Return to Kitty Hawk - Commemorating 100 Years of Flight

Most recent update: 5-July-2003

About RTKH...

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of flight, we're holding a "Return to Kitty Hawk" cross-country soaring derby. We'll start near LA, and soar across the country. The grand finale will be landing on the very field at Kitty Hawk where the Wright brothers made their historic first powered flight, as well as numerous gliding flights. This is Dave's blog of the RTKH adventure.

Leg 1, Crystalaire to Jean - Thursday, June 19, 2003

First leg of "Return-To-Kitty-Hawk" was a short 175 mile hop from Crystal Glider port (by Palmdale, near LA) to Jean Nevada (just outside of Las Vegas). Every day, the desert air heats and rises, and cold heavier marine air rushes into the desert through passes at Palmdale and San Bernardino. The cold air rushes out following the low-lying terrain, and fans out generating a convergence zone at its leading edge. Often times the convergence has a cloud line with continuous lift in the 10 knot scale, with visibly hazier marine air, making it easy to locate and blast around the edge in lift.

In the morning, the LA area was under heavy cloud with fog and rain. After the (apparently usual) equipment silliness I launched last and climbed promptly. The desert was blue to the East, but the next valley just a few miles to the West was clouded over, and the clouds followed the terrain downwards through the passes into the desert for a short distance - quite a sight. A few wisps marked lift in the Crystal area, so no problem to climb to almost 12k for the start.

Bad news: O2 is inop. Good news: cloud bases are forecast at only 11-12k, so no problem. Bad news: Higher altitudes would make traveling across the moonscape a bit less trying ! Anyway, I head out into the blue all by myself, looking for a wing-flash for any clues but seeing none. Guessed where the convergence might be by following an arc around the Cahoun pass, rewarded by no altitude loss - still at 11k after the first 25 miles without circling. Odd though - can't see the edge of the haze, no wisps, nothing... Should be able to get into the high ground south-west of course and eventually connect with the beautiful cumulus building out in the distance from 11k, right ?

Bounced across Victorville, Apple Valley, and toured all the places that *had* to generate lift, and eventually had to retreat backwards to a safe landing area near Holiday. Almost resorted to starting the motor, and wasted 45 minutes scratching about ! Finally got enough altitude to clear the ridges towards the next landable spot to the west, and promptly got a great thermal over another competitor who landed at this spot. Finally got connected with the clouds by Barstow. Seems like the marine air incursion was further than I thought...

Now the thermals peak at 12 knots, gorgeous puffy cumulus with flat gray bottoms marking the best lift, now I cruise at 110 knots and periodically slow up to climb at 7 or better flying on course. This is the way its supposed to be ! No circling required. Past Baker, past my crew on the highway, and blast onwards into Jean at warp speed. Best time was just under 2 hours; I took 2:45 what with my extensive sight-seeing near Holiday.

Tragically we had a fatality, which we learned of in the evening. An experienced pilot crashed just after launch - we have no idea what happened. Everyone is pretty upset and the second day of flying was canceled. We love what we do here with a passion that is doubtless incomprehensible to outsiders, but the price can be terrible if anything goes wrong. We'll redouble our efforts to be safe when we resume Saturday.

Lets hope the next report ends on a happier note.

Leg 2, Jean to Estrella - Saturday, June 21, 2003

UPS, Fedex, and my credit card are getting a work-out, and the Ventus will likely be ready by the time this adventure is complete. O2 now operational without leaks, the battery left out of the plane at the mechanics in PA returned, and so forth. Resolved to get a spare battery and O2 system for next event, but like most New Year's resolutions, haven't we heard this before ? Crew David Fitch had a nice local Grob 103 flight with an instructor at Jean on our day off.

The Vegas news' evening weather discussed with horror the current cold snap: High Temperature only 90, and it should be 105 ! The weather is not good: a terrific inversion at ~10,000 MSL and a max temperature less than needed for this airmass, and a lot of haze blocking some of the heating. Understand that leg 2 takes us over some serious moonscape. The organizers wisely decided no race today: trailer to Estrella (south of Phoenix). Just not enough height over terrain possible.

