The following is a description by Mitch Shipley of his XC flight from the Pulpit to York, PA, on February 23, 1997 (sent to the CHGPA listserv by Tad Eareckson on March 3, 1997). Contains an excellent description of how Mitch evaluated conditions during his flight; if you're new to XC flying, read this!
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Wanted to go to Woodstock, being that it was February and you never get high or go far that time of year. Wanted to use the time of year to hit the site and maybe get lucky and do a full loop of the ridge, but it was forecasted to be too light (10-15 mph - which means 0-5 at Woodstock) and too west with a chance of SW. Frontal passage the day before, with a high coming in behind it, had the inversion at 4.5K MSL with a decent but not great lapse rate below that.
All that added up to Pulpit - it would take the 10-15 and make it 15-20 - and would handle west plus or minus some. With that inversion level one could probably get to 2.5K over at the peak of the day and dribble over the back.
Got to launch at 11:00 to see three gliders already in the air (Bacil, Dave Proctor, and ?) and ten gliders being set up. Never thought I'd be that late at 11:00.
Some cums were already coming through and they were dissipating as they went out into the valley - morning sounding had shown that it was very dry above the inversion with a 10 or so degree spread between dew point and air temp. Waited on launch for three minutes while some 20 mph blew through, but the gust factor wasn't bad. A bunch of folks flew that day and didn't hear of many problems.
Launched at 11:50 into 15 mph straight in wind. Had planned not to let myself leave before 13:00, so went south down the ridge a ways. Paused a couple of places and got to 1200' over with some 400-600 fpm lift (averager at 400 fpm) and heard some folks getting 2K over. 16 mph GPS ground speed with bar in going down and 45 mph bar neutral coming back - a definite W-SW cross. On the way back heard Dave Proctor going over the back at 2K over. I thought it was doomed to fail because it was too early.
With dry upper air and the cumies dissipating nicely in the valley, there was little chance of ODing. The thing to do was wait for peak time (13:30-14:30 in my opinion) and good signs of lift - clouds out in the valley - then use that peak lift to maximize the chances of crossing the valley. Since it wasn't going to be a hundred mile day (or so I thought) there was little point in trying to leave early. If your goal is to do the 30 miles or so across the valley to High Rock, you need two hours (15 mph is a good nominal drift on the east coast) and you want to do it over the peak lift period or later. I say later, because I have found that often late in the day the lift is lighter, but more widespread and, just as important, the sink is less. At peak lift one runs the chance of leaving that 1000 fpm up and getting drilled.
Talking to Dave later, found out he was in 700-1000 fpm lift and couldn't resist. He ended up at Chambersburg.
Crossed launch around 12:30 and headed right to the towers north of launch where Pete Schumann was higher than everyone else, at around 2K over. Couldn't figure out why the rest of the eight or so gliders were south of the bowl, struggling and only getting 1K over or so in the left cross. Reticence to cross the power lines in the strong wind (25 mph true wind velocity at 1500' over)?
Spent the rest of the time north of launch until I left. That portion of the ridge offers the highest terrain in the area (right at the towers) and a choice of three different faces. The towers/bowl area does well in SW, the area just to the north of that faces west, and the area around the corner beyond faces NW (although the ridge gets lower at that point). There are also the corners between these areas that tend to trigger things. One doesn't have the primary LZ right in front, but for the XC hungry pilot who knows how to gauge changing conditions and go to the right spot, this area seems to be the best. I have left from the towers down by where PA 16 crosses the ridge (on the 11/10 flight to Gettysburg), but that was dictated by the cloud street coming over that area. All things being equal, the area north of launch is the place to wait.
With most of the good looking clouds over the west and NW facing ridge sections I went to hang out there. After fifteen minutes or so at 1000' over or below (while the others back at the towers were 2500' over a lot), at 13:15 I stair stepped a series to 5300' MSL and good cloud street position. Alas my buddies (Pete Schumann, Tom McGowan, and George Price), whom I wanted to go with me, were back down at 1000' over and not in a position to go back near the towers. Ain't that the way - if there is lift in one spot there is sink elsewhere. This pattern would repeat later. I postponed plans and went to join them at the towers.
None of us did well and all subsequently returned north to the better looking clouds. I even went all the way around the corner to the low NW facing area chasing a nice looking street which I failed to reach before losing too much altitude. Upon turning around I was greeted with a stiff and strengthening SW wind.
My buddies had sucked along with me but were more conservative. Even so, the 35 mph or so peak winds drove Pete and George out to land. Tom and I scrapped back to the west facing ridge and trolled.
After playing at the corner near the towers and with Tom below me, I headed back to those nice looking clouds to the north. Tom hooked one almost on cue and next thing I knew was at 2500' over, still climbing, and saying he was going with it. I was validating the theory that if there is lift in one place there isn't lift in the other, so I watched him go at around 14:00 thinking he had a good position.
