Sunday, May 5, 2013

May the 4th be with you

The leadup to the weekend was a great one for destroying productivity.  Over a week out the prognosticators are calling for good looking conditions.  Soon, good was upgraded to great.  Then it even looked like it would align with a weekend day.

By mid-week the NAM, the RASP, XCSkies, Matt, Darren, Walt (WX) were pumping Saturday as the day.  The consistency of the blipmaps as Saturday approached continued to build confidence.  What would the task be?  Straight-out?  Across the valley to the Sierras? Around the Horn?

Friday morning Julie learned that her Saturday had just been freed up.  Thankfully my offers to the back seat of the Duo had been declined by those I'd reached out to and she was able to claim her right.  Saturday morning we arrived at the airport a little later than intended.  Damn battery stop to replace the batteries in my Spot that I had left on the week before.  I think almost every private ship at Avenal was rigged or being rigged.  GD, Russias 1 & 2, 5H, YH, NF, PW-5, CM plus the 3 club ships were all gunning for the forecast.  My plan was to probably run around the horn and hopefully up to Yosemite before trying to get back to Avenal.

As is unfortunately often the case, it was a little slow starting and nobody was in a rush.  I wasn't ready at noon like I wanted to be.  By the time I was ready, 7 gliders were stacked up on the grid.  7 gliders, 1 Cessna 150 and Hollister guys already approaching from the NW lead by VN.  As the launch scramble began I requested (OK, declared) no tows above 2000agl.  Contest tow mode in order to get everyone off quick.  As the first tows started to happen, I asked about fuel in the towplane.  Hmm, nobody fueled it after the morning student flights.  So now we have 10 gliders to tow and maybe 5 worth of fuel in the towplane.  Awesome!  I'm getting grumpy, mostly at myself, but not how I wanted the day to go and every little thing just adds to the frustration.

While someone gets hooked up I run out to the towplane and confirm that we'll fuel after the next tow is complete.  Julie wisely grabs a ladder and two fuel jugs while I had already grabbed the fuel cart.  Mel returned in the towplane shut it down and coasted to a stop a few feet from us.  Nascar pit crew style we kick in and put on 20gal in about 4 minutes and reposition the plane for takeoff.  We always need to fuel like that!  As we pushed the towplane for takeoff, the slack coils up the towline.  Crap!  It's tired anyhow, I run grab a replacement and in a couple more minutes we've got a brand new towline and a fully fueled towplane on another tow.  NF kindly reads my state of mind and let's me push ahead of him.

The convergence punches through with ferocity.  20+ plastic bags are soaring over town in a monster dust devil and a 20mph SW wind is rushing in.  Crossing downwind, great.  Can't even take off now.  We wait for a few minutes and it lulls enough to go.  At least I know where the convergence is now.  We make one circuit of the field and I'm off at 1500agl and climbing, time 1:45.  2 hours "late."  At 2000agl I push a bit east and connect with 7knots to 10k.  Here is where the delay and frustration pays off though.  We launched straight into the strongest conditions and I had a couple of rabbits,  VN and TG,  40 miles ahead reporting conditions and pulling me faster.

We powered south averaging over 100mph for nearly an hour.  First passing someone in a DG near 41/33.  Probably Jim from Minden? Next we saw Steve Schery in his Russia and borrowed his thermal for a zig zag grab of a few hundred feet before diving SW towards Paramount.  CM and GD were climbing well and showed a 10knot core for us.  1 circle and the line of cu dotting the way to the Temblors was calling so I pushed on.  EP marked a nice core as well and we zigged across it but didn't stop and he joined us for 10 miles or so before giving in to a 10knot core we passed through.

Julie took over and flew for the next 40 miles to the edge of the Cuyama Valley.  Along the way VN passed us heading north at a blistering pace.  Farther down we crossed over E4 on his return as well.  I take over cutting the corner towards Pinos but getting down to 8k and I am eager to nab a rocket.  At Rourkes Roost we connect under a cloud with 8-10knts and after a few turns I figure I need to share a bit more and Julie takes over again.  She tops us out at 13k and we race towards the Grapevine.  TG is out near Gorman and turning back.  U2 is reporting low at Quail Lake and struggling to find something.

Passing Mt. Pinos we catch site of TG and join him in his thermal.  He asks what our plan is.  Julie is behind me saying "we keep going" and that is exactly what I'm thinking.  Ramy is game and as we depart to the North he's right behind and under us.  NT was about 20nm behind us at this point and closing in the strong conditions.

I headed N towards Bear Mountain along a finger of clouds that was forming out towards the valley.  The line worked pretty well and seemed to be as good as going deeper, but clearly was a shorter path to the Sierra.  We wasted a few minutes in weak lift at Bear Mountain before continuing on to a Cu forming over a peak to the south of the Flying S ( I think that's the strip).  TG, ballasted up, was able to outrun us on the glides and marked a thermal as we caught up.  He didn't look like he was climbing all that well and I opted to test a ridgeline a few miles upwind.  It gave us a solid 5.5knot average climb to 13k which we used to jump north to the next ridge near Isabella for a climb to our high point at nearly 14500.  TG rejoined us at this high point and we set out for nearly 30 miles on glide.  The clouds were very deep back towards Kennedy Meadows and not particularly high.  With solid westerlies, my chicken factor kept us on the western edge of the Kern river as we passed Kernville.

At this point we are starting to enter the Sierra proper.  The granite peaks are starting to feel within reach.  The Needles are majestically jutting up from the side of the canyon and a few scattered cu are still forming even this far south.

The Kaweah drainage is another 30 miles ahead but looks reachable.  This is probably the steepest portion of the western slope of the Sierra.  I've made a few attempts at climbing into the Sierra here because if you're above terrain, you're only 20:1 from Woodlake.  We get lower, down to a little below 10k.  Faked out by mixed up thermals.  NT is nearly to Inyokern behind us being more bold and convinced that the clouds are the line to be taking.  Also I think trying to evaluate the Owens Valley properly.

