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THEY FLY THROUGH THE AIR
Roy Terrell
August 22, 1960
Thousands of feet above Texas, the finest glider pilots ever assembled in the U. S. fought in silence for seven days for the National Soaring title
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August 22, 1960

They Fly Through The Air

Thousands of feet above Texas, the finest glider pilots ever assembled in the U. S. fought in silence for seven days for the National Soaring title

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On the third day, when the problem was to reach a specific distant goal and return to Odessa, Schreder was one of only two pilots to make it all the way ( A. J. Smith, who is an architect in Tecumseh, Mich., when he isn't soaring, was the other). The distance they covered, 338.5 miles, was a world record for this particular type of task. Charley Yeates, one of two Canadian entries, had to land short of the goal and stepped out of his glider onto the grounds of the state mental hospital at Big Spring. "Telephone around?" he asked the curious gathering. Someone waved toward a building. "May I use the telephone?" Yeates asked the nurse on duty. "Do you have permission?" she asked. "Look, lady," said Yeates, "I don't belong here." The nurse smiled. "Of course not," she said. "None of you do. Now will you go on out and play?"

The fourth and fifth days were speed tests, and again Schreder won. At this point he had the unheard-of total of 5,000 points (an automatic 1,000 for winning each day). But on the sixth day the weather and the truly outstanding field from which he had been fleeing got in their licks. This was an open distance day, in which each contestant heads out in any direction he chooses and flies as far as he is able. Family, friends and crewmen trail frantically behind in private automobiles, stopping to call back to contest headquarters from time to time to see if there has been any word. Finally they are told yes, their man is down. And where and when and, sometimes, why.

Some flew north and some flew west. Bill Ivans of San Diego, who set the world altitude record 10 years ago by riding his Schweizer 1-23 sailplane up the famous Sierra wave to a height of 42,100 feet, came down just ahead of a rainstorm somewhere in the vicinity of Rosebud, N. Mex. For two hours he sat in the dripping cockpit. When the rain stopped, he walked four miles through ankle-deep mud to a farmhouse—where the storm had knocked out the telephone. The farmer's Volkswagen carried Ivans to another phoneless farm, and another automobile took him 22 miles farther. There he was finally able to put through a call to Odessa. By then it was 1 a.m.

Schreder and his closest competitors flew toward the northeast, planning to work out ahead of the cold front which had dumped rain across Colorado, Kansas and the upper part of Oklahoma, as well as upon Bill Ivans in New Mexico. Schreder made it to Lawton, Okla. municipal airport, 293 miles from Odessa, landed and pulled his glider in between two hangars. A few minutes later Smith came across the field at 3,000 feet in his gleaming-white German-built LO-150 and decided to come down, too. "It was almost dark," Smith said later. "The lift was about gone, and I didn't know what landing conditions might be like up ahead. So I dove off my hard-earned 3,000 feet and headed into the final approach. Then, just before I touched down, I saw Schreder's plane. It was too late to look for another thermal then; all I could do was land. That son of a gun. He's pretty slick." Schreder and Smith tied for third place.

Philip the calm

The remarkable 52-year-old Britisher, Philip Wills, came down in a field just one mile further on, to finish second. With his glasses and pipe and gangling legs sticking out of a pair of rumpled brown shorts, with the weird, battered old felt hat in which he flies pulled down low upon his head, Wills greeted the Oklahoma farmer on whose acres he had landed. The farmer helped Wills pull the famous Skylark III into an empty cow lot and invited him inside for a bite to eat while Wills's crew came from their last location, 160 miles away. Refreshed by dinner and a brief nap, Wills strolled outside into the moonlight—and discovered that two large calves had joined Skylark III in the corral, kicked a hole in the rudder and eaten part of the fabric off the left wing.

"A number of interesting things have happened to me in 28 years of flying sailplanes," said Wills calmly. "Once I was blown all the way across the Channel and had to land in France. Another time, during the war, I was asked to demonstrate how German glider troops might invade us, and some bloke took a shot at me. In New Zealand I unexpectedly came upon this tremendous wave and rode it to over 30,000 feet, dressed only in a pair of shorts.

"But never," he went on, "has my aircraft been eaten by cattle."

Farthest of all that day went Bernie Carris in the old RJ-5. A soaring instructor for the Schweizer Aircraft Corporation of Elmira, he was expected to give Schreder the tightest competition in the absence of former champion Dick Johnson, who did not compete this year. But Carris, who had borrowed the RJ-5 from a friend (who had bought it from Johnson), had difficulty getting accustomed to its characteristics during the early days of the championship. After two days of familiarization, however, the smooth old sailplane and its balding, 38-year-old pilot, who was a tailgunner in a B-17 during World War II, began to work well together. Carris had a third-place tie on the third day of competition, came in second on the fourth, second again on the fifth, hanging tight onto Schreder's tail. When he landed at Duncan, Okla., 310 miles from Odessa, to finish first on the sixth day, Carris cut Schreder's lead to just 316 points. But it was then—on the last day—that Schreder showed how good he really was.

Be prepared

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