Thursday, March 29, 2007

Quest and Back

The day started as usual at Wallaby Ranch with tandems and students flying in the mellow morning air. Gavin soloed this morning at the ripe old age of 15. Malcom told me this afternoon he bought his first glider, a Johnson Flex Wing, from Gavin's grandfather many years ago. (Another generation joins the growing line of hang gliding aviators and the previous generations feel a little bit older!)

The sky was filled with cummies by 11:00 and I was itching to go. My first tow behind Carlos was probably the roughest tow I've had in Florida. Once we cleared the tree line Carlos was above me, below me, to one side and then the other. I finally decided to release at 900 feet, figuring anything that can toss us around like that must have something I can climb in. Wrong! I was smashed to the ground in wicked sink and landed in turbulent air. Stevie came to my rescue with a cart and gave to a tow back to the launch line. Thanks Steve!

My second tow was sweet and Carlos dropped me off in a 700 fpm climb that went straight to cloud base. I floated around waiting for some other pilots to launch and climb out, but when they landed back at the ranch I decided to do some sightseeing.

I headed north along route 27 where I found an express elevator to the top floor near the 27 and route 192 intersection. I continued north until I came to the first of the big lakes. I originally hoped to go to the intersection of route 27 and route 50 but the blue around the lakes scared me off. The entire area west of the lakes was blue with the exception of some thin clouds and haze domes. I thought about turning around but decided to head northwest towards Quest; at least I could get a ride back to the ranch if I landed there. I saw a wispy form to the east and quickly raced to the forming cloud after I passed over the center of the runway. Meanwhile a tug pulled up a single surface glider to the same general area and a few moments later pulled one of the gray T2s up. (I later found out it was Kevin). Once at cloud base I waited for something to start forming on the other side of the blue before racing off. I hoped the other pilot in the T2 would follow me but he didn't. (Kevin was working with some students).

I shared a couple climbs with sailplanes at Seminole and then started my long slog upwind back to Wallaby. Once back into the clouds I never got low but made sure I didn't land behind locked gates in the quarries or one of the "forbidden" fields. However, I had a fairly easy time bouncing from cloud-to-cloud back to the ranch.

With the side trip to Seminole I flew a triangle 46 miles long. Total airtime for the day was a little over 3 hours.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bok and Back

Wallaby Ranch came alive today as pilots showed up to grab airtime. The clouds trapped below the inversion level dissipated on schedule and cummies started forming around 10:30. I had a hard time waiting for everyone else to get ready but we eventually walked to the west end of the field.

I launched first, with Kerry as the tow pilot. I pinned off early in a good thermal to the south of the airfield. I immediately noticed all the gliders were moving to the northwest corner of the field. I stowed my bridal and played around at cloud base while the other pilots moved their gliders and launched.

Mick suggested flying an out-and-back to Bok Tower, the place Amy and I visited last week. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do so I joined in. Mick landed back at the field for a couple of reasons so only two of us actually headed out. I kept heading upwind to the east so that I could drift west if I got low and still be close to course line. My flying partner Billy took a direct line and initially was doing much better. However, he missed a climb, got down to 700 feet, and slowly clawed his way back up. Meanwhile I was floating along bouncing from cloud to cloud and eventually caught up and hung out at cloud base until we could hook up again. However on our very next glide I headed more upwind to the east and he headed on course to the southeast. Once again I got lucky and found a strong climb and pushed on.

The 24 mile trip south was slow but mostly uneventful. However I missed a climb on the other side of a blue hole and arrived at Bok Tower low enough to see the statues on the top. I was heading to an LZ downwind of the tower when I stumbled into a weak climb that slowly got me high enough to start my trip home.

I was low again over a shopping center that I just knew had to be producing a thermal. I was low but managed to find a weak climb that convinced some buzzards to leave the trees and join me. The flock worked together and soon one bird found the hot spot. I was the second to reach the thermal and the others join in below me. We all climbed together taking turns looking for better lift. At one point I had a buzzard about 6 feet off my wing and another 15 feet below me flying in perfect formation. Eventually my new friends headed east while I headed north.

