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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 on 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.
He had enough altitude to make an excursion over the water for about one mile before landing in Currituck. With this flight then Alby has reached the Ocean, accomplishing his mission to fly the US from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Yeaahh!
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.
It is not an impossible thing if the weather allows, and there are actually days that the flight could be tried and it would be successful. However since the season is declining, and given the rarity of favorable atmospheric conditions to make a soaring flight, if it is not possible to find lift then the last climb may be done under power.
7/31/2015 - Today seems a flyable day with decent lift, mild winds, cloud bases around 5,000' extending to 5:00 PM. So there are flyable days in summer, contrary to what we were told. Eric is in England visiting his aging mother, a good reason to go there. Will be back next week. Hopefully we can find a good day soon.
6/30/2015 - It was a workable day today, with bases up to almost 6,000', mild winds and decent lift. Unfortunately Eric was busy at Garner A/P, where he is a member. A storm beat up their place last Sunday, flooding the field and the hangar, making wet all objects that were laying on the pavement. It will take a few days to fix it all. There is always something....
After much soul-searching, I have decided to go ahead and tell you a few things about Alby that I’m sure will surprise you. Who knew that Albatrosses have a temper? I guess I was so smitten with the image of Alby the adventurer, and Alby the free spirit, that I was caught completely off guard the first time he blew up and started screaming at me. I might add that he can be quite sarcastic in some of his remarks. He first started in on me when I was unloading him after landing-out in York’s pasture. I had to explain to him that this was just all part of the cross-country experience, and part of the adventure. He said he didn’t think much of it, but would try to bear with me.
The next episode was after I landed at Cypress River. That’s where he really showed his temper and we got into quite an argument. It got so heated that at one point I threatened to throw him out in the swamp and let him find his own way on without me! I know that was a childish, petty statement on my part but he insulted me by saying that a 6 month old Albatross chick knew more about soaring than I did! After we both cooled off, we made peace and apologized to each other. As I was driving home, we had a long talk. He told me that he was getting sick of riding in my truck, that he hadn’t signed on for this, nor had he agreed to sit in my study in a box for 6 months. He asked me if I had confused his race for that of Polar Bears or something else that hibernated during the winter.
Albatrosses, as I found out by listening to him, are a very patient bird, accustomed to soaring for days on end. But they do have their limits, he told me. On my side of the discussion, I explained all about how humans mimic his species the best we can, but circumstances of varying terrain and the vagaries of the weather will screw up our best-made plans from time to time. He said he understood. I had to remind him that his part of the bargain meant that he would have to just put up with our shortcomings in order to learn about our sport.
We finally both agreed that we could do better and promised to show more tolerance for each other’s differences. I’m glad we cleared that up. I just thought I should warn those of you who are traveling with Alby from here on, to be aware that if you inadvertently cause Alby to be confined for too long a period at one time, you should be prepared for the consequences. On the other hand, if you treat him to long flights, and frequently, he will talk, or even sing to you your praises. If you keep him in the right mood, he will teach you things about soaring that you could never learn on your own.
The last legs from Texas to Louisiana was filled with new adventures over unknown territory and although quite challenging and very difficult at times, it was never the less a wonderfully rewarding experience.
Part 3. Cypress River, Texas to Gilliam, Louisiana
Sunday, June 13th, 2010
I had checked with Wayne to see if the towplane would be ready the weekend of June 5th and 6th. It wasn’t, and the weather was not cooperating either. They were under a Tornado Watch as I was speaking to him. I continued to check the weather as the next week wore on, and it was iffy. When I looked at Dr Jack’s Blipmap for Sunday, it looked favorable and I decided to give it a try. Friday after work I rounded up my trailer and parked it in front of the house. I loaded up everything except Alby before I went to bed. I work from 3:30 in the morning until 2 PM on Saturdays, so when I got home I grabbed Alby and hooked up the trailer. I was on the road to Louisiana shortly after 3:00. The fastest route had me traveling east across north Texas to Texarkana, Arkansas then south to Shreveport.
