___ Proposed legs
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9/14/2015 - Alby arrives at First Flight, Kitty Hawk, NC!
Heartfelt congratulations to Alby pilot Eric Lambert, who found reliable lift on a blue day to get Alby safely to Kitty Hawk, for a well-deserved rest. Eric's notes on the flight are found in more detail below.
Briefly, he said, "I will return to First Flight in the morning and plan to meet with Karen Warlitner, the Executive Director of the First Flight Foundation, for a photo-op. We would like to have a photo of Alby next to the Wright Flyer. On Thursday and through the weekend, we hope to take advantage of this spell of good weather to fly Alby north."
8/31/2015 - Alby flew Sunday from Chesapeake, VA to Currituck , NC with Albypilot Eric Lambert in his motorized Grob 103.
Eric said that he found clouds to 5,000’ and lift up to 4 knots. He got low (1,700’) at the Academia facility (U.S. Training Center) but got back up to 4,000’ and then to Currituck. He said it was not difficult – sure I believe it, when the conditions are good! The flight of 25 miles required only two thermals, but it was one of the very few days that there were clouds and workable lift and no adverse winds. Clouds and lift disappeared soon after the landing.
Eric wants to spend four days of the long Labor Day weekend trying to fly with Alby the 33 miles from Currituck to First Flight Airport, a place that is so historically important for all aviators. Not an easy thing to do since near the coast the weather is not favorable to soaring in general, and in this case in particular the glider has to fly for several miles directly above water.
(Straight distance: 301.6 km. - Volkslogger distance: 330.6 km.)
This report is being started on 19 May 2009. Its completion will likely take a few days. Beginning by sitting here in the comfort of my own bed rattling words off on my laptop with the ability to access the Alby blog, plus access OLC, plus review my flight courtesy of SeeYou and Volkslogger, plus look at inputs from Greg n' Peg (my ground crew) makes me realize how much help I really have had to experience "The Joy of Soaring".
I had crewed for Mark Ferstl in his attempt to reach the Prescott Soaring Society (PSS) gliderport (Coyote Run) on Saturday, 16 May. After he returned to Jean, landed, and we put everything away, we talked about it being "my turn". Mark was scheduled to be the tow pilot on the next day and I had volunteered to give the task a whack if he couldn't. He most graciously gave me the special chart printouts George Caldwell had produced for him, plus his Phoenix Sectional and a picture of the Coyote Run gliderport (formerly Coyote Springs) that Jay McDaniel had produced with Google Earth inputs. We also sorted out items like the oxygen regulator he used (turned out it belonged to the club) and other miscellaneous stuff. Before I left home for Jean on Sunday, 17 May 2009, I figured out my route and loaded it in my trusty Volkslogger.
was very straightforward. I would launch in our club LS-4 (9B) a little later than Mark had the day before (no earlier than 1330) because the atmosphere didn't start really working for him until around 1500. Then I would head for Searchlight, NV via the McCollough mountains and make a go/no-go decision based on what I found there. My planned route went almost due east from Searchlight to Seligman, AZ and then to Prescott; but I figured to cross the Colorado River at a narrow point near Laughlin, NV to the southeast of Searchlight. The Colorado is known as difficult to cross because its lakes cool (and stabilize) the air over a wide path even when it's really hot on the river. After that I'd run over to Kingman, AZ and then follow I-40 to Seligman (to stay within reasonable distance of possible out-landing airfields) before turning for Prescott.
Things went pretty well insofar as getting things into 9B (my 14V battery, Alby's toolbox, 2 quarts of water that I wouldn't take even a sip of, the O2 gear, my backup Garmin GPS96, parachute, lumbar pad, etc. etc.). It's a wonder there was any room for me. We use our FOO (Flight Ops Officer) golf cart to tow out to the far (south) end of the eastern (glider) runway and positioned first in line for takeoff around 1340 local time. Almost anything metal was too hot to touch, so I put on a pair of flying gloves and promptly had difficulty securing seat belt/shoulder harnesses, getting WinPilot (fed by the Volkslogger) started properly on my PDA. I finally got pretty much settled down, ran my takeoff checklist, and hooked up to the tow rope; but a niggling discrepancy kept popping up: I couldn't get WinPilot to do anything except say that it couldn't find the GPS. Finally the proverbial light bulb illuminated my cranium: I had neglected to connect the Volkslogger to its power source/data output cable. DUH!!! I called Mark in the Pawnee and informed him I was aborting the launch, pulled the release to drop the tow rope, and asked the throng assembled to help me launch to push me back off the runway so I could sort things out.
Because I was the only one who knew exactly what needed to be done and it was difficult to see amongst all the different items that were behind the headrest, I had to unsnap, undo, release, take off all of the paraphernalia I had just connected and get out. Fortunately, one of the other club members was ready to go, so he set sail while one of my ground crew (Greg Carlson of Greg&Peggy fame) helped me insert the forgotten connector and ensure that it was secure. Then I had to repeat the whole ummph, snick-snick, plop, squirm, click, snap-snap, ad infinitum (it seemed) process of getting back into 9B and setting everything up (or settling it down, depending on your point of view). Anyway, WinPilot came up normally, the tow ship landed, and my crew pushed me back out onto runway 2R at Jean about 1405. I ran through the takeoff checklist once again, got hooked up, closed the canopy (remember, this was a hot day), and signaled I was ready to go when the tow rope was "un-slacked".
We started off right around 1410, a little later than I planned but still at a perfectly acceptable time. Mark knew that I needed to release to the west of Jean Airport (0L7), so he circled around to the east and crossed the field at about 4500 feet and headed for the acrobatic box that lies about a mile west of 0L7. He found a pretty good thermal there and circled back into it. When I felt the surge the second time around, I released (the logger shows 5633 feet MSL at 14:14:44) and Alby was soaring (again) at last.