We press on with a few small climbs and then get into some nice steep terrain with sculpted bowls facing the sun and wind.  I tell Julie to think of it as New Zealand and just run the ridge and keep the hammer down until we hit something good.  We get a bit low for her comfort and I take it for a while. A 3 knot climb teases us for a few minutes and then its back on the path along the ridges to a promising looking peak.  It works and soon we've got 13knots on the averager and a cloud forming overhead.  At nearly 13k we head into the Kaweah drainage.

Unwittingly heading for nearly the same turnpoint used by JS and WX earlier in the day.  We pass Homer's Nose, a rock I'd inspected in the past on a flight across the valley.

With the altitude we can comfortably press into the clouds and go deeper into the mountains enjoying the scenery that we've earned a view of.  Julie reminds me of the time, it's after 5:30.  We push a little deeper to the domes and peaks of the Kaweah. It's truly spectacular country and such a rare treat to be here with this lighting and altitude that we loiter for 10 minutes before turning for home about 16 miles west of Mt. Whitney.

Running home we head over the tops of the Castle Rocks in Sequoia and start the final glide into the brown haze of the Central Valley.  TG had headed out a few minutes ahead of us towards some clouds to the NW.  It was farther than a direct line and I knew we wouldn't make it without a climb in the valley if there was still a convergence line there.  U2 was reporting 10k+ near Hanford and Lemoore.  TG was behind us a few miles.  NT was 20nm or so out as well.  We edged towards Hanford since we could see a few wisps that seemed to be forming.  A few miles past Hanford we were able to connect with a climb in the convergence.  It was soft, but Julie got us from 4700 to 7300.  Ramy joined us but was below the bubble and really couldn't get up to our level.  We barely had Avenal on final glide at MC 0.  Our alternate was Westlake Farms and we had 10-15mph on the nose.

Late in the day pushing into a building headwind and low sun angle, I was more tense than I probably needed to be.  We were hovering right about 0 to 100 below glide to Avenal.  That's with 1000ft pattern so not too bad.  The hills NE of Avenal are roughly 1200ft and look more imposing after a long flight than they really are.  As we closed in, huge dust clouds were visible to the south of the airport.  Looked like winds were going to build.  As we crossed I5 we were 100+ above glide and feeling better.  I picked up the speed to 80knots expecting some sink in the lee of the mountains and pleasantly found none.  We ended up reaching the airport about 1300agl and found winds 80 cross at about 15-20 it appeared.

Andy and Ethan (Thank You guys!!!) had stayed at the airport to retrieve us if we didn't make it back.  As we circled the airfield mulling our runway options, we could see them messing with the trailer and the truck.  They finally looked up and saw us, they'd given up all hope of us making it back and Spot had delayed for quite a while around Hanford. We ended up landing 31 with a 15-20mph left crosswind.  Not the softest landing I've had but we got down safe and sound wrapping up what was essentially a 500k triangle with 20 minutes until sunset.  No valid turnpoints declared, but an awesome chance to fly for several hours with TG.

TG wasn't able to clear the ridge to Avenal and landed at Westlake.  NT also made Westlake.  Andy and Ethan helped us box up the Duo in the building winds.  Julie and I then headed out to collect NT and TG and bring them back to Avenal to spend the night.  We found them no problem, grabbed some dinner at In-n-Out about 9:00pm and had them at Avenal in the midst of a major dust storm by about 10pm.

Obligatory bad selfie of people eating
 I'd brought extra blankets and a sleeping bag just in case and turned the water heater on before heading out to pick them up.  They were planning showers and sleep and with 2T and 16 also at Avenal there was a plan for towing out in the morning.

We left after 10:30 to head home ourselves arriving home a bit after midnight and nearly a 16hr day.

Can't wait for the next one!

Additional Photos:

OLC Trace:  Did I mention that my logfile got split in two and the OLC trace isn't valid. :(

Thursday, March 28, 2013

GoPro Camera mount for kite lines


You want to take pictures or video from your kite or your lines.


  • Buy a $40 mount that is nice quality connects quickly and you are up and running. 
    • Downside: very little adjustability and is typically "in your face" and too close.
  • Mount the camera to the kite
    • Downside:  Who is that speck?
  • Make your own for cheap that is adjustable and super stable
    • Downside: Possible ridicule, most likely jealousy.
I thought I was the creative maker type and opted to make my own.


  • Easy to install on the kite
  • Stable and resists twisting or wobbling
  • Adjustable to allow positioning up/down the lines.
  • lightweight
  • sturdy enough
  • cheap so that if I destroy it, I can build another
  • materials must be relatively easy to get at a hardware store
  • Should break down for travel


  • 4 - 3/8"x3'  Hollow Carbon fiber Kite struts -  available at any kite shop
  • 4 - 3/8" Inner Diameter plastic Tee for drip tubing.
  • 4 - tiny brass bolts with nuts
  • 1 - 4x6" piece of 1/8" plexiglass (usually can find a piece of scrap at a hardware store that they'll give you for free or $1)
  • GoPro sticky mount for flat surfaces
  • sturdy zip ties and a whole mess of little zip ties
  • Hacksaw
  • sandpaper 120 grit or so is fine
  • drill bits
  • drill

Building the Mount:

There are really 2 main parts to deal with.  The mount frame that is made from the carbon tubes and the camera platform which is from plexiglass.

The frame is made of two vertical tubes that will attach to the front lines of the kite.  There are two cross beams that provide torsional support for the camera platform and keep it from spinning and pointing somewhere you don't want it.

