Thursday, June 18, 2009


  Ok, where is summer hiding?  Needless to say, I'm getting tired of the cold rainy days.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tug Pilots at Play

The pilots at the East Coast Championship at Highland Aerosports played around a bit before landing and towing the competitors up and away.  I caught a bit of the show with my still camera in video mode.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


I had a full list of chores and business to complete on Monday when I was abducted by John, Lee, and Pete.  I was forced to go flying against my will.  They dragged me out kicking and screaming.  Well maybe not screaming.  Maybe not kicking either.  ;-)

The day had a lot of potential, but high cirrus blotted out the sun and smothered the early morning cues that Lee and Pete kept tempting me with.  By the time John and I arrived at 1:00, Jake and John were already on the ground after express sled rides to the hayfields below.  I was certain we could soar if our timing was right.  John and I rigged as pilot after pilot ran off launch and sank out.  Nick got above launch for a few seconds and gave Steve a good show for the video camera but then he also sank out.

Rhett, in his unusual harness, launched, climbed a bit, and started tormenting us with his best "sheep" call. (The hikers didn't understand the meaning but found it hilarious anyway!)

Rhett slowly sank out below but found a good climb low over the ski area.  I wasn't ready to go but pleaded for pilots to bail off and get above him in his climb.

Rhett was at cloud base and leaving the mountain when I stepped onto launch.  I found some broken lift and followed it around to the ski area.  I found just enough lift to keep me interested but not enough to maintain a steady climb.  I kept moving around the mountain, first to the west side of the ski area, then the ski area proper, then the east side, then further around to the northeast side of the mountain.  I found a strong 400 - 600 fpm (2.5 m/s) climb on the back side and circled to cloud base.  I watched Jim, Pete, and another pilot slowly climb towards me in front of the mountain.  After topping out at cloud base, I headed south to a climb near the river about the time John was launching.  I watched Jim and Pete come in below but miss the climb.  I headed south along the high ground losing very little altitude.  I found another climb near the ox bow that allowed me to watch Jim and Pete land.  I scanned the sky for Rhett but could find him.  Meanwhile John announced he was on the ground out front of the mountain.  I decided to stay local and played around the valley finding broken lift even under the thick cirrus.  I eventually landed on the runway at Morningside after doing some high speed glides to "loosen up".

I found out later Rhett landed near the ice cream shop just short of Morningside.  Dang, why didn't I think of that!

Flights: 1, Time: 1:02, Distance: 9 miles

East Coast Championships (Day 7)

Although I awoke to clouds overhead I clung to the promise that a clearing line would arrive and sun once again would bath the soggy countryside with cummie-producing heat.  However, optimism gave way to doubt, and then to resignation as the day slowly passed by without soaring producing sunshine.  The launch, start, and launch closing times were pushed back several times, but it really didn't help.  A few pilots gave it a shot, but were back on the ground in a few minutes.  Even Zak couldn't find any lift after a long scouting flight in the tug.

Some pilots were ready to start packing up their gliders while others were hoping for that last-minute miracle flight that would move them up a few spots in the rankings.  As time ran out it became apparent the competition day was lost.  I already had my glider rigged and the tugs were ready, so I was going to fly no matter what.  I stepped up for a flight about 20 minutes before the 4:15 launch close.  I was pushing out onto the runway when David ran over and said the launch closing time had been pushed back to 5:00.  Cool, I could have more than one flight!  I had a sweet tow that was almost entirely a smooth tight spiral up over the field.  I flew down to a wanna-be cloud and maintained for awhile and even climbed back up a tiny bit.  Charlie and a few others joined me, but eventually we lost our battle and I came in for a nice dry landing.  I wish I could say the same for Charlie!  (A lot of the airfield and most of the surrounding fields were full of water.)

Another crew assembled for launch right before the 5:00 launch close.  Once again I had a very smooth tow up over the field.  I glided over to a forming wispy and climbed a couple hundred feet as the other pilots came in below me.  We bounced around at tow height for a short time before Paris went off on glide towards the start circle.  I wasn't sure I wanted to land out but maybe we would be able to put a glide or two together and go somewhere.  Davis, Mark, Paris, Terry and I glided off into the grey.  I found a few bubbles to turn in and managed to gain a bit on the other pilots.  We crossed the start circle but couldn't comfortably cross the river to stay on course line.  I watched Terry land and then Mark as I worked a bubble of lift over some farm buildings.  Davis and Paris continued on but I decided to turn back and land with Mark in a dry, recently cut, hillside wheat field than risk landing in a flat soggy corn field or even worse an unharvested wheat field.  I had another sweet no-wind landing and packed up my glider for the trip home in a field drier than any spot on the airfield!  Mark, Terry, and I managed to eek out about 5 miles and Davis and Paris a little more.  Of course, we didn't score many points.

