was the final day of the 2006 1-26 Championships and great weather for flying
. . if you were a duck.Normally,
on an overcast day like this I would not have driven to the airport. I would
have stayed in bed . . . or gone fishing.
to the Champs, the weather at Parowan had been sunny with cloud streets lining
up over the
WasatchMountainsand puffy cu’s drifting over the valleys.
According to our gracious hostess, Jet
Smith, it hadn’t rained at Parowan for months. The local farmers were enduring
a drought. Then, consistent with a long-standing tradition of the 1-26
Association, on the morning the contest officially started, the rains came . .
. and came . . . and kept coming.We
spent the next seven days living up to our reputation as “The 1-26 Drought
Busters.” The rain may have slightly dampened our spirits, but the farmers were
had been dodging thunderstorms, flying into and around rain, hail, virga, and
dust fronts every day for the past week. Today would be no exception.Skies
were overcast above 12K with a 30% chance of thunderstorms.
We had become so accustomed to afternoon
showers that we adopted an official two-handed Drought-Buster salute designed
to keep the rain out of our faces. Each day Jet Smith would greet us with
a cheery little ditty. My favorite was:
raining. It’s pouring.
1-26ers are soaring”
funny thing was that there were several pilots at the contest, especially those
from back east, who seemed to be enjoying the wet weather.
Cautiously staying above 10K, I tip-toed from cloud to cloud across
what appeared to be un-land-able no-man’s-land below.
“Oh well,” I thought, “this is the final day of the contest and since it’s
obviously going to rain again, they’ll surely assign an easy task.”Wrong!
Instead, our hard charging CD, Ralph
Kolstad, called a 2.5 hour, 116 mile Turn Area Task to Milford (somewhere over
the horizon), thence to Sun Valley (hopefully, not the one in Idaho) and
return.Minimum distance was 66 miles;
maximum: 178 miles . . .not an easy task
for rain-soaked 1-26s.
The good news was that my sectional
indicated the presence of airports at both turnpoints.“Good,”
I thought, “If I get into trouble, I’ll land on a nice paved runway.” I decided
to send my trusty crew, Dan Bookwalter, around the course with me . . . just in
As I approached Minersville the cloud street ended.
After releasing near a ridge south of Parowan, I saw something I had never seen
before: A flock of 1-26s zooming along the ridge popping up and down like fleas
on a camel’s back.
Then I saw who it was. It was Almquist,
Johnson, Johansen and Schwartz. It was those rain-loving ridge-runners from
back east doing their thing.
Instead of making lazy “S” turns, they
were hooking into tiny squirrel farts and leaping up like a school of hungry
trout during the evening rise.
Soon they were making complete circles
above the ridge and climbing to cloud base.I
decided to try it . . .and it worked!About
the time we reached 12K the gate opened, and we were on our way.
I radioed my trusty crew to hook up the
trailer and proceed toward
Hoping for lift, I made a dive for a rocky ridge east of Milford
Cautiously staying above 10K, I tip-toed from cloud to cloud across what
appeared to be un-land-able no-man’s-land below.
As I approached Minersville the cloud
Hoping for lift, I made a dive for a
rocky ridge east of
Milford. Finding nothing, I turned west and started looking for the
Milfordairport. Soon, I spotted a long black strip north of
Catching a weak thermal directly over
the town, I watched a soccer game in progress in a school yard below. Dan
radioed that he was driving through Minersville. I instructed him to
proceed to the
I was getting low, but help was on its
The paved runway was beckoning me to land.
As I drifted slowly toward the airport I could see a huge black cloud
approaching from the west. The paved runway was beckoning me to
Just as I was about to enter the
pattern, I saw a dust cloud rapidly rolling toward the airport.
I wondered if Dan and I would have time
to put 009 on the trailer before the storm hit.
A long string of gnarly looking clouds stretched across the sky to
the south . . . straight toward the next turnpoint.
As I weighed the pros and cons, my thermal increased in strength.
It became an 8 knotter.
Suddenly my vario was screaming. Without
trying, I was climbing at 12 knots! Then 15! I was being sucked up into
the clouds just like Dorothy and Toto! I looked up and saw the leading
edge of the approaching storm. It was directly above me.
A long string of gnarly looking clouds
stretched across the sky to the south . . . straight toward the next turnpoint.
“Was I going to leave a perfectly good runway and head into that stuff?”I
looked down and saw a huge dust cloud rolling toward the runway. “O.K.” I
thought, “Maybe I will be safer up here.” As I neared cloud base, rain started
pouring onto my canopy. I heard the rattle of hail stones bouncing off my
wings. I had no choice. I rolled out, pulled full spoilers and
pointed the nose south toward turnpoint #2. I radioed Dan to turn around and
head for the
Within minutes, I was scratching low over a pig farm looking for a
place to land.
