By Laurelle Walsh
Thirteen gliders — also known as sailplanes — and assorted pilots and support crews began gathering at the Twisp Municipal Airport last Friday (July 24) for a “friendly soaring competition” that continued through today (July 29).
While glider pilots have been coming to the Methow Valley for years, this was the first soaring competition based in Twisp, and organizer Ron Clark, of Marysville, Washington, expects more such events in the future, he said.
Clark is a founding member of the Sawtooth Soaring Pilots Association, a branch of Evergreen Soaring in Arlington, Washington. Participants who came to Twisp this week hailed from soaring clubs around the state.
Evergreen Soaring tow pilot Duane Barr towed one sailplane to Twisp from the Arlington airport on Friday, and then kept busy over the next five days towing gliders to the competition’s start above 4,731-foot Pole Pick Mountain. The other sailplanes were trailered to Twisp.
Participants at the Twisp competition, and at gliding competitions around the world, log their mileage and other flight statistics on the website www.onlinecontest.org, where flight points are calculated based on kilometers flown, speed and duration of the flight.
Pilots accumulate points during the year, which starts in late September, and compete against others at the club, regional, national or international level. “Some of the best pilots in the world log flights on that site,” Clark said.
Some pilots at the Twisp competition, like Clark, have more than 40 years of soaring under their belts, while others are “just getting started in the sport,” Clark said. Eighteen-year-old Daniel Dyck from Lake Forest Park, Washington, logged 450 kilometers — his best-ever flight — in his new Standard Cirrus, which he’s been flying for less than a month, Clark said.
Another pilot soared south to Vantage on Monday before turning around and making it all the way up to Lost River and back to Twisp, Clark reported.
Eastern Washington — especially the Columbia Basin — with its heat-generated thermals, is especially good for gliding, Clark said. But soaring above the mountains that surround the Methow Valley offers glider pilots “a lot more complexity” than flying above the flatlands around Ephrata for example, he said.
Mountain soaring offers not only incredible scenery, but also the challenge of ridge flying, according to Terry Crippen, a glider pilot from Maple Valley, Washington. “It’s a lot more intense flying here,” Crippen said. “It’s a whole different thing from flatland flying. For one thing, making an off-airport landing in farmland is a lot easier than finding someplace to land in the mountains.”
Crippen noted a recent record-setting six-hour flight by Clark that took him from Arlington to Brewster via Twisp, and back. “Ron’s got mad skills. He flies at faster speeds than most people. It takes a lot of mountain knowledge,” Crippen said.
Clark would only admit to holding a world record “for about a minute,” and quickly changed the subject to the achievements of five or six pilots who got their first mountain soaring experience this week.
“It’s been a great success,” said Clark, despite the blustery, less-than-optimal soaring conditions over the weekend. “The wind didn’t dampen the experience. It just made people fly harder and work harder.”