Three Diamonds in a 1-26

Published in the 1-26 Association Newsletter | Fall 2015

Psst….Psst, goes the Mountain High oxygen system. The bursts of oxygen are much longer than I am ever used to. For a seeming eternity, I had been sitting perched well above the glorious mountains of Mt.Washington, listening to an occasional beep of the variometer, ever so often tapping the altimeter to see the needle jump several dozen feet. Some time goes by and the needle finally goes above 21,200ft, the golden number for a Diamond climb. I remind myself that the altimeter can lie and the error necessitates a healthy altitude margin. The Borgelt keeps letting out an occasional beep. More times go by. More tapping of the altimeter. Soon enough, I am passing through 22,000ft. I sighed, thinking to myself, I’ll be damned, it’s actually over. Sitting suspended in air, moving neither forward or backward at an indicated 43 mph, with a view of the world that is both terrifying and awe-inspiring, I had realized that my journey was complete. I had gotten that third Diamond.

The Early Days

Late Spring in 2006, my brother got checked out to fly Sweet Red. He had become an Aero Club Albatross junior member and the club naturally threw him into the 1-26 as soon as they could. I had loved that glider ever since I laid my eyes upon it. It had a beautiful red paint job, hidden under wing covers and had a couple nice looking instruments. It looked like an honest-to-god sailplane, unlike the clunky 2-33 that I had been occasionally flying. It was so much fun to go wax it and try to get the wing pin through the little hole to tie it down after Michael would fly it. I couldn’t wait to fly it one day.

Flash forward almost four years, I finally got my chance to fly this cool bird! January 2010, not long after soloing, I towed into the frigid sky for a short flight. It was soooo much fun to fly! I distinctly remember how much lighter the rudder felt and the glider flew so freely. My first landing was not exactly elegant. I plopped hard onto the hard, frozen ground, but I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to fly it more!

Time goes by and I was taking up the 1-26 every chance I could. For quite a while, I had a lot of trouble staying up. Red was not letting me get away with flying inefficiently. How do the greats like Schwartz, Jonathan, Chip and Gus do this? That summer, I had my first solo flight. I launched as a cloud street set up from the SW and I managed to climb up to 6000ft. It was the most amazing feeling ever! I started flying up this street, not losing any altitude. It occurred to me that the only thing that kept me from free-falling thousands of feet was a thin sheet of aluminum and a seat cushion. I stopped at the Delaware river, desperately wanting to keep going along that endless road in the sky. I ended up falling out of it, found myself low over a town called Hope and flew my first final glide back home. I distinctly remember coming back, looking at a field and thinking to myself that if this glide gets blown, that’s the field I am going in. After a short hour and a half, I had landed the happiest soul on the planet, knowing that this is the kind of flying I want to do. Another month goes by and I flew 3.5 hours on a beautiful day, getting up to 7000ft. Maybe I can actually do this?

Going for the Silver

Actually no, I can’t! Until mid-2011, I had a heck of a time getting Sweet Red to stick to the sky. School kept me really busy, the weather stunk and I was very frustrated. Why isn’t this working!? After my long flight the previous summer, I was really set on trying to get that five hour duration and go for my silver. Cross country soaring sounded so exciting! My first honest attempt at flying the five hour duration in the spring of ’11 worked out very poorly. I got really air-sick and had a miserable time. After hurling several times on myself, I ended my misery and landed a little over three hours in. With great embarrassment and frustration, I realized that my vestibular system disagreed with my aspirations to be a soaring pilot. Only after years of flying has it largely been brought under control, but this became a major obstacle for quite a while.

On my second five hour attempt in July, everything worked out! The day was beautiful, with high cumulus and light winds. It was such a joy to zip around the sky, up so high! Three and a half hours in, I realized, many I have a real honest shot at completing the silver duration! The last hour and a half, I was scraping to any little bit of lift in the now blue sky. Finally, the minute hand clearly passed 5:15pm. A wave of excitement rolled through my body and I smiled from ear to ear. I did it! Before I landed, I sped up Sweet Red up to 110 mph, buzzing 800ft over the airport. I was on my way to flying cross country!

