Sunday, May 19, 2013

That's Different

The weather forecast for Saturday was interesting.  High pressure was building over the Gulf of Maine and would be pushing a convergence line inland 60 miles (100 km) to the west by late afternoon.  Another convergence line would be pushing north 40 miles (65 km) from Long Island Sound.  The winds were predicted to be light, the lift strong, and the clouds high in the area along the Connecticut River valley between New Hampshire and Vermont.  Morningside Flight Park was right in the middle of all that goodness so it was an easy decision on where to start.  The tougher part was where to go.  East and south were dead ends.  The area to the north was predicted to over-develop, with clouds choking off the solar thermal generator.  The area to the west was predicted to be blue and more stable. Sounded like a day for triangles or short out-and-back trips.

I tossed on with Allen S and Randy at Randy's place around 8am.  John B and Jeff C left about an hour later.  After signing waivers and buying ride coupons, saying hello to Dave, Ilya, Kevin, Pat, and others, we searched for a board to support our carbon base-bars on the carts we use to haul gliders to the 450 foot launch (137 m).  All three of us rode up the hill looking for scrap lumber.  It was such a nice day, I decided to walk back down.

250 foot (76 m) launch

We decided to practice foot-launching and landing before heading across the road for aero-towing.  It wasn't soarable on the hill, but it was still blowing in slightly at times.  Allen launched while Dave was driving me up.  Randy was waiting on launch for a soarable cycle when we arrived.  I was on the verge of asking Randy to step aside when the wind started blowing in.  Randy launched and climbed a little before landing across the road with Allen.  Ilya, who was next in line to launch, suggested I go next.  Ok!  It was still blowing in but dying when I stepped onto launch.  I decided to wait for the next sign of soarable conditions; and wait I did.  We watched Pat launch behind Eric in the tug across the road.  A crowd started to collect in the shade under my glider.  We watched fluffy seeds slowly drift up, down, across, and over the back.  The sky looked good so I decided to abort my attempt at soaring the hill and took my no-wind-launch sledder to the runway like a man.  (I later heard that John waited almost an hour on launch before walking down with his glider.  He noticed it was blowing in when passing the 250 launch and ran off there!  Jeff spent the afternoon perfecting spot landings.)

I helped Pat relaunch as Randy landed after a short flight off tow.  Um, not encouraging.  I had an uneventful and unpromising tow behind Eric.  I released and immediately headed west to a disturbance on the river presumably caused by a thermal lifting off.  I found a very weak climb, hugged it tightly, and slowly climbed up and away.

Morningside (lower-left center)

The day's weather continued to intrigue me.  Climbs below 3000 feet (900 m) were weak to non-existent.  Climbs between 3000 and 5000 feet (1500 m) were wire-twanging turbulent.  (My instrument pod pounded onto my helmet on one violent weightless snap).  Above 7000 feet (2100 m) the air was frigid and the climbs ballistic.  Large areas of cumulus would develop, shade the ground, dry out to blue, and then start over.  It was important to keep moving around to avoid the localized overdevelopment and crushing sink that followed the collapses.

My afternoon was dominated by a rookie mistake of leaving winter gloves in the harness and wearing spring gloves with heat packs instead.  I don't like cold and it was freezing; literally. Whenever high, I would loose feeling in my fingers and eventually the ability to move them.  The line from my water bladder froze solid and didn't thaw until I landed.  This meant I needed long glides into the blue so I could get below 5000 feet (1500 m) and into warmer air.  Even so, I was having a great flight.

I shared a climb with Pat and then a climb with John A, who launched with Jake from Mount Ascutney.  John headed west towards the Springfield airport while I headed towards Mount Ascutney.  I had to turn around when a collapsing large cloud complex caught me.  My vario was pegged in the sink.  Yikes!

Connecticut River (looking south)

Connecticut River (looking north towards Mount Ascutney)

I was more careful the next time and flew directly over the launch that Jake and John used about an hour earlier.  I then flew to the Springfield Airport and briefly considered flying to Ludlow before turning southeast to the town of Springfield and then back to Morningside for a 39 mile (63km) triangle.

