Sunday, October 17, 2010
It all started on a Tuesday morning when I read an email from Ramy to the NorCalSoaring email list pointing to the very favorable soaring forecast for the coming days. Quickly navigating over to the blipmap forecast page I found the following plot, which helped explain Ramy’s excitement.
Rolf was available to tow (thanks Rolf!) and Ramy suggested that it would be a great opportunity for a student to experience cross-country soaring (assuming we could find a CFI-G). Luckily for me, Mike Voie kindly volunteered his services and promptly sent an email with some cross-country planning instructions. The night before our flight I drew circles of varying radii around Byron and Hollister, each was annotated with the altitude required to make a conservative glide to pattern altitude. The next morning I arrived at Byron to find a hive of activity, trailers were open and gliders were being assembled. I helped Yuliy, Peter and Morteza assemble and they returned the favor helping Mike and I get the wings on the club’s Grob 103 twin acro, N41KP. Soaring is a team sport!
After a couple of hours the gliders were lined up at the first intersection of rwy 30 and ready to go.
Ramy was first to depart, then Dick, followed by Yuliy, Morteza, Matt, Mike and I in KP, then Peter. The long tows to rel 1 meant that it took a couple of hours to get everyone airborne, but we all made it. Rel 1 is south of Byron over the Diablo range. The planned release altitude for KP was 7000, but we got off tow early after finding lift at 6000. We gained about 1K before moving slightly east and thermalling to 9000. After Mike found the lift, he turned over the controls to me and gave instruction on how to turn efficiently in the lift. I asked a few dumb questions like “How long do we stay here?” - the answer “until the lift runs out!”
We continued to move south under the long street of cumulus until we found a big thermal that lifted KP at a consistent 600-1000 fpm (even with yours truly at the controls). Close to an indicated altitude of 12K and within glide distance of Hollister we stopped turning in the thermal and pointed KP south towards Hollister. As we sped south at our best L/D KP continued to climb! With the base of the cumulus fast approaching, Mike pushed over to keep us VFR. Post flight GPS data indicated that our peak altitude was just over 13K.
After gliding within 10nm of Hollister we turned around and headed for home. Heading back to the north there was no lift to be found. As we descended through 6000 just south of Lick Observatory Mike identified possible land-out areas and explained the decision making process.
For benefit of those who don’t know, members of the glider community have compiled a GPS database of landing points in a format that can be loaded into a portable GPS unit. As we continued to look for lift, Mike periodically gave bearing and distance information to our best land-out location at South County.
As we sank through 5500 indicated (~2500 AGL) I started to think that a landing at South County was a real possibility. But then Mike found a whisper of lift and patiently worked it, methodically searching for the core. After a few minutes the vario started to show a 200 fpm climb, then 400, then 600, 800! Soon we were back in the game climbing to 10,000 feet before it petered out. Below us another glider (Peter I believe) worked the same thermal.
Byron was now within glide, but Mike thought it would be useful to head slightly east and fly over South County to identify the landing strip for future reference. After doing so, we continued north and entered our last thermal of the day to 10,500 feet. With plenty of altitude in the bank and Livermore in our sights we decided to overfly the summit of Mount Diablo and then head back to Byron. After checking in with NorCal on 125.35 we started to get traffic reports-
“Glider one kilo papa, Boeing 737 2’o’clock, 4 miles, 6000 descending”
And there it was, a Southwest 737 1000 feet *below* us passing right to left inbound to Oakland. I started to imagine the Boeing captain announcing our presence to the passengers.
We banked about 1000 foot over the summit of Mount Diablo for a quick photo opportunity, then headed to C83 for an uneventful pattern entry and landing.
We had been airborne for 3.3 hours, travelled 263km with a peak altitude of 13,000 feet. Although impressive (at least to me and my power pilot friends), it was the shortest flight of the day. Ramy made it all the way down the coast to Hearst Castle and several of the guys flew the Big Sur coastline. Yuliy and Ramy both travelled over 600km, which is pretty mind-boggling!
I’ll close by offering thanks to everyone who participated, particularly Mike Voie for introducing me to the arcane and exciting world of cross-country soaring and Rolf for sacrificing a great day of soaring to tow us all.