Friday, July 31, 2009

Reversal of Fortunes

On Tuesday our club site in West Rutland, Vermont readily gave up the soaring it withheld on my last trip there a week ago.  Unlike most trips, I made the 6 hour round-trip drive by myself.  Pete J offered to share the drive but wanted to go to Morningside to test fly a glider.  Randy also planned to go flying but was several hours behind both of us.   I didn't want to fly Morningside since I suspected the the Connecticut River valley would be smothered by a thick blanket of fog after the previous evening's copious rainfall.

I was sure my hunch was correct when I dropped into the valley around Keene, New Hampshire.  The fog was so thick drivers still had lights on at 10:00 AM and the temperature was a good 8C (15F) cooler.  Usually the fog is confined to the valley around town, but it was still foggy as I climbed out and then dropped into the river valley.  I called Pete and warned him about what was in store for him.  However, as we talked I drove out of the fog into bright sunshine.  Oops, forget the warning and have a good day!

I waited in the parking area below launch so I could hook up with Amy, Dan, George, Lil, and PK for the ride up.  I could also see the wind was stronger than predicted but the clouds and direction looked good.

The wind on launch was borderline strong at times, but the direction was good and it would occasionally back down.  PK went first and then I parked on launch for a bit before running off into a strong climb.  Amy was next, followed by George, and then Dan.  Each took their time and picked the right moment to launch.

Once in the air it was obvious it was very soar-able.  What wasn't obvious was how to track thermals.  The wind below (29 km/h (18 mph)), especially in the valley, was stronger than the winds aloft.  That meant thermals were downwind of the clouds.  Not common, but I figured it out after a climb or two.  However, there was a strong shear at 975m (3200 ft) where the wind dropped to 13 km/h (8 mph).  It took awhile before I discovered this and could routinely drive upwind to reconnect with the thermal.  But the thermal gods were not done yet.  Around 1250m (4100 ft) the winds abruptly shifted direction from the SSW to WSW.  Only when I was able to unlock that mystery was I able to reach cloud base between 1430m and 1500m (4700 and 5000 feet).

PK and I decided to stay put instead of heading off on an adventure since cloud base wasn't high enough to cross the Green Mountains, the climbs were tricky, the valley to the north was hazy blue, and we didn't really have a driver.  (Lil graciously offered to fetch us but she didn't come along to drive for a couple strangers).  Instead we played around the valley, pushing as far as we could and still make it back.

Looking west to Lake Bomoseen.

Looking north.  Notice the smoke blowing over.

Looking east.  You can see a glider low in the bowl and one near the top.

Amy and George landed after nice soaring flights, while Dan, PK, and I continued to play.  Dan marked a couple sweet climbs in the valley that gave PK and I enough altitude to continue exploring.  Dan eventually landed but didn't break down his glider.  Um, that seemed odd.  However, before long I noticed Amy was back on launch with Dan for round two!  The wind was becoming more southerly (crossing from the left) but the air was becoming more gentle.  At one point I looked back towards the ridge and couldn't see Amy.  Uh oh, did she get blown over the back?  I looked up and spotted her at least 600m (2000 feet) above the ridge flying with PK.  Very cool for a H2 pilot with no vario!

Glider in the LZ near the corn field along the highway.

PK started complaining about sore arms and I started thinking about the long drive back so we both pushed further upwind hoping to be "forced" to land.  Ha.  No doing.  Every time I came back low I would stumble into wide spread lift and float back up.  I finally said enough is enough and spiraled down through the lift.  I got banged around on my base leg coming into the LZ and blew my approach; nothing unsafe, I was just going to walk a bit more.  Yet, there was more ahead.  The glider started turning to the right as I was bleeding off speed and starting my flare.  Normally I would just stop the flare and run it out, but that isn't possible in tall grass.  Yep.  I whacked.  In mud.  Crap.  No injuries or damage, except to my ego.  Funny, I was feeling very confident with my landings before that one.  This sport can be humbling.

We packed up our gliders while swatting mosquitos and reliving the afternoon's flights.  Amy had her longest flight yet and was justifiably stoked!

Dan, her mentor, was also happy; both for Amy's flight and for his own afternoon of soaring.

I talked with Peter and Randy on the way home.  Aside from one brief climb, they had multiple sledders off tow at Morningside.  A true reversal of fortunes.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:06

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mount Equinox

I spent last Saturday helping build a new deck on the ramp at Mount Equinox in southwest Vermont.  Jeff C and I left my place around 6:00 AM so we could be at the gate at 9:00 to meet Mike, Linda, and John S.  We drove into the clouds on the way up and wouldn't see the sun until noon.