I made a couple of phone calls along the way, first to Wayne Crank Jr. in Shreveport, arranging to meet him at Gilliam the next day, then to Glenn and Liz Maynard to keep them posted on the latest developments regarding Alby’s Voyage. When I talked to Glenn, he and Liz were actually at The Lone Star Aerobatic Championships near Sherman, Texas where they were both competing. I passed by about 10 miles from the Grayson County Airport while I was talking to him, and was very tempted to detour there and give my support to their efforts. I still had nearly 200 miles to go before bedtime though, so had to keep on the road. By the way, Glenn took first place in his category, and Liz placed in the upper third in her advanced category, flying their Giles G-202. They wished Alby and me luck on completing this last leg out of Texas.
I checked into a motel on the north side of Shreveport around 8:30 and hit the sack. The next morning I grabbed a quick breakfast and drove the 25 miles north to Gilliam. Just as I was pulling into the Airport, I saw an Aeronca coming in to land. It was piloted by Shreveport Soaring’s Ralph Forrester and his passenger Doug Olson. They showed me where to park and then the three of us quickly put the Libelle together. Ralph is one of those guys that do anything and everything that needs to be done around the club. Today he would be our winch driver. Doug is a new member in their club and has had a couple of lessons so far. Doug’s day job is flying B-52 “Buffs” out of Barksdale AFB located at the east edge of Shreveport. It was still early and Ralph and Doug had some chores to do, so they took off to go get a lawn mower somewhere and I decided to drive over to have a look at Thackers airstrip some 8 miles from Gilliam as an Albatross flies. What I saw was dense trees, sloughs and creeks and no place to land once I got away from the Red River farmland about 3 or 4 miles out. Shortly after I got back to Gilliam Ralph and then Wayne arrived. There were also a couple of fellows waiting for the local Skydivers that operate out of Gilliam. I found out from Wayne that the club had conducted around 25 winch launches the day before, and several people had managed to climb out to cloudbase around 3000 agl. Today looked like it would be about the same. This encouraged me. While I was driving in the day before, I had ample time to think about the real possibility that today might turn out to be a series of winch launches followed by landings, or something worse (as far as Alby’s Voyage is concerned) such as a 8-10 mile flight with a landing at Thackers, Vivian, or even 28 miles away at Cypress River! I was eager to get started. The fellow that owns the airport came by and introduced himself: Mr. Danny Logan, a really nice Southern Gentleman, keeps his own 172 on this airstrip, and allows a crop-duster as well as the Skydivers and the Shreveport Soaring Club to operate here. Thank you Mr. Logan for letting Alby fly from your strip as well.
I had looked back through my logbooks a couple of days ago, and discovered that it had been over 15 years since my last winch launch or auto-tow. After talking it over with Wayne and Ralph, we all decided that it would be wise to do a couple of check rides in their 2 place Lark. Wayne got in the back seat and I in front. The first launch only netted 700 feet due to me starting the climb late. I was happy to note a couple of good bumps as I entered the pattern. The next climb was a little better, but only got about 850 feet. While we were hanging around for a minute or two, we ran into a thermal and climbed up to 1200 feet or so. Wayne suggested that we might as well stay up where it was cool for a while, but I was really eager to get back down to start the “Voyage”.
I was soon settled in the cockpit of my Libelle and Wayne was attaching the winch wire to the cg hook. My first launch resulted in 750 feet and I didn’t contact lift after release, so back on the ground for an immediate re-light. This time I got 900 feet and ran smack into the house thermal right after release. I steadily worked my way up as the wind drifted me north 2 or 3 miles. I was looking down on the paved drag strip located 1.5 miles from the airstrip. I had been warned by Wayne not to even think about landing here, because the drag strip is lined with lights and you can’t see some of them from the air. It looks just like a nice paved runway, even has a taxiway along the side. I couldn’t see any clouds within reach directly towards Cypress River, but there were some south and a bit west of Gilliam and more or less in the direction of Thackers, so I ran over to them. I was back down to 2000 or so when I got there. As I slowly climbed back up I was studying the location of clouds on course. There was pretty much nothing directly along the course line, but there were several around Thackers and a few west of there. When I topped out here I was at 3500 and so headed on to the next one. It was 6 or 7 miles out there and I was back at 2500 feet when I arrived. I wasn’t averaging much of a climb rate, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I was getting between 2 and 3 knots in the climbs.
