Friday, January 19, 2007

Jan 3 '07: Reno to Bishop & return to MEV

With a decent 700mb flow, and the heavy moisture pretty far off, I decided to fly out of MEV on an exploration flight. Arriving the afternoon before, the clouds look good: Standing next to my ship is Jakob, a young man from Denmark here for a week hoping for a Diamond climb wave flight (good timing!). The next morning winds were calm, and I have a bit of ice, but less than at Cal City. The clouds are less than expected so I just want to see how far north and south I can go. Hugh Milne joins me in his 26E and launches a few minutes ahead. I'm off at 9:37a. Hugh contacts the lift SW of town while I get beatup west of the airport finding nothing. Once I move over to where Hugh is, I shutdown the engine at 9000 feet. This is not the first time I've had to go over to town to get my initial climb, I think this has to do with Freel Peak generating the strongest wave. Heading north it's unmarked so I've a very conservative attitude, like "retreat if I get below 16,000ft". I'm able to stay in the lift until Stead. Cross country in unmarked Sierra wave is a tough proposition and I'd never try it without at least the "breadcrumb" track function working on my GPS. The trip south shows the moisture starting to arrive with this lone lennie over Minden: Previous flights in wetter conditions had blocked me from following the Sierra ridgeline directly south of Carson Valley, so today is a good a time as any to see if the lift is there. And it is!
Hugh meantime is right behind me (somewhere, I never see him on this stretch). So far, the lift is good and we're making good time. South of Topaz Valley we parallel the freeway south past where it makes a turn east until the lift falls off, then to the west side of the Bridgeport Valley. Note the high altitude lennies marking the jog in the Sierras ridgeline at Mammoth Lakes, then turning into the Owens Valley. Continuing south to the Mammoth Lakes ski resort paralleling the spine of the Sierra is uneventful until I lose the wave. A shift to the east over town recontacts the wave, so I continue south until directly west of Bishop where I park waiting for Hugh. Winds are 270-275 at 50-60 knots, not too bad, but I've only flown south before with winds at 220-250. My concern is that the Bishop to Mammoth Lakes section of the Sierra might stop working and trap us at the north end of the Owens Valley. Hugh gets stuck just south of the Mammoth Lakes airport and is busy. I wait halfway between Tom's Place and Bishop (CLICK on picture to start VIDEO): --- ---- It's now 12:15p. Although not late, the thought of being at our farthest point from Minden, with the Bishop to Mammoth section possibly collapsing, doubts about the Owens Valley wave, an incoming wet front, a quartering headwind on the way home and flying with someone new to Sierra XC wave flying make the decision to turn around easy. Pushing back west toward Mammoth, I follow my previous track, only to lose the lift just south of Crowley Lake. Suddenly, I slam into the rotor and drop to 13,000 ft. Uncommanded 45 degree rolls left & right with negative Gs tossing me about the sky only confirms the decision to head home...slow down and ....just keep moving closer to the ridgeline.....ah, smooth.....10 knots up. The suddeness of going from murderous rotor to absolute serenity in about one second can only be described as a huge relief. I spot Hugh just south of the Mammoth airport and suggest he move closer to the ridgeline. He does and reconnects with the lift. At the same time, I see the snow blowing down the side of the ridge about 40 degrees off of the wind at altitude. I'm thankful that some mechanism is directing the wind to enable the wave to work here, but I don't want to stick around to find out what it's limits are! We slowly head north to June Lake. I'm spotting lift for Hugh and wondering why he doesn't follow his "breadcrumb" track. Turns out he had to turn off his PDA to save battery power, so didn't have his flight track. Ack! Now I'm REALLY glad we're heading back. I'm ahead by 5-10 miles, so by describing segments between one ground feature to another, Hugh is able to stay in the lift. Note in this image (looking north from June Lake) the absence of cloud markers (the smudge in the middle is camera dust): Coming up on Mono Lake, it's 1:45p. Sunset is in three hours, but we're in a lower risk part of the Sierra as far as lift goes. I'm reminded of how hostile it is on the ground as I spot what appears to be snow blowoff on the Sierra ridgeline just south of Tioga Pass. The snow is blown straight off the mesa for hundreds of feet before settling. It must be 60-70mph winds there! The video below gives a wider view at the same time (CLICK on picture): ---

