Noteworthy Flights From Arlington in 2014

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Now that the Willy Burhen Cup (WBC) 2014 is history and serious XC soaring has to wait for next spring, it is a good time to reflect on how this past season went and what one can learn from it.  It turned out to be another contest between Dan Housler and Ron Clark.  Both pilots had won the WBC before and both had previously made cross-Cascade flights.

The 2014 season started late, after the wettest March in recorded history but at the end of April there were a number of good flights on record.  Dan Housler gained the lead in the WBC on 4-28 with a flight that went first north to the Canadian border then south to Mount Si and then back with an excursion to the mountains.  With a cloud base of initially about 4,500 ft that slowly improved to about 6,000 ft later in the day this flight represented the best one can make out of a weather condition that limits a pilot to flying along and sometimes a little into the foothills. It was a typical low cloud base flight that limits XC soaring on the west side to a narrow corridor along the foothills and Dan made the best of it.

Then two weeks later – on May 12 – Arlington saw conditions with much higher cloud bases and good lift in the mountains and Ron Clark was ready for them.  His flight benefited from cloud bases of up to 11,300 ft and good lift and allowed him to cross the Cascades and to come back (the first double crossing from Arlington)!  This was the winning flight for the WBC 2014 and earned Ron – together with a 630 point flight from Twisp – the Cloyd Artmann trophy and the Cross-Cascade award by the SGC.  Nobody else came close to beat Dan’s flight so he kept the no 2 spot.

DH4_28.JPG Dan’s flight on April 28                                                            

It is in the nature of mountain flying that flights are compromised by having to fly where the lift is (hopefully) while staying in safe gliding distance of landable fields (basically airfields).  As a consequence Ron’s flight across the mountains was anything but straight and actually covered a lot more distance than the 487.5 km/ 303.0 miles) that the OLC analysis gave him credit for, negating somewhat the advantages of higher climb rates and working altitudes.

RC5_12.JPG Ron’s flight on May 12

Comparison of the two winning WBC flights provides some insight into the XC soaring possibilities of the west side.  Dan’s flight along the foothills represented a typical yoyo flight predicated by the fairly typical west side limitation of low cloud bases.  Ron’s flight took advantage of the late spring mountain conditions that have resulted in most winning WBC flights occurring around mid May (4 of the 6 best WBC 2014 flights occurred on this day, though Dan did not fly then).  Ron was able to fly a little longer than Dan (6.0 hrs. vs. 5.6), he got a slightly higher average XC speed ( 47.6 mph vs. 46.1 handicapped) and – most of all – he got a significantly larger triangle (222 miles, the largest triangle from the west side yet).

Does that mean that mountain flying is essential for winning the WBC?  Possibly, but the best approach might be flying along the foothills first and then transitioning into the mountains for a large triangle, or a downwind dash across the mountains and then continuing east (like Dan’s flight into Idaho in 2010).

What can one do to improve on Ron’s performance?  Most likely this will involve flying faster, possibly flying longer and perhaps going for an even larger triangle.  Theoretically the triangle distance can be as large as the simple OLC distance but that is difficult to achieve in mountain flying (Ron’s triangle was 73 percent of his OLC distance) and it is impossible for west side flying along the foothills.


In any case, thanks to Ron and Dan for showing what can be done and for providing the incentive for planning next year’s XC soaring!  There are now quite a few newer pilots ready to explore the possibilities and challenges of XC soaring on the west side and to give the more experienced pilots some competitio