The New Castle 1000 Club
Task Sheet Score Sheet Group Photo
I was hunkered down with seat, shoulder and crotch straps as tight as my anatomy could stand, cruising with my left wingtip 20 feet from the trees. Passing several rock outcrops every second, I shifted my eyes for a half a second to scrutinize each rock. Why? Because I wanted to be the second person in all of recorded history to see a black bear from 40 feet away, out of a sailplane canopy at over 100 knots. 2P (Penn Smith) had seen on two days before, a mile ahead of me on the ridge and I had missed it. This day, however, I had to make myself stop such foolish sightseeing and concentrate on the flight of my life. The Big one - 1000K!
The annual New Castle Region 4 South fall contest started with a blast after last year's Hurricane Hugo Rainout. Attendance was slightly off, with nineteen 15 meter and five standards. The diehards showed and the Yankee/Rebel balance was maintained. The North-South "Battered Egret" trophy was retired to the club house, allegedly for lack of a qualified Yankee awardee. All normal fare at New Castle.
Saturday's practice day started things off with a bang, delivering a good working ridge behind a frontal passage. Many badges were declared and attempted and some completed. Everyone blasted at least down to the I-77 tunnel and back - 65 miles out equals one hour round trip at 120 mph!, with some repeats and side trips thrown in. LX (John Murray) flew the 270 miles in from Karl Striedieck's Eagle Field from a Jeep auto launch no less. An above average New Castle autumn day, but not record stuff.
That evening we saw a prog for a weak-but-okay next day. Our gurus Striedieck and Seymour gave the first hint of things to come with the casual mention that a secondary frontal passage may be timed about right for a really good ridge day on Monday. "How good, Karl?" "Little to early to tell."
On the first day, Sunday, CD Marshall McClung (subbing for Charlie Spratt who was late arriving due to the SSA Director's Meeting) called a 117.5 miler to Covington, New River Valley and back. With eight completion's, SM (John Seymour) was first with 59.22 mph and UH (Hank Nixon) was second in the 15 meter. There were three completion's in the Standard class, with KS (Karl Striedieck) first at 56.67 mph and ED (Ed Byars) second.
Later that afternoon after the flight the Budget Brothers (Karl and John) dropped the bomb. "How good, Karl?" His answer:
"1000K good, that's how good. Fill your ships with water tonight and tie them out. Briefing in the White House map room at eight tonight. Grid time 8 A.M., pilots meeting at 8:15 A.M. on the grid. Any questions?"
"WOW! YES SIR, gulp, I mean NO SIR, I mean, gulp, WHOOPEE, I'll be there!"
Never in the history of soaring had a 1000km task been called at a competition! Awesome.. history in the making!
It was a very attentive audience of pilots that listened to Karl and John give the briefing for the flight. First, the New Castle-to-the-tunnel-and-back no sweat-drag-race, then a transition to the main ridge and up to the Bedford fire tower (Holy Cow! North through three states to Pennsylvania) and back to New Castle and the same no-sweat (hopefully) run to the quarry just beside the tunnel in southwest Virginia and back to New Castle. 1008.7Km or 626 miles. Hot Dog! Everyone pressed forward and hung on every word as they detailed the upwind transitions, the Covington Gap, the Mountain Grove area, the tricky pitfalls of Snowy Mountain and of course, the "Dreaded Knoblys."
Declarations sheets were passed out and discussed, as were barographs and other essential badge requirements. Hopefully we were ready and hopefully the weather would cooperate. Now to try and get a little sleep and save some adrenaline for tomorrow when it would really be needed.
I bounded out of bed at five-thirty and rushed to the window hoping to hear the wind howling in the trees. Dead calm.. not a whisper. Oh my gosh.. the deal's off. Better go over anyway and compare notes. Misery loves company. Outside, out from under the trees, I notice a few clouds above the ridge height were really moving. Hmm.. and in the right direction, perpendicular to the ridge. Better get in high gear.
I first see A (Dave Cole) and he confirms that the weather call is perfect. The Altoona and Roanoke observations are just like the prog.. winds 3315G25 (out of 330 degrees at 15 knots gusting to 25 knots) Our New Castle valley is calm but at 2000 feet at ridge height things are great. Karl says maybe a little more northerly than desired at the north end but good for the south part.
The trundle to the grid and other preparations are anxious for me because I've been unable to borrow a barograph. At the last minute WB (Bob Whittemore) hears of my plight and comes through with a gracious loan. As we say down South, "Bless his heart!"
I am the first to tow off at 0843. Even behind the Skylane it is the first of several tense moments for the day. Me and my 50 gallons barely clear the trees and I hold my breath for 30 seconds until I have an option if the rope breaks. The release is in good ridge lift and I begin my 30 minute wait for the gate to open and the real adventure to begin.
I follow KS and FS (John Good) thru the gate at 0914, turn back to the ridge, drop the nose to 100 knots just over the trees and settle down (Ha!.. Who am I kidding, with my nerves like Banjo Strings) for the milk run to the tunnel and back.
Milk run it was, and about and hour and 130 miles later I caught and joined FS at New Castle after passing head on the entire 15 Meter class five miles from New Castle. That put them about 45 minutes behind us. Although it was only 10:30 A.M., John Good and I had no trouble thermalling up and penetrating directly up wind over Potts Mountain to Peters Mountain, the main ridge. It's become known as the "main ridge" because its the main one pioneered by Karl and now used for record and badge flights.
About twenty miles north of New Castle, Lick Mountain ends abeam of Covington and a transition decision must be made. You can get high (thermal up) and stay high straight across the new Moomaw Lake by Mountain Grove, dropping back down on the main ridge which reestablishes there, or jump downwind to Big Knob just northeast of Covington and proceed 15 or 20 miles up the Ingalls Ridge (passing level or below the Ingalls Airport), transitioning upwind back to the main ridge.
Sounds easy, but I sat at ridge height or below for 30 or 40 minutes on the Northeast end of Lick Mountain and watched FS catch up, hit a thermal and head for Ingalls. Then Karl caught up after doubling back from a detour up an unworkable ridge out of New Castle. He thermalled up and head for Moomaw Lake and Mountain Grove. I finally connected as KI (Kai Gertsen) caught up and we two too got high and headed for the lake. By this time we could hear the 15 Meter guys reporting in to their crews and knew that they were now close behind.
Karl issued one of several "Safety Bulletins" saying he was in big trouble in the lake area and was dumping water and scratching. I slowed down but could not help falling into the same hole. Karl finally recouped his altitude but not his water, hit the main ridge and switched into high gear. Dumping down to about 9 pounds, my apprehensions lessened; finally I connected with a thermal. Not being intimately familiar with the confusing ridges in this area, I proceeded up the wrong one until catching site of Monterey, Va. It was easy to recognize the town and Route 220 from having driven through there many times. Fixing my position, I dove over the correct ridge which runs just beside the west side of Monterey. Finally the switch back into high gear, but not into overdrive since I regretfully given up some ballast.
The run from Monterey to Petersburg, WV is the best and most beautiful part of the ridge. The continuos rock escarpments are truly spectacular. At 110 knots its like God has finger on the fast forward button, accelerating you past this jaw dropping view. Rustic little houses with big bird watching decks are built right on top of the rocks; they go flashing by. You must see it to believe it.
Another challenging, sometimes troublesome section is that of Snowy Mountain. This is a blocking mountain to the west upwind of the main ridge, and we were warned to be very, very careful passing this area. All my efforts and diligence didn't prevent me from getting low, flying below ridge level and again scaring myself.
I know this part of the ridge (Monterey north) reasonably well all the way up to Bedford, having flown it several times years ago in two-place record attempts with Bill Holbrook. And I had flown contests out of Cumberland for many years, soaring the Knoblys always with apprehension and respect. Ten miles north of Monterey, the first of many calls came.. "ECHO DELTA, I'm passing on your right." UH, then R6 (Tim Welles) and then E9 (Alfonso Jurado a.k.a. The Fonz) and RJ (Bob Jackson) all came streaming along in their loaded Asw-20's. The 15 Meter bunch had caught up and were cruising fast with their full water and negative flaps. It was a pretty sight watching them parade by. I stayed with some of them for a short while with my sedately slow cruise speed of 110 knots. When Petersburg came into sight we all slowed to find the right thermal.
By the time (1:00 P.M.) the sky was full of Cu and a lovely sight; from here to Cumberland, the Knoblys offered uncertain ridge lift, best avoided by flying thermals in "GET HIGH - STAY HIGH" mode. With our quartering headwind, it wasn't easy to stay high and cruise fast. It was an example of that major challenge of long ridge flights, that of balance. Perhaps the biggest secret for success on this and all such flights is knowing when and how to shift gears - and having patience in doing so.
