Monday, May 17, 2010

Plowed Field

I flew for the first time since returning home from Florida last week.  I almost went flying on Tuesday but didn't after a group meltdown early that morning.  Let me explain.  It was the first flyable day in awhile.  The day had potential to be a great day but the the possibility of thick cirrus smothering all lift and the bone-chilling temperatures at launch (32F / 0C) and the top of lift (20F / 6C) were serious negatives.  The telephone calls started around 6:30 AM.  It seemed everyone would go if everyone else went.  Nobody would make the first move either way.  After way too much time, Rodger finally stepped forward and declared he was going to work.  The dominos quickly fell across New England and no one went flying.  Of course pilots continued to call throughout the day wondering aloud if we had made the right decision.  By the end of the day we were all poking fun at ourselves for our silly behavior.

The forecast for Thursday was very similar to Tuesday's.  Maybe a bit warmer, but not much.  Several pilots declared their intentions early to avoid a repeat of Tuesday's fiasco.  I was going to skip the day, but Peter J was looking for a reason to get away and it didn't take much discussion before he changed my mind.  However, we didn't have a driver to bring our car back down the mountain as required by our special-use permit that allows us into the park before it officially opens for the summer.  Furthermore, it was already after 8:00 AM which would put us at the locked gate about an hour after everyone else.  Ryan and Jeff B offered "if you can't find something else" rides to the top so we decided to rush off to Mount Ascutney.

I want to thank Jeff B, John A, and Jack for waiting at the base of the mountain for us stragglers.  Much to my dismay, the hike into launch didn't get shorter over the winter.  We arrived at launch to find Dennis and Greg already rigged.  The wind was gently blowing in, but there were strong gusts barreling through at times.  Bands of thick cirrus painted the sky but directly overhead, and more importantly upwind, was clear blue.

John on launch

Although John and I rigged in the back, John was the first to launch after we carried his glider crowd-surfing-style over the other gliders to the rock.  He waited for a moderate breeze, launched, and quickly climbed a hundred feet (30m) above our heads.  Suddenly everyone else wanted to launch.  I helped Jack with his first few wire-assists as Ryan, Jack, and I tossed Dennis, Jeff, and Greg into the air.  Peter was moving to launch as I walked back to suit up.  I would be last, but given the relatively benign launch conditions, I was OK with that.

It took a bit longer than usual to suit up since I had to pile on extra layers, stuff heat packs into my gloves, and pull on a full-head balaclava under my helmet.  Jack and Ryan did a great job helping me launch.  Thanks guys!

I immediately discovered I couldn't hear my vario.  I fussed with it for a minute or two, but gave up and started looking for a climb.  I found a broken thermal near the ski lift, settled in, and returned my attention to the vario.  It turned out the vario was fine; the balaclava was blocking the sound.  Crap.  I tried to pull the balaclava down with my thick gloves, but only made it worse by folding my upper ear lobes down over my ears.  I ended up flying the rest of the day with my ears folded over.  Sigh.

John making it look easy

Since I didn't see anyone else around, I assumed they left the mountain.  Dennis startled me as he came racing in under me.  Where did he come from?  Then John came in slightly below and Greg pulled in further below.  Um, maybe the day is a bit more difficult than I thought.  I continued to hold onto my climb as John and I found a strong core and beamed up to 5600 feet (1700m).  I assumed we were at the top of the climb when the air became turbulent but was proven wrong when Jeff reported being at 6100 feet (1860m) and climbing to the south.  I buckled down, climbed through a rough shear level, and also got to taste the smooth climb from there to 6500 feet (1980m).  I could see two distinct haze lines off towards the horizon, one at 5600 and another at 6500.  It was an unusual sight.

Jeff, John, and I left the mountain together.  Jeff and John headed due east towards Green Mountain while I veered southeast towards Claremont NH.  I kept bumping into small climbs while Jeff and John got lower and lower.  I bounced along around 5000 feet (1500m) watching Jeff and John work hard over the trees below.  I called Greg over to a climb before gliding to join John over Kellyville.  John and I bounced around in strong broken bullets of lift slowly gaining altitude.  I finally had enough of the roller-coaster ride and moved on to Newport.

I stopped for a weak climb while John pushed on.  Greg and I searched for an upgrade over Newport but I finally found a real climb to the east of town.  Greg and I both suggested that John come back to join us, but either he didn't hear us or was happy with what he had.  Meanwhile Jeff willed himself back into the sky over the Home Depot in Claremont and was now climbing west of Newport.  For a moment, I thought the four of us might sync up again, but it wasn't to be.  John and Jeff eventually landed west of Lake Sunapee.  I had not heard anything from Dennis and not heard or seen Peter.

Greg and I found a climb and floated over Mount Sunapee.  I glided off to the south while Greg flew to the southeast.  I chose poorly!  I lost 1500 feet (450m) in a few moments and was soon tethered to an LZ in a forest of trees.  I was wondering if my day was about to end when I finally found something going up.  It took awhile but Greg eventually joined the climb and we were on our way again.  We needed a good climb to make the jump from Bradford to Hennicker and teamwork and the weather gods delivered.

