Rick Masters: Ghosts of Wind and Cloud

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Rick Masters

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Nov 29, 2021
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16
Hello, Homebuilders,
I have joined your forum to learn more about the history of free-flight.
Pre-history is also okay. : )

Goforitosoarus1-6.jpg
All flying is free-flight, if you choose.
Also, eventually, even if you don't...
So practice those dead-stick landings until they become boring.

Rick Masters [email protected] USHGA.AERO Gateway
Aoli, Comet Clones & Pod People - 1982
President, Cross Country Pilots Association, Owens Valley, 1984-1985
Web master, California Hydrogen Business Council, 1999-2004
Logistics and Transport Manager, University of California White Mt Research Station, Bishop 1992-2003
Development of the Thermal Snooper, 1986
Best hang gliding free-light: 178 miles, 1986
Mythology of the Airframe 2008-2012
Current project: Ghosts of Wind and Cloud - An historical martyrology of free-flight Substack
Patreon
 
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Victor Bravo

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KWHP, Los Angeles CA, USA
Hi Rick ! Been a looong time. You were kind enough to loan me one of the first Thermal Snoopers to try in a sailplane for the 1986 or 87 Nationals, and it burned up in a hangar fire (with my Ventus) in Barstow. I never got to really see how it worked!

Welcome to this forum, it's a fantastic place for airplane people, several of us are old sailplane drivers, several others here are old flex-wing guys.

Bill ( contest # VB many moons ago)
 

Rick Masters

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Hi Bill,

As a Ventus pilot on the comp circuit, I would guess you must have done some flying with Peter Masak during that time and possibly talked about Peter's retrofit winglets or his vision of the future Scimitar-Ventus. I would love to hear your recollections, if you did.

He was a real Mechanical Engineer and I was only an ME wanna-be who got sidetracked by the sudden arrival of foot-launched soaring. But he drove up to Owens Valley after reading my "Explorations With The Thermal Snooper" in the August '87 SSA Soaring, full of questions. Man, did that guy understand advanced aerodynamics! I thought I understood boundary layer but he opened my eyes to adhering turbulent flow. At the time they had just discovered that pterosaurs had hair and I was wondering if this could be applicable - and I was thinking about hairy hang gliders!

He was very excited about the prospects of a Thermal Snooper for sailpanes. He wanted to fit a Snooper to his ship. I thought that was fantastic! We got together in the Pines Cafe in Independence that autumn of 1987. We tried to pencil out the details on napkins. The problem, as you might suspect, was the character of the airflow over the thermistor. The volume and velocity of the airflow was critical. The balance was on a knife edge. Alan Fisher had carefully tuned the Thermal Snooper for hang gliders flying at 25 to 30 mph. We had gone through several prototypes in my Owens Valley testing program before we got it working well. But even then, it was tricky.

I thought a NACA vent might work if you calculated the airflow and designed the vent properly, but he just stuck an air feed tube out of the belly somewhere. I was disappointed. I didn't think it would work. Sure enough, he came back in 1988, apologetic but pretty convinced that it didn't help. I wasn't surprised. I loved the Snooper and I knew it worked for hang gliders at slow speeds. In dry air, mind you. But take it up to 90 or 120 mph, forget it. You get into wide variations in temperature over the thermistor, due to humidity and vapor phase dynamics, and every thing goes to hell.

It saddened me tremendously that we lost Peter in the 2004 Nationals in a stall spin. He would have made a great hang glider pilot.
-----------------------------
Rick Masters -- [email protected] -- USHGA.AERO Gateway
Aoli, Comet Clones & Pod People - 1982
President,
Cross Country Pilots Association, Owens Valley, 1984-1985
Web master,
California Hydrogen Business Council, 1999-2004
Logistics and Transport Manager,
University of California White Mt Research Station, Bishop 1992-2003
Development of the
Thermal Snooper, 1986
Best hang gliding free-light: 178 miles, 1986

Mythology of the Airframe 2008-2012 -- The Problem With Paragliding
Current project: Ghosts of Wind and Cloud - An historical martyrology of free-flight -- Substack -- Patreon
 
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jedi

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Sahuarita Arizona, Renton Washington, USA
Thermal Snoopers ???

