Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Smokey and the Bandits

Aloha 'Ol Smokeys! Well, today was a little smokey, with the fires in Wells Canyon, Brewster, and a few remnants from McNeil canyon fires. This morning was a bit strong and North on launch so the task commitee almost called off the days task just to give everyone a much needed break. Forty plus hours of flying, and more than that for us volunteers, plus 100+ degree heat and dry hot weather really takes it's toll. Even Jorge looked worked after yesterdays task, and he even said to me "Reaper, I'm taking a month off from tandems when I get home, whew".

We had a record launch at 117 pilots in 51 minutes. Try that at Kahana???

All were going up pretty good and although it was smokey down river, it was clear above Chelan Butte until later. You could definitely see the big fire just west of us and we knew the strong west winds were due this afternoon.

Most pilots scratched to get up over launch and probably didn't even know why they were scratching. The smoke was filling the river valley, the area in front of launch, and the flats were bright orange with smoke.

The smoke creates an inversion layer whereupon it traps all the heat and everything heats up at once. So soon as the winds picked up from the west the lead gaggle was gone over the river, the race had 3 diffrent start times based on crappy smokey conditions. The 2nd start gaggle attempted to cross and some were scratching the rim on the other side. Actually alot.

Then all of a sudden right after I called Kari Castle (Meet Director) from launch and said all pilots were gone, 65+ pilots came roaring back across to Chelan Butte.

"Wholly crap" what just happened?

"Kari?, they're all back over the butte again?"

"Ok, I'm headed onto the flats, and when they all cross you should follow as goal is in Coulee City private airport".

"Roger that" I said.

Alot of pilots were scratching the butte; too many!

One pilot with a name that sounds like SH, was low in the 'Mosh Pit" so called for the rotor turbulence and reserve tosses. I said, "Hey you, get the hell away from my mountain". He said, "Hey Reaper, it's SH and I KNOW I'm in the mosh pit but I'm trying!"

"Left turn, now", I said.

Then the sky was clear and I thought well I'll drive to goal over 38 miles away and look for carnage.

I didn't see a SINGLE pilot flying over the task course; which I drove through all the smoke from from Mansfield to Sims Corner to goal at Coulee City Airport (privately owned).

"WTH?" where are all the all pilots???

I get to goal about an hour later in 102+ heat, and there's already 25+ pilots in goal.
More are 'Popping' out of the smoke every minute like crazy old world dragons breathing fire.

I grabbed tow cases of beer and ice earlier and proceeded to hand them out to very weary pilots.

They told me if you were in the smokey lower layer you couldn't see 500' ft around you, but you could see the ground. The others that were flying above the smoke were cloud surfing and could see the humps from the thermals forming in front of them in the smoke, and would adjust their flight lines to arrive at these humps and get lift. I imagine it was a very surreal experience.

I grabbed a few internationally know Canadian, Utah, and Venezuelan  pilots, and we set off for home in the old Bronco with full cold AC on and a cool radiator a couple of cool beers.

A few minutes later and the smoke from the fires overtook the road. Then I noticed I had almost no visibility inside the Bronco and rolled down my window to discover that the smoke was from the inside, and Cheech and Chong would have been proud.

We found an old 100 year old abandoned school house and took some cool photos of the smoke.



JKS said...

As always Reaper, you're living life large and racking up the stories. I hope the comp pilots all know and appreciate your many good deeds. Nice write up. Hard to be so far away from the action...

Thom said...

Reaper on the radio probably saved me testing my reserve. It was harsh and bumpy but I wanted back up in the game.

All I can say is the old grey saved another monkey.

This has been an experience I will never forget. Hopefully a better thermal pilot. This place rocks. Literally.