Saturday, May 31, 2008

East Coast Championship

I left at 5am this morning to beat the storms to Highland Aerosports. With Brian's help I had the tent rigged long before the storms hit. Lots of rain, some wind, and pea size hail "rearranged" and flooded some tents. We spent the afternoon finding non-flying diversions such as ping-pong and pond skimming.

Yes, I said pond skimming. The crew brought out the golf cart winch and started pulling people across a large puddle on a custom wake board in the center of the camp area. We later moved to the stream with its larger play area. I wish my arm was stronger; it looked like mega fun.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Party at Ascutney

The weather that has been tormenting pilots in New England finally broke on Sunday and just about anyone that could fly was at Morningside Flight Park or Mount Ascutney. I met up with Rodger and Greg K, who lives on Cape Cod, in Leominster MA. A coin toss determined the vehicle-of-the-day would be Rodger's car.

We knew it would be crowded at Ascutney so we tried to get to launch early, but there were already 8 other pilots in front of us when we arrived at 10:15. Pilots continued to pour in as we rigged. Late comers were relegated to setup along the trail and in the forest. I later learned 20 pilots signed in at the base.

The calm blue sky kept the pilots at the head of the line firmly planted on the ground. Finally John A asked to go first even though he was far from launch. With everyone's help his glider floated over the top of the other gliders like it was surfing a glider mosh pit. He launched and was summarily stepped on for a big loss. Many pilots let out a moan and declared the day wasn't ready yet. However, I knew that for every big "down" there is a corresponding "up". Sure enough John was soon breaking launch altitude and everyone's attitude changed.

The first few pilots were very reluctant to step into the void fearing they would soon be looking back up at the mountain from the ground. I started dropping not-so-subtle hints that I wanted to go like asking what the wind on launch was doing or if there was traffic in front. I guess I should stick to launching early; I'm not very good at standing in line waiting to launch!

Eventually it was my turn. I launched, headed directly to the western spine, cranked into a strong core and zipped to 7900 feet at 700 - 1200 fpm. I was surprised to see everyone, except Jake, still orbiting the mountain when I got to the top floor. I immediately radioed I was heading east and wondered if anyone wanted to join me. At least two said "let's go" so I did. It wasn't until I crossed the river that I realized they hung back. Oh, THAT kind of "let's go"!

While I waited for the gaggle to get the courage to leave I watched a dusty far below move across a plowed field onto the river. I watched the circular ripples and waves move up the river. Very sweet. I tried to find the top of the dusty but no luck. Meanwhile the gaggle was slowly losing altitude back at the mountain. Enough waiting. I headed towards Claremont with all its hot parking lots. Sure enough I found another 700 fpm climb.

Meanwhile the gaggle was beginning to move, but further north of my position. Since it was totally blue, I knew I should fly with others. I was about to head north to join Greg H and Jeff when I noticed Greg K coming off Green Mountain low. Yikes, I could see his shadow on the trees. I decided to stay put and make sure he made it to the valley LZs before continuing. Although I was happy to see him climb a little and then start turning I wasn't happy when I looked at my altitude. I could no longer connect with Greg H and Jeff but noticed Dennis on his ATOS below me. I decided to stay close to Dennis as we headed towards Newport. I wanted to fly directly over town but Dennis headed straight for a quarry to the northeast. I hesitated for a moment, wanting to try the town, but decided to stick with my newly adopted wing man. I found nothing but crushing sink at the quarry and was soon below Dennis as we ran east. Dennis was high enough to connect with some lift off the last reasonable LZ before Lake Sunapee but I was too low and was soon heading in to land.

I was about 300 feet off the deck starting my downwind leg when I noticed a huge swirl in the grass. Crap. I surely wasn't going to land in that thing! I immediately dove for it hoping to delay my landing until it was clear of the field. I was tossed around a bit but didn't climb or sink, which was good. Meanwhile a large RC craft was doing loops over the LZ and an F18 fighter jet was avoiding Greg H and Jeff above me and went into a full afterburner climb that literally rattled the air. Nothing like a nice mellow landing, eh? I rode the dusty over the farmhouse and then dove into the field for a functional, but not pretty, landing.