Decided to forget the best looking clouds and troll on the west facing ridge. About the same place as Tom had started climbing, I scored a few, stair stepped up to 2000' over, drifted with the lift right over the towers, then changed to a cloud behind launch. Got 400-600 fpm (saw 500 on the averager) to 5500' MSL, then just dribbled in 100-200 fpm up to at 6600' MSL and a wispy base (this particular thermal being unrelated to any of the good clouds). That had me just about over Broad Mountain, the second and last big ridge behind launch.
Continued to drift in almost zero keeping above 6000' MSL as I dribbled over Tom, now on the ground on US 30 just past the last ridge. Then turned downwind for Chambersburg, heading for clouds and trying to stay in the wind line of where they had been. Worked most all lift in the 150-400 fpm range, clouds and, more often, wispies between clouds being good indicators. Stayed above 4000' MSL until crossing I-81 and coming to the hard decision part of the flight.
As previously on short downwind legs to Chambersburg, the Tangent true wind speed was in the 35 mph range at 5000' MSL. Pretty good drift, but that now presented me a dilemma. The drift was ENE angling across the tree expanse making a straight downwind crossing a diagonal affair of 10 miles or so. The lift had been in the 100-400 fpm range, but nothing solid at the upper end. There were some reasonable looking clouds over the South Mountain area, there was strong drift in the 200 fpm lift toward the point of no return. I tried that twice, angling crosswind back out to the next lift/cloud area to keep the I-81 fields still in reach.
Then at 4000' MSL and broken 200-300 fpm up under a decent looking cloud with some other decent looking clouds downwind, I figured I had enough options to commit. The sink hadn't been bad to this point and the drift was good - just stay in the lift and drift. About two thirds of the way across near 5000' MSL it got zero sinkish. It looked like I could now go crosswind the other way (to the east, with a little tail component) and make the first fields.
I so elected because if I couldn't find more lift downwind I wouldn't be able to make a field. Turned out to be a good move because as I went onto the lee side of South Mountain I was in 500-800 fpm sink pretty consistently at moderate speeds as one might predict from the terrain.
Made the first fields at 1500' AGL still in pretty good sink. Kept stretching it to further fields and think I finally got to a point where the flow off the mountain was kicking some lift off the open fields between the foot knolls over which I was flying.
At 500-800 AGL on the downwind side of one of the bailout options I got a pretty coherent 200-300 fpm thermal. Drift was taking me over some small hills (good for lift, bad for fields) with some open terrain beyond. Just stayed with it. After getting back to 4000' MSL the flight was back to looking at the nearby clouds and positioning for best lift. Burbled in the 100-300 fpm broken stuff to near 5000' MSL.
At this point York was beginning to loom large - lots of city looking stuff in the distance. Some good looking clouds around, but I wasn't under any of them. Saw the York Airport (half a dozen miles west of town and immediately south of US 30, Runway 16/34) in the distance. It was in the direction of some good clouds, would be a great place to land/get retrieved, it was 16:15 on 02/23 - how good could the lift really be - so I headed for the airport in a quartering tail.
Didn't get much to speak of on the way. Shared the pattern with a Cessna. He was on a long final so I went overt right in his supposed line of sight (I was over the far end of the runway) by doing some steep 360s, flashing as much wing as altitude allowed. He was still over a mile out and I wondered if he might go around when he saw me. I didn't seem to bother him (if he in fact saw me) and he wasn't going to bother me (decreasing altitude was in control at this point) so I went on my downwind toward him, base, final and, at 16:30, landed on the grass a hundred yards off the runway as he was landing behind me.
As I think back on the flight, I wonder if I went aggressively enough for the better looking clouds and passed up enough of the broken 200-400 fpm stuff. The lift I worked was often between the bigger clouds and as I worked it the cloud/wispy often formed or got bigger over my head.
Two things prevented me from committing to bigger glides to better looking clouds. First is the East Coast rule - don't leave lift. Given the low AGLs we deal with and the normal paucity of lift, I have done well being slow and just staying with what I was in. Second is the observation that I have often gotten lift on the wind line of bigger clouds, but in the blue areas between as I fly toward them. Makes some sense, because there is room there for the next new cloud to start.
Often after stopping in the lift, above me will start a cloud which doesn't often turn out to be as big and nice as the ones toward which I was flying, but it is lift.
Another factor on at least this flying day was that the clouds were forming and dissipating earlier - that is, it was dry at cloudbase and the thermals were not huge enough to keep feeding the clouds to overcome the evaporation. What all that says to me is that the clouds were short lived and that racing for something that looked good was folly because when you got there it was too late. I certainly experienced some of that on the ridge trying to get away.
Another thing that Pete Lehmann had said was that if I hadn't come across some 500-700 fpm stuff, it may not have been out there, even under those good looking clouds. I probably would have found some by chance, especially on one of those that formed over my head as I climbed.
Stats from downloaded GPS track - North to south straight line distance on Tuscarora Mountain was 10.5 miles. From towers point of departure to landing 57.6 miles. Therefore, launch to landing distance is 57.6, Region 9 rules measure it at 68.1, and all turn point distance (i.e. if a contest had turn points to the south, then north, then back to launch, then over the back) is 78.6 miles. Duration was 4:40. Max gain was 4.6K (altimeter set to 2000' MSL at launch).