2004 Truckee to Bishop and almost home

This is another adventure story of the Three Amigos
Jim Darke, Key Dismukes and Peter Kelly

The PASCO Capture Trophy – AKA “The Egg”, was residing in Bishop, due to a convoluted set of circumstances. It had been captured by pilots from Hollister in 2003, and subsequently captured by Avenal pilots. It traveled between Hollister and Avenal for nearly a year, while pilots from Williams made abortive attempts to fly south to recapture the trophy. The Egg was eventually stolen from Avenal by people i the Owens Valley, outside of Region 11, in April 2004. In August of 2004, three pilots from Northern California agreed it was time to fly to Bishop, and bring The Egg to Truckee. It had been moved from Cal City (Region 12) to Bishop in July. The three pilots who planned and flew the mission have each written their version of what occurred.

A quick summary of the days adventure as told be Tom- VN will serve as an overview of the flight.

On Sat a posse of Big Hats made a run from Soar Truckee to Bishop to rescue the Egg. 1B, PS, PK and their scout C2 made their way to Bishop punching through areas of rain to Bishop. From all accounts PK landed and got the egg while the posse waited and kept guard. I was flying that day and hearing the group trying to find a way back through the rain showers was unbelievable. For the next hour or more they reported East of Walker Lake, then crossing Walker Lake, 9K down, didn’t know if they could make it across, happy with 2k down. They kept the radios busy with their discussions but always very professional and calm. They all reported low, someone going for a river, another reporting a possible landing field. Hilton Ranch rained out, then one said he might make Yerington. I was flying that day, “Big Hats no cattle” no more. I think they have a big herd of Bulls somewhere. That was no girly day. VN

And now, the story, in narrative form …..

The name of each pilot precedes his version of the story at each point in the narrative…..
First comments by Peter – flying the DG800B, then Key – flying an ASW20, and then Jim in his ASW20.


Peter Kelly – PK ********************

It was all Key’s idea. On Friday the 13th, of all days, Key sends an e-mail to me that said something like…
….What’s this about the egg being at Bishop now? Maybe we could organize an assault.

I wrote back and confirmed that Bishop was the last location I had heard for the Egg, and suggested that he do us all a favor and go get it from Bishop and bring it to Truckee.

The Egg had never been captured by a pilot from Truckee, and the novelty of being a part of such a pioneering effort was tempting, but I was deeply involved in a kitchen remodel project and was certain I wouldn’t have the time to participate in such an endeavor, but then, when I saw the other Amigos we flying I made a point to be there with them.

Key Dismukes – PS *******************
Well, that’s Peter’s story, and I guess he’s sticking to it. My recollection is that Peter was egging us on to make the flight, conveniently claiming domestic responsibilities precluded him from initially stepping up to the mission, but then he did in fact show up.

Jim Darke – 1B **********************
I seem to recall that Peter broached the subject of retrieving the egg from Bishop while he and I were de-rigging after a race day at Williams. He mentioned that Key was interested, but that he (Peter) had to work on his kitchen. Peter sounded genuinely disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to participate so I decided to help him experience the effort vicariously via e-mail I knew he couldn’t stay away.

Key – PS *************************
Jim put together a timeline for when each step of the operation would have to be accomplished. Even assuming a 1030 launch time, a realistic assessment of the time required to land at Bishop, acquire the egg, re-launch and get back up on the Whites gave us little chance of making it back to Truckee. So of course we decided to do it anyway. I then had to go out of town for the week preceding the mission. When I returned on Friday evening I was relieved that Peter had consented to join the mission and use his motorglider for the Bishop re-launch, giving us at least a slim chance of making it back.

Jim – 1B ***************************
The timeline was optimistic to the point where I was relieved when Peter gave in to the urge to be a part of the mission and told Key and I that what we really needed was “a motorglider guy.” He was right.

