06-30-19 | Just Hang in There!

Rain, rain, rain and more rain has been the story in the northeast for the past several months. So much so that the Standard Class Nationals were cancelled because the field was practically flooded. My teammate, Noah Reitter had to pick up his club glider from the airport and reported that, “It might as well have been a seaplane base!” Since this contest was our training time toward the Junior Worlds, we tried to figure out some alternative training plans. Thankfully, our clubs supported us using their club ships at other sites which were soarable (and not flooded). And right as we set out on our soaring adventure, the weather finally turned a corner. We flew for seven out of eight days at Ridge Soaring Gliderport and Harris Hill, racking up lots of miles and hours. Noah is an exceptional soaring pilot and he really stepped up my game. We flew in some really challenging soaring conditions, several times feeling like there was no way we would get back home. But somehow we always made it around and had a blast while doing it!

As our team training wound down, I saw a very promising ridge day coming up for June 30th. The conditions at Elmira were not going to be suitable for good soaring, but it was looking really good at Ridge Soaring Gliderport down by State College PA. It looked like it may be good enough to make an attempt at a Standard Class National record.

We asked Phil Chidekel, our resident expert meteorologist to take a look at the weather forecast. He saw a big day, but with challenges, namely a stalled stationary front with the prospect of showers and maybe tricky ridge conditions. Noah was about spent from a week of hard flying and took a pass on the prospect of being thrown around all day on a challenging ridge day. On Saturday we parted company, 100 percent ready to go to Hungary and make a serious go at the Junior Worlds.

Heading down to Ridge Soaring Gliderport, I finally started to plan my flight. Normally on really big days, I’ll track them several days in advance. I’ll update the task, have my forms ready and everything thought through. But this time everything was going to be thrown together last minute. On the way I picked up tubing and buckets to fill up the LS-4 water bags. I figured that today I would assemble the ship, test out the water system and load it up with water. And finally put the glider into the hangar, ready to fly the next day.

Just my luck, I saw John Bird and Len Martinowski when I arrived at the airport. These two characters are my good friends, Penn State students and great gliderpilots. It looks like I’ll have help assembling the glider and testing out the water system and indeed they were extremely helpful! I hadn’t loaded up the ‘4 with water before, and it was a pretty elaborate and humorous operation involving siphoning water from a bucket on a stool, with a second five-gallon bucket being used as a reservoir to keep track of how much water we were putting in. After about an hour and getting myself completely soaked, we managed to load in about 23 gallons of water, which seemed all that the LS4 would carry.

Some repacking and shuffling of gliders in the hangar and the ship was in great shape. Another 50 lbs of lead behind the seat and 14 liters of water in three Camelbaks, the ‘4 was loaded up to maximum fuselage weight. Tomorrow I need the glider to be a lead sled and this is as much weight as it could take.

This was followed by checklists and errands. After dinner I was advised to pick up a backup logger (good idea!) and Mike Robison was the fellow who was willing to help with a Nano 3. Back at the airport a little after 9pm and I finally sat down at my computer to think through a declaration.

My goal for some time has been a Three Turnpoint Distance Record in Standard Class. Figuring an even 800 miles would do, I had flight planned that would work from Blairstown. Now that I was flying from Ridge Soaring, I went back to the drawing board. Initially, I looked at options that took me down south early. However, the limiting factor was that the conditions would not be as favorable as the models initially expected. The front was going to stall someplace in Virginia and this would complicate things to the south. A natural place to turn would be no farther than Covington, West Virginia. This is where the high WV mountains end and the lower Peters Mountain begins. With this in mind, I anchored the other legs from this point. This task took me to Covington first, with the remainder being run out on the Mifflin ridges. But the task didn’t look or feel right. After going to bed, my mind still kept cranking away and I turned on the light and got SeeYou open once more. Then an alternative occurred to me that allowed for a cleaner lap early and then went to Covington in the second portion of the day. This made it possible for the front to push through a bit farther and made for a more intuitively “right” task. But lying in bed thinking, I still couldn’t decide between the two. And then I just decided to take a look at the weather in the morning and make my decision then. And with that, a calm descended over me and I slept soundly for seven hours. A much appreciated and necessary rest that really made the difference the following day.

Where’s the Wind?

Waking up, I was pleasantly surprised to be well rested. And looking at the weather, the lap first, Covington-later task was the way to go. Loggers and GPS updated, the glider was ready to go. While eating breakfast, I looked up at the trees on the ridge. There was no wind on the surface and squinting at the ridge top did not reveal any swaying trees. The inversion has not cleared out of the valley; this will be a slow starting day.

John Bird arrived at 8am and gave me a hand getting the ship out to the back end of the runway. With the Scout as the towplane, it was best to use all the runway there was! Subsequently, we went over to assemble his Libelle. He was going for a Diamond Distance and succeeded too!

Closer to 9, the wind just started to mix down to the surface and Tom towed me up to the ridge. It is really amazing that the tows last only two minutes here, straight up the mountain! Today the climbrate was not as spectacular as it normally is on a ridge day. The lift was not very strong. I hung on 200ft higher than I normally would.

After releasing and turning to the northeast, it was clear that the ridge was hardly working. Settling down to level with ridge top, I felt the glider slowing down and slowing down. It felt heavy and sluggish with all the weight and I resolved not to slow down less than 60 knots. It just barely stayed even with the ridge and struggled to climb toward the higher section near Milesburg Gap. Seeing how weak it was, I decided to wait a while and let the ridge firm up. A short lap on the local ridge mustered up my courage to make the crossing. Once on the other side, I once again chickened out approaching Howard Dam. Another little lap while in touch with the landable fields and I tiptoed my way across that unlandable section.

After a long struggle, I managed to finagle my way to Lockhaven. Now the challenge was to get downwind to Nittany Mountain, the location of my start point. The ridge was so weak that it was necessary to get a thermal to make it across. I beat back and forth, trying thermals here and there. The lift was torn up and it was difficult to work with all the weight in the glider. Finally, I made a lap farther along toward the high part of the ridge. Instead, there was weak lift and I dropped 150ft, well below ridge top. Turning around, I dumped the nose, heart beating more rapidly, with a right eye looking at Lockhaven airport.

Just hang in there!

And that I did for just enough to get back to the better working part of the ridge. And it turned out that this expression would cross my mind many more times as this flight went on.

Finally, at 10am the thermals firmed up a bit and got me just high enough to fall back to the downwind ridge. At 10:15, more than hour after taking off I went through the start. In this time, I had gone 32 miles, none of which counted toward the task.

Off to the Races

As I started the task, I was a bit leery of driving down on the ridge, though it was just starting to improve. I pushed the speed up to 90 knots and let myself settle down. We’ll let ‘er rip on Tussey, it’s not time to drive just yet. No trouble making the downwind jump at Nittany and we were in business on Tussey. Down on the trees and the airspeed was over 100 knots indicated. With the late start and it was necessary to make speed on this lap down to Evitts Mountain. This will make or break the flight at the end of the day.

