July 15, 1991, Monterey, New York. I had spent a
morning assembling the Monarch and answering many questions from the power crowd concerning soaring and sailplanes.
After a delicious lunch in the Flightfarm barn I hunted down Angel Mates, our SHAP talk editor and volunteer ultralight towplane pilot. This was to be my first airtow behind an ultralight powerplane. I was confident that his 65 hp, 2 seat Explorer would be as successful as my previous airtows behind a 80 hp Piper Cub, We took the aircraft to the southeast corner of the field and laid out a 230 foot length of 3/16 diameter polypropylene towline.
The tow went very well. We accelerated rapidly and I broke ground after a 50 ft run. The towplane probably required 200 ft. Climb out was similar to conventional sailplane type tow, although we were moving along at 45 mph our rate of climb was 300 to 400 fpm. Passing through thermals may require a bit more attention. It takes 3.5 seconds from the time the towplane hits a thermal till the sailplane contacts it so you do a bit more hill climbing than is usual.
Angel recommended a 2,000 ft release altitude but 1,500 seemed more than enough. I compromised and released at 1,600 over the south ridge. A patchy thermal was located at 1,300 ft. After a few turns we had it well centered and were climbing at 400 fpm. The sky was filled with rather flat and ragged looking cumulus. I looked at my watch, it was 1:30. As we spiraled higher, drifting with the 10 to 15 mph north wind, the air became noticeablycooler. A welcome relief from the 90 degree heat on the ground. I pulled my jacket up around my chest to protect myself from the 30 mph wind blowing through my totally open cockpit. This is the only way to soar, out in the elements where all your senses can soak up all the joys of flight.
At 5,000 ft I broke off, having drifted two miles downwind, and headed up the valley to an auto salvage yard about a mile or two east of the airfield. There should be lots of stored heat in all that steel. Enroute I ran into patchy lift which I hovered in to gain back lost height. Arriving over the iron works I found the strong lift I was seeking. Within minutes, I found myself wheeling up inside a great inverted bowl, the base of a cumulus. The interior of it's base was dark and forbidding while the brim all around was a fluffy and brilliant white, I couldn't tell how high it was to the top of this inverted dome and I really didn't want to find out as the variometer was pegged. I pushed hard forward on the stick till the little Monarch was screaming. The altimeter read 6,550 agl (7,500 asl) and the variometer was still pegged up despite the high speed dive. I watched as wisps of gray vapor rushed by just below me. I headed straight for the wall of the overhanging bowl and punched through the lower fringe of it's brim. As I passed through I reached out and touched my cloud. It couldn' t have been 50 feet thick, How brilliant it was here compared to the gloom on the other side of the shroud. It was like escaping from a monster who was about to ingest you. Back in clear cold air, my panel thermometer reads 47 degrees, we slowed back down to a respectable 45 mph. With all this altitude. I can see all the finger lakes, full length. Getting brave I headed for Watkins Glen which was on the south end of one of the lakes. I had driven the family there just the day before and walked through it's beautiful gorge. Enroute I stopped by the auto grave yard again to regain some lost altitude and continued on to the northeast. I stopped just about two miles short of Watkins Glen and still had 5,000 ft agl in hand. On the return trip I hovered in lift areas and cruised through the downs. Arriving back at the Flightfarm still at 5,000 ft - and never circled once.
I hadn't checked out the valley to north, up towards the village of Monterey. Back into the wind at 60 mph, we cloud hopped our way to just north of Monterey, The best lift was on the east side of the valley where the quartering wind struck the ridge. Thewest side was all downdrafts.
It was now after 5 pm and I was able to work my last
thermal back to 5,000 feet. The air was noticeably smoother so I knew the game was nearly
over. The ride down was without a bump till we arrived over the 700 ft high south ridge at
1,200. Here I was able to get another 20 minutes of delightful dying ridge lift. This was
especially welcome since it gave me a chance to warm up before an eminent landing.
I set up my landing approach on the long runway. However, I was still riding puffs of lift down to 250 ft. It became apparent that the ridge was to interfere with my base leg. The ridge slopes down right to the runway and of course trees abound everywhere. With full spoilers I turned through base at tree top level, swung onto final between several trees and still didn't get it down on the first half of the 1,800 foot runway.
My flight time was clocked by an observer at 4:03
hours from tow release. Altitude gain was 5,250 feet. Now this isn't a flight to go down
in the books but to me it was an unforgettable experience. This flight was made in a
simple glider, where the pilot sits almost entirely exposed to the elements, the
experience was extremely "real" I have made many flights similar to this in
enclosed sailplanes but the realness of it all was not as evident. I didn't make the
pilots meeting the next morning but Angel told me that the power pilots were so impressed
that they gave us all a standing ovation. This is the first time that I ever felt totally
welcome within a group of power pilots. Maybe it's because we are
all ultralight pilots.