The day started at 5:20 am with decent rest. All the batteries were charged, everything was ready to go. I had my oatmeal breakfast, got the glider ready and Rick sealed the logger into the glider. Just before 7 am, Brian Glick towed me into the air, the wind already blowing a good clip from the NW. There was quite a bit of moisture and towing up to 3800ft (3000ft AGL) actually took us a little bit above the clouds. I worked some weak waves to my start point at Shade Mountain and then shot off SW bound toward my turn point. The question now was whether the ridge would work. Early in the day, it was entirely plausible that the air does not mix enough for the wind to be solid at ridge top. Luckily it was working and I was moving along at 70-80 mph toward my first turn point at Dickeys Mountain. The nice thing was that the ride was quite smooth. Typically pushing the 1-26 up to 80mph gets quite rough with its light wing loading. I counted my lucky stars and figured I ought to take advantage of the speed as long as I can as later on, it would probably get much rougher.
The downwind transition at Gobblers Knob (end of Shade Mountain) was not a problem and good air got me across without any trouble. The Tuscarora was gangbusters. I was driving along in smooth ridge, 500ft above going 80 mph. Going into the turn point, I slowed down a bit as that section gets very rough. There’s a small upwind ridge that forms a Vee at the end of the Tuscarora and the downwash makes it a rodeo if you get in there low. I turned on schedule and headed toward Blairstown.
Now the big question was if the thermals would be good enough to let me do the downwind jumps from the end of the Tuscarora. By the time I got to the end of the Tuscarora, some little puffs were marking weak lift. I connected with a thermal, did several turns and jumped downwind, following the street. The Mahantango was honest, though I am always a bit wary of how low it is and how it angles poorly into the wind. It’s one of the mysteries of ridge flying, but this little 500ft ridge, with a wind direction 30 degrees off of parallel generally works just fine. However, I like to avoid tempting the mysteries of this mountain and once I get abeam of Bear Mountain, I try to climb off of the Mahantango and jump downwind to the higher ridge. It took three tries to get a thermal high enough to make the jump, but with very little loss in terms of efficiency.
Once at the end of Bear Mountain, I struggled to find a reasonable climb. The thermal wasn’t great, but it got me to about 2300ft, a little downwind of the ridge, which was just enough to make Sharp. I went for it but was not entirely thrilled with the decision once I left. I got to Sharp right at ridge top, but where I got to it there are no places to land. The ridge kicked up just fine and I scooted along until the end of it, got a nice climb to Hawk and coasted along Blue Mountain. Now I was back on my ridge and making a really good time. I hit the turn point at Fairview Lake substantially ahead of schedule, at 11 am. I had expected to hit the turn point at 11:45 am!
Heading SW bound again, the thermals cooked up nicely, but the ridge was still reasonably smooth. The thermals were energetic, but otherwise, the ridge was relatively benign. This was great news as the rocking and rolling on most ridge days is really fatiguing to me. Getting back to Hawk Mountain, now it was time to do the upwind jumps. Luckily I had built up quite a bit of time in reserve, so I knew I could afford to get stuck for a while and still complete the flight. I had completed the first 500km in just under 5 hours and still had eight more hours of daylight. All of the jumps went like clockwork. First I would climb up in a nice thermal and then scoot along a street into the wind. As a result, each time I made it across with plenty of altitude to spare, which was quite nice as the transitions did not require as much mental effort. Thanks to Schwartz for marking the thermal that got me across to Tuscarora!
Once on the Tuscarora, now it was just a matter of zipping over to the last turn point and not messing up the run home. I hit the turn point just before 3 pm, 50 minutes ahead of schedule and had plenty of time to get back. Once I got to the end of the Tuscarora, my wind readings showed that the wind was going pretty westerly. Once on the Mahantango, I saw my ground speed was a good 20 mph over my indicated airspeed. As much as I appreciated the tailwind component, I knew that soon the ridge was going to bend to the east and favour a much more northerly wind. I figured it was time to get off the ridge and thermal instead. I climbed off and stayed high until I dropped down for a little bit to 2000ft near Sharp. Once I hit a thermal, I saw that the wind was around 285 degrees and decided to thermal. The clouds were quite high and by Hawk Mountain, I made it up to 8700ft. Then it was just a matter of taking a couple of climbs here or there and coasting home. Having a 20-25 mph tailwind is certainly nice! I hit the finish at 3000ft and landed with still two hours of daylight to spare.
The big challenge of the flight was not so much the execution, but the physical endurance. I had flown all of the ridges in the task and the transitions were not particularly novel. A lot of the focus went into trying to stay relaxed and avoiding exerting mental effort as much as possible. Luckily the ridge was relatively smooth, so I was able to stay relatively fresh for most of the flight.
This flight was only possible due to the effort and support of a lot of people. Some people I would really like to thank are:
- Steve Beer for crewing. He was quite enthusiastic and did a great job!
- Rick Roelke and Bob Cook for official observing the flight.
- Brian Glick for towing me early in the morning
- Phil Chidekel for the weather forecasts
- MSA for providing such a wonderful clubhouse to crash the night
- Aero Club Albatross for letting me use their wonderful 1-26E!