Originally published May 1995
On April 6th Walt Rogers, LA Center meteorologist and glider pilot, left a message that the wave on Saturday, April 8, would be "good enough to go to Texas." I did not have the time off to retrieve from a trip to Texas but I did have a desire to try a long crosswind flight in the wave. In 1993 I had developed a set of flight plans to do the 1,000 kilometer thing from Cal City in wave but had never tried it.
Thursday had okay wave and Friday had excellent looking wave clouds, especially in the late afternoon. A pilot near Reno reported a giant wave cloud so the entire southern Sierra worked on Friday.
I alerted my brother and partner, Tom, and he came down from Union City to fly. On Saturday the winds were blowing hard at Edwards. (In fact the base was going to have more trees blown down during the next 24-hours than I remember losing during the rest of the 8 years I have been at Edwards.)
Tom and I met at Cal City and assembled the ASH-25 in nearly calm winds. Indications of wave were not up to the normal standard. The Mojave roll cloud indicated that the winds aloft had shifted to the northwest, reducing the chance of good wave to the north. The DUATS forecast was for winds from 320 degrees aloft.
On Friday I had asked Arleen Coleson, Soaring Society record coordinator, about two-seater records. She said the two-seater world record for "free distance" (not more than three turnpoints) was 1,196 km. The weather did not appear to be good enough (and my favorite observer, Jackie, was sick) so we did not declare any task.
The cross-winds picked up so we delayed the takeoff until 1052. Marty Eiler towed us straight out. We contacted the wave at 7,500 feet MSL (5,000 feet AGL). We released and when the digital averager on the computer settled down it read 23.6 knots (2,380 feet per minute) climb!! We made a rapid climb to 15,000 feet MSL. We decided to simulate a start at the intersection of Highway 58 and Cal City Boulevard, the start point of choice had we declared a task. We pulled the spoilers and flew upwind to descend to 6,300 MSL (3,000 AGL).
We went through our simulated start gate and blasted off. We slowed down and went to climb flap as we made a pass along the roll cloud. We were up to 17,000 feet by the time we to the end of the cloud. Cindy Brickner had told us, "You should have been here yesterday" as she recounted how she had taken a student to Kelso Valley in wave. Tom and I decided to test Kelso to see if the wave was working there as we saw no clouds indicating wave anywhere north of us. At Kelso we found some weak wave that took up back up to 16,500 feet MSL. We decided to test whether the wave was working at Inyokern.
It was and as they say the rest is history. We flew in the wave up the Owens Valley to Coyote Flats. The lift was so good that we ended up flying with full negative flaps going as fast as we dared and still had to keep turning upwind out of the lift to stay below FL180. North of Coyote Flats the Sierra Mountains start a series of jogs to the west, potentially making the wave discontinuous. Tom and I tried a transition that kept us out of potential sink and that worked great. At Lake Crowley, the Sierra take another jog. There we tested some rotor cu that worked.
Because we knew we had limited oxygen (Caracole only had 1,500 psi available because of wave camp business.), we turned at Mammoth Airport. With a quartering tailwind, the southbound leg was "awesome." It took us 66 minutes to soar 182 statute miles from Mammoth Airport to Mojave Airport (165 mph ground speed) where we arrived with over 16,000 feet still in hand!!! (Try that in your Spam Can and we had zero fuel flow to boot!)
We decided to go back north to prove to ourselves that we could have done 1,000 kilometers. The transition back to Inyokern worked fine and we blasted north to Mt. Whitney Portal where we turned back south due to low oxygen quantity. As we got back to near Mojave we stayed below 12,500 as we turned the oxygen off due to low quantity.
The mountains take a sharp turn to the southwest at Mojave. The winds were northwesterly enough that there was excellent looking rotor clouds extruded from the cap cloud. We decided to make sure we had flown more than a 1,000 kilometers by seeing if we could soar out to Gorman and back. We had to slow down to hop one gap but were able to easily soar out and back to Cal City. We delayed in our final descent to let the sailplane warm so we did not crack the paint.
It was the ride of a lifetime. We flew well over 1,000 kilometers before our elapsed time reached 5 hours! We did 661 statue miles (1,064 kilometers) at 132 miles per hour (11 mph faster than the world record for only 100 kilometers). We only used climb flaps once for a total of 8 minutes during our initial climb from 6,300 to 17,000 feet MSL. Not once all day did we backtrack or circle--our only turns were at turnpoints.
The potential for long fast crosswind wave flights in the Sierra wave has not been well explored. I know of only two long cross-countries, one by Carl Herold from the Reno area south to Mojave and return. Mike Koerner did the opposite. Now that Tom and I know how easy it can be, we have dusted off the flight plans and are eagerly awaiting the next call from Walt!
(Ed. Note: Since this article was written, Jim and his brother flew another task that should be a world record...if the turnpoint photo turns out. The wave has been good this year, and with this high TAS-crosswind wave technique, Jim is expecting to literally re-write the soaring record books! Just another ho-hum, mundane activity from the members of EAA Chapter 1000)
Jim Payne makes a World Record Claim