Now I was located about half way between Thackers to the south and Vivian to the north and I was well away from the farm fields. I could look straight down and see swamp water amongst the trees. To the west there were no clouds, and the cloud I was milking gave out on me at 2900 feet. My inner voice was telling me it was time to move away from the trees, so I started back towards Gilliam. This was the right move and at the right time because I slowly but relentlessly sank toward the ground. I ran through a teeny thermal just before I got out of the swamp, but only managed to get back up to 2300. I could see that I was staying in a very safe position, and had it made back to Gilliam, but would soon be landing if I didn’t find something. It kept on until I was only half a mile from Gilliam and at 1100 feet. Literally at the last minute, I found the house thermal, and cranked my way back up to cloudbase, and yep, drifted back over Thunder Road again. The clouds were right about where I found them the first time, but had improved in the sense that the tops on some of them were building and a few had developed those good looking concave bases. In fact, by scouting around different spots under the cloud I was working, I found a sweet spot that gave me 4-5 knot lift and topped out at 4200.
Now I was ready to make a serious charge out west, and off I went. I ran out to a cloud that was about the same place where I quit the first venture, and got from 2600 back up to 3800. This afforded me the chance to go for a couple more clouds off to the southwest. My dilemma wasn’t an inability to get along the course; it was getting enough altitude and/or close enough together to be able to stay in the lift band. It’s one thing to be able to make it to a landing place, and quite another to arrive there with enough altitude left to hook up with some more lift. It accomplishes nothing if you land at a checkpoint along the way. After one more run to the next cloud, I was a couple of miles north of Cypress River and working some mediocre lift. The wind was blowing out of the south, so I was drifting farther away from the airport as I climbed. By the time I topped out I was at 3500 and was wasting more time than I was gaining. At least I had enough to run into the airport for the remote start, and I crossed the runway at 3000 feet.
After 2 ½ hours in the air, Alby was now officially on his way to Shreveport. There were neither clouds nor lift that I could find around Cypress, so off I went back north to the cloud I had come in from. It had moved quite a way farther north so it cost me 1000 feet to get there, only to find it had completely died while I was gone. All of a sudden the situation changed from good to bad. There was nowhere to go except for the safety of the runway back at Cypress River. I set a course straight for the airport, desperately scrutinizing the ground for anything that might make a thermal. About the time I had resigned myself to the fate of a forced landing at Cypress, I spotted a small area where the trees had been clear-cut around the top of a small hill. I veered my course off to the right, and just like the textbooks promise, there was the nicest little thermal you could ask for. I was only a mile from the runway, at 1100 feet above sea level and the terrain here is around 300 msl. Folks, that means that I was 800 feet above the ground. This was one of the best saves I have ever pulled off. I worked it for all I was worth, too! You can bet that I wasn’t going to blow this one. I had to go pretty steep to stay in it, but the higher I got, the better it got. This is what soaring is all about!
A cloud began to form above me, the lift had picked up to 3 knots (I thought this was excellent by the day's standard), I could see another cloud to the east that would be reachable and was right on course for home. Then I saw a rainbow between the next cloud and me. Cloud base was 4100 feet. I left it with a light heart, and a thank you on my lips. I tanked up again at the next cloud. It was one of those that have a multi-level base. The west side where I was working was higher than the rest of it, and lift was strong. I got to my highest point of the day at 4350. I was 22 ½ miles from Gilliam, and no worries about needing a bunch of reserve altitude, so I set a straight course for home. I was passing under the low part of the deck when all of a sudden it began to rain. Little beads of water formed all over the canopy then it started really raining with a big sheet of water running across us. I could see the ground by looking straight down and had pushed the speed up to 80 to get out of it as fast as possible. It didn’t take long and I soon broke out into the clear.
