Returning From the Northwest Ridge Back to Blairstown Airport

Suppose you settled down lower and you felt that the ridge was not working. Or, it’s the end of the day and you want to go back home. At some point you will need to exit the ridge and make the 3.5 mile final glide back to Blairstown Airport.

The minimum altitude to leave is 2,400ft MSL at one of the ridge exit points (Upper Reservoir/Doc’s Thumb). There are several reasons the club selected this margin.

  1. In a low performance ship, you will definitely not be high enough to make a full pattern if you leave lower. Leaving at 2,400ft is marginal for a full pattern as it is and you should be fully prepared to make a non-standard approach.
  2. The lower you are, the stronger the sink. On the upwind side, the lower you get to the crest, the stronger the lift. The opposite is true on the lee side. So leaving 200ft lower may lead you to being 400 ft lower on the far side of the sink!
  3. It is hard to find the landmarks and the airport if you are lower than 2,400ft. This makes it easier for you to get lost along the way.

If you are unable to get to 2,400ft, simply land at the field at the base of the ridge.

If you’re able to thermal up higher than 2,400ft, that’s certainly better! Ideally, you would leave in a thermal at 2,900ft or higher, drifting downwind in it. This is called “coming home like a gentleman”. You will ride over the top of all the sink and turbulence and get back with plenty of energy to spare.

Situational awareness for the final glide

  1. Anticipate the sink. You may encounter severe sink on the back side of the ridge. Put the nose down and punch through it. It will eventually stop.
  2. Once you get out of the sink, trust the performance of the glider. You will have a 15-20 knot tailwind. You will be high enough to get back to the airport.
  3. Plan your approach early. Be willing to do a non-standard pattern if you’re a bit lower.

Execution

Once you decide to leave over the back of the northwest ridge, there is no turning back. You cannot change your mind 10 seconds later; you will very quickly not have enough energy to make it back to the ridge thanks to the strong tailwind pushing you along.

When you encounter the sink, put the nose down and ride it out. The sink is temporary and will go away. Even if it gets really bad, keep the nose down and drive through it.

When you get out of the sink, you will feel an acceleration as though as you hit a thermal. This is from going in strong sink to no sink. Some folks confuse this for a thermal, but don’t circle in it. Even if you’re low, keep going. You will have the airport made.

Once you get to Rt.94, plan out your approach. Are you going to do a non-standard pattern? Be prepared for a lot of sink and turbulence. Keep extra speed in the approach and follow the guidance in the Ridge Landing video.

Critical Errors

  1. Leaving lower than 2,400ft- For reasons described above, this can get you into more severe sink and very low in a scary place.
  2. Believing the sink will last forever and crashing in the Lower Reservoir- Several pilots have crashed their gliders in the Lower Reservoir when they thought they could not make it home. Even if you get flushed in the sink, it will eventually end. Ride it out and cross the hill; don’t turn.
  3. Turning in the transition from sink to no-sink- Don’t get tempted by this transition. Keep the nose down and keep going; you will make it home.
  4. Not trusting the performance of their glider- A pilot crashed a two-place ship in a field short of the airport when they thought they could not make it. Once you get out of the sink, you will have a 15-20 knot tailwind. Remember that the strong sink is temporary. Once you’re out of it, you will have the airport made.
  5. Poor approach planning- Don’t aim for the middle, don’t make a low and slow pattern. Be prepared to make a non-standard approach.

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