The Frame:

The Tee's should slide over the carbon tube, but just barely.  Position them about 4" apart on center with two on each downtube.   These don't need to be anchored unless for some reason they aren't tight.  Once connected to the cross-beams they aren't going to go anywhere.

Assemble both down tubes and then insert your cross beams.   Using a small drill bit, drill all the way through the Tee and the crossbeams so that you can insert a small brass bolt.  This will keep the cross beam from being able to pull out.  Normally if the length of the crossbeam is wider than where you place it on the lines, there will be a compression force on the crossbeam.  Better safe than sorry though.

Cut any excess bolt off past the nut.  This reduces the chance that steering lines can get caught on anything.

Regarding width of the crossbeams.  This depends on your kite setup and how far up the lines you want to fly the camera.  About 15-20ft seems to be a good distance.  Far enough that you can see a full fan of a cutback, but someone could still tell it is you.  Get some spare carbon tubes and just make different widths if you need to.  You will find that even full width, you can move it around a lot and the compression load is not a problem.

You will want to position the crossbeams about 1/3 up from one end of the downtubes.  This will be the "down" end of  mount when on the camera lines and will keep the ends of the tubes out of the camera field of view.  With adjustment, you'll be able to find the most stable position that doesn't show the tubing.

The Camera Platform:

Initially, I carved a little block of balsa wood that I had and used a bolt to a tripod mount.  It worked and was a great prototype.  Also offered some flotation had the system fallen apart and all my safeties failed.

For the second generation, I wanted more robust and simple.  Enter plexiglass.  Strong, cheap and a great mounting plate for a stick on GoPro mount.

Simply cut out a rectangle of plexiglass larger than the distance between your two crossbeams.  Mark and drill 4 sets of holes and zip tie it to the crossbeam.  Apply a stick-on GoPro mount and you're done.

I do recommend offsetting the mount towards the bottom of the platform to keep it from the view of the camera.

Connecting To Your Kite:

You have a few options for connecting to your kite.  Initially I used to thread my lines through the center of the tubes.  Depending on your kite setup, this may not be possible if the knots are too big.

Later and lazier, I realized I could just use three or four tiny zip ties on each down tube.  They each have a breaking strength of 30lbs or so and it's much faster than threading the lines.  Leave the ties loose enough to slight the frame up or down your lines until you get the right position.


  • Use a safety leash.  Run a safety leash from your camera to around one of your lines.  Tape or zip tie it to the crossbeam so it doesn't flap.
  • For cutting through old zip ties that are on your expensive kite lines, use a piece of dental floss or other strong but small string.  Unwaxed is better.    Use it like a rope saw to melt through the zip tie.  Quick and won't leave you accidentally cutting your kite line with a knife or scissors.
  • Mark your kite lines once you find the sweet spot.
  • New WiFi enabled GoPros like the Hero3 make determining the best position easy.
  • Mount the camera on the "back" of the lines.  You can't really tell the difference after the shots are taken, but it allows you to land the kite and your camera will not be slammed into the sand or ground

General Experience:

It's been about a year since I actually set this up.  Usually I'm too pumped to get in the water and don't take a few minutes to rig the camera.  Be prepared for lots of disappointment.  I usually just take stills.  The video works great, but half of your shots are upside down and have to be flipped in software.

Stills come out great.  Previously the GoPro would take 1 shot every 2 seconds.  You would be amazed at how often the peak of action happens between those two seconds.  Newer firmware takes even more photos, so the time window for missed shots is smaller.  You'll still just barely miss a lot of great shots.

Water spots will also ruin your day. Such is life.  The good thing is that if you configure the camera to take a picture every .5 seconds and let it roll for your session, you may get something great.  Maybe not.  Every session ends up with a few good shots.

You will end up with thousands of shots to throw out.  It takes a lot of work to go through them.  Usually you can discard vast numbers with just a glance at the thumbnail.

Durability so far has been great.  Crashed kites haven't been a problem.  I have had the steering lines get caught on the camera once or twice, but it didn't affect the ability to control the kite.  I just returned to the beach, landed the kite and flicked the line free.  Can be done in the water as well if the catch isn't too bad.  Better still, just don't crash the kite.

Hope this helps someone.

Results from some old shoots.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Egg Attempt in the Blue

Walt Rogers got me excited that the weekend held an opportunity to continue my quest to capture the egg from it's nearly permanent home at Air Sailing.  Great conditions were called for in the Great Basin, the challenge as always is connecting from Avenal to the desert.

I had a plan, a westerly line down the California Valley, jump to the Sierra Madre's near Santa Ynez and run the convergence past the Tehachapi's connecting to the Sierra and blasting north hoping for something late in the day near Minden for final glide into Air Sailing.  Sunday, we'd take a tow out of Air Sailing, egg safely tucked in the Duo and fly back South hopefully getting to 18k somewhere down near Mammoth and dead glide our way back across the Sierra and the valley towards Avenal.

Conditions looked like they might allow for an early (for Avenal) start around noon.  I was set to go it alone in the Duo as Karl was flying our ASW-20 with Julie willing to crew should I end up short or need a retrieve on Sunday if I couldn't make it back to Avenal.  

Arriving at the field, I found a cohort for the adventure in Ethan.  A little hemming and hawing about the uncertainty of the whole deal, but he jumped in on the opportunity to go see what we could do free of the constraint of returning to Avenal at the end of the day.

We launched shortly after noon and released into a mystery thermal that disappeared on circling back for it.  Almost immediately we were lower than desired.  I pushed in to Tar Peak 200ft below the top or so and proceeded to figure eight in some thermals streaming up the slope before getting up enough to circle.  That got us to nearly 4000.  Not enough to escape the Avenal Valley with any comfort.  We pushed towards Black hoping to connect with the convergence to the west and start our travels south.

