My my My my
In October 1938, Lewin Barringer traveled from Philadelphia to visit his friend Eliot Noyes in Intervale, New Hampshire. The purpose of the visit was to investigate the possibility of soaring in the vicinity of New Hampshire's White Mountains. The two spent an enjoyable weekend flying around the mountains in "two Wacos and two Aeroncas." [1] Barringer was so impressed that he made plans to return two weeks later with his Ross R-2 Ibis sailplane.
The results of the second trip were reported in the December 1938 issue of Soaring Magazine [3]. Barringer made a total of five flights in the Ibis, and one of them [6] is now widely considered to be the first wave flight to take place in the United States. His maximum altitude of 9500 feet was achieved in the lee of the Presidential Range, just downwind of Mount Washington (elev. 6288 feet). It is not likely that Barringer understood the standing wave phenomenon. In his report he described rising through a layer of stratocumulus clouds: 
So followed an hour of dodging in and out of the clouds during which I experienced three times thermals of at least 20 feet per second, in the holes between the clouds. I also noticed that the clouds on the lee side of these holes were thicker than on the windward side. On the last and strongest thermal I climbed over 1,500 feet above the sea of clouds until my altimeter read just over 9,500 feet [3].
 It is very unlikely that this was thermal lift.
Barringer's failure to recognize his flight as a wave flight persisted through 1942. In the second edition of his book, Flight Without Power, there is a section on "Altitude Soaring," in which he describes only cloud flying as a means of achieving great heights [4]. Interestingly, in the "Soaring Meteorology" chapter of the same book, the standing wave phenomenon is properly described [5]. The author of that chapter, MIT Professor Karl O. Lange, gives John Robinson credit for the first U.S. wave flight, in 1940. Finally, Lange mentions Mount Washington as a place where waves might occur. One wonders if the contributors to this book ever read each other's chapters.
The Middle Period
We have no records of soaring activity at Mount Washington between 1938 and 1966. During that period, wave soaring techniques were developed in the Rocky Mountains, and many eastern pilots traveled to Tehachapi, California and Colorado Springs to get their altitude diamonds. Back east, wave soaring was practiced in very few places, most notably in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
By the mid-60s, a Massachusetts pilot, Allan MacNicol was probably the most experienced pilot in both Appalachian and Rocky Mountain wave systems. He knew the Barringer story, and decided that Mount Washington was worth another look, now that the mountain wave phenomenon was much better understood.
In the fall of 1966 MacNicol led a hardy band of New England glider pilots in Barringer's footsteps: back to North Conway and the Mount Washington wave [13]. The results of the first "wave camp" were so good (six Diamonds and 14 Gold climbs in nine days), that a tradition of annual wave camps was started. From 1966 to 1985 wave camps were held every October, most of them based at the North Conway airport. As experience was gained, fewer and fewer long aerotows to the primary wave were made (the airport is 17 miles from Mount Washington). Pilots learned that they could release in the secondary or tertiary wave, or even in ridge lift and still make a good climb.
Word quickly spread. Several Canadian pilots joined the group, traveling from as far away as Windsor, Ontario. The number of trips made by eastern pilots to California and Colorado diminished, and a diamond climb that stayed below 20,000 feet became known as an "Eastern Diamond."
Also during this period, a relationship developed between the glider pilots and the meteorologists on the top of the mountain. The Mount Washington Observatory (MWO) has maintained a full-time presence on the summit since 1932 (scientists there recorded the highest-ever surface wind speed, 231 mph, in the Spring of 1934). The chief meteorologist in 1967 was a man named Guy Gosselin. After helping the glider pilots with numerous weather observations and forecasts, Mr. Gosselin finally took a ride in a Schweizer 2-32 with pilot Mike Stevenson. It was an eventful flight. The two ridge-soared the "front side" of the mountain (a first) and landed out at the Gorham, New Hampshire airfield, 26 miles from North Conway. Mr. Gosselin, an excellent writer, published the story simultaneously in Soaring [12], and in the MWO Bulletin. The tradition of giving our MWO friends first-hand "atmospheric experiences" continues today [14] [15].
Records from this original series of wave camps survive, and several hundred diamond climbs were recorded during this period. The very best single day occurred in 1969 when 44 diamonds were claimed.
In 1969 Bob Neumann established the current New Hampshire altitude record (31,900 feet). This altitude has been exceeded unofficially several times since then.
