Minden soaring team sets new record
So, you’ve got this plan to fly from Minden to the Rockies in a two-seat glider, but you look at the weather and see a big problem over eastern Nevada.
Some folks might take the day off, but the Minden soaring team of Gordon Boettger and Hugh Bennett decided to ride the Sierra Wave for 2,200 kilometers for the longest sailplane flight in the Northern Hemisphere on Wednesday.
“The initial goal was to fly straight downwind to Colorado Springs,” Boettger said. “But when I woke up at 4 a.m. and looked at the charts, there was a lot of moisture downwind. The best we could have done was 400 miles to Cedar City, Utah, which leaves us with a long retrieve and nothing out of it.”
Boettger said the pair decided to shift gears and head south along the Sierra.
“There was a lot of energy focused on the entire range,” he said. “We took off at 6:30 a.m. and landed 13 hours, 20 minutes later in Winnemucca.”
Called a yo-yo flight, Boettger and Bennett tacked up and down along the Sierra wave, taking advantage of the lift caused by the wind expanding into the valleys.
“The positive thing about the yo-yo flights is that it’s not as painful to cover a lot of miles and still stay pretty close to home,” he said of the 1,367-mile flight.
Helping in Wednesday’s effort was retired National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Armstrong, who helped spot potential dead spots in the wave.
“He was instrumental,” Boettger said. “I had a sat (satellite) phone and he was able to look at the real-time imagery, and text me to tell me if there was a sinkhole. Doug’s a well-versed meteorologist and he provides very accurate weather information. He tailors that information for the sailplane community. It helped a lot.”
Boettger said he and Bennett averaged 103 mph over the course, with some spots where he hit 170 mph groundspeed. Flying at 28,000 feet, there were places where lift took the glider up at 400 feet a minute.
“Down in the Owens Valley we found the strongest lift,” he said. “We were going as fast as the glider can go.”
Because of the energy on Wednesday, the team made it down to Inyokern, Calif., at their southern most point and to Susanville, Calif., at the northernmost.
Boettger, 43, said the flight tested his and Bennett’s endurance, and the time available to fly.
“This is only the second 2,000 kilometer flight in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s nervewracking toward the end of a long flight when your oxygen is going low and so is the battery. Winnemucca had a lot of cloud cover on Wednesday, and I had to steer clear of the clouds. It’s hard to judge how solid the cloud deck is. But I managed to find a hole to go through.”
Longer flights would require the team to fly at night, which would require not just more oxygen and battery power, but also a lot of endurance on the part of the crew.
“You would need more battery juice to fly at night,” he said. “Because it’s so cold, the batteries are only working at half efficiency. Flying at night would be a whole different ball game. On these flights you don’t get much sleep before you start because your adrenaline is up. It’s a pretty hostile environment and because you’re on oxygen, dehydration is a big issue, and so is the crampiness of the cockpit. The blood saturation level is not what it’s going to be on the ground. You may be a bit oxygen deprived, and your mental capacity will definitely be deprived as well.”
Bennett, 78, was amazed at Boettger’s ability to navigate the wave.
“It was a tremendous flight,” he said. “Gordon was continuously able to read the clouds, and go on. We had a great time. We got cold, but as soon as we hit the ground it was all worth it.”
Gliding is like mountain climbing in reverse, Bennett said.
“In mountain climbing, when you make a peak you’re happy,” he said. “For us when we come down after a record we’re happy.”