Ridge soaring is perhaps the simplest soaring lift method to understand. If the ambient wind strikes a perpendicular obstacle (like a ridge line), the air has no choice but to go… up.
The 4000 foot Mount Roland, right beside the airfield, works really well for ridge soaring. The mountain is almost square, with sheer faces on the west, north and east sides. You can see this shape clearly on this Google Earth image of the local area:
(orange dotted lines show soarable ridge faces)
I’ve done a lot of ridge soaring on Mount Roland and on the ridge line extending immediately to the west, toward Mount Claude. However, until Day Three of this particular three day soaring exercise, I had never been over to the eastern ridge line – the Gog Range.
I took off and motored up in the Pipistrel Taurus Electro above the Gog Ranges, shut down the engine, and wafted down to the ridge line to give it a shot.
The wind was in the right direction but wasn’t very strong, so I couldn’t get much above ridge-top height, but I had no problems in maintaining that height, while flying end to end along the Gog Ranges ‘at will’, with an armchair view, watching the world go by 🙂
After a few passes back and forth along the full length of the ridge, I recorded a short video of the experience:
The beeping sound in the video is the sound of the “Audio Vario”. It is a good sound to hear when gliding.
The Audio Vario is a standard piece of gliding instrumentation that converts aircraft rate-of-climb into a tone sequence that becomes more urgent/higher pitched as the climb rate increases. The tone falls away entirely when you are not in lift. This sound lets a soaring pilot keep their eyes outside the cockpit, while using their ears to gauge their soaring performance.
The Gog Range is around 2500 feet high, and the terrain and the forest are really quite pretty. Ridge soaring really allows the opportunity to see it all ‘up close and personal’.
Interestingly, the Skysight ridge lift prediction (below) didn’t highlight the Gog Range, but it did show good ridge conditions on the edge of the Central Plateau itself – parallel and to the south of the Gog Range. It was that prediction that gave me the impetus to try the nearer, smaller Gog Range line.
The Central Plateau is a much higher, much more sheer, face – but it is also somewhat further away (with a long motor run back into wind to get home from it). That is something to try on another day.
Here is how the ridge looked, from the far (eastern) end, looking back toward Mount Roland in the distance:
This ridge flight in the Taurus Electro capped off three excellent days, experiencing three different weather systems and three different sorts of soaring technique, all in the same place.
The Vale Airfield is a 1300m grass runway running parallel to the Dasher River in NorthWest Tasmania. It is situated only a couple of nautical miles from a beautiful mountain, Mount Roland.
This 4000ft granite beast dominates the local view all the way to the nearby town of Sheffield. It is part of a system of ridge systems that give way to the Tasmanian Central Plateau. The Plateau is a large, gorgeous and pristine alpine and lake region that includes the world famous Cradle Mountain national park.
Over the last several months, I’ve been using Pipistrel Taurus G2 electric self-launch motor glider to gradually (and carefully) explore this complex, fascinating, and beautiful area from the air, through a variety of weather conditions. The conclusion I’ve reached is that we are fortunate indeed, to have an airfield that is surely one of the best places in Tasmania to fly gliders.
There are many opportunities to go soaring here, using a wide variety of ‘lift’ mechanisms enabled by this fascinating and complex terrain – and to do it all year round!
What follows is a study in the successful use of the three major ways to sustain soaring flight in gliders, in flights were conducted over three successive days at The Vale, in three distinct weather systems.
Lets start with an annotated Google Earth image of the local area from the point of view of a soaring pilot (click image to enlarge) and then we’ll turn to Day One:
(The orange dotted lines are some of the local area ridge lines)
Day One: Mountain Lee Wave Soaring
One of the most wonderful ways to go soaring in a glider is the use of ‘Mountain Lee Waves’.
Wave (in this context) refers to a large standing-wave that forms in the atmosphere downstream (to the Lee) of a large physical feature (such as a mountain) in the presence of a strong and consistent wind that increases in strength with increasing height.
Mountain waves can extend into the sky to heights that are multiples of the height of the ground feature that triggers them. What forms in the air is an ‘echo’ of the shape of the ground feature, high up in the sky, with the into-wind side being a tide of rising air that can be surfed in a glider, to gain height.
