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Oklahoma Diamond

Steve Michalik of the Oklahoma Soaring Association started the chain of events with a note on the Talihina Soaring Facebook Group.  He said the wind for Thursday November 17th looked excellent for wave above FL180. Looking at the winds aloft forecasts, I tended to agree. Wind direction was forecast to be SW with speeds about 40  knots and steady direction and speed up to about 30,000 feet. This got my wheels turning…

I still had not returned Leo & Jen Benetti-Longhini’s Silent 2 Electro after flying it in Uvalde. They were happy to let me take it to Oklahoma to try  my hand at the wave. The glider was ready to fly, all I needed to do was charge the batteries. The only snag was that the Electro did not have an Oxygen bottle. KSA member Dave Paulysoon came to the rescue, loaning me his Kevlar bottle with Mountain High regulator. All the pieces were in place and I drove to Talihina on Wedensday night. The forecast still looked good.

This would be my fifth trip to Talihina for flying and my third time flying in the wave there. This represented my entire wave flying experience, never getting higher than 8000 feet. Randy Teel wrote a nice report to Soaring in May 2009 about the possibilities in this area. Since then the area has hosted sailplane activity in the winter time whenever a group can get organized. I had also flown over the area on a couple downwind dash flights from Kansas in the last few years.

Dooley Rucker, from Dallas, decided he wanted to come see the Electro and flew up in his 180 HP Cessna 170, which happens to have a towhook! Learning this, Randy decided to drive down on Thursday morning from Tulsa with his HpH 304CZ.

The forecast sounding in the morning and the HRRR Mean Vertical Velocity forecast in the morning were all indicating the wave would be there. The wind was probably about 30 degrees off the ridge line but increasing to 40 knots by 3000 MSL and staying there up to over 30,000 ft. The sky was blue so no clouds to mark the wave but also no concern about getting stuck on top.

Deston Shaw, local member of the Airport Commission, helped me rig. I would occasionally see a short lived rotor cloud south of the airport. It disappeared and re-appeared a few times which was encouraging to me. Real life evidence of wave activity was better than any forecast. My plan was to motor over to Buffalo Mountain, get as high as I could, and then work out across the valley to find the wave. As always, I wanted to minimize the electric power used on the launch to save it for later if needed. I figured it was better to let the ridge lift me up rather than use the battery.

I took off at 8:20 AM. As I turned towards Buffalo, I started to hit some turbulent lift. Plan B was quickly developed and put into action. I started to search around trying to work crosswind in what I figured must be some rotor lift. I turned the motor off at 2200 MSL (1500 AGL) right next to the airport. Soon I was up over 3000 and in smooth wave lift. I had launched right into the secondary!

It quickly became obvious that the wind was STRONG. Very small heading changes resulted in very large crab angles working east and west, parallel as best I could tell to the Kiamichi Ridge about 9 miles upwind. With no clouds to mark the lift, it was very helpful to use the crumb trail on the GPS screen to see where the lift and sink was and help control my ground track.

 In the secondary wave I topped out at about 5000 MSL. This gave me plenty of altitude to push into the wind for the primary. Over the last 7 years, pilots have often found the primary over the small town of Albion, so that is where I headed. It took 80 knots of airspeed to make 40 knots over the ground, affirming my thoughts that the real wind was about the same as forecast.

I hit the primary right next to Albion at 3500 MSL. Yahoo! Parallel the ridge here was a bit of a SW/NE course. My groundspeed on the SW legs was almost zero. In fact I learned that the LX Zeus does not read any groundspeed below 16 knots. Anything slower than that was reported as 0 knots. I was still making progress but very slow. The trips running NE of course were very quick.

This wave took me to 11,000 feet in 1 hour and 5 minutes for an average rate of climb was 115 feet per minute. Patience was the key here, no time to climb records would be falling today. By 11,000, I either lost the wave or it died. I hypothesized that the wave could be better further east, where the ridge was more perpendicular to the wind. My backup plan to that was to jump downwind of the Winding Stair, which had a much better alignment of the wind, and see what was there.

My Plan A worked out this time and I re-contacted the Primary at 10,300 after running about 15 miles ESE of the Talihina Airport. This would turn out to be The Wave. Climb rates were better, often over 200 feet per minute. I was able to run a more SE/NW line and had no trouble staying in the lift.

By this time I was I was making good use of Dave’s oxygen and enjoying the crystal clear and perfectly smooth air. It was not too cold, with the freezing level up at 15,000 feet. With the large canopy and closed vents I stayed very comfortable in my Flannel shirt and blue jeans. I never had to put on my stocking cap and gloves that I took along.

I had arranged flight following with Fort Worth Center while I was over at Albion. I knew that if I wanted to get Diamond Altitude I would have to arrange/beg/plead for permission to fly above 18,000 feet. I knew I would need 19,000 to be sure of having the Diamond. Randy had set the OK state altitude record in the same area at 17,700 in 2009.

As I was going through about 15,000 I started asking Fort Worth about going higher. Initially I was greeted with a hard No. Not VFR, no sir, can’t do it. However about 30 seconds later the controller comes back with a specific question. “Are you an Instrument Rated Pilot?” Why yes I am. Then he was happy to arrange a clearance to climb higher. I let him know that I would be staying in the same area and had no need to go any higher than FL200. That would be plenty to get Diamond Altitude and establish a new state altitude record. Shortly after I climbed through 17,000 I hear “Glider 8MB, you are cleared within a 10 mile radius, climb and maintain block FL180 to FL200. Wahoo!

The climb had slowed to about 100 feet per minute as I arrived at my FL200 limit. I snapped a picture and then turned out of the wave and started down. I had averaged 168 feet per minute for about an hour in this wave. I was not particularly prepared for a long stay at altitude, so I was happy to get down into thicker air.

Mission accomplished! I cancelled with Fort Worth shortly after descending below 18,000 and descended back to Talihina, landing about 11:40. Dooley and Randy were waiting. The day had warmed up and a particularly turbulent thermal layer had formed below about 4000 feet.

I told Randy what I had done and he launched shortly after. He had a tougher time than me finding the wave but eventually also got a clearance and made it to 21,900 feet! My record had not stood for long and we both went home with Diamond Altitude. Wow!


Posted: 4/23/2017 By: Tony Condon

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