Sunday, January 17, 2010

One of the best moments of summer

Winter is a great time to remember summer. As I was looking over my log book for the past soaring season I thought about a few flights that really stood out. The best two flights were cross country, one in the Grob with York Zentner at the Logan contest and the other was with Lynn Alley in his Duo Discus (scroll down and read "Flying the Duo Discus"). I realized that I never wrote about this extraordinary day.

Lynn called me the night before and asked if I wanted to fly with him. Note: When Lynn calls just clear your schedule. You don't want to miss an opportunity to fly with him. Later I found out that he called York first, but York said "Take Warren". The next day came all too slowly.

As we prepared the Duo Discus I felt an excitement that I really can't quantify. In soaring every flight is different and you never know precisely what the conditions will allow. Lynn outlined what he wanted to do for the day. He would attempt (again) a speed record from Morgan to Kings Peak to Heber and back to Morgan, a task he has tried many times.

The excitement builds as we towed the plane down to the north end of the runway. I'm like a little kid, giggling inside, but I try to restrain my outward appearance. As I get in the plane I reacquaint myself with the very cozy front seat. I hear the drone of the tow plane as it makes our way toward us. Lynn connects the tow rope, climbs in and says, "You have the controls". Once again I get to handle this lovely plane.
As we roll down the runway it all seems so effortless. Those 20 meter wings take so little to fly. I hear Lynn calmly giving me instructions and in no time we are off the ground. As with other flights, once I get past 200 feet I usually take a big breath (or let out the one I've been holding for the last few minutes) and relax as I follow the tow plane.

We were cruising along not really feeling much lift when all of the sudden my thoughts were shaken back to reality by a "POP", then the tow rope disappears from view. This was an eye-opener for me as I like being in a thermal when I release, but Lynn has the confidence and knows the area well enough that he knows where to be for the lift. Sure enough, moments later we are climbing in gentle lift.

Lynn makes a calculated decision to leave the lift, dash back over to the airport which is the start point on the computer, and then dash back to where the lift was to gain more altitude so we can get going on the first leg. I was a little leery because we were about 7 or 8 miles from the airport, but everything worked out great.

Back in the lift we shot up to 12,000 feet and then headed towards Evanston, Wyoming, all the time checking the flight computer to ensure we had enough altitude to get back to Morgan.
The views were extraordinary. The cumulus were building over the Uintah mountains and it looked to be a spectacular day. Once past Evanston our eyes were fixed in the direction of Kings Peak, but some of the cumulus clouds were overdeveloping. Lynn, being cautious and wanting to keep all options open decided not to pursue Kings Peak, rather, we would turn southwest and head towards Heber and Strawberry reservoir.

It was interesting to note the location of the lift under the clouds. The wind was from the southwest and the strongest portion of the lift was not directly under the cloud as one would assume, but was on the southwest edge of the cumulus. Several thermals proved this and I made a mental note.

Finally, we were over Daniel's Summit near Strawberry reservoir and approaching 18,000 feet. Up to that point I had flown possibly a third of the flight. Lynn said, "Okay Warren, take us home." There was smoke from wildfires in California that obstructed my view of our home airport. The flight computer indicated about 70 miles. Had we really gotten that far away? I put my trust in the instruments and flew a straight line.

Now it was a time to relax. The computer said we had 5,000 more feet than we needed. So for the next 35-40 minutes was spent looking out the canopy and enjoying the view.

When we were over the Morgan airport we had so much altitude that we decided to keep flying north. We were adjacent to James Peak by Powder Mountain when Lynn made a call for a 180 degree turn and we headed home. Still, we were really high, at least 2,000 feet over glide slope. It's nice to have that kind of altitude in the bank. Then Lynn decided to make a withdrawal. "Let's do some Chandelle's and wing overs!" After a few heart-stopping, stomach-bending maneuvers he said, "You have the controls." The pattern and landing went great.
Once on the ground I asked Lynn how long we had flown. Thinking it was about 2 1/2 hours I was stunned when he said, 4 hours 14 minutes. Time really does fly!!!!

There is huge difference between flying and soaring. For most people flying is about getting to a destination by the use of thrust or horsepower. Soaring is about HOW you get to a destination and the satisfaction of achieving your goal by the use of your incredible flying machine and your wits.

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