Sunday, March 25, 2012

Opening Day Jitters

I finally managed to get airborne during the last big day of record-breaking heat wave on Thursday.  Peter, John, JJ, and I car-pooled in my Subaru from eastern Massachusetts to the Mohawk Trail in the western part of the state.  We gawked at the impressive damage from hurricane Irene as we drove along the reopened section of road through the Mohawk Trail State Forest.

We had an easy hike out to launch, which is unusual.  We're usually still plowing snow this time of year and flying usually means breaking a trail to launch and then shoveling the launch.  Instead, we were greeted with greening grass and warm air blowing straight in.

Brooks, Keith, PK and Timo rounded out the rest of the crew.  We rigged our gliders; some for the first time in over 6 months.  I was unusually jittery.  My last flight was almost 7 months ago.  I am still struggling with a sore and weak shoulder that I wasn't confident would work well enough in rowdy air.  I completely disassembled, inspected, and reassembled my glider as part of an annual inspection.  I also made nontrivial tuning changes to the glider.  I was flying with a flight computer borrowed from Peter that was configured differently than mine.  I was flying for the first time in 15 years with distance-assist glasses made necessary by progressing cataracts.  Throw in concern about strong winds developing as a front approached and I felt like a beginner pilot on his (or her) first mountain launch!

At least launch conditions were good.  Brooks stepped up to launch first and waited for a thermal to blow through before running off.  He climbed above launch which gave the rest of us hope; but he didn't climb fast enough to alleviate concerns about sinking out.  PK and then Peter launch and repeated the slow but steady climb out.  I launched next with JJ and Keith assisting on my side wires.  (Thanks guys!)  I was relieved when the glider didn't fold up as I cleared the cliff edge.  I was also happy to be going up.  However, I quickly realized the glider had a nasty right turn, I couldn't read the text on the flight computer with my glasses on, and I forgot to turn on the video camera.  Sigh.

Once I worked my way above the ridge I found the source of my power-assisted right turn.  There was a large fold on the underside of the right wing tip; apparently caused by incorrectly mated velcro between the top and bottom surface.  I either had incorrectly seated the velcro during assembly or more likely it shifted as I rested the right wing tip on a rock outcropping on my way to launch.  At this point it didn't matter how it happened; it was there and I couldn't do anything about it except to "suck it up" and fly.

I wasn't the only pilot with "issues".  JJ was dealing with his own misbehaving glider caused by a missing nose cover that Keith later found near launch.  John was flying with a new unfamiliar flight computer and a malfunctioning radio caused by him plugging connectors into the wrong spots.  PK was flying for the first time with progressive lens and said everything looked like a blur of colors!  Keith soared for a short while, but sank into the rowdy bail-out LZ below.  Earning the "determination" award for the day, he folded up his glider, took a taxi to the top, grabbed his "spare" glider from his truck, hiked-in, launched, and joined the rest of us in the air.

Make no mistake though, we were having a good time despite the annoyances.  My first climb topped out around 5400 feet (1650m) with Peter flying alongside.  We were at the place and altitude where we started our XC flight last August.  I thought once or twice about leaving, but I didn't need to add any more challenges to the flight.  (Peter told me later he thought about taking off also).


Aside from the totally bizarre warm temperatures and lack of snow below us, it was an interesting day in the air.  There was a wind-speed shear near 4500 feet; the direction stayed northwest but the speed increased from 13 mph to 20 mph (21 - 32km).  It was enough of a difference to shred thermals and lead inattentive pilots too far downwind.  Even so it was easy to climb to the top (5400 - 6100 feet, 1650 - 1860m) and Peter and I even managed to almost reach a cloud that momentarily formed in an otherwise hazy blue sky.

Peter and Brooks landed before I did in a usually fine field but I decided to chose another that didn't require a critical low long left-hand turn in a glider that only wanted to turn right.  John landed next to me a minute later.  I'm glad I chose that field because I got a chance to talk with the owner again.  He is a very pleasant fellow-airman who greeted me a couple of years ago with mock-outrage about landing on his property.  (Just as I was thinking I stepped into a "serious situation" he cracked a big smile and said "I had you going, didn't I?")  He showed me the sand and gravel they had to bulldoze off his field after the hurricane.  He continued his damage report by telling me how his basement filled with water and then sand.  He is still trying to recover things and remove the sand and mold.  I finally had to break away from our conversation so I could fold up my equipment before it got dark.

We enjoyed drinks and dinner at the Freight Yard Pub before heading home.  As Peter said on the radio immediately after landing "This is a great way to start the season."

P.S.  JJ has more about the day on his blog "Another Fine Day in the Clever Sky".

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:38

Monday, March 12, 2012

Another Season Arrives

Going to the Vermont Hang Gliding Association's annual XC awards dinner always gets me thinking about a new flying season after winter's hibernation.  It is time to inspect, update, and spit-shine the equipment and start dreaming of new adventures.

Before doing that though, I like to reflect on what happened during the previous season.  2011 was a strange mix of highs and lows.  I purchased a new glider with an awesome custom sail that took longer than usual to get properly tuned.  The weather in Florida and Georgia was freak'n  awesome at the same time I developed a repetitive use injury in my shoulder that forced me to fly some of the best conditions I've seen on the east coast with one arm.  The second half of the season produced the most uninspiring season we've seen in New England in a couple decades but I had one of my best flights ever flying across Massachusetts and almost making it home.  It was a strange memorable season.

I had 55 flights, was in the air 128 hours, and flew 1,537 miles.  The longest distance was 120 miles during a task at the Flytec Race & Rally in Georgia.  As usual, I racked up concentrated stats during competitions in Florida (FL), Georgia (GA), and Maryland (MD).  Here are the numbers,

Number of flights / state

Hours / state

Miles / state

Average Miles / Hour / State

Miles / Flight

Miles / Hour / Flight