The last several months have been very exciting I’ve gotten married to Jen, a wonderful woman and the love of my life. We had an eventful spring, anchored around planning our wedding. Everything worked out fantastically, though between our wedding plans and my extensive research work, I’ve had little time to throw ink on a piece of paper for fun. I did have some very nice flights though, sneaking out to take advantage of the several good soaring days back at my home at Blairstown, New Jersey. The soaring weather was tempered by extensive rains, though I managed several ridge flights, the best one a 1000km triangle in the Duckhawk. However, my flying was much more of a periodic in and out to the gliderport, a rare respite in a sea of busyness.
To celebrate our marriage, Jen and I decided to embark on a long honeymoon. I took the summer off from research so we could spend the most time together while she was off from teaching at her school. We are heading out west to tour the country, see the national parks, and for me to even do some flying in the Duckhawk. Mind you, the flying part was Jen’s idea. She seems to think it would be perfectly fine to head into the middle of the desert in Nevada in 100 degree heat so I could fly, so long as we then head out to California to see the Redwood Forest. This woman really loves me!
And to push my luck that much further, I wanted to see if I could swing a competition in the mix. With time on my hands while she was finishing up work in early June, I pleaded to go to the Standard/20M contest in Yoder, Kansas. Then she would fly in to Kansas City right after her work is done and we would drive off to the sunset on our honeymoon. It’ll spare you driving half way across the country, I said. Jen looked at my puppy dog eyes and figured oh alright then, and so five days after our wedding, I’m on the road to Kansas.
Marriages are all about compromises. And my compromise is that Jen wanted to see the country in a camper van. That’s another whole tangent to my spring busyness, because we got a 1999 Dodge Ram Van camper conversion, with a high top and decked out with amenities. We spent the spring getting it fixed up and livable for two months, with a propane stove, queen size bed, microwave, solar panels and battery electrical system, hot water heater/shower, portable air conditioner, etc., etc. There are compromises though. A 1999 Dodge is an old car; no cruise control and crappy gas mileage. I had to go 60-65 mph, cursing the occasional headwinds and hills while turning off over-drive and listening to the whine of the engine.
But driving along and daydreaming in the long Midwestern fields, I spent my time musing about the upcoming contest. This will being no ordinary meet for me, as I was to be flying in the two-seater class as a team with Noah Reitter. Noah just won the Sports Class Nationals at Mifflin in the glider attached to my hitch, and would be bringing the Harris Hill Duo Discus to the contest. We have flown a lot together, though mostly in separate gliders. We are looking forward to joining forces in the same ship and trying out a new form of team flying. We spoke extensively for what we want to do, splitting the workload by having me be in the back, focus on the strategic and tactical situation, whereas Noah would focus on flying the glider as best as he could. I would have the Flarm, glider computer, and in-flight weather to process and would always stay at least one step ahead of Noah and the glider. We are really excited to tinker with our team flying to see what works best. In fact, we are most looking forward to flying weak conditions, where this kind of approach is likely to work best.
We drove for two days, stopping in Terre Haute Indiana to rest. The pace worked out well, about 700 miles per day, nothing too exhausting. We arrived late last night, got to bed, and were up and were excited to get to get things set up well on the practice day. We set up the camper van with food and amenities for the contest, worked out electrical gremlins in the avionics, and got the glider all ready to go. Thankfully the weather was soarable, so we flew, though we did not attempt the task. Instead, we toured the local area, planning our final glides and finding landable fields in the vicinity of the airport in case we had a low final glide.
Speaking of fields, it is surprisingly more challenging in Kansas than would be expected. The area is completely soaked from the second rainiest May in recent memory. There is standing water everywhere. The land can be described more like a lake with some islands popping out. As a result, the wheat grew poorly and late and is not harvested. We suspect the fields are so wet that farmers are waiting for the crops to dry out before venturing in to collect them.
As such, only about 20 percent of the fields are fallow or relatively landable. And of those, we have to be mindful to find the drier, high spots. So we mapped out the local airports and the better looking fields and drove to the best prospects. We are satisfied we have several excellent landing options in case our final glides don’t go the way we expect.
For the evening, the Kansas Soaring Association sponsored a wonderful Mexican style meal. The folks here are so unbelievably gracious, hosting such wonderful soaring events on a yearly basis and progressively improving the great facilities they have. Soaring has really resurged here thanks to the hard work of many club members under the direction and leadership of Tony Condon. We are very lucky to have such dedicated volunteers!
One of the most important volunteers at this contest is of course the Contest Director, Mitch Hudson. After putting the dinner, he hosted the safety talk where he pointed out that soaring is an excellent hobby; expensive, fun, and pointless. So don’t do anything stupid; safety talk over! The ops discussion, pointed out that we have a 7000ft runway, so use it if you get in trouble, and don’t do any stupid, low energy maneuvers. And then we had a demonstration of how to use a parachute correctly, with Mitch pulling the chord on his chute. One thing I learned was to dispose of the D-ring after pulling it. I never knew that holding on to it could prevent the parachute from opening safely!
Now I’m settled in the camper van, twisting the ring on my finger, listening to rain chattering on the top of the roof, anxious in anticipation as to whether we are going to get super soaked and have marginal conditions tomorrow, or if it will kick off better. The forecasts are promising, though only time will tell. Tomorrow we get to race and that is always fun!
We thank the Harris Hill club for supporting us at this contest by letting us use their Duo Discus. This glider is an absolute marvel of performance and it has made it possible for us to compete at the highest level among the best pilots in the United States. We really appreciate all the work it takes for clubs to make these opportunities happen.