Monday, August 11, 2008

Scrounging

Like starving children from a Charles Dickens novel, scrounging for the tiniest morsel of food, we're off to the Trail today.

Rodger's post to the local forum captures our desperation after months of water-torture here in New England. Once again a relatively new pilot, Jeff, convinced me to attempt a day of flying. Although the predicted lift was weak, the wind on the ridge measly, the sky overdeveloped, the ground saturated, and we faced a chance of rain, the forecast was the best in the past week and probably in the next week as well. Rodger, Jeff, and I loaded up at my place and we stopped in Gardner to pick up Mark A on the way to the Mohawk Trail in North Adams, Massachusetts.

After we showed Mark the dry place to land in the bail-out LZ, we drove up to launch. We met Brooks in the parking lot and Cliff, Gary, and Mike at launch. The wind was blowing in nicely but some of the clouds were already starting their daily launch into the heavens. The weather forecasters claimed a sliver of high pressure would pass overhead during the afternoon and it would limit shower and thunderstorm development. After a few clouds exploded and sent debris all over the sky, development settled down and we did have a dry afternoon.

Gary stepped up to launch first. (I was acting as observer / mentor for Jeff and Mark so I had to launch after they did). It was blowing in nicely most of the time, but Gary wasn't convinced it was soarable. (Launch is only about 750 feet, 228 m, above the valley). After watching for a long time he backed off as the sky turned blue overhead. A while later Brooks launched and maintained at launch level for a few passes before slowly sinking out. Watching a very good local pilot sink out wasn't exactly encouraging the remaining pilots to launch. Cliff eventually launched next and, like Brooks, bounced around in front of launch before floating into the LZ for a nice landing. We returned to eating blueberries and watching the sky.

I started actively encouraging Mark and Jeff to launch so I could give it a try. Besides, the day was slipping away. Mark stepped up next, launched into a strong cycle, and immediately got above launch. As he made several passes overhead I suggested that Jeff suit up and move to launch. By the time Jeff got to launch the cycle was dying and Mark joined the others in the LZ with a nice approach and landing. Once again we waited. It was now approaching 4:30 pm and the day was dying. Mark L showed up with his glider even as some pilots were talking about breaking down and hiking out. Jeff took off in the next thermal that came through and worked his way above launch. As I started suiting up, Rodger borrowed my camera and took pictures of Jeff passing back and forth in front. By the time I got to launch Jeff was sinking on each pass and was soon in the LZ.


Gary held my nose wires as he, Mike, and I watched for signs of life in the tree leaves below as Rodger answered questions posed by two hikers and Mark L setup his glider. I finally saw some rustling in the leaves below around 5:30 pm did my best height-conserving launch. (Rodger said I should have run harder and lowered my nose some). Like the others I went back and forth in front of launch like a duck in a shooting gallery before I got high enough to start circling. Once I started circling I settled into a 250 fpm (1.3 m/s) climb to cloud base at 4600 feet (1400 m).

I played around at cloud base working upwind to wisps forming over the valley below. I watched Mark L launch and fight to maintain at ridge height. Meanwhile Gary, Mike, and Rodger were breaking down. I wanted to keep working upwind and fly the western "backside" of Mount Greylock.


However when I saw someone doing aerobatics over the airport, I thought I should stay in my own valley. I only got a picture of the white smoke, but the pilot also used red smoke that looked cool against the setting sun. (You can see a tiny loop of white smoke in the upper left center).


I flew back over the pilots in the LZ, the pilots hiking out from launch, and Mark L who was heading north along the ridge. I decided to turn south to play along the ridge there and eventually land at the golf range across the valley since they have ice cream. I took a lame video while I was flying along the ridge with one hand; there is really not much to see except for trees and a few rocks!

video

I chased a few birds around as the day faded away and watch the cars on the roads below as I crossed the valley in buttery smooth air. I was a bit shocked when I looked down at my LZ at The Range and saw a reflection of the sky broken by patches of green. Yuck. Water, water, everywhere. I would guess only 30% of the surface was green. I did my usual buzzing approach and had a sweet no-wind landing on a dry island. However, my shoes were soaked by the time I splashed my way to the high ground along the road.

After the gang helped me load the glider on the truck we stopped for dinner at the Freight Yard Pub before heading home.

Flights: 1, Time: 1:27, Distance: -, Rain: 0

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Will it ever stop?

It seems like it has been raining every day this summer.  I have flying buddies that can count the number of flights they've had this entire year on one hand.  The weather around here is more typical of Florida than Massachusetts.  In some years I've gone all summer without hearing thunder and this year it is almost a daily event.  A good day is one when I can get out early on the mountain bike before the sky explodes with enticing low cumulus followed by scary towering thunderstorms.


There are some good things about the weather this year.  I've had more wild berries (blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries) to eat than ever before. I'm beginning to feel like a bear as I stop and graze for my lunch!

Thank goodness I have been able to follow the pre-worlds, the women's worlds, and the Big Spring International (scores).  My daily phone call to my buds in Texas is definitely helping me through this tough time.

Oops, better shutdown the computer before another bolt of lightning strikes!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cruising the Ridge

I was a bit depressed Thursday evening as I compared the stellar forecast for the upcoming meet at Big Spring Texas with the continual sunny-to-rainy bait-and-switch we've been putting up with here in New England.  By Friday morning the predicted sunny weekend was all wet and even Friday was questionable.  Luckily for me, JJ was eager to squeeze in a day of flying before leaving town for a week.  Although the forecast for Friday showed showers and thunderstorms to the north, the forecast to the west only mentioned isolated showers and therefore was a ray of hope.  Additionally, a patch of mid-level clouds were moving through western Massachusetts shortly after dawn so I hoped the delayed heating might further suppress shower development.  The winds were not predicted to be strong enough to ridge soar, but at least they were in the right direction for the Mohawk Trail in North Adams.  PK didn't like the forecast, but was getting desperate and would go if I did.  Desperation and JJ's enthusiasm was enough to tip the scale and so away we went.


