Marfa

Marfa Muni glider tie-down area (SE > W > N).    For full effect, click thumbnail and pan.   (390 KB)

Wally Scott's Marfa Report

In 1972, based on extensive experience soaring the skies of West Texas, Wally Scott published his Marfa Report, a marvelous document filled with practical advice on soaring the Marfa area. It's a must read for anyone planning a first soaring trip to Marfa. Click Marfa Report to learn more.


Marfa Special Use Airspace File

Following is a Special Use Airspace (SUA) file containing this information. It is designed for use with Cambridge Pocket-NAV software running on a Palm-PC or Pocket-PC handheld computer. It should work on any device that uses SUA files, but it depends on the Pocket-NAV policy of shading closed areas.

Areas of sink appear shaded and areas of lift are clear. The strength of the lift/sink is indicated by shadow borders: 1, 2, 3, or 4 standing for weak, moderate, strong, or very strong lift or sink. These give the appearance of vertical stacking, so that strong areas look taller/deeper than weaker ones.

Cut and paste this into a text file named MarfaAir.SUA for example. Since Pocket-NAV uses multiple SUA files, you can easily select or remove this information from your moving map.

Since Pocket-NAV crops SUA data to the extents of the waypoints being displayed, it is necessary to add two points to Marfa01.DAT to force inclusion of all the lift/sink regions in Wally's report. The second window below contains these points.

MarfaAir.SUA

Addition to Marfa01.DAT


Marfa Wave Camp, 1998

Report by Jim Hendrix

I'm back from the nine day wave and thermal camp at Marfa. It was a week of firsts for me, first use of oxygen, first wave flight, first land out, first time to fly with ALT set to msl, first time to launch from a starting grid, first really rough tow, first time to tie down glider and trailer in high winds.

Field elevation of Marfa Muni is 4847'. If you haven't been in that part of the country, you can't imagine the wind, the dirt and the dust devils. But despite it's harshness, it has a haunting, desolate beauty. Thermals were sparse, turbulent and strong with 5 kts average sink everywhere between. Every day was blue, so when the sink approached 10 kts, you knew you were near lift, but where was it?

The first and last days were the most notable for me--the best of times and the worst...

First day: Saturday (4/4), I just messed around the airfield. Winds were from the SW and thermals were generally 5 kts and pretty ragged to 12000' msl. At that point it got smooth in places and I worked weak wave to 14000'. After three hours, I headed S to Marfa town to lose altitude before landing. Found more strong thermals that I just couldn't pass up. Then more wave, this time E of Marfa. It was 1-5 kts to 16000'. At 6:30 I called it quits, pulled the airbrakes and took a 75 kt sled ride down to pattern altitude.

Last day: The winds aloft were strong and westerly with gradient. a classic wave day for Marfa. Surface winds were 25 to 30 kts right up runway 21. I had high hopes this would be the day for gold altitude gain. But for me it was not to be. Dick Johnson launched first and headed down wind (North) to the expected area for wave off Mt. Livermore. He reported weak wave, no better than I had seen in the same area earlier in the week. The tow was the most violent I've seen. My head bumped the canopy and my feet flew off the rudder peddles. Also had tremendous rope slack. At first the house thermals worked well but weakened at 9000'. I decided to go back up wind and pick them up again before getting too far down wind. 9000' was not enough to get over the Small Knobbies to the north and reach an alternate landing site at Blue Mountain where the wave was. But I couldn't find anything working and had to land. Since the wave reports were not very good, I decided not to relight--maybe my worst decision of the week. By the time the last tow plane was ready to depart for home, the wave reports were spectacular. In the same area where I'd seen wave to 13200' a few days earlier they were now getting 23000 to 28000'. And there I was listening on the handheld. It was gut wrenching. Although I must say that I probably could not have made it without a tow into the wave and the last tow pilot was anxious to leave and reluctant to spend the time. In all, five gliders made it into the big wave, three motor gliders and two unpowered. The unpowered gliders were Dick Johnson in his Ventus and Ken Walker in his 1-35. The high point of the day for me was the landing. Those of you who have witnessed my ugly landings at FCY would have been proud.

Three of the days I didn't fly because the cross winds were too strong. Two of those days nobody else flew either, except for one day when one pilot of questionable judgment took off in an ASH-25 motor glider with a right quartering wind of 35 kts and gusts to 41 kts. He made it after putting his downwind wing on the runway to assist his insufficient rudder authority in keeping the glider on the runway. The same pilot is reputed to have discarded some left over parts when he rigged the glider for its first flight. After landing it was discovered that among the parts was a bold that secured the tailplane!!!

