June 8th: New US Tandem Record, Josh flies 102 miles again, thunderstorms.
Today was an interesting day; the dryline, which we normally want to be on the west side of or right under, set up well to our west. This dropped the predicted thermal height down substantially, as well as offered the opportunity to play with large thunderstorms in the afternoon. At least the winds weren't blowing a hoolie!
Josh, Bruce, and Kim and I on the tandem launched at about 1:00, conditions just didn't seem to be happening before then. Michael had already launched and was heading north, as well as Tiki. Kim and I were determined to work every zero, climb in everything efficiently and really make good decisions; a tandem glider just doesn't glide quite like a good solo glider, so staying high was key. We launched first, with Josh soon catching us. I was psyched for Josh to catch up to us, as he was flying a new Mad Max comp. wing. I had it all planned; Josh would dash down wind, find us a thermal, then we'd follow at our sedate pace and climb out. Unfortunately, conditions were again quite light--seldom over 400fpm--and Josh's glider seemed to sink at about 100 fpm less than our tandem, which meant he could keep climbing at a slow but continuous pace, just drifting, while Kim and I would top out and then have to head off downwind in search of lift... We'd find it, then Josh would come in a thousand feet higher and climb out above us. Actually, Josh could probably have smoked downwind, but it was more fun to try and team fly--I just wish he'd thrown us a tow rope.
Bruce hit the deck early, as did Michael and Tiki. Michael and Tiki are trying to bat home runs, or a world hang gliding record, every day they fly, so they must make the conditions fit their program. If they're not in the air at 11:00 or shortly thereafter, then they don't have eight plus hours in which to set a world record. If they're not flying at speeds that will make a record possible, they'll fly faster, even if it means probably hitting the deck. It may seem confusing to observers if two obviously hot pilots hit the dirt early rather than wait for conditions to improve, but he and Tiki are totally focused on their record goals. The paragliding crew down here just wants to fly, and hopefully fly to world records, so we often wait later than Michael and Tiki to launch. Anyhow, Josh, Kim and I flew together for most of the day. The fields had finally dried out, and normal thermal generators were working like clockwork. Puffy clouds blew up everywhere, but it was still too moist to find really good climbs to base, just technical climbs that ended short. It was still great flying, and I'm impressed with the Monster--Kim and I climbed out below 500 agl about a half dozen times, and the glider did great. Flying tandem like that is definitely different than flying normally, but it's fun to have someone to curse with as you sink to the deck like a winged bird or exult with as you don't.
Eventually Kim and I found oursevles too low to recover and landed after 91 miles, while Josh exactly equaled his flight of 102 miles from yesterday. There's something about paved roads that provides unbelievable sink, and massive thunderstorms don't really encourage further flying either...Josh has the two best flights paragliding flights of the year here, while Kim and I probably have a new US tandem record for going 91 miles. We wanted to go 120+ for a world tandem record, but were denied by shading produced from the thunderstorm anvils to our west. Still a good flight, Kim even managed to pee in flight. Apparently an earlier possible US record tandem flight was shortened with a forced landing at mile 65 due to a lack of in-flight plumbing systems.
We had to walk a couple of miles out, but it was a nice walk across the Llano, and we ran into a baby rattlesnake who was up for a fight. So far everything down here from Owls to baby turtles seems pretty aggro, even if it's barely been born.
An hour after we landed a world-class series of thunderstorm ripped through, dumping rain all over our normal routes away from Hobbs. Given that the fields are just starting to dry and conditions improve from the last storm cycle after a week of hot dry weather, a big dump like this makes it hard to believe that the thermals will regenerate well anytime soon. I've already changed my ticket to stay down here so I'll fly tomorrow, but home is calling after three weeks of difficult conditions.
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