Due to a variety reasons, at that point I lost my ability to count on my brother to get my out to the airport. Thanks to Steve Lenter and later Intis Dzenis, through a six hour commute, I would travel on train, car to fly a plane and repeat the process in reverse to come back home. In August, I set my sights for the Silver Distance. My first attempt failed, taking three tows and falling out repeatedly. Next time around, it seemed like it should be good enough. I set out for Middletown, flying in conditions weaker than I thought I could handle. The three thermals on the way, I got pretty low and had to consider landing in a number of fields. The last thermal of the day got me high enough to make it to Middletown with just 1500ft to spare. I made it! The retrieve was more of an adventure than the flight itself, but that is a story for another time. Steve Lenter was a real champ for crewing for me. Not long after completing this flight, Schwartz offered to team fly with me in the 1-26 Championship in Texas. Everything just seemed to get in order so quickly and it was all so exciting!

Getting the Silver Badge was a huge deal for me at the time. Looking forward, I figured that there would be a time when I would plateau out in the 1-26 and would no longer be able to get beyond that point. I loved flying the glider so much that I hoped that point was far away. I figured that point would be at a Gold Distance, which would be quite far away, but I was delightfully proven wrong…

And it all Clicks!

During the winter of ’11-12, Intis Dzenis got me out to the airport every time and we both flew the local ridge. The weather finally started to work favorably for me and the flying started to make sense and work consistently. Every Saturday or Sunday in the span of a month, there was a ridge day and I built up the time necessary to be able to go cross country on the ridge. In January, I made my first Hawk ridge mission, with Intis crewing for me. I cannot overstate how important Intis and Steve were at this stage in my flying. These two guys were the critical link in encouraging and empowering me to be able to progress as a soaring pilot, when I lacked all other options. I am eternally grateful for their support.

Several short cross country flights later, come March I was starting to feel more confident about myself and was ready to spring forward at any soaring opportunity. I finally got my driver’s license and now was completely equipped to jump headfirst into ridge soaring. The next step was of course the Gold Distance and having analyzed every ridge flight done out of Blairstown since 2007, I figured it ought to be very doable. In early March 2012, I had a day off on a Friday that set up as a solid SE day. I was so excited at the prospect of getting the badge and drove out to the airport really excited. While crossing the Verrazano Bridge, it should have worried me that I could not see the tops of the towers. Once I arrived at the airport, I was disappointed to see that the top of the mountain was covered in cloud. Some time passed, the clouds lifted somewhat and a number of us launched. It was scary flying with a cloudbase 400ft about the ridge, but the ridge was working quite well. After tiptoeing a number of miles over unlandable terrain to get to my start, I zoomed off toward Hawk Mountain. I was ecstatic making it around the Bangor Offset, so now barring any unforeseen circumstances, I was home-free. A quick run to Hawk, then back to the Offset and to flying M, all I had to do was get to my finish point and I would have a Gold Distance. Unwisely, I thought it would be a lot of fun to keep going beyond my third turnpoint to Hawk Mountain once more, to get more distance for OLC.

Once I turned around, it became apparent that the clouds were starting to drop back lower. The sky became dark and gloomy. Oh no! I might not make it to my finish! I put the nose down and started driving as fast as I could to make it home. The clouds kept getting lower and lower. My heart started to race. By the time I came back around the offset, the clouds were only 150ft above the ridge. At the Upper Reservoir, abeam of Blairstown airport, I made a nearly fatal error. Instead of abandoning the task and going home, I figured I could quickly go the 20 more miles to get in, hit the finish and get home. As I drove, the visibility got worse and worse, clouds lower and lower. By the time I was nearing the finish, the visibility could not have been more than one or two miles, clouds directly on the ridge top. The ridges are only 3-400ft above the valley floor out there and I was absolutely terrified. Adrenaline pumping through my veins, I did a three G turn around my finish point and get the heck out of there. I was scared that the whole area was going to sock in and with no place to land. As I got closer to Blairstown, I looked out toward the Upper Reservoir and saw that it was completely flush with the cloud deck. I thought it would not be possible to make it around the bend and thought my only option was to try to make it back from the ridge from ridge top. I ended up getting to the edge of the airport property 150ft above ground level, did a 45 degree turn and landed diagonally across the runway.

