Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 19 Climbin’ In The Rain: This is the last day. Truly

Two days after Jonny’s record flight, and following a day of further heavy thunderstorms over the first one hundred fifty miles of the course, he and I took one last desperate attempt at our respective personal goals.  Jonny was going for Dustin’s distance record, while I had created a new distance goal just beyond Sterling City in an attempt to reclaim that record.

After the previous day’s heavy rains I was very doubtful, but the well-streeted early clouds looked excellent, so Jonny and I launched. He got off at 10:05, and I followed at 10:25.  Sure enough, it was pretty easy all the way toLaredo where things began to overdevelop and become difficult.  It was obvious that the previous day’s rain had had its effect.  There was a fabulous looking cloud street running straight up 83, but it was vastly overdeveloped and with poor lift beneath it.  Eventually it began raining ahead and behind me and I found myself climbing with a golden eagle in light rain.  He left as the rain became heavier, while I stayed in the improving lift.  It was extraordinary.  I wound up climbing to my maximum altitude of 5,500 msl at 300 fpm in pouring rain.  It was kind of spooky as with the wet wing the glider felt like it was at the edge of stalling.  And in the profound shade beneath the now enormous cloud my rain spattered, dark sunglasses greatly restricted my vision.  It was though I was climbing in an immense, gloomy wet cavern.  Nearing cloud base and wary of being sucked into the cloud, I glided north and finally escaped the rain.  But the general deterioration of the sky eventually put me down at Catarina (ninety eight miles).  It was a fairly good flight, if no record, but still a better end to the campaign than the previous effort.

Jonny too suffered through the rain and crap conditions at the end, executing a series of very low saves, including an extraordinary one from a measured 251 feet above the ground.  It is testimony to the ferocious concentration and will that lie behind his and Dustin’s flying success.  They simply do not give up.  In the end, he landed a few minutes after me at Crystal City for one hundred twenty four miles. 

Escape To Big Spring

The following morning was filled with departure preparations.  Gary and Christine were to remain in Zapata for a possible flight with his Woodstock ultra-light sailplane, but the rest of us were going.  Tim loaded up his little Cessna 150 to within two pounds of its gross weight for the flight to Big Springs, site of the US Nationals which were to begin in a couple of days.  Bobby Bailey readied the Dragonfly for the long ferry flight by strapping on an assortment of auxiliary tanks. Finally, I picked up Jonny in Laredo after he had dropped off his rental car, and we together began the drive.  Our task was to shadow the Dragonfly’s flight path so that we could assist in the event Bobby experienced problems. 

And, sure enough, the Dragonfly’s engine was running badly after refueling at Uvalde so Jonny and I had to procure a new fuel filter and deliver it to the airport.  After the plane had been repaired and departed for Big Spring, Jonny and I had a chance to look over an Apache attack helicopter on the ramp, and chat with its crew. The airfield was also full of sailplanes that will be participating in the forthcoming World Championship. 

Arriving in Big Spring that evening, a page was turned.  Before beginning the much longer drive back to Pennsylvania I was re-united for a couple of days with room mate David Glover, the organizer of the US Nationals, while Jonny went to the hangar to set up his glider for the next episode in his endless summer of hang gliding.  

Zapata 2012 is finished.

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