They say it’s an ill wind that blows no good. Cold fronts like last week, bone dry with strong north winds blowing across drought-parched land, can be very ill indeed, sending the risk of wildfire sky high. Strong north wind was what stoked the September wildfire that threatened the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds, the Episcopal church camp – Camp Allen – and my soaring club, while burning houses, fields and trees in three counties.
Wind like that is no fun to fly in, either. The drought itself, though – soaring pilots around Houston found a bright side there. None of us would WISH such a drought on ourselves or anyone else, but it created some of the best soaring conditions in memory. One contest pilot made a set of outstanding triangular flights from our field to two turnpoints and back. His longest triangle was 875 kilometers. That’s 544 miles in an aircraft without an engine across the Texas coastal plain. Another pilot achieved a straight-out flight to land just this side of Amarillo. And a third pilot reached an altitude of 9,000′, while several got so high they could see the Gulf of Mexico 100 miles away. So yesterday the flavor of the “clubhouse flying” was an unusual mixture of delight in great flights and dismay about scary wildfires, shrinking lakes, and dying trees. Meanwhile takeoffs (as well as one flight-review downwind landing with hard braking action) unfolded in clouds of dust. Bright side and bad side both – it’s nowhere near over.