Other pilots continued to arrive as we carried supplies into launch.  Since John had the master plan in his mind we just followed his instructions, but only after giving him good-natured grief about his innate need for perfection.

The new composite surface should survive the rugged mountain weather.  I know it will take a lot of wind to pull the 2400 screws we used to anchor the deck to the frame.

Photo by Linda

Although we didn't finish the deck until late afternoon, we talked about christening the new ramp with an evening flight if the katabatic winds were not too bad.  (The ramp is on the east side of the mountain, so it is shaded in the evening).  John A, the new site director, decided to fly.  Greg H and I helped him rig before the incoming breeze on launch started to blown down instead.  John had a good launch, momentarily got above launch, and then started the long glide out to the LZ.

I'm looking forward to my first launch from the new decking.

Flights: 0, Decks: 1

Monday, July 20, 2009


We have had very few dry days this season and even less dry weekend days.  I was not surprised when everyone wanted to go flying yesterday (Sunday).   I patched together a 4-way conference call with Jeff, John, and Rodger around 6:30 to discuss our options.  Although there was no rain in the forecast, several computer models were predicting strong winds from the west to our north.  Of course it was easy to focus on the one lone model that predicted moderate winds from the southwest.  Brace Mountain, to our south, would likely have the best wind conditions no matter what model you believed however most of us didn't want to hike 2 miles into launch.  The Mohawk Trail, north of Brace, would be OK if the winds were west, but not if they were southwest.  West Rutland, to the north, would be OK if the winds were southwest or light west.  Somehow we decided on West Rutland and agreed to meet at my place.  I scurried over to pick up Randy and came back to a driveway full of glider vehicles.  We strapped the 5 gliders onto my truck, squeezed in, and started rolling north.

Things were going well until we started noticing cumulus clouds racing out of the west and gusts shaking the trees.  We tried to ignore the wind and focus on the positive.  It was actually working until Mike and Dan burst our bubble by passing us going the other direction.  We pulled over at the end of the Rutland Vermont airport to "re-evaluate" our decision.  Some paraglider pilots stopped and quickly decided to drive south to Brace.  A few moments after they left Dennis and Ryan pulled up.  We were frozen with indecision until PK called and said two pilots were already in the air.  That was the news everyone wanted to hear and we rolled onward.

We were greeted with thrashing trees at the top of our muddy 4x4 trek up the backside.  We didn't even bother unloading gliders.  The two pilots that launched earlier, Bob and Keith, were on the ground because they didn't like the air.  That wasn't surprising!

Jake S, Gary, Greg, and others left.  It was now too late to drive anywhere else so we decided to wait out the day and hope the winds would slacken as the sun set.  We amused ourselves the best we could; including firing rocks into the air using a sling shot rigged from an exercise cord and a pair of flip-flops.

Clouds associated with a short-wave passing overhead started to fill the sky and the winds dropped.  PK launched and managed to climb over the top.  Dennis was next and hung out for a short time before sinking out.  No one else launched for awhile as they didn't have acceptable launch cycles.  Randy and a couple paraglider pilots launched and had short sled rides to the bottom.  Now it was my turn.  The wind was blowing 90 degrees cross to the main ridge and launch.  I launched when the wind went calm and managed to climb above launch along a spine that faces to west.  After a couple climbing passes I noticed some leaves blowing up the hill further west.  I pushed on, started sinking and was soon plummeting in the lee of another hill.  Dang.  I ran to the LZ with my tail between my legs and was soon on the ground.

PK got tired of soaring the workable 200 yard section of the ridge and joined us in the LZ.  John and several others took there sleds like men and women.  We enjoyed watching Keith's flight; he launched and immediately pointed to the LZ.  His course never wavered as he flew directly to a perfect spot landing on the dirt road.

Rodger and Jeff folded up their gliders on top and then drove the truck down.  We loaded up and spent maybe 7 minutes talking about our "impressive" flights before moving to other topics on our 3 hour trip back home.  I just kept thinking about that saying about a bug hitting the windshield, "some days you're the windshield and some days you're the bug".  We were definitely the bugs on Sunday.

Flights: 1, Time: 0:09

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Blowing at the Trail

I decided to stay at home Wednesday until Pete and Rodger nudged me into driving west to the Mohawk Trail on a likely blown-out day.  The forecast for another 5 days of rain in our immediate future also helped push me over the edge.  PK called to say he would meet us at launch.