After I had landed, I distinctly remember hearing the birds chirping. 20 seconds later, I decided I ought to get out of the glider and undid my belts and attempted to lift myself out. I was unable to. I was starting to rebound from all the adrenaline and it hit me hard. It took several weeks to get over that flight and the bad judgment that got me into a really marginal situation. I got over it though, learned many lessons that I still apply to my flying today.

Flash forward a month and I completely rebounded and set my sights on bigger flights yet. I had planned out a Diamond Goal flight, a 300km Out and Return. However, three days before the flight the badge dude informed me that my crazy march SE ridge flight qualified for the Diamond. Surprised, I quickly adjusted my sights for a 500km flight, which simply involved one more transition upwind and a lap on “our” ridge. A day later, he informs me that he made a mistake and it did not qualify. I simply told him not to sweat it, because the flight I was planning for the weekend was going to accommodate a Diamond Goal anyway. Here is the story as I wrote it after completing the flight-

Diamond Ridge Day

On Saturday April 7th, the weather forecast looked very promising. The winds were predicted to be weak in the morning and progressively escalate during the day. This would prove to be very important since I didn’t have the experience necessary to takeoff in very windy conditions, which are common for “record” days. The thermals were predicted to be blue, but go fairly high (5500-6000ft) which was more than enough to make it across the transitions.

The day began in the complete darkness at 4:30AM. I intended to sleep until 5:30, but restlessness got the better of me. Everything was prepared the day before so I simply drove out and was on my way to the airport. By 5:30, I was departing Brooklyn as twilight started to engulf the city. As I drove over the NJ Turnpike, I looked over the clear, unstable skies over Manhattan that were getting progressively absorbed by the twilight and then noticed the full moon setting to the West. At that moment, I knew that this was a really special day and for whatever reason, everything was going to work out.

I came to the airport a little before 7AM and saw Ron Schwartz doing his final preparations for yet another big flight. After his sound advice was to, “Take it easy, you have all day,” I ran his wing and set him on his way. At this point, the wind was only 6 knots aloft and I was surprised that the ridge managed to keep him aloft.

After a good tow to 2400ft, I released over the ridge and observed many gliders in the local area. Not good… they think the ridge isn’t working too well. I got down onto the local ridge and was just floating along at 50 mph probably no higher than 100ft above the trees. I wasn’t particularly thrilled, but the wind was getting stronger, and after a quick run on the local ridge, I headed to my startpoint to the NE After I joined the Millbrook Ridge after the short transition from our Local Ridge, I tried to stay high. The further I go on this ridge, the farther I get away from fields. Because of this, I tiptoed my way over to the startpoint, as V3 buzzed right by me. The ridge was weak, but I knew that the weak lift, would be enough to get me to the landable terrain, albeit uncomfortably. Once I started the task, I quickly turned around and made my way back to the local ridge. Now I needed to climb up to around 3000ft to make the transition across the Delaware Water Gap, my first major obstacle.

