Monday, May 15, 2017

Going Long

I've been shopping for record weather on the Appalachian ridges.

The forecast surface charts for May 8 had the look of a classic ridge day, with one or two wrinkles to keep me guessing. The low and high pressure centers were forecast to be well positioned & strong enough but very slow moving (not necessarily a bad thing).  The jet stream was forecast to track roughly over Tazewell (that is, well South) with 500 mB winds at around a hundred NW.  6000' wind forecast was perfect from Lock Haven, PA to Gate City, VA.  Lower level wind forecasts were a little soft and too Westerly.  Stability was low, air was dry, forecasting a great thermal day but all blue at the South end.  So not necessarily a record day, but definitely a long strong soaring day covering a lot of real estate.  I made the decision to go on Friday evening. Saturday I drove to Mifflin Co airport in the rain.

The front blew through Sunday afternoon.  A bunch of other New England glider pilots are at Mifflin Co. for a club encampment  and we all go fly.  I had a nice little rip around Jack's, Shade & Tuscarora, got too aggressive on the upwind transition to Shade at 6pm and landed at Mifflintown airport, 13 air miles from Mifflin Co.  That really annoyed me, as the plan was to leave the ship together and watered overnight, and get some real sleep.  John Good came and fetched me by trailer, and accomplished the task so speedily that we got back & rigged again in daylight.  Watering was put off until after dinner.  I hoped that maybe the extra work would make for sound sleep.  No dice.  I might have slept an hour.  I was pretty wired.

Monday morning at 0630, the sock is limp.  Reports from Lock Haven, Altoona, Bedford and University Park report similarly light conditions.  Darn.  I tell (our tow pilot) Brian "no rush".  About 0930 I suggest: "Go get your airplane."  He laughs (he's convinced this is a dry run), says "I'll go check the ridge", which he does.  He returns, reporting that leaves are still.  I'm ready and my weather sense says the ridge ought to be waking up about now, so I saddle up and go, getting airborne at 09:58 and taking a 1000' tow to Jack's Mtn.  Initial conditions are about 12 - 15 kts WNW with very light convection starting.  Brian's right, those tiny new Spring leaves aren't moving at all and it's well short of record conditions.

Moments After the Start.  Southbound on Jack's Mtn
My declared course is 1400 km, give or take: Evitts Mtn (South end), Talladega Bowl (near Lock Haven) and Tazewell Gap (Southern VA, a little over 500 km straight line from Mifflin Co).  I hit my start on Jack's at 10:04, cruise down Jacks at 80 kts, jog over the Raystown, fly Raystown to within sight of the large open field at the South end, thermal up and make the transition to Tussey... just barely (my inner Flight Instructor is annoyed & says "see me after class, Evan"). Tussey and Evitts go well and nearing the end of Evitts at 11:10 I make the decision to fly the task in reverse order, heading towards Tazewell first.  

Anatomy of a Well Executed Upwind Transition.
Jack's to Raystown at Mill Creek PA.
The day strengthens.  It takes two thermals to cross Cumberland and Keyser to New Creek Mtn, home to 52 new and very imposing windmills.  Another thermal to Hopewell Gap, then a continuous run of 93 miles @ 104 mph to Mountain Grove.  Turbulence is the speed limiting factor here. Thermals are strong and the ride is getting brutal.  

Tilting at Windmills on New Creek Mountain.

A little South of Hopewell Gap.  Speed and Beauty.

Clouds end just North of Mountain Grove and it's time to test these blue conditions out, so I climb to 6500 (5.8 kts avg) and glide to Coles Mtn, looking for another climb in the blue to glide the direct route across Covington, high.  Ingalls airport (which is on top of a mountain) reports wind 290-ish at 11, which is a little on the soft side for this sort of mission.  I shift down a gear.  At Coles Mtn, I haven't hit another good climb, so I decide to divert to the Ingalls ridge.  I get the thermal I need at Big Knob, then I go back on the direct route (Lick Mtn) just South of Covington.  Not in a hurry here.  I'm doing a lot of looking at terrain and comparing to all my Google Earth-ing and other recon work.

On the Southern side of the Covington gap is Peters Mtn.  If you wanted to build a ridge for speedy and efficient soaring, you would do well to start by studying Peters.  Even in today's less than ideal conditions, head wind component and all, it's good for 115 mph ground speed.  All I have to do is hang on and keep cinching down my belts.  At Tazewell, VA I make the turn at 13:54.  It wasn't too hard to resist the temptation to head across the Tazewell gap.  I've already signed up for a 500K return flight starting at 2pm.  Do I really want to trade up to 650K at 3pm? Maybe not. North I go. On the Northbound trip I've got a tailwind component and I press to see what I can make my glider do.  I run out of nerve at 166 mph.  It was pretty rough in there! Nearing Covington, the wind slacks off again, but it never gets worrisome.

Seneca Rock (in shadow at center) on the Northbound leg.

Scherr WV Below.  New Creek Mtn in distance.
Thermal Soaring Preferred Here!

A 7 kt thermal at Covington, one more near the Hopewell gap and mostly porpoise flying in thermals to Cumberland. Back on the ridges until halfway up Nittany Mtn I throw in the towel, the wind is 270(!) and it's overcast.  So I bail on the task (1250 diplome another day...), head down Evitts to collect my last declared turn, jog over to Tussey at Bedback for variety and spend my return trip down Raystown taking in the view and just enjoying the ride.  Nearing Reedsville, I spin the numbers on the computer and realize I can probably run up my OLC score to 1500 km by dusk, and that becomes the final objective for the day.  It works, rolling over 1501 on my computer about 14 miles out of Mifflin Co. with the sun right on the ridge.  The airport beacon lights up as I cross the Reedsville gap, I click the mic to turn on the runway lights, strafe a couple of guys on the tarmac with water ballast and call it a day.  I won't be forgetting this one any time soon.


1501 km achieved.

More cool stuff:
Windmills in Motion.  

Tearing it up on Peters Mtn., Northbound.

How sweet it is.  A half hour segment showing Tussey, Raystown,
Jacks Mtn ridges in (relatively) smooth late afternoon conditions.

OLC Flight Log

Even longer flights by others:

Brian Milner,  2100 km

Helmut Bauer, 1800 km

Dale Kramer, 1600 km

Adam Zieba, 1600 km

Brian Collins, 1600 km

And of course, there are the guys who figured it out first:

O&Rographic (1972)

(Check back later -- I'll add more refs as I dig them out)

-Evan Ludeman


Rick said...

According to my calculation, you deprived each windmill of .028 kilowatt-hours of energy. They should send you a bill.

Anonymous said...

A bill? Heck no, send him a medal. The only energy wind is useful for is powering flying toys.

Daniel Sazhin said...

Heck of a flight Evan! Nicely done

-Daniel S.