Highland Aerosports hosted a tasty dinner complete with beer that Rich and Jen brewed for the meet.  (The "Whack Black" was especially good and others liked the "Topless Blonde".)

The winners were announced after dinner, with prizes awarded to almost all competitors.  (Cash prizes were awarded to the top 3 places.)  Rick won the sport class, followed by Rodger and Brian.  Paris won the open class, followed by Greg and then me.  The evening was topped off by a big bonfire and more home-brew.

I pulled up stakes the next morning in a thick fog that only added to the melancholy feeling that another East Coast Championship was over.

Flights: 2, Time: 2:10, Distance: 5 miles

Friday, June 05, 2009

East Coast Championships (Day 5)

Rain.  More Rain.  Even more rain.  Day cancelled at the morning meeting.  Some pilots went shopping, some went fishing, some slept, and some drove home.  However Brian, Mandy, Rodger, Steve, and I went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  We drove part way and then took the metro into the city.  Afterwards we ate at a cross between a Mexican restaurant and a tapas bar on Pennsylvania avenue.

East Coast Championships (Day 4)

Wednesday is the kind of day pilots pull out of memory to justify setting up and hanging around on a day that looks like total crap.  The National Weather Service predicted it would be mostly cloudy with rain likely.  It was raining when I woke up with the sky and ground blending together in a grey ooze.  I just assumed we wouldn't fly until I showed up at the pilot's meeting and found we had a task!

The models predicted a dry period around mid-day with reasonably good lift.  I want to thank Davis for being typically optimistic and getting us motivated for a possible day of flying.  We rigged and got in line as the scattered clouds above were slowly obscured by fuzzy gray cummies below them.  I asked Zak about the conditions after he towed someone up and he replied "smmoooooth".  That, combined with a few sprinkles was enough to keep my feet on the ground.  I watched the sky a bit and noticed the clouds seemed to form an arc with clearer skies to the west.  I guessed a trof might be passing by.  Davis and Terry launched and hung on for awhile.  Terry returned to the field but Davis, assuming he was getting the best part of the day, headed into the sun and landed shortly afterwards.

I tried to find the best compromise between letting the soggy ground heat up in the increasing sunshine and the 3:15 launch close.  I didn't want to be stuck in line on the ground when the launch closed so I stepped into and empty line at 2:30.  I had an easy and unfortunately smooth tow behind Zak to the southwest.  I searched around and found nothing.  Oops, maybe I launched too early.  I saw someone circling to the northwest but if I went there I might not get back if it didn't pay off.  I decided to go for it.  I found the weak climb even after the original pilot gave up.  I parked in that little smoothie as glider after glider was dropped off above me.  Somehow it just didn't seem fair!  ;-)

I hooked up with Larry as I got to the top of that climb.  We headed out to another climb to the northeast that was much better.  I got a brief chance to fly with Brian, Rodger, and several other sports class pilots.  Larry and Paris managed a better climb and left 500 feet higher than me.  We sampled the air below a few wispy clouds but didn't find much.  I finally stopped in a rough patch of air that turned into a climb while Paris and Larry continued on.  They got lower and lower until Larry announced he was going to land and Paris made a low dash back to my climb with Greg also joining him.

Behind me I noticed Mark climbing at the same rate I was.  I was about to continue along the course when I noticed that Mark was now higher than me and climbing quite quickly.  Um.  Should I backtrack and get to cloud base or move on?  I decided to go back and it was a good move.  The cloud over Mark mushroomed into acres of dark grey as everything around it seemed to be going up even though the climb rate wasn't epic.  Mark moved on about the same time Paris did much lower.  Greg came back to join me as I rode the climb to base.

From there I tried to stay near base, gliding from cloud to cloud.  Greg caught up as I stopped in a climb that was too weak to bother with.  Meanwhile Paris found a good climb out front that lifted him to base at the same time we arrived.  The three of us moved on as I noticed Mark on the ground below.  (Mark could have moved into first place with a good run; bummer).

We lined up on a direct line to goal when my flight computer showed us arrived with 10 feet.  I was hoping with charitable glide this might be a final glide, but that wasn't the case.  In fact we stopped 3 times before running in; including an aromatic climb over some pig barns.  Paris arrived about 2 minutes before Greg and I arrived seconds apart.  We landed in a soggy corn field and walked our gliders across the road to a grass strip before the next wave of gliders zoomed in.

John was the only pilot brave enough to pull off a cross-wind landing on the narrow grass strip.

