A Real Pilot's AAR!

I fly gliders about once every two years just to remind myself that flying is not about prop noise and roll-rate. I may think I can fly gliders but I don’t SOAR. I have never even been out of gliding range of my airport. The AAR below is by Daniel, a guy in our club who soars like no one I have met. He’s barely 20. Like many purist glider pilots he is something of a flying genius. In the 50 year history of the venerable little 1-26, no one has recorded a 1000km flight in one (officially). Daniel laid siege to the idea for a year, studying seasons, weather and polar curves–and he did it. Relative to that historic feat, the 8 hour flight he describes below is just an unplanned milk run, but a good read…

The morning was crisp and blue. Spring is here! I drove out to the airport and found Steve Beer already prepping 508 for the day. As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm. Steve got a heck of a lot more, with his first successful out and return today!
As I was getting the glider prepped, I noticed the Cus started popping at 8:45am. Man, this is gonna be a good day! I almost regretted having my planned takeoff at 10am.
While it was going to be a good soaring day, it was unclear how it was going to play out. The wind was consistently forecast on the lower end velocity wise, so it made it hard to figure out what was the best task. A couple more knots, it would be a good day for a 750km triangle. A couple knots less, forget about ridge flying. In the middle, maybe a little of both? Furthermore, the thermal forecast looked interesting. Moisture was rolling in from the Alleghany plateau, with OD to the NW and drier air to the SE. The sweet spot, where the Cu were to be nice and juicy was going to be (somewhat surprisingly), along the valley.
I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. On the one hand, the 750km milk-run is always so tempting. But on the other, it would be so exciting to venture out into the valley of death when the soaring conditions are supposed to be good there. But ridge flying is cool. But thermal flying is awesome! But if the ridge is working, I can go farther if I do the 750. Argh!
So I was unusually indecisive. I programmed three triangles in… the 750 along the ridges and a 500 and 600 that goes into the valley. I’ll figure out what I want to do once I get to Honey Grove.
So I launched and the reservoir was streaking along nicely albeit a bit Northerly direction-wise. The clouds were already at 4500ft. The day was ON! I hung a left, dipped into the top band of the ridge lift and floated back up for the jump at Water Gap. I dropped down on the trees a bit beyond Fox Gap and smiled. Home Sweet Ridge! Approaching Wind Gap, I gingerly floated up… with a Northerly wind this spot doesn’t work so well.
But across Wind Gap, it was gangbusters. 100 knots and down on the trees, watching the branches whizzing by. Getting into Snyders, I slowed down to float… although I couldn’t get above 1900ft. This is unusual; the ridge band is quite strong down on the trees but is cut off up high. I won’t get high enough to float across Snyders without a turn, so let’s transition to thermalling now.
The thermals were really solid up to 5000ft. At this point I’ll just head straight across toward Pottsville. No problems cruising along in the solid lift/streets all the way to the Mahantango. I figured this would be a good chance to drop down and make some more miles on the ridge.
Many pilots at Blairstown adore the Mahantango. I’m a bit more skeptical of that low ridge. As I dropped down, I really wasn’t liking the top band of the ridge lift. And if I dropped down farther and it didn’t work, I’d be in a field in a heartbeat; no time to find a thermal. I decided to float along, trying to find a thermal, always questioning is it really working or not? It probably was and I just didn’t have the nerve to commit. I bumbled along all the way to the river, found a solid thermal and made my way to the Tuscarora.
Having made it to the high part, I decided to squarely drop down on the trees. It was a bit soft… about 80 knots and sorta waffling along. I figured the wind was about 11 or 12 knots. Looking NW, the moisture was definitely rolling in, the sky was ODing and even snowing in places. I didn’t expect it to get better as the day went on. Looking SE, the sky was beautiful, just as predicted. I decided to go for my valley triangle. Looking at my watch, I had plenty of daylight. So I decided to make the journey to Mt.Union and go for the 600.
The transition to Mt.Union was a bit tricky. The thermals weren’t working all that well and transitioning up to Shade was a little more exciting than I would have liked. The street worked fine and I hung a left on Shade, looking for my line to Jacks. I ended up having to go beyond the turnpoint by five miles to get to the sun and finally connect with a climb. Having arrived at Jacks and rounded the point, all I was concerned with was getting back up to cloudbase and getting out of this messy air.
The run downwind was gorgeous! Having climbed up to cloudbase, I was screaming along the street, toward sunnier skies. It was cold. I was glad that I was dressed in my ski mask, winter hat, electric socks, three layers of pants and shirts, plus a fleece and flight suit. But as a token to “spring”, I had my “spring flight suit” on!
Anyway, as I crossed Blue Mountain, I was heading into uncharted territory (for me). Saying goodbye to the ridges, I headed toward Harrisburg and contacted Harrisburg Approach. They appreciated my position reports, which were made all the easier since I was largely floating along without turning. Every once in a while, I’d hit a thermal and they’d lose radar contact… at which point I’d provide them my distance and bearing from Harrisburg International.
Flying so close to the Susquehanna River was a bit unusual, but that’s where my line and clouds were. I even got to see the infamous Three Mile Island nuke plant!
The clouds were somewhat spread out and the lift was far apart. But no real trouble. Having hooked a nice anchoring climb right into the turnpoint, I was off to the 50 mile transition back to Hawk Mountain.
Along that run, again no real trouble. It was fun flying over Reading and seeing all the landmarks below. I even hooked a thermal over the pagoda on the hill!
Things got a bit more exciting as I got closer to the ridge. I found a monster sinkhole and dropped out of the sky, getting down to 3000ft abeam of the Pinnacle. This is really not a good place to be, downwind of the ridge and low. I found a 2.5 knot thermal and resolved to take it up, no matter how I was blowing downwind. Having climbed back up to 5000ft, I now had the crossing made… and another thermal made it a breeze.
At this point, I decided to thermal to Millbrook. It’s not even 4pm… no rush! Other than the typical Allentown Class C nuisance, it was a low stress return. Having gotten to Millbrook, I dropped down on the ridge and found it to be solid… so I decided to do a lap. How about that, the day was recycling at 5pm! The sky became quite nicely defined and the thermals perky too.
My feet were aching from the cold and my slightly too tight electric socks. So at Hawk, I turned around and resolved to call it a day. This was a good decision too, because the ridge was starting to get softer. While the local ridge was working great, the ridge to the SW was starting to fall apart due to the wind losing velocity and becoming more westerly. So after 8 hours, I came home.
It was great to finally get a big day from Blairstown! Thanks Joe for towing this morning and for Aero Club Albatross for letting me fly the wonderful LS4. It flies great!