I drove to JJ's place and piled onto his car for the trip.  We arrived at launch about 30 minutes ahead of PK so we hiked our gliders out, noticed the wind blowing straight in, grabbed some blueberries, and then headed to the LZ to meet PK.  We repaired the wind sock, set a couple streamers, and talked about potential approaches into the rolling field.  PK was a bit worried about the day since he had already driven through light rain on his way south.  However, we had come too far to back out; so we drove up, carried the rest of the equipment to launch, and began rigging.


I kept watching the clouds grow like weeds before us.  By the time we finished a large cell mushroomed over Mount Greylock and started showing mammatus clouds.  Obviously it was not a good time to launch so we snacked on blueberries while discussing the Hoosic Tunnel that exits the mountain nearby.  Although the cloud was impressive it never dumped any rain but the high altitude blow off shaded most of the valley and smothered the overactive development long after it drifted away.  Once the sky looked reasonable JJ suited up, waited until a few light thermals came through, and launched.  He picked a good launch cycle, but the thermal was just not big enough to soar.  3 minutes later he was waving back to us from the LZ below.

PK and I waited a bit longer, but I didn't think it would get much better so I got ready to launch.  Luckily for me PK had some radio issues that kept me off of launch when the next thermal came through.  Like the thermal JJ launched into, this one lasted only a minute.  I decided to sit on launch until a much stronger thermal came along.  I didn't have to wait long as the next thermal was strong enough to rustle tree leaves all along the ridge.  I ran off and climbed enough that my first turn was back over launch.  I continued circling and settled into a 300 fpm (1.5 m/s) climb.  I called to PK below and he quickly launched and got above the ridge.

After we briefly played around launch I followed PK south to the steeper portion of the ridge.  We found a couple small climbs but were soon dragging our wing tips through the leaves along the top of the ridge trying to stay up.  We kept getting lower and lower.  PK was a couple hundred feet below me when I decided to park at the bottom of a small cliff.  I bounced back and forth like a ping-pong ball climbing 10 feet (3m) on each pass and making each turn at the edge of the lift to maximize my climb.  I immensely enjoyed every minute!  I eventually jacked my way back up to the top where a couple was enjoying the view and hopefully my show.  I briefly chatted with them and apologized for blocking their view.  Meanwhile PK headed into the valley and landed at the far end of driving range.  PK wanted me to relay his position to JJ, but that wasn't necessary since JJ was just pulling into the range at that very moment.


The thermals slowly became more organized and I was finally able to climb a 1000 feet (300 m) above the ridge and start exploring.  The ridge line is about 12 miles (19 km) long and it was fun cruising along checking out the sights below.  I kept in touch with JJ and was thrilled when he decided to accept PK's offer to help him launch a second time.  I flew over launch and waited for them to arrive.  I kept myself busy trying to reach cloud base.  The lift was already light, but dropped to 50 fpm (0.25 m/s) near the top.  I finally reached 5200 feet (1500 m) as I saw PK and JJ driving around the switchback below launch.  I flew to the northern end of the ridge while JJ rigged and watched him launch while I was working my way back.  After JJ launched PK talked a couple that walked out to launch into driving JJ's car down to the bailout LZ.  Thanks PK.


I played over the valley watching life unfold below and then flew over JJ as he bounced back and forth over launch.  I didn't want to get in his way so I continued on to the south.  I played around with a hawk, did some speed runs, and made some excursions into the valley to see if anything interesting was happening there.  I eventually glided to the other side, didn't find anything, and decided to land at the driving range.  The people at The Range are very welcoming and are happy to watch us land.  They only request a call beforehand so they know to look up occasionally so they can pause the golfers as we "play through".  On Friday they had a tent setup for a company function where I normally land, so I decided to have some fun.  I made a fast low pass overhead so they would know I was coming, then swooped in over the stream between the tent and the trees, ground skimmed across the driving range in front of the golfers, and landed with a very sweet no-stepper in front of the mini golf course.


I could see JJ soaring above launch to the north so I took my time breaking down, thanked the people at The Range, and then went for a walk to the Hoosic River taking wildflower pictures with my new iPhone.  The day slowly died off and JJ landed in the bailout next to his car after almost 2.5 hours of soaring.  I met JJ back at the driving range and after a quick stop for some food at a local ice cream stop we headed home.


Flights: 1, Time: 3:19, Distance: (12 miles)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sunny Above, Wet Below

We have been getting an excessive number of rainy days this summer so when I saw a sunny day it was an easy decision to go flying. John B, who was also eager to get away for the day, joined me for the drive north to West Rutland Vermont. I was talking to Jake on the cellphone when we crossed the Connecticut river south of Bellows Falls and Jake commented that the river looked more like the raging Mississippi than the clear tranquil Connecticut we typically see in July.

Once we arrived at the moutain, John and I were relived to find out we could "wade" out of the LZ if we sank out. Even the little stream at the road gate was flowing like it was spring. (We passed numerous waterfalls on the way up and drove through streams running down the road.)

