| Login Help
Home header left
Give button


The Flight Home

The Flight Home

By Tony Condon

Sports Class Nationals in Uvalde were over. The contest had been called off early. Instead of flying the final day, we were hooking up the trailer in the rain. We were headed north to Ulysses, KS. The drive through the Hill Country was wet and cloudy.

Spirits in the car, however, were high. Bob Whelan was on his third stint as my crew. His first tour was chasing me on a downwind dash from Dalhart, TX to Goodland, KS (Too Much Fun, February 2012 Soaring). Next was the 13.5 Meter Super Regional in 2013 at Moriarty where I flew Greg Cole’s wonderful Sparrowhawk. This time around, I was flying the Silent 2 Electro. With its electric self-launching capability, there was one more glider chase in Bob’s future.

The forecasts the night before looked like we might be able to get to sunshine at Winters, TX. Winters has a nice little municipal airport and was a convenient distance from Uvalde. We could drive there by the time the day would be starting.

So as we drove through the rain, our necks started aching looking for a ray of sunshine. An hour out, the rain stopped. Good sign! Cloudbase was steadily rising and pretty soon only high cirrus remained; a reminder of the stationary front that had ended the contest. Within 20 miles of Winters, we could see sun breaking through, the edge of the Cirrus, and faintly see cumulus clouds to the west. Hooray! A quick stop at the gas station in town to fill up the tank and grab some food, and we were headed to the sleepy airport.

It took about 15 minutes to have the Electro assembled. The cumulus field to the northwest of the airport was rapidly developing and there was no time to waste. Checklists were run, glider was prepped, trailer secured, car readied, and we were quickly on the walk out to the end of the runway. The guy mowing the grass at the airport must have found it all somewhat interesting.

The runway is advertised at 50 feet wide. Unfortunately the lawnmower man was working on the other end of the runway. I held the centerline on takeoff and was sort of happy that I didn’t have a 15 meter glider! I caught a weak thermal over the airport while Bob walked back to the car and a helicopter landed on the taxiway. Quite a bit of activity all the sudden!

Bob and I had met in Ulysses before the contest, so he needed to go back to get his car. Ed & Darla Neidert were our hosts there. Ed is an ag pilot and they both fly gliders and tow. The hospitality we enjoyed pre-contest was second to none and I was looking forward to getting to see them again on the way home.

I was reserving the right to go further if the day was good. From what I could tell, a flight to Interstate 70 would get me very close to the lead for the Barringer Trophy for 2016, but a flight to Interstate 80 would be required to approach the 1000km line. My official declaration was from Winters to Oakley, KS, just in case it turned into a good day. Otherwise, I was hoping to fly to Ulysses.

The first climb got me high enough to make it to the clouds. It wasn’t noon yet but I caught some good climbs under them and started working north. The wind was out of the east with a slight headwind component. I had to stay west anyway to go around the Class C airspace at Dyess Air Force Base. First climbs got me up to cloudbase around 6000 feet. Respectable for 11:45 AM!

With ground elevation averaging about 2000 feet, the first couple hours were a bit dicey, with several trips below 4000, and one down to 3000. The terrain was a little rough, lots of wind turbines and the clouds were thinning as I went north of Abilene. Combine all that with the crosswind and I was having trouble finding the cores. As I dug out from the lowest low point and settled in, I noticed a paraglider thermalling just south of me! At least I wasn’t the only person enjoying this soaring day.

I was able to get in touch with Bob at this point to advise I was angling a bit northwest to try to stay with the clouds. As I continued, the clouds evaporated, and my top of climbs increased to around 8000 feet. The low points also got higher, which was good because the terrain was slowly rising too! I was flying along the eastern edge of the Caprock escarpment. The terrain immediately around me was about a 50/50 mix of rough river drainage and farm fields. To the west I could see the flat mesa that most of us think about when we think of the Texas Panhandle. There also were cumulus clouds over there. I tried to continue to angle that way, avoiding making a big deviation.

However, I could also see clouds ahead on course, well in the distance. To help boost my confidence, I had blundered into a thermal that averaged 10 knots for a while and showed 7.7 bottom to top. That was my first trip to 8000 feet. After that there were a couple weak thermals and some floundering around to stay at a reasonable altitude. After that frustrating stretch I was able to get connected pretty well and managed to fly the next 55 miles staying between 6000 and 8000 feet. I was feeling much better. This took place east of Lubbock, and during that run the wind finally shifted from an easterly crosswind to a southeasterly tailwind. Hallelujah!

It was about 3:00 PM when I made it to the 200 mile mark, half way to Ulysses. I was not setting any speed records in the blue here, but was feeling pretty good about the rest of the afternoon and my chances of making it. The average speed was ticking up as I enjoyed a 10-15 mph tailwind. Clouds were ahead. The only big obstacle in my way was the Canadian River.

I have observed the Canadian a few times from the air in gliders, both times in my Cherokee II. Both of those times, I was unable to get enough altitude to be comfortable crossing. On this day, I was grateful to have a much higher performance glider and a tailwind to help. I caught a climb to 10,000 feet, staying high as I went over the rough ground, and was pretty happy that the LX Zeus said I had plenty of altitude to make it all the way across. Happily, I had returned to an area with clouds. On top of all that, Jerry Boone had texted me to make sure I knew that the Mesa Vista Ranch, right along my route, was plenty long and wide (6000x100) for a sailplane landing. It is T. Boone Pickens private airfield, and is even equipped with its own ILS. Good to know!

With the Canadian in my rear view mirror, the wind straight out of the south, and clouds ahead, I was on cruise control. After sweating all summer in Wichita and sweating all week in Uvalde, the cold air at 11,000 feet was a welcome relief.

The flat expanse of the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, and SW Kansas was a welcome and familiar sight. I had an easy glide to Hooker, OK, my old friend from Kowbell 2012, and after another climb to 11,000, had Hugoton made. With glide to Hugoton, I knew I had enough electric power to make it to Ulysses if needed. However, a few more weak thermals were encountered as the day went blue once again which allowed me enough altitude for a long slow smooth glide to Ulysses. Landing was at 7:06 PM for a total flight time of 7 hours 50 minutes.

I had been in contact with Bob very occasionally during the flight, the last time when he was near Liberal. By that time I knew that I would make it to Ulysses and informed him of that fact. As I landed, Ed greeted me on the runway. Fifteen minutes after landing, Bob arrived at the airport. If not for a delay as he diverted for the Liberal airport, Bob could’ve caught my wing on landing.

The glider was quickly in the trailer and Ed, Darla, Bob, and I ran into town before the last restaurant closed. I had exceeded the 400 mile mark just before I turned base leg to land. Thanks to Bob, I had a great flight home!

Posted: 11/19/2016 By: Tony Condon

Member Blogs 

Search Posts

Recent Posts

Legal Notice

The SSA policy on member posting is located here