My landout occurred on day two--a windy day as usual. Thirty gliders launched and five landed out. I allowed myself to drift way downwind intending to either catch wave or land out trying. Over the Small Knobbies I got 10000' but lost 2000' trying to work lift in that area without drifting farther downwind over some truly unlandable terrain. Finally, I gave up and glided crosswind toward a plain North of the Knobbies. Fortunately, it turned out that there were many landable spots if the ground roll was short. I spied a (almost) rutted road that ran upwind, turned into the wind and put it down in clear spot on the "road." It was a one mile walk to the road with the handheld radio and water bag. Other gliders overhead relayed messages to Marfa ground and shortly a crew of two met me at the road with my truck and trailer. The second piece of luck was that, although the gate was locked, it was rigged so the chain could be unhitched at one end without a key. Dick Johnson has warned us that landing in a field usually meant lifting the glider piecemeal over the fence. The real challenge was boxing the glider up in 25 kt gusty winds.

While waiting for the truck, I had quite a show watching four other gliders struggling in the same area. All the while, high over head was Dick Johnson just sitting there with his nose into the wind in wave. As it turned out he was watching my landout closely from his high seat. In the end, three of the struggling gliders landed on a dusty strip next to a giant green house by to the road. The other, a Lark, landed more downwind by a farm house.

An incident occurred at the dusty strip that day. While I was driving out of the pasture with my glider in tow, opposite the green house, an Open Cirrus landed on the strip (over a power line and parked ag plane). That went fine. He then decided on an aero-retrieve. The first try was "IFR" because of the dust, so the pilot aborted. He then moved over to side and tried again. That time the gear retracted because the ground was so bumpy that the detent mechanism failed. In the process, the rope broke and the gear doors scooped up the tow hook as well as a load of dirt. That's the funny part. Next a second glider lands long on the same strip. Then the tow pilot starts walking down the strip toward the second glider. Meanwhile a third glider is making his approach into the gap that is getting shorter as the tow pilot continues walking. The third glider just missed tow pilot's head and managed a safe landing in the space available.

This is something we need to be always concerned about. Don't stand around in the middle of the runway, taxiway or grass strip. And when you are there, keep a careful lookout for aircraft in the pattern or flying a nonstandard pattern.


Marfa Wave Camp, 2002

Report by Dick Johnson

34 pilots and 26 sailplanes participated in the soaring camp that was held during the last week of March this year at the Marfa, Texas Municipal Airport. Being in an isolated far western part of the Big Bend area of Texas, the weather was its usual very dry spring time condition, albeit often a bit windy. Only a trace of rain fell one evening during the camp, despite central Texas receiving record rain-falls during the same period. Ed Kilbourne’s Marfa Lullabys lyrics advise that to get out of spring-time rains, one only needed to go west on Interstate 10, to southwest Texas!

158 sailplane flights were made during the 8-day Camp period. Commendably all of the pilots flew their sailplanes safely, courteously, and in a professional manner. Gusty wind conditions caused one sailplane to incur landing gear damage on the airport runway, but no other sailplane received any damage during the Camp. During the second day of the camp, Rich Schaefer of Austin, TX achieved the Camp’s best altitude performance this year with a great wave climb to about 23,800 feet MSL in his ASW-27. He and his team-mate Gonzo Echeverry, also from Austin and flying an Open Jantar, flew durations exceeding 5 hours on at least one occasion.

Only during the next-to-the-last-day of the Camp did we not fly, and that was because of gusty winds that arrived before noon. An instability line marked by high cumulus clouds arrived at about 9 AM, before our usual 10:30 AM pilot’s meeting. Regrettably we were unprepared to take advantage of it in time to make long distance and/or high altitude flights. By 11 AM the southwest winds had become too strong to permit a safe launching. I estimated that had we launched early enough, 500 km downwind distance flights could have been easily made that day!

Excellent aero tows were provided by Scratch Lee of Littlefield, TX in his Cessna Agwagon, and Bob Dittert of Hobbs, NM in his L-19. Those two gentlemen, along with several others, made our Camp a really successful event this year. Thanks to everyone.

Report by Jim Hendrix

This was my second trip to the annual Marfa Wave Camp organized by Dick Johnson. The last time was 1998. The humidity was typically 12%, it was always very windy and very dusty. The real reason for going was to fly with Dick Johnson and Tom Hardy again while they were still at it. Also, I was looking for Gold altitude, but that was not to be.

I met Tom on Friday (3/22) in Jackson, MS and we drove together to Midland. Saturday morning we drove the last 3 hours, arriving at Marfa Muni around 9am. We assembled, launched, and I took a relight. It was a poor day. This time I got a 2 hour, 18 minute practice flight. Maximum altitude was 10,200' msl (field elevation 4847'). There was an extreme crosswind for the launches that day.