Peter – PK ********************
Jim had suggested I provide technical support in the form of soaring conditions and weather briefings, but I knew of a professional that might be interested in participating. I contacted Doug Armstrong, told him of the importance of keeping the mission somewhat secret, and asked if he was interested in being a part of it all. He responded positively, and it was Doug the dubbed the mission “Operation Silverfox”. We planned for five days and the mission sequence was initiated at 0900 hours on Friday, with me leaving Vacaville, proceeding to Williams, and eventually arriving at Truckee that evening.

Key – PS ***********************
When I returned from my out-of-town trip the week before the mission I found a flood of emails that made the planning for 6 June 1944 look puny.

Jim – 1B ************************
Key is right about the level of planning involved. Once the amount of e-mail reached critical mass, a chain reaction took off and there was no way anyone could back out. Not that anyone wanted to. On Friday the plan looked like this -A late season push to land at an airport 160 miles from home or loiter around while the motorglider guy landed put the Egg aboard and then self-launched to join those loitering. -Then return to Truckee in what was apt to be overdeveloped conditions. What could go wrong with a plan like that?

Peter – PK ********************
I was the first to arrive at Truckee on Friday evening. I briefed the Truckee staff on Operation Silverfox and immediately received positive feedback and was promised full support. About that time Key arrived in his Cessna, and Jim phoned me a few seconds later to advise he would arrive within the hour. Key and I headed to town, Jim joined us shortly and we firmed up the mission plans over dinner. Each of us would be ready to launch, as planned, at 10:30 hours the next morning. A last minute weather brief, and we would be on our way. At 0900 hours we held yet another briefing. Since I was planning on a full load of water, and self-launching as well, I positioned my ship at the north end of the runway. We waited for the lift. Doug Armstrong sent us this sat photo, which revealed that clouds were already forming over the Sierra Nevada Mountains – west of Mono Lake….

Key – PS ***********************
But of course, at Truckee, there were no signs of lift at the scheduled launch time of 1030 hours -the surest evidence of no lift being that Sergio was still on the ground. Suddenly Sergio launched around 1100 while we looking for signs of lift in the sky, and we scrambled to follow him – some 20 minutes later. That was a delay not to be without consequence.

Jim – 1B ************************
I drew the short straw on the launch sequence and had to go first. The Mission Commander (AKA PK) said it was because I was the only one without water – the leaky bags are another less interesting story. When we finally reached trigger temperature (the temperature at which C2 launches) the ever helpful Joe Silvestri dropped me off in a nice thermal that went to about 11,000. By that time C2 had already departed the area.

Peter – PK *********************
I launched after Jim, and before Key. We were all in the air before noontime. By the time I found a thermal, our scout, Sergio – C2, had already let Mt Rose, and was reporting a good thermal near Carson City, providing PIREPS (Pilot Reports) for those of us lagging behind. 1B was next out of the Truckee Bowl, and was reporting good lift as well.

Key – PS ***********************
In our usual Keystone Kop coordination Jim initially headed down the east side of Lake Tahoe toward Freel Peak, but then decided that was not working, and he dived across the Minden Valley. I started out for Mineral Peak with good altitude, noticed cu’s pointing toward Freel, diverted in that direction, than changed my mind and headed toward Seigel Peak on the Pine Nuts.

Jim – 1B ************************
So as soon as I crossed Minden Valley, and started climbing over Mineral Peak, I looked back at the ridge on the east side of Tahoe and saw a nice little line of CU’s from MT Rose directly to Freel Peak- right on the course line that I had been on. I also choose the slow check out line at the grocery store.

Graphics were created in the “See You” program software

This is a snap shot of all four gliders at 12:08 using See You Software that has been loaded with each of our flight recorder files. The legend is over Lake Tahoe. Washoe Lake is just south of Reno. You can see the C2 (the purple track) flew southbound on the west side of Minden Tahoe Airport, 1B is just passing south of Washoe Lake, PS departed Mt Rose to the east and is now turning south, PK is about to depart Mt Rose to the south.

