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Distance in the Winter

Distance in the Winter

By Tony Condon

“Are you Serious?” was my greeting from John Wells.

“I’ll go if you’ll go” was my response.

On Monday, on my way home from the SSA Convention, my friend Pete VonTresckow alerted me that Thursday was looking like a potential day for a downwind dash. So I had sent John and KC Alexander a fishing email, to see if they might be available for a reprise as crew. We decided it might be fun to try for a downwind dash in February. As far as we knew no one had done that. Plus, it seemed like a good way to warm up for longer downwind flights later in the spring

The forecast held. Wednesday was a busy day getting a few odds and ends taken care of on the trailer and making sure that I knew where all the parts of the glider were. The main pin was where it belonged but it took a little scrambling to remember where the total energy tube might be. Rafael was quick to the rescue that evening and everything was in place.

Early arrival at Sunflower was in order since the day was forecast to begin early. Launch was planned at 11:00 AM. The glider was rigged in record time and everything prepared. The towplane required some time on the battery charger for its first outing of the year but it was ready at the determined time.

Cumulus clouds had begun to form at 10:00 AM. This resulted in a slight change to plan. Instead of declaring Fort Smith, AR I switched to Talihina, OK, directly downwind from Sunflower and a familiar airport and area.

At 11:03, we rolled. The sky was starting to become quite overcast at Sunflower. I took a higher than usual tow and released in a weak thermal. KC and John stored the towplane and started driving as I drifted downwind. By the third thermal I was south of Cheney Lake and back into good sunshine and under fantastic cumulus. The wind was steady around 20 mph, cloudbase started at 6000 feet and rose as I headed south. I was able to stay above 5000 feet, usually working strong lift and able to bump along nicely under lines of clouds.

I was quickly past Wichita, Wellington, Ponca City and Kaw Lake, and waving at Tulsa. The average speed rose steadily until settling at 70 mph. Not bad! Things were ticking along smoothly and I nearly reached 7000 feet at my highest point. It was starting to become apparent that unless something really went wrong I would arrive at Talihina well before the soaring day ended.

As usual, once I became comfortable I soon was faced with a challenge. The only part of the flight that I felt was a struggle was as I passed Lake Eufala. I was pondering why on earth the wind line seemed to line up with every lake in Kansas and Oklahoma. I was also only one decent climb from having glide to Wilburton Airport, which was a very comforting idea since after Tulsa the landscape changes from farm fields to forests. Wilburton would be my stepping stone into Talihina. I was starting to see the hills and ridges of southeast Oklahoma which also led to a slight uptick in the anxiety level in the cockpit. Mix all of this together with the fact that my max altitude had been trending downward since the high point of 7000 and it had been a while since I had gotten to cloudbase. The clouds were starting to thin out as well.

Now I found myself down to nearly 4000 feet as I diverted towards the airport at Arrowhead State Park, the last airport before Wilburton. Thankfully a thermal was encountered, and it wasn’t a bad one at that. I settled in, looking forward to getting back up high, promising to never do that again, and enjoying the wind that was drifting me towards my goal as I climbed. Wilburton was in glide and I was able to angle back east towards better clouds and without too much trouble soon had glide to Talihina with an arrival just after 3:00 PM.

Along the way I pondered my next move. Options downwind included Broken Bow, OK or my old friend De Queen, AR. However I was not too keen to continue south of the Kiamichi ridge. Cloudbase was back down to just over 6000 feet, the wind had turned a bit more westerly, and I was having trouble seeing any landing options out amongst the trees. So I set Mena, AR into the Oudie. Hark! Mena was Diamond Distance from Sunflower, 501.8 km to be exact. The idea of a February Diamond flight was pretty attractive. I also was sure that there was a nice warm FBO at Mena and couldn’t help but think about my frozen toes.

So off I set, flying high above the Kiamichi Ridge, still staying up above 5000 feet and having a fairly leisurely flight over to Mena. The route took me back into thicker cumulus clouds and generally better lift. I soon had glide to Mena. As I passed Rich Mountain I could see snow on the top of it! Soon Mena was in sight and after a few minutes of loitering to extend the flight over 5 hours I made a nice landing there.

John and KC were about 3 hours behind. I had kept them updated during the flight by text message. Several people had been following the flight online with the SSA’s Sailplane Tracker so I had plenty of messages and Facebook notifications when I landed. The FBO was friendly and helpful. Soon the hero crew arrived and the glider was quickly in the trailer. A gourmet dinner at McDonald’s was procured and the long drive home commenced. The mission was complete when I pulled into the house at 3:00 AM.

This flight was intended to be a warm up lap for the spring go south season. What a warm up lap it was! We got some more experience with putting together these kinds of flights. My glider and trailer are now ready for the rest of the spring, and we got some valuable practice in all of the aspects involved. Hopefully we can keep working towards the long time goal of flying to the Gulf of Mexico!

 Photo #12807 | Kate on the runway a

 

Posted: 3/6/2016 By: Tony Condon


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