No real trouble making it down to the turnpoint, although the ridge was a bit weaker than expected. I was hoping to do 110 knots on the good sections thanks to the addition of all the ballast. But instead the ship was doing quite a bit of 95 knots, sometimes even 80 on the uphill parts. The ridge band seemed to be cut off 300ft or so above ridge top, which made the transitions a bit trickier. On the way back north on the lap, this made my lift difficult crossing to Nittany. I had to abandon the transition and pick up a thermal in the middle which finally got me across. Similarly, this made it tricky to get across the “Death Dive” to the front ridge. I like to float up several hundred feet above Nittany before going across, but the ridge gave just enough to clear over the top and go. Tricky business.

Once on the front ridge, it was an all-out drag race south. As I was abeam of Lockhaven, I figured that I had now started a 900km out and return. It was 1pm and sunset was 8:45pm. Figuring 7 hours was a reasonable bet with a little reserve to make it home, I needed to make the turnpoint by 4:30pm. Every knot counts now; every minute I get to the turnpoint earlier will mean that the thermals are that much better for the run back.

Altoona and Bedford went by without too much difficulty and before I knew it, I was on the Knobblies. The effects of this terrain on the air mirror the broken-up nature of the ground; the air is all torn up and unsettled. I slowed down to 80 knots and struggled to maintain my altitude. The sharp gusts that felt like a good thermal encourage you to start making a quarter of a turn and then get dumped out the other side. Almost all of the clouds failed to generate an honest thermal. There are two sections that I consider necessary to climb through; between Keyser and Scherr and the end of Scherr and Hopewell Gap. The sections in between get very low and the landability is quite poor. After 30 minutes of stressful flying, I managed to make it across.

Now that I am firmly established on the high West Virginia ridges, I was really hoping to let ‘er rip. But the ridge lift was not working that well. Below ridge top it just barely got me up and level with the ridge and then the sections would work for about 95-100 knots. I expected that with the greater elevation change that I would find a redline ridge, but to no avail. Every minute counted and I kept the ‘4 going as fast as it would go.

Beyond Snowy Mountain and I was in range of the downwind ridge. I got a bit antsy to make the jump and did it a bit too early. Soaring along the ridge, I saw a Honey-Grove-like jump downwind, over a sea of trees. I took care to climb up high enough to solidly make it across above ridge top and I was now in business on the Warm Springs Ridge.

Passing by Ingalls Airport, I was hardly staying level with the ridge. The wind sock at the top of this really high airport was halfway extended and ahead of me the ridge was descending. I must have overrun the stationary front and now I was on the other side in the weaker, crappier air. As the ridge descended, I was cruising along at 90 knots. As I approached the knob at the end of the Warm Springs Ridge, I realized that I placed my turnpoint several miles beyond the tip, directly over the town of Covington. The idea behind this strategy is that the ridge is working well, you float up 500-1000ft, float in and get the point and get out. It doesn’t work so well when you’re hardly hanging along at ridge top. The turnpoint was four miles away.

How Badly Do You Want It?

You can’t get so close and chicken out. I slid out toward the turnpoint, holding my breath. I was slowly bleeding off altitude. Two miles from the point and I am completely off the mountain and the ship is sinking faster. Heartrate kicks up, pressing on. As I approached the turnpoint, I was 400ft lower than I started.

As I heaved the glider around the turn, there was a nibble off the right wing. It took two seconds to register and then I flung the ship into a turn reversal. By golly there was a thermal off the freakin’ town!

It was not great, going up on half the turn and down the other. But it was enough to gain 450 feet back. At that point it seemed I was drifting faster than I was climbing and punched back toward the ridge. At 3200ft, I connected with the weak ridge lift, well below ridge top. Boy was I thankful for that 450 feet.

Man, I would really like to get back to the high Ingalls ridge. The higher altitude, slightly better thermals and better fields at the base of it made it the way to go. Just hang with it. And several miles farther, another weak thermal got me 200 feet higher.

Every foot counts to a ridge pilot. 50 feet higher or lower is the difference between connecting with the ridge 150 feet below crest and falling off into a field. High enough, I slid downwind and connected with the ridge lift.

At this point, I was able to take a breather and take stock of my situation. The finish was 400km away and it was just after 4pm. I made good time heading south, so this will give me a bit more room on the return trip. But the conditions were starting to deteriorate. It’s late and it’s a lot to ask of eastern thermals to keep chugging along this late. The first challenge was to get back upwind to the front ridge and the clouds ahead looked pitiful.

Abeam of Ingalls Airport again and there was a nice looking cloud street above. Looking NE, the clouds looked worse, hardly a chance to make it over upwind. A solid surge. The idea now is to climb up as high as possible, float up the street and get across high. This will set me up well to reconnect with the front ridge at Mountain Grove.

700ft higher and the thermal started deteriorating. Well the street looks nice, maybe I could pick up a bubble along the way. Hanging along in good air, but no bubble was to be found. This is not looking pretty. I kept floating along, the glide angle on the mountains ahead slightly improving. But I really wanted another climb. Halfway across and still no joy. Looking to the northeast, pressing on still looked like my best shot. I could clear Lick Mountain and fall back on it if I started coming up short of the front ridge. I made the fateful decision to press on. 500ft above Lick and the front ridge is coming in view. I will be totally committed very soon; can’t drop off to the fields behind Lick Mountain anymore on the other side. Heart rate kicked up and I crossed the point of no return to slide over the top of the ridge.

400km Through Hell

If there was a log that measured my heartrate, at this point it would have spiked off the chart. As I cleared the ridge and looked down, there was a dark green mass of forest. And more importantly, the trees were not moving, there was hardly any wind down here at 2700ft MSL. Several seconds later, I hit a little surge and hauled into it and opened the dump valves. As this happened, I forced myself to breathe, calm down and looked left at Lake Moomaw. If all goes to hell, that’s where I’ll go and live with the fact I’ll be called an admiral. The thought crossed my mind to remember to take off the parachute straps if I have to go into the water.

And a moment later as I pulled into the turn, out of the corner of my right eye I saw the fields at the base of Mountain Grove. They were solidly in glide. I heaved out of the turn, put the nose down 100ft lower and closed the valves. A wave of relief, dread, and anxiety swept over me. My fate is at the base of this mountain; I am totally screwed. This ridge is hardly working. But the field is an infinitely better way to end this flight than the darn lake.

Down to 60 knots. The ridge is rising faster than I could climb with it. A little surge and I turn into it. Nothing and I am lower than I started the turn. Damn! Just hang in there. Another surge, a couple S-turns good for 150ft. Just hang with it. Now abeam of the fields and several hundred feet higher. And then the ridge makes a sharp rise and I’m off its base, on the little spurs below.

A sharper surge. Maybe I could S-turn up the ridge? There were two gullies and it seemed that there was lift on both sides and sink in the middle. I was able to make my turns right over the gullies and spent five minutes clawing my way up 400 feet. Every foot matters to a ridge pilot.