The thermal wasn't all that strong, but I stayed with it until I had gained about 1300 feet before heading east toward a lift area we had gone through before crossing the field. That particular altitude gain was my first mistake, because I crossed the field more than 3000 feet (or 1000 meters) AGL, so the task I had set into the Volkslogger didn't start and I was without any of the relevant information (like the display of where my destination was on my PDA) for completing the task I had loaded so carefully only hours ago.
I found the area of lift I was looking for, but it wasn't as strong as I had remembered (250 iron ponies will create a lot of up to fool you), so I started "fishing" around without much success before heading toward the center of our east Climb Window (an area we have an agreement with the local Approach Control to climb above the top of the Class B airspace until reaching 10000 feet MSL). I found a fair thermal (3.3 kt average) that got me to 9300 feet before it wasn't worth working anymore and "headed for the hills" (the McCollough mountains southeast of Jean). If I couldn't find decent lift over the McColloughs, I planned to emulate Mark and just have fun locally.
When I got near the McColloughs headed toward Searchlight, NV, I finally encountered the first decent lift of 5.1 knots average that took me to over 12800 feet and then just adjacent, from 12700 feet to over 15300 feet at 5.8 knots. This was more like what it was supposed to be! I called Greg&Peg on the radio and said I was headed out for Searchlight. Greg replied that they were going to hitch up and be on their way. Now we were committed! The time was 1456 local.
Racing the sun
I had Searchlight made and then some, so I made no real attempts to climb and just tested the lift with the occasional circle while trying to stay above 12000 feet MSL. My strategy was to look for lift over the ridges enroute (unless I ran across something really worthwhile) and do the serious climbing there. I passed Searchlight at about 12500 and just about the time I was going to get serious about climbing I ran into a 5-knotter. I tanked up a thousand feet and headed for a ridge that was halfway between Searchlight and Laughlin. The lift I found there was weak and topped out at 12300, so I gritted my teeth and headed out into the sinkhole. It was just that and very smooth. I crossed the Colorado river over the Laughlin bridge at 10400 feet MSL and at 1535 local. I didn't start feeling the first bubbles of lift until I was down to about 9000 feet on my way to the ridges on the east side of the river. The Riviera airport at Laughlin was my ace in the hole if I couldn't connect with lift.
I finally found something worth working at 1542 local at 8600 feet MSL. It wasn't much but it built my confidence that the air was beginning to work so after I got above 10000 feet I moved a little further ease to find something better. That occurred just a minute later and I took the second thermal to 11700 feet. I had Kingman made now, and headed for Hualapai Mountain that lay to the south and east of the airport because that's where the Cu were. I managed to mostly maintain my altitude for the next few minutes and then ran into a really nice 7- to 9-knot thermal that I took to 15000 feet. I began to believe that I might really pull this task off.
Alby and I arrived under the first clouds at the mountain at 1620 local and didn't find much there, so we moved off to the east and closer to I-40 where more-promising Cu were located. The first bump I tried wasn't very workable, but a minute later I contacted a 5-knot thermal and tanked up to 14200 feet. Sometime in here Jim Dingess in ZR contacted me and then for the next half hour or so acted as a very welcome relay to Greg&Peg who were just past Laughlin at the time. The next 20 minutes were spent running as efficiently as I could with a single circle in a 9-knot "bullet thermal" that I couldn't stick with. I got below 10000 feet about 25 NM southwest of Seligman and started heading that way when I found usable lift at about 9400 feet MSL. What started as 1- to 2-knot lift turned into 4 knots at about 11000 feet and got stronger the upper we went. The altimeter read 15300 (the Volkslogger says I was at 14921 feet at the time), it was 1718 local and the PSS waypoint I had set into the Garmin (probably the smartest thing I had done all day) was 51 NM away. I called ZR and told him I was going for Prescott, asking that he relay to Greg&Peg which he did promptly. Sometime during all this activity, ZR passed the word from Greg&Peg that they had trouble with two of the trailer tires in Kingman and were trying to find someplace open (in Kingman - on Sunday - after 1700 no less) to replace the bad ones and continue on.
Running for the roses
It wasn't going to be all that easy. I could see an area of overdevelopment lying between Prescott and Ash Fork with an extensive area of virga in the northern part (so much for the weather briefer's forecast of "no significant weather"). A shelf of thick cirrus and altostratus poked out to the southwest and covered where I wanted to go. From my vantage point, it looked like the base of the stratus was about 12000 to 13000 feet. I gulped and headed toward some Cu that were in the sunlight on the west side of the stratus slightly to the south of a direct course to the PSS gliderport.
I arrived under said Cu at 11000 feet MSL and found 2 knots that increased to 4 knots and then gradually decreased until I topped out at 13200 feet about 32 NM out. I started my "real" final glide then at 1738 local and pressed on into the murk. I couldn't see a cotton-pickin' thing along my intended path in the haze and gloom under the clouds. Large ridges and hills were visible for a long way, but cultural features weren't visible outside of about a 30-degree cone directly beneath me. I started getting anxious, and began to pay attention to what WinPilot ws telling me - I was 1700 feet below glide for PSS!! It gradually got worse (I was in and out of sink, with no lift in sight) and I began to consider alternatives, of which I had precious few. After 15 minutes I was down to 9900 feet MSL and only about 12 NM away from the field. I decided that WinPilot had been lying to me and went back to doing glide calculations in my noggin. In retrospect (I hadn't used WinPilot in almost a year), I mis-interpreted the display chevrons that were telling me I was above glide for the field and getting higher.
