Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice

I was excited about Saturday all week.  Not just because the best part of the cross-country season was fading away and not just because I would be grounded for a week or two as I visited family and not just because everyone else was excited.  No, I was excited because the forecast looked great for a change.

I reviewed a course on Friday evening that Randy Brown planned to fly from Hang Glide New England in central Massachusetts to Chatham out on the cape.  Randy invited me to join him the next morning but I was already drafted into a crew going to Mount Ascutney in Vermont.  Oh, they also had a driver.

Jeff Curtis, Peter Judge, and Lee Minardi showed up bright and early at my place Saturday morning.  Lee decided to fly at Morningside instead of the mountain and decided to drive up on his own to avoid the long XC retrieve.  Two other pilots, John Beckley and JJ Cote wanted to carpool as well, but it was now too late to add them in.  Poor John had to drive north by himself, but since JJ was sort-of on the way, Lee left to pick him up while the rest drove north in my car.

We were near an exit for Hang Glide New England when Jon Szarek called.  He wanted to know if we were still going flying.  Uh?  Jon said the latest forecast predicted serious cloud cover, maybe enough to shut down thermal production.  We pulled over and re-evaluated our decision.  Jeff was full-in for Ascutney.  Peter and I weighed the options, including the fact we had Robin lined up to drive retrieve.  We finally decided that the strength of the sun on the longest day of the year should produce thermals, even if clouds shaded the ground.

We picked up Robin and JJ at Morningside.  JJ loaded on knowing that I promised John a ride to the top; meaning he might have to unload at the base of the mountain.  As feared, everyone else had driven up by the time we arrived, leaving one too many pilots for my car.  We discussed draping JJ over the hood of the car like a bagged deer but luckily Peter Cassidy showed up and offered John a ride to the top.

We caught up with Robin, who I hadn't seen in a long time, on the drive up.  The setup area was buzzing with pilots, hikers, and, it turned out, another old friend I hadn't seen in a long time; Ann Morin and her son Keith.

Keith and Ann Morin

JJ Cote

PK and Jeff Bernard

Jeff Curtis

John Arrison

John Beckley

My socializing was interrupted by another call from Jon.  He wanted to know if we saw any blue upwind to the northwest.  "Well, a tiny bit", I answered.  Jon said it was totally decked over at Morningside and there was virtually no wind on the surface.  "Luckily for us", I told him, "we might have enough wind to keep us up".

John Arrison launched first and climbed to the top of the mountain.  That was enough to get the lemmings moving.  With Ann and Robin's help the entire lot was soon in the air.  (Thank-you Ann and Robin for all the help!)

Jake Pierce (Photo by Keith Morin)

Jeff Bernard (Photo by Keith Morin)

Me (Photo by Keith Morin)

Peter Judge (Photo by Keith Morin)

JJ Cote (Photo by Keith Morin)

Ilya Rivkin (Photo by Keith Morin)

It was easy to stay up in the mellow air, but difficult to get high.  Even if we did get high, the nearly complete absence of sunshine on the ground downwind made XC seem pointless.


Me and JJ (Photo by Keith Morin)

The clouds slowly thinned, spots of sunshine broke through, and we started finding real climbs.  Soon it was going up almost everywhere and most of us played at cloudbase.

I crossed the river and tried to formulate my next move.  The forecast predicted moderate northwest winds but our drift indicated a "healthy" north wind.  I looked south and saw nothing but a smothering deck of mid-level clouds with no cumulus below them.  The track to the east looked doable, but flying that direction in a north wind would be difficult on a good day, let alone a marginal one.  Unsure what to do, I just started orbiting in anything that wasn't going down waiting for the universe to show me the way.

I hung on with John B, Jake Piece, and Ilya Rivkin north of Morningside.  As before, the clouds smothered their lifeblood and soon started to thin.  Jake and Ilya landed and I was low before another pulse of thermals kicked off weak climbs.  I drifted south of Morningside but slowly got back up as I approached Charlestown.  At that point, I gave up going XC for the day.  It was a premature decision, but I just wasn't "feeling it".  I felt like a fool when I flew upwind from Charlestown back to Morningside and climbed the entire way.  Sigh.

I flew around Morningside as the day continued to pulse, cycling from complete overdevelopment, to broken sunshine, to renewed thermals, and once again back to complete overdevelopment.

