Subject: Description of 628.0 mile (1008.5 km) FAI triangle flight on July 17, 2003 at average speed of 76.13 mph
There appeared to be lift shortly after 10 AM, so before 11 AM I taxied my ASH-26E out to runway 15 Tonopah for takeoff. Kemp Kizuno in his ASH-26E was just in front of me, and Steve Dashew in his DG800B was just behind. I was unhappy with the start of my takeoff roll and aborted the takeoff. I ended up at midfield waiting while a glider was aerotowed from there and several motor-gliders self-launched from the full length of runway 15. I did not want to self-launch with only half the runway in front of me, so I took an aerotow behind the Brave towplane. I released at about 2,000 ft AGL just south of mid-field heading south. After a turn to make sure that I had marked the release and was in the 90 degree start sector, I headed north to where several gliders were circling.
It was immediately apparent that we could have started earlier. Soon I was cruising towards Bald Mountain under cloud streets at between 14 and 18 thousand feet ASL with a 10 knot tailwind. The few times that I had to circle, I tried to pick at least 8 knot thermals.
The leg from Bald Mountain to Flying M involved running cloud streets to the left of the course line and then transitioning across a blue street to the next cloud street to the right. On this leg I caught up with Steve who had been about 10 miles ahead on the first leg.
As we approached the Flying M turn point we had completed half the course with a speed approaching 100 mph. But then the nice clouds turned nasty. We went between two cells of virga and climbed slowly in small hail in order to get high enough to cross the lake and mountain just east of Flying M. I went into the turnpoint low, but a 2 knot thermal kept me flying. I was not able to get high enough to run back under the good looking clouds on the mountain, so I worked south in the valley and eventually got back above 16 thousand feet.
South from Hawthorne towards the White Mountains was a dramatic air-mass boundary with clouds and virga to the east and mostly blue sky to the west. I was disappointed that the lift under the edge of the clouds was only occasionally 6 knots, since it looked like we should have been able to run straight ahead in 10+knots.
Ahead starting around Bishop, CA the sky was very dark, and I could see a towering anvil even farther south on the course-line. Running along the cloud boundary, I was being slowly forced west towards the Sierras. Eventually, south of Manmoth, CA I was stopped by the Sierras and realized that I could not run around the storm to the west. Steve, in the mean time had taken an easterly course and was heading for decent-looking clouds east of the White Mountains. The White Mountains themselves were in very dark shadow, but I had no other choice but to change plans and try to run east of the storm.
The path with least virga took me over Bishop to the White Mountains, but too low to continue east. The only option left was to run south on the west side of the White Mountains and try to get past the calming storm in one very long glide. I could see a small amount of sunlight on the mountain far south near Independendence and backed off to a 1 knot MacReady setting on my computer.
Just as altitude ran out I reached a small knoll and a little sunlight east of Independence. I began to ridge soar on this knoll trying to find a thermal kicked off it. Suddenly I recognized that it was exactly the same knoll that had saved me during the Standard Class Nationals at Minden. After gaining a few hundred feet, I continued along the mountain in a big wind shift caused by the storm. Finally I was able to work up to the mountain top and round the last turnpoint well behind and below Steve whose easterly route had clearly been the right choice.
The route back to Tonopah was mostly in sunlight with few clouds and a 10 knot tailwind. I had almost 2 hours until sunset with less than 100 miles to go, so I just needed to keep flying and I would eventually make it back. Unfortunately, I had no landing options for about 40 miles ahead. So I needed altitude before I could proceed. I took a 1 to 2 knot thermal to get enough margin to get out of the valley and onto the next range of mountains. It turns out that I wasn't really over Death Valley, but it sure looked dead to me. Over the next set of foothills I was rewarded with a thermal that got me high enough to continue safely to the dirt strip maintained by the ladies at Lida Junction. Then it turned into 4+ knots and took me to a zero knot MacReady final glide to Tonopah about 70 miles away.
The day seemed to be dying except for a small storm developing just to left of course, so I exploited almost every thermal until I was more than three thousand feet over final glide about thirty miles out. Then I sped up and streaked into the FAI sector of the declared start/finish at Tonopah only a few miles behind Steve.
At the end of the day I had successfully completed my 1000 km diplome and had beaten the existing US single-place motorglider triangle distance record (as had Steve). I flew the course 1 minute 40 seconds faster than Steve. After flying all day, the difference between us was only 6 turns in a thermal. But at 76.13 mph, this allowed me to claim the US single-place motorglider speed record for a 1,000 km triangle.