I picked up the runway of Prescott's Love Airport when it was at my 3 o'clock and ran into an area of very weak lift where I decided to "park" for about two minutes and collect my wits. Anxiety turned to relief when I knew I definitely could run over to Love if I couldn't find the gliderport. I had the Google-Earth picture but I wasn't going to depend entirely on that. I still was about 4.5 NM from the field and hadn't been able to pick it out. I had no clue about what radio frequency PSS used for their operations (Jay McDaniel and several other club members had been unsuccessfully trying to find out), so I decided to stick Love's freq. of 122.95 in the radio to have one less thing to do should I need to make a run for Love. I discovered after landing that Cliff had been trying to contact me on 123.30 from about 20 NM out - I hadn't heard a thing. This was going to add to the forthcoming "excitement" because now there was no way I could hear anything they had to say
The Home Stretch
I admit, inside 5 NM to go with 4000 feet AGL in pocket doesn't seem like much of a stretch. On the other hand, I was completely unfamiliar with the area and not sure what I would find as the GPS96 counted down to less than a mile and I looked down to the left. I immediately recognized the northeast end of the gliderport with its parked gliders. We had made it! Exhilaration replaced relief as I started to circle the field, made sure I put the landing gear down, and cracked the spoilers to lose altitude for pattern entry.
I asked myself as I circled the northeast end of the field, "Pattern for what?" The overcast gloom and lack of contrast washed out all the details of the scene below me. I could see the path for the winch cable (it was marked separately from the "landing area" at the northeast end) and I (wrongly) believed that I should land in the designated area. I planned to land to the north because I expected outflow from the thunderstorm producing the virga (and later, lightning) and picked out what I believed to be a "runway" just off the northeast end of the trailer clubhouse. I was now down to pattern altitude and southeast of my intended touchdown point, so I turned onto a right downwind for landing to the north. Just as I was setting all of this up, the bloody cel phone in my shirt pocket started its insistent tune!
I ignored it! No, I did not cuss, I swear (I didn't do that either). I concentrated on adjusting my final flight path to make the spot I had picked out, dodged a plastic yellow pole and a red rectangular hat-like sign on another pole, and looked up to see a FREAKIN' FENCE right where I intended to land (I said there was excitement, earlier) about 200 feet away with us about three feet in the air! I retracted the spoilers and yanked back (but not too far) on the stick. The LS responded like the thoroughbred she is, soared over said fence, and kept enough speed to let me execute a partial spoiler very low-energy landing in a somewhat-tilled rocky upward-sloping cow pasture. I opened the spoilers, got on the brakes, tried to keep the wings level and then started swearing. The ground sloped up slightly to my right and I heard the "klock" of a rock when the right wing got too low (more cussing). The upward slope crested and started down and we stopped about 100 feet past the crest. The right wing dropped after we stopped and I opened the canopy, unstrapped, undid everything, got out and tried to handle the tremendous amount of adrenalin my body had generated about 900 feet of horizontal distance ago. I had had my fill of excitement for one day; but we were safe, I found that the damage from the rock was very minor with nothing else awry, and I could answer the phone. It was 1810 local
Peg had called and passed the word that they had found a place that had tires and stayed open to help them get back on the road. She estimated they would leave Kingman around 1830. While I was receiving this news, the first of the PSS members, Matt, showed up to see how I was doing and how he could help. He explained what everybody else was doing (taking down the fence I had sailed over so they could come get me). They did it quickly and I believed it was a task they had done on more than one occasion. After about 10 minutes, Cliff Hilty showed up with a pickup, a tow rope, and four other guys to help. That's when I learned how much excitement I had provided for them setting up the way I did and landing with a tailwind, no less.
By the time we had towed 9B to the parking area and put her away it was 1845. I unstrapped Alby and handed him over to Cliff, who was going to be the next Albypilot. I discussed whether we were going to be able to put 9B in the trailer that night with Cliff and he gave me a half-dozen really good reasons why that was not a good idea. Peg called back about this time and said they were on the road, so it was apparent they were going to roll in about 2200. Time to think about spending the night and recovering tomorrow. I called Peg back and passed this suggestion on. She talked with Greg and they bought the idea. Cliff also gave her directions to where I would be hanging out in Prescott (Denny's). Then it was off to Rose's house (Cliff's girl friend) to fill out the Alby log and something I really needed at this point - a tall, cold beer.
Greg&Peg showed up at Denny's about 2145 and we had a very nice, loud reunion in the middle of the dining room. They filled me in on their adventures while they had dinner and I finished mine. Theirs is a tale of true grit and determination - so it is appended to this report because they are a major reason I was able to bring Alby to Coyote Run. I.
Crewing for the Alby, Jean NV to Prescott Valley, AZ
One hour after launching, our pilot announced that he was on the way. We gathered the gear, hooked up the trailer, and hit the road. Unfortunately, the road was I-15 South out of Las Vegas, amidst all the tourists that all flock back to LA every Sunday afternoon. Also unfortunately, the exit we needed to take was closed for construction. The next exit was five miles further, and then five miles back to the exit Eastbound.
By now, our pilot was in the next state and making 70 knots straight away from us. For the next 100 highway miles, we dodged construction zones and traffic on our convoluted route to get across the Colorado River.Our pilot was now 150 miles away, still doing 70 knots on course.
Finally, heading in the right direction, near Kingman Arizona, one of the trailer tires shed its tread. We changed the tire, and pressed on. Ten minutes later, the spare did the same.
