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Leg 3, Estrella to Las Cruces - Sunday, June 22, 2003:

From Jim Payne:
Yahoo! After the somber start of the last two days, we now have a race! l landed about an hour ago and about 30% of the participants are now on the ground in Las Cruces. Due to the wild fires a turnpoint, "Ruby Star", was added extending the length of the leg by about 40 miles around the SW side of Tucson. For about the first 40% of the task altitude topped out at about 9k, but then it opened up over the higher ground with attitudes of nearly 14k. Tom, our scorer, just arrived at Las Cruces about the same time as I did and is busy setting up to process the scores.

Jim Payne - 6pm, Sunday, June 22

From Tom Serkowski:
A very interesting day. Thermals are forecast to not much above 11K, and we'll have a tailwind. Then there is the fire on Mt Lemmon which is right on course. The task is from Estrella to Ruby Star, a private strip just East of Green Valley, to Las Cruces, for a distance of 348 miles.

This forces us to go around Tucson to the South and keeps us upwind of the fires and also out of the tiger country on the direct line from Estrella to Las Cruces. The launch begins shortly after noon and I take off at 12:45 about in the middle of the motorglider pack. I hook a nice thermal at about 1,000' AGL, reduce RPMs a bit and shutdown the engine just over 2K. The start is a 5 mile cylinder around Estrella with a top of 8K MSL. I moved over to a group of other gliders circling within a couple miles of the field, and we slowly climbed to near 8K.

The open and 18 meter gate is opened at a little after 1pm and the few of us near the top of the thermal head out on slightly different headings out of the SW edge of the cylinder. For most of the first leg we bump along between 6 and a little over 8K MSL, which keeps us mostly above 3K AGL. Not high, but not so low that I'm worried about finding the next climb. It seems that I'm the leader of a group of 5-6 gliders for this leg. I'm the top guy in the gaggle so end up taking the lead on most of the glides. It also seems I'm cruising a little faster than the others, as I get a couple miles ahead at each new thermal. After 2-3 turns to center the lift, here comes everyone else to join me.

After the first turn, I get a little worried heading into the hills and almost have to backtrack before finding lift. By now the others must have decided on different tacks and I'm alone for a while. About half way to Las Cruces, I again join up with Dick Mockler in IT. He's really making that LS-8 go in the 15m configuration, and without water. Estrella has no water on the field so everyone must fly dry. As I'm about 100lb under gross with the engine and all 16 liters of fuel, this really makes no difference to me. But the 8.4 lb/sq ft wing loading is a bit of a handicap while climbing. Then again, it helps on the glide. As the day progresses, the thermals get a bit more scarce, but they go higher and I see a few climbs to above 12,000'. However, they don't get any easier to center. Nearly every climb consists of 2-3 turns in a nice core, followed by a lazy meander looking for where the core disappeared, followed by another few turns at a nice stable 6-8 knots.

At Deming, I reach final glide altitude and start for the finish. I arrive at 6:54pm, and just like at Jean, am the first finisher! It appears my speed is around 74mph. Being the first finisher isn't always good as I was accosted by the local newpaper reporter. We had a nice chat for about 20-30 minutes, so we'll see what the article looks like in tomorrow's paper.

Well, it's getting to be well past my bedtime so time to sign off. Tomorrow we try for Hobbs.

Tom Serkowski - Leg 3 flight information on Aerokurier site

From Dave Nadler:
Estrella gliderport is not far south of Phoenix. As you drive out of the city, agricultural fields are being developed into housing as the city grows, but not far out it reverts to agriculture and grazing
land - pretty arid country.

Launch goes smoothly and thermals are plentiful at noon; perhaps we should have got going a bit earlier. Easy climb after shutting down the Solo, leave the thermal under 8k and wait for all the gliders to get ready so we can start. Forecast is blue, blue, blue, with tops up to 11k. Again not really as high as would be comfortable but the terrain is not as high and rather less forbidding than the last leg. Today we're given a turnpoint at Ruby, to swing us well south of Tucson and keep us away from the fires and smoke plume north of Tucson, which makes the task distance about 350 miles to Las Crucas.

Start out the top of the cylinder and head out along the boundary of the arid country and agriculture, which should act as a trigger. Promptly get caught by a gaggle trying to effectively find and work lift in the blue. Maybe not so effectively... I head south into the hills and fly mostly by myself. Join up with Natalie in her ASW-22BLE in the high ground south of El Tiro gliderport, and then head off by myself (perhaps not a good move). Into the high ground south of Ruby, can't get high enough to easily cross the next ridge-line on course. Struggled all around Ruby and eventually I'm joined by a few other gliders that help mark the areas of lift. They pass me and swing north of course to stay near interstate 10, but I follow the higher terrain along the courseline. By myself again, its slow going in the blue.

A fire-bomber passes by to dump a load on the big fire north of Tucson. It looks like the films we've all seen of a volcano - the top of the mountain is completely hidden by the thick smoke column and the fire itself is not visible. Scary! Thermals over the higher ground later in the day are stronger and working higher. Switch on the O2 and inexplicably punch through the inversion to 13k+, but the climb rate is too slow to see how high it might go. I have a terrible time picking where the thermals
will be - seems like the sun and wind facing mountains have got to work, but the my best thermal of the day is in the middle of a basin over agriculture!

Time is starting to be a big concern, and no other gliders marking lift along the route I've chosen. Perhaps not wise to go it alone on a blue day; sure would be nice to have some big fat clouds marking the lift as is normal for good soaring conditions in this region ! I've been checking alternates on the ILEC SN10 often, next is Lordsburg north of course. Still agriculture and safe options for landing along the courseline until I pass Lordsburg - then its just high desert. Not high enough to reach the next airport at Deming, I have to turn and fly back 10 miles towards Lordsburg
until I find a weak thermal and climb high enough to reach Deming. Deming's only 45 miles out of Las Crucas so this is starting to look doable, and another weak climb gets me to within 2000 feet of an MC 3 glide with 1500 reserve into Las Crucas. With absolutely no landing options, I need these safety margins; if there were landing options it would be no problem to reach Las Crucas at MC 2.

Swing south of course to a small mountain range facing the wind and setting sun, has to work, right? Nope, its just too late. I swing past the last landing option (Solo Airport, 25 miles from Las Crucas) but find no more lift. Oh well, fire up the motor and climb the last bit to reach Las Crucas.
Land on with the setting sun in the still evening air, after 6:30 in the cockpit. Some of the better pilots made it, but many landed in Lordsburg, and a few other motor glider pilots used the iron thermal. I guess I did about 325 miles (500km) - slow, but fun flight !
Next leg - Las Crucas to Hobbs New Mexico.

Best Regards, Dave

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