Another day, different weather. We had clouds. I forgot what they looked like. We get to fly with clouds 2 or 3 times a year around here (Northern California). Off to Elk we go, but this time we picked up three paraglider pilots, Greg, Andy and Bernard, and an extra hang glider pilot, Fred. That’s the most pilots we have had in two years at Elk. Linda’s truck, Larry, was pack to the gills for the drive up. Linda was excited to see so many pilots flying.
The conditions at launch were interesting. Cloud base looked to be between 5,000 and 6,000 feet. The wind was out of the south, but the various weather forecasts were calling for winds out of the northwest. Dr. Jack was predicting cloud base at 8,000, but almost no chance of clouds. By 11:30 we were seeing clouds in every direction.
Waiting for a cycle. You can see the video camera on the left side of my helmet.
Bernard launched at 11:30, Fred launched at noon. Fred climbed above launch, but then sank very low out in front. I thought for sure he was heading for the creek bed, but he slowly started climbing. Greg and Andy got on launch at 12:30 and climbed to cloud base ( 6,000’) in short order. The cycles were weakening and it looked like it was about to change wind direction. It took a while to get a good cycle and I was off a little before 1:00. Rich was a few minutes behind.
I climbed out steadily from the point, with a strong southwest drift. As I approached cloud base I could feel the cloud suck turn on. I moved upwind of the cloud and was able to climb a little above cloud base. The clouds looked to be only a 1,000’ thick so I was surprised at the strength of the cloud suck. Fred was back above launch and climbing with Rich. The wind direction was right for a flight over to Hull, but the cloud base was too low to try. I decided to fly toward the Lakeport airport for a little XC. Rich and Fred followed a mile or so back. Bernard had landed and Greg and Andy were heading south toward upper lake.
Mid Mountain in the foreground and Horse in the background.
Along the front edge of the clouds the sink was minimal, but as soon as I had to leave the clouds and cross a blue hole, the sink was strong. I got down to 1,400’ agl before I found another real thermal. Rich had caught up when I was searching for lift. Fred was really low heading for an LZ when he caught some lift. Just like last week the cores were small and snaky, but this week the turbulence was even worse, especially between 4,500’ and cloud base.
This picture was taken with a wide angle lens. We're closer than it looks.
After climbing to 5,300’ we headed south of Blue Lakes and Scott’s Valley. I came in over the hills at 4,300 and hit some bumps that felt like lift. We started searching and I searched myself down to 3,700’ before I found some crappy lift back to 4,400’. After 10 minutes I was all of 100’ higher than I arrived. Rich was doing better and was close to cloud base again. He hit some more really bad turbulence and said he was going to head back to the field by his house. I was not high enough to go back and had to head another mile south before I found some real lift and was climbing again. I lost the core at 5,400’. I made a couple of circles in sink when I found it again, and I went instantly to 1,000 fpm (look at the vario trace below). This was defiantly strong cloud suck because it was so smooth. I was going up so fast I could only take two turns before I had to head out for the edge of the cloud. As I left the lift the air was so rough I could only fly at 42mph. Any faster and I could not hold on. Rich was a ¼ mile away leaving from under his cloud and his glider looked like a flapping bird. The wing flex was incredible to see. It makes me glad I am flying an overbuilt VR.
We headed back to the LZ to find Fred close to cloud base as well. We told him we were going to land. As I circled to get down, every time the sun came out over the field it lifted off, as the clouds drifted over it would be back to sink. It only took 20 or 30 seconds of sun before the lift would start. The lapse rate was 22 degrees in 4,000’. The wind at 5,000’ was 8 mph out of the southeast, on the ground it was 8 out of the northwest. As could be expected it was a rough ride down. On final the wind died to 2 mph, but I still managed a no stepper. That’s 4 in a row for me. Ever since I have been holding one leg forward to move my CG further forward on landing I have been having an easier time keeping my speed up and flaring.
The wind was down to 1 mph when Rich landed and he chose to run out his landing. A few minutes later the wind was light and variable when Fred came in to land. He set up his approach a little to close and chose to bonk rather than go through the barbed wire fence like cheese through a slicer. At the speed he was going, I told him if he hit the fence we would have to pick him up in 4 pieces. He managed a nice bonk and did no damage to himself or his glider. Rich and I only had an hour and a half of flight time. Fred managed a minute over two hours. It was an interesting day. I would have like to see what it would be like with a little less wing shear.
Vince's landing video. As you watch the video, notice the power lines on approach. I try to always cross power lines at the pole so as to better judge my height above them. All of those dark spots in the field are cow pies, and fresh to. Another reason for a nice no step landing.
Rich's landing video. Sorry for the poor framing. Watch in the lower left of the picture. I can't always tell where my helmet camera is pointing.
Rich started working with PhotoShop pro and merged several photos together to make the two pictures above. Click on them for the "big" picture.
Vince's IGC file.
Rich's IGC file.