Day 1 at Montague: washed out!

Putting away the horizontal tail

Putting away the horizontal tail

Rain and overcast shut down the Montague contest on the second day, so we put the plane back in the box and climbed deep underground.

It is surprising to lots of people, even pilots, that glider folks pull their planes apart and put them back together on a regular basis. Surprise is probably a reasonable reaction—why not regularly disassemble bridges and school buses while we’re at it—but the capability sure comes in handy if you land in a pasture. After a few hours shooing away cows, a friend rolls up with your trailer, helps you disassemble and stow, then collects their steak dinner or case of beer. If the wings couldn’t come off, you’d probably need to use a heavy-lift helicopter instead.

Mike's brother Joey lifts JOY's left outer wing panel while Mike pulls a pin

Mike’s brother Joey lifts JOY’s left outer wing panel while Mike pulls a pin

With an 80 foot wingspan, JOY is one of the biggest gliders in the contest. Compared to most of the other ships, pulling apart a Nimbus 3DM is “a pain”. If you and your friends work briskly, you can have the plane in the trailer in under half an hour. Not too bad.

The wings weigh hundreds of pounds and come apart in three pieces: a short wingtip extension that you can hold in one hand, an eight-or-so meter “outer panel” that weighs a bunch, and three-ish meter “inner panels” that are also a hardship. Gliding performance costs more than money.

Eight meters of wing go into the box

Eight meters of wing go into the box

With the outer panels removed, JOY is ready to enter the exciting 7-meter racing class:

Stubby JOYThe black stub sprouting from the panel is the carbon-fiber wing spar, which bears upwards of two tons when JOY is turning tightly in a narrow thermal. Bumps and jolts can apply considerably larger loads. Gliders are beautiful and strong.

So we hit the road for some sightseeing. Fellow Open Class contestant Rick Walters suggested that we drive to the trailhead on Mount Shasta where climbers begin their bids for the summit:

Look for an especially large and pointy landscape feature

Look for an especially large and pointy landscape feature

which we did after taking Mike’s trailer-towing minivan into the shop for a repair. No pictures because it was cloudy. After that we drove over to Lava Beds National Monument to check out some of the more accessible lava tube caves:

Soft lighting in Mushpot Cave offers a 1970s bachelor-supervillian vibe

Soft lighting in Mushpot Cave is the right touch for the 1970s bachelor-supervillian

Protip: bring flashlights; only one cave is lighted. A park staffer in the visitor’s center humored us mightily when we declared only one flashlight for the four of us. They do give out loaners for free, but we showed up at closing time and were pointed to the souvenir rack instead. We went with a cheap $6 light that faded out after about twenty minutes. Cell phones running a flashlight app were a stopgap.

Descending into Skull Cave

Descending into Skull Cave

Descending into a lower chamber of Merrill Cave

Stairs leading into a chilly lower chamber within Merrill Cave

The trip to Lava Beds also gave us the chance to survey some of the landscape east of Montague. “Landability” is a constant road-trip preoccupation for glider pilots—if I had to, could I put my glider down there? Without breaking it?

Above the surface at Lava Beds National Monument

Above the surface at Lava Beds National Monument

Between the trees, the scrub, the marshlands, the lakes, the rocks, and the irrigation pipes, the answer for 80-foot-wide JOY is typically no. Our best bet is almost always to glide to an airport. Even then, some airports have landing lights and other obstructions that make them unsuitable. It pays to know for certain. When we found ourselves driving by Butte Valley Airport, a windswept county airstrip on a 4,300′ sagebrush plain, we had to pull over and check it out.

It’s fine:

Surveying the runway at Butte Valley Airport

Surveying the runway at Butte Valley Airport

Weather outlook for tomorrow: shaky at best! We’ll see.

 

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