Even better: If the wind keeps getting stronger with height, the primary wave system can act like another mountain! One wave can trigger another wave system, located further downwind and higher than the primary wave. This can keep happening, with multiple wave systems capable of ‘stacking up’ in a rising sequence.
Clouds can form in the middle of a wave system, appearing in a classic “Lenticular” shape, being quite literally ‘polished’ by the air rotating around the wave core. In the presence of multiple secondary waves, there can be a ‘stack’ of these lenticular clouds.
On the day we flew, there were no lenticular clouds to indicate the presence of the wave system… it was still there, but it was invisible.
However, I had another way to find the wave. I used a fabulous soaring pilots’ weather prediction application called Skysight.
Skysight has access to global, high accuracy weather forecasting data and it uses this data and a great deal of smart number-crunching to generate predictive, visual, forecasts for glider pilots. These forecasts help them to predict (with high accuracy in both space and time) the presence of various distinct sorts of weather systems that can be used to sustain soaring flight.
You can explore these images (generated by Skysight) to see what I mean:
As per those images, the Skysight model showed the presence of a substantial primary wave system above 5000 feet, then extending through multiple secondary wave systems all the way up to over 20,000 feet (!).
It turns out that this wave system sets up quite frequently in Tasmania in the cooler months.
An impressive example of this happened back on 12th April 2020. This was not a day that I could fly (darn). Have a look (below) at just how impressive the wave system was, right across Tasmania. Lennies very much in evidence in the sky to go with it. A soaring pilot could have hopped from wave to wave, literally across the entire state.
Back to the present – and with my son Gabe as our photographer and co-pilot, it was time to see if the computer model was accurate in telling us that the wave was there, even though the indicator clouds were not.
To help us to find this quite invisible lift system, it was time to engage another piece of technology, the LX9000 soaring glass-cockpit system in my glider. The LX9000 is an incredible instrument. One of its plethora of features is the ability to import Skysight predictive map overlays directly onto the device for display in flight.
This means that I could fly the glider with the wave predictive model ‘on screen’, so we could fly under power up to the height and position needed to contact the wave system, and then shut down the motor and start playing.
We did precisely this. We climbed to about 5000 feet and flew to the edge of the predicted lift zone, and shut down the engine. As if by magic – there it was, and we just starting going up.
Here’s what the Skysight wave overlay looks like in the LX, in flight, in the aircraft. On the image, the lift zone is the yellow/orange/red zone on the map.
This photo was taken at a later point, when we had already climbed in wave up to over 9000 feet:
Wave lift is wonderful – it is a smooth, quiet journey of exploration, quietly working your way back and forth along the lift band.
Being a system driven entirely by wind, wave conditions can be (and mostly are) present in the depths of winter, when flat-land glider pilots have given up gliding for the season due to the lack of any useable thermals.
We flew the glider up and down the Mole Creek Valley on our climb, and wound up high over the edge of the Central Plateau. The Plateau was covered in a layer of snow from the previous night, and it looked rugged and wonderful.
Here’s are some images from the wave flight:
(Photo credit for many of these images: Gabe Hackett)
The next post will be about Day Two of Three when the wind moderated, the sun came out, and the lift was there again – but this time it was Thermals.
I am fortunate to own the first electric self-launch glider to fly under Australian skies. It is a Pipistrel Taurus Electro G2.
A few months ago, I wrote a story that explained the background and my journey to owning and flying this impressive little aircraft. The story was published in the Gliding Federation of Australia’s Gliding Australia magazine.
I want to be able to fly gliders as “pilot in command” in the USA via a US FAA license issued reciprocally on the basis of my Australian one.
I also want to be able to fly powered aircraft in the USA on the same basis, but that is actually fairly simple. It is the glider part that isn’t, due to some unique aspects of the way gliding is administered in Australia.
Because the process turns out to be surprisingly hard (and non-obvious in places), I have documented it here, in the hope that it might help someone else in the future.
That said, please – only read on if you enjoy the sheer masochism of aviation paperwork… along with the unavoidable acronym soup involved in anything specialised…