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Today, It Begins

Ran my laptop battery down last night before getting this posted; so its going up as a "Tuesday morning" post rather than a "Monday night" post. Here's a pic of Mt Shasta, though, to show you what it is we always see when we're flying around here (click it for the full image):

Mt. Shasta from Siskiyou County Airport

Yesterday was the final practice day.  Weather forecasts were iffy, with lots of wind, scattered storms, and possible hail (!).  Lots of people were concerned about the hail damaging their aircraft so only about 5 of us flew (including all of the Washington contingent, of course).  There was high cirrus all over the place, but high instability allowed cloudstreets to form.  On the grid, the CD changed the task to an MAT running down to Callahan (southwest of the airport) and then anywhere else we wanted to go.  After grinding up on Craggy, a few of us dribbled our way SW and hooked up with a nice cloudstreet straight to Callahan.  I chose poor lines under the broad street and had to stop for a couple of climbs; while Chris and Steve made it look all too easy - racing out in front of me and staying up near cloudbase.

After hitting the turnpoint and running back up towards the home field, I now had roughly 2 hours to burn by running around to any turnpoints at my discretion (up to 10 of them).  I overflew a small airport turnpoint (Montague-Rohr), then started to run back to the south...  But I noticed the coud street had been sprinkling a little rain on my initial run, and now it looked like it was getting ready to collapse.  So I went to Grenada instead (a little town out in the valley) and then turned north.  At first I thought I'd hit the "Restaurant Exit" (up at the Orgeon-Cali border), but the rain was starting there, too.  Some pilots chose to land at this point; however, I didn't get a long flight in on the previous day so I couldn't stomach the idea of landing so soon.  I noticed that the clouds across the north end of the Shasta valley were shaping up some, so I took a gamble and slowly made my way to the NE.  Near-continuous cloudstreets enabled me to cruise at a mere 55-60 knots while slowly climbing all the way.  At first I wanted to hit Copco Dam, as it would make for an easy final glide back to the airport; but I arrived with plenty of altitude and lots of time left.  So I bent around to Copco Bridge and got a good look into the next valley to the East (recon for future days).  The high ground here is tricky - it tends to "mound up" instead of form ridges or peaks; and as a glider pilot its disconcerting to look down and not see the ground falling away from you very quickly.  We're used to being able to fly out to lower terrain if we get low; but that may not be possible in some places here - so care is warranted!  

While I was heading north,  the cloudstreets over the Shasta Valley moved to the east and set up near the line of mountains on the east side of the valley, so I took a deep breath and worked my way south along them - trying to keep enough altitude "in the bank" for a good final glide back to the home airport.  It took a couple of thermal turns here and there to achieve this; but in the end I made it down to Deer Mtn and turned for home.  I was *still* under time; but by now there was rain and high winds visible all over the valley - and a storm had just passed over the airfield.  I thought that I had a chance to sneak in and land before the next rain shower, so I put the nose down and headed for the barn at 80 knots.  I soon ran into some incredible lift (storm inflow) out over the valley, so I pushed it over to 100 knots and ran the last 15 miles trying to keep the glider out of the "yellow arc" on the airspeed indicator (non-pilots: The yellow arc is a high speed area that you can only use if the air is smooth - as you might imagine, the air was *not* smooth while flying along under rain showers!)

The last part of this adventure is my landing.  Steve and Chris were smart and got down and got their ships disassembled before the wind and weather were too nasty.  I came in to the airfield area, checking the ASOS (automated weather) over and over.  Although the prevailing winds were from the SW, the computer voice kept telling me the winds at the airfield were from the northwest.  Siskiyou County Airport has a north-south runway so I needed to choose wisely.  As I got close to the airport, it kept up its story about winds from the north.  I figured it had to be storm outflow or something, so I set up for a landing to the north.  Just as I was coming onto my downwind leg for landing, I flipped on ASOS and it said the wind direction was "variable".  I cursed and looked at my altitude and decided it would be a bad idea to try to switch landing directions at the last minute.  Sure enough, as I turned base and final the wind kicked back in from the south.  So now I was landing downwind and covering the ground at 10-15mph faster than normal (for the non-pilots: this is a LOT of extra energy for a landing, and means less control over the aircraft as it rolls out and comes to a stop).  The ground-rush was incredible as I slipped the aircraft down to try to touch down as eary as possible.  But the winds were strong and I started skimming the runway incredibly fast!  As I touched and pulled on the brakes (hard), I realized there was no way I wasn't going to roll for a long distance.  This would mean a looooooong push-back on the runway (blocking it for any other incoming aircraft); so I made a command-decision and angled my aircraft off the runway into the weeds.  It was a bit rougher than I wanted, as I bounced and banged my way across tractor ruts and weeds; but the soft dirt and vegetation slowed me down and I only rolled a couple-hundred feet into it.  The helpful teenage sons of Rex & Noelle Mayes (event organizers) ran over and helped push me back over to my parking spot; and no damage was done (except to my pride).

You can see my flight here:  


Maybe later I'll fill you in on the adventure of disassembling my glider in 30-40 mph storm winds and trying to put it away before any hail or lightning; it was "interesting" to say the least! For now, I have to run to the airport and get ready for the first competition day!  It should be very interesting, to say the least...  

--Noel / "Papa-Mike"

Posted: 6/26/2012 By: Noel Wade

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