I would have guessed that was a gaggle of pilots. Tell me more, please.

Years ago I wanted to build a instrument to give a corrected* temperature time history of the air flown thru to predict lift or lack of lift so as to know when to start the circle in sink maneuver. If that worked the plan was to sample the left and right wing tip to know which direction to turn. I never got past the proposal and collect some hardware pieces phase.

What was the theory behind the Thermal Snooper and how did it work out?

* My concept of corrected temperature is the actual temperature corrected for the adiabatic temperature change with altitude.
 
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Victor Bravo

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I never met Peter Masak in person, but I am aware of the work he did on winglets for gliders in Canada. I was a West Coast, El Mirage/Tehachapi/Cal Clity/Minden/Owens Valley kind of glider trash... the furthest I ever went for a contest was Uvalde, TX for the 86 nationals. I flew sailplanes with several old HG guys from the dinosaur days like Les King and Trip Mellinger.

Trip and I flew a few contests together, and he was contest director at the last race I flew, the 15M nationals in Barstow (where my Ventus !(#*$& burned up in a hangar fire). He actually flew the last flight in my Ventus the day before the fire, he wanted to scout the area and get a visual on what the local environment was like. He wanted to do a run through the start gate and see what that looked like from the pilots' view, so he just walked up to me and said "hey, let me fly your glider for an hour..."

That was back in the days where we had a start gate that you'd go diving through at redline and pull up on course, and back in the days when you'd just loan someone your glider. The next day my Ventus was ashes, but.... someone loaned me their glider and I got to fly the race !
 

Rick Masters

Member
Joined
Nov 29, 2021
Messages
16
Thermal Snoopers ???
I would have guessed that was a gaggle of pilots. Tell me more, please.
Years ago I wanted to build a instrument to give a corrected* temperature time history of the air flown thru to predict lift or lack of lift so as to know when to start the circle in sink maneuver. If that worked the plan was to sample the left and right wing tip to know which direction to turn. I never got past the proposal and collect some hardware pieces phase.
What was the theory behind the Thermal Snooper and how did it work out?
1987SoaringAug.jpg
See "Explorations with the Thermal Snooper," SSA Soaring Magazine, August 1987.
Snooper – Rick Masters

This article broke the nearly 10-year ban on mention of hang gliding in Soaring due to the high death rate of devil-may-care hang glider pilots. They obviously couldn't refuse it, although Editor Bob Said did return my "Racing for the Record - 221-miles without an engine!" story of Larry Tudor's 1983 distance record flight (I chased him from Lone Pine and filmed his landing at Austin, Nevada). That was a huge denial of knowledge to the sailplane community, although it was published and translated all over the world in half a dozen hang gliding magazines. (The best version was in Whole Air Magazine because Dan Johnson published the map.)
 
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Rick Masters

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I flew sailplanes with several old HG guys from the dinosaur days like Les King and Trip Mellinger.
I met Les King around the time I was filming Roy Haggard in Paul MacCready's Bionic Bat project in Shafter in 1982. Paul liked to hire hang glider pilots because they were enthusiastic and would work for next to nothing. Last I heard, years ago, Les was doing something with a Mitchell Wing. (I was in Shafter last month with a friend who was moving two unfinished Mitchell free-flight gliders to Arizona.)

I met Trip Mellinger once on El Mirage Dry Lake when I came across Bill Bennett and his group in my sailcar one day in the early 1980s. I had been in awe of him and Jerry Katz for years - until I found out how easy it was to fly 100 miles in the Owens Valley, anyway. They were doing a towing seminar with Delta Wing gliders when Trip came by. He seemed completely unprepared. No gear. But he put on a harness he'd never worn, got on a glider he'd never flown and was pulled into the air by a pickup truck for his first hang glider tow flight.

That was a 6 on my factorial risk scale [ !=3(2)(1)=6 ] I don't do 6! Okay, he was probably familiar with all Bennett's gear back then... But then his release hung up. He glided ahead, over the truck, still hooked up, executed a 360, and landed. We were all going "Oh, s**t!" expecting the line to pull tight, followed by disaster, but he kept an eye on it and landed safely. I don't think he was too happy about it. He stormed off. I'd love to hear his side of that one.
 

