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Qctober 8 2007

Page history last edited by PapaFox 11 years, 9 months ago

10/08/2007 - David Postlethwaite

The Blue Ridge Soaring Society boomerang may not be as old as the 20,000 year old one found in a cave in the Carpathian Mountains in Poland, but to many East Coast pilots it’s just as important. The BRSS’s Boomerang Trophy is designed to promote interaction between soaring sites at the cross country soaring level. To claim the Boomerang, you must fly a minimum of 100km (50km if L/D is less than 30:1) and land at the site where the trophy resides. The   flight must originate within a 500km radius of New Castle, VA. 


As a UK Royal Air Force Exchange guy working at Langley AFB, one of my top priorities on arrival was to check out the East Coast gliding scene, so naturally Tidewater Soaring Society was to become my local club. In 1781 Lord Cornwallis ‘donated’ the local area to Washington and Rochambeau but almost 226 years later there were no hostilities as the TSS members welcomed the ‘Brit’ with open arms. As an ex National Hang Gliding pilot and a glider pilot with all 3 diamonds I was keen to help further the TSS cause to dispel the rumor that you can’t fly cross country from a flat land coastal site.

And so the saga of the Boomerang quest began – it had been almost 20 years since Garner last claimed the trophy. First task was to find a suitable chariot for my attempt. Wolf and John thought I was a safe bet to fly their ASW20 so in May ‘HF’ gained a new team member. Two weeks after my first flight in HF, TSS were hosting a Virginia/Carolinas ‘fly in’ where several pilots had made the long trek from Erwin-Harnett, NC to sample the ‘coastal experience’. As the nominated ‘sniffer’ in the club Solo I could not afford to disappoint so promptly departed on a 250km round trip just to let the NC boys know that the TSS XC team meant business and although the Boomerang was changing hands in NC the coastal guys may soon be within range!


News that on 21st July Ken Bell had claimed the trophy for Erwin, was the catalyst for preparing the maps, manning the team and waiting for the weather. On the 2nd of August my team, coincidentally led by ‘Boom’ the tow pilot, were assembled at Garner with a good forecast. It was a slow start with occasional Cumulus and very weak climbs and poor glides. Only 2 knot climbs at best to 4000ft but onwards I pressed.

Conditions were mainly blue ahead but a few decent cumulus were close by now and much higher. Sure enough I was soon rewarded with a solid 2 kts from 4-5700ft. At last I could relax a little; surely from here onwards it would be a ‘breeze’? A quick update to ‘mobile’ and I was off over the NC border to a couple of cumulus. Now 1350hrs with my best climb yet of 3kts to 6500ft. I informed ‘mobile’ that conditions were very good. Huge big blue hole ahead towards Roanoke Rapids and further south, but no problems it’s just a matter of time before cumulus will start popping at 6000ft everywhere? Not so!! Conditions became more and more stable in the blue. My last climb had been to 5000ft but for the next 2 hours and 5 mins the best climb I would find was 0.9kts!!

Just south of Enfield I lost my Palm Navigation system due to a software glitch – thus removing valuable situational awareness of where my possible diversion airfields were and height required. I was now down to map reading! Unfortunately my nicely laminated chart had slipped under the seat and I was now using a paper back up getting rather soggy under the very hot sweaty conditions in the cockpit as I was working so hard. After a series of weak climbs and poor glides I was at 4000ft near Rocky Mount and was well past the 124km half way point. Unbeknown to me I was 40kms and 1 hr 10 mins away from landing. Intermittent comms with the ‘mobile’ team included phrases that regularly included ‘going to land’, ‘not looking pretty’ and at one stage ‘ugly’ but still I clung on. Eventually I had climbed to 1700ft agl and was within site of Franklin County airport. After a final glide to the airport I finally admitted defeat and landed after 4hrs 7 mins and 200kms flown. A few locals wandered over to say hello and asked if I had come from Harnett! Sadly No! That was the destination. The mobile team John, Byrd, Travis & Tom packed me away and off we returned to Garner.


