Sunday, January 13, 2008

Prefrontal Plenitude

In anticipation of the gusty cold front that arrived in full force today, scores of local and visiting pilots feasted on the bounty of classic wintertime prefrontal conditions yesterday, at both Makapuu and Nanakuli.

Lured by the promise of light winds and a high lapse rate, Russian Alex and I followed Doug and Scrappy out to Nanakuli, where we met up with fellow thermal enthusaists Don, Russell, Sandy, Jeff and Jim. Later on, Pembertonians Sony and Carrie showed up to join the fun. The lift was strong and so was the sink. The clouds were drifting in from the north but that northerly flow was mostly kept at bay by the thermals.

Russell presided over this epic battle of the airmasses from his misty vantage point at cloudbase, while Doug tricked Sandy and Scrappy into a premature landing deep in the wild and wooly badlands of Nanakuli Valley.

Doug scouted the back of the valley and reported a cloudless wall of massive convergence pushing from the other side and meeting the clouds on our side. Russian Alex headed out to explore the air above aircrafts, almost making it back to launch but instead sinking out near the cars, and then promptly hiked back up for another try. One-eye Jim overcame some difficulties on launch by coring skyward like an old hand, making repeated trips to visit Russell at his cloudbase command post.

After a few hours, the northerly flow appeared to be winning the battle, and the air above Haleakala became more turbulent than lifting. The remaining handful of pilots landed, and we called Jetflap to get the Makapuu report. He had just helped Sand City Wade get off from Manics, and counted 10 or so gliders flying in strengthening north conditions. Don wasted no time packing up at Nanakuli, and blazed out for a rare second flight at a second site. Scrappy, Doug, Russian Alex and I followed shortly after. I heard the Canadian crew had launched many of their number from Cactus earlier in the day, but by the time we arrived, they had already left and there was more than enough wind for us to launch Manics.

Don, Doug and Nightshift were already in the air as Russian Alex and I arrived, and we quickly followed Scrappy into the air from Manics. Doug and Don led the way to Waimanalo and a sunset tour of green walls, and Scrappy, Russian Alex, Nightshift and I followed. It was freezing cold up there and quite strong and smooth, with clouds brushing the top of the cliffs as the sun peeked below cloudbase on the other side. The light was starting to get really dim, so we all returned to Makapuu -- all except Russian Alex, who continued deep and low along green walls, and I figured he would probably land out somewhere just before nightfall to start his epic bus ride back to Ko Olina.

As I drove away from Makapuu, I got a message from him in Russian - it sounded like he said he landed safely near Diamond Head. I had been speaking with him all day in Russian to see if I could revive some of my very rusty language skills, but this time I was sure I had not understood right, so I called him up to make sure he was okay. He confirmed that he had indeed flown from Makapuu to Diamond Head, and was now looking for a bus to take him home. Crikey! I called to tell Doug about it, and we marvelled at the wonderful cross country flights an experienced visitor can have here when they don't have any preconceptions about what shouldn't be possible.

But today I talked to Russian Alex again, mostly in English, and got the full story, which turned out to be not so marvelous after all! Flying with neither instruments nor a compass, he found himself dodging small low clouds at the top of green walls before getting sucked into a huge cloud and losing his bearings. After several long minutes and several hundred meters, it got so dim inside the cloud that he couldn't even see his glider overhead, and his anxiety increased significantly as the dark mist seemed to close in around him.

Finally he caught a brief glimpse of light and civilization below, and realized he was over town, and entered a b-line stall to escape the cloud. On his underloaded glider the b-line turned into a helicopter, which he exited successfully with a full stall. But he continued to experience numerous collapses as he encountered severe rotor turbulence from the other side, and he fought to regain just enough control to land at a park right next to Diamond Head. He told me that in the moments after he landed he felt deliriously happy to have survived the ordeal, and he quickly packed up in the fading light to find a bus that would take him back to the west side.

What a full and exciting day for everyone. Let's hope for more of this winter flying bounty over the coming weeks, and let's see if we can't find a compass for our lucky Russian comrade.

I didn't take any pictures at Nanakuli yesterday, but One-eye Jim took a couple which I will link here. Anyone else have any to share?


Anonymous said...

Holy crap, a visitor ticks off a coveted XC flight without trying. It is amazing that the trip was unintentional, but the outcome was good. I love happy endings!
Actually KGB Alex is an excellent pilot, who flies light on his glider, good job.

Doug said...

Photos posted in my flicker account.

Gravity said...

Russian luck...

No-one should be flying XC here without Navigational aids. KGB Alex was very lucky to have made it out without injury or incident after getting sucked over the mountain in cloud suck.

Someday, someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed flying into the clouds without Nav. instruments.

I have an extra compass for sale if someone needs it?

How many OTB's does that make it now? 10? Not good.

I've been flying here 14 years now and still haven't been blown over the back... It's avoidable.

Stay safe, fly with a compass (at least)


firedave said...

"KGB" Alex landed at the Kilauea Rec Center on Kilauea and 22nd Ave.

I think he did have a GPS, it just wasn't much use in the dark.

Someone did get hurt getting blown over the back, landing in the driving range. Oddly enough it was the same pilot who had a fatal accident a year or two later.

I have been blown over the back once while flying tandem, no real big deal if you land okay.

Staying home and watching TV is one way to avoid being blown over the back. But what fun would life be if you didn't take a chance once in a while.