50 km Distance from Arlington

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Some 90 years ago the Silver Badge was created as recognition of outstanding soaring achievement (1000 m altitude gain, 5 hours duration and 50 km distance).  Soaring progressed rapidly and so the Gold Badge, the various diamonds and then the 1000 km diplomas and so forth were created to keep up with the possible achievements.  And the Silver Badge became pretty much the entry level requirement for any self respecting soaring pilot, who is serious about XC soaring.  The SGC DG-1000 group requires a Silver Badge or equivalent to take that plane XC and it is usually a requirement for participation in regional contests.

The task requirements for the Silver Badge are stipulated by the FAI and can be accessed on the SSA web site.  For the altitude condition –generally regarded as the easiest to meet – the advice is “release from tow at any height or location that will allow you to find life”.  Whether you find life or not, the objective is to gain at least 3240 ft in soaring flight. The duration task may be more of an endurance test for your posterior in the right condition and will not necessarily require you to leave the vicinity of Arlington.

On the other hand achieving the distance from Arlington is regarded as somewhat daunting because of the scarcity of off-field landing sites. Too many ES pilots delegate any serious XC flying to Ephrata with its more benign conditions and then miss out because they don’t find too many opportunities to spend time there. The Evergreen Club actually tries to stimulate XC flying from Arlington (or other west side airfields) by listing  each pilot’s first 50 km flight on the west side under the Joe Patton milestone.

So what are the possibilities to achieve 50 km from Arlington?  While anybody going XC should have the basic ability of making safe off-field landings, there is undeniably some risk of damage simply because of too many unknowns (elevation, slope, wires, fences, ditches, e. t. c.) and it is advisable to plan on staying in safe distance of suitable airfields.  The performance of modern sailplanes is a big factor in safely flying long distances over unlandable terrain and eventually – especially with widely used auxiliary propulsion – may make off-field landings a lost art.

The traditional way, which is still as valid as 90 years ago, is to fly straight out and land at least 50 km away, whether at another airfield or making an off-field landing.  Landing at an airfield is not only safer but also offers the possibility of an aero-retrieve.  Making an off-field landing is more labor intensive but can make for great stories.  But all official distance flights that are scored under IGC rules are subject to the “1 pct” rule, i. e. the altitude loss between start and finish cannot be more than 1 pct of the distance.  If the start is the release from tow and the finish is the landing, then a 50 km task requires a release no higher than 1640 ft above the landing location.  So right after release one would have to find a thermal or land back for another attempt.

The only suitable airfield for such an attempt from Arlington seems to be Concrete (Meirs Field) and that requires some mountain flying (a).  As Meirs Field has an elevation of  264 ft such a task would require a release just south of Arlington no higher than 1900 ft asl.  If you think this is too intimidating, consider that XC soaring in western Washington started on 1952, when Joe Robertson flew a Schweizer TG-2 from Arlington to Bellingham (getting no higher than 4000 ft). However, with a modern flight recorder or logger, the altitude requirement is much easier to fulfill.  The finish point can be any point on the flight path; thus a finish over Concrete at 2000 ft asl would allow a release from tow near Arlington at up to 3640 ft.

The more modern way to achieve the Silver Badge distance is to use one or two declared turn points.  Both mean a doubling of the distance but also a doubling of the height allowance and – if successful – a landing back at the home airfield.

Using one turn point:

The turn point has to be 50+ km away and the flight would be a 100+ km out-and return flight.  For example, a turn point south of Duvall would offer Frontier, Snohomish and Monroe as recovery airfields and a straight course line would never be more than about 8 miles away from any of them (b).

Using two turn points (my recommendation):

By choosing turn points in opposite directions from Arlington one can minimize the maximum distance away from home.  For example taking Devil Mountain (1727 ft) near Barker airfield with its huge antenna farm as a northern turn point and the tall radio tower (1463 ft) about 1 mile south of Lake Roesiger as a southern turn point would put a pilot never more than about 8 miles away from a suitable airfield (Barker, Arlington, Frontier and Monroe) and at most 17 miles away from Arlington (c). 


And don’t forget that this is a test of the pilot’s abilities.  That means no coaching or buddy flying during the flight.

Let’s see our Joe Patton milestone list grow!