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500 KM Flight In Texas

By Bob Holiday

August 5, 2002 was declared a rest day at the Sports Class Nationals, but I decided to do a long flight up to Tucumcari just because Charlie Spratt kept mentioning that turnpoint.

After talking with a couple of other pilots who were also flying that day, we all three decided to attempt a 500 km triangle using Reese Center in Lubbock as the start-finish with Bledsoe Tx as the first turnpoint and Tucumcari NM as the second.

After an uneventful tow to 1800 ft I had a hard time finding good lift (maybe because it wasn't even noon, yet). My first thermal was only 2 knots, but it improved to 3K and I went through the start gate at 7,467 MSL at 11:53 am. Six miutes later I connected with a 6 knot thermal to 8300'. Two themals later I was at 8000', south of Morton Tx. The lift was hard to center and the strength of the thermals varied greatly. With this in mind I decided to stay high.

When I approached the Bledsoe area there was some overdevelopment and the clouds were not working well. Some of my problems may have resulted from being below the lift band which seemed to be between 7K and 8500'. (What happened to that plan to stay high?) I eventually gained enough altitude to exit the area and after about ten miles of struggling at lower altitudes, I found an area of stronger lift that helped me to speed along to the Clovis area. As I headed toward the north, I noticed that landing opportunities were becoming few and far between, with the view north of Clovis from 10,000' resembling something akin to the lunar landscape. Ah, but the lift started getting stronger and it was usually 5-6 knots with plenty of clouds indicating the best opportunities for strong lift. I decided to not look down anymore.

Near Tucumcari I shared a cloud with EE, a Jantar with long wings also flying the same course (he finished ahead of me), up to about 12,000'. As I rounded the turnpoint at Tucumcari, radio contact was made with Bob Leonard (flying out of Moriarty) where he said high clouds as a result of thunderstorms was shading the ground in his area.

The final leg of the flight was a little bit of a challenge due to weakening lift and areas that were washed out due to the passing of small rain showers, but I stayed in the Littlefield area until I got final glide altitude, and made the last miles in smooth air. I was able to fly the route as if I were badge flying and followed all of the FAI rules including finshing within 3000' of start altitude. Total distance was 312.2 miles with a speed of 55.07 mph.

The third glider, a Ventus 2A, landed out at Littlefield about an hour after I finished. He said he couldn't find enough lift to make the final glide through what was obviously a large area of smooth air. I believe these are probably the first two FAI 500 Km flights ever flown out of Reese Center.


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