I bummed a ride with Jim McCann in his Ximango touring motorglider. Tried to arrange a split leg so my crew could fly part of the way but this plan was derailed by late Fedex delivery of another missing Ventus part. Jim is the dealer for the Ximango, which is a nice side-by-side machine powered by Rotax 912S. DJ and some other folks decided to try fly the first part of leg 2, and most landed around 50 miles out at Laughlin. In the Ximango, we climbed out through the inversion to a glassy smooth ride at 11.5K. No density-altitude problem for this bird.

The terrain is amazing. Down the Colorado River, busy with jet-ski wakes visible from 2 miles up. Though the haze is thick, its still an impressive view. Past the giant pipes and canals sucking water to feed California, and vast wilderness areas on the Arizona side. The map highlights things like "building" out here. If we had a 14k cloudbase this would be a fantastic leg to soar, but not today with thermals topping out around 9k and terrain up to 7k. Civilization gradually reappears as we approach Phoenix. Jim let me fly, and its so smooth I can amuse myself trying to hold heading within 1 degree and altitude within 20 feet, until I start staring at the scenery and wander around the sky.

We shut down and feather the prop to turn towards Estrella, and coast down into the convective layer. I had a chance to thermal the Ximango a bit - its a nice handling machine with very light smooth controls and quite decent performance as a glider. Extraordinary visibility including backwards. This one is equipped with ILEC SN10, and I showed Jim a bit about how to use it to advantage. We decide to head over to Chandler (close to the hotel), which I could have made soaring except Jim had to go. Not a bad way to travel !

David Fitch met us some hours later, and over dinner Jim McCann told us about his days in the air force. We especially appreciated his story about attempting to loop the F-89 with the bottom at 35k and the top over 50k. Full afterburner to max speed, pull up, but unfortunately it kinda ran out of steam as it cleared 50k nose-high and inverted, in which attitude it stayed and fell. He tried all aileron and elevator settings, deploying gear, flaps, speed brake, differential thrust, to no avail. His crew asked if it was time to bail out a few times, but he figured thicker air down low would eventually do it. Finally at 19k he got control to bring the nose down and roll out. Interesting.

Next leg - Phoenix to Las Cruces New Mexico ! Looks like better weather except for the fires...

Leg 3, Estrella to Las Cruces - Sunday, June 22, 2003

Estrella gliderport is not far south of Phoenix. As you drive out of the city, agricultural fields are being developed into housing as the city grows, but not far out it reverts to agriculture and grazing land - pretty arid country.

Launch goes smoothly and thermals are plentiful at noon; perhaps we should have got going a bit earlier. Easy climb after shutting down the Solo, leave the thermal under 8k and wait for all the gliders to get ready so we can start. Forecast is blue, blue, blue, with tops up to 11k. Again not really as high as would be comfortable but the terrain is not as high and rather less forbidding than the last leg. Today we're given a turnpoint at Ruby, to swing us well south of Tucson and keep us away from the fires and smoke plume north of Tucson, which makes the task distance about 350 miles to Las Cruces.

Start out the top of the cylinder and head out along the boundary of the arid country and agriculture, which should act as a trigger. Promptly get caught by a gaggle trying to effectively find and work lift in the blue. Maybe not so effectively... I head south into the hills and fly mostly by myself. Join up with Natalie in her ASW-22BLE in the high ground south of El Tiro gliderport, and then head off by myself (perhaps not a good move). Into the high ground south of Ruby, can't get high enough to easily cross the next ridge-line on course. Struggled all around Ruby and eventually I'm joined by a few other gliders that help mark the areas of lift. They pass me and swing north of course to stay near interstate 10, but I follow the higher terrain along the courseline. By myself again, its slow going in the blue.

A fire-bomber passes by to dump a load on the big fire north of Tucson. It looks like the films we've all seen of a volcano - the top of the mountain is completely hidden by the thick smoke column and the fire itself is not visible. Scary !

