WSSA History from ‘Soaring’ Magazine

The following are some snippets gleamed from back issues of the Soaring Society of America’s magazine ‘Soaring’.

Soaring – May-Jun 1959 p24

White Sands Soaring Ass’n. A Chapter of SSA
The White Sands Soaring Association, Alamogordo, N.M., was orga­nized with thirteen members in Feb­ruary of this year and has the following officers:

  • Pres ., Lawrence E. Edgar ;
  • V. Pres., Clifton M. McClure ;
  • Operations and Training, Friederich H. Utech ; and
  • Sec.- Treas., Sumner H. Whitten.

A TG-3A glider was purchased from the Boulde r Soaring Club, of Glendale, Calif., which is in the process of being dissolved. At the present time, operations are await­ing waivers from the FAA on the towplane to be used by the club, but auto tow operations are be expected to start shortly on Salt Flats, in the middle of the White Sands Proving Grounds. Operations here will nat­urally be limited to the week-ends. Lt. C. M. McClure has taken de­livery of an MU-13E Bergfalke, a German two-place sail plane, which should be operational in the near future.

Soaring Sept 1959 p17

White Sands Soaring Ass’n. A Cha pter of SSA

Starting with thirteen members, the White Sands Soaring Association has
now grown to eighteen , with a wait­ing list of eight to ten. Of the origi­nal members, only three had previous gliding experience and only one had been qualified for glider towing.
Of the seven new members, only two had previous glider experience as student pilots and three had no pre­vious flight experience.
Since the approval of the FAA was obtained in the middle of April, flight activities of the Association have been full and varied . Only two members have not completed their solo checks, one of these having had no previous flight experience. Seven of the members have made flights sufficiently long to qualify for their C badges, and await the FAA in­spector to complete their glider rat­ings.

On the first of Jul y the gl ider, a TG-3A, was laid up for its an nual inspection, rebuilding, repalJl tlJl g, and modernization . During the two and one half months of operations, one hundred and sixteen flights were made in the TG-3A, averaging almost twenty five minutes per flight. Cliff McClure. proud owner of a Berg­falke MV-2, has flown regularly, averaging almost one and one half hours per flight . His first attempt to complete the time and distance legs of his Silver C was interrupted by widespread thunderstorms and near­ instrument conditions. An emergency landing was made at a heliport at 7000 feet in the Sacramento Moun­tains .

Soaring Jan 1961 p19

White Sands Soa ring Ass’n. A Chapter of SSA

The White Sands Soaring Associa­tion recently held an election of of­ficers to fill vacancies left by de­parting members. Jim Pankey is now President, Ed Yung is Vice President and Major Howard’ Ebersole is Sec­retary-Treasurer. We’re in the process of recovering the wings on our TG- 3A, and are looking forward to resuming glider activity with the help of the PT-23 tow plane recently purchased by Ma­jor Ebersole, who is now wearing a cast on his left hand, compliments of the prop.

Frederich Utech presented a very interesting program of color slides, showing glider activity in the U.S. and Germany, at a recent WSSR meeting, and made everyone even more eager to get into the air again and take advantage of our marvelous New Mexico soaring weather.


Soaring Aug 1961 p15

White Sands Soaring Assn. A Chapter of SSA

After many months and hundreds of man hours spent in stripping, cleaning, re­pairing, recovering and repainting the wings of our Schweizer TG-3A (most of which was done by Jim Pankey, with the help of other club members and wives), we’re finally back in the air again. The great day arrived on June 5, 1961, when Jim Pankey test hopped the TG-3A on the first of a number of flights by auto tow. On June 10th the FAA approved a waiver for Maj. Ebersole’s PT-23, and the WSSA was back in business, full scale, after a little more than a year of non-flying.

Since June 5th, members Howard Ebersole, Terry Grange, Jim Pankey, Jim Riva, Fred Utech, Eddie Yung and Fern Yung have made a total of 51 flights (15 hours) , and Terry Grange has received his FAA commercial glider pilot’s rating. The TG-3A js in excellent rig, has excellent instruments, and the club has a barograph – plus many enthusiastic mem­bers – so award section, here we come.

Soaring Dec 1961 p17

EI Paso Soaring Assn. EI Paso, Texas

October was a good month for our club, which saw us taking part in a fine meet hosted by the White Sands Soaring Association at Alamogardo, N.M., on the weekend of October 21st and 22nd. Conditions were excellent and lots of good flying was accomplished.
The members of our club want to publicly thank the White Sands members for their generous hospitality. Be assured the clubs will get together frequently in the future.

We now have half of our active flying members qualified and holding C badges with two members holding legs on Silver C badges. Now that we have a working barograph, more Silver and Gold C legs will be obtained in the near future. The main effort of our club at this time is directed toward obtaining our own operating airstrip.


