National Geographic : 1967 Jan
EKTACHROMEBY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHEREMORY KRISTOF © N.G.S. camera was triggered remotely by photographer Kristof while pilot Carris soared near Reno. were climbing, our glider's nose pointed up at a 450 angle. An impossibly steep angle, I thought, but it turned out to be standard practice during a winch launch. The idea is to get up as high as possible before cable-release time comes. On a winch launch it comes soon. We dropped the wire 600 feet above the cliffs (page 63). Back in Elmira, my landing ap proaches started at higher altitudes than this! But after I convinced myself that this cliff wind could be trusted, enjoyment came. We swept back and forth along the upper edge of the 320-foot precipice. A seagull moved ahead of us on motionless wings, then banked out to sea, still soaring. I started to turn after him, but Walt pulled us back on our cliffside course. "I know a pilot who followed a gull out there, figuring that the bird would show him where the updrafts were," Walt said. "He rode the air currents five miles out to sea, doing everything the bird did. Then the seagull turned toward shore and started flapping his wings!" Something in his voice gave me a clue. "Did you get wet?" I asked. "Not quite," he answered. "But I didn't have enough altitude to make the clifftop, so I had to land on the beach below." Desert Thermals Show Bad Manners There was still no five-hour flight listed in my log as I headed for El Mirage Field. Sure ly there must be acres and acres of green air over the shimmering Mojave Desert. William Briegleb-Gus to his friends-has owned this wartime training field since 1946. He spends much of his time designing sail planes and preparing kits of his creations for do-it-yourself builders. "Too bad you weren't here a few days ago," Gus greeted me. "Soaring was terrific. But now the forecast is for stable marine air." Stable marine air? A few miles away, dust devils were turning into white tornadoes as they whirled the sand thousands of feet high. And so, unbelieving, I climbed into one of Gus Briegleb's rental ships. Desert thermals turned out to differ greatly from the gentle, well-bred eastern updrafts. Sometimes the green pellet of my variometer registered 12-feet-per-second lift as the sail plane and I rocketed upward. The down drafts, too, were rough. They shoved me hard against my shoulder harness and sent the al timeter needle unwinding at a dizzying rate. For an hour I struggled. Then I noticed that the white tornadoes had disappeared.