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A Record Triangle

By Steve Leonard

As you all are aware, the last two weeks of August provided some spectacular soaring conditions. I was not able to take advantage of these during my week of vacation, as I was Competition Director at the Region 10 Contest we all helped put on. I did, however, get to fly on Saturday and was quite impressed. Sunday, I did not fly, as I was attending the 50th wedding anniversary reception for Ray and Ginni Sharp. See Ginni, I do value some things at least as much as soaring. Your and Ray's friendship is among those things. Monday, August 28 was yet another spectacular looking day. Temperature-dew point spread put the clouds way up high. They started early and lasted late. Light winds, too. That was the final straw. If the forecast looked good for tomorrow, I was going to play hookie.

The 6PM weather looked like one more day of the good stuff, then a tapering off. Bernie, can you tow me tomorrow? I want to try a 500 kilometer triangle! As the forcast looked good, I wanted to find a helper, so I could go with water ballast. I would need all the help I could get to better Tonk's flight of 324 miles at just over 60 MPH. Dennis Brown was too busy at work, and so was Bob Holiday. I spoke briefly with the McNay's, but then discovered that if I didn't start figuring out what I was going to do, it wouldn't matter if I had any helpers, because I wouldn't have a plan. I left it with Bernie that I would call him by 9:00 AM to confirm that I was still wanting to go.

To set a new record, you must beat the existing distance by 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), so I would have to fly at least 330 miles. I layed out three triangles, each using Stillwater, OK, as the first turnpoint. Depending on how the day was shaping up (and how bold I was feeling!), I picked tasks of 340, 350, and 370 miles. This was enough planning for Monday night. I still needed to go to work tomorrow and fix up a few things before I could head out.

As always when you really want to get away, things get busy at work. I forget to call Bernie, and finally get away from work at about 10:30. No problem, I tell myself. Bob will be there and Bernie will be with him. I load everything in the van and head to Sunflower as quick as I dare. I arrive at about high noon to a completely empty field. What to do? I decide to go ahead and get started with the preparations by putting all the stuff in the cockpit, then call Bernie. He answers the phone and agrees to come up, but he says it will be about an hour. Come on up, and thank you very much for being there. Things are looking up, as the cu are starting to form, and it is about 12:30. I borrow Dennis's one-man rig doly (thanks, Dennis!) and put the Zuni together. Next, I get the towplane out to the runway and stretch out the rope. I quickly decide to go with the shortest of the tasks, as I will be getting a quite late start.

Hey! My GPS doesn't have Stillwater or Waynoka as turnpoints! Quick! Get out the manual and try to figure out how to load them via the keypad! I feel sort of like the German Officer in "Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines". A German Officer Can Do Anything. Just Read the Manual! Good thing I wasn't wearing a spiked helmet! Just as I finish entering the my turnpoints, Bernie arrives. It is now about 1:20. No time for ballast, and without a helper, a partial load takeoff would not be advisable. This will have to be a dry flight.

We drag the Zuni out to the end of the pre-positioned rope. Rather than starting with a wing on the ground, I decide to put a stand under one wing. I have used this technique before with the 604. It saves wear on the tipskids and keeps the heart rate more normal on takeoff. No waiting and hoping the wing will come up as you turn farther from runway and towplane heading. After getting in and realizing I had forgotten my map, I was finally ready to take off at 1:40.

The tow was quick and the first thermal was found immdeiately. A quick climb to about 6,000 msl and I was ready to get going. I went through the start gate at 1:52 PM. This is pretty late, Steve. Do you think you really have a chance? It is 130 miles to Stillwater. I figure that if I am not there by 4:00 PM, there is not much hope.

The first real climb was over the north end of Cheney lake. The thermal got much stronger and smoother once I passed 6,000 msl. Note to self: Do not go below 6,000 msl. This thermal topped out just short of 10,000 msl. Not bad, but I have a long way to go and it is after 2:00 PM now. Progress down the first leg was very good. Lots of dophining (pulling up in lift, running on through the sink), with occasional good thermals to stop and circle in. The lift seemed to get a bit softer or harder to work about 15 miles south of the Blackwell/Tonkawa airport and I was back down to about 6,000 msl. Two more climbs and I was back at about 10,000 and heading in towards Stillwater. I rounded the turn at just after 4:00 PM. The clouds still looked good, so I decided to keep on trying. I was behind my schedule, but not by much. And besides, the second leg ran sort of towards home, so I could always turn chicken before I got to Waynoka.

It was obvious on the second leg that getting home would not be easy. The thermals were not as strong as they had been and they seemed to be farther apart. All I could do was try. I figured that if I didn't make Waynoka by 5:45, my chances of getting home would be pretty slim. I got to look at a couple of Raytheon T-1A Jayhawks near Enid. They were about on my altitude, but a mile or so North of me. About 20 miles farther west, the day seemed to get it's second wind. The thermals were still fairly widely spaced, but they seemed to be getting stronger. Maybe I had just been crossing a wet area? It hadn't looked that much different, but it definitely seemed to be softer. Things were looking up, and I finally got to Waynoka at 5:45 PM.

I was now 15 minutes behind where I felt I had to be, but for some reason, I suddenly knew that the flight was in the bag. Sort of like when I did my 500 km out and return. I rounded the turnpoint at 3:50 and had suddenly felt quite calm, until I reminded myself that on that day, I still had 180 miles to go! Three quick climbs, and I was past Alva, Oklahoma with only 90 miles to go. From almost 11,000 msl, I could almost make it from here! But there were still a few coulds ahead, and I was still trying for speed so onward I pushed.

I worked my last thermal about 5 or 6 miles south of Medicine Lodge. The thermal had been about 4 knots, but I could get home with only a 2 knot MacReady setting (stronger thermals mean higher speeds between thermals which requires more altitude to get home). There were still a few clouds about 5 miles ahead, but I decide not to push too hard, just in case. Good thing I did, because these last clouds netted at best about 1 knot of climb straight ahead for a very short time. There were still clouds well to the east of course (30+ miles), but ahead towards Sunflower, it was completely blue. It is truely amazing how straight a line you can fly with a GPS if there are no signs of lift to distract you from your course. There was one small deviation just north of Kingman, but other than that, the last 40 miles was straight ahead. I crossed the line at 7:04 PM doing about 145 MPH groundspeed. Elapsed time was 5:11. Distance flown was 340.0 miles. Average speed was 65.6 MPH. The flight was good enough to claim the Distance Around a Triangular Course and Speed Around a 500 KM Triangle Records for Kansas.

When I landed, the airport was almost as empty as it had been when I arrived. About 5 minutes later, Bernie came riding up on his bike. "Did you make it?", he asked. I think he could tell by my smile before I responded. "Yep." (I hate to get wordy at the airport. I save that for later!) We pulled the Zuni back to her trailer and I noticed that Bob Holliday had been able to get away after all. He was still out enjoing this fabulous day. Just over an hour after I landed, Bob returned to Sunflower with a nice victory pass of his own. He had soared until after sunset and become a memeber of The Sunet Club. A magnificent ending to a spectacular day.


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Published and maintained by Jerry Boone, Hutchinson, KS