The Texas Soaring Association (TSA) has been encouraging cross-country flying this year. It started with a series of seminars based on Reishman’s ‘Cross-Country Soaring’. Speakers included Dick Johnson, Dick, Dave, and Dan Mockler, Sam Fly and other experienced members of TSA. Following the success of the seminar, the board of directors changed some of the rules regarding cross-country flying using club ships. Allowable flight times were increased from one hour to two hours for the single seaters (2-PW5, 2-AC4, 2- 1-26) and the Grobs could be checked out for two hours if getting cross-country instruction. Other than making sure you have a crew available, the main requirement for going cross-country was having obtained the bronze badge.
So with all this encouragement, my current goal is for me to achieve the bronze badge. Since receiving my private ticket last December, most of my flying has involved taking my wife, Cindy, up in the Grob 103 and flying around above the TSA field. She was a little disappointed this Sunday when I told her I am going to take up a single seater for a two hour flight – the first of the 2 two-hour flights required for the bronze badge.
When I get to the field around noon, the conditions don’t look that good. Nothing but blue skies and the wind is blowing strong from the SW. Temperature is measured at 110F. I’ll have to bring lots of water to keep hydrated. Although it might be a bunch of work, I think I can still manage a long flight. It would mean penetrating the wind and then drifting downwind in lift repeatedly. Not very exciting but good enough for me to get my duration.
I decide to fly one of the Russia’s since the cockpit feels roomier at the thighs than the PW5. With the strong wind, I want more penetration and performance than the 1-26. I haven’t flown the club’s AC4-A (taildragger) since the performance wing-root fairings were added, so this is a good chance to check any difference.
I get the plane out of it’s hangar, to the washing area and clean it up. I notice that some of the tape on the fairings is coming off. So it goes to the repair hangar. In addition to the re-taping, Glen Parks and me do a whole bunch of other maintenance. The main tire always had a slow leak so we install a different hub. We adjust the brakes, but the wheel can still be turned by hand. Don’t know if the brakes are glazed or have grease on them or what, but we give up after awhile. The canopy is cleaned and the radio antennae fixed. By the time we get it out of there it’s in pretty good shape.
It’s almost 15:00 when I get to the front of the tow line. After takeoff, it took me a second to get used to the quick response of the single seaters again. I am behind a new tow pilot that just had his checkout earlier that day. I notice him making some very steeply banked turns. Nothing that causes any problems, just steeper than the other tow pilots fly.
I stay on until just past 2000AGL (2700MSL) when we fly through some lift. I turn around and manage to find the thermal again. It’s a steady 2 knts all the way around and I start my first climb in the blue.
I notice a big Cumulus developing to the east of the field and head toward it. I find 2-6 knts of lift on the west edge of the Cu and decide to work it. The 2-33 and a couple of other planes are under the Cu several hundred feet to the east. The 2-33 is higher than me. I remember it was behind me in tow line. I guess he must have released in this strong thermal while I worked the 2knt blue lift.
I’m climbing faster than them and soon the two other ships come and join below me. It appears to be Dave and Dan Mockler. When flying the Grob, I often leave the thermal when it gets too crowded. The Grob just lacks the elevator to sustain steep turns easily. But the Russia is easy to keep in a tight turn and I continue to circle with the Mocklers below me. They eventually leave and I climb to just below cloud base. I’m at 7000MSL. Yeeehaaaww! This beats my previous best of 6500.
I head SW back towards the field. I didn’t drift that much so I assume the winds are weaker now. There is another large Cu in front of me so I tuck the nose and run towards it at 80knts. The sink rate is only 1-2 knts so I must still be in slight lift. Just when I feel like I’m really moving, I look to the left to see Kilo Fox pass me like I was standing still. Those racer guys really know how to crush an ego.
As I approach it, I see the big Cu disappear right before my eyes. Thinking that it is nothing but sink by now, I stop short and work some weak blue lift. I start wondering how this cross-country stuff works. I’ve been in the air for over half and hour and I’ve only managed to make it back to and slightly past the TSA field. Seems like cross-country is alot like gambling – you pull the lever and hope that all Cu’s show up.
I watch some wisps start to firm up and I head towards them. I find good lift and start to climb. With all this lift I get sloppy and let the speed get low a few times. I don’t realize it until the glider drops. The Russia usually has a very strong pre-stall buffet. I guess the wing-root fairings smoothed that out. By the time I’m back at 7000 the cloud is large and still some distance above me. I see some little bird getting thrown around. This is a sparrow or something, not a soaring bird. I wonder what he is doing this high up. Maybe what appears to me being thrown around is actually him darting after bugs.
I get excited as the needle continues to wind up. At 7700, cloudbase is too close for comfort. We are just South of DFW class B airspace and have frequent airline traffic. I really wanted to hit an even 8K but I figure it’s better to live and fly another day.