Gonna sit down and read this tonight. Thanks for posting it. I’ve never been in a glider before. I think Semmern over at SimHQ used to do it quite a bit perhaps. Looks like a blast…

Friend of mine is a corporate pilot and has taken me up in a two seat glider. VERY cool experience and I’d certainly consider doing that for my flying fix as opposed to the money spent on a PPL.

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That was a great read. I was a glider pilot from 2007 until 2013 when my son came along (it’s not a family-friendly pastime) but never got to the cross-country stage, happy with local flights.

The impression some folk have of soaring as being relaxing isn’t borne out by the experience. Its exhilarating and I’ve shouted out loud with joy plenty of times, but its also pretty stressful. You have to make decisions continually - most are important and some are survival level - and conditions can change incredibly quickly. You are continually working out where you could get to, and identifying potential outlanding spots.

Daniel’s story has plenty of occasions where conditions put him in precarious positions, but he was able to recover - not necessarily through skill, but also luck in finding a thermal. That’s what makes it so exciting, using the power of the sun to lift hundreds of kilos of aircraft and pilot!

There’s nothing like the feel of soaring though. You feel the air around you is alive, moving and bumping. thanks for the post @smokinhole.


Beautiful video @BeachAV8R! Love the music.

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Great read! I used to soar also in the past. But as you mentioned @smithcorp its is quite time consuming. From time to time I am fooling my self that if one day I would become profi pilot soaring will be my hobby again :slight_smile: …but only in gliders with retractable propeler. You know, birds can also flap the wings :sunglasses: