Airplane owners think nothing of taking off for a distant location - it's why they own an airplane. For sailplane owners, it's a little more complicated but just as much fun.
Most sailplane clubs have a tradition of taking their gliders and tow planes to a distant airport for a weekend to fly different skies. Sometimes it's to the same place on the same holiday every year and sometimes it's an expedition to a place where no one has flown sailplanes before. Expeditions to new places are always fun
This Memorial Day, a few of us trailered our sailplanes 200 miles south from Boulder, CO to Raton, NM. As far as we knew, no one had flown sailplanes from Crews Field before. Our camp organizer and tow pilot, Jeff Kline, had called ahead to make sure we would be welcome. The incredibly friendly owners of Pegasus Aviation, Keith and Fern Mangelsdorf, made us our stay a very comfortable one.
I arrived Thursday afternoon to scout the airport and vicinity and set up camp on the airport ramp. Others began to arrive but, unfortunately, no tow plane appeared. Although the weather in New Mexico was great, low ceilings back in Colorado had Jeff grounded - the 180HP Super Cub has no IFR capability. Gliders, snug in their trailers, can roll through almost any storm but VFR-only aircraft have to wait for better weather.
We took advantage of the delay to explore the airport and surrounding area. Crews has two paved runways with full length taxiways and one grass runway, all ideally suited for glider operations - in many ways a perfect airport for sailplanes. The airplane traffic is light and the ramp space is extensive. Takeoff points, taxiway intersections, are close to the ramp so it's easy to push gliders to them and back. Raton offers plenty of Motel rooms and restaurants for visitors. If you are a 'shootist', the NRA's vast Whittington Center is a couple of miles north of the airport with North America's largest assortment of shooting ranges.
When the Cub finally arrived, we rigged our gliders and launched into the New Mexico sky. The lift was so good my variometer was pegged up almost from takeoff so I released the tow rope at 1100 feet AGL in a strong thermal that took me to 14,000 feet. After that it was just laid back easy cruising under fat cumulus clouds.
The surrounding county looked like something right out of a Louis L'Amour novel with its flat topped mesas and extinct volcanoes. The Capulin National Monument's perfect volcano cone was visible to the NE. In between was vast open range short grass prairie, making off-airport landings and subsequent retrieves look easy.
On Monday late, we wrapped up the weather-shortened weekend, loaded our gliders into their trailers and headed home. Jeff, in the Super Cub, threaded his way around thunderstorms in Colorado and kept in touch by radio so if he had to leave the Cub at an airport somewhere, he would have a ride home with one of us.
I can't wait to go back. The typical soaring weather in the Raton area is usually much better than what we experienced. The Colorado-Northern New Mexico has lacked an airport suitable for large contests. Crews has real potential.