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New DU Record - April 2005

We are pleased to report that David Stevenson flew an FAI-DU record distance of over 900 km (560 miles) on Sunday April 24th in a Silent 2 pure sailplane. He was assisted by ground crew member and fellow Atlanta pilot Murray Forbes. On Saturday evening the two picked up the Silent 2 sailplane from Chilhowee gliderport (it was just back from a soaring trip to Florida where Leo Benetti-Longhini had hoped to make a south-to-north distance attempt up the spine of the peninsula with the glider). The two coordinated with Chilhowee's on-duty Pawnee driver, corporate pilot John Bloomfield, and planned their rendezvous for a tow the following morning at Jasper, Marion County airport located towards the south end of the Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee. That evening found Stevenson and Forbes headed to a motel near their launch point while Bloomfield stayed overnight at the Chilhowee clubhouse anticipating Dave's early morning remote tow.

Sunday morning brought clear skies and a temperature right around freezing, as indicated by the wing ice that formed as Dave and Murray washed the just-assembled glider at Marion County airport. John arrived on schedule with the Pawnee and provided the 9:10am southerly tow to Dave's preferred start point just inside his home state of Georgia. After glider release, Bloomfield flew the Pawnee straight back to Chilhowee since it was needed for mid-morning glider-instruction tows. Stevenson struggled initially to stay aloft and, after 10 minutes of flying through unexpected sink, was back north in the vicinity of the launch airfield expecting a game-over and possibly no-more-towplane landing. Fortunately he caught a weak early-morning thermal at 250 m (800 feet) AGL followed by a second one that allowed him to head back to the ridge, arriving at about mid-height and requiring S-turns to climb up the slope in the still gentle prevailing wind. Dave commented later how, after a whole week of watching this particular weather pattern develop and all the plans put into place to make a distance flight happen, he came within a whisker of landing out right at the start of the task! Just three weeks earlier while attempting another distance flight he had one early launch at 9:00am followed by a re-light at 9:15am and then found himself in a field at 10:45am. This highlights the delicate early morning starts that are a prerequisite for long distance attempts.

Once on the ridge, Dave flew north north-east along the east side of the Sequatchie Valley to his first turnpoint about five miles (eight kilometers) north of the Hinch Mountain VOR (just south of Interstate 40 near Crab Orchard, Tennessee). He then headed back down the Sequatchie, passed his launch point, transitioned downwind across Nickajack Dam to Lookout Mountain, and then flew down Will's Valley into Alabama to his second turnpoint at Collinsville (halfway between Fort Payne and Gadsen), escaping a low of 150 m (500 feet) AGL. He then did a second about-turn and flew north north-east back to Lookout where he found thermals peaking at 10 kts (5 m/s) and averaging 7 kts (3.5 m/s), transitioned upwind to the Sequatchie, and flew about halfway up the remainder of the valley to the Tennessee Treetoppers hanglider launch ramp near Dunlap. Dave reports that most of the ridge run was turbulent and that he had to keep the airspeed down so as not to exceed rough-air max speed. After reaching the third turnpoint, he headed east south-east with the intent of crossing over the southern end of the Appalachian chain and flying all the way to Charleston, South Carolina on the Atlantic Ocean.

Dave reports that he had problems making the south-easterly transition from the Sequatchie to the Appalachians. The first portion of this extended valley was subject to downwash off the plateau that defines the east side of the Sequatchie followed immediately by the large drainage area of the Tennessee River just north of Chattanooga, waterlogged from the previous days rains. Stevenson had several low saves in the area, most notably 300 m (1000 feet) AGL near Cleveland. Conditions began to improve as he approached the higher and slightly drier terrain of the southern Appalachian region and he successfully transitioned from Tennessee into north east Georgia. By Chattsworth, he had reached 1500 m (5000 feet) and conditions for the rest of the run to the coast were looking favorable, both in lift and tailwind.

The rest of the run brought very good conditions with cloudbases up to 2100 m (7000 feet), not quite as exceptional as the weather during the Region 5 Nationals held at Perry International in South Carolina the previous week. Even though the wind was favorable it still wreaked havoc with the thermals and Dave experienced another of 430 m (1400 feet) AGL near Athens, Georgia. Back on course, he transitioned into South Carolina only to have his flight computer shut down due to a poor connection! Fortunately his logger continued to record the flight. From then on Dave used his back-up sectional charts to navigate. By mid-afternoon, Dave began to suspect that there was insufficient time left to make it to Charleston Executive Airport and break the 1000 km barrier, but an FAI 3-turnpoint record was still within reach. He progressed steadily towards the coast and, once over the small town of Hampton, South Carolina, made a safety decision to bleed off 900 m (3000 feet) of altitude and land instead of gambling on arriving at the next airport 32 km (20 miles) away without the aid of the final glide computer.

David landed at 6:40pm, almost exactly nine and one half hours after the start. After a few cellular calls to let family and friends know that he was safe, he managed to exit the airport property where he flagged down a local deputy sheriff in order to get an autograph for his record claim. Within short order several rather disbelieving law enforcement colleagues appeared down the county road too. Murray arrived later that evening and, after spending the night in Hampton, the two returned to the airport in the morning for an interview and photo shoot with a local newspaper reporter. They returned home safely on Monday evening.

Stevenson set a challenging goal of breaking the elusive 1000km declared distance in the FAI ultralight glider (DU) class by flying from the northwest corner of his home state of Georgia to the South Carolina coastline. His remarkable flight, although just shy of the declared goal, still qualifies for a declared 3-turnpoint world record application. He will thus be the first person to claim this new record type. Preliminary statistics are 563 miles (908 km) distance, 59 mph (95 km/h) average cross-country speed, 28% thermalling time with average 371 fpm (1.89 m/s) climb, 49.7 L/D, and 61 glides with 85 mph (137 km/h) average glide speed. There will likely be an altitude penalty due to the low elevation of the landing airport. This latest flight is reminiscent of a 1100 km distance flight that Stevenson accomplished in 1988 in his DG-400. That particular flight, in stronger conditions, took about 8.5 hours. Dave commented that had the same weather pattern developed this time, it would have permitted him to exceed 1000 km with the Silent 2. Stevenson intends to submit his latest flight to the NAA and FAI for record approval and to make additional DU distance flights in the future. Congratulations on your latest flight and best of luck with your next attempts Dave!

Sarah Kelly
Chilhowee Gliderport
Tennessee, USA

Posted: 6/1/2005 By: General News

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