It seemed to take forever to gets past the highly visible Mt. Storm power plant on the Allegheny Plateau to our left. Finally we could see Keyser and the new airstrip cu in the top of the hill. It sits just pas the old Miller Field airstrip, a one-way affair so familiar to me from the past. I was also not afraid to ridge soar from Keyser to Cumberland along the Knoblys, knowing every nook and cranny from the old days. This day saw our group of eighteen pilots handle this area in various ways; most tried to stay high with varying degrees of success; dophining along singly or in groups. Others admitted to ridge soaring at treetop level all the way. Fortunately, there seemed to be no wave suppression which often weakens the area. I traversed this section mostly alone, not by design.
At the Cumberland Airport, I came to a halt. In the old days we never - but never - went over to Haystack Mountain and the hospital at less than "real high", as there's no place to land. Slowly working up at the airport, I saw A3 (Alan Greer) head for he hospital from only 3,000 feet and hit heavy sink most of the way. He survived the passage. I knew, however, that one could get into trouble following his lead; he had an engine and flew with a different mindset than the motorless majority. Struggling up a little further, I headed out - WOW what sink! Coming over the hospital parking lot only a few hundred feet high, I didn't dare look down; past flights told me there absolutely no place to land. I bumped along to the quarry beside LaVale before realizing I had it made - well, at least for a while.
It was full throttle to Hyndman where the ridge widens in a strange shape, with a multitude of mini-canyons stretching down the sides. Behind each is turbulent sink waiting to grab you if you happen by below ridge level at slow speed as I did. Finally I got around this place but was more than halfway down the slope at 55 knots. The next several minutes were nerve racking as I gradually inched my way back up the slope at low speed with my wing tip very close to the trees. Because of the shallow slope of the ridge, my belly was close to the trees too - adding even more pucker. This is a very uncomfortable place to be mixing low speed and small areas of sink, even if you have alternate times of stronger lift. Each time you hit sink and almost touch the treetops, you must turn away from the ridge and yet have guts enough to turn back closer when the areas of lift come. Not for the faint hearted.
After inching back to the top, it's gangbusters for the last few miles to Bedford Tower. I wheel around carefully to get good photos with both cameras. I certainly don't want to come all this way and screw up my turnpoint pictures. It was 2:40 P.M. At this time most of the others are ahead of me and doing fine.
With the tailwind, I skipped across LaVale and Haystack ridge soaring down past ABL Labs before finding the thermal I needed. I got fairly high and tried to stay between four and five thousand (MSL) but was down to ridge top by Keyser. There I hit a strong core, centered it and after joining 2P I saw the averagers settle to 9 knots up with 9.4 for a few turns. By far my strongest thermal of the year including Hobbs! Bye-bye Knoblys. We rolled out at cloudbase at 7,000 feet and had Seneca Rocks in the bag. That's just past Petersburg and the start of the good stuff.
The fun didn't last long due to my high ground speed; I was at the transition point quicker than expected. UH passed me for about the fourth and last time. Our compensating errors caused us to criss-cross so often; he was of course cruising faster in his loaded 20.
Slightly relaxing, I looked around and realized that the environmentalists done have to worry about a depleting bird population here. Hawks, buzzards and even eagles were everywhere. Many, many lone red-tails dodged my glider after valiantly trying to protect their territory. Since this was the time for the broadwing hawk migration, I saw quite a few in two, threes and more but not in large groups (called kettles) of hundreds or even thousands as we have seen before. I've seen and flown with nothing more spectacular, except maybe the Andean condor in Chile.
Karl Striedieck, the birdwatcher's birdwatcher, later related species he saw this day including one Bald Eagle. He identified many that we saw after our excited descriptions. Nothing adds spice to a flight better than seeing gorgeous birds everywhere.
Back to business! I heard several 15 Meter pilots ahead starting to thermal up for the downwind transition to the Ingalls Ridge. They were down beyond Mountain Grove at Lake Moomaw. Since I had altitude in hand from the honker thermal ten miles back, it seemed best to go ahead and ridge bump now. It was no sweat but I intersected at a low northern section of the Ingalls ridge and had to ease up slightly to say on top. No place to land here for the next ten or so miles to Warm Springs, VA. We all congregated at Big Knob beside Covington for the downwind transition to the New Castle ridge. Now as the time to start being ultra conservative. After bumping along past the Sand Plant to Nutter Mountain, I took part of a thermal, my last of the day, and eased across the remaining downwind jump into Sinking Creek Bowl at New Castle.