Thermals over the higher ground later in the day are stronger and working higher. Switch on the O2 and inexplicably punch through the inversion to 13k+, but the climb rate is too slow to see how high it might go. I have a terrible time picking where the thermals will be - seems like the sun and wind facing mountains have got to work, but my best thermal of the day is in the middle of a basin over agriculture !

Time is starting to be a big concern, and no other gliders marking lift along the route I've chosen. Perhaps not wise to go it alone on a blue day; sure would be nice to have some big fat clouds marking the lift as is normal for good soaring conditions in this region ! I've been checking alternates on the ILEC SN10 often, next is Lordsburg north of course. Still agriculture and safe options for landing along the courseline until I pass Lordsburg - then its just high desert. Not high enough to reach the next airport at Deming, I have to turn and fly back 10 miles towards Lordsburg until I find a weak thermal and climb high enough to reach Deming. Deming's only 45 miles out of Las Cruces so this is starting to look doable, and another weak climb gets me to within 2000 feet of an MC 3 glide with 1500 reserve into Las Cruces. With absolutely no landing options, I need these safety margins; if there were landing options it would be no problem to reach Las Cruces at MC 2.

Swing south of course to a small mountain range facing the wind and setting sun, has to work, right ? Nope, its just too late. I swing past the last landing option (Solo Airport, 25 miles from Las Cruces) but find no more lift. Oh well, fire up the motor and climb the last bit to reach Las Cruces. Land with the setting sun in the still evening air, after 6:30 in the cockpit. Some of the better pilots made it, but many landed in Lordsburg, and a few other motor glider pilots used the iron thermal. I guess I did about 325 miles (500km) - slow, but fun flight !

Next leg - Las Cruces to Hobbs New Mexico.

Leg 4, Las Cruces to Hobbs - Monday, June 23, 2003

Today's leg from Las Cruces to Hobbs runs briefly south along the San Andreas mountains, east past El Paso, then up towards Carlsbad and Hobbs. This route threads us between a couple of large military restricted and the El Paso class C airspace. Weather again looks OK but not great. The possibility of landing in some sections is grim; no problem if you're at 14k but starting to get scary if you're at 10. We'll have no task unless we clear 12k after launch.

We fuel and inspect the plane, attend the pilots briefing, and have a nice leisurely lunch at the airport restaurant. The Las Cruces airport is great - vast freshly-paved ramp area, big runways, nice facilities all around. They weren't even annoyed with my whopping 5 gallon gas purchase to top off the Ventus. Launching begins around 12:30 and I taxi from the ramp and take off between tows to an easy climb out.

Thermal tops are initially only 10k, but it starts to get suspiciously smooth in the lift with sharp jolts at the edge. Hmm. I poke about and eventually find the wave. Little isolated bits, and a puzzle to figure out without cloud to mark the location. Also they're not stable, coming and going. Gradually work up to 13k, then down to 12.5, and while a few others find this lift many are not so fortunate. Las Cruces looks really pretty - a belt of green between the arid desert with the San Andreas. Poetic leanings dictate a quick pulse-oximeter check, 93% (nice to have a functioning O2 again, thanks again to Mountain High for their EDS system).

The area on task is starting to show clouds - some good looking cumulus, and other straggly wave-modified things. And sometimes wisps are forming locally marking the wave. Wind increases to 25 knots over 11k. Also, looks like a line of alto-cu and the beginning of a thunderstorm out on courseline over

After hanging about for quite a while, the organizers decide that today will not be a scored race day, but some decide to have a go at it. I fly down towards El Paso, from where I can see a landable area on the first leg and more encouraging signs of lift. The Payne brothers in TP, the Stemme crowd, Tom in 5Z, Doug in DJ, and a few others head out. I climb over 13k, and remembering Ed Kilbourne's song: "nothing like some altitude to make a man feel brave" head on course. In the corridor north of El Paso we find some decent lift, and as soon as I get high enough to easily reach Dell City airport I put the nose down and start moving.

