Silver badge duration

Silver Badge Flight

Brian Hart in Hood River

Not to torture anyone with more details, but I figured I might as well document yesterday’s flight, since it was as much a surprise to me and a good example of a dissipating inversion ending up behaving exactly as predicted (or at least guessed).

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

-Winston Churchill, 1941

(Editor's note--for new glider pilots, that doesn't mean look for lift when you're too low---Winston describes "good sense" as an exception--be safe...Brian was)

The Thermal Index was horrible yesterday with a lowest figure of something like +4. SkySight showed no particular thermals or wave for the day—only the usual minor local convergence. But there was west wind predicted in excess of 10 knots, and the SkewT had this hopeful progression that showed an inversion at about 3200’ dissipating between noon and 14:00:

So I theorized that the wind might be howling over the ridgetop at noon, unable to pierce the overhead inversion; but if that that inversion were to dissipate sufficiently by the time I launched, perhaps all that pressure could be released upward to 5000 feet or more. Armed with that inerudite bit of speculation on my part, off we headed to the gliderport where Jonathan would tow, and I could at least make an attempt at working my way up through or past that inversion.

Aside from a rare high patch of highly-streeted altocumulus clouds overhead stretching from Hood River to Mount Hood and beyond and that belied nothing of what was to come…

…the day began as it usually does for me at the gliderport: wanting very much to fly the Libelle but with enough need for ground support to keep me busy for hours during others’ lessons and a more realistic prospect of getting away mid-afternoon for a short attempt on the ridge. So I started by setting up CFIG Geoff Curtis with new commercial add-on student Alex Weinert for an unassisted launch, whereupon CFIG Jeff Pinnock graciously agreed to run my wing, so I gratefully took the second tow of the day—in my Libelle behind Jonathan in the Pawnee at about 13:54.

Struggling on the ridge...

I thought perhaps the time would be right for me to catch the ridge lift up to 5,000’ or 6,000’. Instead, I got off tow, turned south in front of the Dog Bowl at 3600 MSL, and immediately encountered continuous six knots of sink toward Neal Creek. So I reversed course and high-tailed it north along the ridge to make a last-ditch effort at redeeming the situation before heading back to the airport in shame. But I suppose good things comes to those who wait—or at least those who persevere. With lift in none of the usual places, I was under 2400 feet by the time I reached the notch and found just enough spotty ridge lift to keep me from heading for the airport. And there I sat between the Columbia River and the radio towers south of the notch for over two hours and 102 turns, all the while struggling between 2400’ and 2900’ with a couple of brief forays up to 3100’ and one up to 3400’, only to end up back down at 2600’ within a couple of minutes.

When I heard Alex call that he wanted a tow to 4000 over the ridge in the ASK21, I figured that might put him above the inversion—and so it did. About the time a crept away from the notch at 3000’ for a final effort to pierce the inversion layer, there he was atop the inversion over the Dog Bowl. After I struggled up another 500’ over the Dog Bowl in intermittent turbulent lift, at 3500’ I finally turned my attention to the valley for the first time on this flight at 16:15—over 2-1/4 hours after release.

And then it happened...

At first, I thought it was the Odell convergence—raucous lift and hard to find and use consistently. But it was there, and after another half hour up and down, but now with a generally upward trend, I had scratched my way up to 6000’ and slowly climbing beyond. At about 7000’, the turbulence disappeared entirely when I found steady two-knot lift in laminar flow. Jonathan called on the radio asking if I was considering making this a formal attempt on the silver badge duration five-hour flight. So for the first time, I had Jonathan look up my launch time, then I checked my phone and found I had been off tow for almost three hours. With only two more hours to go, no sign of losing lift, and sunset not until half an hour after I would have to land, that sounded good to me, and from then on, I made regular progress reports to Jonathan and Russ that were monitoring my flight real-time online.

Ground speed was negative at times (headwind > airspeed) as I steadily climbed through 8000 over Neal Creek with my nose pointed halfway between Mount Hood and Middle Mountain. After a few more exploratory zig-zags, there I was calling Jonathan to help me monitor half an hour over 12,500. It did not take that long. Eight minutes later, I pulled full spoilers escaping the back of the wave from 14,000.

I had not in my wildest dreams seen this coming, and my oxygen was turned off and the gear behind the seat where I could not reach it. At 12,700 I decided to dedicate the rest of my altitude to an attempt on getting to The Dalles and back. After all, so far as it looked to me, I was over Hood River and The Dalles at the same time, when I was, in fact, at the east edge of Neal Creek. Still, when I exited the front of the wave and found myself ripping downwind in 30 knots tailwind and six knots of sink, I took the path least likely to make me come up short of my goal by 10 seconds and headed back west. So then it was back to creeping west again, nose to the wind, at my well-established 12 knots ground speed.

Back in the wave, it was just a waiting game staying under 12,500 in the wave until I was sure I would exceed a five-hour flight and finally heading back down at about 18:55. With the valley full of shadows and sun shining brightly enough at me and my white Libelle to shrink my pupils to the size of a pinhead, I could hardly see the airport down there and I had to overfly the valley to the west side with full spoilers to get the sun to my back so I could see the ground features as I descended—and all at perhaps 12 knots ground speed. All remained smooth down to about 3800 feet when I went back down through the rotor—and that turbulence lasted all the way to and into the pattern. AWOS said “winds calm”, but that was apparently only below 200 feet AGL. In reality, the bronco ride continued with full spoilers all the way from 3800 to base-to-final, when both turbulence and wind abated, leaving me turning a rather high short final just about the time the big wind subsided, leaving me having to go full spoiler and hard forward slip all the way to touchdown in the grass.


Churchill pic--"be safe"
Never give up...unless good sense says "land the plane"
Skew T Diagram-Noon inversion
Skew T Diagram-Noon inversion
Mackerel sky-altocumulus cloud street?
Mackerel sky-altocumulus cloud street?
Mid Hood River Valley--Neal Creek
Neal Creek & Hanel Mill looking southeast
GoogleEarth-Middle Mountain & Dog bowl
GoogleEarth-Middle Mountain & Dog bowl

YouTube player

Brian's Libelle at 14,000'
Brian's Libelle at 14,000'
Trace showing Brian's five hour flight tracing
5 hr flight, yellow & red descending, green & blue climbing

So I think what happened is that I stumbled into the rotor and managed to ride it up into the wave. And I found out how many loose strands of wire there are in my old Libelle; I came back with the backs of my fingers bleeding from the dozen or more scratches and pricks that I got every time I tried to move around in that tiny cockpit.

This was way, way, way off my radar for the day—but it happened.

13:55:11               Began takeoff roll

13:58:52               Release at 3600 MSL and turned south toward Neal Creek

14:02                     Turned back north to flee the sink at 2600

14:06                     Arrived at the notch at 2400

16:10                     Left the notch at 3000

16:21                     Abandoned the ridge for the valley 3500

16:28                     Found the rotor 3500

17:03                     Entered the wave 6600

18:10                     Reached 12,500

18:18                     Turned back at 14,000

18:45                     Began descent 11900

19:14                     Safely back on the ground