A Planned Cross Country (Well, Sort Of) By Cary Mendes
October 10th 1994, the day after my long flight from Cucamonga to Kagel, I just had to go flying because the first day of onshore breeze after Santa Anas can take you to 4,000' over even in Winter. Hoping to set a site record, I was planning to fly from Marshall southeast towards Beaumont. I met up with Richard Miller and Tim Rowin and drove to launch. While we were getting our gear out at a slow pace (because I thought there was too much wind for a great flight) Rob McKenzie flew up to more than 7,000' and back down. So I knew at least the lift was going fairly high.
I had just received a new type of Nova Sphinx and even though I usually fly an intermediate glider I thought I'd better test this glider out before selling any of them. Taking off, I immediately noticed the brakes were so tight that there was no play whatsoever, in fact for a split second I thought something was caught and the brakes weren't going to work. I probably worked 3 thermals to reach 9,000' and ended up halfway between Cloud Peak and the Crestline Billboard. The wind turned out to be reasonable (strong lift was causing some of the wind at launch). Rowin and McKenzie were not in the same thermals they had been in but they were closer to launch and still higher than me. Since there was a small headwind component working against me if I headed for Beaumont, I decided to head over the billboard across Devil's Canyon following the ridge behind Pine Flats Launch. I was looking for lift, but more importantly I was heading for a good "go over the back" or "don't go over the back" point. I was on the back edge heading towards Sugarpine Mountain at 8,000' watching Ken Howells and another hang glider pilot a grand beneath me, flying in front of me, hoping they would show me a thermal. Then, I'd easily cross over with plenty of altitude to make it to a good landing and pick up spot (like Highway 138).
The pilots didn't find anything quick enough to help. Being able to fly more on the back I found a boomer, peak lift 1,400 fpm, maximum average 1,100 fpm. After having my collapse for the day (25% , though I never bothered looking up), I take this one higher than I have ever been near Crestline; 10,000'. So now I committed, and headed towards the intersection of the 15 and Highway 395. I like this fast action - I'm sure that I've been in the air for less than 25 minutes! Trimming a little faster, I glide and glide and glide. Darn, I'm going to go straight to the ground. As I get below 1,500' AGL I'm not sinking quite as fast and I make it across Summit Valley Road looking for lift and a safe landing place. I end up at 5,100' MSL (maybe 1,000' AGL) over what appears to be a dirt runway, probably for ultralights. Finally, I hit some lift to work. It is not much but I'm holding altitude and drifting north at 15 mph or more. I don't want to land here and get a dragging, so I hang on good and the thermal gets better and better. It's a mellow thermal compared to the ones I left at the flying site. I work it 'til it's dead; 10,600'! I'm over the 395 at the 15 freeway and I can't tell which way the wind is blowing anymore (next year, GPS).
The wind down lower, near the top of the Cajon Pass was strong south so I head north towards old George Air Force Base. The long straight roads on the desert tell me that the wind is pushing me off course to the west so I turn west for a while heading for Pearblossom. When you're high it doesn't look like you're moving much along the ground so as I look for a clear landing near a phone I bail on the seemingly slow going west and head northwest to make the longest possible flight from Marshall. I cross the California Aqueduct at 4,600' (this is only 500' AGL or so) and start working more lift. I work a couple of thermals between 5 and 7,000' until I'm 4 miles short of El Mirage Dry Lake where I leave the thermal at 12,000' still climbing 400 fpm and gaining the last 700' trying to exit the quarter-mile wide thermal. I was a little cold and I tend to get spooked by the bumps when I'm really high above the ground ( I know, it should be the other way around but I fly more aggressively low to the ground where the Earth doesn't look round). I also figured I would work more lift lower where it's warmer.
I finally got hold of Richard while trying to exit this thermal. He had top landed on Marshall and was giving chase. Unfamiliar with the area, he was having a hard time finding me while I made the 9 mile, 30 minute glide to land at the intersection of Avenue O and 220th Street East. Luckily, he caught a glimpse of me at 100' off the ground and drove on over. I thought I was bucking a headwind on the last glide, but it was calm on the surface.
This flight was fast and easy when compared to any of my others - flatland flying is more relaxing. Flight time was only 2:39, the distance traveled was approximately 35 miles, and the new glider handled the big air incredibly.