Friday, April 29, 2011

Warm Up

I was the first to launch Thursday afternoon in building conditions.  I was planning to test out minor modifications and gather more data about my glider's performance problem.  Kerry hooked me onto Steve and away we went.

The air was active with strong rowdy thermals blasting skyward.  I pushed upwind to the south and played around at cloud base over the sugar cane fields.

Larry and Patrick eventually joined me as the day continued to get better.


We flew to the end of our tether (positive glide back to the Florida Ridge) at about 10 miles (16 km) before turning around.  We raced back at base without turning.  In fact we had to divert several times to avoid flying into the clouds.

I was ready to land and intended to burn off altitude by cruising over to where the paraglider pilots were launching.

Dave launching on Wednesday

I arrived back at the flight park higher than I left.  After spinning up in another strong climb ripping off the field, we all started spiraling down to avoid heavy rain approaching from the west.  I landed in "active" conditions and then headed to the pool to cool off before the drenching began.

Many pilots showed up yesterday in preparation for the meet that starts on Saturday.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:23

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Morning Surprise

I've been trying to track down a problem with my glider and needed a smooth air flight to gather objective data.  The day was starting to percolate by the time I launched.  Without a doubt, I had the most beautiful tow ever as I followed Mitch through a gap in the low cloud deck into a wonderland of brightly colored white hills.  I wish I had my camera; it was truly an exceptional sight that I'll remember for years.

I gathered data until I floated below 1300 feet (400 m) and the air became too bumpy to continue.  The air was rising, so I instinctively started turning and climbing.  I soared around Quest Air in lazy early morning thermals watching the silhouette of Julia's glider appear at edge of the cloud above and the XC pilots quickly walking their gliders to the launch line below as it was already proven soarable.

I played awhile and then landed so I could have breakfast.  I said hello to pilots arriving for the upcoming meets before packing up and driving to The Florida Ridge for the Rob Kells Memorial Competition.  The sky was filled with "hang gliding porn" almost the entire drive; clouds as far as the eye could see.  Only when I was nearing the Ridge, did a impressive "Texas-sized" cu-nim fill the sky with massive colors and textures.

Lucky for me, the storm just missed the flight park so I was able to setup the tent before the sun disappear over the horizon.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:32

Monday, April 25, 2011

Is It Over Yet?

I took a quick flight early in the morning to gather data to hopefully help solve a tuning issue with my new glider.  I was surprised by the strength of the wind right above the tree line (18 mph / 29 k/h).  I got the data I needed and quickly grabbed breakfast before returning to the flight line.

We rightfully had high expectations for the day as beautiful cumulus clouds formed streets over our heads at 9:30.  Davis launched before most of us were even suited up.  Jochen followed a bit later, then Dave and I took off.

It was sweet flying even though cloud base was relatively low (3200 feet / 975 m).  The day was looking great and even managed to snag a strong climb down low near the prisons to the northwest.  Davis, who was far in front, recommended staying east of Interstate 75 since there were better clouds there.

I pushed east a bit to cross a street and ended up low and struggling with my back against a large swath of trees.  Dang.  I found a thermal along the downwind tree line but it was drifting too far back so I abandoned the climb and landed.

I landed at the "Fly By Ranch".  Part-way through my break-down Emily, an inquisitive young lady, and her dog "Shiner" stopped by for a chat.  She even helped me pack up before she brought her younger sister by before heading off for a birthday party.

Jochen, who landed fairly close to Quest Air, got a friendly ride back to the airfield in a police cruiser and started chasing with my car.  He picked me up and we started heading north towards Davis and John.  (James, the other driver picked up Mark P, Mark S, Dave, and Campbell.  All of them landed about 115 miles / 185 km out).  I started getting extremely nauseous and remained so for the next 7 hours as we drove around Florida.  Would the driving never end?    :-(   We picked up Davis near Hawthorne and waited for John to land.  As I expected, John landed as the sun set and we then headed home.