The Mount Washington wave became known to readers of Soaring in a series of articles [2] [9] [12] [17]. Well-known soaring author Richard Wolters described his experiences in his book, Once Upon a Thermal, [18] and Paul Schweizer included this historical period in Wings Like Eagles. [16]
For a brief time (1973 - 1975), Brooks Dodge ran the wave camp from Glen, New Hampshire, only 8 miles from the primary lift area. However, on good wave days, the secondary rotor was always parked right over the little airfield. Some good flights were made out of Glen, but in 1976 the operation moved back to North Conway.
On the 47th anniversary of Barringer's flight (October 25, 1985), Walter Weir set the unofficial record with a flight to 33,600 feet.
Then in 1986, the North Conway airport was sold to a real estate developer and closed for good. The airfield at Glen was also gone, and suddenly there was no access to the wave. An attempt was made to reach the wave from Fryeburg, Maine in 1990, but the distance from the airport to the high ground was too great to be practical.
Recent History
The Nutmeg Soaring Association, led by Ron Clifford and Jim Wright, returned to Mount Washington in 1993. They flew from the Gorham, New Hampshire airfield, which was an innovative idea. Gorham had a reputation of being a tricky place to fly for two reasons: the primary rotor and the non-existence of any alternate place to land. The Nutmeggers figured out how to tow around the rotor to the primary lift, and they always seemed to get back to the airfield. They operated wave camps there until 1996.
During the 1999 and 2000 wave seasons, the Post Mills Soaring Club sent a few experienced pilots from their home field in Vermont to Gorham. They determined that, with certain safety precautions, Gorham could become their new base for wave camps. It was also clear that the challenge was to find alternatives to the long high aerotows to the primary.
The following year, an extremely successful weekend camp was held (six diamonds, four lennie pins, a flight to 32,000 feet) [7] [8], and at least two alternatives to the high aerotows were developed. Safety procedures were worked out, and a comprehensive safety briefing document was produced [11].
PMSC was joined by the largest club in New England, the Greater Boston Soaring Club, and now the wave camps are bigger than ever, spanning more than ten days each October. Lewin Barringer's spirit of exploration lives on as well: the feasibility of cross-country wave flights has been demonstrated, and further x-c flights are planned.
For almost 70 years, glider pilots have been drawn to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The remote location and rugged terrain make it unlikely that a permanent soaring site will ever be established near Mount Washington. However, pilots still make the effort to go there, and all who have experienced the Mount Washington wave have shared with each other, and with those who came before them, the pioneering spirit.
1 Anon., "News From Clubs and Members," Soaring, Vol. 2, No. 11, November 1938, p 10.
2 Anon, "Regional Ramblings," Soaring, Vol. 32, No. 10, October 1967 p 30.
3 Barringer, Lewin B., "White Mountain Winds," Soaring, Vol 2, No. 12, December 1938, pp 2-3, 11
4 Barringer, Lewin B., Flight Without Power, Pitman Publishing Corporation, New York, 1940, revised 1942, pp 192-195.
5 Ibid, pp 143-144.
6 Ibid (1940 edition), p 220
7 Brooker, Kevin, Soaring, Vol. 66, No. 1, January 2002, p 9.
8 Brooker, Kevin, "Diamonds Before Breakfast", Soaring, Vol. 65, No. 10, October 2001, pp 28-30.
9 du Pont, Stephen, "The 1968 Mount Washington Wave Camp," Soaring, Vol 33, No. 3, March 1969, pp 11-13.
10 English, William D., "The Barringer Trophy," NSM, A Quarterly Journal of the National Soaring Museum, Vol. 2, No. 4, Fall 1978, p 3.
11 Good, John F., "Flying Mt. Washington Area Wave from Gorham, NH," Ver. 3.1, PMSC Web, October 2003
12 Gosselin, Guy, "A Timeless Sky," Soaring, Vol 32, No. 2, February 1968, p 12.
13 MacNicol, Allan, "Waves, East and West," Soaring, Vol 32, No. 2, February 1967, pp 13-15.
14 Posegate, Ann, "Glimpse of 'A Timeless Sky,'" Windswept, The Quarterly Bulletin of the Mount Washington Observatory, Vol. 46, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp 38-42.
15 Sanborn, Doug, "Riding the Wave," Windswept, The Quarterly Bulletin of the Mount Washington Observatory, Vol. 43, No. 1, Spring 2002, pp 30-33.
16 Schweizer, Paul, Wings Like Eagles, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1988
17 Wolters, Richard, "A Letter from the Mt. Washington Wave," Soaring, Vol. 35, No. 3, March 1971, pp 20-22.
18 Wolters, Richard A., Once Upon a Thermal, Soaring Society of America, Santa Monica, 1974, pp 91-105.