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Soaring over the Flint Hills

One of my favorite flights of 2013 was one that allowed me to explore some new territory, parts of Kansas which I have never seen from the cockpit of a glider. Many KSA members will recall that July 19th, 2013 was “The Day” of 2013. Several pilots flew at Sunflower on long flights and/or record or badge attempts. At that time the NG-1 was in its trailer at the Wichita Gliderport so I decided to fly from there. I was very grateful for the help of Leah and Gavin Smith who both helped me rig the glider on Thursday night in preparation for the flight the next day. I emailed my boss to let him know not to expect me at work on Friday, and Bill Ashby agreed to give me a tow. My task was going to be a 300km triangle, aiming for a KSA speed trophy and a Wooden Wings claim. Turnpoints would be Emporia and Fredonia

Photo #10737 | View down the first

First cu showed about 10:00AM on the south horizoPhoto #10737 | View down the firstn and by the time I got to the gliderport the sky looked bombastic. My first turnpoint was Emporia about 80 miles up I-35 and the clouds were forming short streets in that direction. I launched at 1:00 PM and immediately found a good climb and was on course, downwind to Emporia.

There were no real low points on the way as I followed the Kansas Turnpike. I was usually running between 3500 and 4500 MSL with an occasional climb to cloudbase which was just over 6000 at that time. My lowest point was just before Cassoday but a series of climbs between there and the Matfield Green service station kept me moving along and then a 5 knot climb to cloudbase made me a happy glider pilot. I quickly was to Emporia and turned around the airport, headed for my second turnpoint of Fredonia.

This was only my second flight in the NG-1 for 2013; the first was a struggle for a little over an hour resulting in a landout. The 2012 season with the NG-1 had also been less than inspiring. I hadn’t gotten it out until late in the season and had a couple of short flights in weak thermals at the end of the season. This was shaping up to be my first good flight in the glider since the flight to Dodge City and almost back in September 2011. Sometime on the first leg, the yaw string decided it had had enough of my uncoordinated thermalling and decided to depart the aircraft. In some ways I think this actually helped me get tuned into the glider as I remembered how it likes to be flown.

My course was taking me on a tour around the Flint Hills where cattle grazing and pasture land dominate instead of the endless wheat fields west of Wichita. The only other time I had seen this area from the air was from the comfort of a Cessna. However there were enough landable fields available that I was never nervous about having a good place to land if needed.

After the great run to Emporia I got a little too brave turning south. I now had a quartering headwind instead of the direct tailwind and I quickly found that my estimate of how fast I should fly based on the conditions ahead were way off. Down I came, running too fast between thermals, skipping a few that I should have stopped for, hoping for something better ahead, and then having trouble finding the thermals as I became disconnected from the clouds. There was a nice set of fields ahead though north of the little town of Virgil. As sometimes happens I was now married to those fields and had one picked out that would be my landing site. Luckily not only was the wheat stubble field a good place to land but it was also generating a thermal. I was able to climb away from 1000 AGL, back up to a respectable altitude, with a new respect of what to expect from the day and a reminder to "get high and stay high"!

Photo #10738 | Flight Path July 19
The rest of the run to the Fredonia airport was good. Shortly after the low save I reached my high point for the flight, just over 8000 feet. While planning the flight I had looked up the information for the Fredonia airport and noted that the runway was only 45 feet wide. The wingspan of the NG-1 is 50 feet so I remembered that if a landing was required at the airport it might be a better idea to do so in the field next to the runway.  However I was now taking just about every thermal I encountered and staying up in the 6000-7500 foot range most of the time. I turned west towards Wichita where I would generally need to follow US Highway 400 back home. I had 75 miles to go, it was 4:30 PM, and I was feeling really good about the prospects for the flight.

After a few good climbs, the sky started to soften. Cu still marked the landscape but the climbs weren’t there. I was starting to creep lower as I got near the Beaumont Hotel, and I was careful to keep it in range. I figured it would be a nice place to land plus I could get some supper while I waited for the retrieve. However that wouldn't be necessary as just north of the airport a few miles I found a couple good climbs that got me back up to cloudbase. Whew! I had about 35 or 40 miles left now, and really just needed one more good climb to be able to get home. The clouds however were starting to thin out. I had the El Dorado airport in range so off we went.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find anything workable and arrived at El Dorado with about 2000 feet AGL. That would be enough to extend maybe another 10 miles so I set off towards what I could guess would be the most likely thermal locations, analyzing the terrain, coloring, and the locations of the now wimpy looking clouds. It was now pushing 6 PM; digging out at Beaumont had really slowed me down.  A few miles past El Dorado and I hadn't found anything that inspired any optimism so I decided that my best bet would be to stay local to the airport and either find something or land. Unfortunately for me that meant landing. The approach was fun though as I got to practice a full flap approach, which provides astounding sink rates, a very steep approach, and I was able to roll right up to the taxiway.

The good news is that my crew for the day, Jacob Frye, lives only a few miles from the El Dorado airport so he drove over and got me, we secured the glider, then he drove me to the Gliderport to get the trailer. We were derigged by sunset and after some trailer wiring fixing I was on the way home. 

Photo #10739 | After landing at El
All in all it was a great flight, 5 hrs 12 minutes takeoff to landing, 176 miles covered. It was nice to get another good long flight in the NG-1 and to get comfortable in that glider again. Not only that but I was able to cover some new territory and enjoy a very good day of soaring in Kansas!

Posted: 1/2/2014 By: Tony Condon

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