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The Inland Empire Tour

by John Roe, "ZR"




The cockpit of "ZR" showing Sylark Field as the destination

Have you ever had a day of soaring that more than lived up to your hopes and expectations? I will remember Sunday, September 2, 2001 as a day when it all came together. The anticipation started building the night before, when the forecast was showing climbs to 9,000 feet with clouds expected to form right at the tops of the thermals. I love going to bed after loading up my rig with all the needed items for a great day of soaring, knowing the potential is there for some good cross country travel.

When the morning arrived and I re-checked the forecast, everything looked great. In no time I was on the road to Elsinore. Driving down the Ortega Highway, I got my first look at the valley and was amazed at the clarity of the air. I could see all the way from the San Gabriel’s up north down to the mountains south of Palomar and Warner Springs. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio looked nearer and clearer than I had ever seen. In fact, the whole valley seemed etched in relief with the air crisp, clear and unstable.

Heading out on course, the CUs were everwhere.

By 10am Cu’s were popping all over the inland ranges with it becoming obvious that the clouds would overdevelop on the higher peaks. This soon happened and by the time I launched at 11am, the tops of the higher peaks inland were already hidden in massive and growing Cu-nims. I took a “pattern” tow, courtesy of Randy Spencer and Blue Max, and soon had 6 knots on the vario to cloud base over the Elsinore peak towers. I loitered there until Jeff Wright in his Pilatus joined me and together we set off for Santiago peak.

A nice shot of the radio towers on top of Santiago Peak.
We had a nice cloud street leading us to within a few miles of the towers on Santiago. We then found more lift over the peaks of the saddle, between them and beyond. We cavorted there for 20 minutes or so, putting on a show for some mountain bikers and maintenance workers. Eventually, we tired of that, and Jeff headed across Corona and the 15 freeway to the “dishes” southwest of Lake Matthews. I followed him after first performing a few more wingovers for the benefit of some day hikers. Very soon I was flying on the east side of the 15 looking for Jeff and for a good route to head inland.

A huge CU with Lake Matthews in the foreground, taken from on top Saddleback.

Just then I ran into some strong sink, 10-15 knots of it, in fact! I was forced to put the nose down and run south toward Skylark field to stay within glide. I did not relish the idea of landing out on the north shore of the lake. I finally reached some zero or positive air just south of the blue house on the Sedcos. Fortunately, Matt and Hans were marking some weak lift there with the red 2-33 they were flying. The lift was marginal and the wind was chopping up the thermals down close to the ridge but after slowly climbing back up to 5,000, feet I was able to scoot inland a mile or so and hit a boomer that took me up to cloud base at 8,000 feet. For some reason Matt and Hans chose to leave the lift in favor of flying through the sink I had been in. This they did in spite of being warned about it by me on the radio. They soon found themselves scratching to stay up over the north end of the drop-zone with a somewhat testy Carl telling them to get out of there.

A nicely defined cloudstreet taken from near the S ridge.

Meanwhile, Jeff had been on the radio calling the Hemet gliders and checking on conditions ahead. I hooked back up with him and we porpoised right along until almost to the S ridge north of Hemet. There I stopped to thermal back up under some beautiful billowing clouds while Jeff pressed onto the ridge. While I was waiting for him to search out a fat thermal so I could go leach him, a nice Discus 15 meter sailplane went by me heading for Elsinore. Looking around, I could see several other gliders in the area, and on the radio there was a fair amount of friendly chatter. It seemed that the sky was full of happy glider guiders. I took the opportunity to try to raise my buddy Mark Navarre (ASW-20 “OD”) on the radio. He was flying in a sports class contest up at California-City. Much to my surprise he immediately answered my call and was coming in clearly. He was waiting for the start gate to open, and it was over-developing up there just as it was around me.

View throught the Banning Pass.

When I checked back on 123.5, Jeff told me he was over Banning heading for San Gorgonio. I followed as far as Banning, where I circled at cloud base to wait and see how he did. It was getting a bit ominous under those booming thunderstorms!

Sure enough, our running radio commentary went something like this. Me: “Howz it goin Jeff?” Jeff: “ Sink...Bad Sink…ooow… getting kinda low…WOW did you see that lightning, it was right next to me! Pretty knarly, I’m getting rained on…it’s POURING...ok…OK I found some lift. I’m cool…are you still coming?” Me: “NO WAY, over.” I just didn’t feel thirsty for that kind of pain. I’m still thrilled just to be 40 miles from home, without needing to see how much I can push my luck against the mountains at cloud base under a thunderstorm.

Jeff said later he was skimming the ridges of San Gorgonio, and that there was snow on the ground. He also mentioned that it was very rough and was glad to get out of there, so I don’t feel too bad for chickening out. I plan to make my first time going up on San Gorgonio or to Big Bear a more relaxing and secure flight with tamer conditions.

Thunderstorms threatened over development.

Since I was not going to make the jump over to San Gorgonio, I left Banning. I decided to set course southwest and flew up against the ridges leading to the peak of San Jacinto. The cloud cover was solid and the top of the mountain was completely obscured by thick black menacing clouds, so I did not get far. Instead, after getting sprinkled on, I headed back towards the S ridge from the “back side” and started thinking about working my way closer to home. A nice cloud street was setting up from the S disappearing into the distance towards Perris Valley, so I made that my next goal. Lift was a bit spotty and disappointing and I noticed that the winds at 7000 to 9000 feet were blowing pretty hard from the southwest. My ground track when thermalling was moving me in the wrong direction at an alarming rate. I therefore chose to drive straight upwind several miles before taking another climb and was rewarded with some much stronger lift under the upwind and sunny edges of the cloud street right where the lift was supposed to be!

Soon I was comfortable; I had glide for the next 20 miles to the Elsinore area and passed a pleasant time just cruising at cloud base. I called Perris valley to warn them I was flying by the drop zone. They were courteous and thanked me for giving them the heads-up. My ground speed was only 40-45 mph going into the wind, but with clouds to mark the lift, I was not coming down much at all.

I arrived under a large solitary Thunderhead just east of Canyon Lake and could see that wave clouds were forming over the top of it. The whole sky was getting interesting with rotor clouds, Cu’s and lennies in various directions. After reaching the cloud base and playing tag with Jeff a bit, I headed off at 90 knots in the direction of Santiago peak and some rotor clouds. I worked an area of weak wave roughly over the 15 freeway just north of Lake Elsinore and then continued up to the peak again.

Suddenly I was thinking of landing; I had been up nearly five hours and Jeff had just put down after hitting big sink in the Sedcos. He actually got low enough there to fly the ridge lift. I turned and burned for the airport, wanting to do a “contest” finish to top off the day. When I called Carl at the drop zone, however, he informed me that an Otter full of jumpers was taking off in four minutes. I contented myself with an eight mile run at 100 knots to a full-spoiler full-slip pattern from 2,000 agl at the IP ending in a nice landing. After that I helped Jeff put away his Pilatus and went into the clubhouse for some adult beverages and hanger talk.

All in all, I think that soaring has taken on a whole new meaning for me now that I have earned my silver badge and made several cross-country excursions. I am learning so much so fast again; it is a lot like making my first solo all over. I hope to see you “out there” on the next booming day, doing what we were trained to do!

Thanks for reading this; I hope you enjoyed it.

John Roe.

“Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for.”
Anonymous.