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The Petersburg Wave is a powerful updraft near Petersburg that attracts glider-plane pilots from around the world each March. When the prevailing westerly wind, having swept across a 4,000-foot plateau encompassing Dolly Sods and Roaring Plains, reaches the eastern rim of the plateau, it plummets down the steep Allegheny Front into the valley where the two forks of the South Branch of the Potomac River merge near Petersburg. After reaching the valley floor, the wind rises again in a powerful standing wave with enormous lift.

In March, when the wave action is strongest, the Grant County Airport in Petersburg hosts a wave camp to accommodate glider pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration gives the pilots exclusive use of a rectangle of airspace over Petersburg and the Allegheny Front during the wave camp. After being towed by plane to heights of 3,000 to 5,000 feet, the gliders, which have no engines, are cut loose. After riding the wave, the pilots land their gliders on the grass berm of the paved landing strip, or, if they run out of air, in one of the pastures or hayfields of the surrounding region. A typical glider flight lasts about two and a half hours.

Pins are awarded to camp participants for altitudes reached. Diamond pins are awarded for pilots who gain more than 5,000 meters, gold pins for those gaining more than 3,000 meters, and silver pins for those gaining at least 1,000 meters. Winning altitudes are verified through readings taken from on-board barographs. If the needle marks imprinted on a metal sheet attached to the barograph’s drum indicate sufficient gain, the marks are sprayed with lacquer to preserve the readings, which are sent to the Soaring Society of America for confirmation.

Nearly all of the East Coast records for altitude have been set at the Petersburg Wave.

This Article was written by Judie Smith

Last Revised on October 22, 2010

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Cite This Article

Smith, Judie "Petersburg Wave." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 October 2010. Web. 19 April 2018.

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