We were surprised no one else decided to fly. It was blowing straight-in around 10-13 mph (16-21 kpm) and wispy cummies dotted the sky, with a few even showing flat bottoms. Oh well, their loss. Well, maybe ours too. See, we didn't have a driver but really wanted to fly north along the Green Mountains. However, we weren't going to let that small detail stop us; we reviewed the best hitchhiking routes back and John even packed a road map from my truck in his harness.
While John was busy packing up, I snapped some pictures of others making the best of a sunny day.

Since John felt a little rusty with his foot launches, he went first. He had a picture-perfect launch and was already above launch as he turned upwind to the west. I ran back, suited up, hooked-in, and walked to launch. I saw John below ridge height part-way out to the valley, but turning and slowy climbing. I ran off in a light cycle and started circling to the left of launch in a thermal that was curling off the downwind end of the ridge line. I climbed over the top but was drifting back too fast to stay with it to cloudbase so I came back to join John. However, John was now setting up a landing approach. Bummer. He had a nice landing on the one dry spot in the field. He dutifully offered to drive and encouraged me to take off.

I wanted to leave but I was working hard just to stay up on the ridge. The climbs were small, punchy, and seemed blown apart although the wind didn't seem that strong. I had a couple climbs that I could have left in, but wasn't confident that I could hit cloud base let alone glide across the blue to the Greens on the other side of the valley. I wondered if the wind was maybe too cross to the ridge line. I flew to the upwind end of the ridge line and got stepped on. I retreated with my tail between my legs back to the bowl, well below the top. Just as I got to the bowl I got a nice climb that I rode to 3200 feet (975m) , about 1000 (302 m) feet below cloud base. Instead of leaving I decided to fly back upwind to a line of clouds where I planned to drift across the valley circling at cloud base.

It seemed like a good plan, but instead of a good climb, I found a good beating. I was rudely, but smoothly, rolled to the left and right; at times approaching 90 degrees. I was having trouble keeping things under control but was climbing. I thought I must be outside the core of the thermal, but more exploring just brought more abuse. Meanwhile two very large areas of the sky to the immediate west were exploding with clouds. I then noticed cumulus clouds below the higher areas of clouds and scud floating under the cummies. Um. I thought maybe a short wave or unannounced front was passing through or maybe a convergence zone was setting up. Whatever was happening, I wasn't enjoying it. I didn't like the idea of landing in these conditions so running downwind seemed like the best option. I had just turned around when the nose of my glider was yanked up. I did my best pull-up to keep the nose down and tossed in a sideways motion to initiate a wing over. For a moment I was afraid I might tail slide but the glider rolled over and I continued to leave with haste.

About 30 seconds after that happened John got on the radio and said Bo had arrived and was taking him up to fetch the truck. (Thanks Bo!) John asked if there was anything he could do to help out. I replied "Land the glider"! I told them I wasn't comfortable with the air and was going to run out into the valley ahead of this stuff and land.

Once I cleared the edge of the large cloud mass overhead the air became civilized. I could have reached the Rutland airport but decided a recently cut hay field near the Route 4 and Route 7 intersection would make for the easiest pickup. I had a good, and dry, landing and walked the glider over to the entrance along the road.

Unfortunately, John had to wade through deep muddy water to get his glider to the truck. Meanwhile I watched the mass of clouds that chased me off the ridge float overhead. In its wake the sky was totally blue. I turned my gaze downwards and noticed a snail crawling across my harness. Sheeze. Maybe some sunny blue isn't such a bad thing.


Flights: 1, Time: 1:30, Distance 8.5 miles

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fun on the Ground

I stumbled out the door at 5:00 am Saturday morning so I could be at the base of Mount Ascutney at 7:30 to help with the bike race. (The race climbs 2300 feet (700 m) for 3.8 miles (6.1 km) for an average grade of 12% but with several 19% grades. Bikes included full carbon toothpicks, more common road racers, a couple mountain bikes, and even a single fixed-gear bike). Jake organizes volunteers from the Vermont Hang Gliding Association and we had a great turnout this year.

After helping park cars I joined Jake, Judy, Jeremy, JJ, and Nancy at the second water station. We prepared our little cups of water, ate lots of wild blueberries, and waited.

A few elite riders came through in a small pack and then we had another break before the long stream of the main body passed through. Jake was having way too much fun spraying riders with his super-soaker! However, it was fun to hear the bikers yell "shoot me"!


After the last biker willed himself to the top, some of the bikers cashed in their altitude for a cooling cruise back down.


Once the bikers were clear, we drove to the top, unloaded our tools of destruction, and began cleaning the trail to the south launch. Once at launch we hoisted a new wind sock, did some minor trimming in the setup area, and then ate more blueberries and talked as we cooled off in the stiff breeze under rapidly growing clouds.




Eventually we ran out of gas and human energy so we headed to the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor for a recharge. Mike, Linda, Ryan, Peter K, Lee, Jake, Judy, and myself drank and ate while the sky dumped rain outside. Once the deluge ended I headed over to Morningside for more socializing, food, drink, and another cloud burst. The only flying I saw all day was a couple paraglider flights off the 450 foot (137 m) hill after the rain.

Time: 0:00, Distance: 0.0, Drinks: several ;-)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Over the Greens

After seeing so many forecasts filled with showers and thunderstorms, I was really psyched to see last Wednesday's forecast. I tried to generate enthusiasm by ignoring the usual "lets go to Ascutney" suggestions the day before and instead suggested we go to West Rutland Vermont, fly over the Green Mountains, and THEN fly over Ascutney and continue east to the coast. Only Dennis and Greg were willing (or able) to go. Oh, we didn't have a driver either. So we spotted trucks along our intended course line; Dennis' in Ludlow and Greg's in Rutland.