For a brief period I was sinking like a brick, as thousands of little spoilers formed all over the wings. They soon blew away and I was back running at best L/D. I wasn’t real sure that I was still high enough to make it now, but was confident that I could easily detour to Vivian or Thackers if needed. Now I could make out the white spot that is the bleachers at the drag strip, and from there I picked out the gap between two cornfields that is Gilliam’s runway. It was pretty low on the horizon, but I knew I was going to make it. I arrived a little too high for a straight in approach, but a little too low for a standard pattern. I veered off to the north, then back south, making a very large split-s approach, and touched down about half way up the runway. Wayne was the only one left at the airport. He greeted me with as big a grin as I had. We shook hands, and then I made the official presentation, turning Alby over to his next pilot. I can’t find the right words to tell you what a grand adventure this has been for me, but I can say that this has been the most rewarding series of flights I have done in many years. I believe that this is what Alby’s Voyage is all about.
With Wayne’s help we de-rigged and loaded the Libelle. I headed back home, and Alby went to spend his first night in Louisiana at Wayne’s house. I stopped in Texarkana for supper and gas and was at the house around 1 AM. I’m still grinning every time I think about my part in Alby’s Voyage!
View Flight on OLC
Part 2. Mineola to Cypress River, Texas
Monday, May 24th
Almost a month had gone by since Alby and I landed in Russell York’s pasture just outside of Mineola, Texas. The time had been spent repairing the landing gear and then when the ship was ready to go, waiting out the weather. Finally we were set to go. Getting a towplane to meet us at the Mineola Airport took some doing. First try was with the Shreveport Soaring Club 101 miles away. This was when I learned that their towplane was in the shop getting an engine overhaul. Next I checked out the Commercial operation at Midway Airport, 85 miles away. While this was viable, the cost was more than I had hoped for so we put this option aside as a reserve plan. After our home club, North Texas Soaring, (Captained by Jim Vickery) chipped in on the cost of using our tug, and after Tom Dowdy volunteered to take off work on Monday to ferry the Cessna Ag-wagon back and forth as well as do the tow at Minneola; and seeing as how we would not interrupt normal week-end club operations at Decatur, the plan was put into motion. Mineola is 130 miles from Decatur, and Tom lives a fair distance from the club, so he had to get up early in order to be on time for a noon launch.
Glenn and Liz Maynard were once again ready, willing, and able for crew duties. We repeated the rendezvous at the Denton Airport, switched vehicles, and headed out southeast to Mineola, Texas. We arrived around 11:00 and immediately set about rigging up the Libelle. It didn’t take long to get Alby and me ready to launch. Shortly after we finished up, Tom came sailing in about 2000 feet over the trees with our tug, and entered the pattern. From here on the countryside for about the first half is mostly trees with farm fields sprinkled along at irregular intervals. There are lots of ponds, or what is known in this part of the country as “Stock Tanks”. There are also two very large lakes, and eventually some big areas of swampland. I had carefully planned the route with checkpoints selected where landing strips were located. I had never flown over any of the territory east of Dallas, and because satellite photos show mostly unfriendly terrain, as far as I was concerned, I would consider land-out fields to be non-existent. By now, medium looking cumulous clouds were scattered about. It was time to hook up and go!
Take-off from Mineola
Tom towed me into the wind out south of the airport and then looped around back over town to arrive on the west side of the runway at 3000 AGL, where I released. I headed for a cloud over town and connected with lift. I was disappointed to see that everything was rapidly drifting northward and so knew that my forward progress would require extra time. It was important from a safety point to stick to the planned route.
I pushed southeast toward my first checkpoint, a ranch strip named Rhodes. I also spent some time exploring the optimal lift zone to work and found it to be between 4000 and 5000 with average climbs of 4 knots. I was encouraged, and so set off to the east and the next checkpoint at Holly Lake. I made pretty good progress for a while, but bogged down when I got to the city of Gilmer. I could find lift around town under the clouds, but it was all very weak and was taking forever to climb back up.
I had a long hop to go to the next checkpoint of McKenzie, and it was located on the other side of a very large expanse of water, namely, Lake O’ The Pines. There would be no place to land along the way, and I needed to tank up large before heading out. Finally, by waiting it out mostly, and grinding away at it, I got into some decent lift and actually topped out close to 6000 feet. Now I was off and running and Alby was even talking to me again. I found 2 more decent clouds along the way and was topping out between 5800 and 6000 each time. I really was feeling optimistic, however I could see a pretty good-sized blue hole coming up.