I worked the foothills with Mario and Karl, unable to really connect with a decent climb or a complete circle in lift.  Working a hotspot in front of Black I finally got up enough to get to the main ridge around 4300.  We just couldn't find a decent climb on Black.  We spent a good amount of time to finally find something to get us 500 over Black and with that I committed to going over the back to the microwave towers.  Part way there we connected with a good climb to 7500 and turned SE trying to follow the convergence line.

Nearly over Camatta at 7500.

The 30 mile run to Camatta was pretty easy and Ethan got us up there to nearly 8500. I pushed us into the mountains and should have cut east into CA Valley where there were a couple of big dust devils. I didn't expect the westerly flow to have come through, but it had and the dust devils had been the clue that I misread. The diversion to the mountains put us low near the CA Valley airstrip.  We were not low enough to be certain on the width of the fences, but I was eyeing a fresh cut hayfield a couple miles west as a safer option with 10mph west winds.  We got back up to 5000 and pushed towards Soda Lake since that was downwind and the convergence must be downwind. 

15 miles later we found ourselves about 1500agl looking at fields and dirt roads as our landing options and discussing which options seemed best all the while pushing east hoping for a dust devil or a bird or something to indicate lift.  We blindly hit a good climb at 3500 taking that to over 8000 and then bumping up in a really strong climb to over 10k.  Not much heading into the Cuyama Valley so we turned east, heading towards Mt. Pinos and picked up a climb to over 9k on the south side of New Cuyama out over Foothill Rd.

We worked into Pinos and after almost starting a retreat back to New Cuyama and rowdy thermal threw itself at us and took us high enough to clear Pinos where we picked up a southerly flow.  Again we climbed near the drop-off into the San Joaquin Valley and pushed across into the Tehachapi range past I5.  Strong southerly winds were flowing over the pass and it was a dead smooth glide as we pushed east.

We weren't going to make Tehachapi and it wasn't good enough to press any further so I turned back at around 4:30pm and headed for Taft after running downwind to escape some sink.   As we headed downwind we could see dust devils indicating the convergence in the valley between the south and north flow.  We crossed over most of the dust devils at 5000 or more and there was nothing but smooth air. We were squeeking into Taft after 40 miles of still air.   3 nautical out from the airport and I still couldn't clearly see the runway from our low angle.  The glide computer claimed we were going to arrive 750ft agl, but the last few miles was up a shallow canyon without many options.  I was concerned that if the runway was past some houses, I was pushing way past my comfort and safety level.  I decided to commit to some nice open plowed fields back behind us if I couldn't get up.  Thankfully I turned to the nearby hill and nabbed a thermal to 3500 and avoided the airport while some skydivers jumped.  A good reminder to always be on the Taft frequency when in the area.

We worked into the mountains and then nw in weak stuff that only occasionally produced a full circle in lift.  We bumbled and burbled along the ridge top to the NW.  We reached a point where we were easily within reach of Taft, but 500 below a pattern to Belridge.  Since Belridge is surrounded by pipes, oil wells, and various evil metal structures, I wasn't willing to push into that area.  Approaching Mckittrick I made a dive for it a steeper ridge line and ridge soared my way up from there.  

After a pass to get up on the lower ridge

We had a field immediately below the ridge as a safety and farm fields to the NE that were reachable from our 3400ft arrival on the ridge.  
Getting over the ridge top after benching back from a lower ridge

Several passes along the ridge got us in position to thermal away and finally got us to 6000.  

Looking down from 6000 at the ridges that gave us safe passage home.  

We ran north, gaining on glide to Paramount farms.  One last thermal at highway 58 to 7000 got us close to final glide to Avenal nearly 50 miles north.  Only 2000 below glide and with some friendly air we might make it despite it being nearly 7:00pm.  We stretched the glide across 46 and 41 only 1200 below glide now, but clearly not making it without some lift. 

Looking towards Avenal from 12 miles and 2300ft.  Not gonna make it at this rate.

 A west wind was pushing hard through the passes and I hoped to pick something up along the China ridge keeping a quick downwind run to Hewiston as my bailout option.  We picked up a little lift, but not enough to circle in.  I spotted a tractor in the field NE of Hewiston and saw North winds while we had strong west.  Somewhere out there was a convergence line and I turned downwind on what would have been a downwind to base for the SW runway at Hewiston.  800 agl or so approaching Hewiston and 33 we hit strong lift as the two air masses came together.  60 degree bank and pulling hard we climbed away on yet another low save.  I set the glide computer for MC4 and climbed until we had Avenal by a couple hundred over pattern and rolled out dropping the nose to 90 knots.  Now within 10 miles, the Avenal effect took over and at 90knots we weren't even sinking.  We blew past Avenal 3-4 miles to get down to a reasonable arrival height blasted back and saluted Julie, Mario and Alex with a low pass before pulling up and around for an easy landing on 31.

All in total it was nearly around 7 hours in the air and the OLC score was nearly 450km on a day with almost no markers.  Despite failing to get the egg and struggling in many places, those struggles made this one of my most memorable flights and certainly the most challenging.  I was glad Ethan decided to join me, he got to fly a little, I did hog the controls a lot.  I didn't take many pictures.  Too busy for the most part and not much scenery in the hot, blue conditions.

The egg awaits another attempt.  Next time Lee, next time...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Going after the Egg - The July 3rd Attempt

Sunday morning July 3rd started hot at Avenal.  A projected high of 104 seemed realistic as the early sun beat down on the hangar as I did some maintenance on the tractor.

Forecasts had held overnight and we were looking at good conditions from New Cuyama on and 16k in the Owens Valley.  This could happen.

Matt showed up around 10:30 and we discussed our options.  It looked like we'd need 100+ temps on the ground to get to 6-7k near Shandon.  We'd planned on launching around noon, but temps were a bit slow in coming on.