It's Sunday, 7 PM, in Kingman, Arizona. What to do? We bribed a tire seller to stay open late and mount tires.
Our pilot was now on final approach to the Prescott Soaring Society Airport, four hours after his departure from Jean. We were nominally three hours away.
Following driving instructions, we looked for our turnoff from US89 at the 20 mile point. Driving slowly, irking the drivers behind, looking at every street sign, we found our turnoff at the 45 mile point.
Seven hours after our departure from Jean, we finally found our pilot at Denny's in Prescott Valley, Arizona, the pilot not worried about his crew finding him.
Leaving our pilot at the motel, and resolved to find the glider, we left Denny's at 11 PM, following a map made before major road realignment. A mid-shift convenience store attendant directed us ten miles back to the proper road, and we found the glider port.
At midnight, locating our glider, we camped under the stars and listened to the coyotes.
A wonderful day crewing!
We met at Denny's for breakfast on 18 May around 0730 and headed for the field about 0830. We had the trailer hooked up, 9B out from behind the fence protecting it from the local cattle population and the fence back in place in short order. Here is a shot of everything strung out to unload the cockpit, pack 9B up and hit the road home. Note how high the fence is.
We were de-rigged, in the trailer, and out the gate with it properly locked by exactly 1000 (Note: AZ and NV local times are the same). We headed for Ash Fork and went through the mandatory road work zones, the place where they make all those tan pants (Chino Valley), alongside their laundry (Chino Wash), and the road to where they make the really big sizes (Chino Grande). Shortly afterward, Greg heard "something funny" so we stopped at the first available turnoff to investigate. Somehow, despite the fact that both of us had used all the strength we had to tighten and check the security of the front jack on the trailer, it had vibrated loose and had been dragging on the highway. The wheel was toast, so we positioned the jack in its proper position and Greg torqued it with a hammer.
We kept pushing on, retracing their route out (not the detour part, thankfully) and rolled into the Jean airport at about 1530. Tie down, equipment transfer, ruined front jack removal from the trailer and securing the club gear took only a short time. I had my laptop and the Garmin serial cable in my Ford "Exploader", therefore we headed for an Irish bar with cold beer and free public wi-fi so I could download the flight and submit it to the OLC. I discovered later that the Garmin trace was 3 km. shorter than the one on the Volkslogger, but it didn't really matter. Greg and Peggy Carlson were the first to see what we had accomplished, and I can't thank them enough. Pilots don't talk much about it, but the ground crews are the backbone of the cross-country part of our passion and we (pilots) all need to remember that.
I'm proud to wear Alby pin # 8.
SSA # 800279
View Flight on OLC
I looked at X-C Skies the night before and decided that it looked like I had about a 60% chance of reaching Las Vegas.
Considering the thermal altitudes forecast, it would have been my preference to take the Sierras north to Lone Pine, then cross to the Inyos and Cerro Gordo Peak and work the high ground north of Panamint Valley enroute to Telescope Peak. However medium west winds were forecast for 12k and above. This meant a strong potential for leeside downwash and the possibility of wave north of Olancha. So I decided my odds were a little better if I could go through the Trona Gap, then hopefully work the west faces of the Panamint/Telescope range for triggered thermals and/or ridge lift. I held a bit of hope that downwind of Telescope Peak I might find wave. I even looked at and waypoint-marked the better high ground points east of Death Valley toward Jean, in case I would just need to thermal that leg. I was fairly confident that the toughest leg would be the stretch from Garlock across the Searles Valley beyond Trona to Telescope Peak.
I rigged in the morning and had a casual breakfast figuring it would be workable at the Sisters by about noon. At 11:30 I took a binocular look at the windmill ridge south of Cache Peak and was pleasantly surprised to see an easterly flow. I immediately told the tow pilot that I was going to finish loading and take off intending to take a three thousand foot tow to the First Sister.
I declared Middle Knob to Jean and launched to the west at 11:50, telling Derek to go straight out to the Sisters. I arrived at the first Sister at 5500-ft. MSL and requested that Derek make a hard right and I was off tow. One sweep over the first peak and I found a reasonable core that averaged 3 kts to 8,600 MSL. I went through my declared start at Middle Knob and headed for Chuckwalla Peak. I got to Chuckwalla at 7,000 MSL and found 2.6 kts to 9,000-ft. before pressing on toward Garlock.
Enroute to Garlock I noticed what looked like a soft lenticular in the Owens Valley. Now at Garlock at 6,300 MSL I milked 1.4 kts to 7,300-ft. while reminding myself that this was a completion task not a speed task. My next stop was on the peaks north of Goler Wash where several weak cores got me up to 9,800 MSL.
Now came the interesting part over the flats through the Trona Gap. I must say that you would not typically find me 24nm south of Trona Airport at 7,000 msl still heading north. I figured my best hope was in skirting the alluvial fans running east from the eastern edge of China Lake’s R-2505.
When I was 5nm SW of Trona at 5,500 MSL it was not looking promising, so as a last resort I called to see if I could get cleared to work the peaks just inside the eastern edge of R-2505. Maybe it was the desperation in my voice, or my transponder or that it was a Sunday, for whatever reason ATC allowed me to work just inside the Eastern edge. To my dismay my pass along a 4,700 ft. peak was fruitless. Now I pushed on toward the next bump knowing that if it didn’t work I would be landing at Trona (locally known as the armpit of California).
As I crossed a small valley I felt something and the vario chirped. Getting really serious, I worked 1.4 kts to 6,300 ft., then shifted slightly closer to the peak for 2.2 kts to 8,900 ft.. From here it looked like I had a good shot at making the 15nm to the 6,000-ft. peaks 16nm south of Telescope. Half way there I stumbled onto 1.8 kts and thankfully tanked up an extra 1000 ft. to 8,100 MSL which gave me a bit of breathing room.