This was just enough to slide in 150 feet below ridge top on the high ridge and the lift kicked on. Slowly I was level with the ridge. It kept rising and rising and I was struggling to stay with it. Every little bubble I would dolphin through it. Finally, beyond Monterey I was thankfully a bit better established at 3800ft.

Thinking the horrors were finally over, I sped up a bit. The ridge band was almost glued to the trees; it hardly rose above the top of the ridge. My speed crept up to 90 knots; if there was any chance to complete the task I’ll have to nurse the ship and make speed along the trees.

Now approaching Snowy Mountain. I slowed down a bit and only got to 4100ft; this is as high as the ridge band will go. And then I got sucked into the spill. I kept plastered on the trees. Halfway in, it looked better to keep going. Still sinking and sinking. Now I’m having to go the long way around the knob and I’m falling out of the freakin’ sky. Every time I hit a sink spell, I am dodging the trees and spilling myself off the ridge. And in turn, the ridge rose several hundred feet. As I came around the corner, I am now down to 3500ft, right at the base of the high ridge, near level with the low ridge upwind. The landing options were through a gully toward the low ridge. This is not looking good at all.

And then the ridge lift just started kicking in. I opened the dump valves, all that mattered now was to claw up this damned mountain. And on the first S-turn, the lift kicked in in earnest. Closed the valves and three S-turns later, I was back in business.

At this point, it became abundantly clear that the objective was to survive the next 320km; literally and figuratively. The terrain and fields in West Virginia were terrifying down low. The air was torn up and the mountains were intimidating. Man what I would do to just make it to freakin’ Cumberland, where the fields finally started getting nice again. The time is ticking, it was after 5pm and I accepted that this flight was near certain to end in a landout. Let’s just make it to a good field.

Abeam of Petersburg, again I could hardly stay much above ridge top. Now the Knobblies appeared before me and a wave of dread came over me. I can’t get in there low, I gotta climb. And thankfully I found a rare, solid surge. This took me up to 5,500ft before it petered out. But looking ahead I saw that the clouds lined up parallel to the ridge; looks like rotor! This kept me going a long way in good air and gave me just a bit more altitude to work with. Looking ahead, I had a flat angle to Scherr. Boy I really wanted to be higher. Just give me another thermal to work with and I’d take it.

Floating along in the rotor line, I bumped along in the lift, but nothing was solid enough to turn in. I kept going straight, eyeing my angle to the base of the fourth windmill. It held and I slid in well below the top of the ridge and it kicked on. Slowing down to 60 knots, I floated up to the top. Just give me a bit more to make it to Keyser. Nope, not much to give, but just enough good air to float along. Just hang in there.

And looking ahead, the better fields at the base of Keyser opened up in front of me. Whatever deity was watching me today, thank you, thank you very much. I slid lower and lower, down to 2000ft. But then the broken up ridges kicked on and I was maintaining altitude.

It was approaching 6pm. Now that I was back in safe landing country, I started thinking about the next transition. It would be a small upwind jump to the Halfpipe beyond Cumberland. To make this work, I will need a thermal. What are the odds that it will kick in this late in the day?

And sure enough the infrastructure upwind of the little ridge worked a couple bubbles my way. Man oh man, this might even work! The first thermal petered out, but the second one was a genuine, solid 3 knotter. I took it up as high as it would go, abundantly pleased to be well off the ridge even just for a little while. At 4,500ft and there was plenty to make it across.

At this point, another wave of relief passed over me. Should the PA ridges work, I could cut down the retrieve a huge amount. I will not need an honest thermal until I got to the transition at Tussey to Nittany and that is pretty close to Ridge Soaring as it were. Every mile flown is two miles less on the retrieve and I felt rightfully proud that I was now in friendly territory.

I called up John Bird and asked him if he could be on standby to retrieve me. He said he was tracking me and fairly assumed I’ll be down someplace, at the base of Tussey or somewhere on Nittany. He rightfully surmised that in the unlikely event that I somehow made it to my finish that I will probably land out someplace to be down before sunset. Thanking him for his thoughtfulness and initiative in being ready to retrieve me, I asked him if he completed his Diamond Distance that day. He said he did and had a great flight too! This 90 second conversation lifted my spirits and onward I went.

The Halfpipe was just barely working. Again, I couldn’t climb up with the rising ridge. Where Wills Mountain meets the halfpipe, I found a thermal and once again S-turned to claw my way up the mountain. At the top now, I was floating along as high as I could. Evitts Mountain was downwind, but it would sure be nice to connect with it as high as possible; the landing options at the base of it are dismal to non-existent. Boy would it be nice to find a thermal.

Several attempts and no joy. Sigh. I am high enough to go for it, so just find the friendliest spot and go. A little surge, a 270 and a downwind run in good air. Strong sink over the spill and then I slid in square at ridge top.

At this point I was limping along at 75-80 knots, still pretty heavy with water. I figured that the weight would help me in the penetration and would hardly lose when it came to floating up in the straightaways. I floated up just barely enough to squeak over the Wall and onto Tussey. Just kept nursing the ship along. Just hang in there.

Beyond the Zag, I slowed down to 60 knots. It was 7pm and there was only one more transition left that stood between me and completing the task. The upwind jump at Tussey which gave me grief the first time around today was ahead and the air was becoming smooth. What are the odds that this is going to work?

This late in the day, the upper band usually turns on and it is possible to float along 1000ft above the ridge in “evening magic”. The sun comes around to the west and the trees start releasing their latent heat. It is a glorious time to be flying.

The band hadn’t kicked on yet and at one point I was flung back down on the ridge top. Patience, just float along at 60 knots. And then I felt the ridge slowly turn on stronger. 20, 30 feet at a time, I slowly floated up higher and higher. Slowly, I evened out at 2800ft. This is considerably better than what I’ve had to work with before!

Nursing the glider along, I looked upwind. There was that field at the base of the mountain, right by the big quarry. It looked good to land in and this will be my out. Everything hangs on this one jump. Floating along, I hoped to find a thermal to get higher. I have only one chance to make this work, the conditions are not going to improve.

As close as I could get to the jump, I found a little nibble, just enough to gain an extra 100ft. Every foot counts to a ridge pilot, it’s the difference between coming in 150 feet and 250 feet below ridge top and connecting and falling off. But this was all I could get and I floated out at best glide speed.

At this point I called up University Park Tower to request the transition across. It was fully apparent to me that there was a good chance that I would be at the base of the field and wondered how I should communicate this to the tower. I decided to not do it and spare myself the trouble of having to explain myself while in a marginal situation as it were. If I fall off, I’ll deal with them later.

The ridge looked so far away and so high up off the nose, but the angle was just holding on. A little bit of sink, a little bit of good air. The angle took me just a little bit below the crest, right around the corner. The field looked really nice and I had my approach planned out. Just hang in there.

As I wrapped the ship around the corner, I pulled the dump valve. No need for the water anymore and I will give everything it takes to stay with this ridge. Evidently the water gods were pleased as I was greeted with weak ridge lift. It was solid and I closed the valve.

Victory

A wave of elation passed over! Damned if I made it across! I’ll make it to the finish line! What are the odds!