Sunday Dick cautioned people about the high winds, so I decided not to fly. Only three or four did fly that day. One was Rich Shaefer (photo below) who reached 23,800' for the high altitude of the camp. Certain that I had made the right decision, I rode with Dave and Jan Raspet about 20 miles North to see a potential landing strip. Driving back, we listened to Rich on 123.3 announcing his good fortune. After that, the words "never don't fly" kept rattling around in my head.

Monday we were primed to go. Winds were 20 kts from the Southwest. The thermal I released in wasn't much, so I ventured a bit West to some knobby terrain where a skinny, bumpy thermal was good for 11,000'. That was encouraging, so I headed West on a cross-country jaunt over the Livermore foot hills to Valentine where a radar observation balloon keeps watch on the border. Arkansas conditions are much like early Spring on the Marfa plain, except the winds are weaker and the sink is not as good. It got tense crossing the foot hills and the last half of the 37 miles to Valentine was spent studying the terrain for landing spots. However, there was a little lift near the turnpoint (SEValentine). Heading home, I followed US 90, using every scrap of lift I could find as the wind drifted me South, closer to the balloon than I was supposed to get (photo below). But the balloon was on the ground and my encroachment was marginal at most. I wasn't eager to search of other lift while so low. Finally, I had to head Northeast, away from the balloon. To my surprise, the lift improved as the ground rose. Back on the Marfa side of the foot hills, I hit a real boomer that averaged 5.5 then 4.5 kts. It was good for 10,800'. After 3 hours and 38 minutes I landed and learned that nobody else had left Marfa. In fact, many took relights and couldn't stay up at that. At the pilots' meeting the next day I reported the best distance, altitude and duration. That was my day. The high point of the flight was being joined by a Hawk in a thermal. He came in low, I lost him, then I saw him again a few turns later above me, then he was gone. That's always a thrill.

Tuesday was 3 hours and 15 minutes of very windy local flying, max alt. 10,000'.

The next three days were spoiled by too strong winds and/or cloud cover. Dick launched Wednesday at about 3 pm when a slight break appeared in the cloud cover 15 mi West of Marfa. Others, but not me, followed and flew for about three hours. (Never Don't Fly.)

Thursday was incredibly windy. Before the pilots' meeting, five of us, including Dick Johnson, moved our gliders to the staging area. Within a few minutes of leaving mine, the wind picked up to 35 kts. Luckily, two pilots who were nearby caught QZ when the tail began to weather vein (I had left the tail dolly attached.). They raised the upwind wing and put the chute on the downwind wing. It was looking really bad, so, ignoring the pilots' meeting, I quickly drove my truck to the glider, installed a tie-down ring under the upwind wing and roped it to the bumper. Others used weights like O2 refill tanks to hold down their wings. DJ had a young boy sitting on his upwind wing. When the winds continued to strengthen, I drove some rebar rods into the ground, and tied Dick's wing down with rope. We had gusts over 50 kts that day. You could see them coming as huge dust clouds. The clouds looked great, despite conditions on the ground, and it would have been a good day for a downwind run to Hobbs. Nobody flew that day.

Saturday looked good for thermal and wave. Some people took relights and I thought I would too, but I fought a scrappy one up to 10,000' and stuck for a 4 hour flight. There were little lennies here and there, but the problem was getting to the inversion where they began. Tom Hardy succeeded and got over 13,000'. Another pilot took one to 14,500'. I never found wave, but was happy with 12,300' and a long flight around the NE periphery of the Marfa plain. At one point there were four large dust devils between Marfa Muni and Marfa. A Genesis II ventured into one and the pilot related his harrowing experience over dinner that evening.

It wasn't a banner year for Marfa, but it was good to get reacquainted with Dick and Alice and learn some interesting things about Dick's professional life. Also, it was a great privilege to meet Gus Raspet's other son Dave; I already knew Richard from graduate school at Ole Miss and working with him at the National Center for Physical Acoustics. All together, the Mississippi contingent (photo) amounted to seven people. Some now live elsewhere, but still have their hearts in Mississippi.

 
Dick Johnson doing his thing at a pilots' meeting.
 
Dick Johnson preparing for launch.
 
Dick and Alice.
 
Dave and Jan Raspet.
 
Pilots' meeting.
 
Just standing around.
 
Wayne Smith and Rich Schaefer.
 
The Mississippi crowd: Hendrix, Hardy, Johnsons, Raspet, Strand, Barrentine. (photo by Jan Raspet)
 
#60 tied down.
 
Border Surveillance balloon near Valentine.
 
Marfa Muni from #60. Notice tufts on winglets.
 
Dust storm from motel window on day when winds gusted over 50 knots.

Unless otherwise indicated, photos are by Jim Hendrix.