Wow! I could start to smell victory at this point and had to start talking to myself about getting out of racing mode, into survival thinking. It was 5:00 P.M. and I was bone tired after eight and a half hours in the cockpit. I called my location to my crew and promised that I would be home in about an hour. Then I started a serious, stern hour long lecture to myself. "Your tired. Be careful. Be conservative. Slow down. Stay high. Stop trying to race. Let the others pass and get ahead. Plenty of time left. Take the gaps a little higher. Keep a sharp lookout. Watch for ships coming at you out of the glaring southwest sun. Make the quarry photos perfect. Don't press it. Above all: DON'T but DON'T screw it up now!"
A few miles form the tunnel quarry 18 (Dave Welles) in the Schweizer 1-35 came cruising by, homeward bound. What a sight. This metal bird was completing its second 1000K flight of the year. Most of the other 15 Meter folks also passed heading home to New Castle. I missed the real experts like KS and SM as they finished even before I got to New Castle southbound.
After the turnpoint, flying was easier with the sun at my back. The remaining pilots, began sliding by heading south. From somewhere deep inside me the last of my adrenaline started pumping to overcome my dull senses. Five miles from the finish I beheld one of the most spectacular sights of my life. Hard charging 9 (Bill Savory), TL (Tony Lauck) and YB (Jason Gregg) passed me from below and behind. I had the perfect view as they announced "two minutes" opened dump valves, rolled over the ridge and nosed down to hook around the corner to the strip. As the sun hit the sparkling trails of water and backs of white sailplanes, it was a dazzling sight.
Becoming part of this spectacle, I was still talking to myself... "Don't screw up now. Keep below red line. Spot all the other ships. Don't finish too low. Not too steep on pushup. Gear. Goodness sake, don't bungle the landing after all this."
When Glenn Maxwell radioed "Good Finish, Echo Delta," I wanted to reach out and give him a big bear hug. There could be no finer music to my ears! Can you believe he and Ellen stayed on the gate for eleven hours while we were having all the fun?
They are two of the many dedicated New Castle stalwarts who make the annual fall contest so delightful.
Nine hours and forty-five minutes is just too long for a person of my age and six foot frame in a tight Discus A. Looking back on the flight, it amazes me how little discomfort I noticed enroute. But it came to roost as I labored to get out of the ship, my body was slow to respond. On the other hand, I cant think of a better place to have been. I wouldn't trade a minute of it.
The post flight hoopla was a bit anticlimactic after the fantastic beauty of the flight. But it was now time to check and see if the barograph worked, remove the precious film, and start studying the declaration forms.
I almost forgot - this was a contest task! In 15 Meter SM (John Seymour) was first at 86.14 mph with E9 (Alfonso Jurado) second at 78.46mph. A (Dave Cole) was 3rd with 77.90 mph and 2P (Penn Smith) 8th at 75.04 mph. In Standard, KS (Karl Striedieck) was first at 79.68 mph and FS (John Good) second. In all there were sixteen contest completion's plus one club member completion 2H (Jim Frantz). In total, there were seventeen 1000k task completion's in one day. Some kind of record I'm sure!
The next day, Tuesday, wasn't flyable due to too much blocking cirrus. Nobody complained too much. Wednesday was a complete rainout, giving everyone time to check film, fix traces and finish the declaration forms under the expert tutelage of guru John Seymour.
Thursday dawned overcast and CD Charlie Spratt was worried. We needed another day to make it a contest and the prog for friday, the last day, was miserable. Today had to be it! Charlie said, "Grid at noon, hell or high water." SM sniffed and reported the ridge was working. Charlie called for the launch, setting the task to the tunnel and back (our only hope considering the overcast). To insure adequate safety, he opened the gate only after several of the experienced plots assured him the ridge was okay. All twenty that attempted the task completed it, with only a few squeaks, the most vocal being John Murray and myself. A3 (Alan Greer) in 15 Meter won this no water allowed run at 99.65 mph and SM in second place. Alan admitted that his Ventus B/T engine gave him an empty wingloading advantage. KS again was first in the Standard at 91.12 mph with KI second. We now had three days in the bag and an official contest.
The "Budget Brothers" (KS and SM) prevailed, with a never to be forgotten contest due to one fantastic day. In retrospect, I consider my flight rather bungling (10+ mph off of the pace) but glorious and successful, nonetheless. I'm ready to go again, and looking forward to it because the pressure to complete a badge will be off!
I also predict that since the Budget Brothers have pioneered this particular 1000K task at New Castle, many other luck pilots will be joining "The Club"