Peter – PK ********************
I was having difficulty climbing, and PS was just above me, as we headed towards MT Rose, but I was becoming impatient with the two knot thermals. I had soon descended back down to 10,000, and Key was climbing near 12,000 and headed into the Minden Valley. Listening to the other pilots, it sounded like they were way ahead of me. Frustrated with it all, I plunged towards the southeast, not wanting to be left behind – certain I would find lift, based on all of the previous reports. I insured my transponder was on, remained clear of the class C Airspace, and dutifully checked in with Reno Approach as I approached the extended runway centerline from Reno, and crossed the south end of Washoe Lake at less than 9,000 feet.
Key – PS **********************

Overhead on radio:
Reno Approach: What airport did you depart from to get that low over Washoe Lake?
PK: I sure wish you hadn’t said that-my buddies are listening.
Reno Approach: Sorry, I was trying to be tactful.

Jim – 1B ***********************
I was pretty worried after I heard PK discussing his situation in exquisite detail with Reno Approach. I knew that would provide him with motivation to go to warp speed and he might well leave his support aircraft (PS &1B) in the “dustbin of the uninvolved” on a mission that was going to be way too much fun to be left out of.

Peter – PK ********************
Crossing Mineral Peak, I was now feeling confident as I aimed for a cloud street running from MT Seigel towards the southwest. Somehow I got ahead of 1B and PS as I headed towards the USMC Strip, and requested a report from our Scout, C2.

Key – PS ************************
As usual PK came from behind and below to pass us. I guess it was the embarrassment spurring him on. But PK doesn’t seem to understand that it is hard for us to mark thermals for someone who persists in staying in front of us.

Jim – 1B**************************
Since I am somewhat aurally challenged, I was pleased to hear PK ask C2 to repeat his report on down range conditions. I was sure I had not heard him correctly. But then C2 came back loud and clear, “Advise proceeding to the east of Mono Lake. The overdevelopment is isolated. Do not be Girly Pilots.” I guess if the term is good enough for the Governor, it’s good enough for C2. So off I trundled across the Bridgeport Valley, finding lift at Bodi and into the great unknown. As Peter was setting up his glide to target, I was exploring the airspace below 12,000ft about 20 miles out of Boundary Peak. It is definitely a hostile environment. Fortunately PS marked some lift for me and I was soon on the Whites for a typical “Push, Pull, Grin” ride while Peter was attacking the target at Bishop and taking care of business. This was definitely the most fun part of the flight. PS & I even saw a couple of 1-26s up there with us and yes we had our oxygen on.

Peter – PK *********************
I was 2,000 above glide for Bishop when over 50 miles out and headed directly for it – initially. But as I headed south, the margin above glide decreased. I decided to travel closer to the base of the Whites, figuring there would be lift on the foothills of the big ridge.

At 50 miles out I made contact with Bishop UNICOM and asked the operator (Richard) if the Egg was on the counter, with a log book attached. He confirmed the Egg was there, but could not find the log book that I described. He searched but to no avail.

At 30 miles, I was close to the whites, and I was looking up at the well formed cu along the top. I still couldn’t see Bishop, but I was confident in my moving map. I must admit, I did unfold the sectional chart at this point and confirmed landmarks, mileage to Bishop, and looked for other landing options. It is unnerving to be extremely lower than normal, in a place you usually never want to be.

I dumped my water ballast, landed, and, after clear of the runway, I deployed my motor and taxied to the terminal. I didn’t even have to get out of the ship.

Richard, came out of the terminal with the Egg in hand. I thanked him, stowed the Egg next to my water bottle, restarted and launched towards the Whites.

Key – PS ***********************
After reaching Boundary Peak 1B and I roared down the Whites without difficulty, alternating making position reports for safety and calling to PK, whose had switched to Bishop frequency. When I reached Schulman Grove I considered orbiting, but given PK’s track record of zooming past me (entirely a function of long wings and absolutely nothing to do with piloting skills I keep telling my wife-“Honey, we need a new glider”), I decided I had better turn north if the three of us were to continue together. 1B joined me and we all arrived at Boundary Peak together.

