Some members have asked me to write about my flight from Hobbs, NM, to Ulysses, KS, last August. One
reason I hadn't done this earlier was that there was nothing particularly interesting about the flight
except for the length of time that it required and the distance covered. Here are a few things which
affected the outcome or are mildly notable. I guess it might be interesting if you aren't familiar
with soaring in this part of the country.
In order to fly the distances I have been attempting on my downwind flights, an early start is required.
This day, the start was not as early as sometimes, but it was early: 10:44 MDT. If we don't get a
pretty early start, we are forced to make some other type of flight. At Hobbs, we get weather for
10:30 - 11:00 starts perhaps 7-8 times each summer. What we really relish is the 10:00 - 10:15 start
which may happen once or twice in two or three years. Of course, it seems that the weather is never
cooperating with the average climatology. (El Nino, etc.)
A long lasting day is also required. We can tell how the day began and ended here "yesterday", but we
really don't know how late the soaring lasted up around the Oklahoma panhandle and beyond. An educated
guess is about the best we can do most of the time. What we are looking for is a 10-hour day, but
neither Jo nor I have ever had one. My longest flight required 9:21 for 428+ miles in 1976, and I
havenít seen 9 hours again. Five of my distance flights were in the 8+ hour range (including this one
at 8:31), seven in the 7+ range, and 3 that were over 6 hours. Joís two longest flights were right at
Of course we need strong soaring conditions. This is a pretty common thing during much of the summer
here and at several other fine soaring sites. Unfortunately, the fly in this ointment is that it is
also necessary that this good weather extend over a path going roughly downwind for 300 to 400+ miles.
This is pretty rare. We often encounter some phenomenon which limits the northern (downwind) end of our
flight track--usually a "stationary" front. Other less obvious frivolities of the weather can be just
as big a barrier. Sometimes these are expected and we try anyway, and other times they come as a
complete surprise. Probably the most common event of this type is up-sun thunderstorms with anvils that
shade the earth for thousands of square miles. Another is a isolated area of stable air which was
either not forecast--or if it was, it is much more stable or extensive than expected.
After launching to about 2500 feet AGL last August 22, the search for good lift was rewarded in less
than 2 minutes. The initial climb was to about 7700 MSL which is 4000 AGL, and I set off without
hesitation. This is about as good a start as can be expected around here. There have
been some much better (even to 11,000 MSL); but more often, a half-hour is wasted before it is prudent
to leave the airport area. This day produced gradually increasing climb heights and evenly spaced
thermals until about 2 PM when I reached an area of increased surface moisture and irrigated crops
between Muleshoe and Hereford, TX. During the next two hours, thermals were infrequent and not at all
predictable, but I was able to continue moving along well just slightly east of due north. During this
period, there were three times that I got below my initial 7700 feet. The last of these was 6000 feet,
but it was within reach of the Vega, TX airport.
Vega is just south of the Canadian River which gouges out the roughest country in northwest Texas and
causes a pucker-crossing which varies from 25 to 50+ miles of virtually unlandable or unreachable-
without-a-helicopter countryside depending upon your exact crossing site. Just past Vega there are
about 30 miles of moonscape before you reach Channing, TX. Jo and I have become well acquainted with
derigging at the Vega airport in recent years. If I had a choice, I would prefer to follow the NM-TX
state line due north into Colorado, but the wind hasn't cooperated for quite a few years, and we have
been forced to aim at the southwest corner of Kansas around Elkhart.
That 6000 feet low-point near Vega turned out to be the low for the day, but it was followed by a good
climb back to 9500 feet and a quick glide to an even better climb to 11,800. That height was repeated
again about 25 minutes later for the high points of the day--the second one at around 3:45 PM. The time
from 4PM until 6 PM produced some of the best soaring of the day, although somewhat unpredictable. It
was never really POWERFUL-type strong, however.
I had taken a turn near Dalhart, TX to move northeast along a major highway thinking that the wind
after Vega had become more westerly. For a while this was true lower down, but I was again able to stay
high, and the wind was still mostly southerly where I was. At Goodwell, OK, I turned back to a
northerly heading intent on following the wind to a landing in Kansas. For a while I was staying above
10,000 feet, but denser clouds on the western horizon shortly began to come into play. At 6:25 PM I
once more reached 11,500 MSL, but that was the beginning of the glide which took me to Ulysses with only
one "bump" along the way.
This day did not produce the conditions so common in the latter part of a day when you work weak
stuff for a long time to be followed by a slow glide and then another slow thermal. Thermals just
stayed "usual" strong until the end, but each of the last five ended slightly lower than the one before.
Shortly after the last thermal, I was in total cloud shadow with the sun very low. I fooled around over
the airport for a little while at Ulysses coaching Jo on the approach to the airport. I found after
touching down (7:14 PM) and pulling 196 quite a way to clear the taxiway that the sun had set (at least
into a solid distant cloud bank) and it had gotten dark so quickly that I couldn't get a "real" landing
Consider this "final" glide: I topped out the last climb at 11,460 feet at 6:27 PM. There was an area
with a slight gain in height at about 9500 feet. The landing was made at 2995 feet at 7:15 PM. The
distance covered was 43.07 miles. This gives:
The Cambridge data logger shows that the ground speed on this glide hovered in the upper 70's and lower
80's (mph) except for the couple of minutes where I climbed a bit. I was flying with speeds appropriate
to a speed ring setting of about 100 fpm (in the 50's +/-) most of the time.
- Time-- 48 minutes -- but I flew around for a while before landing.
- Ground speed--53.75 mph -- but " " .
- Glide angle-- 26.81
In addition to the Claybourn Trophy and a slightly longer 1-26 Sweepstakes flight (with the turn
points), the flight also gained 3 New Mexico records for Free 3 TP Distance--Standard Class, 15M, and
Sports Class. I also note that this probably wasnít the most exceptional 1-26 flight made in 2000. My
hat is off to Ron Swartz for his monumental 408 mile out-and-return on the NJ-PA ridge.
It is appropriate to say once more that I couldn't take part in this fun if it were not for my wife and
sole crew, Jo. She does everything except fly the glider for me: Tow with the Cessna 180, gather
equipment and pull the trailer, follow (at high speeds and on poor roads sometimes), provide cheerful
radio assistance, arrive about the same time as I land, de-rig, drive most of the way home, etc. Then
she goes out the next day in the Nimbus 3 to Dalhart and return! Thanks again, Jo!