Now that we had the easy ridge running out of our system, Noah and I were looking for some challenges. Today, we flew to the east of Ridge Soaring to get to the better air. Our first leg took us downwind and over to the Blairstown ridges and worked out great. We were down on the ridges from Bear Mountain all the way to Fairview Lake, in tight formation.
After rounding Fairview at 1:45 or so, we started heading upwind toward the Pocono Plateau. If the streets were to work well, we thought we may have a shot at making a nice run up to Harris Hill. But the upwind leg was considerably more difficult than either of us expected. We couldn’t climb above 4500ft MSL and the wind picked up to 23 knots. This made progress painfully slow. The lift was completely torn up. I remembered remarking to Noah that we’re as likely to find an honest thermal around here as an honest lawyer. But we kept struggling along, keeping East Stroudsburg and the ridge in glide behind us.
It took us over an hour to go from the Upper Reservoir over Pocono airport. Ahead of us there was a beautiful looking street. “Looks like we’re home free!” But unfortunately not. In between each cloud was six down sink. Most of the clouds did not work. The ones that did had lift that was highly unorganized. We just kept throwing ourselves into the wind.
Across the Wyoming Valley near Scranton, we dipped down to 3800ft. After slowly climbing and working a couple bubbles into the wind, we realized we only went five miles in around 20 minutes. It was just brutal.
At this point, it became clear that we had to think about heading back home. Home being 110 miles to the west of course. The initial strategy was to try to get around and behind the Alleghany plateau and then drop down to Williamsport. We made it to the upwind edge, but then the clouds started fizzling out. We couldn’t get much above 5,500ft most of the time and the wind was still quite strong. Our only option was to stay on the back edge of the plateau, where there were a bunch of short cloud streets going crosswind. We hopped along, getting down to 4000ft or so and up to 5500ft in weak lift. A couple times we nearly bagged it and dumped downwind to the Scranton ridge. This would have been a nearly assured landout for both of us.
But we kept plodding along, pretty much exhausted. Our radio communications became less coherent. My thermalling was not quite up to my normal standard. But we kept at it, knowing that time was running out.
36 miles to go to Williamsport. The ridge should be working out there. 2000ft low and settling down. A couple more little thermals and it’ll do.
Down to 3800ft and a 2 knot thermal finally made it work. We climbed up and now we had a clean glide to Williamsport. Noah had second thoughts about flying the ridge since the wind was quite northerly and it was progged to weaken farther south. I replied that we hardly had a choice since the day was likely to die before we would get home. And that if we fly the ridge now we might still be able to get a final climb at Lockhaven.
No trouble settling down on the ridge; the trees were dancing and we cruised along at 90 knots. We backed off approaching Lockhaven as we approached the bend in the mountain. At this point we floated up into the high band of the ridge, ~3000ft MSL. Subsequently it was a glorious ride home. Smooth air, tailwind, mostly at 55-60 knots in the “evening magic”. We couldn’t believe it that we were going to make it home today.
We glided on back home and landed to the northeast. Both of us stopped exactly at the mid-field taxiway leading to the hangars and both of our ships are put away for the night. We worked harder today than on most worlds-level tasks. We managed to stay together well and helped each other along, especially in finding and coring these really challenging thermals today. In the past two days, we had flown 14 hours in synchrony. It’s really freakin’ awesome!
Find Noah’s flight log here.
Find my flight log here.
Thanks a million to Aero Club Albatross and Harris Hill Soaring Corporation for supporting us by giving us their club ships to train in for the Junior Worlds!