Great lift, even if the clouds are strange-looking and not clearly attached to the lift in our heightband. At Dell city I've got final glide to Carlsbad, though I'll need a bit extra to clear the Guadalupe range. There are clearly storms building on course, and I press into the Guadalupe and climb to over 16k. The view is spectacular - and enjoyable from this height. A bit surreal as the haze softens the mountains, contrasted with the brilliant sun on the building cunims and scattered wave and cumulus.

DJ, out ahead as always, presses around the front of the next storm and towards Hobbs but finds no lift and no corridor through, so retreats back and lands at Carlsbad. TP searches, and retreats to try wait it out at Carlsbad. I hang back over the Guadalupe a while, and though the ILEC SN10 shows final glide to Hobbs, that's ill-advised with reported light rain, high winds, and occasional lightening enroute. Poke around the other side of the storm, no lift and no corridor, so I return to Carlsbad and fly locally for an hour. In the sun, the lift is mostly blown out by the earlier storm and still high winds.

Natalie retreats back and lands in her 22. My crew David Fitch arrives, so I treat myself to a few loops and such, make a pass and land on the wind-blown ramp at Carlsbad (windblown as in tumbleweed, and enough to bend a trailer after somebody unwisely opens it facing cross-wind). David Fitch and other crews had a very nice scenic drive except for the excitement when the outflow from one of the storms gave the trailers a severe jostling.

Stash the Ventus in the trailer, excellent Mexican dinner (Lucy's next time you're in Carlsbad), then trailer the last 65 miles to Hobbs with a bit of lightening off to the south. Beautiful 5:30 flight, though only 160 miles !

Next leg - Hobbs New Mexico to Texas Soaring Association's gliderport south of Dallas.

Leg 5, Hobbs to Texas Soaring Association - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Writing this report from the car enroute from Hobbs to TSA. It was blowing at least 25 knots on the ground at Hobbs this morning. There's a convergence between a big low to the west and some southerly moist flow lying between Hobbs and TSA expected to cause thunderstorms later, and as we drove to Big Springs there was standing water in the fields from yesterday's thunderstorms. Also large areas of overcast. Not a good day for this flight.

I flew my LS-6 from Hobbs to Dallas after the 1999 15-meter nationals. Could only convince one other pilot to attempt a 1000k straight out with me - "geeze, haven't you had enough flying after the nationals ?". Really now - can't ever have enough flying ! Besides, all the Eastern pilots have to head that way anyway.

That day was forecast to be the best of the century, but I ended up flying the first 50 miles or so under around 2.5k AGL before the lift finally got going. The terrain East of Hobbs is endless agriculture so that's possible - not like the terrain we've been covering so far on this trip. When you get midway between Hobbs and Dallas there are some rough areas, but most is pretty civilized. Of course, the irrigation for agriculture tends to reduce thermal strength.

On that flight, the Dallas area was in a different airmass, and it looked like a wall of haze as I got closer. No 1000k through that air, so I picked Decataur airport near the highway and radioed to my crew before descending into the murk - after only doing ~325 miles.

Next leg - Texas Soaring Association's gliderport south of Dallas to - oops, stay tuned, its under discussion, lets hope the weather decides to cooperate a bit more...

Leg 6, Texas Soaring Association to Silvercreek Gliderport, IL - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The weather this morning was very discouraging. Low overcast, and humidity so high my glasses fogged up when we walked out of the hotel. I was in a serious funk. We went to the pilots meeting, where we were told "come back in an hour". I went and made a database for the ILEC SN10 pilots that covered the area where we would be tasked and helped folks get ready, but it looked so nasty I didn't rig.

TSA (Texas Soaring Association) has a gorgeous field in Midlothian Texas. glider hangars, a trailer hanger, nice clubhouse, towplane hangar, workshop, all the comforts ! My TSA buddies encouraged me to stop grumbling and start rigging, and when I heard IT climbing at a few knots I finally opened the trailer. Fortunately the Ventus is quick and easy to rig; actually preflight checks take longer than assembly. Finished getting ready and blasted off just a few minutes after the last scheduled launch. I'm here to fly !