I’ve been up for an hour and am starting to get a little airsick. That hasn’t happened in awhile. Maybe my body got used to hour long flights and has to adjust to longer ones. So I head into the wind, stick my hand out the window to scoop air, and drink lots of cold water. I start feeling better.
Now the question is: what am I going to do with all this altitude and another hour to kill? I remember from an instructional flight that Interstate I-35 is to the west. I wonder how close I can get. With this much altitude I shouldn’t be breaking any club rules about staying within gliding distance of the field. Seeing lots of Cu’s in my direction helps me make up my mind and I head west.
The Cu’s aren’t exactly in a street but they are somewhat lined up. I’m able to cruise at a pretty fast pace without loosing too much altitude. With I-35 still a couple of miles away, the clouds suddenly end and I see nothing but blue in front of me. I work the last thermal back up to 6000 and decide to make a run and cross I-35.
As soon as I leave the clouds behind I encounter strong sink. I speed up and head towards some town along I-35. The Interstate really sticks out with all the cloverleaf exit and entry ramps. The 4-6knts of sink makes me nervous and I wonder how good a decision it was to try to cross it in the blue. At just below 5000 I make it across and take a picture of the Interstate with a handheld camera. No reason for it other than I wanted a picture of where I went. Then I turn around and realize I got another tough decision to make.
I see nothing but blue immediately in front of me. There are some Cu’s above Mayperl directly to the east and some above TSA to the north east. With less than 5000, making TSA is questionable. I decide to go for the closer clouds at Mayperl. I’m still flying in the sink that was left from the dissipating clouds I used while flying out. I keep hoping that things will cycle again – soon! At times, the sink reaches 8-10 knots down. I fly through it at 80 knts watching my altimeter unwind way too rapidly for comfort. Reaching TSA is definitely out of the question now. I guess I cut the cord from the field after all. At least Sam won’t be asking me about when I’m going to cut it anymore.
Just short of Mayperl, the needle goes below 3000. Just another 1000 feet and I’ll have to pick out a field. Luckily there is nothing but fields around here. The tough part is choosing one close to a road or house so I won’t have to walk miles in the 110F heat.
The possibility of landing out doesn’t bother me too bad. I’ve received good training in flying TLAR(that looks about right) and have flown at other sites. What bothers me more is the consequences of landing a club glider off-field before meeting all the requirements for being allowed to do so. I also don’t have a crew and the car doesn’t have a trailer hitch. So I am going to owe somebody bigtime.
Just as I get to Mayperl, the vario climbs up to zero. What a relief! There might be hope after all. The thermal is from 0-2 knots. A couple of buzzards join me. I use them to help center the lift. It increases in strength as I climb higher. A huge feeling of relief washes over me as I climb through 3500 since I know I can easily reach TSA from here.
However, all the anxiety and tight thermaling gets to me. I start feeling airsick again. But it is more than just a queazy feeling this time. I shallow the turns, drink water, and scoop air. But I still feel like I’m seconds away from vomiting. I look in the side pockets for a ‘comfort’ bag – nothing. I put my face close to the canopy window and wonder if I could direct it out. Next option is just to ‘let it go’ and clean up my shirt and the cockpit after I land. Not an appealing option. Then I think of my hat. Ok, I could deal with vomiting in my hat. So I lay it in my crotch and wait for the dreaded moment. Luckily it never comes. I start feeling better.
I stay in the thermal over Mayperl until reaching 5000. I then head North to TSA. The lift cycle is on again and Cu’s are popping everywhere. I still have about 15 minutes before I reach the 2 hour mark. I fly high speed laps around TSA trying to come down out of the lift.
At two hours into the flight I am down to 2500MSL. I start heading towards the IP. I run through the checklist and keep the airbrakes on for part of the downwind leg in order to loose excessive altitude. I land a little fast and the glider keeps on rolling. I try the wheelbrake and then remember that we gave up trying to get it work properly earlier in the day. There is a good crosswind and I am busy on the rudder. I drop one wing on the ground and can’t get it back up. I am already going slow enough that it isn’t an issue. An awful looking landing. Glad no one saw it.
I open the canopy and just sit there catching my breath. This will be a flight I won’t forget. Not only did I make my two hours, but I also got a taste of what cross-country is all about and how thrilling it is. I pulled the lever and it came up Cumulus – ding, ding, ding. I saw up-close how the clouds develop and deteriorate, how the weather cycles, and mostly I learned that I still have a lot to learn.
Back in the clubhouse, I look at my sectional and find the city of Grandview along I-35 to the west. I measure the distance at 12 miles. It seemed like a hundred miles. I estimate my distance from northeast of TSA to GrandView, to Mayperl, and back to TSA to be about 30 miles. Jeez, that’s a 15mph average. At least that speed should be easy for me to beat when I head out with a plan.