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Diamond Distance Kowbell Win

Here is the story of my 2013 flight for the Kansas Kowbell Klassic. This was my 5th Kowbell attempt and first time to win the coveted Kowbell. This was also my first successful Diamond Distance flight after many attempts in the last 8 years of flying straight out distance flights.

The forecast seemed to indicate that downwind was NOT the way to go for distance today. As is often the case on Kowbell, a crosswind or even into the wind flight would probably yield more distance. Cloud possibilities were poor to the south, even to the south west, while they looked very good to the west and northwest. The only challenge would be bucking across a ~15 knot north wind. In the past with a north wind Kowbell, the best route has been to roughly follow US Highway 54 across Kansas, gradually drifting south into the Texas Panhandle and maybe as far as New Mexico. With this in mind I declared Clayton, NM as my goal.

On course it was obvious pretty soon that going much further south than due west from Sunflower would lead to the blue. So west I continued, following the general path of US Highway 50 out of Hutchinson and out towards Garden City. Garden City was the last time I had radio contact with my trusty crew Leah. Climbs were pretty good and the low points weren't too low. There were lots of dust devils the further west I went and once or twice I was actually able to find one close enough to be able to use it.

I noticed that the wind had started to swing around from NW to more of a NE heading. By now I was at the Kansas/Colorado border and further out to the west I could see a North/South line of thunderstorms and I was rapidly approaching its shadow. I turned to a more northerly heading over eastern Colorado to stay out in the sunlight. Once or twice I actually had to cut back east a bit to stay out of the shade as I tracked north towards I-70.

I was able to get a few texts out to Leah to let her know about the change in course. She was glad to hear it as the emergency alert had sounded over FM Radio warning of strong winds and hail from the thunderstorms that I was going around.

Past the 5 hour mark I started to wonder how much longer I would be able to fly. I was already past my personal longest duration flight in the Cirrus and my all time personal best has been 6.5 hrs. My speed wasn't really great, averaging about 40 mph, but while the day had started to soften a bit, it really didn't seem like it was dying anytime soon. I kept pushing north and eventually arrived over I-70, right as it was possible to turn west again as I had cleared the storms to the north and had endless sunshine to the west.

Now was decision time. This area of Colorado features endless landable terrain, dirt fields as far as the eye can see, relatively flat, and almost no paved roads or towns of any kind once you are away from the interstate. The wind was still out of the NE and I had flown about 280 miles. I was pretty confident in getting the Kowbell and my only real goal was to find a way to get over 310 miles, Diamond Distance. To the NW the flight would be crosswind in dying conditions, but with a relatively constant ground elevation. To the west I could follow I-70 but have to fly uphill, potentially shortening my distance flown.

I initially started to head NW but then found a very smooth 1-2 knot thermal. By now I had been in the cockpit a LONG time, over 7 hours, and I knew that it was time to excercise some real patience and take every climb as high as it would go. We ground away as we drifted west and the airport at Limon, CO started to seem like a real possibility. I was slowly drifting west and decided that I would probably have enough altitude to make it over 500km even with the uphill run and if I could just find one more weak thermal I might even make the airport at Limon.

I hadn't actually communicated with Leah for hours and had every reason to believe that she was hours behind me. The idea of a real airport with a town, hotels, restaurants, etc, seemed really attractive. Off we went on a best L/D glide in smooth evening air. I decided to stick with interstate and as I came upon Genoa, CO I had not found a bump. I had a few thousand feet, enough to make it halfway or so from Genoa to Limon, but decided enough was enough. I had cleared the magical 500km line and figured a landing next to a town on the Interstate would leave me with the most enjoyable possible retreive. I landed on the north edge of town in a field which I believe had freshly sprouted Milo in it, only a few inches tall.

The locals were really friendly and helpful, offering beer, water, calling the sheriff to assure them that a plane hadn't crashed, and contacting the owner of the land. Master chase crew Leah was a mere 40 miles behind me on the Interstate and was there within the hour. We had Kate in the trailer before sunset and were headed towards home. Spent the night in Goodland, KS and made it back to Sunflower by 1 PM after watching excellent cu form over much of Kansas starting at 10:30 AM.

Diamond Distance has been my goal for a long time and I never imagined it would happen this way. Uphill, Upwind, and in a Std. Cirrus.  It was always supposed to be a downwind dash in the Cherokee so I'll have to keep working on that. I won the Kowbell on my 5th attempt which I am pretty proud of and am looking forward to getting the paperwork submitted for the distance, then I'll only need altitude. The total flight time was 8 hrs 10 minutes, by far my best to date. It was proof that you can either fly slow for a long time or fast for a short time.

Posted: 7/10/2013 By: Tony Condon

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