Cross-country Soaring with Club Sailplanes

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XC (cross-country) soaring – generally defined as getting out of gliding range and thus the comfort zone of the home airfield – has been the mission statement of the Evergreen Soaring Club for some time.  And the results of the Willy Burhen Cup bear out the attraction of this kind of soaring for a dedicated group of pilots.  Closer inspection of these results, however, shows that this relatively small group consists almost exclusively of private owners who were intrigued enough to invest the money to acquire their own sailplanes and have the time and drive to go XC.  There is a wide gap to the rest of the club membership who seem to be stuck in the mold of extended pattern flying and get frustrated of not advancing further.  Years ago the club did not have the right equipment in terms of performance or weight limits to facilitate the step from getting licensed to XC flying.  Even the L-33s that were to be used as transition ships were hardly used to get into XC flying. The fact was that there was not enough XC flying to justify having some gliders and - in some cases – positioning them in Ephrata for the season.  It is a moot point whether this was due to not being pushed by our flight instructors or whether XC flying is only for the self-motivated.

Some two years ago Evergreen decided to update the sailplane fleet to allow club members to better live up to our mission statement and acquired a DG-300 and a G-103.  Both sailplanes required some work to get them fully suitable for club use but they were finally available for a full season.  So how did this work out?

It was somewhat disappointing by most standards.  True, there were some outstanding flights – Paul Adriance made a flight with 521 OLC points from Twisp (best flight yet for an ES sailplane) in the G-103, and Jim Dobberfuhl posted a 479 OLC point flight from Ephrata in the DG-).  But these were experienced pilots – how about new upcoming pilots?  Daniel Dyck and Thomas Van de Velde were the notable exceptions who took to these new ES sailplanes - and both went quickly into owning their own sailplanes. If one defines XC soaring as making flights of at least 100 OLC points, then there were 11 such flights in 2015 with the G-103 and 11 such flights in the DG-300.  For that matter, there were only 8 flights in the L-33 (all in Ephrata) that qualify as XC flights.

So with a new season coming up what can we do to make new and upcoming pilots more aware of the potential of XC flying?  There is nothing magic and actually nothing that has not been said before.  Pilots have to build up their experience and their confidence step by step, including getting into our higher performance ships.  Expanding the comfort zone, getting proficient in staying up, making progressively longer final glides and  getting familiar with neighboring airfields are all part of the process.  Flying with more experienced pilots in two-seaters such as the G-103 (as Ron volunteered to do) and buddy flying as well as studying OLC flights and Condor soaring are all proven ways to further one’s XC abilities.  And a repeat of the Green Valley excursion this year is highly desirable.  The club has the right tools.  The XC qualifications in the Evergreen Flying Rules (in the by-laws) are a good guide for the required skills and knowledge even if one is not using club equipment.

So for all the pilots that are not there yet, make XC flying one of your New Year’s resolutions and stick to it!