I arrived about a thousand feet agl on the Panamint range, and I faded to the best south facing bowl to take advantage of what had up until now been a light southerly flow. The bowl did work giving me 3 kts to 10,700 MSL, but the drift was now showing a southwest flow. I could now see a soft Lennie over Las Vegas, but nothing downwind of Telescope in Death Valley. As I pushed on, about 9nm south of Telescope I got 2.7 kts to 11,000. Decision time. Historically I have found the best climbs right over Telescope Peak, but I’m already level with the peak and it’s another 9nm to get there.
Considering that Telescope was the wrong direction for course line, and that I was then about 2,000 ft. over glide for Shoshone Airport, I decided to go downwind toward Shoshone. I faded slightly toward being downwind of Telescope, just in case there was unmarked wave. After all, I could now see a nice lennie in the Owens and over Las Vegas, so there was some wave hope. I decided that at the first hint of lift I would assume it might be wave and immediately 180 into the wind to visually mark the spot and work it with finesse.
At 7.7nm downwind of the Panamints’ crest, the vario chirped and I one-eightied. It was about the right place and it was soft, but after about 7 minutes I had gained 1000 ft to 10,400 MSL. Thirty-two minutes later I was at 15,700 and admittedly there was relief in my voice as I reported that I was two-thousand feet above a two-knot glide for Jean.
This was the first radio call acknowledged by the home-team in a few hours.
After passing directly over Shoshone at 11,000 msl, I slid to 31nm out of Jean at 8200 msl. Although the computer said I was now slightly above glide, I could see the five-thousand foot ridge lying 6nm west of Jean that I would need to clear. I felt it prudent that I fade a bit south toward one of the 7,000 msl peaks I had marked the night before as a potential lift source. That peak was kind and gave me two knots climb rate to 9,500 msl which now put me reasonably confident about clearing the ridge with 1500 over glide for Jean, even though I could not see the airport or Casino!
As luck would have it about 24nm out of Jean at 8,000 msl I stumbled into 2.3 knots to 10,400 msl for a twenty-five hundred foot AGL arrival at Jean. This allowed me to phone-call Cindy, my crew, and report the completion of the Alby delivery to Jean, while also loitering to allow the Las Vegas club Pawnee to launch a 2-33.
Someone radioed up and asked if this was an Alby flight to which I replied, “Yes indeed! The Alby is here.” After tying the glider down, I accepted congratulations from numerous club members while we took several pictures of Alby and 11W at Jean. I handed Alby over to Jay McDaniel for the next leg of his trip. Jim Staniforth and Misti Harth shuttled me to a nice pub in Vegas and bought me a fine dinner.
It took us three attempts to deliver Alby to Jean. The first attempt was May 5th by me in wave that fell apart in the Owens Valley near Hiawee reservoir, ending with a landing back at California City. The next attempt was May 8th by Christian Mackin, with AS-W 27 ‘33’, who made a valiant attempt with a landing at Furnace Creek. He was rewarded by one of the best dinners he has ever had in California and a retrieve by Cindy Brickner. It was quite rewarding getting Alby to Jean, but I’m glad he is now their responsibility.
By Martin Eiler
(The Alby crew had dinner at Jean, then got to ride along and hear the flight story recounted enroute to home. Arrival home was close to 3:15 a.m. Thankfully, Monday wasn’t another Caracole business day, and together we got to rest. -- CB) Harth shuttled me to a nice pub in Vegas and bought me a fine dinner.
No one read, thought or planned that this was Alby flight number 13. Christian Mackin arrived at Cal City around ten a.m. on Friday. I asked what his plans were for the weekend, and he claimed only that he wanted to soar. I responded, “Great! You can take Alby to Jean, and I will crew for you.”
“What’s Alby?” A short explanation followed, as I chased Christian out the door to rig his lovely AS-W 27, ‘33’. His only real question was whether I believed the soaring would be better Friday or Saturday, and I truthfully answered, TODAY is better. A quick post to rec.aviation.soaring alerted the world to the attempt almost underway.
A rush to rig, collect charts, discuss landable locations, upload a database, review potential routes, pack snacks and the Alby box, and warm up the SPOT tracker (which I had failed to operate correctly on flight 11 and locate correctly on 12) ensued. I added a small nylon strap to locate the SPOT trackers high on Christian’s parachute straps, his and Alby’s together. The belt and suspenders system worked, as Alby’s tracked while Christian’s didn’t.
Looking at the fully packed cockpit, I backed up to snap the commemorative launch photo. Christian insisted on grabbing my little Elph and taking it along. A quick hook-up and he was away, a little later than optimal, but into fair lift for the day. I knew he would try the northerly route once again. Alby will get to see from high to low on this beautiful continent. And thanks to this pilot who can scratch, as well as click, for you get to see the flight scenery also.
Pilots can download the OLC trace for the gory details. It suffices to say, there was plenty of cockpit pain and drama to honor the memories of the 1849’s crossing the alkali and heat of stark desert and the laborious climb across the pinnacles of major mountain chains. A save from 475 agl near Inyokern while jousting with a Bonanza calling a pattern, a transition from thermal glides to ridge essing onto the Inyos east of Lone Pine, completely strange and new territory crossing Panamint Valley and Range while the evening shadows stretch, made us both slightly regret not managing a launch of 30 minutes earlier.
The north-east and east side of the Panamints did not provide any thermal climbs at 5:30. Wildrose and Telescope peaks refused to bow under the belly of the elegant Schleicher. The cockpit held a trusty satellite phone. It was time to reach out and 'phone a friend.
