Flying with Fred in the Chinook

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The Tuesday morning plan was for an exciting day of installing hardie-plank siding on the west wall of my garage.  Motivation was low.  The normal internet procrastination was in full swing… email, news, weather etc…  Lately a new website has made its way into my morning routine, thanks to Noel Wade.  It is the UW weather soundings at  Noel has been great about explaining what it all means, some of which has made an impression on my thought process.  Thomas’s presentation at the last SGC meeting was big help too.  From what could be made of the squiggly lines it was looking as if it could be a good day for soaring.  But with no operation scheduled, the siding project could not be avoided.  That’s when the phone rang; it was Fred.  “Would you like to come gliding with me”?  The automatic prerehearsed  answer was an instant “YES”.

After the call the apprehension started to set in.  A flight with Fred on a good day was likely to entail covering a lot of ground in the back of the Chinook.  A 40 minute flight in the Chinook earlier in the year proved that I could fit, but it would be snug.  I just told myself this was a rare opportunity that might not come up again.  It would later turn out to be an exceptional day, especially for this year. 

At the airport the weather continued to show signs of promise and there were the normal discussions of where it looked best.  Thanks go to Phil who graciously provided tow services and to Ron who coordinated. Bill ran the wing, and once on tow we headed directly east for about 16 miles to Olo and got off tow at about 5700’.  

After a minute and a half and 150’ of sink we (Fred) found the first lift.  Six times around and we were at 6600’ and connected heading for Wiley ridge for more of the same.  We continued east to just North of Big Four and over Sloan, stepping up along the way.  It felt strange to keep pushing this far back into the mountains, it was all new soaring territory for me.  With Fred up front there was little anxiety; the only question in my mind was where he was headed next.  By now it became clear that Glacier Peak was the next point of interest.  Would we keep pushing to the east side?  There was some relief when we made a decisive turn to the north and skirted the West side of Glacier Peak at just under 10,000’ with a spectacular view of the mountain off the right wing tip.  We passed east of Buckindy and Snowking and found a nice thermal over the Hidden Lake Lookout that took us to our maximum altitude of 11,115’.  The adventure continued  north over Gorge Lake to Elephant Butte where we found some more lift and turned west with Mount Baker at our 12:00 position taking us over Shuksan at 9600’.  Before making one final and unsuccessful push north to Goat Mountain to within five miles of the border we spent some time working our way up over 11,000’.  This is about the time a queasy feeling started to set in along with some headache, shivers and tingly, fingers (for good measure). 

Remembering the articles in Soaring Magazine about dehydration and hypoxia gave me something to think about as we spiraled up.  It never seemed to have been an issue in the past while climbing these mountains or even flying power planes at higher altitudes.  Maybe differences in the duration, ascent, and motion profile played a part, but once below 7,000’ the back seat of the Chinook was a friendlier place to be.  Next time drinking more water will be a higher priority. 

After turning south and passing to the east of Mt. Baker we searched for some elevation in the Dock Butte area before crossing the Skagit Valley near Concrete.  Back into the mountains on the south side of the Skagit we took an unproductive turn over Gee Point and then found some needed lift over Finney Peak.  Even though this was the closest we were to terrain, we had an escape route down the Finney Creek drainage that would have dumped us out near the Concrete airport.   That was not needed though; Fred’s relentless and calculated pursuit for lift did not fail us.  As it turned out, it was only a small jog in an almost direct line that took us to Pilchuck.  From there we made our way back to KAWO.

For me this flight was by far my best gliding experience so far.  We covered 333 kilometers in four hours and forty four minutes with a peak altitude of 11,115’.  Fred scored 421.95 points for the flight on the OLC site.


Thanks to Fred for the excellent driving skill up front and thanks to Kathleen for giving up the back seat on such an exceptional day.