Jim – 1B ***********************
It took a couple of radio transmissions to get a response from PK that was readable above the clatter of his engine. Once he stowed the motor it was apparent that he would have no trouble joining us. The Whites were working in classic form.

Peter – PK *********************
Immediately after takeoff, I switched the radio to 123.5, and there was 1B, checking on my progress, and confirming I had picked up the Trophy. I turned off the engine in lift, on the side of the hill, about 3 miles from Schulman Grove, and centered in a good thermal. As I was looking for my buddies to mark the next thermal, I received a call from PS asking me for my altitude and position. I told him, and he said something like… “It sounds like you’re climbing OK… we’re 10 miles north at 15,000”, and they pressed on northward. I guess I didn’t ‘sound like I needed any help. Feeling left behind, I needed to catch them. I concentrated on climbing and moving in the best line of lift. I caught them just as they were ready to leave the Whites.

Jim – 1B************************
As we approached Boundary Peak northbound, things stopped being quite so much fun. The ‘isolated overdevelopment’ that C2 reported was now considerably more than ‘isolated.’ In fact, there was pretty much a solid wall of ugly black clouds and rain along the course back towards Truckee. PS and I milked the last few feet out of the thermal at Boundary Peak as we waited for PK. The only thing to do was to head off to the northeast towards Basalt.

The three flight tracks in green, yellow and red, as depicted on a topo chart in See You.

There was lift at Basalt under what was becoming a fairly solid overcast. But, the overdevelopment (a nice way of saying ‘big scary black storm cell’) was still blocking our way. The only thing to do was to continue to the northeast until we could find a break between the cells to turn towards home. We flew in loose formation towards Mina, and then into the unknown.

In fact the sky was black through the entire west to north quadrant, so 1B and PS followed PK toward the sunshine at a right angle to our course home. We found lift at Basalt and continued into no-man’s land between Coaldale and Mina. PK suggested that instead of continuing toward Utah we turn north between two rain shafts generated by a vast dark cloud. Not having any better ideas 1B and PS followed.

Peter – PK *********************
It didn’t look like we’d be able to fly anywhere near MT Grant due to the overdevelopment. I saw no lightning, but there was plenty of rain coming from the very dark clouds. PS and 1B continued to surge past me, but I was keeping the higher altitude, since I was flying in 18 meters, and no water ballast configuration – they were both 15 meter. Best “speed to fly” put them ahead of me during each of the long glides. Even if I had a camera, I doubt if I would have taken any photos at that point, but it was neat to see those two bright white 15 meter ships, with the black background, just ahead of me, as we continued. As we look at the flight logs, we now realize that C2 had been through that area only minutes before us, and had proceeded well east and north of Walker Lake.

We traveled northward together, in a narrow corridor between rain shafts. Concerned about maintaining visual separation at 100 knots in varying visibility we frequently transmitted our GPS positions, to the great annoyance of other pilots on the frequency. Breaking out from under the cloud we decided to cut across Walker Lake to the ridge on the western shore, where MX (Yuliy) was already struggling (misery loves company).

Jim – 1B************************
Being at least 500ft below PS and PK I found crossing Walker Lake and the ridge visually interesting. The ridgeline was pretty stationary on the canopy so I figured it was going to be fairly close. It was. I then flailed at the scraps of lift until I was high enough to join PS & PK in the continuous sink that went on forever and ever (maxi mini micro-burst?). I never found the airstrip that they were discussing, but while I was looking for it I inadvertently stumbled into some weak disorganized lift that got me back up to glide slope for Yerington.

We worked 1 knot lift north along the ridge until we had 2000 feet or so above glide into Yerington and then blithely set off in that direction. Encountering continuous 5 knot sink we executed the traditional 90 degree turn but the sink continued (mini micro-burst?). Squeaked into a little river valley and found intermittent half knot lift, which we worked with no small fervor, while contemplating whether it would be better land in cultivated fields or at a small private airstrip underneath us (spelling: Lanthanum? Later we were told the airstrip is about 25 feet wide).