I could see more clouds to the south, but they were too far away from my known landing strips for me to consider trying. It’s funny, (not) how quickly things can go from elation to that gut-gnawing sinking feeling. I was high enough to make it to the next checkpoint, but probably wouldn’t be able to do anything but land when I got there unless I could find some good lift along the way. My only choice was to press on and hope for the best.
You know, the odds of finding lift on a decent day like this are pretty good over a 15-mile glide. As I kept on going mile after mile I found nothing. I’m guessing that the blue hole was due to a mass of cool marine air from the lake. There was absolutely not a bump the whole way in. I veered off course each time I spotted anything close that might produce a thermal, but to no avail. I raised Liz on the radio and told her about the situation. She told me that they were already at Cypress River Airport and she spotted me coming in. After I got about a mile away from the airport, and was at 1800 feet, I turned around and ran over to the town of Jefferson, about 3 miles away to try to find me a thermal. I was able to scratch a little weak lift here and there and got up to about 2200 at one point, but it was a losing battle. So, once again I returned Alby to Texas when I landed at Cypress River.
I really loved this flight, up until the part where I had to land. We saw some beautiful and interesting country, experienced some good soaring for a while, and moved to within 15 miles of the Louisiana state line. I won’t bore you with the details of how Glenn and Liz (and Alby and me) took the glider apart, put it in the trailer, drove 200 miles back to Denton, etc. etc. etc. Alby arrived back in my study in Gainesville at 2:00 AM. I will tell you what he had to say about that later. We all had some really good pizza on the way home.
View Flight on OLC
I checked with Wayne Crank Jr. at Shreveport Soaring to see how their towplane overhaul was progressing. He told me it wouldn’t be ready the weekend of May 29th, but possibly would be by the following weekend. I didn’t even bother checking the soaring forecast; I did chores and yard work instead. The next weekend I did check, and it was dismal. Strong winds, broken weak lift, and an absolute dead zone centered right on Cypress River. The towplane wasn’t ready yet, so it didn’t much matter. While talking to Wayne, he had mentioned that his club was using a winch to launch their gliders during the time the towplane was in the shop. He said that we might be able to trailer the winch over to Cypress River and get me launched for the final leg. I began to think of possible ways of doing the job. The problem with setting everything up at Cypress River was a matter of logistics. It would require a crew of people to drive there from Shreveport, conduct the operation, wait around to see if I could find lift, possibly would involve multiple tries to get started, and would take the only means of launching gliders away from Gilliam, effectively shutting down operations for the whole club for at least a day. I would also need someone to bring my pickup and trailer from Cypress River to Gilliam. Not the best plan, I reckoned. On the other hand, if I could launch from the existing winch set-up at Gilliam, it would not upset normal operations at all for the Shreveport club. Also, my trailer would already be waiting there for me when I finished the task. Wayne told me that launches at Gilliam would result in average climbs of 1000 to 1200 feet. That means that you just about need to be in a thermal when you release, obviously a landing is imminent if you don’t connect with one. Now you might well think that this would be a piece of cake. It should be and could be on a day when you have respectably high cloud-bases or tops of thermals. However, I am remembering that I had just completed two hops along the way, 85 miles and then 75 miles, and I had learned that cloud bases kept getting lower as I moved farther east through this particular country, and that the availability of safe out-landing sites decreases at about the same ratio. While neither of the previous 2 flights netted large distances, I feel good about them. I would stick to my plan of hopping along established landing strips while crossing unknown hostile terrain; it’s the safest way to do it.
So this would be the plan: winch launch from Gilliam, fly across the swamps and forests to the west side of the Cypress River, Texas Airport, make a remote start from there, then do the official Alby Flight back (across the swamps and forests) to the Shreveport Soaring Club at Gilliam, Louisiana. There would be only two possible landing spots along the way, and neither was directly on the shortest route between Gilliam and Cypress River. One is Thackers, a private airstrip 4 miles inside the Louisiana state line. The other is the Vivian, LA. Airport, 2 miles inside state line. It is 20 miles from Cypress R. to either of these fields.
