Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Team Challenge (Day 3)

Although less than the day before, the wind was a bit too strong for the beginning competition pilots so the day was cancelled during the second safety committee meeting.  However, a dozen or so pilots flew later in the afternoon and had an enjoyable afternoon floating above the ridge.

The Aerosnauts drove to a diner in the valley for lunch.  We talked with the waiter Tyrell and ended up with a CD from his band "Camp Normal".  We listened to the CD on the way back and were jamming and quite impressed.  Snot bad.

Crowd enjoying the sun on Henson's "beach".

The cathedral under the ramp.

Buddy and I hooked into the harnesses attached to the ramp and helped about a dozen pilots "elevator" off launch.

Tip showing off for the crowd.

After all the pilots that wanted to fly were thrown off  the ramp, we joined an official party at a Mexican restaurant in Chattanooga for food, drink, and lots of karaoke.  Some performers rewrote lyrics to include hang gliding references.  Definitely a good time!

A "small" drink.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Team Challenge (Day 2)

Day 2 was the kind blown-out day were you could sleep-in instead of waiting around for an official announcement.  We listened to Mike Barber talk about yesterday's flying, Dennis Pagan talk about cloud-suck, had an interactive session on thermal etiquette that looked like some type of a new-age dance session, and a session on programming and using GPS instruments.  I helped the group of Flytec 6030 owners program their flight computers so they could find some "goodies" planted around the property using provided waypoints linked together into routes.

Winning team of Flytec 6030 pilots finding hidden caches.

We watched the space station fly overhead as the sun was setting.  Very picturesque.

We rounded the day out with pizza, beer, music, friends, and the boogers putting a dozen "daddy long-legs" under a plastic cup.

Team Challenge (Day 1)

I was drenched with rain as I pulled into my new home for the week at Henson's Gap on Friday evening.  I was greeted by Steve L and other pilots, found a spot were we could plant 6 tents, and started setting up camp.  Allen, Jim, Dan, and Doug showed up a bit later and everyone got tents setup before more rain arrived.

We spent Saturday morning sloshing around playing with waypoints, radios, and the other stuff that always seems attention prior to a competition.  Later Saturday afternoon we drove to Lookout Mountain Flight Park to visit with everyone participating in the Women's Fly-In.  We talked, bought things, ate, drank, and listened to music until late evening.

Sunday was the first day of the 2009 Team Challenge and the weather cooperated.  The forecast looked like a cake-walk ridge-soaring day.  The beginning XC pilots, known as "C" level pilots, would fly 8.3 miles south to a grass strip known as "Dr. Dale's", crossing two small gaps and a set of elevated power lines draped over the ridge.  The intermediate pilots, known as "B" pilots, would fly a bit further to a blue water tower and then return to land at the Henson's Gap LZ.  The more experienced "A" pilots were responsible for helping the "C" and "B" pilots reach their goals and then turn around and fly back to Dr. Dale's field.  The flight from Henson's to Dr. Dale's would be in a slightly crossing headwind.

The wind was blowing in nicely as Mark initiated the day by launching his Ultra Falcon.  As expected he quickly climbed away which, of course, allowed many of the new "C" pilots to breath a little easier.

My team, the "Aerosnauts", decided to launch as a group.  (Don't blame me for the name, its snot my fault.)  Jim launched first, quickly followed by Dan and Erin.  I got held up on launch with a 90-degree cross for several minutes.  The first 3 pilots were already moving down the ridge by the time Allen and I launched.  I floated up and found a nice ride to cloud base but I couldn't help Allen find it.  Meanwhile Jim was doing an excellent job pointing out lift along the ridge for Dan and Erin.  Jim, Dan, and Erin were moving on so I finally left Allen behind when he was joined by several other pilots.  (Alan was doing just fine, but I had hoped we would all fly together near cloud base and simply wanted to help Alan catch up with the rest of the team.)

I caught up with Dan and Erin who were doing very well and continued on to help mark lift further south.  Once they cleared the first gap, I jumped over the second gap to help mark lift but ended up stuck on the ridge myself.  Jim was climbing near the water tower and Allen was cruising along at cloud base looking down on all of us.  Dan and Erin struggled in a difficult weak area for quite some time.  Eri n eventually had to head out into the valley and land out for the first time.  She landed very close to goal, somewhere around a mile short.  Dan gained some altitude and pushed on to the next section of ridge and soon had goal within reach.  (Dan played around on the ridge awhile before going in to land.)



