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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gold Altitude

Here is the flight report that I typed up for a few other forums.  I still need to get pictures off the camera, hopefully tonight.  The flight ended up being good for 7th place in the US on OLC and so far it is the highest scoring flight flown from Littlefield this year!


Typically several members of my glider club spend Labor Day weekend soaring in Ulysses, KS. However our host out there had some family issues come up and had to cancel on us. Oh well at first the forecast was looking crazy windy anyway so I didn't worry about it too much. Of course then as the weekend approached the forecast in western kansas turned to great soaring conditions.

I've been itching to get my Gold Altitude done which is a 3000 meter altitude gain from a low point in flight. Well with 14 or 15000 foot thermals forecast in western KS it was looking like that could actually be a possibility so I started trying to figure out how to get a tow.

I ended up looking south for the answer and called up my friend Mike in the Caprock Soaring Club in Littlefield, TX. This was on Friday morning. He said come on down I could get a tow whenever I wanted and have a place to stay. Well Leah said she would come along so Friday after work we got busy getting ready. Thankfully the glider stuff is always more or less ready to go. The big challenge in prep for this trip was the truck.

I had replaced the axle on the trailer with a really nice flexride with electric brakes, but I hadn't hooked up the brakes yet. I started to realize that I would feel really dumb if I ended up having more trailer problems that could've been prevented by having the brakes so in prep for the trip to Ulysses I ordered a controller and got the stuff I needed. Of course when Ulysses fell apart I lost my motivation to do the work. So with a new plan Leah and I went out to Sunflower Gliderport on Friday night and wired up the brakes. I also had to switch the truck and trailer from flat 4 to a 7 plug trailer wiring. Surprisingly i managed to get all the wiring right and the brakes and trailer lights all worked on the first try.

Saturday morning was pretty relaxing. I had breakfast with the CAF, Leah went rowing, then we finished packing and hit the road. Decided to take the interstate which was a bad idea. Ol' Blue was only able to manage about 60-65 mph and passing semis really played havoc on trailer stability. Oh well, lesson learned. We arrived at Mike's house in Plainview, TX at sunset after a 9 hr pull.

Sunday foreast was still looking good and I decided to try a triangle flight from Littlefield, TX to Hereford, TX to Portales, NM and back to Littlefield. This was long enough to qualify for the 300km Diamond Goal flight.

I took off at the first sign of lift about 12:30. Release from tow and flew through the start zone but wasn't finding much lift. I got pretty low and was entering the pattern when I found a weak thermal and started to climb away. I managed to keep inching upward but the lift was nothing like Mike had promised. All he had talked about was big West Texas thermals. This was more like the weak torn up thermals that I was used to working in Iowa and Kansas! I thought 'why did I drive 600 miles to fly in Kansas thermals????'

Well I wasn't getting very high but the lift seemed consistent just low so I started heading out to the north towards Hereford. I almost had to land about a half dozen times in the first two hours. It was hot and turbulent. I was sweating alot and the thermals when I could find them required about a 60 degree bank to stay centered. I was starting to get nauseous which I believe is the first time I've felt that way when flying alone in a glider. By now I was near Dimmitt. Mike had launched behind me in his Discus and climbed to 9000 over Littlefield and raced north to catch up with me. Well he must've raced a bit too fast because he got low over the Dimmitt airport, got sucked in by the "airport vortex" and had to land.

Right before he landed I hit my first smooth thermal of the day just south of Dimmitt and climbed to 9000 feet. Finally! I was starting to feel a lot better, the air was cooler. I set off for Hereford. I was going to be turning straight into a 20 mph wind after Hereford so I wanted to get there with a lot of altitude. Some cumulus clouds had been forming up that way so I had high hopes for good lift in the area. I was rewarded with a strong smooth thermal that carried me to 14,300 feet. A new altitude personal best for me and the highest my glider has ever flown. All right! I caught the turnpoint at Hereford and turned SW.

The wind was rough and sink was strong. I had to dive at 70 or 75 mph to make any progress into the wind. I needed to minimize time circling and do my best to just keep trucking. I set 10,000 feet as my deck and decided to dive down there unless i hit absolutely great lift. Below 10,000 and I would be a little less picky. This strategy seemed to work but progress was still slow. After about an hour and a half I was halfway to Portales and getting low near Bovina. There is a massive cattle feed lot there which seem to usually be good thermal producers and this one delivered. I had been down to about 1500 AGL at that point and determined to take that thermal as high as it would go, which turned out to be 15,000 MSL, the high point for the day. Of course I drifted backward about 7 miles while doing this. I started diving off the altitude again and creeped towards Portales. Around Texico and Clovis, NM I started to get low again but managed to get back up to around 11 or 12,000 and kept trucking for Portales.

Of course started to get low again near the city of Portales and the airport is another 5 miles southwest of town. I hunted around the brown fields in the area, looked for circling birds, corn leaves, dust devils or anything i could find. There were plenty of dust devils but of course they were all way out of range from my altitude. Down to 1500 feet again and it was past 6 PM. I could see a Dust Devil south of town that looked like an F1 tornado. There is lift out there! But not where I was and I ended up landing in a cut hay field NW of town.

Total flight time was just shy of 6 hours. My altitude gain was 10,700 feet or so which is more than enough to qualify for Gold Altitude and complete my Gold Badge. I was quick to call Matt Michael and Adam Kite as we have all had a sort of competition on who could get Gold First. Matt needs altitude and Adam needs distance.

Leah headed out to get me and with a little help from the locals I was found and we got into the field and got the glider out at right around sunset. I noticed that the taillights weren't working on the trailer and lo and behold the fuse had blown. So i replaced the fuse. about a half mile down the road it blew again. lights were flickering as we went over bumps in the road before it blew. I suspected a bad ground in the trailer but couldn't get it figured out after a lot of trouble shooting and trying different things so we stayed the night in Portales.

Monday morning woke up at sunrise and headed back to Plainview to get our stuff from Mike and then set out for Wichita. Avoided the interstate this time and had a much nicer drive. Lost a few rivets on the trailer but it held together with some help from some Cleco's. Need to remember to take my cordless drill and a rivet squeezer on the next road trip.

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Tony. Congratulations on the Gold Badge!