Springfield Airport

Springfield, Vermont

I returned to Morningside and shared a climb with Randy and then Pat before heading west to complete another smaller 22 mile (35 km) triangle.

East of Morningside


The cold was finally winning out, so I started gliding in the blue to keep warm even as I passed John B climbing as I returned to Morningside the second time.

Claremont Airport

I spent the long time needed to glide off 9200 feet (2800 m) to enjoy the scenery, experiment with the glider, and warm up.  I was glad I decided to call-it-a-day when I watched the wind mills in Lempster slow to a stop, turn 180 degrees, and slowly start turning again; a sure sign the shift to the strong easterly wind was getting near.

I was all set for a spot landing when Dave and I decided to use the LZ at the same time.  The look on his face when he first saw me also turning onto final was precious!  We both maneuvered to good safe landings, but neither close to the bulls eye.

Everyone, aside from Randy, landed back at Morningside.  He flew east and then south as he overflew the convergence line and landed into an east wind about 30 miles (48 km) away at the airfield in Hillsboro.  Allen and I packed up, drove to Hillsboro to pick up Randy, had some ice cream to hold us over until we had dinner in Peterborough.

If I had wore winter gloves I might have tried for a larger triangle, maybe across the Green Mountains to Rutland Vermont and back.  Even so, I manage 61 miles of XC and 3+ hours on a unique flying day in New England.

Flights: 2, Duration: 3:17, Distance: 39 miles, 22 miles

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Not Going Down Without a Fight

I planned to meet Allen and Randy at 8am for a trip to Mount Equinox.  However, a quick check of the weather around 6am showed the winds were going to be SW instead of the required SE.  After a telephone conversation with Peter, I decided to join him and Jeff for a trip to our club's launch in West Rutland, Vermont instead.  Allen and Randy also decided to skip Mount Equinox and go practice take-offs and landings at Morningside.  JJ decided to fly at West Rutland but skipped the car pool for the ~3 hour drive.

We caught up with Allen, JJ, and Randy on Route 12 north of Keene, New Hampshire.  We knew Allen and Randy changed their minds when Allen turned to cross the Connecticut River south of Walpole, NH instead of continuing north to Morningside.

It was blowing straight in when we arrived at launch and continued to come in nicely as we rigged.  More and more of the regulars walked in as we prepared for a pleasant day of spring flying.

Calef launched with his paraglider first and got above launch but slowly sank out.  No big deal I thought, the day just wasn't ripe yet.  However the day started changing, and not for the better.

Photo by Krassi

No one wanted to launch.  Why not?

Photo by Krassi

Look at the windsock!  The wind shifted to the SE, which was mostly over-the-back.  PK, shown above, finally got into the air with an invigorating and gasp-inducing launch.  He was losing his battle with gravity until he found a climb near the LZ.  The next act on the roster was Randy.  His launch was good, but still exciting.  Even more exciting was his climb-out after following John's time-tested advice to dash around the southern edge of the ridge line.  Pilots cheered as he circled over our heads, vario beeping loudly.  Krassi was next.  He had a solid launch but slowly sank to the LZ.

I was next.  I had reasonably good launch conditions and was airborne without any drama.  Like Randy, I dove around the spine to the left of launch.  Unlike Randy, I was unceremoniously thrown towards the mountain when I flew into mechanical turbulence.  I avoided the outstretched limbs of the trees below me but lost precious altitude recovering and turning back for more.  There was nothing but sink left for me there, so I turned tail and ran toward the foothills.

I found weak broken bits of lift that would allow me to climb a couple hundred feet (60m) at a time before disappearing.  I keep finding bits of lift that I was sure would take me up and away.

Launch is at opposite end of the ridge line

I marked a thermal for PK, who climbed out 500 feet (150m) above me while I floundered below.  I chased a circling bird into the valley that immediately left on glide when I got there.

Bird is near center of the plowed field

It was soon obvious that I was destined for a short flight.  I briefly enjoyed the green leaves sprouting in the valley.

I chased my shadow to the ground.  It ended in a tie!

Peter and JJ landed a short time later.  The soar masters, Randy, John, and finally PK, joined us short-timers.