Once again I found myself low looking for a climb over a concrete brick factory. I found lots of turbulence, but little lift. Although I was putting up a good fight, I was losing height. I finally gave up and headed for an LZ. I was flying the base leg of my approach over some power lines at 300 feet when, with no warning, I slammed into a bullet blasting up at 700 fpm. It was a "man your battle stations" moment as I wrestled with the "invigorating" climb. I soon reached cloud base and had a easy cloud-hopping glide back to the ranch.

The total round trip was slightly less than 50 miles and I flew for 3.5 hours, the same as yesterday.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Drilling Holes Into The Sky

Last night's forecast for today was looking delicious after 8 days of basically blown-out conditions. However, this morning I awoke to the sound of the tug starting but didn't notice the usual sunshine seeping through the tent. A few minutes later someone shut off the tug without towing anyone aloft. I stepped out of the tent to a cloud-laden sky that looked like it could rain at any moment. The National Weather Service was still forecasting lighter winds and partly cloudy skies, but I guess they don't look out the window much.

Slowly the lower level moisture dried out and I could see thick cirrus blotting out the sun. Eventually ragged cumulus started forming under the cirrus and I decided it was time to fly. I rigged and was ready to go but Carlos wanted me to wait until another pilot was ready to avoid dragging the tug out 2 different times. I didn't mind since the sky still look anemic.

Tyler gave me a "too smooth" tow but finally dropped me off in some light lift that toyed with me until I was high enough to find a nice strong climb to cloud base. I was surprised by the strength of some of the climbs; the clouds above them just didn't look that good. Slowly the cirrus started to thin and the day turned on. I spent the next 3.5 hours flying a couple 22 mile triangles and a trip up Route 27 just enjoying being in the air. I played with many birds, raced trucks down the highway, and tried to find houses that did NOT have swimming pools. I flew over 65 miles but was never beyond a glide back to the ranch.

I did something today I usually don't do when free-flying; I landed before the day was done. A winter of slouching over a laptop computer 7-days a week took its toll. I'm almost afraid of how my muscles will feel in the morning! However, this evening, I'm grinning ear-to-ear.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Too much air

We are still waiting for the wind to stop blowing. Yesterday morning (Sunday) a large gaggle of balloons blew in while the ranch staff was dragging tandem flights into the air. It was impressive to see the balloon pilots hit the field and land gently in the wind. I snapped some interesting scenes with the morning sun shining through the collapsing balloons.

I spent yesterday afternoon visiting with my brother and his family and most of this morning catching up on chores so I can fly without distraction when the weather improves tomorrow.

Mic created three impressive RC controlled sailboats and was racing them on the pool this morning. It was like watching the America's Cup in miniature.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


I finally got into the air today. The forecast last night predicted strong winds today, but the forecast this morning predicted moderate winds steadily increasing through the day. I setup immediately after breakfast (10am at Wallaby) and launched before noon. Carlos dragged me upwind into lift and I soon pinned off. I enjoyed a 600 fpm climb to cloud base and then drove further upwind since I didn't have a driver for the day and would need to land back at the ranch. I only stopped for climbs over 400 fpm since the wind was blowing from the northeast at 16-17 mph. I was having a good time getting reacquainted with my glider when a large blue hole appeared upwind. I could have shifted south to a sweet cloud street or retreated downwind of Wallaby, but both choices would have made a trip back to the ranch difficult. I tried to survive on the bits of broken lift in the blue, but eventually had to turn downwind and drift back to the ranch. I worked some lift around the LZ and eventually zipped in for a "moonwalk" landing and "flew" the glider back to the tie-down area. Not exactly a flight to remember, but still it was good to be back in the air.

Later in the afternoon, a bright red 3-wheel vehicle sitting in the driveway caught my eye. The custom rig was decked out with carbon-coated mufflers and red LED light strips along the base and dashboard. The owner said it does 0 - 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. I bet it would be fun to drive. ;-)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Lee Flies in Florida

News flash. Lee flies in Florida; world leaders meet to discuss what this dramatic event will have on world affairs.