I hit a thermal in the usual spot by the campground and I started my slow climb in the weak blue lift.I made it across with a little to spare, and was on my way towards Hawk Mountain, the end of the “Blairstown” ridge. Before Wind Gap, I did one turn in a thermal and followed the descending terrain across the Gap. I made it at crest to the following ridge and flew low and fast in this area. The ridge past Wind Gap and before the Ski-Area is well defined, but has few landable fields. I have found that I am more comfortable being low and hauling in these sections rather than high up and unsure if the ridge is working below me. I crossed the ski-area, Lehigh Gap and the Allentown Tunnel quickly as the ridge started to work moderately well. Past the tunnel, I slowed down a bit since there are no landing options in that area. The ridge is also less defined, but workable. I started to work the thermals in this section to get higher since the section by the town of Snyders, where the road crosses the ridge really flattens out. I climbed up around 2500-3000ft, but was comfortable since I have went through that section last time at 2200ft. At this point, I am starting to think about the transition from Hawk Mountain to Second/Sharp; a formidable five mile, upwind jump.

Halfway across the flat area, I climbed up to 3000ft and I started probing the area upwind of the ridge. I didn’t hit anything workable and as I started to get lower, I jumped back to the working ridge near Hawk Mountain. I hit a thermal and worked it up to 3500ft and then I tried the upwind transition again. I was a lot lower than desirable, but I figured if I could hit a thermal on the way and maybe just some “good air”, I could make it. When I got down to 2700ft, I hit a thermal and worked it up to 3100ft. The thermal started to peter out, and there was no point working it when the lift diminished to the point where I was drifting more than I was climbing. After I climbed up, I saw I had the glide made and aimed at the gap at Second Mountain. It was going to be tight, but I was positive I had it made…. until I hit the lee sink.

As I got closer to the ridge, I hit the falling air associated with the lee of the mountain. I started falling like a set of car keys and it started to seriously doubt if I would be able to make it around the gap high enough to work the ridge life on the other side. Many things were going through my mind as I hit the strong sinking air.

  • Am I gonna make it, or not… am i gonna make it or not?
  • Oh [expletive]!, I am too low to bail back to Hawk Mountain.
  • Don’t be such a wimp! Taz said when you hit the lee sink, just keep punching through, it will end.
  • Okay, there are fields before the Gap and after the Gap. I have seen Schwartz’s track where he went right in the middle of the gap and right into the field on the other side. That is where I am probably going to end up.

Then the lee sink subsided, it was gonna be really tight. I went right through the middle of the gap and turned left onto Second Mountain not much higher than the trees. I was at 1500ft MSL, and the valley below me was at 1000ft MSL, and the ridge was around 1400ft MSL at most. I was a little surprised that the ridge was as small as it was. The ridge lift was choppy and gusty because Sharp Mountain shadowed the ridge. My first thought was to get away from the gap as it is probably sucking some of the air through it. I floated along the ridge and dogboned a promising gust of wind, and kept floating along away from the gap. Hallelujah, I hit a thermal! I worked the lift and climbed up to 4500ft and made a beeline for Sharp Mountain. I got lucky that I hit the thermal because shortly after several pilots had a tough time in that spot.

Sharp Mountain is a sorta-well shaped ridge with just about no landing options below. It progressively gets higher with the terrain the further South you go and is no more than 500ft high above the wooded valley below it. After my experience on Second Mountain, I had absolutely no intention of getting down on that rotten ridge. I stayed high in the thermals and tiptoed my way across the terrain below. The sink between the thermals was noticeable and I would be losing a lot more height than usual in the glides. As I got close to Tremont, a town which is close to the end of the flyable section of this ridge, I worked a thermal to 3800ft and saw I had the glide made to Bear Mountain. I pushed out and worked the thermal streets across the transition and made it comfortably to Bear. I wasn’t high enough to keep going to the Mahantango, the final ridge I had to jump to, so I fell back onto Bear Mountain. The first thermal I hit, I worked to 3000ft and pointed upwind to the Mahantango. I hit a thermal street and made it to the other mountain at 2500ft which was very comfortable. Phew! I am done with the hard part!