Part 1. Midlothian to Mineola, Texas Sunday, April 25th, 2010
The Soaring forecast didn’t look that bad, but showed there would be strong winds. The fact that the winds were pretty much blowing from Midlothian straight towards Louisiana caught my attention and made me decide to give it a try. Unfortunately, Liz Maynard was down and out with a bronchial infection and Glenn was scheduled to fly a trip from DFW to Tokyo, so neither was available for crewing. I decided to press on anyway, and thought that I would not worry about how to get home until after I landed. It’s all a matter of priorities and number one on the top of my list was getting Alby moved (safely, but not necessarily conveniently) on down the road and as soon as possible. So I got up early Sunday morning and trailered the Libelle the 90 miles south to Midlothian.
I put the glider together and put Alby on his perch behind my head. We were all set to go except for one thing. The wind was blowing right across the runway with gusts over 20 knots. I waited a couple of hours, hoping things would improve, but they didn’t. Conditions were just not conducive to making a safe take-off. Finally, after 3:30 came and went, I scrubbed the attempt. I tied the Libelle down, parked the trailer out back of the hangers, and put Alby back in my truck. Alby was getting a little up tight by now (more about that later). After I got home I called Liz to keep her informed of the (non) developments, and was surprised when Glenn answered the phone. He had not taken the Tokyo flight after all, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he and Liz (ever faithful to the Alby Cause through sickness and health) would be available for crew duties for another try the next day.
Glenn Maynard and Dean
Monday, April 26th, 2010
I left home at 7:30 and drove south 35 miles where I met up with Glenn and Liz at the Denton Airport close to where they live. We left my pickup there. We arrived at the Gliderport south of Midlothian a couple of hours later. We got the Libelle untied, readied, and Alby loaded onboard. We hooked my trailer up to Glenn’s truck and soon were all set to go, both in the air and on the ground. The winds were still fairly strong but had switched around from yesterday’s cross component to a more favorable direction for take off. Our towpilot had some morning appointments and so we didn’t get to take off as soon as we would have liked to. When he got ready and we were briefing each other about the tow, he informed me that the forecast didn’t look good at all, with a plus something thermal index. That turned out to not be accurate but alas, the part about it not being good was true. Undaunted, and casting all negative soaring thoughts behind us, we hooked up, took off, and soon were 3000 ft AGL and into the first thermal.
The wind was a factor on getting started because as I was working under my first cloud, I drifted under the DFW class B airspace and had to watch that I didn’t get above 4000 ft. As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry much about it because the thermals were not going above that anyway. I cloud hopped my way around to the east and north, passing south of Midway and then Lancaster Airports imbedded in the Dallas Metroplex. Now I was clear of the Class B and struck out on course for Louisiana.
The first part of this flight was comfortable enough because after leaving the city there were a lot of farm fields along the way, plus several landing strips, which were major checkpoints along the planned route. It was slow going though. There was a temperature inversion sitting at about 4000 feet putting a lid on the tops of the thermals. You could see heavy haze in most any direction and the cu’s appeared to dissolve into the stuff beyond about 10 miles. There also was still a pretty good crosswind blowing south to north. The good news was that I kept finding useable lift marked by small low cu’s just about anytime I needed them. The disappearing cu’s were just an illusionary effect of the haze, because new ones kept coming into view out of the murk as I trudged along. I never did get very high, the lift was running between 2-3 knots, occasionally 4, and was topping out between 2700 and 3200. My high for the day was 4200 and that was only once. Three times I got down to 1200 ft but each time I ran into the needed thermal and scratched my way back up.
I had passed my checkpoints of Harper, Eisenbeck, Erco, and Goode. I crossed over Interstate 20 shortly after passing ND Ranch and this is about where I begun to run out of farmland and into the beginnings of the east Texas forests. Right about here is also where I noticed funny things happening with my electrical system. My audio vario was giving me different tones than I was used to; one of my varios quit all together and my data logger also gave up. I finally woke up to the fact that system battery voltage was down around 5 volts. (I discovered later that the battery had developed a short in one cell). I shut down everything except one vario and this worked ok for the rest of the flight. I now had no radio contact with Glenn and Liz as well.
