Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Maine Line

I talked to Randy about traversing New England west to east Saturday evening, but gave up the idea after seeing cirrus and thickening clouds forecasted to move in by Sunday afternoon.  It was still a good forecast in a sea of crappy days so we were ready to fly.  Jeff and I joined Peter and Lee at the park-and-ride in Dunstable Massachusetts.  We spotted Randy's car at the park-and-ride in Bow New Hampshire and then drove in Peter's fully loaded SUV to Mount Ascutney in Vermont.

Lee dropped us off at the trail head before heading to Morningside for the day.  The lower setup area was already full when we arrived at launch.

Us late-comers rigged while talking with friends, hikers, and photographers.

(left to right: Peter, John A, and Kip)

(left to right: Jeff B, John A, and Jake)

Jake spent time going over the finer points of launching and flying at Ascutney with Russ, who was preparing for his first flight here.


I felt trapped behind all the gliders in front of me and was relieved when pilots started launching to the applause of the onlookers.  Russ received an extra-loud response when he ran down the rock.

Pilots were soaring, but just barely.  Kip, the pilot in front of me, had to wait for launchable conditions before diving off.  It was launchable when I stepped up with Jake and Ryan, but I had to yield to pilots sinking in front of (and below) launch.  Jon yelled from above to stay put.  I kept telling myself patience is a virtue and waited.  Jeff B found a nice climb to the right of launch that I wanted to join, but the wind was now blowing across launch and it was unsafe to go.  Sigh.

Once everyone climbed away and the thermal faded it was safe to launch and I ran off.  I danced around the mountain top for awhile before Jake, Jeff, and I found the elevator near the radio towers.  We spun up to cloud base which was surprisingly high and cold.

The three of us shared several climbs as we flew over the Connecticut River, Claremont, and Kelleyville.  I caught up with Randy near Kelleyville but couldn't wait as I was thrown to cloud base.  I cruised over Newport and found a climb over Lake Sunapee.  I saw Randy climbing at the south end of the lake but lost Jake and Jeff.  I continued on to New London and found a strong, but skinny, climb near the golf course.  I watched a sail plane flounder below me as I beamed out.  I wish I could have told the pilot they brought the wrong weapon to the fight!

I made a mistake leaving a good line of clouds to get video from the top of Mount Kearsarge.  The clouds to the east of Kearsarge were drying up, but I thought I would be able to squeeze enough out of them to make it to the more robust clouds on the other side of the Merrimack River valley.  I waited too long to return to the good line of clouds to the north and arrived at the river south of Tilton too low to continue traveling east.


I was looking around at the clouds when I spotted John above me in a weak climb.  Where did he come from?  He didn't wait on the floundering fool below and moved on.  I continued searching until I found a slow climb that got me back to base and on my way east over the trees towards the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The road east

I easily connected a few climbs and flew directly over the raceway.  I picked out an oasis in the green and blue beyond that but had enough altitude to check out one more cloud before landing.  I found the thermal and started climbing and surveying land-able fields downwind.

Oasis among the trees

I convinced myself the openings in the trees ahead were useable LZs and kept moving.  I took my time enjoying the views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains.

Aside from a brief exchange with Peter, I could not raise any pilots on the radio since I left Mount Ascutney.  (I knew my radio was working since I had a pleasant conversation with another amateur radio operator on the ground).  When I had the airfield in Rochester within glide, I decided to land there and wait for a ride instead of flying to the next cloud and potentially landing on the beach south of Ogunquit Maine.  (Although I knew high tide was at 2 PM and the beach would be growing, I was worried about some unexpected summer festival complete with ferris wheels, tents, and crowds coming into view as I approached the beach with no other place to land!)

Airfield at Rochester.  (Ogunquit beach is the bright line beyond the next cloud shadow.)

I flew off my altitude touring the town and taking pictures of Great Bay and the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease.

Great Bay and Pease airfield.  (Notice thickening clouds chasing us).

I flew over the Rochester airfield checking the landing options and wind direction.  I was getting ready to start an overly long open approach pattern when I noticed a hang glider off the northeast end of the runway.  What the....  I thought twice about giving up a nice airfield, but it would be fun to land with another pilot.  I flew in under the glider and it turned out to be John again.  He was circling in a weak thermal that I was able to use to climb up to him.


John broke to the left as I continued to float along in a lifting line to the right.  I was soon 1500 feet (500m) above him as I watched him turn back to the west.  He continued back to the northwest as I checked out the golf course below me.  I knew I would have a long wait for a retrieve.  Should I land with John in a muddy farm field with mosquitos and black flies or on a golf course with a mowed lawn, wind indicators, and a clubhouse with drinks and dinner?  Um.  Bye John!

