Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cape Cod

Randy was a man on a mission; snag another 5 hour flight soaring the dunes on Cape Cod.  I was pulled into the madness when I accepted his offer for a ride.  We had to leave at 4:30 AM so we could fly and land before high tide swallowed the LZ around mid-afternoon.  John B, Peter J, Rodger were up for flying, but not leaving that early!  JJ and Matt were also planning on early flights but would be heading off to work immediately afterwards.

Randy pointed out the next morning that we left at 4:32 AM; he would be bummed if he had to land at 4:58 minutes because we were late!  As expected JJ and Matt were already there when we arrived after 7 AM.  However, I was surprised to see Peter.  Apparently he couldn't sleep and decided to beat the morning rush hour traffic.  It was obviously soar-able so we rigged behind shifting sand dunes and commenced launching.  Matt went first, followed by Randy, Peter, then JJ.  Lucky for me, Rodger and John showed up as I was helping JJ launch.  I found a good spot to balance the wing, dropped to the base bar, and stepped into the air.

I immediately discovered it was mindlessly soar-able and that I was overdressed.  I thought about top landing to shed clothes, but instead unzipped and let the cool air whisk away the heat.

I played with the smooth marine air, but thought it was a bit too strong for aerobatics.  I saw Peter to the north, so I left in hot pursuit.  I dove through flocks of sea gulls launching from the beach, chased seals from high above, and laughed as I easily crossed gaps that are "nightmares" on less ideal days. We passed Matt coming back from Highland Light, which is about 8.5 miles out from launch.  I flew on to the lighthouse, turned around, and chased down Matt before heading back to launch.

John and Rodger were getting ready to launch as I played around with JJ and Randy.  Matt landed so he could go to work while Randy took off to the north.  I hung around waiting for John since it was his first flight there.  After wrestling with the crappy air in the setup area, he smoothly ran off launch and floated up.

Instead of waiting for Rodger to launch, I got impatient and decided to chase down Randy.  We flew together until Randy had to take a few minutes to gain altitude before crossing a gap.  Once I reached the Highland Light again, I took some pictures.  You can easily see the curve of the cape and the water on the other side.

Highland Light (notice the curve and bay on other side)

Randy wondered if I was trying to cook myself when I snapped pictures of the FAA radar dome and the funky little tower next to it.

Radar dome and little tower

We waved at John and Rodger heading north as we passed headed south.  By the time I arrived JJ was leaving for work and Peter was on the beach.  I was trying to top land when Allen announced he was getting ready to launch.  Cool.  (He read about our plans on Twitter and decided to show up at the last minute for his first flight at the beach.)  I moved away to the south and tried to touch down on a tiny dune.  It was nearly impossible; I just couldn't get the glider close to the ground!

Randy announced he was heading south to Nauset Light and I gave chase.  However, I turned around after passing through sprinkles and seeing heavier rain on the other side of the cape.  I turned around to land while Randy continued on.

I flew over the ocean to lose altitude, did a quick downwind dash to the beach, and then flew along the beach as I slowly settled in.  I started moonwalking with the glider until I stepped too strongly into the sand, caught my toe, and dropped the glider on the base bar next to Peter.  You could see my early light steps in the sand and then the "deep" footprint and "toe drag" that foiled the show.  :-(

Peter and the churning ocean

Breaking down in deep sand and blowing wind is an art, but no matter how good you are sand gets in everything.  I had already taken my glider up to the car and was walking along the beach to get my harness when Rodger came into land.  His approach seemed fine until I noticed he wasn't descending!  The beach was just about gone behind me as Rodger barely flew over my head.  I was afraid he would end up in the water, but to my (and his) surprise he continued soaring past the water and was unceremoniously dumped into the sand far beyond it.

Imprint of Rodger's nose and flying wires.  :-)

After a long walk back, we watched John and Randy land.  Randy mentioned that Allen landed to the north, so I took Allen's van north while everyone else broke down.

Allen and Rodger flew with video cameras.  Check them out.

Allen's video

Rodger's video

Oh, Randy did fly for more than 5 hours, so my 2 minute delay wasn't a disaster!  Randy also had his 100th hour of hang gliding airtime during the flight.  Very nice.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:00, Distance: 34 miles

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Eating Crow

Since my new Subaru Outback isn't outfitted to carry gliders I have to rely on the kindness of other pilots if I want to go flying.  Although some pilots have tucked their gliders away for the winter, others noticed that Monday offered a cornucopia of flying alternatives.  Easterly winds meant that the coastal sites on Cape Cod, as well as the yet-to-be-snowbound mountain sites on Equinox and Greylock, might work.