I spent the next two days on the ground recovering from a suspected viral infection that James and a few other local pilots came down with at roughly the same time.  It was hard watching Jochen leave for a 155 mile / 250 km flight yesterday as I laid in my tent.  The crew headed off again this morning on another adventure and landed south of Ocala.

I'm feeling better now and hope to be tearing up the skies again soon.

Flights: 2, Duration: 1:52, Distance: 33 miles


I was tired and sore on Friday so I decided to work on my glider and stay tethered to the airfield, i.e., always within a safe glide back.  Jochen, Davis, and Mitch launched before me into a blue sky and were scatter looking for a climb when I released.  Mitch and I found an elusive climb to the west of the field.

Davis, Mitch, and I slowly climbed while Jochen pulled off a minor miracle with a very low save off the north end of the runway.  We all topped out at 3700 feet while everyone on the ground stayed put, uninspired by our performance.

The other 3 pilots had to make a decision about a task for the day.  A long trip to the north was unrealistic but Davis suggested a small triangle and they took off.

Meanwhile the tug starting pulling more victims skyward and I was soon flying with Dave and Mark on rigid wings.

I took pictures of my wing in various configurations for later review.

I played around south of Quest Air with another pilot before heading back for a sweet landing.

Davis and Jochen landed a few miles to the north while Mitch parked over a fire until the day became better and carefully made his way back home.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:02

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Squeeze Play

The task for Wednesday was Venice Beach, to the southwest of Quest Air.  I originally planned to stay on the ground and rest, but Jamie created an "excitement vortex" that sucked me in and before I knew it I was heading to the launch line.

Davis, Jochen, and Mitch launched before the wind switched direction and we had to stroll to the opposite side of the field.  Once again I was the last to launch behind Jamie, Lauren, and Jim S.  The first 3 pilots were miles and miles ahead and even the second wave was a climb or two ahead by the time I released.

I ran a line along the edge of the Green Swamp west of the Seminole Gliderport.  I shared a climb to the south of the gliderport with 3 slick looking sailplanes before gliding off towards Fantasy of Flight.  It was the first time I squeezed between the restricted airspace between Bartow and Lakeland.

Once I cleared the congested space I started pushing hard trying to close the distance between me and the first wave.  I pushed too hard and got pinned up against a swamp and settled into a recently plowed field.

Belinda picked me up and we finished the drive to Venice where we picked up Davis, Jochen, and Mitch.  Although they didn't reach the actual beach, we were close enough to drive the rest of the way there for a drink and dinner.  Curt Warren, who had just arrived from Australia, joined us.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:40, Distance: 50 miles

On Fire

You might think with a title of "On Fire" I would be writing about a great demonstration of pilot skill, but you would be wrong.  We were hungry for open distance flying on Tuesday and rearing to go.  We had drivers, an agreed-on shared radio frequency, and a rough course line to the north northeast that Davis provided that would route us around controlled airspace.

I was the third to launch and was dropped in an established, but dying, line of clouds to the east.  I struggled there too long before heading to a new line of clouds forming directly over the field.  I arrived low, but had high hopes when Dave, who launched after me, was turning with a bird directly over launch.  I couldn't find the thermal and landed in thermal turbulence followed soon after by Dave.  I now had to wait for a several other pilots to launch (Jamie, Jim S, Jim R) before giving it another go.  This time I pinned off around 1000 feet (300 m) in a strong surge that wasn't there when I turned around.  Dang.  Landed again.  I was the last pilot left on the field when I launched for the 3rd time.  (This time I stayed on for a full tow!)

I quickly climbed to base and then shared a climb with Jim S briefly before he headed northwest while I headed directly north.  The day was turning on and shifted into "racing mode".  I flew close to the lakes at Leesburg and was joined by several bald eagles.

I really starting making good time near "The Villages".

The good flying continued.

I passed over Dave at 7000 feet as he struggled below near the Ocala National Forest.  I caught John as the western sea breeze started undercutting the convergence line to the north.  I tried to race ahead towards the airport at Keystone, but ended low and drifting off course line to the east when Dave and John joined me.  We played around in a couple weak thermals before Dave and John took off towards the northeast.  I didn't want to drift into controlled airspace or float over a large military base in the area so I pushed upwind to play in a fire burning on the edge of a large prairie.

