2016 was an exciting year for me. I completed three 1000km flights, one of which was of course the record flight in Sweet Red. On finishing that task, I felt a tinge of regret as a part of me realized that my 1-26 journey was winding down. I felt I had taken this glider as far as I would make it go and my horizons broadened to other kinds of flying. And with this, my relationship with my first love started drifting apart.
In October, I was gearing up for a ridge run in El Bondo. I went up in the 2-33 to do a ridge checkflight, with the LS3 all prepped and ready to go. When I came back, I found another club member getting ready to fly it! This was a bit annoying and disconcerting… the fellow didn’t go through the trouble of putting the ship together and simply figured gliders just magically appear out of their trailer! Instead of making a fuss, I just took my stuff out and decided to fly one of the other club ships. Seeing Sweet Red was tied down, I figured why not give it a go, if not for old time’s sake?
The Race | 10/28/2016
It was really fun flying the 1-26 on the ridge again. I made a run up to Sunrise Mountain for the first time in Red, which was exciting to say the least. It’s tricky country up there and staying connected with the flat, largely unlandable ridge took a lot of attention. This was followed by a leisurely drive to Hawk Mountain.
Near Hawk, I found a bald eagle soaring the ridge and flew formation with him for a good 15-20 seconds. Later, I found Ron Schwartz above Hawk, still trying to make the transition over to Sharp at 4pm. I couldn’t climb above 2400ft, so I was content to sit and watch him. He found a thermal over the middle, making every attempt to make it work, but ultimately came back.
As he fell back on the ridge, I opened the spoilers, dove off his wingtip and then slid forward, heading for the tip of Hawk. The radio wasn’t working in Red, but it was very clear to both of us what was to follow. It’s like those guys who start revving their engines at another car at a stoplight, begging for a drag race.
So at the tip of Hawk, I did a quick steep turn and Schwartz does the same, 200 yards behind me and we’re off to the races!
He shoots off to the little offset just NE of Hawk Mountain, going right for the trees. Early on, he managed to scoot and increase the distance on me and I am paddling hard to catch up. I am watching all of his movements, seeing the ailerons swish up and down, figuring if I manage to just be a little smoother I could catch up a bit. Hard to do with the air swirling about just above the trees!
We get over into the flat spot at Snyders, he pushes out a bit and I manage to cut the corner and take the lead, albeit a little lower. We are driving as hard as we can, driving below 2000ft. Established again on the ridge at Snyders, Schwartz was a bit higher, but couldn’t find the line to pass me. Since the sun was coming down behind us, I see his shadow chasing me along the ridge. I look over my shoulder, seeing him trying to edge through on the inside. I keep my wing pasted over the trees; I wasn’t gonna give him the line!
Finally near Flying M, he found his line and converted his slight altitude advantage to shoot ahead of me. Getting toward the tunnel, he’s now slowly pulling away from me, establishing a quarter mile lead. I’m driving as hard as I can, 50ft above the trees, eyes narrowed on 428’s tail. I’m thinking that now the only thing I can do is wait for Wind Gap and see how that transition goes. I figured he’ll end up driving in there low enough that he’ll take a turn and that’ll be my chance to pass him again.
And sure enough! After driving through the Ski Area at 75 mph and approaching Wind Gap, Schwartz turns into a thermal! Aha! I slide in ahead to pass him, find my energy line and zip across, with Ron in tow 3/4 of a mile behind me. We drop onto the ridge again on the other side, driving toward the Delaware Water Gap. He was a bit higher and certainly not happy with this wayward fellow passing him on the transition, so he was converting his extra bit of height to speed with quite a vengeance. I in turn was floating up for the final big jump across the Water Gap. Ron finally caught right up to me, a little beyond Fitch’s Quarry.
I drove into Water Gap as low as I dared. 2000ft on the dial, this is about as I’m willing to attempt to make this crossing. Aiming for the corner, I pushed the nose down and tucked it around at 1290ft. Wing in the trees, I slowed down to 50 mph. The ship is barely climbing up the rising terrain and every once in a while I slip below ridge top.
Schwartz’s foreboding shadow was hot on my heels and he again tries to make his move to pass. No joy! We’ve now connected with the stronger ridge lift, zooming up the ascending ridge, right on the treetops. Once again he builds up some extra height and cashes in on the jump to the Catfish ridge.
I slide in behind and we’re driving flat out toward Fairview Lake. Scooting over the Millbrook powerline, we’re on the Millbrook ridge going 65 mph. At the finish, he does a quick turn, with me 200 yards in tow, the same distance we started apart at Hawk Mountain.
With the sun setting to the west, we floated back to the Upper Reservoir. I slipped ahead, into position for a formation landing. We touched down at the same time, ending the most fun run from Hawk to Millbrook ever!
I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out this was my last flight in Sweet Red. The following year another pilot totaled the ship in a landout accident. This flight was the coda to all of my experiences in this most wonderful bird.