Rick, who only lives a few miles away stopped just as his glider arrived at goal.

The sky was getting dark as we hurriedly broke down.  The landowner and her daughter stopped by and told us there was a tornado warning posted for the counties north of goal.  Good thing we didn't have to fly any further!  I sent my harness back with PK and squeezed in with John, Terry, Linda, and Mark for the ride back.  (Linda is a great driver; maybe she should give up flying.  ;-)  I'm running for cover after that statement!)

The daily and cumulative scores are available online.

Flights: 1, Time: 1:30, Distance: 24 miles

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

East Coast Championships (Day 3)

After a quick trip to the diner for breakfast, we rigged in the hot, hazy, and humid morning air while listening to tunes on the truck radio.  The forecast was less than stellar; weak short thermals shredded by a strong breeze.  However, everyone was ready to give the day's task try.

Steve and Jim were happy to be flying.

Although some were less excited than others. ;-)

The tug pilots gave us a nice show and I'll post a short video when I get back home.

Johnny dropped be off upwind, but I ran downwind to an existing climb.  About 2/3 of the way there, the gaggle broke up and starting heading directly back towards me.  I looked around to see where they were going but I didn't see anything obvious.  Dang.  I continued on and found a weak climb that collected the pilots in the immediate area.  I slowly climbed to the top with Davis and Larry.  We came back for a short climb just before the start gate opened.

The faster pilots skipped weaker climbs that I stopped for.  I was soon flying over fields littered with gliders.  I watched Dan and Mark sink from my level to the ground.  After struggling to maintain my very meager height, I flew across a tree-lined stream to a climb marked with gliders I had just left behind.  I had a "bar room fight" with that nasty thermal a few hundred feet off the deck.  I managed to eek a 300 fpm (1.5 m/s) climb before bouncing into the gliders above me.  A couple clumsy moves by pilots knocked me out of the climb at 1600 feet (487 m).  I moved on to some bare fields that I hoped would give me a full climb.  I watched Charlie and John land while Jim and Sunny started working a climb slightly upwind from me.  I came in just below them and was weakly climbing, but didn't want to drift over trees without having a solid climb.  I pulled out and flew back upwind to land.  Jim and Sonny used that climb to snag the turn point and glide into goal; the only pilots to complete the course.  I've had a lot of second thoughts about that decision!

I landed in a freshly worked field and could see Charlie in the next field over.  (Charlie is in the middle of the gap in the trees.)

After riding back with Charlie, David, and Jack and downloading flight records, we went to dinner at Harris's Crab House on the bay.  We enjoyed the bounty of the bay, including a lot of crabs.
We ate until we were bloated like a well fed ticks.  We were not sure if Rodger or the meal won the battle!

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:03, Distance: 13.7 miles

Monday, June 01, 2009

East Coast Championships (Day 2)

I really have too much to write about tonight.  The funniest was when Linda drove over the metal rod in the horse shoe pit.  As you might guess, she wasn't too happy to see me taking pictures!  After a lot of jokes and several failed attempts to free the car, the bar was heated, bent out of the way, and the car freed.

The task was a 57 km (35 mile) run to the north.  The blue sky was sprayed with thin cirrus.  The wind was light, but  90 degree cross and at times blowing at our backs.  The "wind technician" sank out.  Davis even suggested taking up a collection to pay me to check things out.  ;-)  Finally a sport class pilot launched and Johnny, the tug pilot, reported a good climb when he came back.  That was enough to get people going.

Speaking of Johnny, we had a fun tow out of the field.  I was coming up to tree height when Johnny started turning right and then left.  That is unusual for that height.  I understood what was happening when I saw Charlie approaching across the runway after breaking a weak link and saw other tugs on approach down the runway.

I struggled with a couple weak climbs after I released until I was heading back to the field and stumbled into a good climb.  A few minutes later Charlie found the strong sweet spot and we twirled to 3000 feet (914 m) at 500 fpm (2.5 m/s) and then headed on course.  I put the brakes back on when I saw Sonny and JD land at the end of that glide.  It took several climbs before I was moving on with confidence.

As I got closer to goal, I noticed the wind was blowing off the bay.  I slowed up a bit again ensuring I had enough altitude to compensate for any low-level headwind I might encounter.  Paris beat me into goal by a few minutes as I stocked up on extra altitude.  I watched Paris land in the goal field and decided to land in a large cornfield to the northeast.  I was soon joined by Mark, Charlie, Steve, Greg, John, Terry, and Christen.

Mark won the day.

Steve celebrated his first goal!

Brian won the sport class task and Rodger is still holding on to the first spot.

Flights: 1, Time: 2:04, Distance: 35.4 miles