(click on the pictures for a large resolution version)
Some of you might be wondering why no Vince reports for the past month. The reason is all the fires in Northern California. There were times it was so bad that you could not see the bailout LZ at Elk from launch. The smoke finally cleared enough to fly, just in time for the Sonoma Wings annual St. John fly-in. I really like flying St. John so I was looking forward to the trip. Rich's wife Linda was going to drive for us, in spite of working 80 hours a week working on costumes and sets for a theater group she belongs to. Lots of pilots signed up so we expected a big turnout. The price was a great bargain, $35 for the fly-in, a T-shirt and the BBQ.
This Vince report will be in two parts, Saturday and Sunday's flights. This one will be especially long as Rich took over 500 pictures in flight for Saturday alone, along with the 60 pictures my wife took. I have spent about 5 hours just going through all the pictures.
Leo Jones, (sitting in the picture above, signing up pilots and giving out T-shirts) acted as this years meet organizer. He went above and beyond the call of duty, going so far as designing the T-shirts himself and getting them all printed. Lots and lots of prizes were donated. I heard that every company that was asked to donate a prize said yes. Charley, Donna and Ernie also spent considerable time getting things ready for the fly-in. Many others chipped in to help as well.
My wife Nancy came along for this trip and brought two of her dogs, Shasta and Bell. Nancy took the takeoff pictures for this report.
Leo asked me if I could be the weather forecaster for the meet. That's me in the hat pointing in the direction of lift. Thanks to a point out by Ron Gleason, I started using a weather forecasting program called XCSkies. It uses some of the same models as Dr. Jacks, but the forecast are laid over Google earth so they are easier to view. They also have something called a 3 point forecast that will give a 3 day forecast for any point on the map you click. The 3 point forecast for Saturday was right on. Sunday's forecast was a bit off, but I did not have any way to download the current forecast at the fly-in.
This season I purchased a helium bottle and some balloons so I could see what was happening over launch. The weather for Saturday was predicted to have good lift, about 5,000' to 6,000' lift above ground level (not MSL). This meant if you were over St. John you could expect close to 11,000' and over the flats (which are about 300' MSL) you should get close to 6,000'. The report also showed the lift extending out into the northern Sacramento valley. This does not happen very often. I predicted there would be at least four 100 mile flights Saturday.
Rich setting up. Without his pictures, these report would be pretty bland.
This is me launching. The wind was crossing from the right, a bad direction, but the launch felt fine even though I had to run all the way to the end of the ramp.
Rich launching. Rich pulled in after launch to show off a little, causing some pilots to think he hit sink after launch.
Kurt launches his tandem VX, the only one in the USA with a full size aluminum control frame.
Greg Sugg launches his new to him Atos V. This is Greg's first year on a rigid.
Thirty one hang gliders flew in the fly-in this year as well as 5 paragliders (who flew from Potato Hill). When Rich took this picture, some of the pilots had not yet set up. After launch, Rich and I climbed out quickly from a thermal coming up just left of launch. We did not have to go to the switchbacks as we normally would. The lift was about 400 fpm. It was still early. We launched at about 12:30 as we wanted to go big.
This picture shows the normal course line we take when flying north. The last mountain at the end of the yellow line is Red Mountain. We climbed to about 9,000' over St. John. We could have climbed higher (some pilots later in the day got close to 11,000'), but we wanted to get out on course and get some miles. I should mention that my radio was not working properly. I could transmit, but I could not hear anything. In addition, my PTT switch on my left hand would get interference from my vario. I have not have radio problems for over 4 years. I purchased a Motocom head set this year because I wanted 2 speakers in my helmet instead of the 1 on my Flight connections headset. In 4 flights this year I have yet to get the Motocom to work properly. I am going to rip it out and go back to my Flight Connections headset. Even with these problems I was not about to give up on a great flying day. I just had to stick with Rich so I could get a retrieve. It was hard on Rich because I was usually flying above and behind him to keep him in site. He had trouble seeing me and spent a lot of time looking.