As the skies filled with solid overcast to the west, I considered landing at the airport in Hennicker.  Greg suggested fields to the east near Concord instead.  I didn't know what the fields looked like, but hey, we had altitude so why not.  We bounced between weak climbs and reached the fields with plenty of altitude.  It was then I noticed the wind speed was no longer 10 mph (16 km/h) from the WNW.  Instead was 20 mph (32 km/h) from the NNW.  I stumbled into a strong climb while Greg was checking out the fields and preparing his landing approach.  I climbed to over 5000 feet so I decided to fly upwind and drift back to wherever Greg landed.  After watching the wind lines on the water, the new leaves on the trees blow around, and Greg's active approach I decided to land in a large flat field in the Merrimack River valley to the north of town.

Although the hillsides were active, the river and fields below were calm when I first flew over.  I was about to enter my pattern at 1300 feet (400m) when the entire river "lit up" with gust lines and swirls.  So much for a peaceful landing.  As expected the air became rough and I had to muscle my way through the entire approach.  I assumed things would smooth out close to the deck.  Wrong.  I came in hot and let the glider slow to the point that I took the first step to walk-out the landing.  I was then blown up into the air 20 feet (6m).  No exeggeration!  I was just as quickly slammed down on the backside.  I instinctively pushed out the bar just before smashing into the ground and zoomed back up about 6 feet (2m) and started turning downwind as I fell.  I quickly put in roll control, tossed the bar out, and luckily landed on my knees on the freshly plowed field.  The second "zoom" was my fault, but the first was a real eye-opener.  Even the people fishing nearby later commented on how quickly I was tossed up and down.  I struggled walking the glider out of the field in the wind but within 10 minutes the area was almost calm again.  I guess bad timing.


I broke down along the river after talking with Peter.  The reason I didn't see Peter was he basically had a sled ride and was probably on the ground by the time I launched.  To rub salt into the wound, he then had to walk several miles around the mountain to fetch my car.  Ouch.  He did suggest that Jeff or Jack drive Greg's truck to Concord so Greg could drive home and they could continue east towards their homes.  Good thinking Peter.  I found out later Dennis landed at Morningside.

Peter picked me up and we drove to Nashua for some drinks and dinner at Martha's Exchange before heading home.  It was an interesting way to start this flying season in New England.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:03, Distance: 48.8 miles

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Flytec Race & Rally (Day 6)

Lawn dart.

We originally had a task from Williston Florida to Moultrie Georgia.  We arrived to the tow field in a pouring rain and then watched a thunderstorm dump rain for an hour to the north of us.  We pushed the start times back an hour and then shorten the course to Live Oak, Florida.

The sky was overcast and the birds were only climbing a few hundred feet.  So when the sun briefly broke through near the start time some of us suited up and launched.  The earliest in the line came back to the field, but a group of 6 or 7 managed a weak climb in light rain.  When we topped out around 880m (2900 feet) I decided it was time to make use of our altitude and go.  We glided until we found a weak climb under 300m (1000 feet).  The thermal was just not big enough to allow 5 gliders (Chris, Mike, Larry, Patrick, and me) to make big circles in.  We fumbled with the climb for awhile and then landed together.  Needless to say we were all disappointed; especially when we saw the clouds break and later pilots fly overhead at 1200m (4000 feet).

Some days you are the windshield and other days you are the bug.  Splat.

Scores are available online.

Flights: 1,  Duration: 0:38, Distance: 9.6 km

Flytec Race & Rally (Day 5)

After landing way too early on day 4, I came back and had a go at Jim's latest project at American Rock Climbing.  It was fun scrambling up the side but the traverse was the most interesting since I have not done that before.  I was surprised at how much you need to rely on arms since you can't "lean into" the net.  Once across you use a zip line for the return trip.  The finale is a leap of faith off the platform, letting the safety traction device gently lower you to the ground.  Thanks for making feel like a kid again Jim!

The task for the day was a 69 km (42 mile) trip in the blue from Quest Air to Williston.  I got to stage in priority since I was on the safety committee so that helped reduce the tension surrounding rigging, staging, and getting in the launch line.

I had an uneventful tow followed by a weak climb but soon found myself racing back to the airfield for another tow.  I stumbled into a low broken climb with Eric and avoided the hassle of landing and launching again.  We didn't climb cleanly or fast but arrived at the top in time to join the rest of the competitors in a massive unorganized gaggle of whirling obstacles.

The flight was really an exercise in gaggle flying.  Unlike most days, competitors never got smeared along the course line.  It was blue, so pilots tended to clump together.  Also the pilots at the top of the stack would lead out, get low, and then everyone else would catch up.  The later arriving pilots would now be on top, lead out, and eventually get slow and the entire field would catch up again.  I had too many tense moments to remember.  (Everyone seemed to be apologizing to everyone else for "close calls" after landing.)

Eric and I shared another strong climb east of course line that was a refreshing rest before diving back into the top of the main gaggle.

We also had an interesting climb near a large forest fire south of the Ocala airport.  It was fun seeing gliders quickly fade away as they dove into the smoke.  I should have taken pictures, but was too worried about collision avoidance.

I was in good position for a top finish, but made a poor choice between final climbs.  There was a climb closer on course line and another possibly stronger climb a bit to the east.  Larry and I chose the climb on course line and got slowed up and then got stepped on after leaving it.  The few gliders in the other thermal had fast buoyant glides into goal.  Larry and I had to stop yet again for another climb before heading in.

A lot of pilots made goal so there were a lot of happy people.  I was happy because we finally cut the strings to central Florida.  We met up at a little ice cream shop before heading to our motels, or in our case, empty fields for the night.


The scores are available online.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:50, Distance: 68 km