We met Bob's daughter and son-in-law driving his truck down at the switchback on the way up. She was kind enough to ride back up and then drive my truck back to the bottom. The only other pilot there was Peter Klien, who offered to drive after he flew. Um, things are falling into place! Oh, did I mention that the slightly overdeveloped sky was now breaking up into nicely spaced cummies? :-)

Peter launched first while I was finishing my packing. I walked over to launch fully expecting to see him above us, but everyone on the ramp was looking down. Uh oh. He searched all along the ridge but was soon on the ground. Bummer. Peter's descent dampened the excitement and Dennis encouraged me to wait but it just looked too good to waste time on launch. With Bob's help I waited until the right cross was minimal and launched into a good climb. I made a few passes in front of launch, then started circling in the bowl, and didn't stop until I reached cloud base. I just hung out until they were ready to go. Dennis launched next, then Greg, and then Bob.

video

However, everyone else launched into a blue hole. After my initial climb I was able to glide to a solid thermal under a cloud upwind, but the guys on the ridge were not so lucky. Can you find Waldo, um, I mean Greg, below?

Bob landed and then a while later Greg. Greg just missed the elevator ride out by 5 minutes. Dennis was soon high enough to leave and as we drifted back in a climb, I asked him where he wanted to go. I was assuming the question was about which cloud to the east or southeast to glide to, but Dennis answered north and took off. Uh? What? Wait for me! The original plan was to head east, but apparently Dennis thought a cloud base of 5500 feet (1600 m) was too low to cross the Green Mountains. I didn't want to fight a 13 mph (21 kph) cross wind that would be blowing us away from LZs into parts of the Green Mountains with nothing but trees and deep ravines. I assured him there were LZs all along Route 103 to the east, that I would hang with him, and besides that, we would go slow and stay high. Taking a play from his playbook I then took off to the southeast. Dennis followed and we climbed out together over the town of Rutland. He was a little reluctant to glide to a climb over the trees south of Kilington but once committed he was fine. (He said something that at least he would have the pleasure of seeing me splat before he went in!) We cut the corner north of the Rutland airport and stayed north of Route 103 and its LZs.



I never got below 4500 feet and spent most of the time between 5000 and 5500. Every young cloud produced a usable climb. We would glide to the southeast and drift in climbs to the east. We had one very sweet run near cloud base that deposited us just north of Mount Okemo in Ludlow. Here's Dennis climbing over some lakes. Greg, who relieved Peter of his driving duties, was following below and had us in his sights.


We got a nice view of the Mount Okemo ski area as we were leaving.


Once past Mount Okemo we had plentiful LZs on our way to Mount Ascutney to the east. We were also gliding downwind instead of gliding crosswind.

We stopped for a developing thermal in the blue on the way to Mount Ascutney over familiar territory. I was down to 3500 feet but didn't want to leave the climb until I saw something better. Dennis took off to the south side of Ascutney to a cloud that was collapsing by the time he got there. Meanwhile my thermal was blooming into a 500 fpm climb that took me back to 6000 feet. I crossed over Ascutney at cloud base and started a long glide to the other side of Claremont to a line of flat bottom clouds that extended beyond Mount Kearsarge.

It was about 4:30 so I guessed we had a couple hours of flying left. Just then Dennis called on the radio "MAYDAY MAYDAY, I'm hurt!" I've never heard anyone use that term in real life and a shot of fear went right through me. I answered his call and asked his condition and location. He said he either broke his leg or ankle and couldn't move. I started getting location information and relayed between Dennis and Greg. I soon spotted Greg in my truck and gave him explicit directions to Dennis' location in a wheat field on the Vermont side of the river due east of Ascutney. Apparently Dennis landed in a mature wheat field, flared high over the tops of the grain as expected, but twisted his ankle when he landed. Once Greg was with Dennis I turned south and went to Morningside assuming I could bum a ride to the hospital and maybe get help breaking down Dennis' glider. Greg wanted to take Dennis directly to the hospital, but Dennis wasn't going to leave the field until his glider was broken down. At that point I knew the injury wasn't life threatening! Furthermore, I got a call on my cell phone saying they were driving 20 minutes in the wrong direction to pick me up before going to the hospital!

Once they picked me up we headed to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon New Hampshire. The building and staff were nice but we still had to wait in the emergency area for the usual collection of weekend warrior injuries and health ailments. We eventually discovered that Dennis broke two different bones in his ankle and he would need to have surgery to secure the breaks. Oh joy. Dennis would have to wait a few days for the swelling to go down before they could do the surgery so they would release him later that night. Dennis' wife Anne and his daughter arrived at 11:00 and around 11:30 Greg, Anne, and I headed towards Rutland to start retrieving vehicles. I dropped Greg off at Rutland, Anne at Ludlow, and then drove home. Thank goodness for rumble strips! I got home just before 4:00 am.


Time: 3:34, Distance: 41.2 miles

Monday, July 21, 2008

All Ships Rising

Rodger and Jeff C met at my place before heading to fly at West Rutland two weekends ago. The weather looked good, but after a sled ride and a rain-out at my previous two visits I was still a little apprehensive. We talked about XC flying on the drive north. Jeff talked about his short flops over the back on a trip to Valle de Bravo but had yet to "cut the strings" in New England. We described the open fields to the north of West Rutland and encouraged him to head out if he felt comfortable. We met Dennis and Ryan at the base and talked about retrieval arrangements on the way up the mountain so we were covered for some XC flying.