From here I pretty much follow my earlier track, relaying track segments to Hugh ("follow the line from Lee Vining to the west edge of the Bridgeport Valley"). By the time I get to Topaz Valley I see the darkness of the incoming front (below). Topaz Valley works along the east side as expected giving me a 12:1 glide to Minden.
Landing at 3:05p back at Minden is uneventful, even the ground winds are light. Hugh arrives a bit later, thrilled about his first wave XC and for his furthest flight away from Minden:
It's a 5.5 hour flight with some good pics and data. Other pilots who flew locally include Bob Spielman and Morteza Ansari. For me I must pack up and be out of the Carson Valley by 8p to avoid the snow. Hugh can't stay long, so Jakob and I grab a quick dinner at the airport, celebrating Jakob's altitude Diamond earlier today:
As I drive over Echo Summit, the flurries are picking up. Whew, glad to be through there just in time.

All in all, another good data collection flight!


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Friday December 15, 2006:
Based on the wave outlook, I drove to Cal City Thursday morning and assembled. Since this was a fast moving system with a sharp spread on the isobars behind the wave winds, I felt it would be at best, a good exercise flight. The task was an O&R to Reno, but I was skeptical on making it past Mono. Jim Staniforth joined me in his newly acquired 26E as we readied that evening on the ramp. Strangely, it was absolutely dead calm. When you are used to, nay expect, to be blasted, or at least be chilled by the pre-frontal winds, it was a bit unnerving to assemble dressed in a short sleeve shirt. But the evening sky warmed the mood as the lennies formed and the sunset became rich.

Ready at dawn (except for waiting for the ice to melt off the wings...), the sky was clear and the winds, well, there were none, at least on the ground. Marty pointed out that the cap clouds in Kelso Valley (about 12sm NW of Cal City) hinted at some wave there. To the north lennies were forming in the Owens Valley. A 9:40am launch took us to Kelso Valley, shutting the engine down at 8,000 ft (airport is 2400 ft). 2-3 knot wave pushed us slowly to 17K, then a run north along the east side of Kelso Valley until the wave quit, followed by a 100 knot jog over to the Sierras just west of Inyokern.

The lennies were still 30-40 miles to the north, so it's a greater act of faith (for me at least) to roar over to the "spot where it should be" with no indicators of any sort. No blowing dust, no lennie, no rotor cloud, etc. But the lift was there along with a 50 knot wind at 13K. Progress was slow but picked up so that by Olancha, we're at 17K and doing 100+ knots.
I never did see Jim except at the Kelso Valley wave, but were in touch by radio until we switched to Joshua ATC. It had been 18 months since I flew the Owens Valley in wave, so I was clearly out of practice, jogging rather acutely westward too many times when in excessively strong of lift. Just remember that 110 knot redline at this altitude....

Further north, beyond Mammoth Lakes, it was becoming apparent that there was not likely to be wave. By the time I passed over Mammoth Lakes airport (KMMH), the orographic clouds west and north of Mammoth Lakes town had some vertical build to them (so the unstable layer was deeper than the ridgeline) and north of Mono Lake, there was a jumbled mix of haze and clouds that said "no wave here!" This was consistent with the forecast too, so I turned at KMMH. Jim had turned a few minutes earlier at Tom's Place, a small town a few miles east of KMMH. On the southbound leg, the Owens Valley lennie was forming up nicely, but still not entirely smooth shaped either.

The south bound trip was much faster, with a straighter flight path, averaging about 110 knots from Mammoth to just north of Cal City, a distance of about 145nm. The scenery, as always, was just spectacular.

Coming up on Inyokern, I'm doing my instrument scan and was shocked to see the wind reading at 113 knots!. Now I know it says 27% certain, but if it is offbase, I've never seen it THIS far off. I was crabbing quite a bit, but.........I can't explain this one.
The landing back at Cal City was uneventful. Rotor was above the airport, but on the ground it was, again, calm. This was Jim's first cross country in his 26E, 500km+ in December! All in all, a great 5 hour practice run.