Cross Country Flying With Butch

Fellow non-feathered friends:

I invite anyone who cares to expand their horizons to fly XC over the back of Horse. It was exciting to see a couple of pilots break out from Horse last Sunday. As in Bill’s weekend flying report pilots were getting to 7k to 8k msl.. 10k and above zone seems to be the comfort zone for most pilots to head out XC from Horse.

Skip the next 4 paragraphs if you know all about the Victor airway.
Skip the whole piece if you already know the route to Jacumba.

There is a historical air traffic conflict when we climb to 10k over the Horse launch. It puts us in the Victor airway which is legal VFR for anyone but it is also the descending approach altitude for SD Lindberg. Why do I know this? The FAA came out to a club meet and discussed the Victor airway with us. The FAA agent requested we stay in the 8s and the airliner will stay at 10k unless weather lowers the ceiling.

I personally had a US Air miss me by an airliner wing span. The US Air pilot has just punched out of a thunderstorm cloud a few miles East and was busy dealing with approach, earlier IFR and turbulence. Visibility was a little opaque with high clouds filtering the light. A hang glider turning flat in 100 to 200 lift was not easy to see from a distance. The US Air airspeed was somewhere around 230 knots which gave him 39 seconds to see me after exiting the cloud whiteout maybe 3 miles east.

Talk about scaring the crap out of me when I hear the sound of jet engines behind me as I climbed in lift. It was like a dance were you face and turn with your partner. Within a 180 degrees of the 360, I saw him coming, turned facing him as he went by, and turned to see his descend.

Immediately the chatter came over the radio from pilots on the ground. “Butch did you see how close that plane got to you?!!! “ I told them I was a little unnerved and was going to shorten my flight and land at Julian for pie. I didn’t make it to Julian because I had to use my parachute later in the flight but that is another story.

Sunday it was a milk run day to McCain Valley but any farther took some pucker power and luck to get to Jacumba Airport. I was second to last to launch. Everyone seemed to be in the 8k msl range altitude. Being slow to climb and I thought I had missed the good conditions. The two Atos pilots David and Rich had already headed East.. Bill was last to launch and flew out from launch to start his zoom climb. Observing Bill’s climb rate, I moved up wind and climbed out too. Thanks Bill.

When I hit 7700 I saw 4 pilots above me and I beckon to Anna and the rest by pointing East. Time to go. With everyone above me and Bill climbing through me I hope I would have a wing man. (Sorry Anna)

Earlier that day, Anna was reluctant to go flying because she had a good flight Saturday. She decided to go when Bill H. came through with his niece Amanda as a driver. Anna was interested in going XC and requested that I show her a map with possible LZs. Unless I had a map tapped to my basetube, I doubt if I could remember any to go to points. Anna must have powers of comprehension beyond mere mortals.

This begs the question I hear from most pilots. “ Where are the LZs if I go XC?” Being of the school that there are too many LZs to count and many more thermals, I told Anna that it is better to see the LZs from the air. This is where the trust level went sideways in Anna’s eyes.

I have shepherd 60-80 paying students over the back from many sites. The XC students valued the guidance they received. If training was free it would have had no value to them. When I said go they went. This XC student trust level ranged from going over the back of Little Black at a 1000 ft above launch and landing in a school yard (LZ) 7 miles away to flying 120 miles away from Chelan Butte WA starting with crossing the Columbia River Valley and landing short the Snake River.

So what altitude should we start considering leaving Horse going toward Jacumba to reach the many LZs? On the low end, Susan on her 1999 Ultra Sport and I headed East at 6500. We made it to McCain Valley. 7000 to 8000 is a good altitude with 5 LZs before the Casino and windmills.

Going toward Laguna is possible at 7000 which I have done with a wing man drifting in windy conditions. It was not fun. 8000 to 9000 gives us 3 LZs before we get over the escarpment.

Sunday I left Horse at 7500 with no wing man and picked up the first thermal (50-100) a couple miles before the Casino just North of I8. Next was the usual house thermal (200-300 ) as the freeway climbs to the summit of 4500 still Northwest of the Casino.

After the Casino I drift in and out of lift clearing the windmills with multiple LZs Northeast of Casino and LZs on the North side of the I8. I imagine the freeway as thermal trigger/soarable ridge in the usual Southwest wind. I headed pass the Oak Springs LZ as I drift with the light thermals pushing me to the Northeast out over Ribbon Rd. I pass my favorite uphill into the wind LZ on Ribbon Rd which is located South of the freeway and North of Old 80.

