10 PM, Thursday, August 10th, 2000
"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
First the weather conditions., at his home in Wichita, but still very much connected to the World Record Encampment, sent in the following early morning weather forecast for Wednesday, the 9th:
Should be cumulus at about 2,000' agl. Light but workable lift, better than yesterday at this time. Last night it looked like today could be at 2500' to 3,000' by 10 am but more moisture than predicted came in overnight.
You might wish to re-examine your leaving height and weigh the trade-offs between abundant clouds with possible organization or some streeting and the safety net. This will give you more time on course (of course). If I had the choice of adequate clouds at 2000' or blue at 3000' I'd take the clouds every time. Today, more than the other days, it will benefit you to get off earlier. I'm seeing a better airmass definition as you move toward Laredo...as you enter it, you'll just be swept up into a superb flight path along the ideal route. At 10 am in Laredo the cloudbase should be 500' higher than your launch, the lift will be stronger and better organized, and the winds will be stronger and from a better direction. Expect winds at cloudbase to run about 5 mph stronger (20 mph plus) and from about 155-165 degrees. Get up there as soon as you can.
For your launch, winds at the surface about 135 degrees at 12 mph. Winds at cloudbase about 150 degrees at 15-18 mph.
1 pm around the region of Catarina:
Very good-looking lapse rates. Should be strong lift, nicely formed, there's a reasonable chance for some organization and streeting here and there. Cloudbase around 6,000' agl and get this... winds aloft from an average of about 180 degrees. Running about 15 mph. If you have good clouds, race, race, race.
4 pm around Uvalde and the Hill Country:
Nice, strong thermals. Well formed and big. Winds aloft shift a little more easterly to about 160 degrees, just right for the route up Hwy 55. Should be running about 12-15 mph. Cloudbase over the hills at 7500' to 8000' msl, so you should be able to cover the terrain nicely.
Late afternoon & early evening above the Edwards Plateau:
Good, well formed lift should continue late. Winds back southerly about 180 degrees at 12-15 mph. Cloudbase around 9000' to 9500' msl (7000' agl). You have a very good chance of streeting here. Looks much better to me than the day Dave made the clouds.
Pretty soon after you sense that the lift is starting to back off (but not die), you might need to dial down your racing with a higher proportion than S2F would dictate. Hopefully the racing will still consist of organized, streeting runs. I would be careful to stay really high, with the goal of getting all the length you can out of the day and all the winds have to offer. Certainly by the time you climb in the last real thermal of the day, you want to hang with it at the top of the climb forever. To continue to core even 50 fpm down makes more sense than leaving it if it is late and there are no more real climbs out there to be had. If you misjudge this and there's another climb to cloudbase, fine...you can just repeat the tactic. Of course, depending upon sunlight, etc., you may get another modest "climb" or level drift or two way down the altitude scale...just try to hang forever in the last real one that goes to cloudbase. You should be able to extend your final glide 30-50 minutes if this is the case, and can cover lots of extra ground during this time period.
Some chance of OD all along the course to about Uvalde today, but not extreme. As you move north of Catarina, you might see some beautiful, long-winged Open Class ships from the Nationals to help spot the better thermals for you. I would not conclude that because winds don't average above 20 mph over the course, you can't do it today. With the way things are shaping up, it could be a much better day than the record day during the first encampment. We'll just have to see.
Gary is obviously very excited about the day and is doing every thing that he can to encourage me. I really appreciate it, but wonder if he isn't overstating things. The windcast for surface winds shows a lot of easterly component:
This is the windcast (surface winds) for 1 pm. Notice that the wind direction is supposed to become more southerly as I head north to the west of San Antonio.
And the center of the high pressure is still too far north, so that there will be predominantly southeasterly winds instead of south winds:
The problem with a southeasterly wind direction, is there aren't any paved roads that go in this direction. That's why we like the fact that they winds are supposed to turn to the south, so I can go up the northerly route – highway 83.
But the 7 pm windcast shows a more easterly component to the north as I get there later in the day:
The windcast predicts that the winds will increase during the day.
At 8 AM, the cu's fill in fast at Zapata, it is almost dark from all the low level cu's by 9 AM. They are thicker than any we've seen so far. When we drive to the airport, their shadows are running almost as fast as the truck (40 mph), but it is mild on the ground. The cloud base must start off at about 1,500'.
My ATOS is all set up, and as we are out at the airport by 9 AM. I have been flying with the stock round base tube and my wheels here in Texas. The wheels saved me once again the first day I flew here and landed downwind into a rocky field. I figure that my carbon-fiber aero base tube is just a bit too wimpy for Texas. My steel aero base tube would be fine (same as the one Dave flies with), but isn't as comfortable at the round one.