Easy climb out, and the start gate is already open. We've got a couple of steering turnpoints at Ennis and Terrell to keep us away from the Dallas / Ft Worth class B airspace, but this area is low and wet. Cloud base is low and its actually not so strong. Better stay connected with the clouds and tippy-toe, and hope it gets stronger and higher later. I've got a loose gear door that's making a terrific racket, but what's really distracting is the gliders on the ground at the first turnpoint. Careful !

I round the second turn and keep near cloudbase. The cloudbase seems to be around 3500 AGL. I can't go to cloudbase because of the FARs but also because you can't see the clouds ahead if you get too high, which makes it impossible to pick an efficient route in lift. Circle in weak stuff, drift downwind, then bounce and weave slowly but without circling. Speed is finally picking up with help from the 17 knot tailwind. The clouds are working, bases are moving up, more like its supposed to be !

I finish the short 140 mile task after 2:08, but its too good to land. After quite a struggle I climb back up (no, I didn't use the motor) and keep heading north. DJ is as usual out in front, and I think Natalie (22) and Alfred (AS) are out here too. Crew David Fitch is keeping up with me (I'm being slow), and we keep in touch as he motors up Route 69/75.

Keep bumping the clouds, drifting downwind onwards into Oklahoma. Atoka, McAlister, and now I've gone and flown off the end of my GPS database. Oh well, navigate the old fashioned way with the sectional chart. 105 miles past the "finish", I decide I've had enough and land at Arrowhead at this beautiful golf resort's runway. There was a street that continued North but I'm too tired ! DJ landed at Wagoner, another 50 miles up the highway.

Fun flight - 5 hours, and around 245 miles.

Task for tomorrow - Get ourselves to Silver Creek glider club in Illinois for a dinner at 6PM (no race tomorrow). There's a big front between here and there, and if it slides south far enough maybe I'll fly up the last bit. (with the Ventus 2cm motorglider, I can launch from pretty much any runway). Stopping in Waggoner, the storm is here with the front...

Its great we got in a nice flying day after our run of bad weather. Lets hope for a few more good ones !

Leg 7, Silvercreek Gliderport, IL to Terry Airport, Indianapolis - Friday, June 27, 2003

Yesterday (Thursday) we drove from Wagoner Oklahoma up to the Silver Creek glider club East of St. Louis. Towards the latter part of the drive, the sun peaked through the cloud trailing the front and a few cumulus started to build. Bodes well for today's flying. We arrived at the Silver Creek club just in time for the 6PM dinner that they hosted. Great hospitality, food, beer, and mud from all the rain. The glider trailers had to be carefully positioned to avoid rutting the field, or worse getting stuck in the mud.

Our caravan had an assortment of blown up motor-homes and broken trailers but everybody arrived safely (not necessarily together with their motor-homes).

Today's task is Task Silver Creek (East of St Louis) to Terry Indiana (north of Indianapolis) - around 200 miles. Weather looks OK but not as strong as normally expected post-frontal. The weatherman calls for blue, but I can't see any way we won't have at least some cumulus with all the standing water in the fields (2 days after the front passed). Due to the soft field we had a very late grid and even later launch - cumulus were popping before grid time. With 200 miles to go and not super-strong lift, this is really not good...

We slowly launch, with various motor-glider disasters requiring aero-tows. Mines running well, but RV's starter gear has got loose, Natalie's engine won't start, and one of the '26s is not developing full power. Quick climb up, and I get on course pretty much as quickly as I can. Good initial run with up to 4 knot lift under the cumulus. Cloud bases around 5k AGL, better than forecast. Starting to look doable ?

On the ground, commotion as GJ's battle-star-class motorhome sinks into the mud. I don't think I've ever heard a call for help with heavy equipment on 123.3 before.

Unfortunately, it really does go blue as we get further to the East. I charge off on my own (why do I persist in doing this ?). Struggle, join up again with TP and RV, go our separate ways, chase a gaggle and waste time, eventually no-one else in sight. 135 miles to go and crew David Fitch is ahead of me on the highway ! Repeatedly down to 2k, find a weak thermal, hang on, gradually it builds to 3 knots at peak but with a thermal average of barely 2 knots. Low near Clinton airfield, there's a glider on the ground and another joins me in the weak thermal - then peels off and lands at Clinton. Discouraging, still 100 miles to go.