Launch was decorated with piles of colorful cloth, the setup area was sprouting hang gliders, and the wind was blowing in nicely when we arrived on top. Pilots continued to stream in, including Carolina and Eric from Wallaby Ranch in Florida, pilots from the Ellenville New York area, and locals I haven't seen yet this season. It was a first-class social scene.

John G launched first with his paragliding tandem passenger and started soaring after sinking a bit below launch level. A couple more paraglider pilots and John S in his ATOS stepped into the air and all were climbing out. Since the number of pilots needing to use launch was growing by the minute and it was already soarable, I excused myself from the mountaintop small talk and got in line to launch. When my turn came, I walked up to launch, sized things up, ran, started flying, took a couple "S" turns, and was soon circling to cloud base; I wish it was always that easy! It was tough returning to the ridge when the two paragliders (Caju and Van) I just shared the climb with took off towards a sweet line of clouds downwind, but I wanted to fly with Dennis and Rodger since neither had flown in that direction before.

I spent the next hour cruising the valley waiting for my flying buddies to get up so we could go exploring. I could see the crowded ridge below sprinkled with hang gliders and paragliders, but no one was getting exceptionally high. I kept myself busy by exploring the other side of the valley, "shadowing" John S as he came back low after investigating the surrounding countryside, and by amusing Ryan with my unanswered pleas for someone to leave the mountain.

I finally got a call back from Dennis saying he was ready to leave even though he wasn't at cloud base. I was relatively low across the valley but encouraged him to go and that I would catch up. (That's the racer's arrogance speaking! ;-) ) I zipped back to the ridge and immediately started climbing at 400 - 500 fpm on my way there. I kept waiting to fall out the other side but never did. I noticed a couple HG pilots doing their best blender imitation to my right, a couple PG pilots turning flat circles ahead of me, and 3 novice HG pilots doing their best to maintain a simple circle to my left all climbing at the same rate. Cool. The entire valley was releasing and all ships were rising, no matter what they were doing. I told Dennis I would soon be on the top floor and then cruised around climbing at 400 fpm looking for Rodger. I did a big wing over in front of him, pointed downwind, and started heading for the edge of the cloud. As I plowed through the wisps at the edge I looked back and saw Rodger following and to my left and saw Jeff. Sweet.


I told Jeff the next cloud looked good and that the fields below and in front of us were good LZs. That was all the coaxing he needed; he was leaving. Although I thought the cloud in front looked good, it was dying by the time we got there. Rodger and I scouted around looking for remnants, but there really weren't any. I felt bad for Jeff, another good climb would allow him to reach the really open area where the Rutland valley meets the Champlain valley. I glided across the valley to a large complex of clouds that provided a cushy smooth 200 fpm climb that allowed me to watch the show on the other side. Although I wrote him off, Jeff wasn't ready to land yet. He found bits and pieces of climbs that allowed him to keep going. He then found a slow climb not far from the quarry and settled in. Dennis caught up with someone but wasn't sure who it was. He said the pilot had an "ugly" colored harness and Jeff assuredly announced it must be Rodger! Ouch.

I tried waiting, but my climb was turning into sink so I pushed on. I noticed that it just wasn't my cloud that was drying up, all the clouds were fading away. Although it was late afternoon, it was too early for the day to shutoff due to the lack of sunshine. I thought it must be the predicted warm air moving in and suppressing thermal development. I needed a couple climbs but set the small airport at Middlebury as my goal. It was fairly easy getting there, but I doubt I would have gone much further given how quickly the sky turned blue.

Jeff continued until he ran out of LZs just south of Brandon Vermont. He landed next to an ambulance service and was given a big bottle of water to keep hydrated with. An excellent first New England XC! Rodger made it a bit further and landed close to a restaurant where he cooled off with a beer after breaking down. Dennis eventually landed in a field next to a factory in the same town I did. I also had a comfy LZ, complete with windsock, a pilot's lounge, a soda machine, shade, and company. I briefly spoke to the person rebuilding a Dragonfly that someday might be towing hang gliders in Vermont. I also took pictures of wildflowers as I waited for the gang to show up.






The truck arrived but one too many people stepped out! They found Van, one of the PG pilots that took off early, in Salisbury Vermont. After we tossed my equipment on and squeezed into the truck we drove back sharing stories and the excitement of a fun flying day. We continued the flying "lies" while we had dinner in Rutland with a few other pilots before starting the long drive home.

Time: 2:12, Distance: 25.5

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Decisions

Like poor kids on their first trip to the candy store with money, we couldn't decide where to fly on our first day without rain in weeks. Lee, Rodger, and I loaded onto Rodger's car at my place and at least decided to head north instead of west or south. The wind would be westerly at the 4 remaining launches; cross wind at 3 of them. I had a mild preference for West Rutland and the chance for a long flight to the east but Lee and Rodger didn't like the drive so that was out. That still left Ascutney, towing with Mount Rhett (at Morningside), and the small 450 foot hill at Morningside. Lee wanted to do some XC from Ascutney and Rodger just wanted the best place to launch and soar. I excused myself from the discussion since any choice was OK with me. No one wanted to "decide" so we keep taking roads that wouldn't rule out any choice. Sheeze. We finally found ourselves at Morningside where it was blowing nicely from the northwest. Even though Jeff N urged us to stay, Rodger "threw in" with Lee and off we went to Ascutney.

We met up with Dennis, Greg, Jeff, Sue, and Sawyer at the parking lot on top before hiking in. Apparently Jake arrived much earlier and was already at launch. Well, actually we was probably already in the air because I passed Judy hiking out as I was dragging my gear in. Its reassuring to arrive at launch with someone already soaring; time to rig!

