Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lighthouse Tour

Spent the day before Thanksgiving racing over the sand cliffs on Cape Cod.  I picked up Randy and we started the 3 hour drive questioning our sanity given the marginal forecast.  John B called after he was on the road and told us he was turning around and going home.  Rodger called looking for encouragement.  Randy and I were committed, even after Peter called and informed us it was blowing in, but very light.  I asked "how light?"  Peter answered, "someone else is going first!"  Oh.

It looked soarable when we arrived, so we setup with Allen across the road.  Dan and George, who made the trek from New York and were setting up when we arrived, showed everyone it was soarable. With Allen and Randy's help I sauntered off launch into the air for what turned out to be a very sweet day.

The conditions were spot-on.  Every little nook and cranny was soarable and crossing gaps was stress free; at least for me.

I flew locally with fellow pilots and birds before chasing Randy south to Nauset Light.

We then turned around and flew back past launch, picked up Rodger, and continued north to Highland Light.

After performing for the spectators at Highland Light, we raced back to launch.  After diving launch for awhile, Randy and I made another fast round-trip to Highland Light.

Allen, Randy, Rodger, and I stopped for a late lunch before heading home.  It was definitely a good time that has me already longing for another racing day at the cape.

Update: Randy posted a video.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:48, Distance: 50.5 miles

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Desperation was knocking at the door as the last bits of mountain flying for the year slipped through my fingers.  The weekend forecast for coastal soaring at Wellfleet had a Goldilocks aura about it; too weak on Saturday and too strong on Sunday.  I was in the middle of a list of chores on Saturday afternoon when I finally succumbed, tossed the gear into the car, and started the 3 hour drive to the Cape in spite of Hurricane Sandy's approaching visit.  (Most good flights at the Cape are followed by nasty weather!)

I arrived to a mostly sunny sky filled with paragliders bobbing over the sand dunes.

Many hang glider pilots were standing around; on the ground.  PK showed up and snagged a tandem paraglider flight with John while Keith and I convinced ourselves it was strong enough for hang gliders.  Keith, who had been there most of the day, was already rigged.  I helped him launch and watched him soar before going to setup my glider.

I had to step over three paragliders laying on the sand to reach launch.  The wind was good when I arrived, but pilots were literally flying a few feet over and along both sides of my glider.  I had plenty of  people watching for an opening.  Finally everyone standing around my wing started shouting "go, go now, go, go".  I took a quick look at the streamer and was unimpressed.  Against better judgement, I started running.  A pilot laying out the lines to his canopy stood up as I started moving, forcing me to immediately turn away from the ridge and its precious lift.  No problem I thought, I can deal with this.  However I had to make another turn away when a pilot dropped below the ridge directly in front of me.  Uh oh.  I was down, but maybe not out.  I spied a low spot in the dunes ahead.  If I maintained my altitude and got a tip above the ridge at that dip I might save it.  It probably would have worked except a pilot flying low in the same direction in front of me decided to stop and turn; right there.  It might have still worked if he didn't slow down and turn again when he saw me approaching.  I was yet again forced away from ridge and I knew that was it.  I flew as close to the ridge as I dare, occasionally dipping a wing tip into the dune.  I squeaked out a mile before landing close to an easy access point at the Beachcomber.

Several pilots came down to the beach to chat while I broke down.  One was George Ferris, whom I hadn't seen in ages.  Pilots were still soaring in the fading daylight as Ilya, Keith, Kevin, Peter J, PK, and I headed off to find food and sleeping arrangements for the night.  We celebrated Ilya's first soaring flight at the Cape at Land Ho! in Orleans.  PK mentioned several times that he saw me standing on the beach as he soared overhead.  Thanks pal!

We were up and at the beach by 6:00 am Sunday morning.  We expected the wind to be stronger, but not gusting over 30 mph (48 kph).  The strong wind and the forecast for increasing winds, increasing chance of rain, and increasing tide heights due to the storm surge momentarily stunned the growing crowd of pilots.  I, and several others, decided to "give it a go" and planned to land if conditions got worse.  While others struggled in the wind Jeff C and I setup sheltered behind the restrooms across the road.  The humming wires reminded me that the wind was strong but the rain was not really necessary.

John A, Peter J and a few other pilots helped me walk the glider across the road and then into the air.  (I love walking off launch into the smooth coastal air with my hands on the base bar).  Unlike the previous evening, I quickly got above the ridge and made a few strafing runs at the pilots gathered on launch.

I don't have pictures to share since it was too wet for a camera.  Scattered showers blew through and beaded up on my visor.  It is a good thing that the rain drops blow off at high speed!

I flew north to Highland Light.  I saw a dozen seals, usually in groups of 2 or 3.  I flew into, and then with, a flock of seagulls so thick I lost sight of the horizon.  There may have been 200 of them.  It was a truly amazing experience.  I rounded the lighthouse and then shared most of the return trip with PK.


Crossing gaps was easy so I continued south past launch towards Nauset Light.  I decided to turn around when I noticed the tide was starting to consume the beach.  If the forecast had been any less dreary, I would have continued on.  It just wasn't worth pushing my luck.

Instead I decided to push my luck back at launch where there was plenty of beach left.  ;-)  I mapped out the rotor around launch so I could eventually top land.  I then started trying to hover motionless directly over a clump of grasses to the north of launch.  The pilots on the ground thought I was getting ready to land and gathered to lend a hand.  I appreciated the gesture, but I wasn't ready yet.  So I let them know by tossing out a low diving turn over them that had at least a couple ducking.

Ilya and Kevin

Remembering the lines I scratched into the dune the previous evening, I thought a wing-tip drag across launch might be a worthy maneuver.  (Remember, you only stop playing at the Cape when you break your toys!)  I thought I had it perfectly planned out, but alas, not quite.  My previous dives through the rotor were straight through.  This maneuver required making a turn within the rotor which meant I would be in the rotor much longer; a fact I didn't account for.  I started my run, initiated the turn and immediately knew it wasn't going to end well.  I was short on energy (altitude and/or speed).  I dragged my wing tip on the parking lot and ended up face-first in the sand.  Although it wasn't the "show off" move I planned or the tip-toe landing I expected later on, I didn't damage the glider or myself.

Nick also played around top landing and diving at pilots.  He had many sweet landings but got everyone's adrenaline pumping on his final landing that was too complex to describe!

Nick diving through the rotor

Touching down


Only one paraglider pilot with a speed wing showed up, but decided it was really not that much fun.

Randy was the last pilot to land.  Allen S, Jeff C, and I drove north to our favorite landing spot to watched him land and then helped him carry his glider to the parking lot.


It was gusting to 40 mph (65 kph) by the time we left.  The next day Sandy was throwing 86 mph (138 kph) gusts at launch and smashing tall waves against the dunes below.  I watched the rain, leaves and branches blow by my window for most of the afternoon.  I was content, at least for a few days, thanks to Sandy.

Pilots have posted videos here.

Flights: 2, Duration: 1:35

Sunday, September 16, 2012


The forecast for Sunday had looked good several days.  However the forecast that morning hinted it might be blown out.  Ignoring that forecast, or hoping for the best, Jeff and Peter tossed onto my car and we drove west to the Mohawk Trail.

We parked next to Keith's truck, minus a glider, when we arrived at the end of the trail to launch.  It was windy enough we debated whether to hike in with our gear but carried in everything in spite of the rattling tree tops.

We didn't rig after being pushed around by the strong gusts plowing through.  We talked and tried to size up the weather as other pilots trickled into the setup area.

I decided to start rigging after a couple lulls convinced me I could safely launch.  Although the forecast didn't predict a diminishing wind, the lulls became longer and more frequent as we leisurely got ready to fly.



Rigging the toys...


Mike and Linda

In spite of what we saw earlier, I was worried the wind eventually might not support ridge soaring.  (Finding a thermal before landing is tough when launch is only 750 feet (229 m) above the bailout LZ below).  I suited up and was the first to launch.  The wind was light and I waited for a bit of a "straight-in" breeze before launching.  I glided south to the "Wigwam House" before returning below launch.  I was getting desperate when I smacked into a tiny thermal ripping up the mountain slope to the north.  After a few 180s I cleared the ridge line, cranked into it, and quickly climbed above launch.

The climb was surprisingly strong for September and I was soon flying at cloud base.