We finalized preparations in the glider.  More backup GPS, cameras, video gear, stereo speakers (yes, stereo speakers), batteries, clothes, lots more water.  My concern was sinking out somewhere in the CA Valley and having a 3-4 hour wait in 105 heat, so we had lots of water on board.

Just before 1:00 we were off the ground.  A little bit of a breeze helped the club 150/150 lug our heavy bird into the air.  The air was well textured as we climbed through 4k heading SW behind the towplane.  Our intention was a high tow towards Shandon to get us out of the Avenal valley and over into the higher temps forecasted near Shandon.  At about 6500 north of Shandon we hit a decent thermal and pinned off.  It turned out to be a mystery bump, but we had good position to dive south into the air that was supposed to be working.

Nearing Camatta, we hadn't hit anything but pretty much smooth air.  Finally a few miles South of Camatta we hit a little bump that I was able to work to 6500.  Game On!  Driving into the La Panza range, the lift was there, though not super consistent but working to 7k+.  We worked slowly along for the first 20 miles or so.  Just making sure we were getting a sense of the day before dropping the nose and racing.

As we approached the Cuyama Valley near Branch Mountain, the first Cu popped down near McPherson Peak. I thought Matt was going to punch the canopy as he raised his hands in the air with a "YES!" An exclamation that the models were working and that we were on the right path.

Climbing through 10k over Dead Man's Canyon.
The convergence was working and we picked up the pace a bit, climbing higher with each successive thermal down the Cuyama Valley.  Over Dead Mans Canyon we climbed through 10k and had nice markers popping along the convergence towards McPherson and on towards Santa Barbara Canyon.  The only issue was that they weren't at 13k and there weren't any cu towards Mt. Pinos or Tehachapi.

On the radio, we could hear the Tehachapi pilots working ragged lift at 8-9k.  Bummer, the model had fallen apart after such a great start.  We pressed on.

Crossing the Cuyama River near Santa Barbara Canyon

Gliding in towards Mt. Pinos, we'd left our last cloud near Santa Barbara Canyon.  Mt. Pinos loomed awfully high on the canopy.  Approaching from the west we were seeing south winds picking up and no good signs for the next 50 miles. Even the high cu in the distance lacked the appearance of being ground based.

Approaching Mt. Pinos
We worked the spine up into Pinos from the west in a little ridge and thermal lift.  A few turns in ratty lift got us over the peak.

We passed directly over the top of the hill, swooping across the trees about 200ft off the deck at most.  We passed over a parking lot for hikers, I hope someone looked up at the right time as our graceful bird swooped into the Valley.
Slipping over the top of Mt. Pinos.  Hmm, this isn't 13k at cloudbase.

Matt worked a bubble on the SE side of the mountain that just wouldn't break loose.  We didn't have glide over the top of Frasier, but that was where I wanted to go.  I knew we had easy glide to Quail Lake and we knew that if we bailed over the back to the Valley, we'd probably be landing at El Tejon duster strip.  The San Joaquin Valley is not where you want to be.  I took over and worked out a spine to the south eventually finding a climb that would get us over Frasier.  Frasier didn't offer much, but at least we could see Quail Lake and knew what our options were.  We took the route deeper into the Tehachapi's and after crossing I5 connected with what felt like a bit of wave.  We stopped and I worked the weak lift for a bit more altitude.  That gave us a reasonable glide to Rosamond, probably even could sneak into Tehachapi if needed, so we kept going.  Matt worked us bit by bit to Tehachapi bumping us higher with each successive climb in the SE winds.  At the very least we knew we could get a tow from Tehachapi or Cal City the following day and see if we could make it back to Avenal.

 Over the windmills he climbed us up through 10k again and then as we headed to Cache Peak I took over.  At Cache Peak we climbed through 11k before I headed towards Walker Pass and Inyokern.   We'd got confirmation from Dan and Walt out of Tehachapi that there were tows available in Inyokern and in Bishop, so we pressed on.  Gliders were starting to come out of the Sierra now on their way home to Tehachapi.  Matt climbed us through 14k at Walker Pass and Owens Peak so further we went.

Climbing back behind Horseshoe Meadows.
I got a climb near Olancha peak that gave us the room to get in behind Horseshoe Meadows to a nice looking cloud.   A bit of pucker factor as we drove deep into the Sierra and were rewarded with a smooth 8 knot thermal to 16k.

Looking NW towards Whitney and Kings Canyon
That gave us a final glide to Bishop if things went well.  We zoomed past Mt. Whitney at 100knots and skirted some virga from the OD near Kings Canyon.  Through the virga, the bottom started to fall out and our 4k over glide to Bishop disappeared quickly.   Thankfully a valley thermal was there and put us well above glide again after a few turns in the southerly valley winds.

Mt Whitney, hopefully no hikers still on top as it was after 6:00pm

We crossed over into the Whites and found trashy air to the northwest of Black Mountain.  Matt struggled in each of the bowls he knows from his early days in hang gliders in the Owens.  It was a nostalgic flight for me as well.  Noting some of the bowls and ridges I'd saved flights on in my hang glider.  As it was now after 7:00pm it was clear that we weren't going to make it to Air Sailing to capture the egg.  We had about 200 miles to go and 1:16 of daylight left.  We were close, but not close enough.

Matt at home in the Whites above Bishop.

We headed into the valley to get away from the choppy air and found smooth lift over the Owens river that drifted slowly towards the Glass Mountains.   We just turned lazy circles and enjoyed the moment and beauty of the Owens Valley for the next 45 minutes.  We pushed northwest towards the glass mountains and then raced back to get down before official sunset.
Looking SE towards Bishop from the valley glass-off of late evening.