And then I sternly said enough of that, don’t celebrate until you have actually completed the task. There’s still room to mess up you know.

But that was almost in jest. I was cruising along at 85 knots, sun setting off my shoulder, chasing my shadow off my right wing. The lift was smooth, the whole Nittany valley lit up in the glorious evening sun. It was surreal.

As I approached the finish, I started thinking about how to make my landing. My first thought was to turn around and fly back along Nittany and land just outside of the University Park Class D. This would cut down the retrieve quite a bit. But then I considered if I could make it to the front ridge that I could land at Lockhaven Airport. That’s a very nice place to go! And besides, if I have enough time, I could head back along the ridge, maybe get to Milesburg and cut down the retrieve some more. Who knows, maybe I could even make it home? I laughed at the thought.

Approaching the end of the mountain, I slowed down and floated up. After hitting the finish line, my satisfaction was delayed since I was focused on making the next upwind jump. Just floating up enough to clear the bowl, I once again went for the infamous “death dive” to the front ridge.

This time after clearing the corner I immediately headed southwest. The ship connected with the ridge at 1700ft in honest ridge lift. I was in perfect position for a landing at Lockhaven, but slowly floated up the ridge. Looking at the time, I had 30 miles to go and 40 minutes until sunset. Man, that is actually enough time to make it home! Might as well give it a shot, why not?

Humming along at 80 knots at 1700ft, it was peaceful. The sun was coming down behind the cirrus off to the west and the valley started to darken. The air was smooth. I felt I was sitting on the wing and just watching myself fly, simply amazed to be here at all.

Approaching Milesburg, I slowed down and floated up to 1800ft. This was all that the ridge was going to give me now as the wind was slowly dying down. But this was enough to get across and the airport came in sight. Dropping down the gear on downwind and going 70 knots, there was enough drag on the glider that I could no longer sustain at ridge top. The day was giving its dying breath as I turned on base leg and landed in perfectly smooth air, 20 minutes before sunset.

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This was the most difficult ridge flight I had ever done; certainly more challenging than any flight I had previously declared. The conditions were just barely good enough to make it work. The last 500km was the most grueling soaring I had ever done for such long distance. Every transition, gap, and elevation change had me working for every last scrap of energy. There were at least three times that the odds were stacked against me that I would fall off the ridge. Somehow I managed to hang in there and it’s a near miracle that I made it home. It’s deeply satisfying to have had the opportunity to play the game, where for a while it hung in the balance on every move. It felt like the ridge and I did battle and walked away with a healthy respect for each other, looking forward to the time we will challenge each other.

This flight should be good for a 3 Turnpoint Distance Standard Class National Record and a 1250km Diploma.

Find my flight log here.

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Many thanks are in order. Thank you Tom and Doris for letting me stay at your wonderful bunkhouse and for the early tow. Thanks Phil Chidekel for the weather forecast. Thanks John Bird for crewing for me and huge congrats on your Diamond Distance! Thanks Mike Robison for letting me use your logger; I ended up using your log!

Thanks a million to Aero Club Albatross for letting me use your wonderful LS-4. It has been a spectacular week of flying and I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to use this sailplane to its potential.

I hope that the soaring community as a whole will appreciate that affordable gliders, especially in clubs can do wonderful things. And that clubs supporting their members in their sporting goals is the best way to grow this sport. Aero Club Albatross is the beacon that lights the way.

06-27-19 | A Fine Summer Soaring Day


The past two days have alternated between being spectacular and frustrating, usually in close succession. On the one hand, we are really lucky to have some really nice soaring conditions in the summer time. It’s hard to complain when you are getting to 6500ft and 7800ft respectively. On the other hand, we’ve had to deal with storms, large sinkholes, and areas of rinky-dinky lift that made things more challenging. Nonetheless, 210 miles on thermals; that’s a fine day’s work.

Today Sean Murphy set our task. Wellsville – Loon Lake – Canton Lake – Harris Hill; Turn Area Task with a 3.5 hour minimum time. He flew the Duo Discus with Tom Hogrefe and also had a great time. The task was well set for the day.

It took a while for Noah and I to get connected with the lift. After release, we struggled to find a thermal. It took 20 minutes to get above release altitude, though the one that got us there was a real solid 4.5 knotter. This got us up to start altitude and we got going a little after 1:20 pm.

The conditions got cooking and we cruised along to the first turnpoint. Things slowed down on the second leg due to cirrus and mid-level moisture. We developed some altitude separation getting into Loon Lake and Noah did a good job of rounding the turnpoint a bit deeper and coming back with me at the same altitude.

The next leg got trickier. The working thermals got pretty far apart and we started to get some disconcertingly low points. At one of these points, I released Noah and he went ahead and marked the next thermal. This worked out well; we ended up minimizing the altitude seperation between us almost completely on this one.

Getting across toward Armenia Mountain, things got really tricky. We were down to almost 3000ft and few of the clouds were working. The one thermal that did work got us just high enough to poke into the high ground to the south. Noah picked up a weak thermal in the middle, but I wasn’t high enough to connect with him. I kept going, hoping to find a thermal toward Buttonwood Mountain. No joy.

At this point I was paying a lot of attention to the fields below me. None looked enticing. And then I realized that the windmills on top of the ridge were turning. Not very fast, but turning nonetheless. This perplexed me, because the winds were from all directions, but north today. I gauged whether the windmills were angled off from the ridge; nope… straight perpendicular. Well heck, if they are turning, then the ridge ought to be working. Maybe good enough for a save?

I got to the ridge, felt a woosh of more solid air and hung a right along the ridge. By golly, this might actually work! I floated along, slowly settling down. And several miles later, I hooked a bubble! The windmills were a bit disconcerting; I couldn’t make a full turn until way well above ridge top because I didn’t want to drift into them. And as I started climbing, the wind read only about 8 knots from 340 degrees. 500ft above, the wind went to zero. I have no idea where the wind came from or where it went, but all I can say is thank you very much. This got me up and away and heading back home.

Noah smartly turned in his weak thermal and headed back while he had the chance. However he was struggling along back to the north in survival mode. He dutifully reported this to me and I made every use of the decent thermals over the high ground. This got me to a MC 3.3 500ft over final glide, which I cautiously flew back home. 65-70 knots, slowing down in the good lift and speeding up to 75 knots in the sink. I held my breath a good ways. Even 4 miles out I was thinking I might need to do a rolling finish if I hit a bout of strong sink. But it actually worked out very nicely, for a very efficient final glide.

Team flying worked well today. When we were close together, we sampled the air well. We got separated twice, the first time reconnecting nicely. The second time, Noah relayed useful information which increased my speed. All in all, a great training day!

Noah’s flight log can be found here.

My flight log can be found here.

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Thanks Aero Club Albatross and Harris Hill Soaring Corporation for letting us use their club gliders toward training for the upcoming Junior Worlds!

06-26-19 | Thunderbolts and Lightning… Very, Very Frightening!

