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To Boldly Go Where No 1-26 Has Gone Before

Soaring Safari, Chapter 3

By George Powell

S/N Pilot Callsign Crew
317Doug Levy Hangman Greg Sperbeck
024Garry Dickson Two by Four Jim Leary
198George Powell Hawkeye Bill Barker & Jack Green

We have discovered that a sure-fire way to make one’s adrenaline start flowing is to fly a 1-26 across unknown territory. With this physiological phenomena in mind, it was decided at the beginning of the Y2K soaring season that one of our fun goals this year would be, "To Boldly Go Where No 1-26 Has Gone Before" (at least, not to our knowledge).

Friday morning, July 28, 2000, Two By Four, Hangman, Hawkeye and crews drove past the old wooden WWII hangar which is still being used at the Tonopah airport. We had agreed that our destination would be Jackpot, Nevada, located on the Idaho border 300 miles northeast of Tonopah..

Goal Strike has spawned many 1-26 flights from Jean to points north of Tonopah, including Garry Dickson’s 1996 diamond distance flight to a ranch near Battle Mountain and Del Blomquist’s unscheduled R.O.N in his glider near Fallon. Several 1-26s have made it to Austin and Eureka. However, to our knowledge, no 1-26er has ever flown to the Idaho border. During the first Y2K Safari, 2x4 and Hawkeye attempted to fly from Tonopah to Jackpot. On their first attempt they landed in the Pine Valley north of Eureka (147miles). One their second try, they landed at a ranch in the Ruby Valley 102 miles short of Jackpot (198 miles).

This time, with three 1-26s team flying, we figured that our chances for success were improved exponentially. We launched at noon and quickly thermalled to 15K. (We managed to stick together and team-flew as far as Eureka, where Hawkeye was forced to drop behind and remain below 12K because of an oxygen problem. Our flight path took us over four beautiful mountain ranges: the Toquima, Monitor, Diamond and Ruby. As we reached the northern end of each range we would angle eastward across wide valleys and huge dry lakes to the next range. Because of the alignment of the mountains and the location of the roads, much of the time we were out of radio contact with our crews. Greg Sperbeck and Bill Barker had cell phones in their vehicles and Garry carried one in his glider. Unfortunately, cell phone coverage in this remote area of Nevada varied from unreliable to non-existent.

We flew north along the Ruby mountains between 9K and 15K. The terrain below gradually changed from dull brown to bright green. Thermals were strong and frequent. A strong tailwind produced ground speeds from 70 to 90 mph between thermals. Time was on our side. It was not even 5 o’clock. With 3 full hours of daylight left we were less than 100 miles from Jackpot. Things were looking good. Hangman radioed his favorite pronouncement: “These ARE the good old days!”

About the time we crossed Secret Pass near the north end of the Ruby range, things quickly began to fall apart. A thick layer of smoke appeared on the horizon to the north. A couple of calls on the Wells Unicom frequency determined that wildfires were burning north of Wells and that, although the airport was not closed, fire fighting activities were underway in the area. Our route to Jackpot was blocked. As we approached the Wells airport Hangman got caught in the lee of the hills and made a safe landing in a stubble field short of the airport. Two By Four and Hawkeye landed at the airport. We were 60 miles south of Jackpot. Within 15 minutes after landing all three crews were with their pilots. We put the birds on the trailer and headed south toward Ely where tows would be available the next day. (Straight line distance, Tonopah to Wells: 241 miles.)

Although we did not “Hit the Jackpot,” as planned, we had reached one of our goals: We had experienced the excitement and satisfaction of flying over new territory where we had never flown before. As we drove toward Ely we watched the sun sink slowly behind the Ruby mountains and resolved that we would return. Jackpot will have to wait.