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Silver Altitude and Distance Made Easy!

By Jerry Boone, 5/2/10

For several days I had been discussing with Tony Condon (Instructor) about trying for my Silver badge. The weather for Sunday, 5/2/10 was looking pretty good.

I woke up that morning and did my normal routine. Checking the surface winds and winds aloft, getting the sounding report from Dodge City. The temperature and dew point were predicting 8000 AGL cloud bases, and it became apparent that everything was working to my favor. Tony had checked "Dr Jacks" and said it was going to be good. All that was left was to hope that the heat makes it up there high enough to paint some CU in the sky!

My wife (Lyn) can almost always crew but this particular day had been reserved (weeks in advance) for a trail ride on her new horse, so not only did I loose her help but I also had to factor in taking Matt (son, 12yrs old) along.

In a pinch I can almost always count on my folks. I called them and they had to think about it for moment. They had been planning to help my brother on his house project, but cancelled and agreed to make the drive from Great Bend and Matt was promoted to "navigator" since he is so sharp with a computer. My folks had never even seen the glider fly before, let alone chase one down. However, I had no worries because they are veteran road warriors from decades of motor sports activities in the surrounding 13 states or more and probably members of the million mile club as a result.

I suddenly had everything working to my favor. I had been looking outside in anticipation but the sky was still clear blue… not a sign of CU anywhere. The satellite image was clear, not a patch of CU anywhere in KS. I couldn’t help but have that sinking feeling that I may have arranged all of this for nothing but to have my folks come see me do some sled rides.

As I packed Matt into the truck at 11:30am and started driving to Sunflower, I spotted the first CU at a distance in a clearing of trees. I looked at Matt as if I were 12 years old and said, "Look, there they are, it’s going to work, I'm going to soar today!!!" I was so glad to see those clouds building. As I drove on to Sunflower I could see they were mostly west going northwest. Only small bursts were coming and going over Sunflower. The internal debates about going northwest into a little crosswind or tracking northeast began.

Matt helped me rig the Duster, he lifted hard on the wing tips so I could get the spar pins in. This is tough for a little guy but he did really well at it and I am really proud of him reaching an age where he is so helpful. I got the seams taped and everything packed away in the trailer. I met with Tony and got his barograph and we signed paperwork for the Silver attempt. Mom and dad pulled into Sunflower, right on time.

I took the Duster to the flight line and had one more look at the satellite imagery. A large band of CU favoring Abilene was obvious and I decided on that. Andrew Peters came over and asked me all of the right questions to see if I was ready. He seemed to believe I knew what I was doing and wished me good luck as always.

Andrew was the tow pilot this day and put me in a good thermal. I released and climbed in it for a minute and was soon ready to notch the barograph. I started a decent and ended up loosing the thermal. I made several attempts to re-locate it but I was at 1000 agl just minutes later and committed to land. Sitting behind several other sailplanes and loosing that thermal was very disappointing. Matt ran over and had a talk with me wishing good luck and stuff. Then Steve Leonard came over just a moment later and told me to forget about the barograph. He told me that when I get centered in a thermal to use the spoilers to decent below 2000 agl and once that was done to just put the spoilers back in and climb out.

Once again, Andrew put me in another good thermal. I spent a little time making sure it was fat and solid, pulled the spoilers out, descended several hundred feet, put them back in, and climbed to almost 8000 msl quickly. I called my folks and told them the trip was underway. The clouds were looking very good in every direction at this point and I told them to start heading toward McPherson. Everything was going better than ever, sink rates were minimal, the cloud street was great, and just a few circles under CU were putting me right back at 8000 msl.

It took no time at all to reach McPherson. I called the crew who were right there with me and I instructed them to start on the interstate to Salina. On the way to Salina I was managing 8000 – 9000 msl easily, but being conservative and not turning down good lift. Far too many times have I turned down lift for something that looked better and ended the flight. I quickly came to the conclusion that this had to be the best this home built sailplane had ever flown for me.

On the GPS moving map, all of the airports within 20 miles were indicating green and well within reach, both visually and technically. I told the crew that I was not going to land at Abilene as planned and that I would go onto Clay Center. As I flew next to Clay Center I spotted the crew heading toward the airport. I was also aiming for a large CU over the airport and at 7000 msl I was curious what the day had left. It was 5pm and evening setting in. As I flew under the CU the vario audio indicated good lift and I was climbing again. I tried calling the crew but there was no cell service and that was frustrating. However, I still managed to climb well enough that Washington County Airport was lit green with a computed 2200 agl on arrival. That made me a believer and I started toward Washington leaving the crew at Clay Center.

During the glide to Washington, I took my time and could see the airport coming up. When I arrived at the airport I still had 4500 AGL but just 30 miles in front of me were developing thunderstorms for as far as I could see from West to East. I really wanted to push on into Nebraska but this form of border patrol would stop me from doing that for sure. I did consider going straight east (as I later found out Tony had done on his 193 mile gold distance achievement this same day). The only problem with that plan was that I knew my crew was tired and communications were difficult. I chose to just circle the airport and burn off the altitude enjoying the comfort that I was going to land safely and with communications.

The airport at Washington is small and even the 13 meter wingspan of the Duster appeared to extend to the pavement edges with runway lights sticking up on both sides. This was my first landing with a glider on a narrow runway "with lights" sticking up. This was scary and I was glad I had kept it centered, level, and moving at a good rate until I reached the intersection and used the brakes to bring it to a stop.

After coming to a rest with a wing down I was so incredibly pleased with the way everything had worked out. I knew for fact I had the Silver, that was easy! But, I was really curious how close I had gotten to the Gold distance. I had tried in flight to get the GPS to give me straight line distance from Sunflower, but couldn’t devote the kind of concentration to that and feel safe flying at the same time. Now that I finally had cell service (on the ground), I called the crew (who were still in Clay Center looking for me to land) and let them know I was at Washington airport.

The crew arrived just 20 minutes later. My dad got out of the truck mumbling some things about having driven so far, he didn’t expect that at all! We disassembled the Duster and put it into the trailer. As I was shutting the doors, thunder in the north and the smell of moisture was among us! That was close!

On the drive home I managed to upload my IGC file to OLC and discovered it was 228K with 55kmh speed. Well it wasn’t 300k, but not too bad for this wooden wing homebuilt! OLC scored the flight at just about 325 points and ranked it #2 in the nation for 5/2/10 so far. The number one spot had been taken by 2-32 that was in wave conditions. However at this time Tony’s Gold distance flight had reached 193 miles and was yet to be uploaded. Later, I discovered that Bob Holiday put me down another spot with a flight in his Ventus to Ulysses. After several days, I am at 5th for that day on OLC. A good spot for the beginning of the year. Tony's flight scored a whopping 538 points and holds first.

We arrived back at Hutchinson at almost midnight with the work-week and school morning looming just 6 hours away. My folks didn’t make it back to Great Bend until after 1am. I was told that one of Tony's crew didn't make it home until after 4am and had a 7am high school class to attend! Ouch!

No matter how many times we thank them, our crews can never really understand how grateful we are for the time and hours they devote to our missions. We are blessed for having known each and every one of them and owe them big favors for being so generous.

One thing I have learned about soaring in Kansas is that you should never let a good spring day go by! I can’t wait to shoot for Gold!

Jerry Boone Duster 148KD


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Published and maintained by Jerry Boone, Hutchinson, KS