Greg didn't want Sue and Sawyer spending the day picking up pilots around New England, so his offer of a ride back was tempered with the condition I land with him or along the way there or back. It was a nice offer and so I decided to stick with Greg for the day.

I let Jeff launch first to avoid moving gliders and then walked to launch. Sue and Lee did wire duty as I struggled to keep the glider level on the rock. Thanks! Thermals were rolling in unevenly. The right wing was buffeted by thermal gusts rushing up the ravine to the right, while the left wing was affected by thermal gusts rolling over the western spine. I finally decided to launch into a lull instead a thermal. Ah, much easier.

I slowly climbed in weak crossing ridge lift until I found a good climb up over the back. Greg and Jeff headed back out front so I fought the urge to run and also returned. We kept gliding out front and connected with another good climb that I took to cloud base. I was ready to go, but Jeff and Greg headed back. Uh? I found out later that Jeff was waiting to leave with Jake, Greg was waiting on Jeff, and I of course I was waiting on Greg! The only problem was the sky was drying up and no one was finding a climb. I slipped into cautious mode and held on to any lift I could find.

Someone came on the radio and announced that Lee had just blown launch. Crap! A quick check showed Lee was above the main cliff but below and to the left of launch. A few tense moments passed before Sue got on the radio and announced she was talking with Lee, he was basically OK but thought he might have a broken arm, and was stuck in his glider unable to reach the ground. Damn. I immediately started sizing up my options. Rodger had a ranger drive his car down to the entrance of the park on the back side of the mountain. I thought the rotor was too strong to land on the lee side, but I could land to the south and run or hitch a ride to the base. However, it would be a least 45 minutes before I could get to Lee. As I was making my plans, Jake announced he was going to land out front and encouraged pilots to join him. Moments later Sue got back on the radio and said that Lee was out of the glider and walking to launch. A very good sign. Jake said he would call the park rangers and the local emergency crew to let them know the "glider in the trees" was being handled and that they shouldn't respond. As the pilots in the air discussed what to do next, Sue came back on the radio and said that Lee wasn't sure if his arm was broken but she would drive him to the hospital to have it checked out. Lee came on the radio and said he was fine and encouraged everyone to go fly. Jake instead encouraged pilots to land and help remove the glider as soon as possible to avoid bad publicity and false alarms being called into the local emergency departments. I was torn between landing to help out and heading off downwind into the best looking sky I've seen so far this year. The days are very long this time of the year and assumed the pilots (maybe me) that landed short could easily get the glider before sunset. I also knew we would probably need the tree extraction kit from Morningside since our kit at launch had been stolen or tossed over the cliff. Long story made short, I followed Jeff, Greg, and Rodger as they left the mountain. Probably not one of my better decisions and it bothered me for the rest of the day.

I followed Greg and Jeff to the north of Green Mountain as I watched Rodger cruise the ridge much lower than us. I watched Rodger fly over the Newport airport before getting a climb and heading towards Lake Sunapee. He eventually had to fly back upwind to land after not climbing high enough to cross the lake. Bummer. Meanwhile Greg, Jeff, and I found a good climb to the north and decided to head crosswind to the south to a sweet flat-bottomed cloud west of Mount Sunapee. I beamed to cloud base as Greg and Jeff searched below in vain. Jeff headed towards Bradford along the lee side of a ridge line and was properly punished while Greg and I had a kinder glide to west. I was much higher and in front of Greg so I proceeded south to explore some clouds over Bradford while I waited for him to climb up as Jeff announced he just landed to the northwest. My curiosity got the better of me as I got down to 1200 feet before finding a very slow climb out.

While I was climbing out I heard Lee decided to drive himself to the airport and Sue was now driving retrieve. However she couldn't find Rodger! Rodger had broke down and hitched back to the mountain to fetch Lee's glider. Him, Dennis, and John were at the mountain before 4pm, easily early enough to fetch Lee's glider. However Jake and a few guys from Morningside were coming down the mountain with Lee's glider when they arrived. Jake estimated the retrieval took about an hour.

Once I clawed my way back up I shifted into race mode to catch up with Greg who was a couple climbs ahead of me. I caught up with him near Concord but had much more altitude so I slowed down and slipped back into sightseeing mode. We jumped to the LZ oasis in the sea of trees known as the Deerfield fairgrounds.



Greg was much lower than I was so I took some pictures and played around at base. I watched a line of flat bottom clouds form and dissipate as Greg valiantly searched for a climb under a mass of clouds that was smothering thermal development. I could see the coast line and knew I could reach it if I left right then but we were going to do this together so I waited.

As the line of sweet clouds faded I realized that it just wasn't a few clouds that were dying, the entire day was winding down.

I finally told Greg I was going to move on and would land near the highway. I was shocked when Greg started to go on glide. He said it probably wasn't his smartest flying decision but he was "moving on". Yikes. I had a bird's eye-view of his long low glide over trees and lakes. At least he had a swamp as a bail-out. I felt much much better and started planning a route cross-wind when he finally reached a small field. However, he didn't stop! He continued his knuckle-dragging glide across another leafy expanse. Forget that glide to a good cloud, I've got to see how this turns out! He must have used his anti-gravity belt because he somehow made it to a nice large field and had a good landing. Whew.

I was now low and out of reach of the clouds I needed to make a long cross-wind glide to get to the nice part of the coast. I found a weak drifting climb off a shopping center that allowed me to float downwind where I was trapped with no more LZs. I came back upwind to a hay field in Stratham NH where I landed a couple years ago behind a strip mall, bled off my remaining altitude, had a long bumpy final, flared above the grass, settled down, and nearly lost the horizon in the chest high grass. It was a long struggle walking my glider cross wind through the entangling grass and squishy ground to the poison-ivy covered embankment along "Frying Pane Lane".