I played in the rising columns of smoke as the clouds dissipated overhead.

Unfortunately, I didn't have enough altitude to push on and chose to land in an ideal-looking field southeast of Melrose that faced into the wind.

I had a sweet landing and began breaking down once I let Sharon know where I was.

While I was waiting on Sharon and Dave, who landed a few miles away, I met John whose father used to fly out of the field.

We had a great discussion about many things, including how they strung a cable across the field years ago to discourage airplanes from landing to the fire burning to the south.  He described how fires can smolder for long periods in the peat below the surface.  I was shocked to learn that those smoldering fires can erode cavities large enough to "swallow" unlucky firefighters.  He left to join his family for dinner as I slid my glider under his nice new fence.  Awhile later his brother showed up on an ATV and we chatted more even after Sharon and Dave arrived.

We eventually said our farewells and drove off to pick up John who I thought was surely already on the ground as I snapped a picture of the sun lighting up a cu-nim.

John deftly drifted between controlled airspaces until the sun was nearly down.  We drove along rough wash-board dirt roads until "voila" there he was standing beside his glider in the dark.

We got back late after driving along Route 19 through the Ocala National Forest, hoping to avoid all the many deer we saw standing along the road.

(John, I apologize for not posting pictures of the eagles I flew with.  My camera automatically shut off and I didn't notice it wasn't running when I flew with the eagles.)

Flights: 3, Duration: 3:49, Distance: 83 miles

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I continued my recent uninspiring performance on Monday when I launched first, immediately climbed to cloud base, waited for Dave, Jochen, Lauren to slowly climb up to me, and then glided the southeast and then west to ground at Seminole Gliderport a whopping 9 miles (16 km) from Quest Air.  At least I had a no-step landing in front of the office while Dave and Jochen climbed away overhead.

I broke down on the shady lawn and Sharon gave me a lift back.


Flights: 1, Duration: 1:15, Distance: 12 miles

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Even a Dead Fish Can Float Downstream

Although the day started breezy, Mike and I thought it would be flyable by mid-day and the direction would was good for a long flight from Wallaby Ranch.  Fay encouraged us to "go for it" and offered to drive.  I rushed to setup my glider after landing out the day before.  I continued chasing Mike down the driveway to the launch line but had plenty of time to regain my composure before Fay showed up in the tug.

Malcolm hooked me in and away I went into an overdeveloping sky.

The clouds continued to build as Mike and I drifted to the northwest in very weak but mellow air around 3000 feet (900 m).

We floated along occasionally turning in bubbles until we approached Quest 20 miles to the northwest.

Mike faded east to a potential climb while I faded west to the airfield.  Mike was rewarded with a good climb and I was rewarded with a good but disappointing landing.  While Davis, Jochen, Mike, and Mitch continued on, I got into line for a quick tow.  Paul did his best to find a climb but eventually waved me off under a dark but inactive cloud.  I search while light sprinkles clouded my visor.  I crossed to another line of clouds, found a couple small climbs but was forced to move on.  I finally had to land about 13 miles to the north but I still had some excitement in store.  I was about 50 feet (15 m) above the ground on final when I went slack twice while upright.  Yahoo.  I was landing in a "lake breeze" (i.e., a cold front) and it was exciting all the way to the ground.  I even struggled walking the glider to the road in the strong wind.

Once on the ground I discovered I didn't have Fay's telephone number.  I called Belinda and then Jason for her number.  Jason gave me her number, but not the number for her "new" phone.  I didn't know that either so I left a message on the "old phone" and broke down while large solitary rain drops bounced off the sail.  Jason called back a bit later and took pity on me and said he was coming to "fetch me".  Thanks mucho Jason!