I continued to work my way eastward using the clouds and was now over some mostly wooded terrain with a few low hills. Ground elevation here is around 500 feet above sea level and I had been seeing 2800-3000 feet on the altimeter for the last few climbs. The thermals were getting weaker also, averaging 2 knots. I finally came to the end of the trail when I got low over a timbered area with a few fields scattered around. I was still a few miles from the next checkpoint, and was only a tad over 6 miles southeast of the Mineola Airport, but couldn’t reach either. I picked out a good field, flew a pattern around it twice while still hopefully searching for lift. I actually got my teeth into a bit of lift and circled in and out of it for a while but it was too little too late. I made the decision and switched my focus to the job of landing.
My field was located at the junction of two county roads that wander through the woodlands, and was close to a tall narrow cylinder painted light green which I assume is a water tower and would prove to be a visual aid for Glenn and Liz to find me. The field had some low terracing which followed the contour of the slope it ran through. I could see a few houses scattered along the roads. I set up a right hand pattern and turned final over the tops of some trees. Everything went as planned with a normal approach and touchdown.
As I was rolling out and slowing nicely, my left wingtip caught a tussock of grass on the uphill side and swerved me to the left. In doing so, it put an abnormal side load on the main gear and actually popped the wheel out of the strut, as well as bending the A-frame pieces. I coasted to a stop in the grass with no other damage to the ship and none to me. To add insult to injury though, Alby chose this exact moment to tell me what he thought about the whole day. I will defer further description of the conversation, but promise to tell you about it later.
After removing the canopy and climbing out of the ship, I activated the message button on Glenn’s SPOT device. He had loaned it to me and explained that he had a pre-recorded message set up which would call his cell phone and report the coordinates of my present position automatically. I also checked the Alby SPOT device and saw that it was still functioning normally with both LED’s blinking properly. I then called Liz on my cell phone and found out that in spite of no radio contact, they had been following the Alby SPOT signals via Glenn’s I-phone screen and so were less than five miles from me and were on their way. Modern technology is truly wonderful, I thought.
I remember many occasions in my early years of cross-country attempts when I walked from my landing spot to some ranch house and used their telephone to call home, then waited hours, sometimes into the middle of the night for someone to come fetch me. In the mean time, I set about trying to find a gate that would allow access into the field. There was a house across the road, and while I was walking the fence line, a fellow strolled over and struck up a conversation. He hadn’t noticed the sailplane sitting in the field and said he thought I was inspecting the fence or something. I explained what was going on, and told him my friends would soon be there with the trailer. He said that he wasn’t the owner of the land, but knew Russell York, the man that was leasing it. In fact, he dialed Russell’s number on his cell phone then handed it to me.
I introduced myself and explained the reason for the phone call. He began to give me directions on how we could get into the field, but then decided it would be easier to just come on over and show us. A few minutes later, I saw Glenn and Liz arrive and shortly thereafter Russell York and a friend of his, Markeith Buckner showed up. Before long the whole convoy had come in through a neighbor’s pasture and a back gate into this field and pulled up to where the Libelle was resting. After introductions were made, we spent some time telling Russell and Markeith all about sailplanes, soaring, cross-country flying in general, and Alby’s Voyage in particular. They were fascinated with the whole project and we gave them information on how to check the past and future progress of Alby on the website. We also told them to be sure and look for this story to be posted because they were going to be included in it. Meeting helpful and friendly people like Russell and Markeith is one of the greatest parts of this whole adventure. Thanks again guys, for all of your help and hospitality!
Because of the lack of main wheel, we had to use a modified procedure to de-rig the ship. With the help of our new friends we wrestled first one wing then the other off and into the trailer. Then we all lifted the fuselage up and onto its’ cradle. It didn’t take long at all and we had everything secure and ready for the trip back home. We made it back to the Denton Airport around midnight and swapped the trailer from Glenn’s rig to mine. Alby and I were back at my house in Gainesville about an hour later.
Special thanks to Dean, Elizabeth, Glenn and Tom for their extraordinary contributions to these flights. Ed.
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.