Jeff, who left his truck close to where he landed, picked up Greg and I and shuttled us part-way back to Rodger, Lee, Sue, and Sawyer. We talked about the day's events; good and bad. Lee was walking around, and aside from a swollen arm seemed fine. His glider was already at Morningside ready for repairs to the flying wires, a batten or two, and maybe a leading edge. The hero of the day by far was Sue, who handled a stressful situation with calm and grace. Even Sawyer played a part providing radio relay. Eventually we swapped gliders and headed our separate ways.

This was the longest flight I've had since I busted by arm. I flew 4:40, much longer than the 2 hour flights I had in Maryland at the East Coast Championship The straight distance flown was 83.7 miles.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rain

The forecast looked like we might be able to sneak in some flying on Saturday between the short waves radiating around the cut-off low to the north in Quebec. The chance of rain was less to the south but winds were also predicted to be more southerly there. Probably too cross at Ellenville to justify a 10 hour drive. The conditions at Brace looked the best but 6 hours of driving, a 2 mile hike in, and limited XC potential made that less than desirable. That left Mount Rhett at Morningside or West Rutland, Vermont.

Everyone was hungry to fly. Rodger and John B drove to my place and we were rolling north before 8:30 am. Since we thought the chance of rain was similar at both northern launches, we decided to try West Rutland since we could ridge soar and explore some new XC routes if we got up. On the drive we talked with PK, Dennis, Greg, and Jeff who were all heading that way. The sky looked sick was we entered Vermont; flat bottom clouds as far as the eye could see. The clouds were thick but not showing any over-development. It wasn't until we crested the last little ridge line did we see towering clouds over the Adironacks on the other side of the Champlain Valley.

We drove up the 4x4 road to launch, carried our gliders to the setup area, and walked over to launch were John S was standing with his ATOS VR. "Why the waiting? Oh. Yeah, that is a large wall of rain out there. Crap." I probably would have launched then if I had my glider rigged, but I didn't and John finally backed off. The rain was far enough away, but slowing creeping our way and killing the lift. The optimists in the group hoped it would rain itself out and active cummie development would resume. However, the cloud heights and the radar picture on my phone confirm my fears; this wasn't a spot shower falling from overloaded cumulus clouds but growing thunderstorms.

What are these guys waiting for? Look at the sky!


Oh, that.


John, Rodger, and I decided to bail early and give Morningside a shot. We still had time, it was the longest day of the year. However, Heather told us that Rhett had a lot of tandems scheduled and might not have time to tow us up. Oh well, maybe we could get up from the 450 foot high launch. Heather decided Morningside was a better bet as well as the rest decided to wait out the rain.


We met Dennis, Greg, Jeff, and Peter driving up as we were driving down. You should have heard their questions and seen the expressions on their faces! "Where are you going? What? Raining? How hard? You got to be kidding me. Are you sure? #%&@!"

It started raining on us as we drove out of town. Of course Gary and PK had to tease us with phone calls that included descriptions of blue skies with newly formed cummies and "staged" launches happening in the background. Nice try guys. In reality it cleared enough for a couple sledders and then trapped the rest on top in the rain.

The hour drive to Morningside was pleasant since we only looked at the nice cumulus field ahead of us. However, once there we saw the the dark over-developed pilot-depressing evil rain was hot on our tail. Everyone at Morningside was still flying, but no one had more than a sled-ride even as beautiful cumulus clouds retreated overhead. I drove Toni up top for her first flights after becoming a mom and talked with a few pilots as they broke down ahead of the slowly approaching rain.

After cowering in the hanger during a shower, Rodger, John, and I drove into Claremont where Morningside had a static display as part of a town festival. I tried to forget our bad luck by inhaling some fresh strawberry shortcake and then some beer and pizza. Sigh. Maybe next time.

Flights: 0, airtime: 0, miles: 330

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

West Rutland

The weather in New England has been frustrating this spring. It has either been raining or blowing or both at the same time. Meanwhile the pilots to the southwest at Ellenville New York have been having the spring of a lifetime. This week was no different. Wednesday and Thursday were blown out while pilots at Ellenville New York were able to launch and rack up miles of XC fun. With rain predicted for every day of the upcoming week, I decided to make the long trip to West Rutland Vermont even if it was predicted to be weak.

I met Dennis at Morningside Flight Park so we could share the last 1/3 of the drive and I could pick up a new vario mount. On the way I got calls from both Gary and Mike wanting to know if the work on the 4x4 road to the top was washed away by the severe storms that whipped through earlier in the week. (The new work held up fine). Dennis and I met up with Al, John S, PK at the base and then drove to launch.

It was blowing in slightly and I hoped the drying hay fields below were cooking up thermals just for us.


John launched first in his VR and I quickly followed. John got a "pop" as he crossed into the bowl so I quickly zipped to the bowl as I sank below the ridge top. I found a baby thermal and managed to extract a couple climbing turns, but got too greedy, pushed out too much, couldn't turn around back into it, and proceeded to fall out the side. It was gone. Dang. I fought my way to the LZ, finding a couple other small bug farts but nothing I could work. I finally zipped across the highway into the field for a frustrating, but good, landing. Moments later John joined me.


Meanwhile Al, Dennis, and PK waited. The waited some more. They waited a bit longer. Finally when a band of cirrus moved overhead they launched into a light wonder wind. Al hung on for a tiny bit but was soon earthbound.


