Tuesday, March 27, 2012


In my first flight report on last Saturday I indicated what a great day we had. Good flying and periods of good wind. - This post is THE REST OF THE STORY.

My initial weather predictions indicated a great day was on the way. However, Saturday morning the winds both observed and predicted began to show a more troubling trend. I posted these revelations indicating a bit more concern along with the prediction of "strong" conditions. If pilots received both weather reports or not I don't know but I will say that Saturday morning I was more concerned about conditions than I was Friday afternoon.

When Steve Thibault and I arrived at launch winds were gusty and clearly out of the North West. The flag at Mattawa indicated strong West winds. Winds I observed near Yakima were strong North and winds in route to the hill varied from calm to strong. Most troubling for me was the measured winds on the top of Rattlesnake: North at 53. The combination of very strong upper level winds with quite variable observations on the surface suggested potentially challenging conditions at Saddle.

A note on winds. - Observed winds at Saddle launch are notoriously unreliable. The only way to know if you have prevailing NW, N or NE conditions is to be out in front and in the air. For this reason if NW winds are suspected I suggest Saddle be treated as a P3-P4 site until someone has launched and you can tell wind are not strong NW through the observation of the wind dummies penetration to the West. The most enjoyable winds for Saddle are N to NNE. Strong NE to ENE and strong NW to WNW can be difficult to dangerious.

I took a fair amount of time on the hill before launching. During that time I experienced a number of squirrelly collapses in kiting configuration, this was from the NW induced rotor. I even packed it in for 20 minutes or so to wait for the West to die off or to switch more North. When I finally did launch I told those on launch that I though the winds were squirrelly. Launch was fine but as soon as I got out in front, just a bit, the West induced side hill rotor became significant and the sharp edges of the strong lift didn't help matters. I pushed out to clear from the turbulence and found slightly better conditions. - For future reference: If I don't come back to top land and report nice conditions following an initial launch at Saddle newer pilots might want to think twice about launching.

Unfortunately I had not performed a radio check prior to launch so my calls back to the hill recommending that people wait went either unheard or unheeded. I called 3 or 4 people on my cell but didn't get through, they were either in the air or were not answering. Steve joined me about 10 minutes into my flight and watched as I got plucked by unseen forces at a rate of 5 mps straight up. That is 1000 fpm vertical for our friends in Reo Linda. At one moment we were 200 feet from each other and the next I we had 1,200 feet of vertical seperation.

The combination of very strong lift - West winds and spring conditions was enough for me, and as it turned out it enough for Steve as well. We both headed way out front, away from the hill, and eventually to the LZ.

When it comes to rowdy conditions both Steve and I have been there and done that and tend to only invest in such conditions when there is something to be gained. Saturday was not one of those days and we both cashed it in while we had a bit of change in our pockets.

Unreported till now was the fight we both had to battle setting up for our landings. Saddle, on strong days, 14-20mph N, can create a very large and deep lift band. This is due to the size of the hill. - The wind has nowhere to go and bunches up, vertical lift can be found low as 150 feet AGL and as far out as Crab Creek Rd., 1/4 mile from the hill. If you add spring thermic conditions, lots of little fast sharp thermals it can be very difficult to get down to set up to land. - There can be significant turbulence when trying to get through and below the lift boundary layer 150 to 250 feet above the LZ.

Above this layer you can find yourself parked in lift and unable to penetrate. I know one pilot who quit flying paragliders after descending through and experiencing this condition/effect. The best solution when faced with this low level inability to descend is to either execute nicely pressurized spirals or use big ears if spirals are not in your tool kit. Both Steve and I were very happy to be safe on the ground and not very happy or at least a little concerned to see that 6 pilots were now in the air.

Fortunately after we landed the winds shifted more to the N and NE making both conditions on top and in the LZ better than when we had launched. Most experienced pilots were able to top land near mid day without incident but there was one serious low level collapse (photo above) near launch and one reported landing very deep in the rotor zone behind the saddle between launch and the East towers. I assume that the first pilot had not be briefed about West rotor from the bowl associated with NW winds and the second pilot got pushed back setting up too high and deep for a standard East approach to top landing and couldn't penetrate. He had a good landing but the last pilot havign a similar penetration issues there took a total collapes at 30 feet and was very lucky and very sore for several weeks.

As a responce to these two, fortunately non-injury events, I made a short video/site orientation that I hope will be helpful. It doesn't contain rocket science but it may help all of us make wise and informed flight decisions in the future.

For what it is worth: Spring is here, conditions can be very strong and change very rapidly. Fly cautiously rather than aggressively at least until you have be frightened once or twice.

Your Chicken Hearted Preacher, Dave.

P.S. Put the weekend of May 18-20th on your calandar. I will be presenting a Weather, Thermal and XC clinic. We will have class room theory along with guided Eastern Washington XC fun. It will be pay to play but I hope it will provide a good value and help us all become better pilots.

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