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Day 0 Practice Day

The morning started off with some question-marks about the weather.  The pattern the last few days has been dry, blue (no-cloud) conditions.  We typically like to have some clouds, because that gives us an idea of the location of thermals (rising air).  Lift was forecast to be moderate, but recent experience had shown that the thermals could be very far apart - leading to long glides and frayed nerves.  At the pilot's meeting, it was decided to fly a simple 2-hour MAT (for non-pilots, this basically means that we got to fly anywhere and choose our own turnpoints; with a few limits & restrictions).  After the pilot's meeting, we noticed that some clouds were popping in the mountains to the west - a potentially good sign, as long as it didn't turn into an overcast!

Since the day didn't develop until after 2pm on Saturday, I delayed pushing out to the flight-line for a long time.  Finally around 12:30pm there was the usual running of the lemmings as the first few people pushed out and most of the crowd followed.  I delayed another 30 minutes, then pushed out to the back of the pack as Cumulus started to appear over the plateau.  I started to worry about whether I'd delayed too long... But unbeknownst to me, the pilots who'd already launched were struggling to get up - there was lift near the airport but it was ratty and didn't go above 5000'.  Most pilots like to get higher before pushing out towards the boonies, and the start-cylinder went to 8000' so people were hoping to max out there (altitude inside the start-cylinder is "free money").

I popped off tow and turned into what I thought was good lift...  But found myself immediately struggling to center a weak thermal.  I ground it up about 600 feet before pushing north a couple of miles to a few circling gliders, who helpfully marked a decent thermal for me.  I climbed up to meet them - at first thinking I was thermalling better than them; but eventually realizing the soft and fuzzy nature of the thermal tops near the Ephrata airport.  I'd gotten to near 6000', and decided to push out west.  The lift typically gets better the further away from the airport you get, and some cloud-street-like formations were beginning to join up across the plateau.  I flew along near "50" (Mike N) for awhile, watching his flapped glider slightly outperform mine...  He stopped short of Rimrock for a moderate climb and I decided to press on, feeling some bumps and trusting the thermal-generating qualities of the lava around Rimrock.  At about that time, we started getting radio calls from "FH" (Fred H) who'd landed out in a field near my position.  Fred's a great pilot, so I suddenly got a lot less confident in my ability to find a thermal!  Luckily, I was able to coast up in what would have been a 5 knot thermal if I'd centered it quickly; but it was surrounded by turbulent air that kept me searching for the core for several turns - however, I was below 5000' at that point so I didn't have a lot of options!  To make a long flight a slightly shorter story, things improved markedly once I got beyond the Moses Coulee.  I headed for some good clouds near Waterville and was rewarded with an 8+ knot climb that touched 15 knots at times (for non-pilots, this means I was travelling straight UP at 17mph!  It certainly pushes you down in the seat and is quite a ride)!   After overflying Waterville I saw the clouds darkening and spreading over Mansfield, but I figured I could run with the wind and scoot all the way up the plateau before the 2 hours was up.  My hope was to bump along near cloud-base and let the "cloud-suck" keep me high on my downwind run.  Unfortunately - as is often the case - I misjudged the heavy clouds over Mansfield and ran into sprinkles as I crossed the turnpoint.  Pilots that followed into Mansfield later ran into more rain and it was not a good area to be in for about an hour.  After Mansfield I had a fairly good glide up to Niles Corner and then back to Waterville.  I was tempted to run straight for home, but the area was blue and didn't look promising.  Two cloud-streets ran from Niles to Waterville, and I should have taken the one along the Columbia river (which "2F" and a couple of others did).  I took a more easterly street that didn't work too well; but I was still able to make it to Waterville - albeit a bit low.  One or two good thermals later, I was up at cloudbase and on a good final glide home.  Others stayed out longer or explored the task area, although the sky filled in and weakened off after about 4:30pm.

In the end, everyone made it home and some good flights were had by all!  A potluck and safety briefing capped off the night, with lots of good food, good stories, and good jokes!  After all was said and done, I turned out to have posted the fastest flight in the Sports Class (at 62mph raw, 59 handicapped).  And Stu Larimore took first in the 15/Std class (at 68mph).

Today we go out and do it "for real".  Just got done with the pilot's meeting and the task is 3 hours with the following turnpoints: Mansfield (20 mile radius), Kramer (20 mile radius), US2 (10 mile radius).  Its going to be "blue" with no clouds and the winds are going to be strong (15 - 20 knots); so wish us luck!

--Noel
DG-300 "Kilo Romeo"

Posted: 6/28/2010 By: Noel Wade


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