Below me I could see a set of railroad tracks heading south, but no paved
road. Strong lift quickly turned to heavy sink. Within minutes, I
was scratching low over a pig farm looking for a place to land (. The
dirt roads all looked too narrow for a safe landing.
My crew reported that the dirt road he
was on was terrible.
“Full of deep ruts.” Just as I was
about to set up a landing pattern, I hooked what must have been a pig fart!
It was a lovely 2 knotter. Slowly, I easedback
up to cloud base where I made a couple of extra turns for good measure, lined
up with the railroad tracks rolled out and dove . . . full speed ahead!
“At last! Now I’m really racing!” I shouted. “This is what it’s all
about!” I reminded myself, as the airspeed indicator moved toward red
line. Just then I looked out and saw another 1-26 going by.Bill
Vickland was zooming past me . . . at the same altitude . . . but . . . in the
wrong direction! “Why is Bill going back to
Milford?” I wondered. “Doesn’t he know it’s pouring rain back there?” I
glanced at my GPS.
Then I figured it out. “OOPS!It’s
was the one who was racing back toward
Milford, not Bill! He was going in the right direction. Somehow, I
had become disoriented in the pig-fart thermal and was flying north instead of
south.Quickly reversing course, I tried
to catch up with Bill . . . but to no avail.He
was out of sight.
this time, Dan called and reported that the road he was on had become
completely impassable and that he would have to turn around. I told him
to reverse course and head for the
airport the long way around (at least an 80 mile drive). I was getting
low again . . . too low to attempt a run to Parowan.
Before losing radio contact, Dan
suggested that, if I landed at
Sun Valley, I might think about arranging for
“Good idea,” I replied.
day was dying.My GPS said I was 15 miles
I found small patches of sunshine which
were producing weak lift or zero sink.
Drifting from puff to puff, I slowly
staggered south. At about 10 miles I caught a 5 knotter. “But where
is that airport?” At 5 miles the GPS arrow pointed straight ahead.“I
should be able to see it by now.” Below me I spotted the little railroad town
Lund, but, still no airport in sight.
At 2 miles my GPS insisted that it was
directly ahead. All I could see was a dirt road leading to an abandoned
farm house. The GPS started beeping happily to tell me that I had arrived
I looked down and saw nothing but a dirt
road bordered by wing-eating weeds. “It might be land-able, but . . .” I was
remembering some landings I had made on unfamiliar roads with unfortunate
Having descended below 1,000’ agl, I set up a pattern and plopped
009 down in the middle of the hay field.
As I sank lower, I spotted a hay field next to the farm house. A narrow
swath had been mowed down the middle. “Maybe
that’s the runway.” I thought. “Well,
it is now!”
Having descended below 1,000’ agl, I set
up a pattern and plopped 009 down in the middle of the hay field. My
GPS indicated that I had landed exactly seven tenths of a mile from the
Sun ValleyAirport.The arrow was pointing at
the dirt road leading to the farm house.
radioing my coordinates to Bob Hurni for relay to the retrieve desk, I surveyed
It was 5pm. It would take at least two
hours for Dan to back-track and find me. The farm was totally
No people. No dogs. No
cats. No cows. Just rabbits . . . Jack rabbits by the dozen.
As I walked toward the road, they would jump out, freeze, grin at me and trot
Chunks of broken pavement indicated
that, in the not-too-distant past, the road had indeed been paved. It
was wide enough that high-wing aircraft could land safely. However, tall
weeds were growing along the sides. It would not have been a “glider
friendly” environment. Satisfied
with my decision to land in the hay field, I began the five mile walk to
I reached the outskirts of town, I saw a plume of dust approaching from the
east. It was Dan with the trailer. It was
and another thunderstorm was rapidly approaching from the west. We
raced back to the hay field, wasted no time putting 009 on the trailer, and
were out of the field and on the road before the rain struck. We
radioed a passing aircraft and asked him to relay to the retrieve desk that
pilot and crew were together and heading home.
back at the Parowan airport at about 9pm, we found that seven talented (Lucky
?) pilots: Ron Schwartz, Bob Von Hellens, Bob Hurni, Charles Shaw, Tom Barkow,
Vern Hutchinson and Del Blomquist had completed the task.
was not the only land-out.Bill Vickland,
Gus Johnson, Milt Moos, Bill Bentley, Neil Palmquist, Marvin Willis, Tom Mc
Mullen, Bob Quas and Ron Almquist also landed out.
they could not possibly have had as much fun as Dan and I did on the final day
of the contest, you can be sure that each one of these venerable “Cloud
Busters” will have some wild tales to tell about their memorable flights at
instance, if you want to hear a really ‘Hairy’ story about keeping cool in an
emergency, followed by some amazing airmanship, ask Harry Baldwin to tell you
about how he set yet another world record by setting Del Blomquist’s 1-26 down
at 10,140’ m.s.l. at the Brian Head ski resort.