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