September 11, 2004 Soaring

By Bob Thompson (Durango, CO)

Posted on the ASA Forum – September 17, 2004

"The fabulous fall flying in southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico has returned. High flights are back, the trees are starting their color change, and the geology still glows with all the reds, yellows, and browns of the mining country. There was a batch of great flights last week, topped off by 9/11. It was a day to remember for pilots of all experience levels and goal desires.

Let me begin with the Durango Soaring Club based at Val Air Gliderport. Around 1pm the lift began to form in the area south of the green grassy airport, and the tourists got to sit and watch for a while, as it was now time for the private birds to flock to the sky. Art Olson in the club 1-26 was first off, catching good lift just south of the one of our house thermal areas known as the octagon house. I was next, in my Ventus 17.6, and found some 3-5 kt. lift about ½ mile north of the 1-26. Dennis Haley (VF), flying his Carbon Hornet, followed me, pinning off tow over his house as I was climbing through 12,000’, still in good lift.

Conditions cycled down a bit, and the next two pilots to come up, Shawn Deveraux (XL) flying his ASW-20 and Jay Weischel (Z) flying his Mosquito, had a more challenging day.

As my thermal slowed, I headed north, up Missionary Ridge. Lift continued to be good, and some porpoise flying mixed with a few turns soon had me about 20 miles north and circling up under the 1st cu. After topping out and heading out towards the Needle Mountains I heard from Nick Kennedy (XS) flying his ASW-20 out of Telluride. He had flown 828 km a few days earlier in the week on a fun flight and was today heading out for his “official” 300 km gold badge flight. He had a goal in mind, and would be off and running, doing his thing in relative silence on another frequency.

As Dennis was catching up I boated around over the Chicago Basin / Needles Mountains area looking at the awesome scenery, taking pictures, and checking out possible hiking routes. Being absorbed in this for a while I suddenly realized Dennis was ahead and above me. One more cloud helped get us together, and we headed over to the Ophir Pass area for some scenic viewing and aerial photography. A few days earlier I had spent an hour circling over Blue Lake, a spectacular turquoise-colored lake, taking pictures, and today I hoped to get some with another glider flying above it.

It was a very pleasant and scenic time. All the while, the radio was now full of chatter coming from a covey of pilots flying out of Moriarty, New Mexico, running north into the Sangre de Cristo range and back. Several of those pilots had familiar voices…. Al Whitsell (9D) flying his DG-400 and Mark Mocho (3M) flying his Pegasus, both of which I had known from back in all our hang gliding days. There are a LOT of former hang glider pilots now flying gliders.

Others from New Mexico we listened to on the frequency were Mike Abernathy (SG) flying his Discus, Howard Banks (1XX) flying his ASW-20, Billy Hill (Z) flying his Discus 2, and Bryan Resor (UI) in his Standard Cirrus. It sounded like some New Mexico pilots were mentoring others, urging them on and giving advice. Some of the conversations were classic: “Press on and don’t stop for anything less than 10 knots,” “Don’t look down,” “I’ve been flying straight ahead for 50 miles and I’m STILL at 17,000’,” “If you’ve only got 6 knots, come over here with me… I’ve got 9 knots,” “Shall we head for that huge cu or just continue on down this street,” “I’ve got a steady 10 knots on my averager,” “This is REALLY fun!,” “Golly, we’re SO lucky to be able to enjoy all this.” I chimed in after the last 2 comments with “That’s a big 10-4.”

Some pilots would have really been put off with all the chatter, and that’s fine… they could just have turned to another frequency or turned their radio off. For me it was all part of the experience…. Listening to others hoot and holler about the fun they were having, helping others perform to a higher level, and just plain enjoying the day. I quite enjoyed it all.

As it turned out, Nick (XS), out of Telluride, quietly flew 525 km on his “official” 300 km 3 point triangle gold flight, and has sent the materials in to SSA for certification. From New Mexico, Mike (SG) turned near San Luis, CO for a 551km flight, which he plans to submit for his: (1) gold distance, (2) diamond distance, and (3) diamond goal awards, a flight he covets as the best flight ever for him. Mark (3M) claimed 516 km in just over 4 hours, Al (9D) ended the day with 535 km, Billy (Z) flew 599 km, Howard (1XX) got 633 km, and Brian (UI) turned Wheeler Peak for 403km. All in all a VERY successful day for the distance goal seekers.

All the tourists that flew with Durango Soaring Club that day had very memorable flights, and Dennis and I shared an awesome day… almost 5 hours over incredible scenery and just coming down to land (leaving the 8 kt lift at 17,000’) because we felt like it… It was 16 degrees at base, and even wearing my Sorrel snow boots I was getting a bit chilled. Warming up seemed more appealing than adding a 100+ mile out and return dash to the south. Besides having a fine flight, I had my Ventus put back in the trailer in time to attend an evening meeting with my wife. Lots of fun all day, AND still got in some spousal points! Now THAT’S a great day!! Not to degrade anyone else’s experiences or feelings that day, but 9/11/04 certainly was a memorable day for a batch of us flying in the southwest.

As a postscript to all this “high” flying in the mountains talk… one must remember we are flying above lots of 13,000’-14,000’ peaks, and even at 17,900’ you are really only 4,000’ – 5,000’ AGL most of the time. Get high, stay high is the name of the game in the mountains. The mountainous area is very large, and places to even land a helicopter (much less a glider) are far and few in between. And, sometimes we get some BIG sink, so getting low ISN'T advised. Landouts pretty much are not an option…. As one visiting pilot this summer found out. He allowed himself to get low while paying more attention to his task than the area, and found out what oak trees can do when stopping a Ventus. He was VERY lucky to survive...landing only 3 inches farther left and he would have been mortuary material. It’s fun flying, but with different rules than flatland flying.

I’ve only got 2 more weeks up here, look forward to getting back to flatland flying, flying with the ASA gang, and increased ground clearance. See you then."