Yesterday developed quickly and just kept running away since there was no inversion capping the development of the clouds. It took a while to get going and when it did it went boom. We made a three hour task and struggled for a while until it got going nicely. Then we had a big rain storm heading our way at Towanda. We ended up falling out of the band and struggled over Armenia Mountain. A short nice leg later and we were heading back home. There was a nice shelf that developed somewhat downwind of course and this seemed (to me at least) a good way to get home. That was until a lightning bolt came right out of the cloud, perhaps three miles away right off my nose. That got our attention; it scared the daylights out of me.

We kept limping along, keeping a close eye on the cloud above and the rain off to the side. The lift was not particularly strong here; just enough to sustain while going straight. There was no easily defined alternative and we only needed to hang on for a little while longer before we had a safe final glide and could call it quits. When we did, we were very happy to slide on home and call it a day.

From a team flying perspective, it was a very challenging day. I had a hard time keeping up on the glides and the climbs. The lift band was “diverging”. This means that the lift gets stronger with altitude. When this happens and you’re the lower guy, it is no fun. I think the Discus CS (with Noah flying in it) slightly outperforms the LS4 and this made it hard to keep up. I had to pedal really hard all day. At the end of the day, I was zonked out. I was pretty much a zombie for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Then Noah and Phil were bantering about the possibility of flying the Super Cub. Phil looked over at me and asked if I wanted to fly. That lifted me out of my stupor and got me excited again. We had a very nice sunset flight, enjoying the beauty of this gorgeous valley. Elmira is a really wonderful place to go in the summer.

Noah’s flight log can be found here.

My flight log can be found here.

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Thanks Aero Club Albatross and Harris Hill Soaring Corporation for supporting our team training toward the Junior Worlds.

06-25-19 Flying a Duo

The conditions looked a bit more promising for soaring day, but doubtful for cross country. Figuring that we might go up for a couple hours and mill around locally, we decided to fly in the Harris Hill Duo Discus rather than assembling our two ships separately. This was a good opportunity to learn more about how we fly and think with less of the stresses that come with flying on our own.

It was a lot of fun! And the conditions developed better than we expected. A beautiful cloud street marched west of the airport, into the wind. We climbed up to a little over 5000ft and slid our way upwind. The Duo penetrated so beautifully and we had no trouble staying connected. We hardly got out of gliding distance of the airport heading 48 miles into the wind!

We traded flying a couple times and discussed the basics. How to run the lines and the nuances of our thermalling technique. Noah routinely out-thermals me by a tiny bit and we talked quite a bit about recentering strategies and how much slip we like to use in the lift. On the runs, I said whether it felt better a bit farther left or right. I’m not sure how helpful I was because he would ask, “Why?”. My response tended to be, “felt better…”, which was not terribly instructive. Interestingly, we pretty much always agreed on the clouds we wanted to go to.

When it came to reading the sky, he was picking up on different things and focused very much on the details and composition of the clouds. I tended to scan and pick the better looking clouds and just rely on the feel of the air when we got closer (deploying my thermal beacon as I like to say.) But in any case, we always converged on the same clouds/lines to go to, just in slightly different ways.

Since the day was quite relaxed and we didn’t have a task, we flew pretty much in a risk-minimization mindset. This is also compounded by the fact that in Harris Hill it rarely pays to get into a racing mode. But I suspect that’s where our biggest differences really are; in our optimization algorithms for competition flying. And we seem to integrate our respective algorithms very well when we fly together.

After getting near Wellsville, we headed a bit farther north, toward the Chemung Valley. We got to fly over Noah’s house and then headed back. I wasn’t flying much at this point because my legs were hurting a decent bit trying to move the rudder on the Duo. Maybe my thighs were a bit sore from assembling the LS4 the day before and the pressure just went to the wrong spot. The Duo rudder was surprisingly heavy! But in any case, we had our 2.5 hours of fun and made a nice final glide back home.

Otherwise, it was a blast hanging around the Harris Hill summer ops and juniors. It’s the young folks who run the operations around here, doing the instructions, tows and rides. They know how to have a good time and it’s great being here!

See our flight log here.

_______________________

Thanks Aero Club Albatross and Harris Hill Soaring Corporation for supporting us in our team training toward the Junior Worlds.

06-24-19 | Rest Day

We woke up to overcast today, with little prospect for soaring. Today I got to get more acquainted with Jacob Barnes, Noah’s crew. He mentioned that he was a little intimidated with assembling the LS4 and here we saw a great opportunity. With the free day, we took the trailer to the towplane hangar. I had Jacob do the whole assembly and disassembly, with me guiding him along the way. He learned how all the control hook-ups work, how to assemble the tail and all the little nuances and quirks of the LS4. We took the wheel off and cleaned up the brakes. We discussed all the little ways retrieves and assemblies can go wrong. Four hours went by a heck of a lot quicker than either of us expected and we were both pretty tired after it. But Jacob is pretty much completely up to speed on the LS4 and is a lot more confident crewing at Hungary. He’s a sharp fellow, learning fast and I’m thrilled that he’s part of our team.

Subsequently, the Harris Hill juniors, Noah, Jacob, and I engaged in further team-building activities. All worked out well except when I managed to cut my hand with my Swiss Army knife. After gushing out blood for a little while, I went on over to the flight center to the first aid kit to get my wound dressed. Immediately afterwards and evidently when I relaxed a little bit, I felt light-headed, sat down and completely blacked out for a couple seconds. During the process I was more-or-less conscious and was really intrigued by the experience of shock. I was surprised that a small cut threw me in for a tailspin like that and appreciated how my body and mind dealt with the whole situation as it unfolded. Thanks Joanie for helping take care of me!

In any case, I feel better now and am about ready to sleep off this little episode. Off to flying tomorrow!

06-23-19 | How’s A Little Blue For Ya?

Sorry for a missing daily report yesterday; we had a great day but got in late after a long drive. I was a bit too tired to get my thoughts together.

Noah and I were tired from our two long soaring days. It looked like the third day of the nice stretch of weather was going to give a shorter, but still quite reasonable soaring window. We decided to take this one easy, especially since we were going to make the drive up to Harris Hill in the evening.

It took a while for the day to trigger and when it finally did in the early afternoon, it was blue. We took off a little after 1pm and had no trouble staying up, but couldn’t climb much above 4300ft. At that point, we set a short two hour Turn Area task that took us up and down the valley. This would keep us in close proximity to the airport and felt like a reasonable task for the day.

Closer to 2pm, the conditions started improving and we headed out on task. Team flying in the blue works very very well. We spread out and sampled the air. When one pilot was in consistently better air, the other would adjust for his line. We were able to find thermals more frequently and center them more efficiently. We practiced leaving efficiently, with the leading pilot “overextending” on the exit, thereby letting the trailing pilot catch up. This took away the need for the trailing pilot having to accelerate substantially to catch up to the leading pilot and losing a bit of altitude.

The conditions were a little suppressed by Tyrone and Noah was a little bit concerned. He had thoughts to turn back to Ridge Soaring at that point. I said that if this was a contest day, we would have no hesitation to keep going; it was the middle of the day, there was a ridge ahead with infrastructure below. I said, “There’s gotta be a thermal ahead.”

