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The Clouds with the Silver Linings

Sunday, August 10th, 2014.

On the way to the airport with Dad, the sky looked like the beautiful, booming thermal kind of day. There were large, puffy, white clouds in nearly every direction. As usual, once we neared the airport, the blue holes seemed bigger and the clouds further apart as the circling VSC gliders came into view. Dad and I were eager and hopeful for a good day and kept eyeing the promising sky. While on the way, I got a text from Robbie, a fellow junior, saying that it was starting to look good so I met him down at the club hangar.  Dad very nearly dropped me off with the car still rolling so he could go preflight ‘569’ the 1-26 for his own flight.

Down at the hangar, Robbie helped me calibrate the logger for a silver distance flight in the Libelle with a remote start beginning at Kobelt airport and going to the monument. Once calibrated, I walked over to the JRS trailer and tried to remember how to assemble the glider. Being up during the week at Harris Hill towing for their summer operation had left me less time to soar. I'm ashamed to say it had been at least a few months since I'd put the Libelle together myself. Thankfully, another Libelle owner, Robbie, Dad, and Uncle Hank all helped me piece the glider together in good time.

Once I'd gotten the wings and then the elevator on, I hooked the battery in and ran into my first problem, the radio didn't seem to transmit. I could hear radio transmissions through the speaker but couldn’t make any of my own. The second problem I came across was the logger didn't have the correct cable on it in order to power the display screen once in the glider. At this point, I was getting antsy and wishing I had been able to prepare earlier in the day as I went back and forth to the glider.

Naturally, Robbie was ready and already gridded at this point. So, while I literally ran up and down the field, Robbie launched in Ripper’s 1-34 and was up and climbing and reporting on how good the thermals were. I was stuck on the ground trying desperately to be ready.

Hank helped me straighten out the cables to make the logger display work, and handed me a radio and said, "Here (Randall), Orange County, Kobelt, Orange County, here, monument and back. Go have fun." Pretty typical last words from Hank, except the last time I heard ‘go have fun’, I was strapped into the 2-33 for my first solo. I buckled on the parachute and then climbed into JRS and strapped in.

Off I went, and to be honest it wasn't such a great take off since I was rusty on how sensitive the controls were, at least, in comparison to the wonderful rumbling rockets I was flying up in Elmira.

Tow was normal, and I felt it was surprisingly 'slow'. I smirked at the fact that I realized I’d gotten used to a higher horsepower engine pushing me back into my seat. Surprising how easy it was to get used to the machines I was flying at while up on Harris Hill over the summer. Once off tow, I had to consciously make the turn to the right instead of peeling off to the left. Being up in Elmira as their tow pilot during the week definitely was setting some habits.

I then began figuring out the logger and radio issue again and not really trying to find a thermal. I don’t normally fly with a logger, so I was slightly confused by what the display screen was showing me. That day was so good; I nearly didn't have to circle to climb. After a few minutes I finally gave up with, “I'm going anyway." I also gave up on the radio issue, thinking I trained without one, why would I need one now. Once that was decided in my head, I really cranked and banked and began thermaling in earnest.

With that, I climbed up to 6000 feet and headed straight for KMGJ. I didn't even check to see if Robbie was around, I figured he would see me. Turns out he did, he managed to stay above me, and saw when I turned for Orange County and followed suit.

I did one turn halfway to Orange County to see where Robbie was and found out he was below and behind me. He pushed on to the thermal that was marked with a beautiful cloud. We both climbed back up to 6500 at which point Scott in OH joined us in the thermal for a bit. After this thermal, I knew it would be a straight shot over to Kobelt since there were no more clouds in between. It was a nice big blue hole most of the way over to Kobelt. Once I got over my mental complex of leaving Orange and with it, familiar ground, I headed over out into the blue abyss to Kobelt Airport. Once there, Robbie and I watched an airplane climbing steeply, at this point, I tried to talk to him over the radio and had some success. We figured it was a jump plane and decided it would be a good idea to thermal quickly and leave. The thermal over Kobelt airport was a good one so we took that to 7000 feet before heading back to Orange County.

Once back in the area of Orange County we found 63W, the 2-33, with Ripper and a student. It was like seeing a friend for the first time after years of being apart. Ripper radioed me and told me at that point in time, Dad had made it far enough in ‘569’ to have Blairstown made. That was a good moment and fueled me to keep going.

I veered a little to the north towards the ridge where Robbie was, we had fanned out a little bit more on this leg than on the first one. I did a few turns then peeled off again towards Lewis Landing. Lewis Landing has always been this intangible thing for me. I’ve been flown to it every once in awhile, but never could seem to pinpoint where it was on my own. Luckily, I had flown over Lewis Landing the day before with Scott. We had gone on one retrieve and decided to fly over Lewis Landing on the way back. Now I really knew where it was again so I felt better about finding it. Turns out, it’s easy once you know what to look for.

Once I made it to Otisville, I circled over there and tried to figure out where Robbie had gone. To my chagrin, he had found the better lift so I joined him to get my altitude back. It was around here that I was at my lowest for the entire flight. I think I got to about 3000 feet before connecting with the good thermal.

After that, I aimed the nose to the monument and once there I meandered a bit beyond it just to be sure that I wouldn't miss the turn point in the logger. Robbie headed back to Randall around this time; he ended up finding and marking a thermal over Minisink High School before leaving for home.

After I had satisfied myself with actually being in the turn point, I flew towards the high school at about 4000 feet thinking it would be nice to have a cushion to get back to Randall on. So I climbed up to 4500 feet in the thermal and then headed home. I got back to Randall at 3500 feet or so and aimlessly flew above Randall to lose altitude slowly. That cushion that had sounded like such a good idea turned out to not be necessary but I was still glad to have it.

While circling around, I took that time to just relax and enjoy the scenery. The view of Middletown from the seat of JRS after returning seemed to have a special glow to it. After a few minutes, I finally decided it was time to land. Thinking about it, I was a little nervous about landing too, but it was calm on the ground at Randall so I was able to focus and managed a nice two-wheel landing.

Robbie, Hank, and the rest of the crew were there to greet me as I clambered out. They told me that Dad was on the ground at Blairstown, waiting for a tow back home. It was such fun, and even better that I got to go flying the same day that my Dad got his silver distance as well. And of course, we got the pictures to prove it.

Later that night, Robbie and I headed back up to Elmira for the upcoming workweek still basking in the Cloud Nine glow. I couldn't have asked for a better day to finally get my silver distance even if I had known what to ask for.

In hindsight, I know I could have flown much more efficiently, with more speed so as to not take as long as I did. Some of those extra turns in the thermals were not necessary in the long run. By the time I landed my flight ended up being a 2.5 to 3 hour one. Despite those considerations, I didn’t mind. I wasn’t really racing; it wasn’t a contest. I was just trying to stretch my legs on a nearly perfect practice day. For a flight and day like that, I’m just glad I did it and am very happy it was successful.

Posted: 1/3/2016 By: Rachel Conklin


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