Christian was faced with the choice of a low glide into a place he couldn’t see, and had never visited, versus a generous letdown into a safe place well-known to his crew. Either way, Alby would not reach Jean this afternoon. Cindy urged the prudent choice, a nice generous runway, a known retrieve locale, a hotel and meal service versus the unknowns at Shoshone. Really turning back for letdown was a simple choice, regardless of the difference in retrieve mileage. I let him know he would have zero cellphone coverage in Death Valley, and to eat and rest, as I wouldn’t get there until late, late.
The road east and north from Cal City was greeted by the full moon out of the Fremont Valley, over the Kramer Hills past the Peerless Valley, through the Mojave River bottom, over the Cady, Cronise and Soda Mountains, a little slip downhill into Baker, then north and up again…. Silurian Valley at 500 MSL rises through Salt Hills, to Ibex Pass of 3200 ft. in twelve miles. A five mile drop into Tecopa Hot Springs leads past Shoshone on thirty upstream miles of Amargosa River bottom, snaking through a canyon, climbing steadily a bit and a bit, to Death Valley Junction. 1800 ft to 3400 MSL again, and only a skip north of Dante’s Viewpoint to Badwater.
Traffic, once off Interstate 15 was very light. I counted passing cars in the tens and twenties of minutes. The ghoulish lumps of massive stone and lava under reflective moonlight were sufficient entertainment to keep drowsiness at bay. Everywhere I went it seemed I was driving uphill, yet going to the lowest airport on the continent.
A little twist of downhill, slower on those curves would be kind to the trailer, and whoops! Civilization. I cautiously pulled in to the very narrow driveway of Furnace Creek Inn. Valet parking was absent at the foot of the flagstone stairs, yet the desk clerk in coat and tie greeted me cheerfully, and told me my guest/friend was down the hill at the Ranch Resort rooms. What had me more concerned was the possibility of pulling forward through the tunnel , under the hotel, to exit the loop of the fleur-de-lis driveway! The incongruity of scale of the hand of God’s creation and puny marks of mankind were foremost in my mind.
Out from under the hotel, and down the hill, Christian had anticipated my arrival nearly exactly, and flagged me off Hwy. 190 into safe parking. (Did I mention we have crewed for each other before?) A recount of the day’s stories, and a review of the Elph’s trove of pictures were rushed. No dinner, no dessert, just a shower, fresh sheets and air conditioning from the 85 degree outside temperature, and a wake up call for 5:30 a.m.
We greeted the –27 in pre-dawn pinks and glows, on a breezy apron. The diurnal cycle of hill and valley flows are strong enough to engender signage to tie down safely. We boxed 33 before sun-up, searched for coffee pre-6:15 a.m. in a resort (nada) and headed home via all new roads for us. By 7:00 a.m. in Stovepipe Wells, coffee and pastry were found to accompany the chart-following and runway I.D. contest for the return trip.
Everything out of Death Valley is uphill, again! Towne Pass held a brilliant variety of wildflowers. Reminders of the travails of early pioneers were abundant, and I regaled Christian with tales of long-ago soaring pilots across these valleys and ranges. We arrived home, as I had forecast, at ten in the morning, ready for another day of soaring business.
But who would take Alby on the road again, next? Will they have such gorgeous, stark scenery? Such contrast? Snow to alkali? I think it will not be the same, but there will be more Alby tales to tell.
Cindy Brickner, crew for Flight 13
View Flight on OLC
The proposed flight route offered vistas of both the highest and lowest points in the continental States between launch and landing, skirting Mt. Whitney and overflying Badwater, CA, winging eastward with no pause at Shoshone, Hidden Hills and Sandy Valley/Sky Ranch airports.
But intentions were no match for the whims of weather. A first launch resulted in not establishing climb in smooth wave, and a second launch reached laminar flow and a very slow climb. The highest point of the flight was west of California City, and the reach north toward the Owens Valley and the High Sierra was a slugfest against very northwesterly headwinds. Thirty to fifty knot groundspeeds and poor wave lift were interpreted to mean that wave would be poor on the eastern mountain chains also. Given the paucity of outlanding sites coupled with the poor road access to much of the course area, the goal attempt was belayed for friendlier soaring weather.
See Marty's flight on OLC.
The flight of the Albatross across our Country caught the attention and the fantasy of a newsmaker, Adam Breen, who published a well written and inspired article in Hollister's "The Pinnacle" newspaper: www.pinnaclenews.com/news/contentview.asp?c=255106
Alby is a Laysan Albatross. He was born and raised in the Midway Islands, not far from the very same Laysan Island that gives names to all the individuals of his species. His parents fed him for six months. They alternated trips of one or two weeks, during which one of them was feeding and the other was protecting Alby and the nest. The long intervals were necessary because often the food was very far away, up to 400 or 600 miles away. They fed him until he became as big as them, and then suddenly deserted him. They did that because they instinctively knew that he was developed enough to take care of himself from then on. And they could not spend all their energies in raising a chick. Although they can live 40 to 60 years, they can only raise a chick every couple of years.
The young albatross did not know all the tricks of life at sea, and the first year he had difficulties at times. One half of the fledglings do not make it through the first season, but Alby did, and everything was much easier after that. He went out on the open ocean and did not come back for years, not touching land at all, living off the bounty of the ocean, sleeping on it, learning to travel using the wind forcing the air up against the moving ridges formed by the waves.
Alby came back to his native island when he was three years old, because his biological clock was giving him the urge to look for a mate. His tentative dances with prospective mates were as clumsy as those of the other young albatrosses around him. Naturally nothing happened, but he experienced and practiced the ways of the elders.