I was checking the forecasts and email at 6:00 AM when I read that Randy left home at 3:20 AM to meet Matt for a sunrise flight on the Cape.  They setup under the full moon and greeted the sun in the air.  Freak'n awesome!  Why didn't he call me?  :-(

About an hour later I talked with Peter.  He wanted to fly Mount Greylock one more time before the road froze shut and didn't like the forecast for light showers later in the day at the Cape.  He also offered me a ride but wanted to leave as soon as possible to make the most of the morning solar heating on the east facing slope below launch.  I was fine with that, but pointed out that little solar heating happens around here in November.  I agreed to call Jeff while Peter tried to beat the morning rush-hour traffic.  Of course Jeff was interested but couldn't be at my place before Peter arrived.  I told him to hurry, but I would stall Peter.  Besides, I told him, getting to launch early wouldn't matter.  Meanwhile John called and wanted in on the fun.  Once again I explained that Peter was on a mission to get there early.

Peter was a good sport and waited for Jeff and John to arrive before we piled onto his truck and started our drive to the other side of the state.  We all laughed, including Peter, about his quest for thermals, especially since the most optimistic forecast only showed barely soar-able thermals.  On the way there we learned that Brooks, Gary, and PK would meet us at launch.  We also pretended it was early spring instead of late fall.  Our season wasn't ending, it's was just beginning.  The snow had melted, the trees would be budding soon, and high cloud-bases wouldn't be far behind.  I know it sounds silly, but it was our way of "reframing" a cold leafless dimly-lit November day.

We were pleasantly surprised to find real cumulus clouds overhead and a nice breeze blowing straight in when we arrived at launch.  We quickly rigged to get the most out of the limited daylight.  Randy sent a text message saying he had just landed after flying 5:20.  He challenged us to do as much.  Yeah, right!

Setup area

John getting ready for his first flight off Mount Greylock


Our rules state an intermediate pilot (H3) must be escorted by a sanctioned USHPA observer.  Since I was Jeff's observer for the day, we suited up together and I would ensure he launched OK before joining him in the air.


Jeff launched and flew back and forth in front of launch holding on to anything he found.  Gary and John graciously waited on my side wires until it trickled in and Jeff was clear.  I started climbing almost immediately.  I didn't see Jeff so I snapped a quick turn, squeezed the harness shut, and didn't stop turning until Jeff and I were almost at cloud base at 1500 m (5000 feet).

So much for the "no thermal theory".  Jeff and I drifted around a bit before I headed upwind to stay out of the clouds and to see if there were more usable thermals around.  The answer was yes!  Surprisingly the thermals were some of the strongest thermals I encountered all year in New England.  Climbs of 2.5 m/s (500 fpm) were common and I had several 4 m/s (800 fpm) climbs.

Launch is near the peak

I watched Jeff consume most of his altitude on a necessary glide through the blue.  He worked a few thermals but eventually settled into the LZ below launch.  Bummer.  Meanwhile, I was playing with a mass of clouds to the south.  Even at 80 k/h (50 mph) I couldn't stay out of the clouds so I had to keep running for blue spots to loose altitude before ducking back under to move on.  I seriously contemplated turning around and striking off for some XC flying but bagged the idea when I realized I would be heading in the opposite direction from home and I had failed to discuss the possibility of cross-country flying with the crew.  (I suspect a 80 km / 50 mile flight was possible.)

Stick-season (leaves are gone)

While I was zipping around the valley and working to stay out of the clouds, pilots back a launch were suffering (or landing) in the blue.  The sky was drying out but pronounced cloud lines still swept across the countryside.  I watched Peter head to Ragged Mountain low.  I'm sure he was worried but I was sure he would sky out once he reached the cloud line that intersected his path.  I looked over a while later and saw him zooming up.

Line of clouds to the north that Peter climbed under

I flew over Adams, Chesire, and the other side of the valley.  I did a lot of sightseeing, especially noticing the rocky ravines normally hidden by deciduous leaves.  I wandered back to launch and flew with John and a PG pilot before moving on to Ragged Mountain where I swirled around a few times with Peter before heading across the valley again.  Brooks and Peter followed me for a short time, but turned around when they didn't find the same lifting line I did.  I snapped some pictures of the deep quarry between launch and the mini-golf LZ at The Range.

Deep quarry

PK flew out to join me for a climb over Adams but returned to the mountain as I pushed on to the other side of the valley.

Last remnants of leaves in Adams

I wandered about before gliding across the blue to hook up with Peter as he headed to the mini-golf LZ.  We landed next to each other and talked as we walked to the roadside.  I was "eating crow" big time after such a good thermal flight!

Brooks, John, and PK also landed with us.  Jeff volunteered to ride up with some pilots to retrieve Peter's truck while we packed up in the fading daylight.  PK commented he was packing his glider very carefully since he might not be flying it again for 5 or 6 months.  He might be right, but I'm still pretending its spring and more good flying days are just around the corner.  ;-)

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:43