“Yeah, but things can go south quick here,” Noah replied.

“I think it’s going to work fine.”

We edged down to around 3500ft or so and I reminded myself we were just a hair lower than 3000ft AGL, still plenty high. And then we finally connected with reasonable lift. Moreover, there were clouds forming ahead and a wonderful line forming off to the side. We worked our way up to 6500ft and the air looked glorious.

Then Noah said, “Sorry that I was being a bit of a chicken today.” We both perked up when we had nice Cu to look forward to!

We worked our way over to the line and finally connected at 5000ft MSL. At this point we were in great shape. To add excitement, a Nimbus 3 joined our thermal up high. Now we have someone to fly with!

He left the thermal and headed to the NE, the same direction we were headed. We made good work of this opportunity, kicking into gear and flying the energy line as best as we could. We were keeping up with the fellow! The thermals along the line were somewhat broken up, but the lift was still more or less working. We’d hook into a thermal every once in a while, keeping a close eye on the Flying Whale. When the line was about to run out, we found a nice one and the unfortunate fellow had to return back to our thermal, 500 ft below.

Gotta admit, it felt good being in an LS4, above a Nimbus 3!

The thermal gave us enough height to make the turnpoint and most of the way home. This worked out well because the air was not great toward Ridge Soaring. We found one more thermal and we figured this was good enough to call it a day, hit the turnpoint and head back.

After we landed, we had the ships apart and all our stuff ready to go in a little over an hour. At 5pm, we hit the road for Harris Hill. Along the way we picked up dinner and we arrived at the gliderport at 8pm.

When we arrived, Noah looked at the setting sun and the perfectly still windsock.

Want to go fly the Super Cub?

“Heck yeah!” I replied.

Within 10 minutes, we were on the runway ready to go. Noah is a heck of a pilot. Sitting in the back, I was amazed watching how comfortable he was with this airplane. “I hadn’t flown it in several months!” Well it didn’t show one bit. Every one of his movements was effortless and efficient. And several moments later, we were off the ground and in the beautiful, still air.

Harris Hill in the summer time is absolutely gorgeous. The whole Chemung valley lights up in a brilliant glow. With the door open on the Cub, you really feel like you’re flying. It’s great to be back here.

Find my flight log here.

And Noah’s here.

_______________________

Thanks a million to Aero Club Albatross and Harris Hill Soaring Corporation for letting us use their club ships toward training for the Junior Worlds.

06-22-19 | Slogging Upwind

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!

06-21-19 Ridge Soaring with Noah

The Junior Worlds are a little over a month away. Noah and I dedicated the Standard Class Nationals toward team training. We were going to get the rust off our team-flying techniques and do some racing as practice. But then at 9am Thursday morning, when I was five minutes away from Blairstown airport to pick up the club LS4 and hit the road, I received a call from Hank Nixon that the Standards are cancelled! This threw our plans for a spin.

Noah and I quickly reassessed our options. The soaring weather looked good in the northeast, so perhaps we could simply use the same time flying on our own. Ridge Soaring gliderport looked particularly inviting for Friday since it promised a pretty nice ridge day. The following two days are forecast to bring great thermal conditions. We quickly got the ball rolling with our respective clubs, Aero Club Albatross and Harris Hill Soaring Corporation. Both clubs supported our change of plan and we were on our way.

I had a very relaxing day as my drive got cut down from 9 hours down to less than three. But poor Noah already had his glider up at CCSC and had to make the whole drive to Ohio and back. He made it to Julian, PA a little past midnight.

The ridge day worked out as advertised. Late start due to lots of moisture (thanks to the two inches of rain during the night). But the wind was solid and the cool airmass cooked off nice thermals. We took the flight more leisurely, trying to keep good margin on the transitions. We decided to head SW along the back ridges, as this was where the better thermals were going to be.

No real trouble except a lowish jump over to Shade. After climbing off of Jacks, the thermal crapped out and we had to beeline to the ridge about a third of the way below ridge top. Otherwise all the jumps were low stress. We made it down to Wardensville on Great Northern Mountain (aka: Blairstown Wall) without too many challenges. Subsequently we got back up to Lockhaven and down to Altoona and back home to Julian.

It was really really fun flying together again. Noah makes the Discus sing and it was a blast to share a ridge day together. We were generally less than 100 yards apart and hardly ever farther than a quarter mile. I don’t think I had ever flown for six hours in such synchrony with another aircraft.

The thermalling worked out beautifully and we had a couple really gorgeous runs up streets. One especially great run was off of Jacks Mountain. A shower rolled through the area and we caught a seven knotter to cloudbase and then a street all the way to Tussey.

Another interesting moment was coming back from Lockhaven to Julian, PA. A shower was about ready to dump near Milesburg Gap, bad news. We didn’t want to drive in there low. So we gingerly climbed up in weak lift, both getting higher and letting some time go by so that the shower would finally pass. Noah correctly assessed the development of the shower and I did a good job of finding and centering the smooth two knotter near Howard Dam.

It was a blast flying with Noah again and I can’t wait till tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll be flying to Blairstown and maybe Harris Hill… we’ll see. But the conditions look even more promising than today, with thermals going up to 7000ft MSL. This should work out very well.

______________________

Thanks a million to Aero Club Albatross and Harris Hill Soaring Corporation for supporting our training with their respective club ships!

See Noah’s flight here and my flight here. If you have SeeYou, download them and play them together. It’s pretty cool!

05-21-19 | Celebration Day | 500km Triangle

On Monday, I graduated from New York University with a Master’s degree in Psychology. It has been hard work over the past couple of months getting my thesis done and my final classes completed. It has been a great ride, the capstone with a study on Emotional Intelligence and Bargaining Behavior. But between the lack of good soaring weather and my studies, I haven’t gotten to fly all that much over the past spring. So come the end of May, with my projects complete and good weather on the horizon, I was almost caught off guard; surprised by the prospect of getting to do a whole bunch of flying over the next couple of months! And when a nice day rolled in a day after my graduation, I figured what better way to celebrate than to go fly?

Gliderpilots are strange creatures. We think that it is fun to strap into a couple hundred pounds of fiberglass, close the canopy and seclude ourselves from the world. And to go in circles all day.

But no matter, this was a good day to fly. Finally, an honest-to-god cold front rolled through, bringing unstable, NW flow. The tricky bits were that the wind was to die off to the SW. Not a good day to go to the Potomac, with weak and northerly winds beyond Burnt Cabins. But what about to the North? Maybe we could do another triangle? I played with a whole bunch of options, hoping for a 600km triangle that took me into the plateau. Up near Williamsport, it was forecast that we could get Cu to 6000ft, plenty to ease into the high terrain.

There were few souls at the airport in the morning. Steve Beer was gung ho, raring to attempt a Diamond Distance in a 1-26. He helped me throw the LS4 and Duckhawk together and I returned the favor by being his official observer and running his wing. Tommy went off to get breakfast and I went to finish up putting the ships together.

