Wave Flight Surprise

When I arrived at NCI on Sunday, April 24,1988, I had no idea what would be waiting for me above 3,000 feet. Cliff Quesenberry was tow pilot of the day, an he had just lifted off for a look-see while I readied 88H, our crimson 1-26.  Winds appeared to be right out of the northwest and it promised to be a ridge day!

I'd finished my preflight as Cliff taxied the 180 Super Cub up to the hangers.  He climbed out and walked over to the clutch of students and low-time pilots. (Few of the "pros" had come out that morning, although early weather was promising).  Cliff reported winds aloft were fierce and it would be a very bumpy ride through 2,500 feet.  He was reluctant to tow low-time pilots through the turbulence and they weren't so eager to go after hearing his description.  However, Cliff did mention the possibility of wave.

Wanting to fly the ridge, bumpy or not, I didn't give much thought to the chance of a wave flight. By the time, I'd logged over 360 flights and felt up the challenge.  So I loaded my handheld radio and an apple, then rolled the 1-26 into position at the south end of the field.  After closing the canopy and giving the high sign, the next 10 minutes or so were spent in some pretty awful turbulence, not unlike being towed through a washing machine. I sure was glad the belts were tight.

After the air smoothed out around 3,000 feet, I released and began searching for lift.  I made a meandering path generally toward Potts Mountain when I noticed the altimeter winding up.  "This is really something big," I remember thinking, so I circled in what I believed was a clear air thermal, never thinking about the broken cloud layer below.  Finally it dawned on me what was happening - WAVE! - and I felt my way into the wind towards the best lift.  I recalled the chapter and especially the drawings in The Joy of Soaring and attempted to picture the rotor areas. Now I fully understand all that rough air on tow!

The variometer was stuck in the "Oh, Boy!" position and the glider rose as if by magic.  There was little sensation of speed or movement, bu the altimeter resembled the second hand of a clock.  The radio!  Having received my BFR just two weeks before with Jenny Mulligan, I recalled her admonishment to notify Roanoke Approach as I passed through 4,000 feet.  Several stages later, I rode the face of the wave NNE and easily made it past 10,000 feet agl.  To avoid the affects of hypoxia, I practiced various height losing maneuvers, only to catch the "elevator" again at 5,000 feet and fly back up.

Climbing through 10,500 agl over Oriskany, I notice the clouds below me around 3,000 feet were becoming solid. I didn't want to lose sight of our field so I decided to return towards New Castle.  Not to worry, it was very broken at NCI and I spun down to cloudbase after a sensational flight.

 I recommend to anyone with a desire for smooth, spectacular soaring to investigate wave flying.  Talk to pilots, read the literature, the follow the "lennies" to heaven.

Robin Murphy
September, 1990