I checked the wind direction using the flags on the clubhouse and greens at The Links at Outlook.  Light southwest.  Good.  How can I make this landing fun?  I settled on a wire-singing flyover, a high-bank turn around some trees, and then a long swoop across the driving range and an uphill landing below the club house.  I nailed the landing with a no-step flare and was rewarded with applause from the small crowd.  I rotated the glider and took a few steps to a shady spot along split-rail fence to break down.

I knew John landed nearby, but I soon got a text from Randy saying he landed about 10 miles (16 km) to the southeast at York Beach, Maine.  Flying from Mount Ascutney to the coast is a rite of passage in New England and he had just joined that elite beach club.  Congratulations Randy!

It was a good day overall.  John had turned around to ensure he landed in Maine, a first for him.   Jake landed in Candia, Jon in Strafford, Kip in Epsom, Jeff B in Concord, Jeff C (a personal best) and Peter in North Sutton, and Allen, Bob, and Doug at Morningside.  The first-timer Russ had a great flight in spite of having trouble getting down to land!

As expected, retrieval was a logistical workout.  After Lee packed up at Morningside, he drove Peter's truck to pick up Peter and Jeff C.  They then drove to Concord where Jeff jumped into Randy's car to fetch Randy and I.  Allen followed Jeff to join Randy's celebration at the beach.  Jake and Jeff B drove north to pick up John, and Doug drove from Morningside to get Jon.  (Thank-you Lee, Peter, and Jeff for the pickup).

I spent the evening going for a walk starting at the Red Barn at Outlook Farm, where a wedding reception was in full swing.

I walked to the center of South Berwick and just snuck into a small store before closing time for a cookie.

I was completely dark when Jeff and Allen pull in and even later when we reached Randy.  Although Randy tried, we didn't get our customary lobster dinner.  We were lucky to find a bar still open on a Sunday evening that served pub food.  We left York at midnight and I got home in the rain around 2 AM.

It was a very enjoyable day using high cloud bases, light winds, and reasonable thermals to launch in Vermont, traverse New Hampshire, and then land in Maine.  Even better was taking in the scenery and sharing the excitement with a bunch of pilots after a good day of flying.

Randy wrote about his flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:11, Distance: 84.9 miles (straight-line)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Play Time

Jeff and John met at my house last Saturday so we could car-pool to Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts.  We made a small detour to Benardston to pick up Matt, who volunteered to chase for the day.

A small group of hang glider and paraglider pilots were already milling around launch when we arrived.  As expected the wind was light and highly variable.  Peter warned us to keep an eye on our gliders since dust devils were occasionally ripping through.

A couple paragliders pilots managed to launch and hang on by the time I was done rigging.

Everyone else was lounging around; I'm too impatient for that scene!  After a couple failed inflation attempts by the paraglider pilots on launch, I moved to launch with Keith's help.

Photo by Geotaru

A slight breeze was blowing in so I wasted no time and ran into the air.  I danced about in front in weak thermals and attracted attention.


George and Jeff on launch

It wasn't long before we had a hearty thermal drift through and we all starting climbing to base.

Jeff (with swarm of pilots around launch below)

George and Jeff followed when I took off to the north.  A small wispy cloud formed below as we cruised through.

The flying was fun and easy.  We took our time and stayed high which allowed George and Jeff to stay within a comfortable glide of LZs while we flew into the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Yep, they're green

Looking back at Mount Greylock

The sky started to overdevelop as we approached the area north of Bennington Vermont where the LZs become scarce.  I wanted to get high before flying into that area.


I flew out over the valley to explore a dying cloud while George and Jeff stayed on the sunny lee-side of the mountains.  I was surprisingly rewarded with a brisk climb while they fell out of the sky.  We were no longer flying together.  (They eventually landed near Bennington).

I continued on to another climb as the area around me became entirely shaded.  PK, who was stranded by tailwinds on launch at Mount Equinox with Doug, John, Nick, and Ross, was also complaining about the near total cloud cover.  I kept looking for bits of climb under the mass of ragged clouds or over sunlight forests but I sank to ridge height just as I approached the area with no landing areas.  Sigh.

Trees everywhere

I used what remaining altitude I had to fly back to an good LZ.

I sniffed out a very weak (50 fpm ; 0.25 m/s) thermal and did my best to not lose it.  Meanwhile, Kip and John were making their way onto the Green's and PK was asking where I was.  I responded "pick the last place you would want to be; low, in the valley, in the shade, with your back against the trees; that's where I'm at!"  PK chuckled and tortured me with chirping vario sounds.  At first I thought he was still on launch giving me grief, but soon realized he was in the air climbing to the north of me.