As the rest of the gang drove back from their goal at Williston far to the northwest, I treated Jason to his "driver's dinner" at Red Wing.  Part way through the meal, Belinda called to invite us to join a group of pilots going to see the premiere of the movie "Rio 3D".  For some strange reason, I could easily relate to the main character's lack of flying abilities.  ;-)

Flights: 2, Duration: 1:44, 35.3 miles

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keep Going

A serious lack of drive infected the pilots at Wallaby Ranch on Thursday.  We were sitting around the picnic tables in the cool shade of the oak trees when we normally would have been flying.  Finally Felipe ignited the fire when he stood up and declared "It is time to fly".  Without argument, everyone, including the tug pilots, stood up and walked to their aircraft.

Although I was soon in the air, I apparently wasn't prepared since I was turning on my camera, turning up the volume on my flight computer, and setting a waypoint back to Wallaby Ranch while on tow behind Paul.

I was late getting off for a thermal we plowed through around 1200 feet (365 m), but circled back for the climb.  Except it wasn't there.  I headed back for another tow and stumbled into a strong but tiny thermal at 400 feet (122 m) downwind of the launch line.  I clawed my way out of the hole I dug for myself.

I drifted a couple miles to the northwest when I noticed Jason climbing over the field.  Once again, I had trouble finding the climb as Jason "topped out".  He wanted to know what "the plan" was for the afternoon but no one answered.  He pushed upwind while I floated up to Jim, who was interested in flying to Sheets Airfield to the northwest, had a driver, and invited me along.  He didn't have to ask twice!

We glided on course to the northwest and noticed Felipe high above us doing the same.  I was fascinated with a fire off course line that was topped with a cloud and asked if Jim wanted to add a barbecue flavor to his glider.  He was game so off we went to investigate.

The fire was big and filled the sky with smoke.  Much to my surprise, Jim drove right into the smoke disappearing from sight below me.  He must really like that smokey flavor.

Jason, who was a climb behind valiantly tried to catch us but landed just upwind of the fire.  He had a fine landing, but landed next to a dirt road that didn't connect to the public road on the other side of the large field.  I didn't envy his hike out, but at least he was able to "short-circuit" the hike by sliding under a fence.

After flying with an eagle in the fire we glided off to our goal.  I found a strong climb in the haze over the center of the field and suggested we climb out, push upwind to Seminole-Lake Gliderport, and turn back if we can't make it.  Jim was ok with the updated plan to keep going.  Felipe, who took a path that didn't include fires, joined us over the airfield.

We pushed upwind stopping for a rowdy climb before diving for Seminole.  I was preparing to land when I sniffed out a strong snaky thermal just to the west of the runway.  Felipe came in low below me and snagged it.  Jim was too far away, missed the climb, and landed at the glider port.

I got high and waited for Felipe before I kept going on towards the ranch.  I initially had a very good glide to the east-southeast but decided to fly a direct line back so I could possibly skip a climb and keep over large LZs.  I chose poorly and was soon struggling down low once again.  Felipe, who was behind me, wanted no part of that and continued to the east and was spared the spanking.

My flight computer showed I had the ranch by 200 feet, but if the glide didn't work, I would be landing the in the infamous "spike field".  (The "spike field" is a large grass field armed with tall abandoned sprinkler pipes once used to spray orange trees from above.)  Instead of risking an exciting landing I flew south of Dean Still Road and landed in a huge pasture field among some docile cattle.

Felipe made it in and the recently rescued Jason picked me up shortly after I finished packing.  It was fun pushing our goal one step further until we landed.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:10, Distance: 47.7 miles

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Top Dog

Hands-down the top-dog for a good time is Santino.

Although post-frontal, the winds were light, the skies blue, and the lift questionable yesterday.  Most of us work on little projects and drifted out to the launch line around 2:00.  I was fourth to leave the ground behind Paul.  We plowed through a thermal around 800 feet, but given the blue skies I wanted more altitude.  After a couple turns in lift Paul waved me off and up I went.

Felipe, Mike, and I topped out at a dirty inversion east of Wallaby Ranch.

Felipe and Mike took off for the south while I flew upwind to a climb that John marked.

