Thursday, April 10, 2014

(Almost) Around the Swamp

I only flew one day at QuestAir this spring, Thursday April 10.  The day looked good and I would finally be flying with cumulus.  Although it would have been fun to fly open distance, I didn't have a driver so I would have to stay reasonably close.  Dean Funk, Greg Dinauer, and I mulled over several options, but decided to fly around the Green Swamp.  The forecast predicted a SE wind, so we decided to tackle the largest upwind section first so if we landed out it would be a quick ride back along Route 33.  Davis Straub joined the group.  I was excited and ready to go for our 1:30 launch.

The first climbs over QuestAir were disorganized but the four of us met at base before heading south towards the Seminole-Lake Gliderport.  Davis and Dean flew southwest along the eastern edge of the swamp, while Greg and I preferred to keep upwind along Route 33.  However, Davis found a good climb and we quickly gave up our hard-earned position and joined him.

Davis and Greg continued on, while Dean and I stayed for a full climb.  Dean and I had a fun glide together.  We slid close together for a photo-op, but the air got choppy just as we were wing-tip to wing-tip.

Dean in the foreground (Photo by Dean Funk)

I couldn't see Davis and Greg in front of us until Davis reported he was just a little north of the airfield.  Um, I thought, that's right in front of me.  I finally looked down and saw Davis very low working hard to stay airborne.  Greg, although low, had enough altitude to maneuver into a good climb.  Dean kept pushing south, while I stopped for a moderate climb.

I was impressed with Davis' tenacity.  I could see his shadow dancing along the ground and knew he was low.  Even so, he was following the shifting warm air and if not climbing, at least not going down.

I soon pushed upwind towards Dean's last position and once again I couldn't see the glider that I knew should be in front of me.  I looked down at the airfield as I flew into strong sink and saw Dean landing, with style, on the runway.  Um, Dean just landed, Davis is fighting to stay in the air, and I'm sinking like a stone.  I flew directly to a large field at the intersection of 33 and 474 just in case.  Still on glide, but planning my landing approach, I slammed into a 500-700 fpm climb with no warning.  It wasn't surrounded by turbulence and wasn't weak at the edges.  I banked into a steep turn and didn't even need to center.  Just what the doctor ordered!

Greg joined me in that climb to base.  We flew back upwind to snag the turn point at the intersection and headed southwest along the swamp.  Once again, I thought I was done when I arrived at the edge of the swamp low and in the shade.  I flew as deep into the trees as I dared and slowly started piecing climbs together.  Greg, who was higher, led the way to the southernmost turn point.  He decided to push further south towards what he thought would be a climb.  Although I wanted to grab the turn point and head downwind, I stayed with Greg because two heads are usually better than one.

We groveled in numerous broken climbs until Greg beamed out and left to avoid the clouds above.  I couldn't find his escalator until I climbed to the magic altitude and then I too was escorted to base.  Meanwhile, Davis landed near the southernmost turn point.

Then my brain turned to mush.  I routinely take calculated risks that don't pay off, but I rarely make major bone-headed strategy mistakes.  I approached the third turn point much higher than Greg.  Instead of grabbing the turn point and heading on course, I veered off course to Greg's position.  Not the best decision, but not unreasonable.  I climbed to base, still above Greg, and needed to leave to avoid the controlled airspace directly over our heads.  I lost a lot of altitude beating back upwind to the turn point.  For some unknown reason, instead of continuing on to a line of clouds over the swamp, I turned back downwind to "top off" again in that climb.  Dumb.  Of course I lost altitude gliding back and when I realized the climb was too far away I had to turn around and lost even more altitude coming back.  Sigh.  By now I was much lower than Greg and spent most of my remaining time low drifting across the countryside from LZ to LZ.

Greg continued on as I played with vultures and anything else that looked like it might be going up.  I called in twice to report I was close to landing, but managed to find something weak to drift in. As Greg took off for the last turn point over the swamp, I finally found a series of climbs that got me high enough that I could choose where to go.  Since the day was dying, I made a "Hail Mary" move by flying deep into the swamp towards a single cloud.  Unfortunately, I didn't have enough altitude to fully search the area and had to retreat to a large field near the intersection of Route 50 and 301.

Davis suggested calling Belinda for a ride earlier in the flight, but since she had already driven south to pick up Davis, I thought I could "spread the pain" by finding someone "hanging around" at the flight park that could drive my car over.  I called Mark and few minutes later he called back to tell me Andre was on his way.  About that time, Greg, who was on final to QuestAir, told me to call Belinda.  I soon found out that Davis was also on his way to pick me up.  Wow, two retrieves!  Since I didn't have Andre's number, I quickly called Davis to thank him and to have him turn around before he got too far down the road.  (Again, thanks Davis!)