Jim was already heading back to launch as Allen and I rounded the water tower.  The return trip was quick and uneventful.  Once I was sure Allen and Jim could easily reach their goal I turned back around to my goal at Dr. Dale's.  (Allen and Jim did land at their goal field but only after Allen dropped his radio somewhere on approach.)  Although I made a couple turns here and there, I essentially rode the ridge back south until I had my goal within reach.  As usual, I encountered unwanted lift on the way across the valley.  I waited until the lift passed by and then spiraled down for a sweet landing.  In summary we  had 4 of 5 pilots in goal, with the 5th just a short distance away from goal.  Erin had her first out-landing, and Allen, Dan, and Jim had their first goal landings. 

After checking in and having a big bowl of hot homemade soup for supper we listened to Mark Stump entertainingly talk about flying for fun.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:15, Distance: 25.3 miles

Monday, September 28, 2009

Trial Run

I originally planned to practice with the team at Henson's Gap in Dunlap Tennessee for a few days before the Team Challenge. However the Tennessee forecast was plastered with images of pouring rain so the team decided to fly at Ellenville New York before heading further south.

I met Allen and Jim at the LZ. I talked with Dave H and Tony while Allen and Jim completed their waivers. (Dave was doing some sewing on his ATOS sail before he took off for Tennessee). We tossed their gliders on my truck and drove to launch.

It was lightly blowing in when we arrived. Moments later Dan and Doug arrived and offered to drive my truck back down to the LZ where they needed to pay their flight fees. Sweet.



The wind got progressively stronger as we setup gliders and chatted with the local pilots. I just zipped up the last zipper when someone launched and slowly climbed out. After deciding on a radio frequency, Jim and I suited up and headed to launch. (Allen suited up as well but wasn't happy with they way his harness impeded his run.) Jim had to wait for the wind to swing to a desirable direction before running down the slope and into the air. Jim was just maintaining in front of launch so I chatted with some pilots until Jim started climbing above launch. I ran off in nice conditions and also started my slow climb up.

Gliders flying around launch

Initially the air was flat with just a few small thermals mixed in. I floated above the top of the back ridge line and started searching for stronger areas of climb . Meanwhile more pilots were running off so we had a good sprinkling of thermal indicators along the ridge. Some breaks in the the overcast allowed the sun to produce some strong rowdy thermals that lasted about 20 minutes before they faded and we returned to the mellower weak thermals. This alternating pattern of strong rowdy thermals and gentle weak thermals continued through most of the afternoon.

At one point I had a large military transport plane passed 500 - 700 feet over my head. Needless to say I quickly heading away from the planes old path to avoid any sinking wake vortices. I also watched the commercial passenger jets flying along behind the ridge.

I also noted the trees starting to change color on the high ground.

I spent the afternoon flying around with probably 20 other pilots that decided that flying was more rewarding than work.  ;-)  I also got a chance to fly with some of my Team Challenge team mates which should help us.



After landing and packing away our gliders, we drove to southern Pennsylvania before stopping for sleep in our trucks before continuing south Friday morning.

Flights: 1, Duration 2:49

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mount Washington Sled-fest

Rhett wanted to fly Mount Washington before he heads south for the winter and I thought last Thursday might be the day.  I gave Rhett a call the day before so he could clear his schedule.  Once word got out that we were heading to Mount Washington, Dan G, John P, and Steve P also decided to give it a shot.

I left home around 6:00 AM so I could meet everyone at the parking lot at the base of the auto road and point out the LZs and warn them about the fickle weather common in the valley.  (For example, the wind at the base of the Wildcat ski slopes was south at 24 km/h (15 mph) while the winds just a couple miles away at the toll road was north at 8 km/h (5 mph.)

Steve and the cog railway engine

The wind on top was light northeast (almost 90 degrees across launch) instead of the light southeast as predicted.  I hoped the winds would switch around to the predicted direction before clouds engulfed the summit or it started blowing down.  We played the waiting game while watching clouds form as the southerly and northerly winds collided in the valley below us.  We also watched the clouds push in from the southeast and flow over the ridge into Tuckerman's Ravine.