I spent about an hour taking video of how my sail behaves while thermaling, gliding, and stalling.  I also played with long lift lines created when thermals drifting in the lighter westerly wind (5 mph) was sheared south by a stronger northerly wind (13 mph) around 4700 feet.  I was easy to string together 1 to 2 mile glides whenever I cross one of these lines.  Very sweet.

I was watching what I thought was a different air mass move in from the west.  The air mass was much hazier and I watched it drift across the Green Swamp, then Route 33, and then even closer.  I was convinced it was a sea breeze pushing in.  (A sea breeze is very similar to a cold front which increases lift in front of it but makes landing "interesting" as it passes).

I decided to land and flew around at warp speed to lose my 5000 feet.  The field was very active with the flags dancing around but patience was rewarded with a consistent light west breeze when I landed.

I later found out from Dave, who flew south along Route 33, that the "air mass" I saw was just smoke from a large fire in the swamp.  Sigh.  Oh well, I got my fix for the day and had lots of video to review.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:27

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


A cold front was forecasted to move through on Wednesday, so everyone took a welcomed break to knock off some chores.  The front barely made it through the area with a whimper before dissipating.  I snapped a shot of a cu-nim to the north.

Tale of Two Towers

Tuesday's forecast looked great for a long sightseeing trip to the north.  However, other than Jason, no other pilots wanted to deal with the hassle of a long retrieve.  Furthermore I couldn't find a driver that wanted to spend the afternoon stuck driving my car.  So I latched onto everyone else's plan to push upwind to Bok Tower to the south and then return to Wallaby Ranch.

I launched first and released into a non-productive thermal.  Meanwhile, Jason launched and was dropped off in a better climb upwind.  I slid in under him and began an earnest climb to cloud base.  Jason topped out and headed on course to the south.  He sniffed around quite awhile before latching onto a thermal which he left just as I joined him.  We pushed upwind looking for our next refill, but got lower and lower.  We hunted together and found a thermal wanna-be over a shopping center south of Route 4, just beyond a glide back to launch.  Aric joined us as we sort-of-climbed but mostly just drifted back north.  I was ready to return when Aric dove forward.  I swung around and plowed ahead until I was low and desperate for a climb.  I found a ratty little snake over a housing development that gave us some breathing room.  Meanwhile Jason was not so lucky and was fighting to stay off the ground.  I noticed he was hitting strong little cores so I flew in his direction when I bumped into a strong climb that rocketed Aric and I to base, but put Jason on the ground.

Meanwhile, the gang back at the field were having second thoughts about the day's task given our "stellar" performance.  We could have used a couple jugs of syrup to go with all the waffling I heard on the radio.  It was like listening to standup comedy!  Eventually, the group changed the task to the Citrus Tower and back.  We would be initially heading north instead of south and I already was a couple climbs behind since I was south of launch.

I worked my way back to the ranch, shared a strong climb with Paul and captain Mick, and started the task after everyone else left.  I pushed hard, caught up with Al, Mike, and Tyson, and then tagged the tower before them.  Mike and I had a bit of lead on the others and flew out over a large lake looking for a climb.  (I know, it sounds counterintuitive.)  Mike out climbed me and left while I was still tanking up on altitude.  Mike drove upwind, got low, and had to take a slow climb to stay airborne.  I passed him high above only suffer the same fate.  Sigh.

Hazy view of the southern large lake.

I pushed west to a forming line of clouds that paid off with a good climb.  Mike joined me a bit lower as we finally made some progress towards home.

Climbing with Mike

I had to skip any weak climbs since I would lose too much ground in the southerly headwind.  I noticed a vigorous cloud even further west and "bet the house" that it would provide a quick climb.  It did and I got jump on Mike and the rest of the gang.

I headed straight for the ranch and stopped for one more climb over a recently burned forested area before arriving first back at the ranch.  Mike arrived soon after and Tyson and Al a while later.  Aric and Felipe landed just short of the ranch after valiant struggles.

I originally wanted to spend the day exploring new countryside, but as Mike pointed out, the challenge of flying upwind provides its own unique rewards.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:27, Distance: 53.6 miles