I was surprised by the light wind at 9 mph (14 kph).  Only when I neared cloud base did the wind increase to 18 mph (29 kph).  The higher winds at the top of the boundary layer explained the fast moving clouds, but the stronger winds on launch must have been primarily thermal gusts.

Speaking of thermal gusts, Randy spent a long time on launch before getting airborne.  Brooks followed soon after and both climbed out south of Route 2 along the ridge.  The next two pilots, Jeff and Peter, were not so lucky.  Both had short flights and landed in the undesirable bailout LZ below.  Their performance was enough to keep everyone else on the ground.

Brooks and Randy climbing along the ridge, launch (closest clearing along the ridge), LZ lower right

I briefly flew with Brooks and Randy, but each of us wandered in different directions.  I flew over the ridge and valley soaking up the chilly fall air and tinted leaves.  I also played around the new unactivated wind mills on the hill tops north and east of launch.

Wind mills, hair-pin turn, and launch (leftmost clearing on ridge line in lower right corner of photo)

Transition to fall colors underway

Randy landed in the valley south of the school while Brooks and I ventured to the far side of the valley north of launch.  I explored even more after Brooks glided to the mini-golf LZ.

Jeff and Peter, less than thrilled with their short flights, got on the radio and joked about leaving for home.  I took the hint and agreed to meet them at "Amy's LZ" in the valley.  I flew back to launch and radioed the waiting pilots that the air was mellow and buoyant along the ridge.  I watched a pilot launch as I headed into the valley to land.

I felt like a novice pilot on his first mountain flight as Jeff and Peter radioed in wind direction changes as I lost altitude over the LZ.  The wind, although not strong, was switching from southwest through east.  It was tough to plan an approach with that much variability but I was lucky and landed into a fairly consistent north wind.

They patiently waited as I broke down and five gliders floated along the ridge in an evening wonder wind.


Peter amongst the emerging colors of autumn

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:03

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Final Exam

Many students start their school year about now.  My flight on Labor Day felt like a final exam for this year's flying season.

Peter stopped by and snatched me before stopping near Gardner to pick up JJ on his way to Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts.  We meet Al, Brooks, Doug, and Jeff at the LZ before dodging runners racing to the top of the mountain.

The wind, if any, was forecasted to switch from the desirable east-southeast, to the crossing south, and then to the un-launchable over-the-back southwest.  We were happy to see the wind blowing straight-in and delighted to feel a real breeze instead of the usual trickle.  I rigged as swiftly as possible while still managing a quick hello to many friends.

My trusty steed.


Al (Don't ask!)

John answering questions while getting ready.

Time to mount up.

The first paraglider to launch bobbed around the mountain top, never got high, but wasn't sinking out.   Good enough for me!  With Peter, JJ's, and Gary's help, I waded through the crowd and was the first hang glider to run into the air.

The flight was a series of 3 or 4 cycles where I: fly around launch, slowly sink out when high clouds drift overhead blocking the sun, fight for every bit of lift with a dozen other pilots until forced to fly into the valley to the LZ, snag a weak climb drifting away from the field back to ridge-height downwind of launch, breathe a sigh of relief, fly back to launch, and repeat.  I would lose most of my flying buddies at the low point of each cycle but would pick up a new batch when I got back up.

Some pilots don't like a day like that but I loved it.  I had to be efficient, a bit daring in the climbs near the tress, and nimble flying through the maze of darting pilots.

JJ was one of the pilots that succumbed to the first flush cycle and volunteered to hike back up the mountain to drive Peter's truck down.  A one point he announced on the radio he could hear my vario; sure enough I looked down and could see JJ waving back.

After buzzing launch a few times and showing off to motorcyclists parked along the road to the top, I flew northeast to the LZ at the miniature golf course called The Range.

LZ at The Range

Looking northeast towards the Mohawk Trail

After landing on the nice manicured lawn I walked over to where Brooks, Matt, and Peter were packing up.



Doug, JJ, and Jeff soon showed up and after a quick ice cream bar and a short debriefing we were on our way home.  I don't know if I passed or not, but it sure felt like I had just completed a through final exam on low saves and hillside scratching.

