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.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

East Coast Championship (Day 5)

The day started wet and humid. The ground was saturated with inches of rainfall and the sky was filled with formless gray fog. It was hard to believe the forecast for partly cloudy skies. I checked out the wind and rain damage to the wheat field across the road.


We eventually setup in preparation for a short 24 mile task to south. 24 miles? Yep. That was tough enough with the 2000 foot top of light lift. Dustin and Johnny entertained the crowd with a low high-speed pass down the glider line while we waited for sunshine to arrive.


I had a sweet tow to near cloud base and immediately headed for the start circle. After a reasonably good start I headed to the eastern upwind side of the Choptank river. Apparently everyone else thought the downwind west side was the place to be. I used up all my altitude flying back across the river to hook up with Mark, Paul, and Sonny. I jacked myself out of that hole and was soon back at base. I out climbed most of the group on the next climb and struck out further to the west by myself. That didn't work out and I came back in low under Mark and Sonny. We sniffed around for a long time but I eventually landed in a nice dry field followed shortly by Mark and Rich. We watched Davis and Sonny get away as we talked to a newspaper reporter that stopped by to see what was happening.


The day had very little value point-wise. (The scores are online).

Later in the afternoon we had another pond-skimming session on Lake Ridgley and then a large group of us went out to dinner. The next two days should be flyable.

East Coast Championship (Day 4)

The day was canceled early so Brian, Carlos, PK, and I headed to the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles airport.


I saw many of my favorite airplanes, including this Corsair, in a hanger that is as impressive as the planes it houses.


This is the only glider I got a picture of before my camera battery ran dry. I was very excited to see several Horton wings and a large collection of Bennett Wing hang gliders.


We spent a long time sitting on the beltway on the way back listening to tornado warnings and damage reports. We stopped for crabs, played some foosball, and watch SuperBad before dashing back to our soggy tents. I awoke this morning to the newly reformed Lake Ridgley.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

East Coast Championship (Day 3)

I had a hunch when I crawled out of the tent this morning that we wouldn't fly due to the strength and direction of the wind. (We tow from an airstrip and the wind was 90 degrees cross from the south around 15). After the day was canceled by the safety committee around mid-afternoon about half of the pilots headed to the local swimming hole.

People were diving from a high abandoned railway trestle, swinging on a rope swing below, and just swimming in the river. No diving for me, but I'll be back next year to give it a go.


It was easy to dive off; the bridge even came with instructions.




I captured a couple later dives, including Linda's daughter Dana.

video

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

East Coast Championship (Day 2)

Although climbs around the airfield was weak, the strong climbs on course turned the 40 mile dash to goal into a full-on race. I launched between Johnny and Dustin; a good place to be. Sonny was ready rumble, stressing his 3rd place finish ahead of me yesterday.


I left with a large gaggle at 2:15, but got a sloppy start since I was messing with my flight computer when everyone took off. I hate starting behind everyone on such a short course. The first climb on course was very good but I let the gaggle race ahead because I thought that strong thermal was fluke, not the rule. However after Greg and I spiraled up together wing tip to wing tip, I knew for sure it was time to race hard. However the high speed glides took its tool on my arm. By the time it came for final glide I just couldn't keep up the speed necessary to stay in front on Sonny and he beat my by a couple seconds. "Curse you red baron!" ;-)

Konrad, Davis, Paul, Sonny, and I broke down in the shade along a tree line at the far north end of the field. It was sweet to be at goal; even the air was perfumed with honeysuckle that was growing over our next retrieve vehicle.


A crop duster circled over the field and made a very low strafing down the runway and right past our gliders. Way cool.


Lots of pilots made goal today. Jim and PK had their first competition goal landings today and both but let loose with a series of wangs to show their joy. In the sport class Brian was one of two that made goal. The scores are available online.

I may or may not fly today since I awoke to a swollen elbow. I probably should stay on the ground but I'm not very good at doing what I should.

Monday, June 02, 2008

East Coast Championship (Day 1)

I woke too early this morning (5 am) but at least the rays of sun streaking through the slowly drifting fog was picturesque. Things slowly started drying out as the wind picked up from west.


The pace around here is relaxed and this was probably the smoothest flowing "first day" I've seen in a long time. The task was a 54 mile dog-leg to the SE. Although there was some wind and the lift was weak most pilots were ready to go. (Just ask Kevin!)


No one was launching even as I noticed cummies forming along course line. I told Linda we should go and she surprisingly said "ok" and was the first to launch. By the time I was fully suited there was a line of 10 gliders in front of me. My first tow in my glider in over a year was easy as Zach dragged me upwind to an area of broken lift. I soon discovered the wind was a bit stronger than I anticipated and it was blowing me seriously off course line. That turned out to be the story for the rest of the day. My track log looks like a zipper line; blow east and glide south.

I finally accumulated some altitude only to use it all to get back to join a gaggle of pilots not far from launch. I was the low man by the time I got there. I had a good climb but lost the lift and took off hoping the others would follow. They didn't and I decided to return so I would have some company. Bad move. As soon as I got back they took off; now I was much lower and effectively lost the gaggle. After that I had most of the afternoon to myself.

I hooked up with Dustin near the first turn point for a good climb that got us back to cloud base. The wind at 5000 feet was blowing NW, right down course line. Dustin headed out on course line as I went slightly upwind hoping to connect with a line of thin clouds that was forming. I was hoping to stay near cloud base and drift with the NW wind. It seemed like a good idea until I realized the layer of NW flow was very shallow. In hindsight I should have flown with Dustin.

After 2 hours my arm was getting fatigued so I worked my way down from 1200 feet to land in a huge plowed field. A few moments later PK (Peter) floated in.

It seems PK, uh, had a issue during his flight.

His water bladder broke!

I hitched a ride with Dana who was picking up PK. We got a nice weather show as a drove around an impressive thunderstorm.

Johnny and Dustin were the only flex wings to make goal. I think Dustin got robbed score-wise! He flew twice as far as I did and look at the meager difference in points.