I was climbing in an especially good cycle with a couple visiting pilots that towed from Morningside when I heard Peter J was leaving the mountain low and Jeff, JJ, and Peter C were landing out front.  I flew upwind and met Peter near cloudbase over Morningside.  I played some more before gliding off my altitude and prepared to land.  Once again, John B and I were coming in to land at the same time. I wanted to avoid forcing one of us to land in the tall grass so I burned off my altitude and landed quickly.  Unfortunately, I didn't notice there was no wind on the surface and didn't flare as strong as I should have.  No problem, but I didn't get any style points.  ;-)

I regretted giving up on the day.  Although the climbs were weak and sparse during the down-cycles, the wind was strong enough that I could have drifted down the river for a nice early summer sightseeing trip.  No one went far, but I think the potential was there.  Still it was good to be in the air and a good way to start the summer.

Jeff, Peter C, Peter J, PK, John B, and I stopped for dinner at Ramunto's where we ran into Dennis Cavagnaro.  We talked flying until the food and drink was gone.

Here is a video from the flight,

By the way, Randy did go to Hang Glide New England and flew most of the course we talked about the previous evening.  Congratulations Randy!

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:35, Distance: 9.6 miles

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fast and Smooth

Peter Judge posted a message Sunday evening asking if anyone was going to fly on Monday.  I responded that I might.  When I checked my mail the next morning around 7am, I saw a message from Lee Minardi that he was planning to meet Peter at my place around 8am.  I guess I was going flying!

I had only one goal for the day, test fly my T2C I recently tore down for an annual inspection and to replace a broken keel stinger.  If possible, I wanted Marilyn Nichols' advice on wether I should repair a worn spot on one tip.  I didn't really care that the forecast predicted stable air.

I got what I wanted.  Marilyn checked out the tip panel and said "don't worry".  After spending most of the day sitting in the shade talking, watching the light-and-unbearble winds trickle from every direction, and helping to launch pilots on the tow line, I setup and took a late afternoon smoothie.

Lee recorded the launch.

The glider flew well and I especially enjoyed flying fast again.  A sweet landing near the bullseye completed the test flight.  I'm ready for serious XC again.

Dave P, Josh, Paul, and Sarah were taking early evening smoothies as we packed and left.  Lee, Peter, and I stopped for dinner at the Elm City Brewing Company in Keene on the way home.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:13

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Down the Drain

Although the weather looked better near home at Hang Glide New England, since Amy and I spent the night at Morningside, I restricted my choices to something closer.  A large contingent of pilots, including a couple pilots hoping for their first mountain flights, were headed to West Rutland.  Even though the chances of soaring were limited, I decided to join in for the socializing.

Amy and I rode up to launch with Mark Getty after schmoozing with arriving pilots in the pit below.  Initially I thought we might have a good day after all but hopes dimmed as thick cirrus streamed across the sky.

Mike Holmes was the first to launch as he took his first mountain flight on a paraglider.  Most of the crowd on top watched his flight, including the weak bubbles of lift he circled in over the LZ.  Daisy really boosted the spirits of pilots when she found a climb over the LZ and worked her way back up.

Alex, John Gallagher, and Daisy were in the air and John Sillero was on the ground when I stepped up to launch.  The winds were bubbly and crossing from the right (west) so I had to wait for a launchable cycle.  By the time I launched, everyone else was on the ground.

I had the most uninspiring flight possible.  Not a single bit of altitude gain on the entire flight.  6 minutes start to finish.

I was even more depressed when I saw Max Kotchouro launch after me and also sink out.  It was not his weekend!  I continued to watch pilots sled to the fields below.  The only "excitement" was watching a PG pilot safely land in the trees on the north side of the highway.

Amy drove Mark's truck down and we were soon on our way back to Morningside.  We decided to drive home instead of spending another evening.  Good thing, since we found several hundred carpenter ants had moved in while we were away.

It was a good day for socializing, but not such a good day for soaring or camping.  We heard the flying was "dreamy good" back at home.  Figures.

Max posted a video of Mike's flight and John Sillero's flight.  John Gallagher posted a video of the early launches, his first flight, and then some questionable late launches and an evening glass off flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:06

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Sneaking Around

Amy and I dragged our new Aliner hard-sided popup camper north for a weekend at Morningside Flight Park Friday evening.  We arrived in time to join Rob and most of the staff for dinner overlooking the falls at the Common Man restaurant.