On landing, John and Karl came out to help us push back to the tie-down area.  A band was playing in the hangar, blasting Seven Bridges Road for us as we pushed 5H into position. Awesome!

We tied down the glider, took pictures of the blazing evening sky and marveled at what we'd just accomplished.  No we hadn't captured the egg, but we'd proven to ourselves that it was possible.  We were a few hours too late, but only a few hours an on a day that didn't work out as forecasted.

Air Sailing, watch out, the Central California crew has an eye on the prize.

Next --  Getting home or not

OLC Trace


Video is currently being thought about and will tell the story as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Going after the Egg - A little background

If you're from region 11, you may know about the PASCO Egg regional capture trophy.  A beautiful walnut (I think) egg that is occasionally captured from various glider operations mostly in Northern California and Nevada.  It has been a goal of mine to try and capture the Egg for Avenal from what has practically become it's permanent home at Air Sailing.  Our neighbors to the north at Hollister also have their eye on that prize, but we have the Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountains in between us and our trophy.  That and nearly 300 miles.  Once the Hollister crew and I realized we had the same secret goal, we began to share information on tactics and approaches.  There are really only two options when it comes to the Sierra Nevada.  Go over or go around.

Going over the Sierra has all sorts of challenges and intimidation, but the first problem is crossing the massive San Joaquin Valley.  The typical summer weather pattern that would give high enough climbs and cloudbases on the Sierra also happens to produce a nasty inversion in the valley at 2000 feet or so.  Many an attempt at crossing to the Sierras have failed with pilots circling at pattern level over airports near the foothills in 100+ heat.  Able to stay up, but unable to climb and proceed.

Going around the Sierra involves running south to the Tehachapi range and then transitioning into the Sierra's along their trade routes.  The same valley inversion can be a problem, though usually it is 4-5k over at Avenal.  That and you are adding several hundred miles to your journey by heading south first, but a good convergence and high enough altitudes and a speed run is possible that makes the journey an option during the long days of summer.

Heading into the July 4th weekend conditions were lining up for some long distances out of the Great Basin.  Doug Armstrong was alerting pilots to booming conditions to come.  Matt Gillis out of Hollister and Darren Braun started piping up about the approaching weather pattern, a four corners high retrograding to the west.  Kempton Izuno out of Williams Soaring was getting things lined up for long flights.  It sounded like it was going to be a good weekend to make a strike.  If you can't understand the complexities of the weather, at least find people you can count on and follow their lead.

Heading into the weekend, I needed three things.  A tow pilot, cooperative weather and a crew.  Weather forecasts were faltering a bit, but it looked like Sunday could be a day for an attempt.  Monday was looking to have an issue with thunderstorms coming in from the south, but higher cloudbases.  I coerced Steve into towing on Sunday by offering him a seat in the Duo on Saturday so he'd at least get to fly a glider with his safely hangared in New Mexico for the summer.  For crew, my old hang gliding buddy Keith had extended the offer that if I ever needed a crew for an adventure, he was in.  A double and triple check of the offer confirmed that the weekend was a go.

One thing I've found with the Duo and especially when trying to fill a seat is that you need to cast a wide net and then disappoint a few people.  Try to find a copilot in a serial fashion and you'll find yourself with an empty seat as your launch day approaches.  So by Friday, I was giving Alex and Bart the bad news that Matt Gillis was going to be occupying the spare seat.  He's been invaluable in thinking through the weather paradigms that are involved in this kind of attempt.  It seemed like he'd be the perfect copilot on the adventure.

Saturday at Avenal was pretty blah.  Hot and low, Steve and I managed to climb to 5k once, but generally were limited to about 4k at the most.  4k isn't really enough to even get comfortably over the mountains to the southwest and on to the next duster strip near Shandon.  Not looking too good for Sunday's attempt.

Alex Caldwell's RASPs were showing a convergence line well to the South over the La Panza range, but not much over 4k to be expected for the first 40 miles from Avenal.  Once on the La Panza range the conditions looked like they should steadily improve to 10k+ near New Cuyama and then 13-15k by Frazier Park and beyond Tehachapi into the Sierra.  Looks good, just that first 70-80 miles will be tough and slow.

Matt and I synced up late on Saturday about logistics and a general plan we had both come to separately.  We'd take a high tow towards Shandon, release and then glide south towards Camatta, a usable airstrip near the La Panza range. That should connect us with the heat and hopefully the convergence, then it was just a matter of linking paradigms.  Coastal influenced airmasses, the convergence zone of the Tehachapi's and then into the Sierra's, gateway to the Great Basin.

The Duo was set up and ready to go.  Extra water stowed, batteries fully charged, oxygen ready, backup radio and gps options.  It was go time.

The Attempt

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gliderpalooza Day 2, May 29th - Around the Horn

The return to Avenal

After an amazing day Saturday with thermals, powerful convergence and wave the unstable weather filled in and rained on us for a good part of the night.  The rain wasn't really all that bad.  But a combination of factors put that night at the top of Julie and my list for worst camping night ever.

Mercy Hot Springs is a nice place, a little oasis in an obscure valley in between I5 and 101.  They had a group camp area in these brushy conifers that seemed like an ideal place to pitch a tent out of the wind.  Setting up in the dark, the first bad sign was a bird that wasn't happy with us invading it's territory and was beeping incessantly.   Surely it would quiet down once we went to bed.  Next were the beetles.  Beetles you say?  Why yes, think of the movie The Mummy and the floor covered in beetles.  Sure, these were smaller and mostly they just covered the trees, but there were thousands and thousands.