White Sands Soaring Assn. Alamogordo, New Mexico

For the first time since the WSSA has been in existence all the members are checked out solo and are current in the TG·3A. One member, Jim Riva, had only two solo flights in power planes prior to his checkout in the TG·3A and on his 4th solo flight qualified for his C badge.
Speaking of C badges, Maj. John H. L Morse also qualified for his on October 2nd, as did Capt. David Tobey of the Florida Soarheads. Seems like things must be pretty grim down on the Gulf Coast when AI Uhalt has to send his troops TDY(temporary duty ) to Almogordo to get a little soaring on a weekend. It really doesn’t matter, AI, we are always happy to see any of your folks. Dave released at 6200 ft. MSL and immediately whistled up to over 9500 ft. MSL in about 15 minutes. However, he didn’t have the trusty PANRIBE (Pankey, Riva and Ebersole ) home·brewed barograph with him so all we have is his sad tale about Silver C altitude lost.

In September we flew 3 weekends, totalling 35 flights. Hal Latiolais, John Morse and Jim Riva soloed. So things are looking up, and you can expect to hear more from the WSSA Glider Guiders.


Soaring the Guadalupes
by Arch Karl Lamb
Article about Jim Day et al flying from Dell City TX west of the Guadalupe Mountains
Article in Soaring Dec 1985 page 16

1000 K the Hard Way
by Dave and Jill Fletcher
(descripton of Jim Day’s 1000 km flight north from Alamogordo and back) Sat May 14
Article Available in Soaring Apr 1989 p 17

Soaring May 1986 p44

Safety Corner – Frank Wilson tells of the crash of the Jim Day Ventus at White Sands Airport on a fly past.

Ed note: If you read Gren Seibels piece (see preceding pages) but took it as be­
ing directed towards somebody else certainly not you!-and if you’re sure
the events described just couldn’t happen to you, may we recommend for
your consideration this piece. Frank Wilson was no doubt sure it couldn’t
happen to him, but it did, and he’s had the courage and integrity to tell us
about it.
The temptation to “practice a contest finish” has become a popular way to end
the soaring day. Sometimes the finish turns sour. Only experienced pilots
should practice a high speed finish at low altitude. If you’re in need of such practice,
give the lap belt and extra tug, have a firm grip on the stick and keep your elbows
gressed against the side walls or against you belly. Small pitch changes will pre­
vent unwanted pitch motion.


Takeoff was from Alamorgordo, NM, Municipal Airport runway 03 at a few minutes before 3 p. m. MST on 01/01/86. Surface winds were approx­
imately 340 degrees at five to ten knots. Launch was by aerotow behind the Cessna 182 towplane belonging to the White Sands Soaring Association, of which I have been a member for about five years and which is based at Alamagordo. The sailplane was a lkntus loaned to me by another club member, Jim Day. Jim had entrusted the Ventus to me several times before, each flight being a pure joy. No ballast was carried for this mid-winter flight.

Moderate, apparently convective turbulence was encountered up to a tow altitude of several hundred feet. Release was over the Sacramento Mountains three miles east of the air­port at about 3800 feet above the elevation of the basin floor. Some weak
lift, mixed ridge and convective, was encountered, but no workable lift was found until descent to approximately 2500 to 2600 feet AGL, along the north slope of a ridge running roughly east and west, about five minutes into the

The area of lift was explored (as was the north slope of a parallel ridge) for several minutes, and developed into a band of ridge lift about 100-150 fpm strong close along a craggy , irregular slope perhaps % mile long. The weak­ness of the lift and the irregularities of the slope made just sustaining the flight an exciting challenge! More exciting was the presence of several soar­ing birds along the same slope, including what I believed to be a bald eagle. He tried to hover in mid-air a couple of times as I went by him, apparently somewhat disturbed at this sleek, white intruder into his domain.

Further up a part of the ridge was an area occupied by various antennae and a parking area near the end of that part of the ridge. Two or three sightse­ers were detected in the parking lot, waving and photographing as I flew by a few hundred feet below . With such an appreciative audience, I could not help but work as hard as I could to gain altitude along the ridge to reach its crest near the parking lot. This area of lift was worked, with varying de­grees of success, for perhaps 65 minutes, with a total overall altitude gain
of perhaps 800 feet. I got to the crests and the audience was most apprecia­tive, never budging from their places.

With darkness not far off I left this ridge and did some more exploring, finding little lift and little turbulence in the late afternoon. Heading back to­wards the airport, with considerable altitude to spare and full of elation with such a special flight on New Year’s Day, I announced to the soaring club folks on the ground that if traffic permitted, I would make a low pass parallel to runway 21, with enough reserve airspeed to climb onto a down­wind leg for landing on runway 03.

