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Logan Contest - Practice Day

My Flight trace is here

Today was an interesting day.  It looked like it would develop early, but I'm learning that Logan is surrounded by areas that develop first - then Logan starts working after everything else is cooking.  Luckily I have a few experienced pilots that are tolerating my presence, and I gleaned this from them before pushing out to launch!  So we got to watch and critique the first 15 or so launches and relax (on the scorching tarmac) as the early-birds struggled on the slopes and had to thrash for awhile before getting up to altitude.

I finally jumped in and took off, just in time to hear the CD (Competition Director) call that the start gate would be opening in 15 minutes.  After an "interesting" tow (wherein I think the tow-pilot tried to drive me into the side of the mountain - maybe because I didn't get off in a nice thermal early in the tow), I found a thermal and worked my way up to ridge-top height.  But as I tried to move my PDA's gooseneck for a better view of my navigation software, the mount snapped off in my hands and suddenly my PDA was dangling by its electrical cord!  So here I am running at 80+mph just 100 feet above the rocky spine of a ridge, in close proximity to other gliders, getting whanged around in turbulence, all while trying desperately to keep my PDA from swinging up into the canopy (possibly shattering it).  This was not the start I had been hoping for!

I eventually got the mount arranged so that it would stay loosely on my right thigh - and I flew most of the flight with my right hand on the stick and my left hand crossed over to the right side of my body, holding the PDA against my thigh...  It was awkward, but it worked!  I flew back through the start cylinder and headed out on course, banging along the ridge.  If you've never flown a ridge, it is hard to describe.  Vertical gusts of air are like invisible walls that you smash through every so often, rattling fillings and sometimes causing everything in the cockpit to float (as the glider is in free-fall for a split second).  But its also fast and exhilarating!  The main ridge here is about 20 miles along, so you experience a thrill-ride for a good 10 - 15 minutes.  The task had us head north/northeast up the ridge, then due west across a couple of valleys (perpendicular to the ridges), then back home (southeast).  

As I arrived at the north end of the main ridge, there was overdevelopment and rain.  A couple of gliders lingered under the edge of the stormclouds, and good climbs could be found there - I used one to get from 9000' to 13500'.  The center of the first turnpoint required a jump across a few ridges and unlandable terrain, and I just didn't want to press my luck or flirt with the rain on my first day.   The advice I'd been given was not to leave the ridge on this leg, and it seemed very sensible!

So I nicked the corner of the first cylinder and headed out across the valley.  There were a couple of cloud-streets that looked big and inviting, and I took the northern one that headed off in the most direct route towards the second turnpoint.  The valley crossing (a big pre-flight concern of mine) went smoothly, as the clouds were working and I was able to get across the first two valleys without any trouble.  After that, however, things started to get tough.  The cloud-street bent way around the turnpoint cylinder, as a nasty airmass was pushing in from OR/ID.  At 12000' it was so hazy and junky that I couldn't see the ground!  I kept flying the edge of the clouds in order to stay on the boundary of the airmass, and for awhile it worked OK.  But the clouds and my turnpoint were at odds with one another - so I finally pushed out into the hazy (stable) air and crossed my fingers that the few wisps of clouds out in this area were working.

Unfortunately, they weren't - and my PDA was telling me that I was making such good time that I needed to fly farther in order to meet the minimum time requirements of our task!  So I coasted west and down, west and down.  Finally, I decided that I had to turn around and try to make it home; regardless of the task time.  So I turned around and headed southwest and down, southeast and down...  For almost 20 minutes I sank, and the few bumps I ran into weren't workable.  The experienced pilots warned me about getting low out here, and now I was seeing why!  The further I got below the clouds, the worse the air was feeling.  Finally, I started to look at landing spots.  I was stuck in a valley one ridge away from an airport (Malad City); but my PDA was adamant that I couldn't make it safely over the ridge.  In fact, it started squawking at me that there were no airports within gliding range - it was a nasty noise, and it was a fact that had already begun to elicit four-letter words before the PDA had even chimed in.

As I flew out over the middle of a valley I began to examine the fields closely, looking at crop color and remembering the tips that the experienced pilots had given me...  And all of a sudden I blundered right into an insanely strong thermal!  My instruments pegged all the way up, and my eyes struggled to stay focused as the G forces mounted and the glider was yanked upwards into the sky.  I cranked the glider over on a wingtip and rode this bronkin' buck as hard as I could!  It spit me out the side a few times and the strength slacked off a bit as I climbed - but it was both a heck of a ride and a huge relief, all at the same time!  I took an extra 1000 feet above what I needed to get home, and proceeded to cruise on home at a high rate of speed.  Of course, there was good lift the rest of the way back, and I went so fast that I ended up arriving at the finish-line about 15 minutes under the minimum time.  Argh!  Still, it was better than landing out (which 6 gliders did today)!

When all was said and done, I took second place on the day.  Its a nice feather in my cap - but some of the hot pilots had mechanical issues or were busy scouting the area instead of maximizing the task; so its not a true indicator of my flying compared to the other pilots here.  Tomorrow we fly for real points, and then we'll start seeing how we all shake out!  In the meantime, I'm off to get some sleep and to recuperate from the huge tasty catered dinner that the Leading Edge Aviation folks put together for us tonight.  

Until tomorrow,


Posted: 7/18/2010 By: Noel Wade

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