After each small light thermal I glided back toward the freeway for the next thermal being trigger by the raised up I8. I avoided being drifted to far North over the downhill slope toward McCain Valley. The thermal frequency seems to go down, but there are LZs everywhere.

Boulevard is next town with an excellent large LZ just to the East of town on Old 80. Again all along the freeway ridge there are small thermals to play with that drifted me over flat lands of McCain Valley on the North side of I8. Oh yes, the whole valley is a LZ. In this area I met up with Dave on his Atos coming down from 5800 to my altitude of the high 4000. It was wonderful to finally have a wing man to help spot lift. We drifted together in light broke lift. Dave turn Southwest to look for lift and get closer to the McCain Valley LZ East of Boulevard.

My plan was to get as much altitude as possible before attempting to enter the Valley of Death and the high tower power lines that guards the entrance. No nice LZs just crash LZs.This is the pucker point of the flight.

In the spring I came through the V of D drifting in lift and it ended up a easy flight to Jacumba. Two Sundays ago I entered at a lower altitude into the V of D and experienced a venture of wind, turbulence, gusts and heavy sink. I turned back into the blustery West wind that day and cleared the power lines. Touch down was a half mile glider & gear walk to McCain Valley Rd.

So this time I started in the V of D higher than the previous Sunday and it seemed a little less windy. There was no lift so I tried crossing to the South side of the V of D to a ridge running South. This course committed me to a few LZs on a down slope roads into the wind. If I didn’t find lift there was no way to get back Northwest to McCain Valley.

All of a sudden as I passed over a peak in the ridge with a communication antenna and there was a large grey hawk banked up at 60 degrees climbing fast a 100 ft above and ahead of me. This was luck part of the flight when I met the true two wing man. I went from 600-800 down to banging around and around in 300 to 500 up tight core. The core blew apart in the wind gust after 500 ft but this gave me breathing room to head back to the same peak. Blam! Again I was climbing in a strong tight core. After climbing higher, I notice my feathered wing man friend below me heading back to the face of the peak to play in the thermal column. Thanks grey bird.

I continue to move South on the ridge picking up thermals and then drifted over a valley that lead Southeast to Jacumba 5 miles way. I was now at 5500 which was the highest I had been since I had left Horse. There were plenty LZs below me but a long walk if I landed in the valley. I cruised over the Jacumba airport east of Jacumba. I didn’t see any flight operations or vehicles around the airstrip. I was down to 4800 with lift everywhere taking me to 6200. The desert was inviting as I drifted in lift east of the airport. I had no contact from anyone but could hear Dave directing Driver Dan to McCain Valley LZ. Did I mentioned LZs everywhere?

I flew around for 45 mins and flew back to the west of Jacumba and then Northwest to check out the possible LZs I could of landed on the west side of the down slope ridge. Turning back to Jacamba, it was easy picking up lift to get back.

I had a smooth landing on the nicest field with a flag on a hill west of me and a flag on a house across the road on Old 80. As I walked my glider the 100 ft to the paved road an Indian gentleman came out of his house. I yelled “Hey Charlie” He replied “Is that you Butch?” I had met Charlie last spring when I landed in the same field. That time I did not have a driver and he offered to take me back to Horse and a beer too. Driver Dan, Dave, and Rich rolled up with in minutes while Charlie and I caught up on his trip to New Mexico and getting married last month.

Dave told dumb guy Butch that I was 10 clicks off channel on the radio. I must of moved the lock when I was trying to get the MotoCom push to talk to work. Anyone have a good set up for push to talk?

On the ride back Dave, Rich and I pointed out some of our more challenging LZs we used in the 80-90s when the gliders had less performance. They dropped me off to Bill H in Pine Valley for ice cream.

Anna told me about the rock and roll landings at Anderson LZ because it was going off with thermals. One of the pilots got popped up on final and almost hit a car. That reminded me that the last time I came in for a landing at Anderson as whole LZ was going off when I was on final so I climb up from 100 ft. I flew around till LZ settled down and dove under the lift to get down.

What’s that sound ringing in my ears? “There are better LZs over the back downwind. It is easier finding lift than LZs”

One of the fun fantasies of our flying is imagining what is possible even on low altitude flying days. What I enjoy is the creative adventure that presents itself with possibilities to go somewhere. Many pilots have better skills in climbing and landing than I do. I know they can fly high and land safe whenever they choose to go.

Next time when you’re above me, come along for the adventure.

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