With the glider set up all we have to do is haul it on the little two wheel cart that , Dustin Marin, and built, out to the south end of the runway. This is a delicate process, as you have to pull the semi-secured glider first into the wind (no problem) and then downwind (you hope that the wind doesn't blow it over into the truck). You go fast enough downwind to keep the wind from blowing over the glider.
Unfortunately, the rope that holds the nose of the glider down, comes lose, and the keel falls to the runway. I'm riding my bike and holding the wing tip to level the glider, and as soon as the keel hits, I go over the handlebars. Minor scrapes. The glider is fine and we continue.
When we get to the end of the runway, I notice that one of my super thin spoileron wires is kinked and has one broken strand. I decide that it is good enough for the day, but will have to be replaced before I fly again. There is really very little force on the spoileron wires.
I'm ready to go a little before 10 AM, but when I first start to take off, I've got one of the lines of the bridle under my arm, instead of over my head. I have Belinda stop the truck after a few feet, and fix the problem. So far, not a great start for the day. I'm sure hoping that I don't obsess during the flight about the kinked side wire.
The winds are over 10 mph on the ground (as Gary predicted) and right down the runway (130 degrees), so it is very easy to get into the air and climb well on tow. It really is a testament to this launch site, that we can pretty consistently get up early in the morning from 700'-1000'.
There are clouds over the runway, and I find a light thermal right at the center of the runway. It's going up at about 200 fpm, and I pin off leaving the rope right on the runway.
This is a sign that the winds are at 130 degrees (the runway direction), so I will be pushed to the northwest toward Laredo and its airport.
The clouds are streeted up and it is clear that I will have to follow the streets at least until I get far enough away from the airport to be able to get out from a landing area without having to call the Sheriff to unlock the gates. Cloud base is 2,600' MSL (2,200' AGL) so when I leave at cloud base, I leave lower than I would like. Still there is a nice filled in street in front of me, and I just stay under it.
I cover the first 15 miles in twenty minutes without having to turn more than a turn or two. My ground speed is between 50 and 55 mph. The lift is light, but so is the sink. At this point, I start hoping cloud streets to the east, in order to get around Laredo. I need to be five miles to the east of the airport, or over 3,000' AGL.
Here I'm jumping to the northeast to get into the next cloud street.
Cloud base is rising at by 11 AM I can get to 3,800'. I'm at hour and a half earlier than what we've been averaging as I'm almost to Laredo. Dave and I left the Zapata airport at 11:45 AM on the day that he set the record.
I get down to 1,500' AGL 10 miles southeast of the Laredo airport, but find my first good lift of the day – 500 fpm. There are plenty of clouds, and I've been hoping a couple of streets to get to the east, so I'm pretty confident of getting. Still up, after going down at 100 miles the day before, I'm careful to take any lift when I get below 2000' AGL.
I'm able to get far enough east of the airport and climb high enough that I stay well out of controlled airspace. This is not only a legal consideration. The Laredo airport is very busy because it is the port of entry for good coming from Mexico (think NAFTA). I definitely want to stay away from any air traffic.
With the winds out of the southeast, I'm forced to jump to another street to get lined up with highway 83, which branches off of Interstate 35 north of Laredo. I'm running between 3,500' MSL and 2000' MSL. I've switched to MSL on the Brauniger, because I know that the ground is climbing. It starts at 400' at Zapata, and is probably 700' north of Laredo. It will climb to 2,400' at the Edwards Plateau.
The Brauniger gives me readings of the wind direction and speed. It varies between 120 degrees at 12 mph, and 150 degrees at 15 mph. It appears from the wind lines on the ponds below to be about 160 degrees. Thankfully highway 83 goes a bit northwest at this point.
I'm not getting any strong lift. It is usually between 300 and 400 fpm in the best thermals. I work 200 to 250 fpm if I get at all low.
Soon after I start up highway 83 at 60 miles out, I have to be sure to get up enough to feel safe about crossing a five-mile stretch of Mesquite. I haven't been getting that high, and cloud base is now 5,000' MSL. With the strong winds I figure try to get up early before I'm carried over the Mesquite patch. Still the winds also help shorten up the patch.
Twenty miles of Mesquite start at 70 miles out, broken only by three ranch air strips (well, almost). With the streeting, and consistent, if light lift, I'm able to stay comfortable at above 3,500' MSL. I'm running pretty fast, but not averaging 40 mph. I'm way ahead of any previous time on the course.
Catarina is about 100 miles out on the highway, and the site where I went down on the previous day. I'm there at 12:30 PM, a half-hour before Gary's prediction, but he's darn close. I decide to cut the corner on the highway as it jogs northwest a bit here to Carrizo Springs, and I head for Crystal City.
