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Day 2... Happy to be alive

Day 2 was a lot like day 1 in terms of weather, but with weaker wave conditions and more thermal activity (at least, low down).  Today we were tasked to start on a ridge leading up to nearby Palomar Mountain, fly down to a Casino near I-8, and then back up to "Lake Fulmer". on San Jacinto Mountain  These turnpoints were similar to yesterday's task; but instead of towing to the wave we'd have to find it ourselves (hopefully making use of a mild wave that sometimes sets up over Lake Henshaw, before jumping to the real wave on the back side of Vulcan Ridge further south). 

I won't bore you with details of my entire flight like yesterday, but suffice it to say that it was much more challenging!  The thermals were not quite high enough to fly comfortably to the wave, and the winds weren't strong enough to produce a strong wave that would let us easily coast at high altitudes between lift sources.  I (along with a couple of others) took 2 or 3 attempts to get going on course - having to fall back to the start point and use weak lift to climb back up.  

Unbeknownst to me, my PDA was not telling me the truth and on my final start on course I missed the first turnpoint by a small margin.  It was just enough to invalidate my start - but I was oblivious to this and thought I'd finally gotten going well.  I cruised around the course and actually turned in one of the longer distances (out of 10 competitors).  HOWEVER, I attempted a transition from the main "Vulcan" wave straight over to the back side of Taqhuitz/San Jacinto mountain.  I hit WAY more sink than I anticipated, and ended up squeaking over rocks and trying to use low-altitude winds to ridge-soar back UP and into the Palm Springs valley at about 5000' (ground level: ~4000 to 4500').  Eep!  

I finally took the plunge and ran through the base of the saddle between Taqhuitz and the mountain to the south, named "Toro".  I was extremely low and didn't know if I could find the wave so close to the ground.  Turns out, I couldn't.  But just when I thought I would have to deal with landing out at Palm Springs airport (which is busy  with biz-jets and resort traffic and does NOT like gliders), I found some "rotor" I could work.  Rotor is basically air that is moving aound like the inside of a front-load washing machine, and tends to occur underneath wave.  I was bouncing up and down in 300 foot bursts, sometimes seeing negative "G" loads as dirt and other loose objects would bang up against the canopy (luckily everything heavy is tied down or secure in pockets when I fly).  That would be interrupted by serious updrafts and side-gusts that would make my instruments completely unusable for a few seconds at a time.  Once or twice I was hit with a side-gust so strong that my rudder pushed all the way over and I couldn't get it back even pressing as hard as I could with my leg!  All the while I was being rocked left and right, and it felt like a giant toddler was shaking my glider like some Playskool toy.  ALWAYS remember this, kids:  Mother Nature is one POWERFUL lady!!!!  At one point she sent me rocketing up at 1800 feet per minute, then 1600 feet per minute DOWN, within a 2 second time period...  Wow!

I finally found a short rock outcropping that was producing its own somewhat-smooth "mini" wave action and by continuously flying a  tight little figure 8 without stopping, I climbed at an incredible 1400 feet per minute (and higher in some spots.  For you non-pilots reading this, that's faster than most single-engined airplanes can climb at full throttle)!!  After thrashing around for nearly 15 minutes, I found this spot and climbed almost a mile straight UP in 3 minutes , in nearly smooth air - what a trip!  There were a few shakes, rattles, and rolls on the way up, but it was SUCH a relief to get above the top of the mountain and away from the menacing rocks!   

I was going to get home above the minimum time, and I'd had enough for one day, so I converted my altitude into speed and ran for the airport at 90+ miles per hour for nearly 30 miles - revelling in my save, but in anguish over what it had done to my overall average speed on-course.  Still, I got back to the airport still flush with my achievement and did a 120mph fly-by in celebration (of being in one piece and HOME).

Because of my multiple start attempts, I was one of the last people home, and we all went out to dinner at a BBQ place at Lake Henshaw, where we chatted and swapped stories and compared notes.  Other than the time spent down low, I was really happy with my flight and thought I'd do well.  Unfortunately when we  got back to the airport and computed scores, my early mistake became apparent.  If my later start had been valid, I would have come in 3rd place (behind two very seasoned veterans)!!  Unfortunately, I had to take an earlier start (one of my bad attempts) and use a much much longer overall flight time; which pushed my score down to 3rd from last - ARGH!

But, all in all it was a good day of flying, and the weather looks to be changing a bit - so we'll see what the morning brings!  So far its been a great adventure and a good test of my piloting skills (as well as my nerves and bladder control at times today)!

Until tomorrow, this is Kilo Romeo saying "goodnight" from under the stars of the Warner Springs sky...


Posted: 4/29/2009 By: Noel Wade

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