At this point, all I needed to do was to make it to the end of the Mahantango, my first turnpoint. The ridge was now working very well since the wind started to really pick up. The Mahantango is a low ridge that is no more than 500ft high in many places, but it is quite well shaped. I was working the ridge a good 500ft above it going 60 mph, something that which was a luxury I wasn’t used to since I have been flying mostly weak ridge all winter. This section was a lot more relaxed than any other ridge I flew since there are fields everywhere. As I was moving along on the ridge, I smelled the putrid smell of manure as I hit a thermal. I was not initially delighted by the smell, but when I came back to this location, I appreciated it much more! After a short while, I was coming up to the Susquehanna River. The river was an awe-inspiring, though not a formidable obstacle. The section of ridge before the river is very steep and it gave me a big boost so I made it across the river with plenty of height to spare.

The section of ridge past the river got a big trickier. For whatever reason, (wave suppression?), this section of ridge got significantly softer. I was about 150ft above the ridge at 50 mph, which is solid, but significantly lower than what I was working before I crossed the river. As I got closer to my turnpoint at the end of the tip of the ridge, Buffalo Mountain, I slowed down and did a circle in a fragment of lift to stay a bit higher. All of a sudden, the Colibri and my GPS started beeping like mad and after I visually verified with the GPS that I hit the turnpoint, I turned around to head back. As I started heading Northeast, the first thought that struck me was, “Man I am far away!” It became very apparent how I am in a glider 120 miles away from home and somehow had to make it back! Anyway, back to work.

Coming back across the Susquehanna was a bit more interesting than when I crossed it flying to the first turnpoint. The ridge didn’t boost me as much this time! However, I saw that the ridge was very nice on the other side, and that if I got into trouble, I could bail off downwind across the top into fields. It was something though crossing 1000ft AGL above a giant river though! The transition went smoothly and I was ridge running the Mahantango fast and high again. Once I passed the little town of Pillow, I started to think about the crossing back to Bear Mountain. I again smelled the manure, yelled hurrah! and worked the lift up to 3000ft. As I was making the jump, I sank down to the crest of Bear Mountain, though was not particularly worried since the wind was very strong and there were plentiful fields in the valley below. I flew the ridge closer to where it ends to put myself in a good place to thermal off the ridge towards Sharp. I hit a thermal and worked it up to a little over 4000ft, again letting myself drift downwind with the lift. I now headed towards Sharp Mountain.

The first good thermal I hit once over Sharp, I worked up to 5000ft. I saw Hawk Mountain in the distance and since the wind in this area shifted to around 300-310, I thought I should be able to make it with the substantial quartering-tailwind. As I started heading toward Hawk, I saw the mountain rising up in my canopy, and quickly pushed upwind back to Sharp. Damn! I gotta come back to this shoddy ridge again, rats! Once I came back, I hit a really strong thermal which I worked to 5500ft. Once I centered it, I pegged the vario a couple times, and was really surprised that the thermal was fairly smooth and organized in its center. The wind was howling so it was unexpected that the lift would work so well. I was now positive I could make the jump back to Hawk. As I was gliding, I glanced at the Instantaneous Glide Ratio reading I have on my GPS, and saw it said 12-1! I was going 60 mph, but I had a quartering tailwind! Oh well… I hit a couple more thermals along the way and made it to Hawk at 4000ft. This gave me plenty of height to make it over the flat area on the ridge.

I made it across the flat section with not too much to spare, but with enough to not get particularly worried. I was now back on “our” section of ridge and all I had to do was do a lap on it and then back to my startpoint. The ridge was simply bombastic. In many sections, I was at 2500ft going 60 mph, which is 1000ft above the ridge. I couldn’t really go faster since the turbulence would’ve really battered me to no end, and I couldn’t go slower because I needed the control authority to counteract the strong thermals. Once I got to the Ski-Area, I needed to constantly open my divebrakes as I hit the closely spaced thermals to not bust 2800ft, the floor of the Allentown Class C airspace. I made it pretty easily across Wind Gap and then I made it to the Microwave Tower, my second turnpoint. As I headed back on the ridge for another lap, I hit an immense thermal that came from “Fitch’s Quarry”. Initially, I thought I was just gonna go through it and that’s it, but as I kept moving along the ridge, it just kept getting stronger and stronger. I felt it would be a crime not to circle in a thermal that was fully pegged and did four turns and gained 2000ft! I looked at my track and it showed that the climb peaked out at 1400 fpm!

