May 13, 2016 - A Remarkable Flight by Tom Bjork and Kemp Isuno

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

This is the story of Tom and Kemp attempting to soar along the mountains from Williams (north of Sacramento) to Arlington and coming close to succeeding.  It was a valiant effort that ended short of Mount Saint Helens when they had to start the engine and retreat to North Plains OR.  They still flew an OLC distance of 491 miles at an average speed of about 75 mph for a total of 633 OLC points.

While it was not quite successful it was an extra-ordinary flight and should serve as an inspiration to try for extra-ordinary tasks.

- editor


Page-1-Image-14-192x266.jpgTHE IDEA

In the couple years that Tom’s had his ASH30, Kemp has copiloted on perhaps eight flights. We’d been seriously considering a 1000km triangle out of Williams for a couple months. On Sunday May 8, Tom looked at the XC Skies forecast for a 1000km triangle and noticed an orange to dark red band of color (signifying 8001000 fpm lift) snaking its way up the Mendos, across the ShastaTrinity and Klamath National Forests to Ashland, past Crater Lake and the white peaks of Central Oregon to Mt Hood. A small gap across the Columbia River and the Portland area (easy to jump in a ‘30, well, we hoped), then between Mt. St. Helens and Mt Adams up the Cascades to the Finish Line (or Finish Cylinder) at Mt Baker (25 km from the Canadian Border). Hmmm...

Tom had just been up to Whidbey Island visiting family and saw the late afternoon cu reaching from Mt Baker to Mt Rainier and could tell the soaring conditions would be great almost till sundown. Tom thought, “Someone should run a glider operation over there! Oh, it’s called Evergreen Soaring? Let’s give them a call”

Kemp’s had a dozen straight out flights in his soaring career, and the last one was over ten years ago. The idea of a safari flight, meaning planning for a selfretrieve by selflaunch, was intriguing enough that it kicked off a flurry of preparation in the couple days before May 13. When safaring, we are selfcontained for everything except for gas, food and a place to stay overnight.


A high over Canada and a cutoff low offshore brought a strong SW flow right over the Mendocino’s and a highly unusual 1520 knot easterly flow across the Columbia basin towards the Pacific.

Page-2-Image-1.jpg Page-2-Image-2.jpg

The original plan was to fly up the Cascades and take two more days to soar/fly home. The catch was the rain from the approaching cutoff low due to arrive Saturday morning. Phone calls to Noel Wade of the Evergreen Club of Arlington, WA was very helpful for both weather background and local soaring tips. Ron Clark, also of Evergreen, was working the towplane status as it may happen that the Evergreen towplane might be down, and we were planning to get a tow on Saturday morning across the Cascades to soar back. Kemp also called the Willamette Valley Soaring Club (Portland, OR) in case we needed to land there, and High Desert Soaring (Bend, OR) too.

T MINUS 1 (Thursday)

Thursday afternoon Tom arrived early to rig and work on the battery problems. Of course rigging the ‘30 is a community affair and Rex was otherwise occupied, so Tom got some nap time in. Never pass up a chance for some shuteye before a big flight.

When Tom woke up Rex sounded the “All hands on deck” bell and the ‘30 was rigged in a flash. Kempton arrived and a test flight was planned. A test flight with a takeoff heading downwind. Did we mention it was hot? And the ‘30 is heavy? All good though as the tow is uneventful and the engine starts at altitude without hesitation.

We’re working on the ship when Matt Gillis lands in his newly acquired ASW27 (formerly Charlie Westernin’s). We offered for him to come with us, but he declined to join us on the Canadian Invasion (chicken! 8^)) citing battery problems.

After the short flight we realized we needed avgas. Rex and Noelle were off station so a road trip to the Colusa Airport got underway. Unfortunately, upon arrival it was discovered that the airport is locked up for security purposes. (If we can invade Canada, who knows who might be trying to launch a revolution from Colusa) Kempton was climbing the fence when Noelle came through with the access code, 0580. With AVGAS in hand, dinner was next. At 8:30 pm, Colusa is just about shutdown, but Birrieria Michoacan came through for us. The food was good and the service excellent, maybe because we were the only customers around.

T MINUS 0 (Friday)

We had learned from our recent flights together that the ‘30 had a battery problem. On the previous flight, we had run through all six batteries on our last flight and ended up using Kemp’s cell phone to text WSC while a storm passed. It was critical that we solve this mysterious problem now! We loaded an 90 Ahrs of battery on board even if we did solve the problem. On Friday morning, we strategically parked in front of the Rex and Noelle’s front door so we could snag Rex before he could get onto other tasks of the day.

Page-3-Image-4-179x135.jpgRex traced the problem back to a miswiring of one of the built in solar panels, corrected the wiring and installed a brand new solar power controller (recently purchased for less than $10 on Amazonspecial thanks to Dan Marotta for diagnosing from afar and suggesting the treatment)

Friday a.m. people showing up for good soaring weather and the Doc Mayes contest.

With the electrical system running correctly, we hustled on the travel checklists. Water, snacks, sunscreen, inReach, cell phones, tie down kit, hats, headsets, cameras, etc. Most had been packed the night before, but check and recheck is the rule for long safari flights. Kempton rechecked the weather, Tom fired up the InReach and we climbed into our crowded cockpits.


Launching at 10:30am, Ben towed up to our start on St John. The SW wind was 27 knots at 7,000 ft so we’re concerned if the thermals are organized. Lots of blue sky, but the first climb was found at the ever reliable SnowSt. JohnSheet Iron saddle. 11 nautical miles down, 529 to go...


Cu appeared by Yolla, with more on the Trinity’s in the distance, T15 in the foreground:


A nice 25 knot tailwind kept our groundspeed up and suddenly we were talking to the Craggy crew as they were climbing up out of Montague. Tom remarks,“I’ve never been so far so low” as we pass Yolla, Hayfork and Fort Jones. We crossed over I5 around Ashland and had a nice cruise up over the high mountains of central Oregon. Passing Mount McLoughlin, Crater Lake, and Mt Bailey, we had a good climb over Waldo Lake.

With Jefferson in the distance, it looked like this was going to work:


Page-4-Image-7.jpg20 minutes after this picture was taken, we were down to 600 ft above the HooDoo Ski resort grinding around wondering what happened. Kemp realized too late that he was biasing the course line too far to the east, as that was the high ground, but off the line of cu. We eventually got back up, but that was 15 minutes lost. Our safety airport, Santiam Junction (left), is an odd looking place at a valley bottom with what looks like a split pile of gravel. Kemp got back to a cruising altitude and we found cu to give us guidance, but they seemed intent on taking us Northwest when we preferred Northeast.


Crossing the Columbia with Hood in the distance:


It’s now 4:50p and the day is clearly waning. We head to a lone cu that could be a stepping stone:


to a line of cu heading up north of St. Helens. That’s Rainier in the background:


Although that cu produced, it was to be our last good climb. Each thermal delivered a little less punch and a little less altitude. But we could see that line of cu past Mt. St. Helens, if we could just get there. Damn things farther than I thought. Maybe we could find a notch in this ridge and still get to it. Do you see anywhere we might land if this doesn’t work? A little ridge soaring might work. Anything at all landable? OK, I vote for the one with no cows.

As the ability to differentiate between cow types arose, we decided to start the engine: ENGINE UP, LIGHT ON, IGNITION ON, FUEL PUMP ON, PROP STOP DISENGAGED, PRESS START NOW! Time to turn south. Kemp turned up the juice on his efforts to find the best place to land considering not only runways but a possible launch for a flight home on Saturday. Simultaneously texting, talking on the phone and talking with Tom, we finally decided we’d be most welcome where the locals spoke gliders and diverted to the North Plains Gliderport. Approaching the North Plains gliderport, it was apparent this was the place, what with a couple dozen trailers and as many gliders tied down:


This operation is right off the end of the Hillsboro Municipal airport and just outside of their Class B airspace. Left downwind for 27, we cross over Dick VanGrunsven’s place and settle in for a smooth landing on a beautiful grass strip. We’re on the ground at 6:35p:



After the wonderful flight and flawless divert into North Plains we were met by a group of very friendly Willamette Soaring pilots: Steve Mason, Pat McCarthy, Bill & Marge Brickey, and Craig Reinholt (Pat McCaran and George O'Leary helped out by phone & text). With their help we had the ‘30 tied down for the night in no time. Dinner was discussed, but the thought of hopping a Southwest flight from Portland to Sacramento quickly became the plan. The weather was heading to rain, so retrieving the plane meant first retrieving the truck and trailer. “Can anybody give us a ride to PDX?” Bill and Marge loaded us in their car and we were off less than an hour after landing. Dinner was a couple tacos at the airport then on as the last two passengers on SWA’s 9:25 pm flight to SMF.

Tom was amazed by the quick and efficient Uber ride from SMF to WSC (Less than $50 for both of us) Unfortunately, climbing out of the car at WSC, he left his cell phone, later retrieved by FindiPhone and Uber help. Asleep by 1am, then up and out by 7am to get the ‘30 in Portland!

Kempton spent a good part of the ride north discussing his family’s cell phone plan with AT&T. In the end he selected a plan that allowed us to turn his phone into a hotspot and use a good chunk of his data allowance during the ride home on Sunday. Once that was complete, the rain started. Oregon in May looks a lot like California in February. Low clouds and fog. Not really glider weather, but when we drove up to North Plains Gliderport (weren't we just here?) there were Steve Mason, Pat McCarthy, Bill & Marge Brickey, and Craig Reinholt again, but now standing in the rain:


With their help the ‘30 was in the box and we were driving off to drinks and dinner less than an hour after arrival. It’s amazing how much help you can get from a glider pilot if you promise a couple of beers!


Rain stretched from Portland to Medford on Sunday, but when we crossed into California we could see the makings of a great day of soaring from Montague to Williams and beyond. Too late to rig and fly home, we just kept the wheels rolling, arriving WSC precisely at our target time of 5 p.m. Two round trips to Portland in three days. Needless to say, it took a bit to recover...


We have had difficulties with the hydraulic jack on the trailer ramp. If anyone has an elegant solution for modifying the control nut, please send us a photo. Craig Reinholt has a solution and he described it to me while we were eating and drinking in the McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse (actual name, not made up). Unfortunately it was very loud in there and I either didn’t hear or didn’t understand anything he told me about it.

As for another attempt, absolutely!

OLC info