He is 4 years old now. He has wandered the ocean all this time. He has gone through the vast expanses of water finding food, freedom, and safety. He has gone to the north Pacific and flown around the Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska and the fiords of British Columbia. Next year he will try again to go back to his birthplace to search for a mate, and probably will find one.
Albatrosses are at home in the open ocean, keeping at least 30 miles offshore. But Alby is different. He is curious about the land, just as curious as a young soul can be. In his voyages near the northern seashores he watched eagles fishing for salmons. That was not his preferred food, but he looked with interest at this different method of fishing. He communicated with the eagles, answering their whistles with his screeches.
He is fascinated by the land, but unable to penetrate it - he is used to mastering the wind over the waves, and the different way of flying inland is unfamiliar to him. He asked Eagle about the extent of the land, and Eagle said that there is land up to the summit of those far away mountains to the east, and more.
One day he met Pelican, and while they were floating and chatting over the gentle waves of a mild afternoon he learned that Pelican had actually been inland while flying with his flock. He had flown across the fertile valley of California, and over the magnificent mountains of the Sierra Nevada and farther more to the northeast. Alby learned that inside the land, beyond those far away mountains, there is a great lake, and peaks with snow, and forests and valleys, and towns and people.
Pelican described the beauty of the land, which is called America, according to what he heard when people talked about it. Being a sociable character, when he was inside the land Pelican also had contacted other big birds and knew a good deal about what lay farther inside that large country.
Pelican learned from the other birds that there are large deserts and arid mountains in the interior highlands. There are very few people in those deserts, few roads, few machines. Nature is mostly untouched by man there, with many animals running free. The air is not disturbed by artificial smells and mechanical noises. It takes many days of overflying this natural environment before reaching the majestic mountains of the Continental Divide. Here the land is green again with large forests. Snow may remain up to late summer, the rocks are harsh and austere.
From there one can overfly the vast farmlands that gradually decrease in elevation until they make room for the mighty rivers that cut the America land in two. Pelican had also contacted seagulls that told him about more land to cross going east, with plenty of houses and towns and people. There are cities sporting very high buildings that tower up toward the sky. There are rivers and lakes where an aquatic bird can feed. He heard tales from vultures and hawks that there is another long range of lower mountains and beyond that, couple of days away as the crow flies, there is ocean again.
Alby would like to go inland, see the beauty of the country, but he is not fit to go there. He does not know how to master the thermals the way eagles, pelicans and other birds with big wings travel there. He is made for the ocean.
Still he would like to go and try to cross this enormous island that he cannot cross, and get to the sea on the other side.
One day he flies along the shore, and sees some very big wings flying along the cliffs of the big town called San Francisco, as he understands people call this place.
Approaching those big wings, he realizes that there are people hanging on them. He discovers then that people cannot fly on their own, but have created artificial wings that support them. He knows what they are doing; he knows how to fly along the cliffs. He knows that, ‘cause such was the very kind of flight he took when he left his nest for the first time.
Soon those cliffs become a favorite place for Alby. He flies there often and so close to the flying people that learns many of the words they speak. He listens and learns that there are even bigger and faster flying machines with long wings for the people that like to fly like birds, which are called gliders or sailplanes. And there are flying crafts with propelling engines, capable of transporting many people at high speed. He understands now what are those enormously high flying machines that cross the ocean, so high that he barely can hear their sound through the whistle of the wind.
The flying people are impressed by the unusual behavior of this albatross, which so often flies with them instead of flying far away in the ocean like others members of the same species. They imagine that Alby wants to travel ashore, but does not trust doing it by himself.
The soaring people offer to take Alby inland, and to show him the beauty of the countryside. They offer to take him aboard their flying machines and let him cross this big island in silent winged crafts, no noises, no vibrations, no offending gas smells.
Alby accepts the invitation. He wants to see the mountains, the valleys, the lakes, the deserts and the forests, and the towns and the towers, and the roads and the bridges and the rivers of this beautiful land called America. He realizes that it is not possible for him to travel here alone, without the help of the flying people.
So the soaring people take Alby in their silent aircrafts across that vast territory. They understand. Because they themselves share the curiosity, the need for adventure, the thirst for knowledge of that young spirit. They share the independence that flying gives, the endless autonomous decisions that need to be taken in this constantly moving environment. They know the far-reaching view that this privileged position allows. But most of all, they share the elation of infinite freedom by being immersed in the sky, floating, suspended in the brilliance of this transparent ocean. Those are the reasons why they aimed for the skies, and now they cannot live any more without the magic of flight.
They take Alby with them, in the togetherness that unites all aviators. Alby’s great voyage has just begun.
ORGANIZATION OF THE VOYAGE
This website is recording the flights of Alby, his whereabouts and his flight log. The webmaster of the site is the Albymaster. All news and inquiries about Alby will be handled by this site.
Alby wishes to soar across America. He wishes to see it all, from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, and then resume his wandering life across the seas.
Alby flies only in aircraft that use the energy contained in the atmosphere as a means for traveling. Motorgliders can use their engine only for taking off.
A proposal to fly with Alby shall be sent to the Albymaster. A proposal shall include a pre-declaration of the proposed flight.
Preference will be given, in order, to the site that is closer to Alby’s current location, to the first proponent in order of time, to soaring clubs or associations, to groups of pilots, or to an individual pilot. This means, for example, that an individual pilot has to wait for the soaring club to fail its attempt, before making its own attempt.
