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Flying out of South East Texas


Gregg had his trike set up in the unused 60’ x 80’ hangar so Nate and I decided
to set hang gliders up in there also, then everyone followed.

We didn’t have the early morning cloud streets experienced in Refugio as we had
a different air mass so no one was in a hurry to launch. The aviation forecasts
were showing cloud cover at 4000’ even in the mid-afternoon as far north as
Kerrville where we normally expect cloud base to be several thousand feet
higher, and the sky looked far from epic.

Prognosis charts showed a cold front up in the pan handle that was predicted to
become a stationary front by Wednesday plus there’s a north/south trough line
west of us in addition to a tough forming in a SW to NE line that would be
across central Texas by Tuesday. Furthermore there’s multiple low pressure
systems to the north which seemingly should disappear over the coming days, and
to top that, the Sahara Dust was forecasted to reach us early to week.

Rich was off first followed by Sara and then me. We had strong winds probably
15-20mph but the airport is huge so we didn’t have to deal with mechanical
turbulence. It was smooth coming off the cart until a couple of hundred feet
which for me was when the rodeo started and the trike was getting tossed around
and my wing was oscillating from side to side for a minute or two, but it
smoothed out at about a 1000’. Gregg said later that this was the rowdiest tow
of the day.

After towing straight out for a while into the blue, Gregg turned and headed to
a cloud over the airport where I release in 200fpm.

I heard on the radio that Sara was down and 30 minutes or so later Robin and
Larry were down also. I thought Rich and Nate might have still been in air so I
tried several times to contact them but no luck but I understand that Rich went
down at around 60km from Falfurrias

There are safe landing options downwind of the airport on the northerly heading
I had set for my task but many are on private ranches behind locked gates making
retrieve a challenge. This situation get much worse further north, especially
under the milky sky with reduced visibility making it impossible to see the
horizon and have a reasonable view of potential landing options ahead.

At 40 miles out the landing options became very sparse, with just the odd patch
of open ground in the distance, and those patches were mostly miles from roads
and behind looked gates. I don’t understand why Google Earth show a far less
hostile landscape compared to the view I had while flying, and most pilots had
to cut flights short due to limited landing options during the weeklong event.

Since I was only getting to 3300’ in the beginning and climbs were often broken
meant having to fly conservatively to make the glides not only to lift sources
but in reach of landable fields with road access which constantly influenced to
the course direction, forcing a lot of zigzagging and inefficient flying.

I arrived under a cloud close to a couple of landing options and needed
additional altitude to make the long glide to a field barely visible in the
distance through the murky sky. Even then I couldn’t tell whether there were
roads to the field, so trying to make it to a cloud in the distance that may not
have been working, was too greater a risk to take. I wasted 500’ trying to
search for the climb and lost more altitude when I tracked over to another ranch
when I saw the field I was over had a big game fence. I wasn’t able to connect
with lift so I landed on a ranch next to a county road and met some interesting
people such that I was hearing the sounds of “dueling banjoes” in my head!
Joanne arrived to my rescue before I had started to breakdown my glider.
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