Steve and Rhett


Once the the wind dropped to nothing or came in a bit, we setup our wings the best we could on the rocky slope.  Dan was the first to launch and even climbed a bit above launch on his way out to a gap between the clouds.  We could hear Dan hooting and hollering as he flew alongside the clouds!  He really should relax and enjoy the moment.  ;-)

I launched next.  I flew through a weak climb hoping to find something stronger on the south side.  That didn't happen and I was soon carving my way through the clouds over Tuckerman's Ravine and below launch.  I made a few turns in the bowl to the north before buzzing spectators along the road.  I might have been a bit too aggressive as one photographer fell back into his car has I zoomed straight over his head.  I managed to climb several hundred feet over the last knob but moved on to the LZ when it faded away.

Dan announced the wind in the LZ was from the south, directly opposite the northerly flow we saw earlier.  That didn't surprise me, but the velocity and turbulence did.  At 240m (800 feet) the leaves were still and the wind was 5 km/h (3 mph), but on the deck the leaves were thrashing and it was blowing 35 km/h (20 mph).  I circled the LZ and noted the parked cars and people milling around at the same time I noticed multiple dusties whipping along the driveways and walking trails.  Add in a sudden 45m (150 foot) drop in rotor turbulence and I was running downwind to a larger field nestled between some trees but further away from the ridge throwing off the rolling bundles of joy.  I flicked the glider around about 1/2 the way along the field, threaded it between some trees, and hovered down to a no-step no-flare base-bar landing in front of a fence.  Yeehaw!

The winds subsided a bit as I tried to warn the other pilots about the landing conditions.  Steve got a taste of the horizontal rollers on his approach but he came in during a relative lull and was spared the full treatment.  By the time Rhett and John arrived the wind was substantially less, but still strong enough to keep them busy and to cause them to come up short.

I didn't get any flying video, but here are some clips from before and after the flight.  Steve flew with 2 video cameras so he should have some nice footage.

Everyone seemed to enjoy their flights, although more airtime would have been better.  Thanks Marilyn for driving the truck down!

I noticed too many trees starting to loose their green color which can only mean cold weather and endless days plastered to the ground are nearby.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:18

Monday, September 14, 2009

Opening Day at Mount Equinox

Although John had a sledder off the new ramp at Mount Equinox last month, the first true flying day didn't happen until Sunday of the Labor Day holiday weekend.  Amy and I arrived early and warned the nice woman at the toll gate of the impending invasion.  We stopped a few times on the drive up to put on warmer clothes and check out the views of the valley and mountains over the back.

I managed to have my glider rigged and tucked into the corner of the tiny setup area before anyone else arrived.  I set out wind indicators and then relaxed in the warm sun on the ramp as pilots tried to fit a dozen gliders into the space usually consumed by 2 or 3 gliders.

Photo by Linda

Pilots got creative selecting setup spots; Chip near the picnic table on the opposite side ramp, John B along the path, and John A alongside the ramp which insured he would be the first to launch.  After he finished rigging, John and his daughter impressed us with their gymnastic abilities by placing a streamer high in a tree.

As expected, John A, the first person to launch off the new decking, was also the first to launch that day. He managed to get low enough to depress a few pilots but finally found a climb to the south (right) and restored confidence that we might have soaring flights.  That confidence didn't last long as Chip ran off into oppressive sink that didn't give him any choice but to head towards the valley and the far off LZ.  (The site is rated H4 precisely for this reason.)  I was up next and had to wait as John crossed back and forth low over launch.

Photo by Amy

Photo by Linda

I launched in light to nil wind as John started a weak climb to the south (right).  I quickly managed to get above launch but lost it all when I tried the southern-facing bowl to the north (left).  The lift in the bowl was strong and rowdy but I just kept losing altitude with each wrestling match.  I returned low to the south with "my tail between my legs" twisting in any little bug fart I could find.  I finally jacked my way back up to launch level when Mike launched.  Mike and I shared a miniature high-pressure-day thermal until I made a big circle allowing him to tighten up and climb above me so we both could sit in the tiny sweet spot in the middle.

Rebecca's video of Randy's launch

I finally found a scary climb over the back that yanked me to cloud base around 1700m (5600 feet).  I announced on the radio that I wasn't happy about the turbulence up high but I didn't get much sympathy from the guys fighting along the ridge or in the valley below.