Peter – PK ********************
I was talking to MX, and watching him, as he continued to remain above me, and a few miles closer to Yerington. Now having enough to glide to Yerington, I headed northwest. Running in heavy sink (nine knots down) for what seemed an eternity, I turned about 70 degrees left. Sink didn’t let up. I’d barely make it to the river bed that was coming north out of Hilton – some 15 miles distant. About 1500 above the cultivated fields, the sink quit. I found bits of lift, but the wind was shifting. I decided to over fly other fields and try for Yerington. I flew through a shower, was on a 1,000 ft downwind, put the gear down, and hit lift, just as I was about to turn base leg.

Key – PS************************
Drifting downwind (north) with the fickle thermal, I discovered… (1) I was once again at glide slope to Yerington (2) PK and 1B had long since departed for Yerington, and (3) Yerington was 13 miles away (an ominous number). I started tiptoeing toward Yerington and listening to my buddies trying to work a little lift over the airport. Three miles out of the airport I encountered rain and sink, and once again started contemplating: (1) cultivated fields versus airport and (2) the wisdom of relying on GPS/LNAV. I entered base leg over the numbers and rolled to the end of runway. 1B soon followed, but PK summoned his iron thermal and motored into the sunset.

Peter – PK ********************
I climbed slowly, gaining about 1,500 feet by the time PS came in from the south and landed. The rain was blocking any travel directly west and the nearest runway to the northwest was Dayton Valley – I long way off, with lots of high terrain. I could see no way out of the Yerington Valley at that point. As soon as 1B decided to land, I did an in-flight start, and headed in the direction of Dayton Valley.

Jim – 1B*************************
As is often the case, there was some lift in the pattern at Yerington, so I was able to hang around with PK and observe PS making his approach – not much of a pattern but a great approach. I also observed MX about 14,000ft above us. He had reached the area about 15 minutes ahead of us and took the last lift with him as he climbed high enough to reach the Pine Nuts and then home. I also heard C2 report 7,500ft at Topaz and the overcast looked thinner in that direction. But the wingman ethic prevailed and I followed PS into Yerington. Well, the truth is that there was no way I was going to dig my way out of the hole before the approaching storm cell made things just a little too interesting.

The folks at Yerington were extremely friendly and helpful. They made waiting out the storm pleasant. The ever-efficient team of Joe and Samantha at Soar Truckee operation coordinated our aero retrieves with Soar Minden. Once the rain let up, we were both soon on our way to rejoin PK and his iron thermal. All is well that ends well and the cookout at Soar Truckee was a good ending to a full day.

Key – PS************************
1B and PS were overwhelmed with support from FBOs Mary Catherine Tennant and Michael Smith, a very nice couple who recently bought the operation and are turning it into a full-service enterprise. Michael was waiting with his pickup when we landed, took us to the office to make phone calls, and told us to help ourselves to free soda. When aero retrieves were arranged (one each from Truckee and Soar Minden), Mary Catherine took us back to the runway to await the first towplane, which arrived just in front of rain and lightning. So Mike (the Soar Minden towpilot), Mary, 1B, and PS sat in the pickup chatting for half an hour waiting for a chance to launch. Aside from some interesting turbulence towing home over the Pine Nuts, the remainder of the trip was uneventful.

Peter – PK ********************
The radio was busy with Sergio requesting aero retrieves for PS and 1B, and then Joe coordinating with Minden for additional support. I hit a nice area of strong lift (over 10 knots) just south of Rawe Peak, climbing to nearly 15,000 feet, making it an easy glide back to Truckee with the Egg.

It certainly was a special day, and the three of us were treated like VIPs, especially by Midge and Dean, as we relaxed, had a delicious dinner, and reveled in our success.

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