Wind conditions were reported unchanged from my takoff time approxi­mately an hour and a half earlier. I switched to UNICOM and broad­
cast my intentions to any other traffic. None was reported and none was ob­served. I dove to attain and maintain 110 to 120 mph, with the appropriate negative flap settirigs, and my last recollection in the air is of being at that airspeed, at an altitude of 50 feet or so, lined up between runway 21 and the parallel taxiway to the west, positioned one-third or so of the way
down the runway .
I have a very vague recollection of being pushed up against my seat belt/ shoulder harness combination and of objects floating in the cockpit. My next recollection is of a feeling of spinning (around the vertical axis) with dirt in my face. I then came to a stop, with the Ventus in pieces, the canopy gone, and one ankle shattered and a bone broken in the other foot. Some witnesses said the Ventus pitched up first, others said it pitched down first. All attested to the wings flexing wildly. The tail broke off on the first impact with the
ground. The landing gear was never extended.
Most folks said wind shear was the only explanation; others said that the new hangar construction and parked aircraft upwind of the “shear” point must have triggered something. A couple of the other soaring pilots (in­cluding the owner of the Ventus, who had flown it earlier) recalled some marked turbulence on takeoff about the same location as my encounter. I have no better explanation.

Something unexpected in the air (and at that speed it doesn’t take much) either caused a significant pitch change, or the resulting g forces dis­placed my right hand and arm, and perhaps the stick with them, enough to start an oscillation of the nose from which I was unable to recover at that low altitude without striking the ground. I first soloed an airplane in 1964, and have never encountered anything like it.

Unfortunately , much of the most important part of my recollection is blocked out. Hindsight tells me I should have left more margin for er­ror. Wisdom now tells me that in aviation, one must leave as much margin for error as possible unless there is some compelling reason not to. I did not have such a compelling reason. The result is a shattered sailplane (not even mine!), a shattered ankle, and a shattered ego. Fortunately , I lived to tell about it.

Soaring July 1989 p49

White Sands Soaring Association flies a Blanik and a Ka-8 at White Sands Regional Airport, Alamogordo, NM, any day you want with a one day advance reservation at (505) 437 -1521 or 437-1126 eves. It is a small town of 30,000 with Holloman Air Force Base nearby.
“We have year-round soaring activity here and have been told it’s some of the best soaring in the country. You can go snow skiing in the morning and fly in the afternoon . Scenic mountains are only 10 minutes away with White Sands another 10 minutes away. The Space Hall of Fame is situated here. You can fly thermal to the ridge and ridge soar to the wave. We have it aU:’ Read about Jim Day’s 1000K flight from the site last year in the April ’89 issue of Soaring

A New Club Hanger for WSSA, the Hard Way
by Dave and Jill Fletcher
Soaring October 1990 p40
Note: You need to be a member of SSA and login to access the ‘Soaring’ Archives.

Roger McMahon in his ASW20 flying near Guadalupe Mountains
Roger MacMahon in his ASW20 flying near Guadalupe Mountains

Cover of Soaring February 1994 with a picture of WSSA member Roger McMakon in his ASW20 with Guadaloupe Mtns in background

Soaring Dec 1995 p20

In Memoriam

An eagle has fallen ! Jim Day passed away this September. I can remember some of the stories that Ned Wilson used to tell about Jim Day. And the clubhouse stories about flights of fancy or daring, or treks into the wilderness. He was often the sparkplug of the White Sands Soaring Association, and there are tales that go with that. But my favorite remembrance of Jim and his soaring was a contest at Littlefield, Texas, a half-dozen years ago, the kind that makes the cotton farmers glad that the “glider boys are back.”

It had rained …. a lot. Charlie Spratt was trying very hard to make it a contest. He sent everybody but Sports off to the northwest. I planned to fly the club’s 1-34 to Dimmit and back, about 60 miles round trip. I landed at Dimmit and got an air retrieve back. I knew that a lot of folks were going to need help retrieving.

Well, Jim called in his location. His crew was under driving age, so I drove Jim’s motor home to the spot. After an hour-and-a-half, we are drawing near. Young helper and I see a sailplane sunk to the wings in the soggy field. The tail becomes legible. It isn’t Sierra Delta. We exchange looks, but say nothing. A turn down a farm road. This has to be the place, and I start to grin.

As I pull into the driveway, I see the fuse of the Ventus lashed to a utility pole, clean and glistening, two farm hands just finishing up; the wings and the tailplane are on the thick grass being washed and dried by other farm hands and Jim on the veranda of the farm house, barefooted with pants legs rolled to the knees. Sitting in a rocking chair, drinking something cool and refreshing, while talking to one of the most charming families I’ve ever seen. The farmer, his very lovely wife and their young son are all smiles. It is plain that they are glad Jim dropped in on them. I am also glad that I flew with Jim Day.

-Rolly Clark

Also see Justin Will’s “Requium for Jim Day (1937-1995)”
(a descriptions of flying, camping, and meeting Jim Day)
Soaring – January 1996 p 31
Note: You need to be a member of SSA and login to access the ‘Soaring’ Archives.

Safety Corner – Howard Ebersole’s Near Death flight
“Near My God to Thee”
Go to the SSA Saoring Archives Soaring Apr 1998 p34
Note: You need to be a member of SSA and login to access the ‘Soaring’ Archives.