After a great soak in the hot tub and a few lies about the days flying most of us headed to bed.  Crawling into the tent with my headlamp on, there were a lot of beetles in the tent.  Nice!  I picked them and threw them out.   Then there was the bird.  The damn bird that wouldn't shut up.  Like a slightly off-beat drummer, it would beep all to regularly, every 20 seconds or so.  All night, beep, beep, beep.  Then a beetle would climb over my leg, or hand, or face.  Beep, beep, beep. And then the dog would shift, grumble, ask to be let out.  So our lovely night at Mercy was anything but Merciful.  The bird, a long eared owl, finally shut up as the first color hit the night sky.   Ahh, quiet.

By 7:00am the skies were clearing and the clouds were ripping overhead with stacked lenticulars visible in many directions.  We headed back to Panoche around 10:00 hoping for an early launch into the unknown.   By 11:00 the skies were filled with puffy cu racing by.   Buzz was the first off in his motor glider taking off into the stiff westerly winds.  Ramy, Eric, Shannon and Julie and I pushed down to the east end of the strip and awaited the tow pilot.

Paul returns from towing Shannon into beautiful skies.
After Buzz, Eric launched, then Ramy and Shannon.  The West end of the strip has a set of power lines. We wanted to be really sure the Cherokee could get us over the lines comfortably taking off uphill.  With about 15mph of wind, it seemed like it wouldn't be a problem.  Paul kept the speed on and I flew as efficiently as possible as we raced towards the power lines.  Easily clearing them it was still more exciting than a typical launch at Avenal with only a 4ft fence to clear.

Off tow, we connected to a solid 4 knot climb with occasionally stronger punches.  Wind drift was considerable with nearly 20mph of winds from the NW.  Ramy, Buzz and Eric were already heading out into the San Joaquin Valley headed for Fresno.  Reaching cloudbase at around 5500 we pressed east with the nose down in an effort to catch up.
Julie checks the sectional to confirm FAT Class C Airspace.
South of Fresno we spotted Buzz.  We pushed farther east, while Buzz took a more SE line directly downwind.  We crossed around the Class C airspace, well outside of it and pushed on towards Ramy and Eric that were nearing Sequoia field.
Over the agriculture near Selma.
As we approach Sequoia, we got out of sync with the clouds.  Our easy run was over and it was time to work.  The next good looking cloud didn't work.  Neither did the next one, or the next one and as we headed to Visalia and backtracked slightly we finally connected with a disorganized climb and spent 10 minutes or so getting back up to 5000.  That was enough time for Ramy and Eric to shake us again as they connected with the Sierra Foothills while we were out in the valley 10 miles or so.

By this time our goal was clear and Ramy was on the hunt for a flight "Around the horn" which for us is usually running down the Temblors to the Grapevine and on to the Tehachapi's before connecting to the Sierra.  Only this would be the opposite route running down the foothills of the Sierra and around to the west.  Unusual yes, but a great task given the strong post frontal conditions.  My biggest concern was getting home the 100 miles from the south end of the SJV.  We had a 15-20mph NW wind at our backs on the run down, but heading into that was going to be a different story.

Drier fields as we near Bakersfield.
For the next hour or so we worked downwind towards Bakersfield and Tehachapi.  Never getting really low, but spending more time below 4000 than we cared.  Below about 4500 the thermals were more broken and disorganized by the wind.  It was definitely best to stay high.  Despite having to work to get up a few times, we still covered 90 plus miles fairly quick, but couldn't catch up with Ramy and Eric with their line in the foothills working well.

Crossing over Bakersfield at 5500 and again pushing hard at cloudbase it was bizarre to look down on a big city and a major seeming airport that only 15 minutes before had been a landout option.  Having driven through Arvin and up 227 across the base of Bear Mountain for 20+ years going to the Owens Valley, I knew exactly where we were headed to get up.  Big huge mountain and face with a stiff NW wind blowing straight into it.

Approaching Bear Mountain to the NW of Tehachapi
We'd get up there for sure and I didn't stop for any lift as we neared the mountain.  Diving into the ridge at 3400 the top was shrouded in clouds, but the face was working.  It took a few passes along the face, but very quickly we were nearing cloudbase at 6000 ft.  A real treat was the fact that the condensing cloud near the top was snowing and coating the trees on the mountain right in front of us.
Snow dropping out of the condensing upslope winds.

Back at cloudbase it was nose down again and heading out to cross the valley and looking for good clouds again.

Crossing 99 and 5 at around 5000 we had a few options for clouds to go to and places to keep within reach for landing.  Ramy was ahead and headed for Taft.  We'd cut the corner and slipped momentarily in front of Eric, though much lower.  Pressing on we were again down in the 3500 range before finding a thermal back above 5000.  Eric called a thermal 11 miles out from Taft.  We had Taft on glide and headed his way finding that thermal or at least a similar one.  Which put us in good shape to reach Taft.  Despite a good thermal, we were again low at Taft before finding a strong thermal to 7000.
Saying goodbye to Taft
With that thermal we were able to follow a short street and connect with the Temblor Range where things went well for the next 30-40 miles.

Converging on the Temblors NW of Taft.

 Nearing Blackwell we were getting lower and lower and couldn't connect with a good climb.  Eric tried to call us into a good climb over the back of the temblors. Despite searching, I couldn't find it and had to decide if I wanted to commit to landing over on the CA Valley side or heading to Blackwell.
Eric high overhead, where I'd rather have been.
I opted for more convenience and some chance at getting back to Avenal by going towards Blackwell.  Weak convergence lift was to be found along the top of the temblors, but every turn resulted in falling out of lift.  Finally committing to Blackwell we headed out over the Badwater canyon and about 4 miles out from Blackwell we hit a ripper back to 6000.  This put us on a marginal final glide to Avenal at a Macready 0.  Given the headwind and the sink we'd been seeing I wasn't confident, but we had enough to get over the top of Orchard Peak where there were some fresher looking small clouds.