As expected it was breezy and blowing straight-in when we arrived at launch.  There were launch-able lulls but we didn't want to land in strong rotor in the bail-out LZ or in the main LZ behind Mount Greylock.  So we waited.  (We also put on more clothes.  Pete joked about putting on his "summer fleece".  Will we have any summer this year?)

PK showed up and had a thousand questions about how to use his Flytec 6030 flight computer.  We found a sheltered warm spot and I showed him all the magical things his toy could do.  A couple hours later Brooks showed up and put us to shame by setting up.  Of course, being a local he knew several LZs that we normally don't use that would probably be sane to land in.  PK had enough and left, which was enough to appease the wind gods.  The thermals started to mellow as the sun faded behind high cirrus on its way to the horizon.  The rest of us were setting up as Brooks launched and immediately climbed out.  I was next off at 4:45, then Pete, and then Rodger.

The air was sweet and buoyant.  I cruised up and down the ridge circling in lazy thermals blowing over the top.  I found a nice plume flowing up off the town and through a gap in the ridge.  It provided consistent smooth climbs to 1340m (4400 feet) for the next 30 minutes.  The air continued to glass off until I could easily fly around with just one hand on the control bar.  Rodger, and then Brooks, landed at the LZ below launch while Pete and I played around on the ridge to the south.

I took some video holding my little camera in one hand while flying with the other.

Although it was still very soar-able Pete headed across the valley to the The Range to land.  He couldn't get his zipper to open and had to land using his wheels which worked out fine.  I followed him in and practiced a "run-in" landing on the well manicured lawn.  (Instead of a strong "no step" flare you take a couple long moon-walk strides as you gradually slow the glider down.  The technique doesn't work with most fields around here but does work fine on mowed airfields and lawns.)

Brooks found a ride to the top for him and Rodger and then Rodger brought the truck down to The Range.  We topped off the evening with a quick stop at Pedrins Diary Bar for dinner and ice cream.  Ahh.

Flights: 1, Airtime: 1:58

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lazy Day in the Tow Field

I flew at Morningside last Friday so I could test fly my Litespeed S after a full tear-down annual.  The valley was still foggy at 10:30 so the soaring potential would be limited.  I checked out Marilyn and Rhett's garden, chickens, and new bee hive before wading through the wet grass to setup.

I told Rhett to just drop me off over the field and skip looking for thermals; I'd do that on a later flight.  The glider flew great and didn't need any additional tuning.  I bounced around in light thermals over the hill, buzzed the tractor mowing the runway access, and then had a nice spot landing in the middle of the runway by approaching across the strip.

Since I plan to sell the Litespeed S, I packed it up before I did something stupid to it!  After chatting with Rhett for awhile, I gott motivated and grabbed some lunch and spoke with Greg, Art, and PK.  Greg was hiking into launch at Ascutney.  Since Ascutney is visible from Morningside, I knew what conditions awaited him, John A, and Jake!  Art just had a sledder at West Rutland which is about an hour's drive to the west.  PK was on launch at West Rutland and said he thought conditions were improving.  After figuring I wouldn't launch until 4:00 if I joined them, I decided to stay put and fly at Morningside and maybe hook up with Greg and crew.

I just finished rigging the T2C when Rhett rolled out with his green tug; perfect timing!  Rhett offered to tow me towards Ascutney but we both agreed the sky didn't look promising in that direction.  Instead I decided to try my luck with a few ragged clouds to the east.  I pinned off into a weak climb, waved a big "thank-you" to Rhett, and managed a few climbs while drifting north towards Claremont.  Greg said he was having trouble staying above launch at Ascutney, so I decided to head back to Morningside.  I had a long climb-less glide before stumbling into some lift coming off the training area.  I played around for a short time, landed, and then sat in the shade again and "shot the breeze" with Rhett until it was time to put the toys away.

I found out later Greg and John had short flights and both landed at the base of the mountain.  Art drove back up to launch at West Rutland and joined PK for an evening of nice wonder-wind soaring.  I didn't get my fill of airtime, but it was still fun.

Flights: 2, Airtime: 1:24

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


As the National Weather Service promised, we had our first dry day in weeks on Saturday.  However, it was seriously blown-out so no flying.  Sunday's forecast was almost identical to Saturday's.  It was time for drastic action.

The wind would be mellower to our southwest, so the choices were Brace or Ellenville.  Brace implied a 6+ hour roundtrip drive, a 1 hour hike into launch, and maybe a bit too much wind.  Ellenville meant 8+ hours in the truck and maybe the wind being too cross.  I wasn't the only desperate pilot seeking their fix and, unlike most times, the group didn't arrive at a single decision.  Greg H and Dennis C decided to stay home and watch flying videos or something similar.  Jeff C and JJ decided to take their lightweight gliders to Brace.  Nick C, Rodger F, and I chose Ellenville.