After I made a quick run to Snyders and back to Wind Gap, all I had to do was cross two Gaps and make it back to my startpoint. Generally when I cross knobs and gaps, I go diagonally across as to go the shortest route. But the wind was so strong now that if I did this, it would both be less safe and probably not as quick as going by another method. Before I hit the gaps, I would hit a thermal which I worked to a desired height. Then I went upwind in the thermal street that brought the thermal to where I was and went upwind until I was parallel to the ridge I was crossing to. Then I dove onto the ridge and all was well. I was able to cross Wind Gap fairly comfortably as a result.

When I was to cross the Delaware Water Gap, I decided to climb up using the thermal source that gave me the 1400 fpm lift. I hit the thermal and did a turn in it, and drifted so much that I had to dive back to the windward side of the ridge. I then worked the thermal by “dogboning” it, in order to not put my back to the wind and drift over to the other side of the ridge. After I got to around 4200ft, I started to push upwind. I went what I thought was very far, but in reality I went probably no more than two miles upwind and was just going very slow against the 35 mph winds aloft. I made the transition across the Delaware Water Gap high and made it back to my startpoint at 2700ft. At this point, all I wanted was to get back home. I have been flying for almost 8.5 hours! Once I made it to the bailout point, I jumped off with the intention of doing a base-to-final to 25. The crosswind was ferocious, 20mph, but not very turbulent. I landed with a bit of sideload on the wheel as I slipped as much as I could and quickly came to a stop. I stayed in the glider as I simply couldn’t get out at that point, and I didn’t want the glider to blow away. Jimmy Angelou and Taz got the tractor and pulled me to the tiedown with me in the cockpit holding the divebrakes open and with my hand on the stick in case the glider took off on its own.

When I got out, I was completely drained. I failed the, “Put the tiedown rod through the wing test” and took the Colibri and stumbled my way into the club shed. I asked another pilot to give me a seat since I was too tired to carry anything. I then downloaded the flight and checked to see if I hit the turnpoints. Seeyou said I hit the turnpoints okay! Hallelujah! I then stumbled to the shack and really took a breather. I drank water and ate an energy bar, the only food I ate all day. Progressively, everyone was returning from their big trips and by the time Schwartz came back, I was semi-functional. He landed right at his tiedown and got out as merry as ever. How the heck does he do it!? He sat in that glider for over ten hours and he was ready to run around the airport and yell Yippee at 72 years old, and here I am after an 8.5 hour flight practically brain-dead! After I put away the glider and the retrieve kits I went with most of the gang went to dinner at the Blairstown Inn. I left Blairstown at around 10:30pm and made it home around midnight. What a day!

The Wave Flying Begins

Three years go by and it occurs to me that I ought to finish up the Gold and Diamonds badges. Every year there is a wave camp up in New Hampshire that takes advantage of the Presidential range, a set of mountains that are around 6000ft high. In 2014, I went for my Gold there and on the very first day, I got to do some of the most spectacular flying I had ever done.

After getting the glider ready to go, I launched around 3pm behind Post Mill’s super-powerful L-19. It was almost scary towing behind it because the climb angle was so steep! I towed up to 5800ft MSL, quite a high tow, but the next two days did not look extremely promising for wave. I came to Gorham to fly wave, so I might as well guarantee a good flight on the first day!

I released in good air, underneath the wave cloud, pretty much abeam of the Mt.Washington auto-road and pushed out to the leading edge. A turn in a strong rotor-thermal and I was in 12 knot wave lift! I started S-turning along the leading edge of the wave and watched in awe as the clouds appeared to fall below. Then, the sea of cloud appeared ahead as it was fully overcast to the NW of my location. There are sights that really capture one’s imagination and this was one for me. I felt as though I could float endlessly in this white abyss ahead.