I'm down to 1000' AGL five miles south of town feeling out the lift. So far I've really enjoyed the air, and there have been few "chunky bits." I had told myself that I was tired of having long flights that weren't enjoyable, and I was only going to do this if it was fun. So far, it was.
The nice moist soft thermally air that comes out of the Gulf, was a big draw for me to come to Zapata. I loved the fact that it was low, so that I didn't need oxygen and I could dress lightly. I hate feeling like a snowmobile operator when I fly. I didn't wear gloves, had on my shorts (and thin little Converse All Stars that can fit in the pod), a thermal undershirt, and a fleece sweater.
The day had started relative cool with all the clouds. I had even forgotten to put on my hat when I first got to the airport, something that would not have happened here on any sunny day. So I wasn't too warm in my sweater while flying.
As you really don't get too high here, you don't need to dress for huge changes in altitude. You're going to go up 7,000', maybe more at the end of the day, and that's about it.
I find a bit of lift south of Crystal City and get in a nice soft but light thermal. It is big enough for me and the hawk that joins me. We stay at the same elevation (with respect to each other) for the next 4,000' of climb. It is the most pleasant thermals of the day, and gets to about 500 near the top.
You can really tell by the track of the thermal in the lower portion of the figure that the wind is blowing from the southeast.
I'm beginning to think that now is the time of day that I should start making some better speeds. I'm still averaging below 40 mph, although my interthermal ground speeds are now between 55 mph and 60 mph. The climbs are slow, so that adds up. Also, I can't get very high, so I have to take a lot of climbs. I don't have as many options to just take the big lift (as though there were any). Still, I really appreciate the relative lack of hard bounces and broken up air, so the trade off is worth it.
I'm scooting toward Uvalde and have already decided to take highway 55, which takes a more northwesterly direction than does highway 83. I have a declared goal at highway 277 and Interstate 10, which 55 will take me to, so there is another good reason to go this direction. The winds continue southeast, in spite of what the windcast shows (Uvalde is west of San Antonio).
I'm past Uvalde at 170 miles at 3 PM. When Dave and I took this route before, we were here at 4:30 PM. I'm just hoping that the day lasts as long. I get my first strong thermal of the day at 1000 fpm on the averager for about two minutes before it drops back a bit. I'm wondering if the day has finally picked up (it doesn't).
I'm still following the cloud streets, but they've been full of potholes since Laredo. They are still there, but there is no running underneath them and not turning. They are also cocked a bit to the west, so I do have to jump from one to the next, every so often.
At 190 miles out, I'm by Camp Wood and low again. This is where I went down on the previous flight up here, and I'm wary. I have to run way to the west to get out of the small valley and over to the cloud street to the west.
I get low enough to sweat (1000' AGL) as I work a bit of junky lift off some hills and rocks. It doesn't stay together and again I'm running low north up the narrowing valley trying to get under a cloud. It looks bad, as I drift over a field and check out the landing possibilities. They are getting fewer as the road starts climbing up to the Edwards Plateau.
I will work anything, and I find a bit of lift off the dry riverbed that drifts fast to the north. In spite of its weakness, I vow to stay in it no matter what, to at least 6,000' MSL. I have to go back and find it a few times, but I hold to the promise and even get to 7,000' MSL in 400 fpm near the top.
The thermal has taken me up onto the plateau and I'm looking out at Rocksprings. There is a cloud street on the eastern side and one on the west, and I take the eastern one first. I then have to jump over to the western one over Rocksprings and climb out from 2000' AGL over town.
At this point 220 miles out from launch, highway 55 heads off to the west. had earlier taken a more northerly route along ranch roads, and I decide that I should do the same. I'm trying to line up with the winds and head at about 340 degrees.
In the main I have to follow the clouds. The roads are a secondary consideration, but then I do want to get picked up if I go down. The ranch roads are definitely there, but just how one gets to them and I skip between them is not quite clear. I think I can make it to Interstate 10 forty miles to the north.
Some upper layer clouds have come in. Gary is following the weather at work and notices these clouds also. There are actually two layers of clouds above the cu's, so it is completely dark on the ground now to the north of Rocksprings.
Still, I was able to climb to 8,400' MSL (6,000' AGL) at Rocksprings, so at least I'm high as I venture out into the dark poorly roaded area. There are still thin cu's under the higher clouds, and I have to get to each one to get lift. The streets are still there, but they are mostly potholes.
About thirty miles out from Rocksprings, I work myself further west to get back out into the sunlight. The high clouds don't take up all the sky, so I'm able to get just to the northwest of a still smoldering burnt-off field, and under some better cu's.
I get a bit disoriented, and find myself going more west than north and come in south of Sonara and cross highway 277. My goal in taking what I thought was a northerly route from Rocksprings was to keep to the east of highway 277 and maybe get the declared goal at Sonora as I drifted to the west just north of Interstate 10.