Getting closer to launch time, still no gliderpilots to be seen. I decided to push the LS4 by hand to the end of the runway; bad idea. The grass was high and halfway I got completely winded. I summoned the energy to push the ship in 80 yard spurts, then stopping to catch my breath. By the time I got the ship to the end of the runway, I was glad to collapse in one of the handy lawn chairs by the runway. Ten minutes later, my heart rate finally returned to normal and I was satisfied that my cardio exercise for the day was complete. Seeing Tommy hustling back from breakfast, I was ready to go.

Wing down takeoff, no problem and a quick tow to the ridge. It was completely solid and I dropped onto the trees. No trouble moving along at a solid 95-100 knots, about as fast as I am normally willing to go in the ‘4.

The ridge band was a little odd today; more like a typical SE day than NW. It was a very thin, but solid band of lift. 400ft above the trees, you could hardly sustain. Down on the trees, you could make some serious speed. This was especially pronounced by the flat spot by Snyders. I like to float up to 2000ft in a high performance ship to make that crossing. This was a bit trickier today as the lift band was hardly getting up there.

By 11am, the thermals were on. The last bits of morning Cu had finally withered away, but there was not much too much trouble finding the thermal to make the crossing to Sharp. 3800ft, a good line and I was across to Second Mountain. Gold mine line and I was on Sharp at 1750ft. I figured that Sharp was working, but was not in a real dying rush. I picked up a thermal quickly after making the crossing, still in touch with the fields off the back. This set me up nicely to thermal across the whole section. No real trouble making it across to the Mahantango, which surprisingly worked very well. The wind was starting to die down now; less than 13 knots. But the lift band kept cranking.

On the Tuscarora, it started getting soft. When the wind is less than 15 mph at ridge top, the ridge band gets quite varied; sometimes it is cranking, sometimes it gets soft. By the time I hit Burnt Cabins, it was not working well at all.

Maybe I could make a run down to Dickeys on thermals? It was early yet; the thermals might get a lot better! The crappy thermal at Sidneys Knob minimized my motivation, especially with a wind reading ~340 degrees at 9 knots. Not fun to be at the bend at McConnellsburg with this kind of wind! I decided to instead proceed on my task and headed over to Shade Mountain. The challenge now was to make it across all the transitions to Williamsport. This turned out to be considerably trickier than I thought.

On Shade, I started settling down and down. I wasn’t too concerned as the ridge worked reasonably well on the Tuscarora; it should sustain me if I was in a real bind. But I did keep one eye at the fields and the other on the ridge. When I found thermals, I took them, just floating along in the higher band. The farther NE I go, the better the wind should get, no need to drive low and in a rush.

Near Mt.Union, I made the transition upwind. I had the choice to fly Stone or Jacks Mountains. I generally prefer Stone Mountain as it is a much better springboard for the next upwind jump across Seven Mountains to Nittany. However, with the weak, northerly wind, I thought twice of flying Stone. The fields at the base of it are not all that great. Moreover, some serious cirrus rolled in over Mifflin. And to add insult to injury, it was totally blue; no Cu to mark the thermals. It wasn’t going to be a cakewalk getting upwind. Maybe I could find some stragglers from the regional contest to mark a couple thermals? In any case, I decided to head along Jacks Mountain today.

With the high cloud cover moved in, the ridge and thermals softened up. It was a struggle climbing off the ridge. I hate dealing with the blue, especially alone. Finally having to resort to reading the ground, I figured, hoped that the quarry upwind might trigger something. And it did! Nice when it works out that way.

It was only good enough for 4,500ft. Looking at Seven Mountains, I wasn’t terribly pleased. The glide angle just looked too flat for comfort, despite the encouragement from the glide computer. But not able to get any higher, I edged forward. I managed to keep the meh angle, until halfway into Seven Mountains. Then I got into good air and I had it totally made. One major hurdle down!

At this point, I hoped to connect with a reasonable thermal and make it to Nittany in one go. No joy on that one and at 3000ft I started heading along First Mountain. This is the same place where I got into trouble last week. It was weird looking down at the places I scratched out of.

The stratocirrus got thicker and the thermals got ever worse. I settled down and down, going the whole length of the mountain without finding a climb. On the northeastern end, I finally had to turn around. Shortly thereafter, I settled right down onto the trees, maybe even a hair below ridge top at 55 knots. That certainly got my attention! The ridge was so weak that any bits of thermal sink were enough to wash it out. The little bubble ahead had a couple turkey vultures and a couple S-turns finally got me out of this predicament.

One of the things that astounds me is just how tenuous soaring flight can be. One wrong move and I would have been on the ground. One bad turn, another 20-30 feet below ridge top and the flight would’ve been over. It’s amazing how efficient these machines are at extracting the little bits of energy out of the air.

Now I was backtracking in relation to my task. But looking ahead, the skies parted and sunshine finally reached the ground. Appreciating this divine intervention, I headed on over and finally found some solid lift. As I was climbing, I dialed my task back to a 500km triangle. I figured that with this high cloud cover I ought to head back sooner than I originally anticipated. Normally 4pm would be a reasonable time to turn an upwind turn, but a little after 3 would have to do today. The climb got me high enough to reach Nittany Mountain; much better shape!

Once established on Nittany, things looked a lot better. In fact, there were small cumulus ahead, quite high up. I thought about getting my nerve back to go for the upwind turnpoint. When I hit a little thermal by the Talladega jump and looked at the high cloud cover behind me, this squashed this enthusiasm. The sun was swinging around and setting to the west and yet more and more moisture was marching in from the west. The net effect was that I was racing the shade! Enough, time to get to Williamsport and call it quits.

I had no trouble climbing up to 5,800ft. This was as high the bubble went and I gingerly pointed downwind. I’ll admit, it was a bit scary. Flying in the blue is really intimidating to me; who knows where and when you’ll find the next thermal. But I was high enough to make downwind ridges, which eased my worries. And feeling active air along the way was all the better, especially with another solid climb to 6,900ft. It turned out that the thermals were quite active and I had no troubles going downwind to Blue Mountain.

The ridge was still working solid, so it felt like a crime to just call it quits when I got back home. Why not do another lap for good measure?

As I neared the Delaware Water Gap, I saw Bill Thar screaming along in his Duckhawk. I asked him he wanted to join me on the lap and he most happily agreed to come. Apparently it gave him endless satisfaction to float up behind, pass me and then float up again behind me again. Usually pilots only get the satisfaction to pass a glider once, you know?

I floated off the end of Hawk Mountain and came back square at ridge top. It was a bit softer than I would’ve liked and was having a hard time floating up for the journey back across Snyders. Slowly but surely I made it back up to 2000ft; afterwards Bill and I floated like “gentleman” back home.

What a fun day!

__________________

Thanks a million Tommy for towing and Aero Club Albatross for giving me the chance to fly this sweet bird today.

Find the flight log here.

