Click on a picture for a larger version.  All pictures were taken by Rich Sauer except for the two satellite views from Google Earth.


Another year has gone by and it was time again for the Sonoma Wings' St. John fly in.  The fly in has been held most years for the past 13 years or so.  Lately we have been getting a great turnout.  This year 28 hang glider flew with about 8 paragliders flying from Potato Hill across the valley.  The fly in was scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with an out and return task called for Saturday.  The other days were just fun flying. 


On Saturday the task was an out and return with launch from St. John and lading at Mary’s field.  The flex wings had a turn point anywhere north of Alder Springs road and the rigid wings had a turn point at Red Mountain.  This gave the flex wings pilots a 37 mile task and the rigids a 48 mile task.  On this day our regular driver Linda was not available, but Rich’s daughter Kim was able to do the honors.  Thanks Kim.


I like to get to launch early and even so when we arrived at launch there were already 4 or 5 pilots setting up.  It seems that they had spent the night on top and did not have to make the drive up the 10 mile dirt road.  It's nice camping on the top of the mountain where the temperatures are about 30 degrees cooler and the nights are clear.  Rich and I were set up and ready to go by 11:30.  The rest of the pilots started trickling in and setting up.


I usually like to launch first, especially if I am trying to go long, but with the short task I decided to let someone else launch first (and the fact that they set up their glider between mine and launch).  The first pilot tried to launch at 12:45 and blew their launch.  I was amazed that they survived with just a bent down tube.  St. John is not a very forgiving place to blow a launch.  The area below launch is very sharp lava rocks.  After the other glider was moved off to the side I had an easy launch at 1:00, not even taking up the entire ramp for my run, much different than the launches Rich and I had there over the 4th of July holiday. 


I climbed up to the left of launch and was soon above 8,000’ over the towers.  Rich and Todd launched a few minutes after me.  Looking down at them I could not figure out why Rich was climbing so poorly.  I found out later he was waiting for pilots to launch so he could get some good pictures, but very few were in much of a hurry.  Over the top of the mountain my vario was reading the winds out of the west at 21 mph.  This usually means very poor flying conditions.  With such strong west winds I wanted to get out on course before conditions deteriorated further.  It turned out later that the winds died down and conditions got a little better. 


Gilder set up on launch.  Note the lava boulders below launch.


Todd, just after launching.


I was on my third thermal over the mountain when I drifted a long way.  I was at only 8,300’ when I decided I had to either head out on course, or try to make it back to the mountain.  I headed out on course alone.  This first glide took me 16.7 miles all the way to the flex wing turn point without any lift.  I was down to 2,500’ (about 800’ agl) when I hit my first lift on course, just when I was thinking I might have to land.  Rich and Todd left about 20 minutes after me and did not find much lift either.


This picture was taken from the northeast of St. John looking back toward the mountain, which is not usually a direction we fly.   


I had a few climbs and was now higher than Red Mountain, our turnpoint.  I looked like I could get it on a glide.  As I got close to Red I hit big sink and saw Red rising in my view.  It quickly became apparent that I was not going to make it so I turned down the ridge and headed for the chrome mine.  The chrome mine usually works and this day I climbed right out and directly over the top of Red, to 5,300’, the highest I had climbed since leaving St. John.  I thought the day might be improving.  Now I had to head into a crossing headwind to the goal field at Mary’s.  As I headed back I passed over Rich who was in the same spot I had been in.  He looked low.


Red mountain and the chrome mine.


I found virtually the same conditions on the way back as I had on the way their.  In fact I ended up at the same place at 2,500’.  I hit what I thought was the same thermal and was climbing at almost 500 fpm.  But suddenly at 3,300’ I lost the core.  I took a couple more turns looking but was now in sink.  I had two choices: look some more and risk sinking out back along some nameless dirt road or head out to the main highway.  Since Kim did not know how to track me with a GPS, I chose to make it easy on her and me and fly out to the main highway. 


I found a few small thermals that enabled me to get over the town of Elk Creek.  Right behind town I saw a dirt airstrip that was about 2,000’ long.  At first glance it looked like the obvious place to land, then I spotted the horses on the runway and the fact that it was behind a house which meant Kim could not see it or me if I landed there.  Looking around I found a much better choice.  At first glance it would not appear that good, but it faced directly into the wind, was up hill and was  along a pave road that was well marked (road 308).  There was a hill on either side of the field that would funnel the wind into my landing direction.   I set up a nice approach and had the best landing I have ever had in a hang glider.  It reminded me of a greaser in a powered plane.  I touched down so smoothly with no forward movement that at first I did not even realize my feet were on the ground.  The glider settled onto my shoulders and with the 10 mph wind, felt like it weighed only a few pounds.


In this aerial view you can see the dirt runway on the left.  I marked my landing field in red.


A closer view of my landing field. The red arrow points to the gate.  The main road runs left to right in the picture, next to the green fields.  In this area of the country, the green fields are usually either star thistle or tar weed.


I walked my glider 50 yards or so to a gate that I had spotted when I flew over.  From here I could see the main highway and keep an eye out for Kim.  She found me easily and we were soon on the way to pick up Todd who landed a few miles up the road.  Rich caught a great thermal where I had missed one and was able to make it all the way back to the goal field.  It does help to know that there is someone who can find you if you have to land out. 


The big town of Stonyford slightly up and to the right of the center of the picture.


Rich was the only one to make it back.  Chris Arai was only a mile short, and this was his first flight in over a year.  Given the conditions, lots of pilots decided not to go on course and flew directly to Mary’s field.  Later when most of the pilots were back, Ernie and Ernie Jr. cooked up a great meal with tri-tip and chicken.  Many other chipped in to help.  Though the conditions were not that good, it was still fun.  I hope we can have the same enthusiastic turnout next year.


The result of landing down wind and flying in shorts.


My IGC file for the flight.