I made it back to ridge height in my little thermal before it faded away.  I still wasn't high enough to move on.  I searched the valley for a real thermal before slinking back to that same field lower than before.  However this time I found a stronger consistent climb in the same place.  Although I didn't get back to cloud base, I was finally high enough to move on.

PK flew south to greet me and we shared a nice climb on the west side of the valley that once again got me almost to ridge height before we continued north.  I was crushed on the following glide and headed for the main LZ at Mount Equinox.  I flew over the main LZ but decided to turn around and land in a freshly baled hayfield and planted cornfield.

I was packing up when Ross and then John landed after sledding off Mount Equinox.  A bit later the owner of the fields, Hamilton Hayes, pulled up in his tractor.

Hamilton Hayes

He was very gracious and we had a good chat.  I told him I was impressed he managed bale hay given the non-stop rain we've had.  He said even the hillside was still soggy and he would have to roll the bales over to let the bottoms dry.  We talked about his relative that is a smoke jumper and is on duty in Colorado before he returned to baling hay across the far tree line.

I was killing time chatting with John and Ross when Kip floated in from Greylock!  Nicely done.

PK, who landed in the secondary Equinox LZ, stopped in for a chat before I talked him into giving me a lift to the ice cream stand up the road.  Matt, Jeff, John, and George passed us as we were turning into the road-side stand and did a quick 180.  We enjoyed ice cream and shared stories before heading back to the field to pick up my gear.  (John landed at the airport in Bennington).

Back at the field we loaded Kip's gear on my car and then drove back to the bail-out LZ in North Adams where he, Nick, and Ross met us.  (We didn't have room for another body in the car).  George took off for Gary's place, Nick and Ross left for home, and we dropped Matt off before continuing east to home ourselves.

It was fun day playing in very pleasant air with my friends.  I even got ice cream!

Here is my video from the flight,

Other pilots also posted some videos herehere, and here.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:33, Distance: 34 miles

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No Drama

The weather forecast for Saturday looked OK, but the forecast for Sunday looked even better.  However seven days of rain made most New England pilots too air-horny to hold back; me included.  Jeff C, JJ, John B, Lee, Peter and I met at the Tyngsboro Massachusetts Park & Ride to carpool to Mount Ascutney in Vermont.

The hike to launch was as punishing as ever but at least it was cool.  The wind was reasonably blowing in, which calmed our fears it might be blown out.  The only other fly-in-the-oinment was the ragged edge of thick cirrus shearing off to the southeast but slowing creeping eastward as well.  Speaking of flies, the dang black flies were feasting on us and made it especially easy to launch early.

Nate and Ryan helped Jon launch first in his ATOS, then Jake, then me, and then Jeff B.  We easily climbed in a mix of ridge lift and generally weak mellow thermals.


After a brief pause, the rest of the pilots piled off and we spent about an hour bouncing between a broken shaded cloud base and the top of the mountain.

Looking north



Breaks in the cirrus allowed the sun to cook up stronger thermals and we started leaving the mountain.  John was the first to leave and was rewarded with a strong climb and an envious ride towards the dinosaur country to the southeast.  I left with the next climb but put on the brakes over Claremont with Kip and Jeff C thinking I should let the ground heat up before venturing over areas with limited landing areas.  It seemed like a reasonable plan, but instead of building, the existing clouds dissipated and I had to settle with a slow climb as I drifted towards John to the southeast.

I watched Jeff B glide through the blue to the north and then turn back to land below me near the Home Depot in Claremont.  Since Jeff has been tearing up the sky this year; it wasn't a good sign!  John flew back upwind and settled into a climb with PK just northeast of my climb.  Jake, and then Jeff, flew into the area and also climbed back up.

Meanwhile Lee was reporting conditions from Morningside as JJ was making his first XC trip from Ascutney.  Peter warned that the water in the pond was cold this time of year but JJ continued on anyway.  (I'll explain that comment later).

I had drifted southeast of Kelleyville when I asked on the radio if anyone wanted to push on.  Silence.  Long awkward silence.  Ok then.  I decided to eventually land at Morningside so I could celebrate with JJ and check out the hanger renovations.

Jeff C, PK, and I played at cloud base east of Morningside before heading back.  Jeff, in a Sport 2, didn't have the glide so he peeled off to land where Jeff B landed earlier.  Jake took his altitude and pushed cross-upwind to the golf course across the river in Vermont, Jon went the furthest and landed in Hillsboro, Megan landed out front, and the rest landed at Morningside.  I had a nice landing on the grass runway and walked across the road to break down.  Finally a sweet "no drama" flight.

