Mary and I had a few days planned in Oahu, en route to Kauai for our spring vacation. Tom Udd, a member of the Seattle Glider Council, told us to check with his dad, Elmer, if we wanted an enjoyable ridge soaring flight in Hawaii.
We called Elmer when we arrived in Honolulu, and he told us he'd be glad to meet us at Dillingham airport, on the north shore of Oahu, the next day.
A bit of background on Elmer Udd: Elmer first ascended above Hawaii as a Navy P2V pilot back in the mid-50s, traversing the Pacific looking for submarines. Fast forward to the mid-60s. Elmer is back in Hawaii, employed by Northwest Airlines and flying a DC-7 on military contracts to Johnson, Midway, and other Pacific Islands. By 1969 Elmer moved to the captain's seat of a Boeing 720 (similar to a Boeing 707). From here on, Hawaii was home.
As his airline career wound down, Dillingham attracted Elmer, and by the early 1980’s, he formed his own glider company, Soar Hawaii. During the intervening years, he has introduced thousands of people to soaring, encouraging nearly everyone to learn how to fly, and he taught many people to fly himself. Eventually, he sold his company and tried retirement. But, Elmer couldn’t give up flying. And, he couldn’t stay retired.
Elmer has fully restored an L-19 (Bird Dog) towplane. He has a two-place Grob 103 Twin III Acro for instruction and rental. In addition, he has a single-place Grob 102 for rental. He still loves sharing his joy of flight with others and teaching them to fly. Elmer has logged more than 40,000 hours in the air and is still counting.
Mary and I arrived at Dillingham to find that Elmer had already pre-flighted his Grob 103, and we made introductions and helped him move the sailplane into position on the Dillingham ramp. Elmer asked if we could wait a few minutes for his towpilot to arrive, and mentioned how she was building time for a possible airline job. No problem, we said, and then Elmer asked if I'd like to join him while he made a short aerotow for another friend's sailplane. I gladly jumped into the backseat of Elmer's L-19 towplane, and enjoyed the short three-minute tow to the ridge and quick spiraling descent to a smooth pattern and landing.
Soon after, the towpilot arrived, and Elmer and I had a quick pre-flight briefing and we jumped in the Grob 103. The sailplanes at Dillingham are angled to the runway, so we hooked up, signaled for launch, and followed the L-19 on to the runway for an immediate launch into the trade winds.
The Dillingham runway is in an excellent location on the north shore of Oahu, situated just next to a glorious ridgeline. We climbed on runway heading (080) for just a short time, and then turned into the ridge. About then Elmer said "This is good", so I released at 600 feet, right into 4 knot lift rising up the ridge. Elmer knows every nook and sweet spot in this ridge, so we had a great time exploring and cruising to the far NW end at Kaena Point. Cloudbase was at about 3500', but ridge lift stopped about 2600'. The good news was that anytime we dropped out, we could easily cruise back to the ridge and climb again. We cruised deep into the ridge, and I enjoyed the great, lush scenery and stupendous views.
Dillingham was also conducting parachute operations, so after a fun hour exploring and learning a few of the ridge's finer spots, I headed to an area SW of the parachute ops that Elmer said usually has sink, to allow us to descend to the pattern. Of course, we found the strongest steady lift of the day, so I had a blast descending with some G's in steep spirals. I entered crosswind at 700' for a fun short landing into a 25 knot headwind.
Mary had been considering whether to go soaring or not, but Elmer easily convinced her with a promise of a high tow and smooth glides along the ridge. Mary and Elmer climbed far to the east, and released high, with wonderful views across the island, all the way to Diamond Head. From the high tow, they were able to traverse the full extent of the Dillingham ridge a number of times out to Kaena Point, getting a wonderful tour of the lush vegetation and the beautiful shoreline.
After a smooth touchdown, Elmer turned the Grob 103 onto the taxiway and rolled right up to his parking spot next to the long Dillingham glider hangar. Both Elmer and Mary had wide grins from the enjoyable flight, and Elmer signed me off to fly either of his sailplanes during my next visit to Hawaii. I highly recommend getting in touch with Elmer Udd if you're ever in Oahu and want a First Class sailplane tour of Hawaii.