Friday, May 16, 2014

Marshall out and return, 41 miles

Thursday supposed to be switch day from Santa Ana. Original plan was to fly open distance from Marshall to Palmdale and beyond. It's all about timing. Start is determined when north wind switch to south at Marshall, you normally launch right into convergence. Finish is determined when east wind switch to south-west in the desert. 48h forecast looked great with 5 mph east at Palmdale at 5 pm. However, run after run it was getting worse and worse with morning forecast of 10 mph of SW at Palmdale at 5 pm. Not good at all. Another option was to fly OTB to Victorville and along I-15 toward Baker, but there was north east in the morning shifting to SW, and light north on top. Questionable as well. So, I decide to tag San Gorgonio and fly back. Meet at LZ with Rebar Dan, Russ and Ziggy. On launch at 11:30, but it was still NW, so we waited half an hour. I launched first at 12:12 and climbed to 6K drifting toward Arrowhead. Russ and Ziggy spend some time scratching, but then climbed all the way to 10K, wow! They catch up with me near McKinley, but were lower. I got to 10K at Harrison, which was very useful, a lot of sink up to -5 m/s and head wind all the way to past dam. I lost more than 3K of altitude. Russ and Ziggy did not tank up at Harrison leaving only with 6.7K, which cost them the day, they both landed short from the dam and hitchhiked back to LZ. Meanwhile I was struggling to get over Little San Gorgonio spine, air was nasty with forward speed dropping to 5 mph at times, I had a feeling that east wind from the pass was mixing with SW from the valley. Anyway I give up tagging a peak and flew back with a good tail wind. I was back at Marshall at 3:30, should probably try harder to tag San G. Went out to flats and then to Little Mountain.
Cajon Pass
Marshall LZ
Rebar Dan completed 100 miles FAI triangle (Marshall to Elsinore to Soboba to Marshall LZ) on his Litespeed hang glider, very impressive. Congratulations!

My track:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Kagel to Barstow, 96 miles flight

I think all of the pilots familiar with XC flying when driving on highway 210 (or 10) along San Gabriel mountain range was at least thinking about Kagel to Marshall flight or vice versa. The best time for high altitude flights on the front range usually in the spring when Santa Ana (north) wind switch to south and there is no inversion around or later in the August or September after monsoonal moister and summer hit generates some thunderstorm activity.
Earlier this week there was very strong Santa Ana, wind was gusting up to 70 mph and Friday supposed to be a switch day. But gusty wind also resulted in the Etiwanda fire near Rancho Cucamonga and corresponding TFR (temporary flight restriction), which was exactly on the course line and put the end on Kagel to Marshall flight plan. Alternative option was to fly OTB (over the back) and follow highway 15 with SW wind. I did similar flight 2 years ago, but at that time I did not plan it, just follow HG's which means late start as well as not optimal route since I had no idea where I'm going. Now I have all time I need to prepare.
Aaron and Tavis agreed to join and Katie volunteer to drive. We meet at 9:45 at Kagel LZ and was on launch at 11:00. Good strong cycles, birds climbing easily all indicators pointed to the good day. I launched first at 11:27 and climbed right away to 6.5K, Aaron and Tavis launched shortly after and we all headed to BigT. I expected some SE wind, which means you arriving to lee at BigT, but it was not too bad. At BigT we spend some time making sure day is developed enough.
Climbing behind BigT. Mt. Lukens on the right
After few climbs we got to 8.5K (12:35 pm) and start our transition toward Mt. Gleason, but that altitude was not enough. We have to stop near Iron Mt. and search for one more climb, we spread around we found good enough thermal drifting in the right direction, eventually arriving to Gleason at 7.5K (1:10 pm). This is prominent peak and the best place to tank up. I was worry that we may encounter north wind here, but fortunately it was south already. We climbed to 11.5K and continue along the ridge. Aaron and Tavis stopped to check out some light staff, but I continue to nice looking SW facing mountain behind Angeles Forest Hwy and get right into +5 m/s climbing to 12.7K. Tavis was next and got into the same thermal, but Aaron missed that one and have to scratch low for awhile. Drift was from the NW, but not too strong. From that altitude we can easily cut across no mans land toward Juniper Hills.
Crossing San Gabriel Mountains
Tavis had slightly less altitude and decided to search on west side, while I pushed forward along ridge crest and finally found next good thermal, which took me to 14.4K with drift mostly from the west (good). Now I was all by myself. Just before Wrightwood I left mountains and went for the flats (3:00 pm).
Wrighwood ski resort and Mt. Baldy (with snow) 
To my disappointment wind was from the NNW and my progress was very slow. Near Phelan I run into convergence and had my best thermal of the day to 15.1K. In the Victorville drift was from the west down low and from the north up high (4:30 pm), so I need to adjust my strategy. In the main time Aaron caught up with Tavis and they both decided to land near Spring Valley Lake in Victorville. I continue north along a dirt road (Stoddard Wells Rd.) periodically reporting my status to the crew. Thermals was getting lighter and wind was from west, while I need to fly north, altitude was dropping more and more. I was hopeless to make it to Barstow hopping from one hill to another, ready to land on dirt road at any time. Then I saw small village and paved road (Hwy 247) just to my right, which was down wind and at the same time found light thermal. Now I could cut the corner with my LZ on the nice green field few miles east of Daggett.
Daggett and Hwy 40
I landed at 6:47 pm. My friends was watching my progress on SPOT page and was there before I even unhook harness.
Our crew
7:19 airtime, 155 km (96 miles) straight distance. Great day, great flight and thanks a lot to our driver Katie.
My track: