Tom Hall's Awarded Glider Flight - October, 1973

                                                                                                                Tom Hall's Award Plaque

On my return from a consultation on population matters in the Philippines I stopped off at Denver and rented a car for the drive to Colorado Springs. For years I had wanted to visit the Black Forest Gliderport and try my hand at “wave soaring.” There are three kinds of soaring, ridge, thermal and wave. Ridge soaring keeps you within several hundred feet of the ridge, benefitting from the constant air hitting and being forced to rise over the ridge; thermal soaring benefits from hot air rising, often under big cumulous clouds; and wave soaring benefits from an air mass hitting a mountain, small or large, and then reverberating upwards, far higher than the mountain, on the downwind side. It is analogous to the “standing wave” you can see immediately downstream of a bolder in a fast flowing stream. Thermal soaring can take you to 10,000 or perhaps higher while wave soaring can top out in 30-40,000 feet, with 50,720 feet being the current record.

Photo 1: Office of Black Forest Gliderport (the airfield is no more, long replaced by a housing development). Field altitude was about 7000’. Photo 2-6: I am “checked out” by instructors on Saturday for both thermal and wave soaring. I reach 16,500’ under the belly of a big cumulous cloud. My glider is a medium performance Schweitzer 1-34 indicating that in still air it will glide ~34’ for every one foot of altitude lost. On Sunday morning they fill the oxygen tank and install a barograph. The latter is located behind my head and inaccessible in flight. It records on a smoked drum my altitude as a function of time. To document altitude gained a barograph is essential. In anticipation of a possible high flight I had a light breakfast and no liquids to minimize the risk taking a pee in my flight suit at altitude or interrupting a high flight to respond to nature’s call.

 

  

   

   

Photos 7-9: The tow plane takes off with glider in tow. The puffy “rotor clouds” gave both the tow plane and me some excitement. The rotor may or may not be visible but either way it is very turbulent and with a glider on a 200’ towline, staying well aligned behind the tow plane can be a challenge! I pulled the tow release at 12,800’, notched the barograph by making a shallow dive, and thus established my release height. I was on my own.

  

                                      

Photos 10-14: A view of Pike’s Peak, the source of my wave and the lenticular cloud that often forms near a wave phenomenon. For four hours I went back and forth into a 40 mph headwind in the vicinity of the A.F. Academy, remaining steady at 23,000’. I was in the secondary wave that kept me at the same altitude in glass-smooth flying but not gaining any more height.

  

                           

 

Photos 15-16: With good altitude but no climbing I decided to seek the primary wave. I left the secondary, went more toward Pikes Peak, lost several thousand feet of altitude but then found the primary. It provided me with a nice smooth elevator to my final altimeter reading of 30,200’. I was still climbing at ~150 feet/minute and near the top of my FAA clearance height (they had cleared a “box” for me and moved all the jet traffic to 2000’ higher than my box). The temperature was now 45 degrees below zero, my handheld radio battery was kaput given the cold, my moist breath starting freezing on the inside of the canopy, jets were zipping along at 500+ mph only 2000’ above me, and my oxygen tank was nearing bottom; time to go down! The picture of the instrument panel shows I was going ~50 mph through the air (while being stationary over the ground), and the three hands on the altimeter showed 30,200’. Once corrected for the temperature I experienced the official altitude was 31,000. They are recorded on the barograph (see photo 9).  

  

Photos 17-18: My glider had dive brakes that when deployed would allow a vertical descent at 140 mph, just under the “never exceed speed.” I’m a bit of a chicken so I deployed the brakes and descended at a more stately 90 mph. You’ll see the sharp descent on the barograph picture. At 13,000’ I took off the oxygen mask and did six chandelles of exuberation, a colorful but low level aerobatic maneuver. The photos below are of the airport as I descended.

  

  Photos 19-20: After the flight, I hung out for a bit with my instructors.

   

Photo 21: I took a last look at the terrain I had just flown over. A good day!