Update:  Several pilots posted videos from their flights.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:31

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer Flying in New England

I owe PK for the nice flight last week in western Vermont.  I knew it would be a good day but even with PK's encouragement I couldn't get motivated for the early departure and 6 hours of solo driving.  I resigned myself to another day on the ground as I picked produce from the garden and had a leisurely breakfast.  I played out in my head the day in front of me; dull work and an evening alone since Amy was going out with friends.  Crap, maybe I should have gone.  Everyone was meeting for the ride up at noon.  It was 9:15 and it takes 3 hours to get there; already late and I still had to pack up and load the glider.  What the ****!  I literally ran around the house gathering my flying gear, tossed it in the car, hurriedly strapped the glider on top and rolled down the driveway by 9:30.

I got my fill of racing and shaved 15 minutes off the drive north.  Luckily for me, Keith and the rest of the crew (Al, Amy, Bo, Dan, Jordan, PK, and Todd) waited on the tardy one.  We were greeted by light soarable conditions on top.  Bob was already rigged and proved it was soarable as we quickly setup our gliders.  Bo launched next and was soon far overhead in his paraglider.  Sweet.

Of course, as PK, Keith, and I suited up, Bob floated by launch and said it was getting marginal.  Sigh.  PK launched and found a little bullet thermal to the west.  Keith waited for signs of life before launching.  He must have chosen well since he was already above the ridge when I ran off after him.  I cruised around in the bowl maintaining or slightly climbing until a real thermal blew through and quickly climbed out.

Bowl in front, Todd on launch at left end of ridge

I flew upwind into the valley and found a climb that eventually merged with a climb PK was in further out.

Thermals merge into one

PK and I climbed out as everyone else in the air was flushed to the ground.  As they say in real estate "location is everything"!

Climbing downwind of launch

The clouds downwind to the east looked great and the wind was stronger than we expected.  It would have been fun crossing the Green Mountains at 6500+ feet (2000m), but we were not sure how strong or reliable the lift was and crossing the Greens would make retrieve driving much more difficult for Jordan, our driver for the day.

Todd's daughter and driver, Jordan

Although the sky wasn't as promising and flying crosswind would be a chore, we decided to fly north along the western edge of the Greens.  Our first glide lead to broken and weak climbs under a dying mass of clouds.

Gliding north

The surface winds were southwest, the bulk of the column westerly, and the top northwest.  Press weak climbs (100-200 fpm, 0.5 - 1.0 m/s) through that grinder and you have challenging climbs.  We floundered for a bit before drifting into the valley and eventually onto the Greens.


Of course I had to stop and take pictures!

I always want to pass Lake Dunmore to the west over open fields, but always end up flying over the trees downwind to the east.  The same thing happened this time, even after using two glides and climbs so I could be upwind of the lake.  Sigh.  From now on, I'm just going to suck-it-up and head straight for the trees!

Looking north towards Lake Dunmore.  Notice the wind lines on the water.

Looking southwest towards launch (upper center left)

PK and I shared a smooth climb over Lake Dunmore.  We were flying at the same altitude for a relatively long time.  He would occasionally ask on the radio if I was still there since he couldn't see me right behind him.  At one point I positioned myself so I could fly directly over him as the sun was on our backs.  As my shadow passed over his glider I gave him a good banshee scream.  Didn't need the radio for that!

Lake Dunmore

Looking east over the Greens

Looking southeast over the Greens

As it always happens the day started to wane.  We left the mountains and flew to the valley fields into a noticeable headwind.

We flew along the west edge of the mountains east of the Middlebury airport.

Middlebury airport at the base of the ridge, Lake Champlain and the Adironacks in the background

Although it was breezy above, we landed in nearly calm wind south of Bristol.  The neighbors were friendly and talked about someone landing there years ago during the July 4th holiday.  Jordan arrived just as we finished packing.  Thanks Jordan!

We later discovered the pilots that launched after us had short flights.  Several went back up for another that were also short.  Sorry guys.  :-(

This flight was very enjoyable.  We didn't go very far, get very high, or even explore new territory.  However the air was pleasant, the views great, the pace relaxing, and the company good.  It was definitely worth the effort (and miles) to make it happen.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:07, Distance 31.7 miles