After leaving St. John, Rich decided to go on a sight seeing trip. He flew a couple of miles left of course, deep in the mountains. Since I could not hear him, I had no idea what he was doing. I kept about halfway between him and the course line. I did not know what was going on with the other pilots who launched. Over Felkner ridge (about 5 miles from launch) I climbed to over 10,000', higher than I ever had at this location. Kurt came in under Rich and I but we moved on before he climbed up.
Just past Red Mountain, Greg caught up with us. I was glad to see him. I thought it would be better to have three gliders working together. The picture shows him over the waterfall just past Red. We did not get any lift at Red. When that is the case, the waterfall is usually working, which it was. I climbed about 1,500' there. I could see Greg looking for the lift, but he was too far east. I radioed him to go west a bit, but I don't think he heard me. He headed east more and never caught back up. Looking at his track log (at the bottom of this report) he was only one thermal behind for 30 miles, until he got lost in the smoke and haze and ended up about 10 miles east of the course line.
I have never noticed this pond before, and in fact did not see it on this flight. At the 45 mile mark or so, Rich spotted it. We have no idea if the person who built it did it intentionally, but with the bushes at one end of the pond looking like toes, the pond looks like a foot.
As we headed northeast, the smoke and haze got worse. The general course line is in yellow. Just to the left of the course line in the distance it looks like highway 5. It is actually a railroad track. Some parts along it have no retrieve road. Highway 5 is more to the east.
The yellow circle in the picture is the CHP weigh station on highway 5. At the 68 mile mark from St. John, the Sacramento river crosses the course line. There is a large irrigated area about 3 miles wide on each side of the river that can bee seen in the middle of the picture. This causes a 6 mile wide sink hole. We have never got much more than a bubble of lift across this section. About 10 miles before this section we climbed to almost 8,000' (the ground was 300 msl), the highest I have ever been in this area. We saved most of that altitude and started across the green spot at 6,000'.
We were down to 2,000 agl after crossing the green spot. In the picture above, the yellow circle is where we usually find lift, which we did on this occasion as well. The red arrow points to the 77 mile LZ which is right next to the road for an easy retrieve. The power lines in the picture lead directly to Round Mountain and indicate the course line.
The smoke and haze got pretty bad after the 77 mile mark. The lift was a lot weaker than what we had been getting. We had to slow down and spend a lot more time climbing. The tail wind was good, averaging about 8 mph during the flight. That helped since we would drift a mile or two in each thermal. The picture is taken about the 85 mile mark. There are lots of LZ, but only two roads in the area. One, highway 44 cuts across the lower right of the picture. The other, Oak Run is near the left hand power lines. Once past the 90 mile mark the LZ get a lot sketchier.
In the picture, the red arrow points to some LZs at the 94 mile mark. I have never landed there. They are a little back from the road and surrounded by trees and possible irrigation canals. The yellow arrow points to an LZ I landed at several years ago. It is 96 miles from St. John. It is small and surrounded by trees, but only 50 yards downhill from the road. The white arrow is the location of the 100.5 mile LZ. I have never landed there either, but it looks good from the air. The black arrow shows an LZ that is not suitable for landing. It is steep and would mean a down wind landing (the wind usually blows about 12 mph here). At this point of the flight we were getting light lift every couple of miles. We could not tell what we were going to get next so we stopped at every indication of lift, further slowing us down.
Here we are at the 100 mile mark. We had got under a layer of smoke from a fire. It's hard to tell in the picture, but I was able to see a dome in the smoke that indicated an area of lift, shown by the curve of the yellow line. We flew under this section and were able to climb to 9,500' in a series of thermals. Our original intention was to fly to the right of the picture more.
The green LZ along the road to the right of the picture is at the 100.5 mile mark. This picture is taken looking southwest, back the way we came. This field is over 400 yards long and is right next to the road (Oak Run). You might have to dodge some irrigation sprinklers.
This is the LZ just to the right of the power transfer station in the upper left of the picture at the 102 mile mark. Rich landed there once and said the owners were really nice.
