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Leg 5, Hobbs to Texas Soaring Association - Tuesday, June 24, 2003:

From Jim Payne:
As I write this it is 5 PM Central Daylight Time on June 24, 2003. We are traveling on US-84 southeast of Snyder, Texas on our way to the Texas Soaring Association (TSA) Gliderport at Midlothian, Texas. It gives me the opportunity to try to catch up with communications.

When we got up this morning the Weather Channel was reporting 5,000 feet overcast and winds gusting to 35 mph. The forecast was for a line of severe thunderstorms to develop perpendicular to the courseline to TSA. The winds and storm threat were the result of a trough extending the length of the Texas Panhandle. The forecast for tomorrow is for similar conditions. Looking at the three-day weather picture we decided to do Leg 5 in the trailer.

Behind us I can see towering anvils indicating that the forecast storms have developed in the Panhandle. Near Snyder we had nice cumulus. In front of us are cumulus that are starting to become towering. Driving in the gusty crosswind has not been fun, especially in areas where you are passing in and out of wind shadow. [Note: At 9 PM Dan Gudgel told me that when he ferried Chris Woods‚ 185 the cloudbases were at 5,500 feet MSL or 1,800 feet AGL at Hobbs.]

As we expected the logistics of RTKH have been a challenge. Each day is a different venue with a different facility, different people, different task area, and different conditions. People along the way have all been most friendly and helpful. Tasks such as scoring take on an entirely new challenge. Tom Tyson, our scorer, is traveling with us. Each day he has to find a new place to set up. The pilots also have logistics challenges, especially when they land before the goal, so Tom has not gotten all the flight records in a timely manner.

Other logistic challenges include a Stemme [BJ] that had a turbocharger problem and a rented motorhome [FTR] with a blown engine. FTR has kept up with the fleet by taking aero retrieves from Bernie Gross.

Leg One was an emotional up and down. I was happy to get the event underway. The soaring on the first leg was interesting and challenging. Brother, Tom, and I made a decent run to Jean, Nevada and we had a good number of finishers. After landing I heard Dan Gudgel in "Kitty Hawk Air" trying to establish contact with 1EC. Gene Carapetyan was a serious and cautious pilot with good equipment. It was not his nature to press on without communicating with his crew. I knew immediately that we had a serious situation. I called Fred Robinson to make sure he had sent a towplane to search. I notified the Civil Air Patrol Colonel who lives next door that we might need help with a search and called my buddy Bill Francis and told him to take Jackie‚s Cessna 182 to search. Within a short time the word came from Fred that wreckage had been found and rescue squads were on the way.

The next day we took a rest day to honor Gene. I suspect we will never be able to explain why 1EC was lost.

When we chose the route for the RTKH we intentionally selected a short leg for Leg One so the pilots, crews, and organizers would have time to get adapted. Leg Two to Phoenix would be over some rough terrain which on a normal decent soaring day is no problem. Unfortunately a trough was moving through the area with strong southwest winds. With the top of the lift forecast to be about 9,000 feet MSL we did not have enough working band for racing. The pilots who tried the course landed at Laughlin, Nevada, Needles, California, and Wickenburg, Arizona. They averaged around 30 mph.

Leg Three from Estrella, Arizona to Las Cruces, NM was another interesting challenge. We called a turnpoint, Ruby Star Airport to the southwest of Tucson to steer pilots around the big fire on Mt Lemmon and the Class C airspace at Tucson. It also put the route over areas much friendlier for outlandings.

It was a blue day with most climbs on the first leg to about 9,000 feet MSL under blue skies. After turning the corner the lift improved and we got as high at 13,900 feet MSL over the higher terrain east of Tucson. Approaching Benson we found a soft spot and got lower than desired. We stopped in a weak thermal and got up high enough to finish.

Leg Four from Las Cruces, New Mexico required us to call turnpoints at Merino and Cerra Alto to steer pilots between the White Sands restricted areas and the El Paso, Texas Class C airspace. Between El Paso and Hobbs, New Mexico the known safe landing places are up to 70 miles apart so we set a 12,000 foot MSL by 2 PM minimum for opening the task. At almost exactly 2 PM the first pilot reported achieving 12,000 feet MSL in weak wave. Since wave means sink and since pilots could not reliably get to 12,000 feet we scrubbed the day. When a former world champion [XX] describes the weather as "marginal" you can treat it like a stockbroker saying "hold."
Several pilots decided to fly the task anyway. Tom and I had a good climb to barely above 12,000 feet so we decided to give the course a try. Some unusual cloud shapes had formed east of El Paso so we chased them ever mindful of the airspace restrictions. In the corridor north of El Paso we got to 13,000 feet which was the top of the lift until we approached the Guadalupe Mountains.

An area of thunderstorms had formed to the east of the Guadalupes. The strong winds reported by the automatic weather reporting system at Cavern City Airport at Carlsbad, New Mexico indicated it was under the influence of storm outflow. We stopped under a good looking cloud before the areas of storms and enjoyed a strong climb to 17,200 feet MSL.

The storms appeared to be moving ENE and by this time Carlsbad was in the clear. If we could hang on long enough Hobbs might eventually be in the clear. Figuring we would find lift along the west side of the storm we headed toward Hobbs. We got to 50 miles from Hobbs at 13,500 feet MSL. With the computer reporting an 18-to-20 knot tailwind we had plenty of safety margin in case of severe sink. Hobbs however reported winds gusting to 40 knots and lightning in the area. We called Lovington which reported a "severe crosswind" and storms in the vicinity.

We retreated to south of Carlsbad planning to climb back to cloudbase. We chased several clouds but were unable to find any usable lift in the area where the storm had sucked away all the energy. We landed at Cavern City.

We appreciate all the support of everyone. The folks we have worked with all along the course have given us outstanding support. I apologize for not being able to send regular reports but organizing and flying have to come first. As expected this is shaping up as an adventure of a lifetime.

Jim Payne

From Dave Nadler:
Writing this report from the car enroute from Hobbs to TSA. It was blowing at least 25 knots on the ground at Hobbs this morning. There's a convergence between a big low to the west and some southerly moist flow lying between Hobbs and TSA expected to cause thunderstorms later, and as we drove to Big Springs there was standing water in the fields from yesterday's thunderstorms. Also large areas of overcast. Not a good day for this flight.

I flew my LS-6 from Hobbs to Dallas after the 1999 15-meter nationals. Could only convince one other pilot to attempt a 1000k straight out with me - "geeze, haven't you had enough flying after the nationals ?". Really now - can't ever have enough flying ! Besides, all the Eastern pilots have to head that way anyway.

That day was forecast to be the best of the century, but I ended up flying the first 50 miles or so under around 2.5k AGL before the lift finally got going. The terrain East of Hobbs is endless agriculture so that's possible - not like the terrain we've been covering so far on this trip. When you get midway between Hobbs and Dallas there are some rough areas, but most is pretty civilized. Of course, the irrigation for agriculture tends to reduce thermal strength.

On that flight, the Dallas area was in a different airmass, and it looked like a wall of haze as I got closer. No 1000k through that air, so I picked Decataur airport near the highway and radioed to my crew before descending into the murk - after only doing ~325 miles.

Next leg - Texas Soaring Association's gliderport south of Dallas to - oops, stay tuned, its under discussion, lets hope the weather decides to cooperate a bit more...
Best Regards, Dave

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