It worked and we found a good climb that put us well above glide to Avenal.  Despite a healthy pad, the closer to Avenal that we got, the stronger the headwind became.  Crossing the ridge I jogged left in the ridge lift for a few seconds to get a better gauge on the winds and also to snag a few extra feet to ensure an easy final glide.  We touched down just slightly over 6 hours after rolling on tow and covering 504km on the OLC.

Not an easy flight, but great to have Ramy and Eric dangling like carrots out there to keep me driving to catch them.  They managed to make it all the way back to Panoche, another 100km NW of Avenal bringing their flights over 600km.  Another amazing day.

Video Recap:


OLC Trace:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gliderpalooza Day 1, May 28th 2011

Ferry Flight from Avenal to Panoche

The goal of the weekend was to fly to Panoche on Saturday.  BBQ, BS and camp with the BASA and Hollister pilots and then fly with them on Sunday before landing back at Avenal.

For a 3 day weekend with unsettled weather, Avenal was pretty dead.  No formal tow pilots on the schedule, just a couple of students and one other glass ship ready to fly.  Kevin drove out with me.  He was flying with me on Saturday and would then drive our truck back to San Luis Obispo on Sunday morning.  Julie was driving up with the truck and the camping gear on Saturday afternoon after dealing with some other activities.  Complicated, but at least we had a plan.

We rigged the Duo.  Small cu were popping early, though they had a distinct marine influence look to them.  Kind of grey and not real vibrant.  Wave clouds were visible up on the San Benito range and it was looking quite cloudy to the NW. So despite the markers, I wasn't in too much of a rush. Dan and Harold both told of howling winds in Fresno and the valley and it looked like that might be the case for the day.  We  did some work around the gliderport and bought a new battery for the tractor.  By 12:30, things were building substantially and it was looking more and more interesting.  Wave clouds were moving closer to us and the convergence line over the mountains started to fill in.

We launched at 1:00 with Steve Schery towing us into pretty active skies.  We climbed out fairly quickly over the power lines and then pressed into the mountains.  It took a little searching, but we connected in the mountains and got up to over 6000 before pressing towards the west to see what was on the western edge of the clouds.  Upon reaching the western edge, it looked like there were wavelets running down the valley with small hazy clouds forming on each of the bars.

They really didn't appear to be ground based though and winds weren't showing very strong.  Only about 12-15knots.  I climbed in the last thermal near the edge of the cloud and used the climb to build up a little energy to pop up along the edge of the cloud and into weak wave.  1/2 to 1 knot was it, but we found ourselves 500+ above the bases of the clouds we'd just left.  The line extended to the SW towards Paso Robles about 5-10 miles.  We worked out the little wispy markers, playing the glassy air but not really going anywhere.  We turned and explored a bit more back around the main clouds.  We could maintain and gain a little bit, but there wasn't anything strong to work to a significant height.

Having had our fun and hearing from Buzz and the Hollister crew that they were working weak wave at Panoche, I opted to dive back under the clouds for a bit more conventional run to the South.  Kevin hadn't been on an XC flight in a glider yet and a run down the temblors seemed like a good introduction.

The run south was pretty good with the first 30 miles or so ticking off quickly under a solid convergence.  Near the north end of the California Valley, the clouds started looking very wave like and were quite sculpted.  We worked around a little bit trying to see if we could connect with anything.  After a few vain attempts at getting into non-existent wave, we continued south under thermal power and good climbs when needed.
Nearing our Southern turnpoint south of Soda Lake.

Nearing Panorama Point we turned SW and started to cross the CA Valley on another convergence line headed towards Caliente Peak.  Half way across and checking the time, I decided to turn around after a decent climb under a good cu.  The run north was pretty easy.  Some patches of heavy sink, but generally consistent climbs.  Nearing Paramount the line shifted east and then bent west.  After a line of strong sink exceeding 15 knots we connected with a ripping core going up just as fast. 3 turns and 1500ft later we were back at over 8000 and pushing NW towards the Hollister pilots calling out wave near Panoche.  From that climb we went 87 miles before making our next turn.

Afterburners lit and running fast to the call of wave near Panoche.
Kevin guides us across to a powerful convergence line running north from Avenal.  Can't ask for more beautiful energy lines than this to run.
The next turn was in wave near Cotto.  After running a strong convergence for over 80 miles, the transition to wave was pretty simple with a weak climb at first in the 2 knot range.

Never even a hint of rotor or heavy sink.  As we climbed through 8000 the climb rates picked up.  Climbing through 11000 I tossed Kevin  his canula and turned on the EDS.  Only instead of a sharp burst of O2 it was an anemic puff.  Hmm, not good when people are climbing to 18k above you.  The feed line to the EDS had been pinched by the canopy brace.  A few tugs and the line was free and normal O2 flow continued.  Good thing as we'd hit nearly 10 knots of lift as we approached 12k and in only a few minutes were climbing through 14500.

 Reports from Buzz as he approached 18k were that winds were showing 80+ knots.  We were climbing fast and as we climbed through 16000 our groundspeed was down to around 10knots while flying at 60IAS.  Climbing through 17k I momentarily was able to hold the glider stationary with 0.0knts indicated groundspeed.  87knots true airspeed and balanced straight into the 87knot winds over a point on the ground.  Stronger than any wind I've seen in wave before, even during a March wave event to over 25k out of Soaring NV in Minden.

2.8knots, almost parked.

A blurry 0.0knts ground speed

After topping out at around 17100 we poked our way NW a few miles before turning SE  over filled in skies below us and burning off the altitude to get down before the rain filled in at Panoche International.
Looking north towards the lennie we'd been over 20 minutes before.  Heading down at 100 knots in a race against the rain.
On the ground and tied down it was off to a delicious BBQ dinner at the Panoche Inn and then over to Mercy Hot Springs for a soak and camping.

Good day!

Video Recap:

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