In early Sept I attended the Harnett hosted NCSA Virginia’s/Carolinas meet, where my 3 flights in HF achieved over 700kms XC. It included a run up north to Ball and back, so I was now much better prepared. No software problems, the landing options 100kms to the North had all been checked and I had actually seen the trophy resplendent in their briefing room.


The second attempt 29th Sep, was somewhat short lived. Although the wind was in the right direction the 20kts+ was just too much. An hour into the flight I had barely made 35kms and thus landed at Franklin-Rose, VA for an early bath and tea and biscuits!


As the end of the OLC season loomed with the ‘flat land coastal’ TSS proudly standing in 28th place and almost 19,000kms registered (quadruple that of 2006), there was a slim chance that Columbus (a fellow European) would come to the rescue on 8 Oct! And so it was on his day (515 years later) that HF was ready to do battle again. This time Mike would tow and start my quest whilst Byrd and Tom would be the crew.

I had been following the Harnett boys recent XC submissions on OLC and noticed that the day before Roger Fowler had a couple of nice flights but unfortunately had to take a relight at Ball airfield but managed to fly back to Harnett later in the afternoon. Little did I realise that this was intentional, and although Roger is a Harnett member his intent was to land at Ball to then fly back home, but in doing so get his name on the trophy, which by default would have to move to Ball!

I was expecting a late start and launched at 1246hrs. This time the plan was not to go direct but push further out to the West to Roanoke Rapids before working SW to Harnett with a cautious approach always trying to stay above 3000ft. This time the conditions were more consistent with enough cumulus to make good initial progress. The best climbs though were only 3 knots but I worked the 3800 -5500ft band all the way to Roanoke Rapids. The ground crew were lagging behind trying to play catch up but the local flyers back at Garner would relay my progress. Instead of a run down the I95 the better looking Cumulus were further out West so I pressed on (4-6000ft) knowing that when I eventually turned South I could skirt the Raleigh airspace and would have a light tailwind final glide. I was soon out to the West of Ball airfield with over 170kms behind me, having had virtually no direct communications with my team. I had now passed my previous landing point at Franklin County and was in familiar territory from my out and return to Ball from Harnett 1 month earlier.


Whilst climbing up from 3800ft 10 miles north of Raleigh with 6500ft required for final glide to Harnett the radio started to spring to life. During the next 8 minutes thermalling I had accumulated a broken message that included the words Ball, Boomerang, Harnett. I repeatedly asked for clarification and only received broken responses – I think they want me to land at Ball. Hang on a minute didn’t someone fly from Harnett to Ball yesterday? I think they have found out about a recent flight from Ball to Harnett to claim the trophy, but they don’t yet know that Roger has claimed it back for Harnett yesterday so I think I should still go to Harnett. What do I do now, go with my instinct or turn back north and do as I’m told? Well I figured that as the chain of events involved elderly people then they wouldn’t be missed too much when I landed at Ball only to find I should have been at Harnett and I might just get away with the subsequent murders – at least there would be fellow glider pilot sympathy!

Indeed, it is believed that the shape and elliptical flight path of the returning boomerang makes it useful for hunting. Boy this was a returning flight path as I duly marched back north to Ball to hunt this elusive Boomerang.

On arrival at the deserted field, the cell phone was out pretty quickly and I spoke to my team. I explained about Roger’s flight yesterday and at that point we all believed that a quick visit to the Gunsmith’s was in order to stock up on ammunition!  In order to seek final clarification I decided to ring Heinz McArthur down at Harnett. It took me at least 10 minutes to work out the intricacies’ of Roger’s plan and that I was indeed at the right place. So in the end the trophy was claimed after less than 24 hours without ever transiting to Ball from Harnett – Roger did not even have the chance to engrave his name!


All in all a huge team effort supported by the TSS members – what’s the chance of us keeping hold of it for the next 20 years? I think not!


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