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Leg 4, Las Cruces to Hobbs - Monday, June 23, 2003:

From Jim Payne:
Well the ship is in the trailer again but don't say we didn't try. At the beginning of the day we set a minimum altitude of 12k in order to get over the rough spots. After launch, we didn't get the altitude so the task was officially cancelled. A few of us continued on anyway and I was able to get within a fat final glide of Hobbs when a thunderstorm centered itself over Hobbs and started dropping 3" hail. Most of us turned around and landed at Carsbad, the last good airport before Hobbs. Maybe someone made it to Hobbs, we will see when Jackie and I get there.

On the road,
Jim Payne

From Dave Nadler:
Today's leg from Las Crucas to Hobbs runs briefly south along the San Andreas mountains, east past El Paso, then up towards Carlsbad and Hobbs. This route threads us between a couple of
large military restricted and the El Paso class C airspace.

Weather again looks OK but not great. The possibility of landing in some sections is grim; no problem if you're at 14k but starting to get scary if you're at 10. We'll have no task
unless we clear 12k after launch. We fuel and inspect the plane, attend the pilots briefing, and
have a nice leisurely lunch at the airport restaurant. The Las Crucas airport is great - vast freshly-paved ramp area, big runways, nice facilities all around. They weren't even annoyed with my whopping 5 gallon gas purchase to top off the Ventus.

Launching begins around 12:30 and I taxi from the ramp and take off between tows to an easy climb out. Thermal tops are initially only 10k, but it starts to get suspiciously smooth in the lift with sharp jolts at the edge. Hmm. I poke about and eventually find the wave. Little isolated bits, and a puzzle to figure out without cloud to mark the location. Also they're not stable, coming and going. Gradually work up to 13k, then down to 12.5, and while a few others find this lift many are not so fortunate.

Las Crucas looks really pretty - a belt of green between the arid desert with the San Andreas. Poetic leanings dictate a quick pulse-oximeter check, 93% (nice to have a functioning O2 again, thanks again to Mountain High for their EDS system). The area on task is starting to show clouds - some good looking cumulus, and other straggly wave-modified things. And sometimes wisps are forming locally marking the wave. Wind increases to 25 knots over 11k. Also, looks like a line of alto-cu and the beginning of a thunderstorm out on courseline over. After hanging about for quite a while, the organizers decide that today will not be a scored race day, but some decide to have
a go at it.

I fly down towards El Paso, from where I can see a landable area on the first leg and more encouraging signs of lift. The Payne brothers in TP, the Stemme crowd, Tom in 5Z, Doug in DJ, and a few others head out. I climb over 13k, and remembering Ed Kilbourne's song: "nothing like some
altitude to make a man feel brave" head on course. In the corridor north of El Paso we find some decent lift, and as soon as I get high enough to easily reach Dell City airport I put the nose down and start moving. Great lift, even if the clouds are strange-looking and not clearly attached to the lift in our heightband. At Dell city I've got final glide to Carlsbad, though I'll need a bit extra to clear the Guadalupe range. There are clearly storms building on course, and I press into the Guadalupe and climb to over 16k. The view is spectacular - and enjoyable from this height. A bit surreal as the haze softens the mountains, contrasted with the brilliant sun on the building cunims and scattered wave and cumulus.

DJ, out ahead as always, presses around the front of the next storm and towards Hobbs but finds no lift and no corridor through, so retreats back and lands at Carlsbad. TP searches, and retreats to try wait it out at Carlsbad. I hang back over the Guadalupe a while, and though the ILEC SN10 shows final glide to Hobbs, that's ill-advised with reported light rain, high winds, and occasional
lightening enroute. Poke around the other side of the storm, no lift and no corridor, so I return to Carlsbad and fly locally for an hour. In the sun, the lift is mostly blown out by the earlier storm and still high winds.

Natalie retreats back and lands in her 22. My crew David Fitch arrives, so I treat myself to a few loops and such, make a pass and land on the wind-blown ramp at Carlsbad (windblown as in tumbleweed, and enough to bend a trailer after somebody unwisely opens it facing cross-wind). David Fitch and other crews had a very nice scenic drive except for the excitement when the
outflow from one of the storms gave the trailers a severe jostling.

Stash the Ventus in the trailer, excellent Mexican dinner (Lucy's next time you're in Carlsbad), then trailer the last 65 miles to Hobbs with a bit of lightening off to the south. Beautiful 5:30 flight, though only 160 miles !

Next leg - Hobbs New Mexico to Texas Soaring Association's gliderport south of Dallas.
Best Regards, Dave

From Tom Serkowski:
I'm writing this report from the passenger seat of my truck somewhere on I-20 West of Fort Worth. It's Tuesday, the 24th, about 4pm and for the last 100 miles or so the sky has looked quite nice, filled with lots of cu, but the wind is still blowing quite hard from the South. Yesterday, we launched into a clear sky and a marginal forecast for the flight to Hobbs. With some nasty desert terrain ahead, and then the high ground outside of Carlsbad, we really needed to be able to fly at 13-14K. The forecast was for more like 12-13K, maybe.

The decision was made that no task would open until a few of us could reliably get up to 12,000' near Las Cruces. A few of us did, but above 11K we did it in wave, and it was difficult to get much above 10 most of the time. So after a lot of waiting and worrying, the CD made the wise decision to not call the task and let the pilots decide whether to fly or drive. By now, there were some clouds on course, but for the first 100 miles or so they really looked more like wave and shear than cumulus.

Beyond, in the high ground, the sky was cooking and it looked like a big thunderstorm around the Carlsbad area. We were set loose a little after 1:30 local time and I flew out of the start cylinder at around 2 with 9400' MSL. In order to keep us clear of the White Sands restricted airspace, we had to use Berino and a hill called Cerro Alto as turnpoints before heading toward Hobbs. I used one thermal to get to Berino and arrived at a little over 10K. Jim and Tom Payne in their ASH-25 found a nice thermal which took me up to 12K just past the turn, which gave me the confidence to proceed. After a long glide with no lift, and with the second turn located in rough terrain, I slowly turned South to stay over some friendlier terrain while avoiding the El Paso Class C airspace.

Somewhere near or a bit beyond the second turn, Dave Nadler in his Ventus 2 joined me and we worked a couple of thermals Eastward while the Payne's got ever farther ahead. This worked
out nicely, as those of us in the rear got reports of improving lift ahead. The bad news was that the storm we had seen at a distance was indeed over Carlsbad and slowly moving to the NE. In its wake was a shelf of dark clouds, some lightning, a lot of wind and not much lift.

I saw about 15K 30 miles short of Carlsbad and TP reported 17K a bit farther on. However, none of us really wanted to push on into the murk and unlandable terrain so we all milled around for a while before having to land in 40 or so knot winds at Carlsbad. I overheard that Alfred Spindelberger in his DG-808 did get to Hobbbs, but used his engine somewhere between Carlsbad and Hobbs to give himself a little insurance.This morning, we awoke to a low overcast and 30+ knot winds out of the SSE. There was still some rain a 100 miles East of us and a chance for severe weather later in the day. Tomorrow is supposed to be a bit worse around Hobbs, so the decision is made
to drive to TSA and hope to catch either side of a front bearing down on Dallas from the Northwest.

The poor scorer is working from a Coleman pop-top trailer and of course has to drive to each destination in time to get logger data from (often slow) pilots, analyze them, get some sleep, produce some semblance of a score for the morning brief, then hit the road for the next goal. So be patient! :)

Just watched the Weather channel and looks possible for a task tomorrow.
Hope to have more news tomorrow.

Tom Serkowski - Leg 4 flight information on Aerokurier site

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