I chatted with a motorcyclist and enjoyed the spring flowers while waiting for Andre.

On our way back I learned Andre was waiting for evening air to get a checkout flight on the DragonFly.  (Thanks Andre!)

Andre preparing for a checkout flight with Jim

I didn't get much video footage during this flight, but here are a few raw clips that show how nice the sky looked.

Davis posted a description of the flight on the Oz Report.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:43, Distance: 48.1 miles (on task), 57 miles

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Outside the Bubble

I put hang gliding activities on hold as Amy and I spent a few days outside the bubble.  We spent the first day at Sun 'n Fun, a large air show in Lakeland, Florida.  We bumped into Armin, Bruce Hawk, Russell Brown, and Tom Peghiny at the show.  Tom gave us the grand tour of the Flight Design USA lineup.  Very impressive planes.

Tom giving the tour.  (Photo by Amy)

While I enjoyed seeing and walking through many of the parked aircraft, Amy's eyes were glued to the sky as the jet-jockeys from the Blue Angels practiced overhead.  We were also treated to a aerobatics show later in the afternoon that included a wide range of aircraft.

(Photos by Amy)

The next morning we packed up the camper and left Wallaby Ranch for a weekend at Fisheating Creek in southern Florida.  On Saturday we paddled among alligators, birds, and fish while I occasionally looked up at the cumulus-filled sky.

Later in the day, we stopped by the Florida Ridge. We caught-up with James Tindle, his wife, Steve Larson, and many other old friends.  Steve confirmed I missed a good day by explaining in depressing detail how he just flew a large rectangular course around the area.  (Davis posted a description of the flight on the Oz Report).

Zak Majors and crew.  What is his secret?  ;-)

We packed up and drove north to QuestAir on Sunday to avoid moving in foul weather.  On Monday, a non-flying day, we visited the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando.


Amy caught a flight home on Tuesday and I waited for at least another day of flying before driving home.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

False Start

Although the weather wasn't great (no clouds, low top-of-climb), I didn't have a driver (Amy was visiting a friend in Orlando), and no one else was interested, I still hoped to fly cross-country.  Linda offered to pick Mitch and I up after she finished flying for the day, but Mitch was not enthused.

I pinned off low after slamming into a thermal that was close to throwing me off tow anyway.  I spun up to the top floor that was already occupied by a few others.

I was at the northern edge of a safe glide back when I asked if anyone was interested joining me for a little XC adventure.  Mitch, who was just above and behind me, replied "I'm right with you!"  I interpreted that as "Lets go do this together" and proceeded to zoom off to the northwest.  It wasn't until I was low and looked back did I realize he had turned around.  Sigh.  Since my only potential ride was connected with Mitch I decided turn around as well.  I found a climb drifting away and worked my way back upwind.

I spent the afternoon playing in the sky with friends, birds, and aircraft associated with Sun 'n Fun in nearby Lakeland.  I don't know if it was associated with the air show or not, but I had a large airliner fly under me as it flew directly northeast along Route 4.

White object below my forearm is a large aircraft

Although the air was pleasant, I bagged the idea of being the last to land.  I flew north to wave goodbye to Rick in his Stalker and then took a long glide and climb to the south to wave goodbye to Mitch.

Stressful climb  ;-)


I flew back to the ranch via a wire-singing high-speed glide.  Everything was blissfully easy until I watched the wind in the LZ swing from east-southeast to the north as I setup my approach.  I should have landed along the western runway that faces north-northeast, but I was afraid the wind would switch back to the east-southeast causing me to land downwind.  Instead I landed to the northeast end of the field, but too close to the tree line.  I ended up plopping on my stomach as I ran out of airspeed in the rotor just as I started to flare.  At least I landed in front of, and to the amusement of, a large group of pilots.  Sigh.

Here is a short video from the day.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:41

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

April Fools

The gang at Wallaby Ranch wondered if mother nature was pulling an April Fools' joke on us when the first pilots towed into the blue sky quickly returned to earth.  Scott L, myself, and a few other patient pilots dragged our feet as long as we could before slowly, and I mean slowly, heading to the launch line.  Luckily, we waited just long enough for the day to turn on and avoid the initial sledder.

Although the day started slowly, it got progressively more soarable and everyone had an enjoyable afternoon in the air.  I flew several 20 mile (30 km) triangles while staying mostly within glide of the ranch.



Once again, I was the last to land at 5:30.  I parked the glider, ran through the shower, and quickly joined a group for dinner.  It was a good ending to a day where the joke could have easily been on us.

Here is a short video of the flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:15