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Marfa Wave And Thermal Camp

By Bob Holiday

It all began last September in Moriarty NM. Bob & Barbara Leonard and I were having dinner after a long day of flying. Bob mentioned a place called Marfa and said that he was going again and that I might enjoy it.Sun April 5 1998 7:00 AM: Glen Chambers (retired computer engineer-Boeing) and Roger Nyenhuis (retired aerodynamacist-Cessna) and myself (fledgling glider pilot) started south. Mon April 6 sometime between 12 &1 AM arrive in Marfa. We arrived at the airport about 9 AM and assembled the ASW-19 with the help of Bob Leonard (the wind was blowing 20 knots already!). I figured that strong winds make better wave so I was optimistic. The pilots meeting revealed that there was some real good flying over the weekend. That's the story of my life- you should have been here yesterday. By 11AM the wind was exceeding 30 knots and there was no way anyone would risk the crosswind takeoff let alone the landing- I thought. One motorglider took off in the afternoon and ground off a good amount of fiberglass on his aileron fairing. I believe it was his third flight in his brand new glider. He didn't fly it again that I know of, he just put in the trailer. On advice from Bob L. we put the 19 back in the box that evening with lots of help, people were very nice and helpful.

Tues April 7: The winds weren't as strong and they were a little more down the runway, so everyone started getting ready for wave flights. I was a little nervous and was dragging my feet but Glen got tough with me and said "lets get it in the air". I had forgotten how rough the air gets in the West and the tow was a real Yahoo! experience. I don't think I was ever in the right spot behind the tow plane for more than 2 seconds at one time. After getting off and thermaling up to about 4K AGL I found a band of lift which was probably wave lift just above the airport. I used it to fly NE to The Fort Davis area and after several tries I contacted the wave lift at about 10K MSL by thermaling. The feeling is surreal. The vario is showing 6K lift and the glider is as steady as if you were on the ground on a calm day. Totally smooth. 80 Knot airspeed and the GPS says 0 MPH groundspeed. My best altitude was 17.3K when I decided I needed to answer nature's call (it was cold up there). Bathroom aerobatics is a better description. In a very short time I had flown backwards, sideways, and down, and was out of the wave. I figured well that's OK I have lots of altitude, I'll just fly on back home. There was a duster strip now about 15 miles away, directly upwind, I wisely flew toward it thinking if PLAN A doesn't work out I can land there. When I arrived at the duster strip I had 3000ft AGL but couldn't find any thermals to get me back to Marfa (wave conditions seem to suppress thermal activity). Below, I watched a drama which would soon include me. A tow pilot was starting a retrieve from the strip (dusty is an understatement) of a glider that had landed earlier, and another glider was on short final. I gritted my teeth thinking how is this going to unfold? The tow plane started out and the dust was flying! Luckily the glider flyer (towee) released because it was defintely IFR conditions due to the dust. The tow plane stopped about midfield and the glider that was landing cleared them and was at the end of the strip. Now it was my turn. I took note of the wires and the AG plane parked at the approach end and the glider a fourth of the way down and the tow plane halfway down the strip and the glider at the end of the strip. As I radioed repeatedly that I was going to be arriving there soon, I hoped that there would be room left for me. I concentrated on clearing the tow plane by 5 or so feet but hadn't counted on the pilot walking down the runway in front of me. He was about 100 ft in front of his tow plane when I realized he wasn't going to move. I managed to clear his head but I wasn't sure until I opened the canopy and saw him still walking along. He said "I didn't hear you coming in". That night while my roommates slept I replayed the incident over and over.

Wed April 8: Too Windy. Lots of hangar flying with Bob Leonard.

Thursday April 9: Choppy thermals and difficult flying. Bob Leonard said if soaring was always like today he would give up the sport.

Friday April 10: Today I will attempt a 220 mi crosscountry. The winds are light and the thermals should be well organized. I set out for Van Horn at approximately 12:30. I decided to stick to the high country even though there were no landing sites. I felt that if I needed to I could make my way into the valley if I got low. The trip to Van Horn was over mountains and canyons and little else. There were some real rocky areas and I'm glad that I decided to stay high. I learned a great deal in 60 miles about my new glider and about cross country flying. Unfortunately the day began to die in the lowlands and I was forced to land back at Marfa with only 120 miles completed. Sat April 11: Too much wind. We left Bob and Barbara and lots of new friends and headed north with a 35 MPH tailwind. I had a really fun time and met some really nice people. I think I'll try Marfa again. Thanks to Roger and Glen for the support and comeraderie.


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