A club or pilot that has proposed to fly with Alby and has been accepted by the Albymaster, will be called the Albypilot. When a proposal is accepted, the flight should be made before the end of the next Friday.
If no other Albypilots have made the flight on their assigned week, the hosting club or pilot will have the right to make the flight before the end of the next Friday. If the host did not propose or is not able to make the flight, the next Albypilot shall make the flight before the end of the next Friday. And so on.
RULES FOR THE FLIGHT
Gliders can be towed to an altitude not exceeding 3,000’above take-off. Motorgliders will shut off their engine before that altitude is reached. The release or engine shut-off point shall be west of the take off field.
Each landing point will be to the east of the take-off point. If difficulties arise, an occasional back leg may happen, when accepted by the Albymaster.
The flight should end in a soaring site, or a place from where a glider can be towed out. If the flight does not end in the pre-declared location, the Albypilot or a pilot of the same club still have to the end of the next Friday to try and complete the flight as declared. If the pre-declared location still is not reached, Alby must be taken back where it started (not necessarily by flying).
Both the current host of Alby and the new host shall communicate the outcome of the flight to the Albymaster.
If the flight cannot be made before the end of the next Friday by the first Albypilot, it is the responsibility of the first Albypilot to give notice of the inability to make the flight, with timely courtesy, to the Albymaster, to the host, and to the second proponent in line.
The Albypilot who flies with Alby is responsible for keeping good care of him. When the Albypilot represents a soaring club or association, the representative of the club or association will be responsible for the well being of Alby.
The above rules may be superseded by the Albymaster when atypical circumstances arise.
Order of Preferences:
1 - The club that is closer to Alby’s current location
2 - The club that proposes first in order of time
3 - Clubs, soaring associations, soaring centers
4 - Group of pilots
5 - Individual pilots
When start altitude, release to the west, landing to the east are difficult because of special local conditions, an exception may be requested to the Albymaster.
When an Albypilot cannot make the flight in the week he/she has been assigned, another Albypilot can make the flight provided he/she has been accepted by the Albymaster.
LOGBOOK, LAPEL PINS, SPOT DEVICE, GPS TRACE
LOGBOOK - Alby travels with a logbook. The Albypilot will fill out the log entry and sign it. The flight data will be e-mailed to the Albymaster and an entry will be placed in the website logbook. A description of the flight and pictures may also be sent along with the flight data, to be posted in the website. Enter all flights, successfull or not.
LAPEL PINS - The Alby case contains lapel pins. The pilot(s) successfully accomplishing a flight will get one pin each. The lapel pins are numbered. Check in the log book for the last pin number and take the subsequently numbered pin(s). If the flight is not successfull, place a bar in the last column (Pin No.). Please guard carefully the pins, we do not want them to misteriously disappear.
SPOT DEVICE - The SPOT device is to be placed in the glider in a place where there is sufficient visual contact with the outside (inside a shirt pocket is OK). It is to be used during the flight and placed in Alby's case when not flying. Instructions for use are in the case.
GPS TRACE - Pilots are encouraged to send their GPS log no matter how successfull the flight, as it will be posted in the map (flying with Alby is already a great success, to be recorded and displayed). Alternatively, it can be downloaded to OLC.
Pilots who participate in Alby’s voyage acknowledge that it is a voluntary effort, and that the timing, route selection, weather decisions, and all other aspects of the flight are the sole responsibility of the pilot in command of the aircraft in which Alby is transported. The Organizers of Alby’s voyage, retain all rights to the concept, images, logbook, Alby trophy, and eventual chronicle of the journey, but neither they nor volunteers involved in the project nor the Pacific Soaring Council (PASCO) nor the Soaring Society of America (SSA) are in any way responsible for the decisions of the pilots that carry Alby in their aircraft. When pilots propose to carry Alby on part of his journey, they warrant that they have sufficient experience and will exercise all due caution to ensure the safety of their flights. By allowing pilots to carry Alby, the Organizers of the Alby project are merely keeping track of and attempting to facilitate the continued progress of Alby’s voyage.
WAIVER AND ASSUMPTION OF LIABILITY
Please accept me as a participant in the Alby voyage. In consideration of acceptance of this entry, for myself, my heirs, executors, administrators, personal representatives, successors or assigns I hereby release and discharge the Organizers, The Pacific Soaring Council (PASCO) THE SOARING SOCIETY OF AMERICA, INC., and their agents, representatives, employees, successors or assigns from any and all claims for damages or injuries suffered by me or by any member of my crew during the aforementioned soaring venture.
I further agree to assume full responsibility for and to indemnify, defend and hold the aforementioned entities and persons harmless from any and all legal obligations for damages to personal property owned by, or injuries suffered by, any spectator or contestant or personnel of the aforementioned entities, or by any other person or entity, which may be caused directly or indirectly by my participation in the venture. I further certify that I have read, understand, and agree to abide by the rules and regulations of the aforementioned endeavor.
I fully understand and agree that I am waiving any claim for damages that I may suffer by virtue of any act of negligence arising in the future by any act or omission of any of the aforementioned entities or persons or their agents, representatives or employees, and that the consideration for this waiver is the permission by the sponsoring or presenting bodies of the aforementioned venture allowing me to participate in the said venture and that such permission is being granted me in the reliance upon this waiver as set forth in this entry form.
Tracking the flights with SPOT
Where in the world is Alby?
Scroll below to follow Alby flying in real time. For more detailed information on the flight go to our Spot satellite tracking page.
Position updates are broadcast in real time every 10 minutes, although occasionally there may be delays. If Alby is not flying at this time, the trace shows Alby's most recent flight. Traces are left posted for the duration of one week only. However, the flight can be seen on OLC.