With Mike's help from the LZ, I finally put together the weather conditions that were making the air unpleasant.  The valley was briskly flowing from the north.  The wind above the valley was light east southeast; 90+ degrees to the valley.  The wind above 1500m (5000 feet) was northwest.  No wonder the naturally snaky high-pressure thermals were unpleasant; they were being sheared not once but twice.  Once I figured that out I tried to avoid the transition layers and somehow knowing what was causing the turbulence helped soothe my concerns as I got slapped, the side wires went slack, and was tossed into unplanned wing-overs.

PK was the only other pilot that managed to climb to base with me.


We bounced around at cloud base and talked about possible XC routes.  We had a sweet line of clouds downwind of us, but of course there weren't any LZs that way.




As the afternoon wore on, the clouds on the east side of the valley starting looking good as the sun warmed the west-facing slopes.  I decided to venture across the valley and make a play for a lee-side climb.  If that didn't work out, I was OK with landing on the mowed lawn at Hildene Meadows with Mike.  PK followed me part way across the valley, but turned around to join Andy and Jeff B when he saw how quickly I was losing altitude.  I didn't immediately find a climb so I pushed north along the ridge towards the LZ.  I finally stumbled into a snotty lee-side thermal that took me back to 1500m (5000 feet) but not quite cloud base.

I started thinking about making a run to Mount Greylock, 58 km (36 miles) to the southeast where just about every other hang gliding and paragliding pilot in New England was flying.  Amy, was having lunch in Manchester so I didn't need to feel guilty about leaving her waiting in the LZ and PK said he was up for XC flying.  However, when I tried to call PK over, he was on final to the Wilcox Farms LZ.  Dang.  I pushed south and took another climb to base before deciding that adding more driving just wasn't worth it.  I turned around and made a long glide back to the LZ.

Amy arrived at the LZ shortly before I did and I could have landed right next to the truck.  However, I couldn't pass up the chance for a fun "pop up" landing.  The LZ is higher than a large hayfield to the south.  I buzzed across the hayfield effectively dropping below the level of the LZ, followed the contour up the hillside, and flared just as I rounded the top. I landed about 10 yards from the lip.  If I did it right, it should look like I came out of the ground and then landed.

I walked my glider across the yard and broke down under a shade tree next to the truck.  The pilots in the other LZ were treated to an approachable but soggy hayfield.  I was satisfied with my choice.  ;-)

Mike, Linda, Randy, Rebecca, PK, John B, and Dennis showed up before I finished packing.  We drove by beautiful homes and inns on our way into Manchester where we had dinner before heading back to camp.

More of Linda's pictures from launch and the LZs are available online.  Allen Ahl posted a nice video of his launch at Mount Greylock.  There are other videos of the flying at Mount Greylock here or here and photos here.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:26

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Fair Day

Amy and I continued our Labor Day get-away on Saturday with a trip to the Vermont State Fair in Rutland.  We stopped by one of my favorite covered bridges near Downers Corner in Perkinsville.

Photo by Amy

Photo by Amy

We ate our way around the fairgrounds.  We started with maple-flavored candy, donuts, and coffee at the maple barn, cheese at the dairy barn, fresh baked peanut butter cookies at the 4-H building, and topped it off with a sampling of junk food on the midway.  We checked out the agricultural and commercial exhibits and a host of other "interesting" exhibits you only see at fairs.

It was mid-afternoon before we headed back.  I checked the radio as we approached Mount Ascutney, and sure enough, there were pilots in the air.  Well, more like heading for the LZ.  We diverted around the west side of the mountain and caught up with Mike and Ryan in the "Kansas" LZ.  (Its big, as in "big as Kansas".)  They were set, so we continued on to the "Africa" LZ to see if anyone needed a lift.  (We call it "Africa" ever since a benefit for African drought victims was held there years ago.)  We offered a ride to Jeff C if he didn't mind a stop for ice cream on the way.  Funny, he didn't complain.  The other pilots had rides coming so we tossed Jeff's stuff on top and took off.

After a refreshing stop for ice cream we cruised into Morningside where pilots were packing gliders.  Jake and Rodger managed the short trip back to Morningside, but most pilots stayed local at either Ascutney or Morningside.

Allen posted this video of his tow and flight earlier in the day.