I chatted with the RC pilots and then greeted another pilot, Bill, who drove up. Dennis then came in and a short while later Greg K landed. Rodger landed on the other side of the lake at a golf course with a nice bar while Greg H, Jeff, and Johnny Z continued on past Concord. Lucky for Greg K (who lives at least 4.5 hours away), we bypassed the long retrieve ride by getting a lift from John A back to the mountain where Pete J had driven Rodger's car to the bottom. (Thanks Pete!) Greg and I picked up Rodger at the bar, got some Sushui for dinner, and then headed home. Even Amy pitched in by taking me back to my truck allowing Rodger and Greg to cut their trip by 40 minutes.

I was disappointed to be on the ground 20 miles out after only an hour in the air but I couldn't complain, it was just too nice of a day to be down about anything.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

West Rutland - Floating North

It was an easy decision to fly given the previous blown-out days courtesy of a spring nor-easter and all the rainy pictures on the NWS forecast. It is a long 3 hour drive to West Rutland Vermont from my place, but it was enjoyable. The hills were covered with new tender yellow-green leaves, hayfields were dark green after an early spring feeding of manure and accented with thousands of bright yellow dandelions, and every apple and cherry tree was bursting with color. Ah, spring had finally arrived!

Although we planned to meet in the LZ at West Rutland at noon, everyone was already loaded and ready to roll when I pulled in at exactly 12:00. Jim helped me toss the glider on Bob's new racks and we headed up. There was a light breeze blowing in, but no cummies, birds, or floating insects to indicate any lift. Clark, Jake S, and Bob all launched, had their momentary victories, and then sank to fields below. The stragglers, Bo S, me, PK, and John all managed to keep our feet off the ground. I luckily found a climb soon after launching and never got low. The rest of the gang bobbed up and down awhile before PK joined me in a climb drifting over the back. PK had sweet-talked Jake into driving and was ready to go sightseeing downwind even though we were only at 4000 MSL (1200 m). PK twisted by arm and I joined in. ;-)

The thermals were not well-formed, more like areas of bubbly lift. We played in the mellow air drifting downwind to the north trying to conserve altitude over the wet fields below us and under the thickening cirrus above us. It was a good day for PK to get accustomed to his new Moyes Litespeed S and for me to work on high-siding using my recovering arm.

PK had previously lead out so I took my turn as we approached Lake Dunmore. (Lake Dunmore is the lake at the base of the ridge line in the picture). I started my glide to the west climbing in a nice string of lift and then planned to float directly over the lake instead of circling around to the west. PK headed directly to the northwest (planning to clip the edge of the lake) and we soon had a thousand feet between us. I found my first solid climb of the day off a quarry upwind of the lake. It was just what I needed to drift over the lake, but PK was now playing the "how low can I get before I have to run for a safe LZ" game. He came over and started climbing but lost it and had to dive to the west. I was waiting to watch him to land when he starting climbing. Bravo PK!

I topped out at 5500 feet and went on a long glide over the lake, past the Middlebury State Airport, and to the cliffs to the north. Meanwhile PK gained enough altitude to drift into the airport and land. I played around the tops of the ridge checking out hawks and deep ravines. I left the ridge as it receded to the east. I expected some chop due to rotor, but not a roller coaster ride. I soon discovered the valley was flowing at 19 mph (30 kmh) instead of the 11 (17) we had been flying in all afternoon. I cleared the ridge line and started shopping for a nice big field. I flew to the south end of Bristol, but turned around and flew back to a huge hayfield 33 miles (55 km) out. As expected the ride in was turbulent, but the landing was sweet.

Almost immediately a young woman with two huskies walked up and started asking the usual questions. A few minutes later another woman and a boy walked over to check out my flying contraption. We had a nice conversation but eventually the woman and boy returned home to find something else to do, the young woman continued to walk with her dogs, and I started breaking down and feeding the black flies.