Dave Hopkins was circling below launch as we pulled into the LZ.  We chatted with Toni Covelli, paid dues, signed waivers and threw Keith on before heading up.  Only a faint breeze blew across launch when we arrived and the enticing cummie fields we drove under most of the morning were replaced with thin cirrus.  Although conditions weren't epic, I wasted little time and started rigging; I was starving for airtime and even a sledder would taste good.

Several paraglider pilots launched and one managed to climb above launch while I was stuffing battens.  While Tom Galvin was standing at launch he announce Dave was topping out around 5000 feet (1500m) in slow climbs and was on the other side of the river valley.  I had just finished rigging when JJ called from the launch at Brace.  We agreed to use the same radio frequency so we could chat in the air.



The wind was very light when I walked onto launch.  Paul Voight, who stepped into line behind me, jokingly said he was pushing and, by the way, everyone is sinking out!  I watched the early birds settle down to launch level and then into the LZ.  Kari Castle took advantage of shade under my glider as I waited for something inviting on launch.  I joked about roots growing out of my feet, but it wasn't too long before the streamers started blowing in and I ran off.


I struggled at launch height for awhile and thought I was headed for the LZ when I ventured to the north and found nothing.  I ran back below launch, found a squirmy thermal in a gully to the south, and eventually started climbing.  Nick stepped in front of Paul and was next off.  Paul quickly followed and the three of us climbed up and back to the rocks on the ridge behind launch.  We bounced into a small inversion or wind-shear around 1100m (3600 feet) and headed back for something better.

A slow stream of pilots started running off launch as I played around about 300m (1000 feet) higher.  I shared a couple more climbs with Paul and really enjoyed a climb Paul found over houses back up the hillside.   I spent the rest of the afternoon sightseeing, chasing birds, taking pictures, checking out the XC routes over the back, and generally sucking up airtime.  I flew over the town of Ellenville, New York, the airfield, and the prisons to the north.  I flew to the cloud fields further north and had to fight the urge to abandon the valley when I was 2000m (6500 feet) over the back plateau looking at all the big fields between me and the Hudson River and beyond.

Meanwhile Nick managed a low save after getting down to 150m (500 feet) about the LZ.  Rodger wasn't as lucky and was on the ground much sooner than he wanted to be.  He wasn't alone.  Getting up was harder than staying up.  Whenever I'd return to the launch area I would see pilots low on the ridge or going into the LZ.

The day continued to get better and the lift more predictable.  I shared a nice climb with a couple paraglider pilots over launch, including Kari and her tandem passenger.  It was fun waving to everyone and flying hands-off at times.  We topped out and I took another long glide to the north without stopping for a single climb.  I squandered my good fortune and got low north of the prison where the ridge flattens out.  I tip-toed back to the airport and then found a smoothie over the town that took me up to a wispy cloud.

Rodger announced on the radio he was in the LZ with the car which meant it was time for me to land so we could start our long drive home.  I chatted briefly with JJ at Brace, cruised around the far side of the valley, buzzed back across to launch, blew off altitude flying fast and close along the ridge, and then came into land.


I quickly packed up and we headed home.  It was a long drive back; longer for some than others.  ;-)  The winds at Brace were cross most of the day and Jeff, JJ, and most other pilots there had short extended sledders.  I don't know how the flying videos worked out.

(Check out the other launches and landings that spacevampire posted on YouTube.)

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:36

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


  Despite rumors to the contrary I'm keeping this blog up-to-date.  No flying in weeks despite being "peak" flying season around here.  A series of cut-off-lows formed and parked just off-shore blanketing the area with cold wet drizzly days covered by low featureless slate-gray skies.  Everyone, even non-pilots, are starting to go crazy.

  I did manage to see sunshine last weekend when I escaped to my son's new place in State College Pennsylvania.  The sky looked fantastic as we wandered through a summer music festival downtown.  We were having dinner in a street-side restaurant when Dennis Pagen sat down at the table next to us.  I wasn't sure at first if it was Dennis since I thought he was still in Laragne France measuring gliders at the Worlds.  We talked and he confirmed my fears; they had a great day of flying at Pleasant Gap just a short distance away.  Next time I bring my glider.

  However, the forecast finally has an icon with sunshine.  Yep, independence day!  Appropriate.

  Update:  Seems I jinxed everyone's weekend by talking about a potentially good day before it arrived.  The latest forecast is all wet on Saturday.  Lesson learned ... again.  Sigh.