The red arrow shows a good LZ, but we have never landed there. There is a road going up to the LZ, but the last 400 yards might be behind a locked gate. The yellow arrow is an LZ Rich and I landed in a couple of years ago at the 104 mile mark. This looks like it would typically be a down wind, up hill landing. There are some power lines that cross the field and also some irrigation lines. The road to the field does not have a locked gate. The white arrow is a large field that is accessed from hwy 299 via Moose Run road. We have never landed there as it seems if you are high enough to make this field, you are high enough to clear the pass into Burney.
You can see we are just above the smoke in the picture. About 20 miles to the north was a cloud street that extended as far as the eye could see in both directions. Some time in my life I hope to hook into such a cloud street and make it to Lakeview, OR. I have seen such cloud streets 3 times in the last 8 years, but have not been able to work it out... yet. The large field in the lower left of the picture is Burney. There is a field just to the bottom of the pass at highway 299, but if you make the pass, you should easily make Burney.
I don't know how Rich is able to fly and still frame his pictures, but he got this great picture of me gliding off to his left.
Burney is in the middle of the picture. The town is to the right of the big field. From Burney, there are 10 miles of trees to cross, then a canyon, to get to the next town, Fall River Mills. In between Burney and Fall River Mills is a cinder cone. It is only about 300 feet high. It is high enough that when you are over Burney, you can not see what is on the other side. Last year, I spent some time on Google earth and looked over the area. I saw what looked like a good LZ just on the other side of the cinder cone. The image was from 2005, so we could not be absolutely sure it was still there. In the worst case I figured we could land on the side of the cone. We normally would fly over to the fields left of Burney, but in the past we found them to be sink holes. This time we set our vario waypoints for the altitude of the cinder cone. As we crossed the pass, our varios indicated we had the cone by 2400'. As we approached the cone the indication dropped to only 1400', but we hit a nice little thermal about 2 miles before the cinder cone.
This little thermal was enough to get us up and over the cinder cone. As you can see in the picture, there are several places to land just past the cone.
Once over the cone, we still had 6 miles of trees to cross. The field in the center of the picture does not have any roads to it. I did see a little field next to the high way (at the yellow arrow) that I thought we could land in if we had to. We were only 3,500 agl when we started heading in that direction and we hit another thermal that took us up another 1,000' to 7,000' (3,500 agl). We also drifted another 2 miles in the now 20 mph tail wind. We would be able to make it across from here. I did not like this section and when I saw were could make it across I was finally able to unclench my cheeks.
We flew to the left of the highway, hoping to get some lift off the pass. I crossed the hill to the left of the pass by about 300', but never hit any lift. The air was smooth all the way to the Fall River Mills airport in the picture. The wind was over 20 mph and we had a ground speed over 60 mph on this final glide. The wind on the ground at the airport was about 15 mph and smooth. I had a great no stepper landing just in front of the hangers. When Rich landed about 2 minutes after me the wind started gusting and he ended up running out his landing for about 20 yards.
For some reason I keep forgetting to get Rich's camera after landing and get a picture of him, so this is me breaking down. After landing I looked at my GPS and it read 128.6 miles from St. John. This was my second best flight ever. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to get a 100 mile flight this year. Our best flights are usually in July. Linda had stopped to pick up Greg. He made it 73 miles. She still made it to pick us up before we had packed up.
In the satellite view above, my track is green, Rich is red and Greg is blue.
The same colors correspond to the vario graph above. Notice our two little climbs at the end of the flight. The ground level in this area was 3,500'.
Vince's IGC track log.
Rich's IGC track log.
Greg's IGC track log.
When we got back to camp at the top of St. John (at around midnight), I was disappointed to find out that no one else had gone 100 miles. Several other pilots had chosen to try out and return flights. I can't blame them. With the high cost of gas, long flights can get expensive. In addition, the meet was set up so that you could earn double mileage points for every mile you made it back from your turn point. This would give you 90 points for a 30 mile out and return.
We flew again on Sunday, but Rich's camera battery died and I could not download the pictures. He is going to send me the pictures and hopefully I can get the second half of this report out this week.