longer be able to make easy use of the streets. Furthermore, the wind shifted considerably with altitude. It went from 260 to about 290 as I climbed up through the thermal to around 4500ft. I was working quite hard to poke along in good air, but inevitably I would drop out into the sink and have to deviate crosswind until I got something better. I struggled to Great Northern and ended up short and not high enough to cross. I cut across crosswind, looking for a reasonable climb. It was quite exciting… the conditions aren’t that great and I am over 230 miles from home. Finally, I hit a climb and it gets me just high enough. I had enough to scoot over the top of the ridge.
My judgment here was that the Massanutten had worked quite well and that Great Northern should work better. Once rounding the corner, I expected a reasonable working ridge, to be followed through a transition into thermal flying again. This worked out and the goal was now to thermal the 40 miles back across the Potomac.
The thermals now peaked and it was possible to make good speed just thermalling along. The wind was still quite westerly, so I was wondering if the whole system had shifted or if this was a localized effect. I would test this out after getting back across the Potomac; if the wind had shifted, I would be tasked with thermalling the 180 miles home after that.
Once I made it back across, I found that the ridge was working reasonably well and decided to continue with the task. It was approaching 3pm; getting quite late. I had to make good speed in order to make the anchoring leg of the triangle up NW.
This was a partial factor in a pretty big screwup. I hung a left at Sidney’s Knob toward the tip of Shade Mountain (Gobbler’s Knob). I left at an altitude I had left before, but did not hit the good air I normally find there. This was still okay; I was going to slide around the tip just a bit below ridge top. But that was until I hit 13 down and dropped out of the sky like a set of car keys. I had my field picked out and my hand was on the gear handle. If I couldn’t clear the ridge ahead, I was ready to bank left and go for it. I ended up scooting over the ridge, with a field picked out ahead. As I rounded the corner, I found good air. Yay! I S-turned several times and got higher. I am home free, high enough to connect with Shade. I got really lucky on that one…
I have been scratching my head, trying to understand why the sink set up there as it did. I interpreted the wind being quite westerly down low on the ridge, so normally I don’t find lee sink in a place like that. Regardless, next time I am going through there a decent bit higher…
Anyway, back on the ridge, I go as far as I could before I must start making the upwind run. It was about 40 miles, requiring good speed to make the turn and get home before the thermals start going kaput. I found nice climbs and was driving the LS-4 quite hard into the wind. I had luck over Jacks Mountain and Tussey, though found egregiously strong sink too. None which affected me the same way as on Shade though.
Once I made it over to Tyrone, now I was tasked with finding the climb that would let me go a couple miles into the plateau and round the top of the triangle. Unfortunately, the whole area seemed suppressed and I just could not for the life of me find that climb. I sniffed around all over and simply could not get higher than 4500ft. I had no interest in kamikazing toward the plateau and headed back to Bald Eagle. It was past 4pm and I simply ran out of time. Sunset was three and a half hours away and I was 160 miles away. There was a serious threat that the wind was going to be too westerly for some of the Northerly facing ridges to work. It was time to bag it and go home.
I finally found a reasonable climb just past Knauff’s place. I climbed up to 6000ft and scooted over the top of the State College Delta. I worked the downwind street and kept my speed up. This was the absolute tail-end of the thermal day and I needed to get as far as I could before the day shut down. The timing worked out; I actually found my highest climb at 4:50pm to 7500ft. It was really pretty, floating over the Susquehanna valley.
Over Bear Mountain, the thermals were getting quite sparse. I found a weak climb at the end, which finally materialized closer to Sharp. The wind had picked up enough for Sharp to work, but I was not particularly keen on flying this ridge having not tested Bear and with the thermals shutting down. I managed to float along in thermals and let out a sigh of relief when I had Blue Mountain made.
The run along Blue Mountain was quite pleasant. The sun was setting and I had the joy of chasing my shadow along the ridge. I did a short little lap to add in a couple extra miles and headed for the airport. I landed about 15 minutes before sunset and pried myself out of the cockpit. I think I can relate to the Albatrosses in how their leg muscles atrophy after flying a long time!
It was a really fun day. I don’t know where I found the energy to do the flight, but I’m glad I did. It was really great flying the LS-4 at 100 percent of what it could do. It’s an outstanding bird and Aero Club Albatross is simply awesome for letting me fly this ship.
Find the flight log here.