Jamestown to Scott Oct5 2019
Launch at 1300
To explain this flight I need to quickly explain how my glider works. It looks like a parachute but it doesn’t work like one. Parachutes fall down, catch the air beneath them, and slow your descent.
My glider works like an airplane wing. It’s two layers of material with and opening in the leading edge to allow air to rush inside. This flow of air inflates the glider like a balloon. The weight of the pilot pulling against it also helps it hold an airfoil shape, like an airplanes wing.
It’s important to understand because if you lose airspeed, or if the pilots weight isn’t pulling against the glider, the glider will lose it’s shape. We refer to it as a “deflation”. Like a popped balloon you aren’t flying until you reinflate the wing.
I took off from Jamestown at 1:00 in the afternoon. Winds at ground level were around 10mph. Winds aloft were 15-20, almost 90 degrees from my direction of travel. This made for some very rowdy air.
Emergency outs are few and far between in this area. Neil had given me a heading for climb out which put me over the few open fields in the area. Again, thank you Neil. Very impressive dude.
As soon as I got airborne I started getting thrashed. Remember the glider needs airspeed to fly. Mine needs 25mph flowing over it to fly straight and level. More airspeed means you will climb, less means you descend. The preferred method to affect this is smooth application of the throttle. Gusty inconsistent wind also changes airspeed and therefore lift. The sun hitting the ground creates hot spots. These hot spots create “thermals”, columns of warmer air that travel up. The more direct the sun hits the ground, the more heat it creates and the faster and “sharper” the thermal becomes. 1:00 is prime time for this.
Every yard of that 25 mile flight was a battle. Unlike other flights, there was no altitude to find stable air. As I neared 4,000′ feet the wind gust got much worse. I had to stay lower were the thermals were more violent.
A lot of firsts on this flight. First tip deflation for example. I was 90 degrees to the wind and flew through a thermal on my right side. I felt the brake line go completely slack and knew exactly what happened. By the time I looked up it was already reinflating, that’s the advantage of a beginner glider. You give up speed but gain stability.
When you hit a thermal your wing will tend to turn one way or the other. You are swinging beneath the wing like a pendulum. This means if you don’t manage that swinging force correctly you will start oscillating, swinging back and forth beneath the wing. If that isn’t corrected it can get quite violent and eventually lead to the wing collapsing. To prevent it you “roll with the punches”.
If a thermal rolls you left, pull some left brake to bank smoothly then roll back onto your desired heading. The goal is to keep your weight pulling squarely against the center of the wing.
Descending into Scott this became very important. Gretchen and Kate had hoped to see this landing and sent me a text asking if I could circle for a few minutes before touchdown, they were almost at Scott. I saw the message pop up over my instruments and thought “no way, I have got to get out of this chaos yesterday”. I didn’t know it but they would have plenty of time to catch the landing.
Scott has a big beautiful gorge about a half mile from the runway. This had become a wind tunnel. I passed over several similar features on the way in at 3,000′. Even that high I could feel the effects as the wind hit them and changed direction. No way was I passing over that at 1,000′ or less.
The sun was baking the earth near the airport and I really did not want to get into their airspace until I was about to land. I try to avoid traffic as much as I can. The problem was, every time I started to descend I got blasted back up. And I mean blasted.
My best climb rate in normal conditions is 400 feet per minute, that’s on a good day. One of the few times I could make out my climb indicator in a thermal it was reading over 800 feet a minute. This was no power, trying to dive at the ground. Remember “rolling with the punches”? The harder the punch the harder I had to roll to keep my weight pulling against the glider. Gretchen was seeing this for the first time and thought I was playing around, “it looked so cool” she said afterwards. Kate said she knew I wasn’t playing when she saw me go into a 90 degree bank. I didn’t know my wing could hold that, but at the time I had too.
Afterwards it hit me how this entire experience was exactly like coming home from war. The flight itself was fun and terrifying at the same time. Moments of peace shattered by unexpected moments of violence. When the time finally came to land, I couldn’t figure out how. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to return to the safe, normal place everyone was, I just didn’t know how.
Gretchen didn’t have the reference point to understand that my behavior wasn’t ok at all. Kate knew it was bad but didn’t have the ability to fix it for me.
What I really needed more than anything was another pilot who had flown in the area. He could have gotten on the radio and calmly pointed me to a place with better conditions. He could have reminded me to just keep flying the wing and the bad times will pass.
This is why the Darkhorse Lodge is so important to me. It brings people in rough times together with those who already navigated those rough times. It’s already saving lives during construction. I have no doubts about how effective it will be in the future.