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Sat, May 05, 2012

Glider Pilots Ride Mountain Waves For Long Cross-Country Flight

Flew As High As 20,000 Feet, But Came Up Short Of Their 1,000 Mile Goal

Thursday was a spectacular day to be a glider pilot in Northern Nevada, and glider pilots Gordon Boettger and Hugh Bennett took advantage of an atmospheric phenomenon known as mountain waves to attempt a 1,000 cross-country flight using nothing but rising air, altitude converted to energy, and the jet stream for propulsion.

The two departed Minden, NV, just after 0500 local time Thursday morning in Bennett’s German built Schempp-Hirth Duo Discus, and hoped to land somewhere in the Dakotas before sunset. Boettger's wife Melissa told Wired magazine that the pilot had been waiting for just the right weather conditions to make the attempt. "His biggest passing is going downwind," she said, adding that conditions which existed Thursday may only come along two or three times each year.

The flight took the two pilots over FL200, but about five hours into the flight, they encountered wall clouds over Winnemucca, NV, and were forced to turn south. They reached speeds of up to 140 miles per hour above Wells, NV.

Mountain waves form when strong winds blow across a mountain ridge, forcing the air upwards. Under the right conditions, it can carry a sailplane tens of thousands of feet above the mountain tops, which can often be marked by lenticular, or lens-shaped clouds (pictured in NWS photo).

While Boettger and Bennett do hold the U.S. record for long-range glider flights, having ridden mountain waves over 1,300 miles over the Sierra Nevada mountains last year, Thursday's flight was cut short. Wired reported that the weather forced the duo to land at in southern Idaho at Joslin Field near Twin Falls. (Top image: Model Schempp-Hirth Duo Discus)



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