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It has been quite some time since I last flew. I pinched a nerve in my back which has kept me from flying for at least 2 weeks. I was supposed to go on a flying trip to the Owens Valley, but my back was just too bad to make the journey. My glider did make it though. It got over 1,000 miles on top of Bill Vogel's truck.
Bill had a couple of excellent flights in the Owens. Each day he flew he flew further than anyone else in the Sonoma Wings club that were on the trip, over 90 miles on Friday and an incredible 147 miles on Sunday. He landed because he was bored flying alone. Did I mention he is 67 years old?
For the last week I babied my back so I could get at least one launch from St. John over the 4th of July weekend. St. John is my favorite site, even though it has been known to be fickle at times and also eat truck tires (it ate three this trip, though none of them mine). My wife Nancy and I along with her new dog drove to St. John on Thursday, towing our tent trailer up the mountain. Several other pilots were on there way including Andy, Greg, Matt, and Scott. Since my back was only good enough for one launch, I chose to drive for the other pilots on Friday and take my flight on Saturday when Bill, Rich, and Kurt were going to come up.
I drove Andy's truck down the hill while Nancy assisted on launch. Scott was first to launch after waiting on the ramp for over 40 minutes for a cycle. The other three pilots launched shortly after and scratched their way up. Matt was high, but lost a lot of altitude waiting for Greg and Andy. By the time they were high enough to head north, Matt was a lot lower than them. He tried to head north but did not hit any lift until he was just over an LZ. He landed in frustration while the others glided onward.
The lift was not that great, Andy and Greg had left St. John at 8,500'. They managed to get over 9,000' 6 miles north at Felkner ridge, but that was about it for the rest of their flight. They landed after a long glide at the 27 mile mark. Scott landed with them to make the retrieve easier.
Kurt arrived last night and Bill and Rich drove up to launch at 10:30. We were all set up and ready to go by 11:30.
Greg is in the foreground with me standing on the launch ramp. You can see we are wearing gaiters, just about a requirement around here due to the star thistle and fox tails in all the LZ's. While we were still setting up, a cloud was forming right over the mountain.
It's not very often we get to fly with clouds at St. John and we were all excited about it. We had six pilots flying today, 5 of them on rigids and one lone holdout on a flex wing (he also has a rigid, but preferred to fly his flex wing today.) Greg launched first followed by Scot, Andy, Kurt, Bill, Rich and me bringing up the rear. I got lucky and had a cycle that was blowing in at close to 10 mph, a very strong breeze by St. John standards. I was able to limp down the ramp and get in the air before I ran out of space. By the time I launched, Andy and Greg were over 10,000', they were planning on team flying like Rich and I do and were trying to stay together.
Rich had his camera and took all but one of the pictures. He and I are working just to the left of launch. I hit lift before I got to the switchbacks and took this first lift for 5,700' all the way to 11,900 (launch is 6,200'). The one thermal got me just about to cloud base. As I was climbing I saw that Rich's nose cone was not stuck to the Velcro on the top. It was oscillating like crazy. He said he did not know what was happening, his first thought was one of the ribs or the tail was loose then he looked up and saw the nose cone flapping. It was now coming loose on the bottom as well. Before he could do anything else, it flew off.
There are a lot of stories about what happens when the nose cone comes off and Rich was about to confirm them. We think one thing that made it not as bad as it could have been was his glider bag in the nose kept the air from inflating his sail too badly. As it was, he could not fly below 27 mph or the glider would pitch violently over. Above 34 mph it would buffet. He thought about his prospects and decided that he had to go XC in order to find a big enough and smooth enough LZ to land.
As we climbed out, we thought that Bill was Kurt. They both have red tails on their gliders and red harnesses. We did not realize that Bill had received his new harness and was flying it. Rich was trying to give Bill some help over the radio as he saw him low over the switchbacks (it was actually Kurt). Rich was getting frustrated and kept giving instructions which made no sense to Bill who was actually less than 200' away.
Bill climbing next to us.
Rich finally asked Bill what his altitude was and he responded 10,200' and climbing. We both looked over and finally realized that Bill had been climbing with us all this time.
As we were passing 9,000' we could see a cloud forming over Felkner ridge. Andy and Greg were already on their way.
The little wisps are above Felkner. I was topping 11,900' (my highest over St. John) and I said I was heading north. Bill followed me, but as Rich headed north he hit more lift and climbed another 800'.
This is me above Rich just before I headed north.
Here is Bill and me, those little dots, 800' below Rich, heading for Felkner. We are still over 11,000' in the picture, but it makes us look like we are on the deck.
By the time we were on our way to Felkner, a nice cloud had formed. Andy was low and had just found the lift. Greg missed it and headed east toward the valley. On the way to Felkner, I was dropping like a stone. I had a 10 mph tail wind and still only averaged a 13.7 to 1 glide. At Felkner I found some weak lift and started working it. Bill was a little east and working something as was Scot. I saw Rich come in way overhead and wondered how he got that high. I later found out about is extra lift before he left St. John. As I climbed in this OK thermal, I had a feeling there was something a lot better near by. I moved around a bit and found 1,000 fpm up. It was only a minute of two before I was up with Rich. I topped out at 11,000' and headed north again with Bill, Rich, and Scot. Kurt was still trying to get up at St. John, but would soon be on his way.