Peter, JJ, Randy, myself, Krassi; photo by Krassi

Jeff and a couple other sledding pilots landed in the LZ at the other end of the valley.  George and another PG pilot had short flights down the valley.  The rest of the pilots decided to pack up and drive down.  (Thanks Allen for driving Peter's vehicle down).

It is frustrating that after all these years of trying to predict weather, a large number of us ended up at the wrong launch.  At least we didn't go down without a fight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:20

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Spring in New England has been unusually mild by all accounts this year, including temperature, rainfall, and wind.  It has been painful watching cumulus clouds drift far overhead in light winds and warm air as the snow slowly melts off our mountain sites.  So I was excited to hear Rhett was firing up Hang Glide New England for the season at Tanner-Hiller airport in central Massachusetts last weekend.

I picked up Randy on the other side of town Sunday morning before returning home to pick up Jeff before starting our relatively short 1 hour drive.  John, Nick, and Nolle where already there when we arrived.  Max, Peter, and another half dozen pilots dribbled in as we rigged.

Nick and Nolle launched and managed to stay airborne.  Peter flew on Friday and kept emphasizing how cold it was at base (21F / -6C).  I put on every layer I could and still squeeze into the harness and then waddled out to the tow line.  Peter reported climbing at 700 fpm (3.5m/s) as I got ready to launch.

As usual, the tow behind Rhett was civilized; maybe a bit too civilized.  Aside from a strong surge at the end of the runway, we didn't come across anything else interesting until we bumped into something around 1800 feet (550m).  I released, climbed for a couple turns, and then sank out.  I essentially had a sled ride back to the field for a whopping 11 minute flight.  I landed mid-field to avoid turbulence.  Of course, I just about died of overheating on the long walk back.  Meanwhile Peter reported he was at 7500 feet (2280m).  Thanks Peter.

John essentially repeated my performance a few minutes later.  Randy was up next.  Like Peter, he immediately found a climb to base and was soon flying off to the north on a course we talked over beforehand.  A few minutes later Peter, who had fallen from grace, landed.

John, Peter, and I talked with Matt and others while we waited for the other pilots to get their first tow before giving it another go.  It was almost 4pm before I was rolling down the field again behind Rhett.  This time I stayed on for a full tow and still almost landed before finding a weak, but reliable, climb downwind of the field.

Climbing with a "local" off my wing

Given that Randy was somewhere downwind and Jeff already landed out, it began to look like I was the driver for the day.  That meant I needed to land back at the field and my car.  It wasn't my plan for the day, but hey, I was flying a new glider in good conditions with friends ... not exactly torture.

I flew over Jeff's landing field before returning to the field to watch Peter and several other pilots land.  I was getting low and planning my approach when I noticed a helicopter hovering up and down the runway that showed no signs of leaving.  Peter warned me on the radio, but I don't have an engine and when its time to land "its time to land"!  I did everything I could to delay my approach and stumbled into a strong climb upwind of the field that solved the problem.

The climb took me right back to base at 7000 feet (2133m) under a fantastic cloud street that stretched far to the north.

It was really late, but how could I resist running that thing?  Thoughts of getting back home at 6am the next morning is how!  (After some reflection, I should have thrown convenience under the bus and gone for it.)

I settled for evening views of the sun dancing on the Quabbin Reservoir and shadows creeping across rocky fields nestled between treed hillsides.

I capped the evening with 12 miles (20 km) of whistling high speed glides in relatively smooth but buoyant air.

Jeff, who found a ride to the airport, and Nick, who landed upwind in Ware, watched my active but fine landing in breezy conditions.

As I quickly packed up in fading daylight, we discovered Randy had landed 72 miles (116 km) away near Concord, New Hampshire.  After a few words with Bob and Rhett, Jeff and I drove to Barre to pick up his glider and then to my place where he left his car.  Meanwhile, Randy found a ride partway home to Chelmsford with Ilya and Krassi who were returning from a flying weekend at Morningside.  I met them for a late dinner before dropping Randy off at his place and returning home around midnight.

Check out the details of Randy's sweet flight on his blog Iron Man Hang-Gliding.

Flights: 2, Duration: 2:30