Monday, March 31, 2014


As flying fate dictates, the weather turned on Monday once most pilots left after the Wills Wings Demo Days at Wallaby Ranch.  The day started with crystal blue skies but started filling with scattered cirrus around noon.  We were slow to get going, but after looking at the visible satellite image I decided to launch instead of waiting for the day to get worse.

I didn't pay too much attention to the sky, so I was shocked at how dark it was once I cleared the tree line on launch.  Noticing that the top-of-climb (marked by a truncated column of smoke) was below tow height also sent fears of sledders through my spine.

I grabbed the first bit of lift I found and hung on.  It soon became apparent there was abundant but weak lift around.  However, since the top-of-climb was low, a bad glide could easily put you on the ground.

I spent the afternoon flying with friends ...

... and locals.

I kept looking up at Linda during the flight, but managed to hang on to get the last laugh by being the final one to land.

Here is a short video from the flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:06

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wills Wing Demo Days

Wallaby Ranch hosted Wills Wing's annual Demo Days last week.  Although the weather was not stellar, many pilots demo'ed gliders, flew newly purchased gliders, and earned aero-tow ratings.

I got to check out the new T2C wing tips and speed battens.

Malcolm and staff keep the flight line moving, the kitchen packed, the dance floor hopping, and even managed to host the big Saturday night dinner after the big tent was blown down during a severe thunderstorm.

Roberto Aguilar

Mike Meier

As always, I had a great time, caught up with many old friends and made many new ones.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Against the Wind

Life at Wallaby Ranch rolled on Saturday morning.  I watched tandems stream into the air, including this young pilot-to-be.  He was excited, but matter-of-fact, about his flight when we chatted later at breakfast.

The main feature for the day would be the brisk west wind.  Some pilots made plans for cross-wind XC flights, but I decided early on to prove to the skeptical that I could stay local.

I flew upwind towards the Green Swamp to the west.  It was evident early on that a western sea breeze would push through.

I made several trips west to Route 33 and quickly zipped back downwind to the ranch.  I shared a climb with a sailplane just north of the ranch.

I shared the sky with a bevy of happy pilots continually pounding upwind.

I tried to time my arrival to the field between thermals, rapidly circling down in sink.

However, I was less than successful.  I arrived in a full-on gusty thermal lift-off to everyone's amusement on the ground.  Although it was a carnival ride, I had a nice no-step landing.  (The two remaining pilots in the air, Oded and Jason, were not impressed with show.)

I patched together a short video of the flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:00

Friday, March 21, 2014


Although not as promising as Wednesday or Thursday, Friday also looked like a good day for sightseeing at Wallaby Ranch.  I planned to fly to Groveland and back since I didn't have a driver.  The day started later, but once it started blooming, it was calling all soaring pilots to go play.

Tommy launched first and struggled low over the field after getting off tow prematurely.  He landed and got back in line for another go.  He soon announced his position a climb or two away as I was on tow behind Fay.  I watched Mitch leave as I parked at base waiting for others.  After flying back to the field and seeing no one above 2000 feet (900 m) I turned around and headed northwest on course line in a light crossing downwind.

The climbs were predictable and strong.  The first thermal was 500 fpm (2.5 m/s), the second around 650 (3.3 m/s), and the third a robust 900 fpm (4.5 m/s).

Everything was going along according to plan ... until it wasn't.  I left cloud base with Groveland within easy reach (1500 feet over best glide) but found nothing but smooth sinking air.

I embarrassingly announced on the radio that I was probably going to land.  I picked a field and was making a last ditch cruise around the edge when I noticed Mitch on base into the same field.  Moments later I was standing on the ground next to him totally baffled as to what had just happened!

Mitch and I talked through possible scenarios but essentially came up empty.  We watched Mike Barber carefully pass overhead and found out later he almost made it back.  The only person that made the full round trip was Tommy.

Meanwhile Mitch and I were getting ready to file "change of address kits" with the U.S. Postal service.  Finally Mitch talked with Jim Prahl who, in Johnny's truck, gave us a lift to Quest Air where we could wait with something other than crickets for company.  (Thanks Jim!)  Mark gave me a complete tour of the recent renovations, while we waited for our possible drivers to land.

Jason hopped into my car and fetched us after he flew for most of the afternoon.  (Thanks Jason!) We returned to a full-on pizza party at the ranch and discussed our baffling misfortune with anyone that would listen.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:06, Distance: 17 miles (27 km)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Grounded by the President

I arrived at Wallaby Ranch around 1:30 AM Wednesday morning after driving 21.5 hours non-stop.  I crawled into the new Aliner camper I dragged south from Massachusetts and quickly feel asleep.

Unlike the 10F (-12C) temperature I left at home, it was warm and sunny when I awoke to the sound of Dragonfly tugs at 8:00 AM.  Everyone was excited by the promising forecast but I decided to stay earthbound knowing that Thursday would also be a good day.  My resolve to remain responsibly on the ground was tested when Mike Barber informed me that President Obama was flying into the area on Thursday and that we would be grounded between 11:00 AM and 4:15 PM.  Maturity won out even as I watched gliders circle overhead for hours.

We sat on the ground staring at gorgeous cummies as we sang the "president grounded me" blues Thursday afternoon.  Although we feared the FAA would extend the TFR past 4:15 due to scheduling delays, by 4:30 we were convinced it was safe to take off.

I was hoping, at best, to have a "one and done", a single thermal climb, before the day shut down.  However, the day was anything but that.  We were all treated to a couple hours of weak, smooth, and abundant lift; just what I needed after 6 months on the ground.

Paul dropped me off in a lazy climb over the field that eventually went to cloud base.  From there I headed west where I shared a climb with Johnny Durand, Brooks Ellison, and a upset feathered friend.

Johnny and friend

I played at base in pillow thermals with old- and soon-to-be friends.


I was about to land when I found a 30 fpm (0.15 m/s) climb back to base.  I used my reprieve to glide through the buttery air and smell the orange blossoms wafting towards the sky.

I topped off the flight with a no-step landing in front of an appreciative audience.

I captured some video during the flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:55