Victor Bravo

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You know about Pete Plumb passing away, don't you? He was from Shafter and was part of the MacCready team on one or more of the big projects.

Les King also passed away a few years ago, he had worked with Don Mitchell during Don's later years in Tehachapi. Les had all sorts of projects going on, but I never saw him working on a Mitchell Wing directly. Les had built an ultra-low-tech primary glider called the "Primer", out of foam sheets and vacuform plastic.

I love Trip... he had Huevos Grande for certain :)
 

Rick Masters

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Funny you should mention Pete Plumb. I visited him a couple of years ago at his shop at Shafter Airport, right before Covid hit. He had been at Hang Glider Hill in Bakersfield when Larry Lowe, a pilot from my high school, got killed there on a hang glider in the middle 1970s. Pete had designed a little aircraft engine and he was getting ready to produce it in his shop, which was filled with lots of great fabrication equipment.

I went by his shop a few weeks ago and it was closed. Empty. Josh, the commercial pilot up the street with the vintage gliders, including a beat-up Bowlus Baby Albatross suspended from the ceiling, told me Pete had recently experienced a power failure and crashed nearby, in a Shafter backyard, I think. I don't know if he was flying his Cracker Jack or something else. Pete had taken me all around the airport and showed me his treasures. We talked for hours but neither of us could remember where had we met each other. Now I realize it must have been the Bionic Bat project! I think we were so deep into hang gliding history and later, sailplanes, that we forgot our roles in Paul MacCready's work at Shafter. This is kind of cool because I had extensively photographed and filmed Roy's Kremer Prize attempt, and also the crew putting the finishing touches on the Bat that afternoon. I bet, although I don't know for sure, I'll have to look, that I have some great photographs of Pete. But how sad we lost him! He deserved many more years.

Pete told me the greatest fun he ever had in an aircraft was ferrying a sailplane on tow. I had to laugh because I personally have avoided towing all my life, except for one memorable tandem ride along the White Mountains with Bill Dodson, who taught me, along with Carlos Miralles, to hang glide when we all attended Cal Poly SLO. My teeth are still loose from that flight, which kind of soured me on sailplanes. Too fast. Too violent for my taste. It was the only time I've ever gotten close to airsick in an aircraft. I know, it's not always like that. It was a rough day. But a rough day in a hang glider is a lot more pleasant, and that's what I'm used to.

You know, Pete seemed to be in pretty good condition when I saw him. I guess he was recovering from the crash, jogging near his shop when he keeled over from thr heart attack. But I'm hearing all this stuff now about the vaccine and inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), and I have to wonder. See stevekirsch.substack.com for more on that.
 
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Victor Bravo

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Pete's death had nothing to do with landing the Cracker Jack out after an engine development problem.

He had suffered a serious heart issue at the gymnasium, a nurse who was working out next to him insisted that he call an ambulance on the spot, they took him in to the ER, and he underwent a four or five way bypass. Four of us visited him in the hospital in BFL shortly thereafter.

He recovered from that, got himself reasonably healthy again, and was out doing his morning walk around Shafter airport when he had a heart attack... due to some other issue not dealt with (or known) during the surgery.

At his funeral/wake they displayed his original "thread lashed" hang cage he made form bamboo way back in the day, it's still airworthy!
 

Bill-Higdon

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This thread reminded me of Fred Vachs a hang gliding persnality I exchanged a couple of emails with about his LCD altimeter design, for it's time it was simple & workable.
 

Bille Floyd

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Sep 26, 2019
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Do you fly anything , that has wings , now ?

Bille
I will take that as a NO !! LOL

Dude -- you gave me a Lot of grief , on another forum
because i fly HG, as well as PG ; just wondering , what your
intentions on this place were ? Surely , you do have
an agenda ; what is it ?

OH , BTW ; I do still fly PG , and HG ; and i'm fricken Good at it .
60 HG & PG pilots at CSS, a month ago ; the closest guy was :
2,000-ft below me.

Bille
 
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