Bo, instead of Jake, hopped into my truck after his flight and picked up PK and then me. We stopped for dinner at Cattails Restaurant before heading back to West Rutland where I could start my 3 hour journey back home. It was a fun afternoon of flying and I felt fine after 2:15 in the air. I just wish we had more flyable days around here; this flying once a week, maybe, just isn't enough!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blue Ascutney

Although the forecast was uninspiring, Jake, Jeff, John A, and I hoped for a blue-sky cross-country cruise down the river starting at Mount Ascutney. I knew it was going to be a tough day when I saw all the water in the valley fields; they looked more like rice patties than cornfields or pastures. We all met at John's place and loaded up with Judy for the drive up. I wasn't sure how my arm would hold up on the hike out. I was slow, but no problems.

There was still snow in the setup area, a few black flies, no leaves, no clouds, and no wind. At least the forecasted top of lift was weak and low. ;-) Everyone took their time rigging, not sure who would be sacrificed first. Spirits picked up when I spotted an eagle climbing out front. That was finally enough get things going. Judy, along with a hiker named Warren, helped us launch. Jake went first and followed by Jeff. By the time I got to launch Jeff was low over the ski area and Jake was very low over the base of the mountain. Uh oh. Jake managed a low save and slowly started climbing. Although there wasn't much wind, it was 90 degrees cross at times, so I was waiting for an engraved invitation to launch. When it finally arrived, I launched, followed it to the western spine and started climbing in a snaky little thermal. John launched and Jake and Jeff cruised over to join the climb. Jeff managed to hold on while Jake and John struggled with anemic offshoots.

I stayed with that little thermal to 6000 feet. Jeff took off when I signaled it was time to leave but I struggled with my equipment for a moment. By the time I was organized, Jeff was already ahead me. Sorry Jeff. We headed south to an area northeast of the Springfield airport that usually produces a climb but it just produced a lot of little "popcorn" thermals. Jeff and I bounced along slowly gaining altitude. Jake headed out when he saw us turning and gave it his best until he landed at the golf course further to the south. Meanwhile I looked back and saw John low on the backside of the mountain. Ahead of me Jeff was low and looking for an LZ. Um, so much for our team trip down the river! I punched in Morningside on my Flytec 6030 said I had it by 700 feet. What the heck, lets go.

I didn't have a good glide back and was not going to make Morningside when I stumbled into a nice climb over the river that got me back to 5000. At least my flight wasn't over. I considered heading on down the river, but I didn't want to drag everyone south just for me. A short time later I saw Jeff cross the river after digging out of his hole. We played around awhile (you can see Jeff in the 3rd picture over the brown fields), I took some pictures, and we decided it was time to land. The problem? There was no sinking air around Morningside! Literally. I had to glide all the way to the Claremont airport to find lightly sinking air. I left the airport when my flight computer said I would arrive at Morningside at 1000 feet. I went on a straight fast glide and arrived at 3500! Jeff tried to lose altitude by speeding around. It was funny watching him zip around the valley below me, occasionally doing unintended aerobatics as he would hit a strong surge at high speed! I tried searching for sink to core. I finally found a small spot to the northeast and landed a few minutes after Jeff.

No big XC miles, but it was still a fun day and I added another 2:40 to my rehabilitation effort.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Santa Cruz Flats (Day 7)

Work on the launch line went smoothly on the last day of the Santa Cruz Flats meet; the runway AND the launch line was watered before towing started so the dust manageable, pilots and crew slipped into a well-rehearsed routine, and mother nature helped by providing reasonably consistent wind speed and direction. It was non-stop action for an hour or so and then surprising silence. It was all over.

The pilots raced downwind while Amy and I showered and raced to the local Dairy Queen! A lot of pilots made goal so spirits were high at the dinner and awards ceremony that evening. I really enjoyed talking with Daniel and Derek as they described their very tight race into goal. It was during that conversation, out of many that week, I missed being a competitor the most. Daniel and Derek gave it their all to beat the other into goal but were enjoying the other pilot's view and the other pilot's company. It reminded me how much fun it is to race hard against friends and enjoy the competition; win or lose.

Amy and I had an extra day before we flew home, so on Trish's advice we headed north west of Phoenix to Sedona, through Oak Creek Canyon up to Flagstaff. Entering Sedona from the southwest was unbelievable. The natural setting for that town easy ranks in my top 5 worldwide (so far). We spent the day doing some short hikes, some brief shopping, and a lot of standing along various roads gaping at the multi-colored mountains and impressive valleys.