Marfa Wave Camp, 2003

Report by Dick Johnson

Several years ago the Texas Soaring Association arranged with the FAA for use of a very large, pproximately 60-mile long by 50-mile wide, wave window above Marfa, Texas, extending up to 30,000 ft in Class A airspace. That gave us legal access to the airspace needed to make high altitude Diamond C Badge flights here in the state of Texas. Now every spring we conduct a just-for-fun soaring camp there, with emphasis on altitude badge legs and some cross-country soaring.

32 sailplanes, 1 motor glider, and 3 towplanes participated in this year's soaring camp that was held during the 3rd week of April at the Marfa, Texas Municipal Airport. Being in an isolated far western part of the Big Bend area of Texas, the weather was its usual very dry spring time condition, albeit often a bit windy. Only a trace of rain fell one day during the camp, but as usual we did lose one of our 9 planed flying because of the gusty SW winds being too high for safe flying.

146 sailplane flights were made during the 9-day Camp period. Commendably all of the pilots flew their sailplanes safely, courteously, and in a professional manner, and no sailplane sustained damage during the Camp. During the 7th day of the camp, Rolf Siebert of Dallas, TX, but now on his way to a new job in Calgary, Alberta, achieved the Camp's best altitude performance this year with a great wave climb to about 25,600 feet MSL in his G-304 sailplane. That flight completed his Diamond Badge requirements.

During 4 days of this year's Camp wave flights reached altitudes above 18,000 ft, giving a number of pilots their Gold C altitude legs. Glenn Park flying his DuoDiscus on a Gold C altitude attempt reported a sustained thermal climb rate of 1,400 fpm all the way to cloud base at 15,500 ft. Unfortunately, he was not able to contact the wave that day to complete his needed 9840 ft altitude gain badge requirement. The Marfa Airport is at 4850 ft MSL, and we normally towed to about 2,000 ft AGL during our Camp operations, so he just missed getting high enough by about 1200 ft.

Bob Kibby provided the weather forecasts at each day's pilots meeting, and also coordinated our wave window's daily clearance with the Albuquerque Center. JoAnn Dittert kindly agreed to be the Camp registrar, and she also efficiently ran the takeoff line. Janet Raspet logged all of the takeoffs and landings for us, but that was not too much of a burden because her husband David often launched early and seldom returned before 7 or 8 PM!

Scratch Lee of Littlefield, TX in his Cessna Agwagon, Bob Dittert of Hobbs, NM in his L-19, and Bernie Gross of Phoenix, AZ in his Pawnee provided the excellent aero tows that we needed. Those three gentlemen, along with JoAnn Dittert and Janet Raspet, made our Camp a really successful event this year. Thanks to everyone.


Marfa Wave Camp, 2004

Report by Dick Johnson

24 sailplanes and their pilots and crews participated in this year's Marfa Texas Soaring Camp. Luckily we were blessed with good soaring conditions during 6 of the Camp's 8 planned flying days. Spring comes early to the Big Bend area of west Texas, and we had great thermals during each of the 6 flying days. The pilots flew from 4 to 6 hours each of those days, usually landing only after they had had their fill of great soaring fun. The strong west Texas sun did not set until after 8 PM, and the thermals refused to die there much before that time.

Each day we encountered 400 to 800 ft/min thermals and climbs to 8,000 to 12,000 foot MSL cloud bases. During 2 of those days we encountered cloud induced smooth waves on the cumulus clouds' windward sides that took some of us to about 14,000 ft. Many pilots flew their first cross-country flights of the year. Rolf Siebert attained the longest with a 425 km flight via Van Horn, 67 miles to the NW of Marfa.

Finally, during the 6th day of the Camp the winds were right to produce true mountain-induced orographic waves above the temperature inversion level. Many of the pilots achieved Gold C (3km/9840 ft) climbs that day with Dave Raspet beating us all with a great climb to 21,600 ft MSL near Ft. Davis. The Marfa area is unique in that it is situated to the SW of the 8378 foot high Mt. Livermore peak in the Davis Mountains. Those mountains protect it from the prevalent spring thunderstorms that often arrive from the north during this time of year. During the first night of the Camp a severe rain-storm washed out a major bridge on Interstate 20, just 70 miles north of Marfa. We received only about 1 or 2 tenth of an inch of rain at Marfa that night.

A number of pilots who had planned to attend this year's Camp cancelled because they believed the bad weather reports for that area, and that was disappointing for everyone. Even Bob Dittert flying his L-19 towplane in from the east was delayed for 2 days because of the bad weather over the mountains. Luckily for us, Scratch Lee anticipated the approaching storms and flew his great Agwagon towplane into Marfa a day early. Also fortunate for our Camp, Burt Compton had recently built a large hanger at the Marfa Airport and established a permanent new business there named Marfa Gliders. His 180 hp Cessna 150 towplane handily assisted our towing needs before Bob Dittert arrived.


Burt Compton's Photos

2001 Gallery