We had dinner later that evening with a group of pilots at a small bar-b-que spot before heading back for shenanigans around the campfire.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

One Climb Wonder

Amy and I started a long Labor Day holiday weekend last Friday with a bike ride on an abandoned railway from the Massachusetts / New Hampshire state border to Fitzwilliam Depot and back.  We had the trail to ourselves and enjoyed the ride along the swamps, lakes, streams, and woods.


We rode through fields of flowers even as the leaves were starting to turn red and yellow.

Tiny white flowers

After a quick stop in Troy for pastries, we rambled into Morningside Flight Park and setup our tent for the weekend.  I wasn't going to fly but changed my mind when I saw pilots climbing under a lone cloud to the north.  Stacy arrived just after I started rigging and we joked about our "good timing".  Well, our timing wasn't really that great since the pilots that climbed out under that cloud floated back in as I stepped out to tow.  I knew I was in trouble when Rhett said "today is a good day to practice your climbing skills"!  Rhett dragged me around the valley looking for lift but returned to the field where I pinned off directly over my launch spot.  I checked all the usual thermal spots but didn't find anything until I stumbled into a 0.4 m/s (80 fpm) climb to the west.  I climbed back up to tow height, got greedy, and ended up losing the climb.  I sniffed around some more before playing in the mechanical turbulence and lift drifting along the 137m (450 foot) ridge before zipping across the road for a landing.

Stacy, Rodger, and Ross

Later we had an impromptu hang-glider-rack design meeting around and under Stacy's truck before heading into town for beer and pizza.  I didn't have an epic flight that day, but still had a great time biking and hanging out with good friends.  Life's good.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:31

Friday, September 11, 2009

Playing in the Valley

The rains that smothered New England finally abated as summer faded.  Although thermals were as energetic as a college student on Monday morning, it has been possible to eek out soaring flights.  A week ago Tuesday Peter J and I went to Morningside to launch off "Mount Rhett".  April, Clifton, Jim C, John P, PK, Tony, and a few others joined in the fun.

Rhett, Fay, and April

Aside from the clouds out of reach to the west, the day looked very stable.  I pointed out a sailplane climbing under those quickly drying clouds to the west.  We were briefly excited until the sailplane began sinking out and the nearby hawks were flapping.  John launched first but he and his Aeros Phantom were quickly back on the ground.  After some more hand-wringing Peter suited up so he could "take his sledder like a man".  I was also suiting up when I noticed a hawk circling to the northwest of the field and actually going up!

John's Phantom

While Rhett towed Peter somewhere high upwind, I told Fay I was going to "hang on" for awhile instead of pinning off early like I usually do.  However, when Rhett and I found a climb where I spotted the hawk minutes before, I released and started climbing.  Rhett dropped PK off over me just as Peter came cruising in overhead from the northeast.  After topping out around 850m (2800 feet), I ventured towards Mount Ascutney only to be slapped down.  (It doesn't take much slapping to be dragging your knuckles when you start at that altitude).  I returned, climbed up, and joined the crew which now included Jim.  We took turns marking climbs and sitting on the top of the stack.

We played around the valley like that until I decided to plow upwind past the factories.  Jim followed and stuck with me as we got lower and lower.  I finally had to give up and turn back to the field.  I found a broken little climb on the knob to the west and started climbing.  I could only manage to climb for 1/3 to 1/2 of each turn, but at least I was going up.  Jim joined at my level, but couldn't hang on.  I eventually bubbled up to Peter and PK before even my little partial thermal disappeared.

Southeast of Morningside

I used my 600m (2000 feet) to make a pass over the river and quarry before finding some buoyant air with Clifton low over the downwind end of the field.  I grabbed ahold of another baby thermal that was quickly drifting away from the field.  Peter and then Clifton succumbed to gravity while PK and I drifted away about 200m (700 feet) off the deck.  PK finally gave up as the thermal drifted up a valley away from the flight park.  I stayed with the immature thermal until it bloomed into the best climb of the day; dropping me off at 1350m (4400 feet) a couple miles (3 km) downwind.  I flew upwind and found a weak climb to park in while watching John land after his second flight and April and Tony scrap for weak lift upwind of the field.

Airstrip at Morningside from the south

I made another fruitless sweep around the area looking for lift and decided to buzz the crew on the ground and land.  However, April was coming into the pattern at the same time I was, so I just burned off my altitude and settled for a nice no-wind no-step landing after skimming along the runway.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:04