I'm trying to visualize where the lift will be. Like Reichmann advises, think about walking on the ground - where's it hot ? Also, boundaries between warm ground and cooler areas seem to be triggering. At Clinton its the boundary between the hot fields and the river. A '26 pulls in underneath me and grinds around, then the motor pops out and he flies away under power. I'll stick with my 1 knot boomer and see how far I can get. Top out at almost 4k above ground and slowly push East as the sun gets lower...

Next climb also next to a river boundary, I'm joined by GJ in his Ventus 2bx. We grind around for a while and he peels off and lands. Extremely discouraging, but I'm climbing, barely. Could use less wing-loading - -with the engine and full fuel I'm flying at max gross. Still, the Ventus 2c climbs really well. Dial up the next airport on the SN10, though there are plenty of great farm fields to land it the airports add comfort.

Finally I'm down to 1700 feet 33 miles out. With the motor-glider, I don't fly lower than 1500 if I'm going to try an airstart, and then only after completing landing checks on downwind for a field. Because, if it doesn't start, I'm landing in a big hurry, as it comes down like a brick with the motor out and not running. Time to give up. The Solo starts instantly, and I climb at 5 knots towards final glide to Terry. I only needed another 2k ! Oh well. Motor past DJ making his last climb at Boone. Stash the motor, after reaching MC 3.5 final glide height, and pass ZA who is already on final glide. Land at Terry as a few gliders are finishing. A few finishers, but we scattered gliders about the countryside pretty well this afternoon !

The Terry club has hosted a great spaghetti dinner in the hangar (in front of a few jets and a pretty PT-26 WWII trainer). Great food and company.

Fun flight - 4:30 hours and around 165 miles (plus 35 after running the motor). A bit of work though !

Task for tomorrow - Terry Indiana to Caesar Creek Ohio. Lets hope we can get started early enough, and also that the center of the building high doesn't have us in stable air.

Leg 8, Terry Airport, Indianapolis to Caesar Creek Gliderport, OH - Saturday, June 28, 2003

Today's task is Terry (north of Indianapolis) to Caesar Creek Soaring club south of Dayton Ohio. After yesterday's grind we're ready to go again. Only a few finishers yesterday. One bloke flew the whole way with the wheel down, then retracted it in the pattern before landing downwind. Ooops, more repairs required. In motor-gliders, Natalie was yesterday's only finisher with her big ASW-22BLE.

This morning the club at Terry fed us a great pancake breakfast. We tied the Ventus out and it had plenty of fuel, so only pre-flight checks to do before blast-off. The weather briefing was unfortunate, as the guys had trouble getting any current data. Missing from the briefing was any mention of the large front to the North-West, which had already had us briefly in shade. I planned to head out *immediately* so as not to get caught. Launch commenced, followed shortly by planes returning to the field, unable to stay aloft in the shadow of the approaching front. I taxied out and took off promptly, and seeing the huge shadow and light rain approaching, decided to ignore the race and get going. I'm here to fly !

Ran the motor up to 5k, shut down, and glided out towards the sun to the East. After some distance, the clouds started to work. A couple of other gliders and many motor-gliders had the same idea. DJ headed straight out after tow. Lift was 3+ knots under the clouds, so it should be a short trip to Caesar Creek. I should know better than to think... It blued out going East, and shortly I'm struggling between 2k and 3k, occasionally up to 4k AGL. Its summer weather with week lift cycling quickly. Chasing wisps is a waste of time as they're gone before you reach them. Talked to AA, who then landed back at Terry and hitched a tow from one of the towplanes headed East with us, releasing once they reached the sun.

Eventually reached final glide, after which I hit a 6 knot thermal ! Seems like we got ahead of the lift (it developed later to the East). DJ, AA, Natalie, myself, and a few other motor-gliders reached Caesar Creek, though the official race was canceled. Can't help but indulge in a few loops before landing, then frighten the locals taxiing the Ventus.