It is a good thing Lee can see the humor in the frustratingly consistent bad weather he experiences during his Florida flying trips. Lee doesn't pick the time; he is limited to spring break at Tufts University where he is a professor. I'm sure we all have friends that (at times) seem to drag bad weather along with them.

Lee and I assumed we would soar and fly cross country together this week. However strong winds kept us and everyone else on the ground during the soaring part of every day this week. Lee, along with Dennis who was working on his towing skills, were out almost every morning just after sunrise to launch in the still air next the ground and then climb into the strong but stable wind above. Both pilots got more airtime than I did since I just stood on the ground and took pictures. Both pilots also got to tow through and then above a group of balloons that landed at Wallaby today.

Amy, Lee, and Dennis have headed home and I'm left behind with no airtime and more strong winds in the forecast. Hope springs eternal; maybe it will be soarable on Sunday.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Evil Tower

Amy and I are camping at Wallaby Ranch, the first of the three flight parks I plan to visit on this trip. The new "pole barn" is a nice addition to an already comfortable "reality-free zone". We spent the first day pitching the tent, unloading gliders, and catching up with all the transplanted New Englanders that call Wallaby their winter home.

Aside from a few early morning training flights before the winds mix to the surface we have been blown-out. On Wednesday we toured the "evil" Bok Tower. I call it the "evil tower" since I always lose GPS reception whenever I try to snag it as a turn point during the Wallaby and Flytec competitions. Me and my frustrated friends slowly sink out trying to get our GPSs to record a point within the turn point cylinder without flying into each other, the tower, or the trees below.

From the ground, the tower is anything but evil. The tower is surrounded by gardens designed by Fredrick Olmsted, the same guy that designed many of the public gardens in Boston. The tower is made of pink stone from Georgia and is decorated with beautiful wildlife carvings and a large sundial.

We sat in the bucolic gardens and listened to the bells in the carillon tower as puffy white cummies raced by in the crystal blue sky.

Maybe the winds will back down on Friday or Saturday.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Meeting Spring

I got impatient waiting for spring to arrive so I drove south to meet it. Amy and I left Massachusetts at 4:30am and headed south. Once the sun rose we started looking for signs of spring. We also placed our bets where the ground would finally be snow-free. We both thought it would be gone by the time we reached Maryland, but we still found snow in northern Virginia. We spotted our first daffodils, then tulips, and then much further south fruit trees in bloom and finally green trees. Spring unfolded before us in a single day.

The roads were dry and mostly empty, but the wind was howling and the temperatures cold. It was still in the 40s (F) when we entered Georgia. We had easy cruising pass the pretty lights of Jacksonville, but lost an hour sitting in a construction backup north of Daytona Beach. We finally reached Orlando 21 hours after we left. That bed sure felt good!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Spring Break (Away)

Gliders have been accumulating in my basement as winter-weary pilots snag a ride for their pride-and-joy to Florida with me. I had long conversations with Rodger and then Tim L., but Tim H showed up around mid-night one night, tossed his and PK's gliders on the ground, and left without even saying hello. I guess Tim didn't want to prolong the agony of saying goodbye to his glider!

I have been watching the weather and Sunday looked like the day to make my escape. The weather this week was a tease. The meager snow we got this season was disappearing in the late winter sunshine as temperatures climbed above 60F (15C). I enjoyed a nice run on without my usual layers of clothing, met with clients for the last time until May, and got the truck ready for "flying season".

Although I enjoyed the warmth, I knew the New England weather was getting ready to "sucker punch" us. I finally saw my front yard on Friday morning, but snow started falling around noon and by sunset the world around me was white again. I awoke to find 15 inches (38cm) of heavy wet sticky white goop smothering everything. Although Lee left this morning and the weather in central Florida looked reasonable for tomorrow, I was happy waiting for the storm to end before clearing the driveway and loading the truck.

I'm breaking out tomorrow at 4:30am.