Now, given my confusion, I'm eight miles south of Interstate 10 and west of Sonora. I take a right turn and fly north.
I get low and have to scoot to the southwest of Sonora to get under a cloud. At 800' AGL with Mesquite all around, I pick up 200 fpm in a small thermal, but I hang on because there really isn't anywhere to land. I'm sure not excited about going down at 260 miles so I do whatever it takes to stay in the air.
I'm five miles west of highway 277, which goes north to San Angelo. There are no roads to the northwest, only Interstate 10 to the west. Still, there are some cultivated fields now under me so I head north, trying to stay within reach of 277.
The cloud streets are generally tending to the north and not the northwest. I'm staying under the cloud streets and staying high.
Belinda tells me that there is a parallel northerly paved road about 30 miles to the north, so I should be able to see it at some point. I'm moving along well, and I'm now getting over 8,000' MSL. It is a bit cold up there (in the sixties), so I am shivering in my light clothes. The thermals are smooth, but they are now getting stronger, 500 fpm. With a good southerly component of the wind, I'm moving along.
The clouds are quite a bit different than earlier in the day. I'm back out in the sun, the cu's are quite high, and the streets are back, but sparsely. You can really feel that you are in lift now and the cu's are darker and more sharply defined.
I'm ten to fifteen miles west of San Angelo, when I run out of roads. I take a dirt farm road going north, but it doesn't look like it goes that far. I figure I'm going to land at about 320 miles out, good enough to have the new record.
At the last moment, I decide to glide across some unlandable hills (no roads either) as it looks like I can make it a few more miles and land near another farm. I have plenty of tail wind and I'm just floating, so why not.
I make it to the farms at about 1000' AGL, and low and behold, I'm under a cloud. Pure luck.
I start working up and getting Belinda back on the radio to tell her where I've gone. She'll have to detour around to the east to get a road to the north.
I can see the divided highway that goes out of San Angelo to the northwest. It's really the only choice I have, so I climb out slowly and then just go on final glide down the highway. All the clouds are gone by now (it is almost 8 PM) and the air is glassy smooth. There is still plenty of wind and heat on the ground, and I glide 20 miles before landing at 8 PM at a farm near Sterling City. I want to be sure to have a few witnesses, so I cut the flight a little bit short at 347 miles.
Is 400 or more miles possible here in a hang glider? Oh yeah, no problem. You just want a bit better weather conditions. You want the Bermuda high a bit further to the south, so that you have south winds instead of southeasterly. You want stronger winds, maybe 20 to 30 mph, and better lift (unless it gets too rough). Whether you get all that in the same package is a bit more problematic, but it should happen fairly often.
The track log was over written for the first few miles of the flight.
is the person most responsible for making it possible for me to set this record. He did all the hard work of finding the right spot to fly. He really loves this stuff, and I'm very sorry that he broke the under carriage of the Carbon Dragon on his first tows at Zapata. Since I was driving the tow vehicle, I feel a little responsibility for that.
Gary talked to me a year ago about going to Texas, and I could hardly wait. I'm sure glad that I got to come, he was a great encouragement, especially when he set the record first.
The ATOS flew perfectly, not a single spin.J Thanks to Felix and Berndt for building a fun glider to fly.
I couldn't have flown this flight without Belinda driving. I had thought that I would stay in Zapata when Belinda left to visit her brother, but I knew that another driver wouldn't really work out. I needed the confidence to know that she would be there if I got lost.
The people of Zapata have been great to all of us. Bob McVey, the local newspaper publisher, shared his house with all those pilots and drivers without a mobile home. He was also my official observer on some earlier flights. He called the Sheriff and got Dustin out when he went down behind locked gates. He wrote us up in the newspaper.
Charlie, the airport owner/manager, has been very helpful. He gave us the run of the place, and just asked us to have an aircraft radio to keep out of the way of incoming planes. We loved being in his big hanger and using his airport.
July, at the Zapata Chamber of Commerce, got us free RV parking at the Lake Front Lodge as well as free meal tickets from McDonalds and Subway. Thanks to her and the helpful folks in Zapata.
Thanks to everyone who made all the equipment that I flew with. It all worked, even the pilot tracking system (which is sometimes problematic). The Rodger Hoyt's Gate Savers were real handy. Heiner Beisel's heads up device worked on my neck for 10 hours.
was still experiencing some reactions to her dehydration experience in Zapata, cramping headaches that would come on instantly and last for ten seconds She decided not to fly, and took her Fusion to Austin to give back to and get another one to fly. She should be back in Hobbs, NM.
I do have other news, but I'm still pretty wiped after driving back all day. I'll put it in the next issue.
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