Fun flight - Only 100 miles soaring and 3:30 airborne, but it definitely beats driving ! Crew David Fitch arrives shortly, and the Ventus is promptly squeaky-clean and back in its trailer.

The Caesar Creek club has a lovely grass strip and several tugs including a stealth Pawnee equipped with a Hoffman 4-bladed prop and muffler - you have to not hear it to believe it. Quiet towplanes make good neighbors. Hangars for the sailplane trailers, pads for campers, clubhouse with shaded picnic area. Even a river with canoes by the runway. And everything is green ! What a contrast to the western desert with its grit and heat.

We're stuffed with a nice BBQ dinner they've put on for us. And good beer on tap. What hospitality ! Wouldn't mind getting stuck here for a bit.

During dinner, Bob Ward entertained us with "Turbulence", a bit of Australian lore about cowboy "Billy Hayes" first airplane flight. Bob Ward is from Queensland Australia, and is sharing Dick's Ventus 2CM "RV" (Bob owns a 2CM in Oz). Martha Jacobs looked particularly fetching tonight.

Dick Van Grunsven gave a presentation to Jim and Wilma Wynings. Jim, Dick and Tom Ward worked until 2AM building a gear puller, pulled out the loose and damaged starter ring gear. Jim and one of his friends re-machined the improperly manufactured ring gear attach, and flew the renewed parts out to Caesar Creek for Dick. If you don't know, Dick is the proprietor of the firm that designs and manufactures kits for the RV series of homebuilt aircraft. They've shipped over 9,000 kits, of which more than 3,300 are flying, and their annual production is comparable to Cessna. Dick's got a lot of friends to call upon ! Hopefully Dick will soon have his motor-glider working properly (Bob Ward landed it in a field yesterday, as the motor was inoperative).

Wife Renee is hoping I'll return home one of these days, and parrot Rupert is learning to use the telephone (Rupert and I had a brief phone conversation after I talked to Renee).

Task for tomorrow - Laundry ! Getting a bit odiforous 'round the gliders (but, possibly its the pilots).

Leg 9, Caesar Creek Gliderport, OH to Gallia-Meigs Airport, OH - Monday, June 30, 2003

Today's task is Caesar Creek Soaring club (south of Dayton Ohio) to Gallopolis West Virginia. Tomorrow we'll start from New Castle Virginia, but crossing West Virginia is not advisable due to no landing options - just woods and hills with an occasional river.

We've some cirrus blocking the heating and a very humid airmass. Tom goes sniffing for lift in 5Z and needs to use his motor, and we don't start launch until 1:30PM. I launch and find slow going, tops under 3k AGL. Its hot and feels like flying around in a milk bottle. Some gliders need to relight. In the haze of on course are the vague outline of some cumulus, but at 2:30 the course isn't yet open. DJ comes down for a relight, and I decide to travel by road today, pull the brakes and land. What a wimp ! But, this heightband is too low to use the motor and I'd have a high likelihood of landout even though it looks doable...

A number of folks did complete the task. We heard the tortuous progress on the radio as we cruised down the highway in air-conditioned comfort. The Payne brothers in TP, Chris Woods in CW, Doug Jacobs in DJ, and a few others landed as we stopped for a sub next to the goal airport.

Hopefully we'll have better weather (or I'll be less of a wimp) tomorrow for New Castle to Petersburg VA ! But, the moisture in front of tropical storm Bill looks like we may be done with flying on this adventure.

Leg 10, Newcastle, VA to Dinwiddie County Airport, Petersburg, VA - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

At New Castle Virginia, the thunderstorms and rain associated with the north edge of tropical storm Bill have arrived. No chance of flying for the next legs, so we'll trailer to Manteo, North Carolina. July 4th looks like the weather will permit our ceremonial flights from Manteo into the actual site of the Wright Brother's first flight. Its been an amazing trip ! Too bad the weather wasn't better, but we've still managed to fly across a big chunk of the USA.