The wave tapered off at around 13,000ft and at this point it became a grind to squeeze out the last 2,800ft for a gold climb. By the time I was at 15,500ft, I was measuring my climb-rate in milli-knots… I was lucky to get 1 knot of climb. One of the nice things about the 1-26 was that at this point, the wind had gotten up to around 40 mph and I was able to park myself in that weak, but perfect sweet spot in the wave. The other guys in their sleek, higher performance ships had to S-turn and move around and thereby increasing their sinkrate, making it more difficult to climb. I may well have had the highest flight of the day, having topped-off at 16,300ft.

To make an awesome day even more special, I saw Sweet Red’s shadow in a rainbow ring in the clouds as I was descending back down to terra-firma. I had put my camera stowed away at that point, expecting rotor on approach, but then I just had to take it out one more time to capture that cool shot!

The Last Diamond

Mt.Washington instilled a love of wave and a deep desire to go for that last Diamond. I made a trip over to Petersburg WV in February 2015, a promising site for 1-26 Diamonds but did not get a high day in. However, the Mt.Washington wave camp this year turned out very well!

The forecast prior to the long weekend did not look all that promising, with weak winds predicted on the surface. However, arriving late on Friday night and in light rain, I asked Rob Dunning and Bob Janney to help throw Red’s wings on and tie her down. The poor guys labored away with me, but Red was now ready for wave!

The next day, which seemed to be most promising turned out anything but. The wave did work, but it was not set up by the Presidential range. We climbed up *only* 14,000ft, but this is not even close for a Diamond. I took advantage of the day to explore the different waves and ridges and had a real blast. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous there this time of year due to the foliage, carpeted with a whole assortment of beautiful colors.

On Sunday, we had THE day. It did not start out promising and none of the ACA members in the condo were in a major rush to get out to the airport. Nonetheless, we made it out early and I got Red out to fly. I was surprisingly invited to sniff and I found solid wave right off of tow. Soon enough, I was at 17,500ft, having to keep my divebrakes open to keep from going into the airspace. It would be 25 minutes before the higher airspace would open and I played around with Red’s stall characteristics with the brakes open and closed and the like. At this point, it honestly occurred to me that that this day was going to really work out! If the wave was this strong at this altitude, it should be strong enough to get up to 22,200ft. It was quite cold, since the sun was on back. The wind was not all that strong, but it still required to point NW, wherein the sun was to the SE.

After the airspace opened, I shot up and started to climb away. Once I got through 20,000ft, the wave started to really weaken. It still worked, but it was just a really slow climb. Looking around, it occurred to me that I was at the height of an airliner. I remembered my first soaring flight, that feeling that the only thing that kept me from free-fall was a 1/16th inch of aluminum. Looking out over the ledge, it’s a looooooong way to fall! After waiting patiently, I climbed through 22,000ft and soon enough, it was clear I had the Diamond. I stayed with the wave until I got too cold to bear it, at 24,500ft. My teeth were chattering, I was shivering every twenty seconds and my feet were blocks of ice. At the point I tapped out, I opened the brakes and dove Red back to Earth. Ten minutes later, I was down on the ground, with my last Diamond in hand. Just like that, the journey was complete.

Closing Thoughts

I am incredibly grateful to Aero Club Albatross and to all my mentors who had all been part of my progression and journey. Schwartz, Templin, Cook, Pete Vredenburg, Intis and Steve have all contributed so much to making all of this happen and I cannot adequately convey my gratitude. All of the retrieves, hours of phone calls and endless pestering have given me so much!

Most of all, I am eternally grateful to Aero Club Albatross, which has given me such latitude with Sweet Red and made this journey possible. I hope other clubs give such opportunities to their members, particularly junior pilots who lack the financial resources to purchase their own ship. I am proud to be part of such an awesome club!