What better way to “celebrate” an one-way-in, one-way-out approach than with an only-one-approach aircraft: DG–808S Competition Sailplane – a.k.a. glider. Half of the reason I wanted to fly the glider here is to see if the AI tow-aircraft (a Maule) could get off the ground at Leadville, Lake County (KLXV). The other reason is what better place to catch thermals than in the mountains. In this adventure I’m flying from Leadville to Aspen, Colorado (KASE), a 26nm “glide.”
For this flight there was no charts; no navigation radio. I used the GPS to find KASE, and I turned on schematic thermals so I could see them.
Flying thermals is hard. Flying thermals in the Rockies at 12-15,000 feet is nearly impossible. I admit I had to cheat and use slew a couple times – the thermals just weren’t cutting it. I read afterwords that the trick to thermals is to fly inside the “donut.” I tried that, but it didn’t seem to help much. I tried flaps, trim, turning-clockwise, turning-counterclockwise, but nothing seemed to get me lift inside the thermal. I also tried riding the “ribbon” of the schematic – that’s where the turbulent air is – that only made things worse. So, I didn’t earn my thermal-riding badge today.
Once I got near KASE there was one more thermal I could shoot on the south side of the valley. That was enough to carry me up a couple hundred feet. Then, I turned toward the airport and made my way down the valley to the north.
When I was about 10 miles away (GPS) I turned back toward KASE and started my descent. If you think climbing in a glider takes a long time, descending takes twice as long. I think my speed was 40 knots and my descent rate was probably about 500 feet per minute. Needless to say it takes patience. So down I went slowly like a kite.
Within about 1 mile I lowered the gear, set the flaps to full, and kept an ear on the variometer; porpoising a little.