As tradition dictates, JJ was tossed into the pond to commemorate his first trip from Ascutney to Morningside.  Congratulations JJ!

We got a picture of the pilots that flew in from Ascutney (in the background).  (I must point out the sky did NOT look like that when we were flying.)

Doug, PK, John, Kip, Peter, me, JJ

Lee, Peter, and I stopped for dinner at the Strange Brew Tavern in Manchester on the way back.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:27, Distance: 22 miles (3-point turn)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Efficient Use of the Day

I wanted to go flying last Friday after missing a spectacular day on Thursday.  However the forecast was marginal and there was a substantial risk of driving 5 hours for a sled ride or less.  Peter called and we had that awkward conversation where each of us is hoping the other convinces us it is worth going!  The best Peter could come up with was "it's forecasted to rain for the next week" and "it never blows out at Mount Greylock", (the best choice given the forecast).  When neither of us committed to going, we hung up.  I immediately regretted my lack of action when I realized what lay in store for me if I stayed home (i.e., work).  Luckily, Peter felt the same way and called back in a few minutes saying he was going.  That was enough to tip the scale.

Peter drove to my place where we hastily tossed his glider and gear onto my car and started driving.  The forecast called for increasing winds and cirrus; likely blown- and shaded-out by mid-afternoon.  Gary and Keith were already at launch when we arrived in the valley below, so we continued up the mountain to launch.  Amy, Carlos, and Dan arrived shortly after we did.  (Brooks showed up a bit later).

Unlike our previous day out, we had the mountain to ourselves.  It was also unusually breezy.  We normally launch with little to no wind since the east slope does not face the predominate wind direction.  Instead of praying for a helpful puff of wind, we waited for lulls to launch.  Gary helped Keith launch first and then me.  I left the ground before noon.

For the first hour or so we played around the top of the mountain in a mix of weak thermals and ridge lift. Clouds started forming as the pressure dropped with the approaching storm.  We were soon dancing at cloud base around 5000 feet (1500m).

Amy was having too much fun looking down on me as we pushed upwind to the southeast.  ;-)

Peter and I had "an agreement", so extensive XC was not on the menu but a short excursion upwind would be ok.  I pushed upwind to the southeast and then crosswind to the south.  I got a good look at Pittsfield MA, a possible future destination.

I flew from cloud-to-cloud staying between 4500 and 5500 feet (1300 - 1500m).  Several times I arrived at the next cloud above base.

Windmills above a ski area.
(Click to see a larger version of any image.)

As expected the downwind trip back to Greylock took very little time.

Peter radio'ed he was going to land.  I announced I would join him as the wind in the valley was obviously increasing and high cirrus was smothering the sky above.

I tried to partially unzip my harness while still 3000 feet (900m) above the valley floor when I noticed it was snagged at thigh height.  At first I thought I caught my pants in the zipper, but that wasn't the case.  I radio'ed Peter and told him I might have to land on my belly.  Not a big deal, but not something I wanted to do.  I wiggled my knee up high enough to push it out above the stuck zipper but then couldn't get my foot out OR my leg back in.  Crap, that definitely wouldn't work.  So I literally pushed my leg back in taking off some skin on my shin in the process.  Ok, that hurt.  I still had time to figure this out so I pushed up with my left leg and managed to get my entire right leg out but then realized I couldn't get my left leg out.  Oops.  Now I was in trouble!  I was settling below ridge height (around 2000 feet / 600m) and the air was getting turbulent.  I knew I couldn't put my leg back in so I unzipped the top zipper as far as I dare, pulled myself up on the base bar, and shimmied up the inside of the harness.  Whew, I finally got my other leg out!  Too much drama in my flights lately but this one ended with a nice landing into the wind at The Range.

Brookes landed shortly after we did and said the thermals were fading away.  A quick look at the cirrus in the sky provided the reason.

I confirmed it was blown out when I checked out launch while fetching the car.

Peter making a point with visitors from Arknasaw.

We meet for drinks, dinner, and storytelling at the Freight Yard Pub near the base of the mountain.

It appears we made efficient use of the day, leaving little behind.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:10, Distance: 17.5 miles (3 point)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Party at the Mountain

Two weekends ago, Sunday May 20, most of the New England flying community rendezvoused at Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts.  I met Jeff and Randy in Leominster so we could carpool.  Rodger showed up as we were tying down the gliders on Randy's car.  We needed to take 2 vehicles so Jeff hoped in with Rodger and we drove the 2 hours to The Range, the primary LZ at the base of the mountain.  Randy, Jeff, myself, Filippo and his wife jumped in with Kip for the ride to launch.  (Rodger rode up with Lee and Peter).

