SES Soaring Stories
Friends in High Places

Recollections of the 2000 Wave Camp in Petersburg West Virginia
By Chris Ruf,
DG-200 LD


On Saturday we finished the drive up from Atlanta. As we got closer to the exit the anticipation was building, especially as we got out from underneath the stratus clouds. The mountains are just beautiful. Luckily trailering the gliders up highway 55 with the steep hills ending in 15mph winding curves was not to be the only excitement.

The first tow took me above the valley and through the gap. It looked like a classic blue thermal day. I thermalled up to 6500MSL and was happy to play in the hills. I started to wander south down between a couple of the ridges. Curiously finding occasional lift up to 7800MSL and little sink - hey wait, I am flying over the valley parallel to the ridges in lift & 0 sink and the wind is perpendicular to the ridge... must have stumbled across some kind of wave lift on the first flight here!

I feel "untouchable" and easily wander 18nm south to territory that is even less familiar. I felt like this would go on for many more miles, but there are no airports down this way. So I head back north and just as soon as I do the mountains exact their revenge for my bravery. Solid sink all the way back home. The carpet was pulled out from under my feet. It took a close pass to a ridgetop to find the ridge lift that got me home.

By 8 am, Sunday has already started out completely different; there is a broken cloud deck and several other gliders in the area hanging out under the deck trying to get through the holes. Getting there was a challenge. The general consensus from the pilots was that Sunday's rotor tow was one of their most memorable, quite a wild ride. It was a fight to climb in rough lift only to hit the bottom of the clouds, descend and try a new spot. I aborted more than one attempt to get through the blue. Then the lift got smooth and I just made it through a "gate" before it closed in behind me. Tim was only 2-300' below but got left behind.

I caught the magic carpet and could get used to this. 1-3knots steady lift, suddenly all the hecticness is left behind, there is just one other glider up here (Kolie). The view is the amazing thing, it looks like you are standing in the biggest snowy field ever. Blue above and white below for infinity.

We kept eyeing the few blue holes below, hoping to not get stuck on top. Cloud base was at 6800MSL, which seems far away as we are steadily climbing 2-3 knots. At 11,400 my glance down through the holes in the cloud deck inspires little confidence, as it seems to be closing in. Out come the spoilers, 60 knot is not as satisfying as 80knots. Right before reaching the top of the deck the hole becomes just a shallow white area. I circle above the clouds, call my position on the radio, and descend the last few seconds through the white. Some experiences in life do not need to be repeated, once is twice too many.

Mondays are often rough, especially when you spend a couple hours in rotor. Chuck's email asked "so have you flown in any rotor?", a better question would be "have you found a way out of rotor?" Paying your dues to the wave system tires you out quickly. Tuesday was a quick shoot-down: a 4800' tow resulted in a 28 minute flight! While Mike gets his diamond, it seems like I was flying with my spoilers open. I felt pretty down, the wave was working but I couldn't contact it. This is all part of the chase.

After being beaten down by rotor flights I'm ready for more than a moment of Sunday's brief elevator ride. To bed early and set the alarm for 5:00am, (hey, it is a long seven minute ride to the airport!). Tim and I are the first ones on "the grid". The tug is off the ground by 7:30am, Shane then returns for Tim. Just West of the ridge we see the needle climb faster than a Supercub can be credited for. Pull the release, turn right, dive to notch the barograph (5480MSL), finish the right turn and point the nose straight into the wind. Flaps in the +6, trim set, 44knots airspeed, 0.9 knots groundspeed. Hover in this position for 1 hour 40 minutes, the 3-5 knots lift tapers off until the climb stops at 22,506'. I have hardly veered from looking west the whole time. The world looks like a topographic map. Unlike Sunday, the nearest cloud is a thin lennie near 30,000'. The air is silky smooth AND going up. It inspires a lot of confidence in your fiberglass contraption when you can trim it, release the controls, and let it fly itself. It is amazing how minute your control inputs can be. This mechanism is so capable of balance and poise, it makes you wonder why anyone would ever fly it in turbulent air. At 42 knots with the vents closed an eerie silence and peacefulness prevails. Do I even need to mention anything about grins?

I had "pressured" Tim into joining me on this trip, convinced him to spend a week of vacation, purchase a new oxygen system and drag a trailer halfway up the East Coast. A bit of radio chatter confirms that Tim found an area of better lift at the top, he outclimbed me, stopping himself 100' below the 23,000' wave window limit. Suddenly any feelings of guilt are washed away. We did it, Diamond Altitude with hundreds of meters to spare!

Back down below 18,000' Tim and I wander up and down the area, one excursion West over the plateau confirms that there is an equal mass of sinking air. After hours of taking it easy bouncing up and down the wave, I feel like exploring. At home we rarely get above 6,000' and I usually wait until I am at my highpoint before getting an itch to go on a cross-country adventure. But now I'm 8,000' BELOW my high point. 14,500 at the gap, I make a radio call but no one wants to join me on a downwind dash. So be it, to Sky Bryce alone, 25nm downwind with 20nm upwind back to Grant County airport.

I flew 45nm without circling once, just a pure glide following the MacCready ring each time I passed through the several downwind waves. Flying fast to get through the occasional heavy sink with a 35knot tailwind gives moments of 140knot groundspeed. There was a predictable cycle of lift and sink about every 5nm. Soon after crossing the Virginia state line at Sky Bryce it was another up-cycle, I turned North to gain some Altitude and minimize the cross wind on the trip home. At 10,500MSL I wag my wings at a passing commuter jet, and am ready to test the 20nm upwind leg with 30+ knots headwind. 5,000' later I'm back home in West Virginia with about 4000' AGL. The groundspeed now only 34knots instead of the 96knot average on the downwind ride.

Well it has been a fantastic flight, there is plenty of lift and I could keep going for a couple of hours, but my data logger will be out of memory before long, which puts my badge claim at risk. So I have to be content with (only!) 8 hours and 12 minutes. Vacation is easy to enjoy when you realize that you have defied gravity longer than a workday. I nearly emptied my O2 tank with 1:20 above 18,000' and 5:12 over 12,500'.

The highlight of the next flight is seeing Tim launch just after sunrise and climb well over the clouds. Most of my 2 hours is spent between cloud base and cloud top (5500-7000'). Looking West with the sun this low you can often spot your own shadow on a cloud. I could never climb above the broken deck, but had a front row seat watching the regular and rotor clouds boil and bubble as they built and dissipated.

We had several dinners with other pilots with lots of stories. (Of course the 1-26ers keep you humble, guys like Ron Schwartz say they won't claim any diamond altitude in WV, since he plans to finish all his diamonds in NJ in his 1-26). A big thank you goes out to our great hosts. Especially since Fred's father kept us fed at the FBO every time we turned around. Skyline Soaring club members did a great job, after a week of great memories it felt like we were leaving several friends behind.


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Last modified 02-Jul-2014 by CR