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Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

Soaring Safari, Chapter 2

By George Powell

While we assembled our gliders at the Inyokern airport, we could see thin brown haze to the north. No cumulus clouds were in sight. Conditions appeared hot and stable. The weather did not bode well for long flights. By the time we launched, we could see that smoke was drifting into the Owens Valley from the west.

Upon reaching the ridge which leads north toward Olancha Peak it was clear where the smoke was coming from. To the west great plumes were billowing into the sky. We cautiously tip-toed north as hazy brown smoke flowed westward over the ridges into the Owens Valley. The smoke made it easy to see where the air was rising and falling along the mountain slopes and valleys. As we penetrated north clear of the smoke, the lift improved. The afternoon sun was heating the rocks. By the time we reached the Switchbacks near Lone Pine we were finding thermals which were taking us as high as 15K. By the time we passed Mt. Whitney, we were able to climb above 17K.

Tweetybird and Mickey turned east across the Owens Valley toward the Inyo range. Mickey got caught in the lee of the mountains. After a long and noble struggle against super sink and gravity he safely landed 050 on the abandoned airstrip at Manzanar (a WWII Japanese / American internment camp). Distance: 77 miles. Tweety successfully made it across the Owens Valley to New York Peak where he pushed north toward the White Mountains.

Meanwhile, Hangman, Two By Four and Hawkeye continued north over the Sierras toward Mt.Tinemaha, where a tough decision was made: Whether to continue north toward Minden, or cross over to the Whites and fly toward Austin. Because it was Thursday, the day Hangman’s favorite barmaid, “Curly,” would be tending bar in Austin, it was decided that we should forget Minden, cross over to the Whites, and head toward Austin.

We raced over the White mountains at speeds exceeding 100mph. Powerful olographic lift and blue-air thermals carried us to new heights. As we entered Nevada over Boundry Peak all three 1-26s were bumping 18K. Looking down I could see Tweetybird racing south from Nichols ranch at 12K. From that altitude, Tweety was just a little yellow dot.

We raced across the Nevada desert as fast and as high as our little birds would take us. We flew over the mining towns Mina and Luning toward Austin. Our crews were barely able to keep up with us. Unfortunately, the day was quickly dying. By the time we reached Gabbs the thermals were gone. Hangman and 2x4 made a valiant attempt to cross the gnarly high ground toward Austin, but found no lift and were forced to return to the Gabbs airport, where the sun was about to set. Straight line distance without turnpoints: Inyokern to Gabbs: 225 miles.


Chapter 3
To Boldly Go Where No 1-26 Has Gone Before