05-16-19 | By the Skin of My Teeth- A 500km Thermal Triangle

I don’t think a soaring forecast drove me as crazy as this one did. A backdoor cold front was to sweep through the area, but was incredibly finicky. Moisture in the ground, wind, cloudbase, and high cloud cover were all huge variables. I tracked the weather and changed the task with every model run. A little more wind, the ridge would work to Hawk. That would be a good way to start the day… run the ridge before the day triggers and cash in the 60 miles for free. Then the forecast showed a shower in the Harrisburg area; maybe I could skirt around it by going NW? It drove me crazy because it looked like there was a path toward a big flight, if I could just find the right way to go.

I had no less than eight 500km+ triangles in my Garmin, ready to go if the weather changed. The night before, I settled on one that I liked; Upper Reservoir –> Tussey (near Woodward) –> Reading –> Fairview Lake –> Upper Reservoir. I didn’t get much rest; the gears in my mind churned away.

Bill Thar graciously let me use his ship on this day. I took hold of the opportunity, figuring the performance would help. It surely did. When I launched at 11am, the lift was spotty. A couple hanging, wispy cu over the ridge that didn’t do me much good. I found the climb near the Delaware Water Gap down at 2400ft. Looking back toward Blairstown, it seemed it was cycling down. At 5000ft, I decided to get out of dodge and on my way.

Most of the clouds were not working and the lift was far apart. It seemed like whatever moisture got up to cloudbase just hung around there. Nice looking Cu lied. This was a risk-minimization day.

And it worked out very well. I took pretty much every viable thermal in my path and deviated for anything that looked promising. I floated at 80 knots, a very comfortable angle in the Duckhawk. In the good air, the automatic flaps clicked and clacked away. Those couple hundred feet every glide paid today.

This was especially the case when I transitioned into the Pocono Plateau. This is high ground; good lift, but with not much room to work with. I tiptoed through the area, keeping fields in my pocket, but gingerly working all the air along the way. The clouds that worked had a higher cloudbase than the rest. I was very happy with this segment of the flight; I felt that I walked the tightrope to stay connected nicely.

Across the high ground and I see the Susquehanna valley of death ahead me. I climbed as high as I could. I thought about deviating to stay with the high terrain, but the clouds didn’t look promising there. I had to throw my lot in with the valley and floated on in.

The sink between the thermals was horrendous. It paid big to stay with the lines. For the most part, this worked out fine. But at one point I started dropping out into the valley. Any thermal would do and I struggled up to 4,500ft. The lift was hardly working higher and I moved on. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time, getting into lower and wetter ground. But the air was actually very nice. I managed to go many miles just floating along, well below cloudbase. I don’t know how I pulled that off, but it certainly made the difference; there were hardly any thermals along the way there…. I would’ve climbed if they worked!

Curiously, the thermal I did hit was pretty much in the middle between the two branches of the Susquehanna River. I was a bit leery going in there… figuring this about the lowest ground around. But over some infrastructure, the thermal popped up and gave me enough to make it over to the ridges on the other side. Phew!

Pushing through a lot of sink, I finally flopped over to the extension of Jacks Mountain. 5 knot thermal! Yippee, I made it across! 6300ft and nice clouds in front of me all the way to Seven Mountains. It’s 1pm and clearly the conditions had finally kicked *on*. What to do but speed up to 90 knots and start rocking and rolling?

The first cloud didn’t work.

The second cloud didn’t work.

The third cloud didn’t work.

Darn it, the fourth(!!!) cloud didn’t work!

Now I’m at the edge of Seven Mountains contemplating whether I should back track or make a death dive to Tussey. My turnpoint was on this ridge and it was going to be oh so painful to go backwards. I opted to make the transition, keeping the fields in check off of my right shoulder. Diving to 100 knots, I punched through the sink and made it across with 700ft to spare.

At this point, I finally appreciated the entirety of my blunder. Ahead, the few clouds were torn up. A thin band of cirrus moved in. The wind was showing 10 knots from 300; the ridge isn’t going to save me. Gulp.

I started settling down. Come on baby, any bubble would do. I kept settling… and settling. I am paying a lot of attention to the not so great fields at the base of the ridge. I keep settling, not a burble. A little bump right before a gap, not enough to turn in. I crossed the gap and found nothing on the other side. My only hope is to turn back and hope to work that little bubble.

Ridge pilots know that this is an incredibly desperate thing to do. Turning back rarely does you any good. I found a bubble several hundred feet above ridge top, though it was just barely working. In fact, for several minutes I was just slowly losing, drifting along with it. I felt so totally screwed at this point. That field at the base of the ridge has my name on it, that’s for sure.

But then it picked up to 1.5 knots. One turn, two turns, four turns and the mountain is slowly dropping away. Well who would have thought?

I struggled up to 4000ft, at which point it started falling apart. A sigh of relief and I glanced at my Garmin to check on my turnpoint. Only 3.5 miles further. A promising cu ahead. It would be painful to turn home with the turnpoint so close; I edged forward.

Settling down. Under the nice cu, nothing but diddly squat! I am now beyond the turnpoint, searching for something, anything off of the ridge. Oh Daniel, you stupid dope! You’re now going to land out after having had that improbable save!  No way you’re going to get lucky a second time!

Now several hundred feet above the ridge. Another measly bubble, not good enough. I crossed another little gap, no joy. Another field picked out and I made another desperation attempt for that bubble behind me. Down to 200ft over ridge top and it just barely picked up. 55 knots, heart’s racing. One eye on the field, the other eye on the ridge. Airspeed, yawstring. Don’t turn into the mountain. I fell out of the back side of this narrow thermal almost every turn. I had to remind myself to breathe every once in a while.

I was astounded. I was now edging my way up over the mountain, up to 3000ft. Oh damn it, not high enough to go across Seven Mountains! I dejectedly pushed upwind to the next cu. Good air… good air. Bang! 2 knots! I tightened into that sucker and started spiraling up… 4000ft, 5000ft. I’m out of the doghouse now.

I was exhausted. My body ached as the pressure finally subsided. I felt like a wet noodle. With the tailwind and true airspeed bonus, I was doing 105 knots. I was perfectly content to just float this one out, no rush. No more of this low altitude nonsense.

The lift perked up a bit now, but it was still hard to center and far apart. Any reasonable thermal, I was taking it. Probably the most fun moment was up at 6800ft after leaving a thermal. I picked up to 90 knots and just hit a thermal smack in the middle. I hauled on the stick and catapulted straight up. The flaps kicked right in and I gained 600ft on the one pull. Very nice!

3:35pm and at the turn. Just make it over the ridge and you’re home free. 2.8 knots in the thermals, no sweat… there’s plenty of time. Just stay high and float on home.

By 5pm, I crossed my finish at the Upper Reservoir. Thoroughly pooped out, I called it quits pretty quickly after that.

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Thanks Brandon for towing and Ron for running the line in the morning! Aero Club Albatross did really great yesterday; 22 tows on a weekday! I think this is a record for club operations! And thanks a million to Bill Thar for letting me fly your spectacular ship. It made the difference today.

Find the flight log here.