When Rich and Scot left Felkner they were very close in altitude. After the next 16 mile glide there was only a few feet of altitude difference between them (I was about 800' higher). Scot was in heaven thinking his Laminar was copping the same glide as a VR. It was only later in the retrieve truck that he found out that Rich was flying without his nose cone.
This is Red mountain (with the solar panels and antennas on top). Rich and Scot stopped for a turn or two, but I did not like anything I felt and continued on.
This a a picture of a water fall about 2 miles north of Red mountain. It faces east and bakes in the sun. It can be a good thermal generator. We found zero sink (later after I looked at my track log I found out I had actually lost 180' in "zero" sink). I still did not like what I was finding and continued on as the rest of the pilots started to get lower and lower.
Just before Paskenta I was down to 2,600' and I hit the first real thermal since leaving Felkner. Bill was headed out to land. Greg had landed in Chrome. Scot and Rich were still trying to get up, Kurt was still on his way. When Bill landed Rich asked him how smooth his LZ was. Bill said it was smooth and free of rocks. Rich was having a heck of a time thermaling. He could not tell if the buffet was from the thermal or the lack of nose cone. He decided to land next to Bill. Since his glider would pitch down below 27 mph he decided to come in prone and try and slide it in. He flew over the ground 6" off the deck, dragging his feet to slow down. When the base tube finally touched, it dug in and he bent the two weak links in his down tubes and got a scrape on his arm. Not bad considering how unstable his glider was.
These are Rich's skid marks from dragging his feet. He measured them at over 90'.
After Rich and Bill had landed, I thought about flying back to where they were and landing to make the retrieve a little easier (we were riding in Bills truck with Linda driving), but I found that Andy was close by and I thought I would show him how to team fly. He said he would follow me so we headed north. Scot landed just past Paskenta and Kurt was doing well and was about 3 miles behind. From this point on I don't have any more pictures. I did have my camera with me but was so busy trying to stay up, that I forgot to turn it on. It sounds pretty lame now, epically considering that Rich took over 90 pictures while trying to fly his glider without a nose cone.
The lift north of Paskenta was 2 to 3 miles apart. We would get down to about 3,300' then climb back to a little above 4,000'. I was leading Andy after each thermal and he would come in after I found some lift. At one point I started turning and saw him about 1/2 mile back circling. I gently reminded him that when team flying, if the glider pimping behind finds lift, they need to tell the lead glider so they can decided if they want to turn back. Once we got that worked out we flew great together. Andy is very good at flying close. At one point I lost the thermal and was going to leave when Andy said he found it. That saved us another 1,000'. As we passed the 43 mile mark we heard that Kurt was landing on Lowry road. He had almost caught us after being a long ways behind.
The drift was strong out of the south east and it looked like it would be difficult to make any real good miles so I asked Andy if he wanted to fly to the Red Bluff airport. He said he would follow me. We did have one more little communications glitch. I radio'd that I had lost sight of him while we were thermaling. He replied "don't worry, I trust you" to which I quickly replied "DON'T trust me, I can't see you". It's those little cues that Rich and I take for granted that I realize we need to teach other pilots. For example, if I say to Rich "I lost you" he would just reply "I got you" which means he is now responsible for avoiding a collision. Another phrase we use is "bumps". If one of us say bumps, it means that we think there is a thermal near by and we need to go into a search pattern. When we hit a thermal, instead of saying that, we just say "300 up" or whatever we find our climb rate is. It keeps the radio chatter down and lets us concentrate on flying.
As we got close to the airport, the thermals got a little better and a little higher, we had climbed to over 5,000' in one. The east drift was still strong and we were almost flying straight into a head wind. Andy was staying at my six, making sure I was not attacked from behind by an eagle or hawk. At 3 miles from the airport I started to explain to Andy what the traffic pattern was for GA aircraft, where we had to fly, where the wind sock was, etc. He was a little confused never having landed at an airport. The wind sock at Red Bluff is on a 20' tall pole, is 12' long and 4' in diameter and surrounded by a white segmented circle. Andy still could not see it. I told him don't worry, just follow me in. As I descended over the houses east of the airport, he really started to worry because he lost sight of me in the ground clutter. I descended as fast as I could so he could see where I was landing. He picket me out again and followed me in.
My landing was the best you could ever hope for. On approach the wind was 20 mph and very, very smooth. As got close the the ground I just put one foot down, actually just the toes on one foot and started to walk the glider sideways. I was able to kite the glider all the way to the spot where I broke down next to a hanger out of the wind. When Andy came in he was blessed with a little more excitement as a thermal drifted through. He did well and walked over to where I was breaking down.
Andy, all smiles, proving he flew 57 miles to the Red Bluff airport. Before I had even started to break down, Linda arrived with Rich and Bill. As soon as she heard we were heading for the Red Bluff airport she figured we would make it and she headed straight there. My final glide to the airport was only 13 to 1. The headwind was stronger there. I even took one more climb just to be sure I made it, but it was not necessary as we came over the airport at 3,000'.
It was great to hear the excitement in Andy's voice (or was it concern as we flew over all those trees). I'm glad I had a chance to show someone how to team fly and work together.
The satellite view of our flight path.
My vario graph.
Vince's IGC file.
Andy's IGC file.
Greg's IGC file.
Thanks for reading.