However Dennis and PK managed to hang on and enjoy about an hour of light wonder-wind soaring.


Al, John, and I passed some PG pilots from Burlington Vermont walking up to launch when we were fetching vehicles. Although John's car couldn't handle any more passengers, we did take their gliders to the top and saw them sled down while we loaded gliders at the bottom. John, Dennis, and I had dinner before Dennis and I headed back to Morningside. We were transferring Dennis' glider to his truck when I heard "YOU CAN DO IT" echoing through the woods. I immediately knew a "campfire session" was in progress and had to check it out. Apparently Morningside was as stable as West Rutland, but it was great for training flights. I eventually had to leave so I could finish my drive home without falling asleep at the wheel.

Although it was a nice day to be "out and about", I'm not sure 9 minutes of airtime justified 7 hours of driving. Hanging out with my buds helped soften the blow. Meanwhile, I'm working on a glider that flies well in the rain.

Monday, June 16, 2008

East Coast Championship (Day 7)

PK asked why I didn't write up the last day of the ECC. Oops, my bad.

The last day was wicked hot and humid but the forecast predicted light winds and workable lift to 3500 (1000m) and maybe even 4000 feet. Everyone spent the morning rigging using as little energy as possible. The task was a straight line to a field near the coast 37 miles (59 km) to the southeast. We all hide from the sun under gliders and tugs while watching the occasional pilot launch and eventually land. Jim P managed to stay airborne for a long time even as the task times were delayed. When Jim eventually landed I told him about the time shift and he jokingly said it would have been nice to know about the change but it was better waiting in the air than on the sweltering ground. He walked over to the empty tow line and hooked up for another go.

I launched when I had just enough time to get the last start circle. I stayed on for the full smooth tow, released, and started gliding for the start circle. I headed towards several gliders circling near the start circle, but they were barely climbing. I found a sweet little thermal over some metal buildings and was soon climbing higher than everyone around me. The gliders in front of me returned to my climb and we drifted through the start circle right on time. Davis, Dustin, Johnny, Sonny, and I took off towards a staggered line of clouds a little north of course line. Davis was pushing hard while the rest of us would stay until we topped out around 3000 feet (900 m). I thought Davis, Dustin, and Johnny were being too aggressive as the clouds and climbs weakened so I started falling behind as I climbed another couple hundred feet on each climb. About half way there I finally lost my gaggle and flew the rest of the course by myself.

I was concerned about a sea breeze near goal and maybe even a head wind on final glide. I didn't see a convergence line but the few wispy clouds near the shore were definitely lower than the clouds further inland. I stayed inland until I had goal by a couple thousand feet. The glide in was deliciously smooth and once I determined the head wind was minimal I cashed in my altitude for some air-slicing speed.

I had trouble visually identifying the field until I saw what appeared to be an airfield. Duh. I was looking for a field, maybe full of crops, not an airfield. The dome building at the end of the runway was visually unique both in the air and on the ground.


Although my former gaggle beat me into goal by a couple minutes, it was still fun to be there early and watch other happy pilots cruise in, including Jim P.



Even drivers are happy at goal!


Our driver Bill, along with Lauren and Jim M, scooped up Paul, Ric, and I at goal. We stopped for a variety of salty junk food to hold us over until awards dinner that evening. By the way, the food at the awards dinner was awesome.


As yet another storm approached from the west we held the awards ceremony. It was good to see New England pilots Brian and PK do so well. Brian won second in the sports class and PK had his first and second goal landing during the meet and finished in the top ten. NAUIICE. Johnny tried to make a move going into goal that didn't work out so Dustin won the meet in the open class. I came in fast enough to step ahead of Kevin to take fourth behind Sonny. (By the way, Sonny claims ignorance when it comes to racing, but don't believe him!)

After the ceremony we moved inside to watch a pre-release of Jim R's meet video. It will definitely be a "keeper".




As I continue to say, the meets at Highland Aerosports are a perfect place to sample competitive flying and let the kid inside out of its cage. Its that simple. They host a low stress, low hassle, playful meet that is a lot of summer fun.

Friday, June 06, 2008

East Coast Championship (Day 6)

No rain last night but I awoke under an unbroken slate grey sky. The forecast called for the temperature and humidity to increase during the day and it did. A small task to the north was called for late afternoon and on schedule the sun started breaking through around 1pm. The tug pilot's reports of zero thermal activity kept all the sweaty hang glider pilots on the ground but the crop dusters kept working.


We also had a dual fly-by to entertain us.

A few pilots launched and Davis even managed to hang on, although low. (Cloud base was around 2000 feet). About the time everyone was finally getting ready to launch, we switched towing direction on the runway. Chaos ensued and a few pilots were upset how priority launch was handled.

I launched and managed to keep in the air and even worked my way part-way to the start circle. No one was leaving so I worked back towards the field. I eventually got tired of looking up at gliders on tow that seemed miles above me and went back for another tow. The clouds were gone by the time I got back into the air and I started my dive for the start circle. There was a complex of farm buildings on course line and it looked like my only real chance for lift. Once I smelled manure, I knew lift would be next. About a dozen pilots collected in that climb. I headed on to quarry that I was sure would produce lift, but alas it didn't. I moved on to a field in the lee of some trees and found broken lift. Charlie, who came in below, landed and I was getting close. I gave the thermal one more chance before moving on. Linda and Mark cruised over a few hundred feet higher and connected while I sank out the bottom. I finally took my measly altitude and flew across some fields to land with Kevin, Paul, and Rich. Mark went on to win the day and Linda was second. You can check out the scores online.