Although we were early, the parking lot and mountain top was already crawling with pilots.  (59 pilots registered in the log book).  We rigged while talking with pilots and spectators alike.

Since the paraglider pilots showed it was soarable I wanted to launch, however I was trapped.  With some mild coaxing, Filippo and Randy moved to launch which opened a corridor for me to escape.  I immediately turned right after launching and found a quick pop over the road that put me near the top.

Notice the leaves are still absent on many of the trees near the summit.

However I was quickly back into the mix with everyone else, bobbing and weaving through the airborne crowd.

It was crowded but not unpleasantly so.  I easily climbed with others above launch several times before settling back down for more mountaintop flying.

I played the up-and-down game coming back to the mountain several times until I squandered my altitude at the same time Filippo, John, PK, and Randy decided to leave.  Sigh.  I was alone below launch as a sink-cycle sent many gliders towards the bail-out LZ below.  Seeing the writing on the wall, I flew north until I found a broken area of weak lift.

I left the climb too early trying to catch up with my XC buddies that previously abandoned me.  That left me low over the airport in the gap.

I usually don't find climbs here since the wind blowing through the gap shreds thermals.  However, today was my lucky day and I stumbled into a climb that allowed me to continue on.

The thermal started fading around 4500 feet (1300m).

I should have stayed in the climb, as I learned later, pilots were climbing to 7000 feet (2100m).  Instead I dove off to the tree covered mountains to the north.

I carefully looked for any other gliders to the north but didn't see any because they were further west.  Doh!  I flew a large slow search pattern and couldn't find a climb.  As I descended to tree-top height, I had to decide if I wanted to probably land outside the reach of the local cab company or return to the airport and get a cab ride back to the LZ.  In an uncharacteristic move, I decided to give up and return to the airport.  (No one, aside from Filippo, had a driver and I wasn't up for a long convoluted retrieve.)

I made it back to the airport but the fun wasn't over yet.  As you can see in the picture above, I'll probably land near, or on, the paved crossway between the taxiway on the left and the runway on the right.  There is a large runway sign and lights along the crossway as well.  I knew I should toss in a quick 360 and land short, but for some unknown reason I thought it would "be ok".  Right.

I glided down the middle of the grass between the taxiway and runway and *surprise* had to veer to the left to miss the runway sign.  Just as I was slowing to flare, the wind swung right to 90-degree cross to the runway.  Wouldn't have been an issue, except I was turning away from the runway sign (crossing downwind) and poorly flaring over the asphalt crossway.  I put on a good show for the sailplane pilots. At least I broke my fall to the asphalt with my elbow ... and my nose cone ... and my carbon base bar.  Sigh.

I picked myself up and walked the glider off the taxiway.  Aside from the road rash, me and glider seemed ok.  I looked up and several paraglider pilots taunted me by floating by far overhead.  I then watched Bianca land along the runway closer to the hangers.  I packed up and began hiking to the gate.  Bianca met me part way and carried my harness out of the airfield.  Thanks!

Gary drove in and graciously offered a ride.  Super!  I talked with Gary, Nick and Meagan while we waited for Stephan to land before driving back up the mountain.  Since we left Randy's car at the bottom and Filippo's wife drove Kip's truck down, I searched the parking lot for an open vehicle.  I found Keith's keys and drove his truck down.

Once back at the bottom I noticed the tip of my elbow had swollen to the size of a tennis ball.  It didn't hurt, but did look, um, odd.  Kip showed up in a taxi and said he landed with Jeff, who was keeping a watchful eye on their gliders, in a hayfield across the border in Vermont.  I followed Kip in Randy's car to their LZ. In another uncharacteristic move, I asked Jeff if he would pick up Randy, who landed much further north and out of cellphone range, by himself.  He was a great sport and signed on for a late night picking up Randy (and PK as well) by himself.

The slacker, me, rode back with Kip to the LZ and then rode east towards home with Lee and Peter.  We stopped for dinner which allowed me time to reflect on my less-than-stellar performance (on many levels) with good friends.  I realized maybe I was placing too much value on competing with myself and others and not enough on just enjoying flying with friends at a mountain in the spring in New England.  Using an admittedly poor analogy, "I didn't go home with the best woman at the party but it was still a heck of a party."

Pilots posted many videos from that day.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:12, Distance: 13 miles (3-point)