Blue Ridge Soaring Society is nestled up in the middle of ridge country. Thecla and Lanier Frantz host the club on their beautiful field, complete with a club house, hangars, a trailer hangar, plenty of space. And of course lush green everywhere, and southern hospitality. The fall contest (Region 4 South) is always a classic; I flew this for many years and need to find time to start doing so again.

Many of us stopped at the Air Force Museum while in Dayton a few days ago. It is really staggering to see how far we have progressed in the 100 years since the Wrights first left the ground under control. The scale of the Wright's accomplishment is little appreciated; it isn't just that they understood and conquered controlling turns, but also that they created wind-tunnels, airfoils, propellers, not to mention designing and building their own engines in their quest. Overcoming each of these individual obstacles was a fantastic engineering feat in isolation, but it is mind-bending that they strung these all together to achieve controlled flight. It will be quite an honor to land at the site of first flight.

The dinner bell is ringing for the feast that the Blue Ridge Soaring Society has prepared for us - gotta run ! Let's hope for good weather on the 4th, Best Regards, Dave

Thursday 3 July 2003

We left New Castle in the pouring rain, after a great breakfast put on by BRSS (Blue Ridge Soaring Society). A long wet drive brings us to Manteo NC, were we'll launch for our ceremonial flight into Kitty Hawk on the 4th.

Crew David Fitch and I stopped and visited the Wright Brothers National Monument and had a look at the exhibits and the landing areas. Its a bit surreal, jammed between the overbuilt strip malls, vacation cottages, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, outlet stores, etc... Nice small exhibit describing a bit of what the Wright's accomplished. Nothing to do otherwise but go eat some crabs (unless one wants to visit the outlet stores).

Weather is looking good for the 4th, Best Regards, Dave

Leg 12, Manteo, NC to First Flight Airport, Kill Devil Hill, NC - Friday, July 4, 2003

Thursday night we had a fish fry and presentations for the "winners". Everybody who participated was a winner.

We got a detailed briefing of exactly how to handle landing at the Wright Brothers National Monument. Stage in groups of 4, shooting for arrivals every 7 minutes. Pass over the trees between the GA runway and the monument and "first flight" field. Do NOT turn until you have PASSED all people and buildings, then turn right and pull up, then circle left to land. This keeps us well separated from GA traffic and NOT over the spectators and buildings.

Friday morning arrived with clear skies, a light SW wind, and no chance of untoward weather. Perfect ! We had some confusion getting started out of Manteo. Memo to tow-pilots: if you need to abort a take-off, do NOT stand on the brakes in the middle of the runway, as the glider will probably hit you, unless bizarre and scary maneuvers are performed and a great deal of luck is used up. GET OUT OF THE WAY and then get the tow-plane stopped. Remember, many gliders have Tost "brakes".

My turn came at 11:25, and I motored up, cooled down, and retracted the motor over Manteo while a couple of tows passed. I made the proscribed pattern past the monument, down the tree-line, past the spectators and buildings, and pull up. Remember to put the gear down (how embarrassing would that be), circled around, and descend to 5 feet. Past the big granite markers showing the site of the first four flights of the Wrights, December 17th, 1903. What a privilege to pass over the exact spot, at the same altitude, almost 100 years later.

We all arrived safely and to the great satisfaction of the park service. Yes, there were a few "non-standard" patterns, a motor-glider that arrived with the motor partially stuck out, one gear up landing (really now !), but by and large without excitement. What an experience !

We stashed the Ventus and spent the afternoon critiquing the later arrivals. Visited the museum again, then settled in for our massive tailgate party. Countless grills fired up and remember, no alcohol in the National Park. Eat way to much, watch the sun set, then clamber up the monument hill to watch the fireworks in the warm evening breeze. Perfect !

Its been quite an adventure. Thanks again to the Paynes, Murrays, the rest of the organization, the tow-pilots who dragged about the country with us, the Park Service, and my crew David Fitch for making this possible. Murray passed by, giddy that the park ranger says his boss was really happy with us; could we come back next year ?

A great experience, wish you all could have been here. Tomorrow, 12 hours drive back to Boston, where I hope Renee and Rupert will recognize me. Best Regards, Dave

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