Distance-starved XC pilots were making plans first thing Saturday morning for Mount Ascutney.  I had to find another crew to hang out with since I was still flying the Falcon while waiting for a couple T2C parts.  I agreed to help Ilya "formally introduce" Max to Mount Ascutney and potentially wait for an evening flight if the winds were too strong.  The vultures didn't wait long; even before I left the parking lot, Jeff and Peter "stole" Amy to drive retrieve for them.  ;-)

The first order of business was showing Max the LZs on the other side of the mountain.  Unfortunately, the trip was longer than normal since we had to venture up into the hills on dirt roads to bypass a closed bridge in Brownsville.  After showing Max the "main LZ", "Africa", and "Kansas" we returned to the base to find a large crew ready to drive up.  It was then we found out from the site director Jake, that for a variety of reasons, there would be no introductory flights that day.  Although disappointed, Max still volunteered to drive Ilya and I to the top even when it wasn't necessary.  Once we unloaded, Max drove back to Morningside to aero-tow while Ilya and I hiked into launch.

The usual crew were there, including Art, Doug, Ilya, JJ, Jake, Jeff B, Jeff C, John A, Peter J, PK, Stacy, Ross, Ryan, Todd, and possibly others I now forget.

The sky looked great; painted with white fluffy cummies.  However, at times a blue hole would open directly upwind.  Jeff C, the first to launch, took off into such a blue hole and valiantly fought his way to the LZ.  Jeff's performance kept everyone firmly planted on the ground until John and I noticed the blue hole filling with clouds.  We decided to go.  John was up front and I was near the back.  Somehow a line of 6 pilots magically appeared between John and I.  Sigh.  Pilots launched and stayed up.  The line was moving relatively quickly until it was time for the pilots directly in front me to launch.  The wind and thermals started blowing across launch, only offering rare tiny windows of safe conditions.  Meanwhile, the pilots already in the air were climbing out to cloudbase in strong climbs.  Double sigh.  The pilot in front of me, Todd, finally had enough and backed off launch.  Once I replaced him on the rock, I quickly found out what he was struggling with.  I spent time on launch myself before finding a usable 5-second window of opportunity to launch.

LZ (square field in center, wind is from the right upper-right)

Remember the blue holes?  While waiting in line, another blue hole had opened and I launched right into it.  Just like Jeff, I was losing my battle with gravity.  I even radioed Amy and Jeff I would see them soon in the LZ.  It was time to get to the LZ when I stumbled into a climb that was just strong enough to maintain a safe glide slope to the LZ.  I slowly climbed to launch height, postponed the pickup in the LZ, and started flying with Doug, the only pilot that didn't leave the mountain for parts unknown.

One thermal was coherent enough to lift me near 4300 feet (1300m) but still short of the customary 5000 feet (1520m) we use as a guide for safely flying over the rotor downwind of the mountain and reach good LZs.  I plowed my way back upwind and bounced around at ridge height as more pilots ran into the air.  There were enough small thermals for all of us to stay near launch height but nothing strong enough to reach escape altitude before being blown to far downwind.

The Falcon is an easy glider to handle and land, so I was tempted to leave low and take my chances with "Mr Rotor" and the small LZs on the backside of the mountain.  A climb curling off the southwest spine gave me enough altitude to give it a try.  Maybe I could "sneak around" the lee-side and if not, at least I was going to have an adventure!

I was surprised to see Ilya stay with the same climb, starting his first XC flight from Ascutney.  I was even more surprised to see Stacy leaving below us.  I peaked at 4000 feet msl (1220m) over a mountain that is 3200 feet (975m) high in a 14 mph (22.5 km/h) wind.  I quickly sank into a mild rotor and was making a direct line to a field when I found a lee-side thermal at 2500 feet (762m).  Ilya joined me in the climb as I watched Stacy make a good approach and landing in the field below us.

Ilya (left) and Stacy (lower center)

Ilya and I climbed and floated away from the mountain and topped out about half way to Morningside.


While Ilya headed directly towards Morningside, I flew upwind to another small cloud and then due south towards a nice line of clouds that lead into the forest with little landing options.  Should I go for that line of clouds and hopefully float at cloud base over the forest?  If I missed the clouds I would be landing on the "wrong" side of the river for retrieve.  I debated quite awhile before turning due west to land at Morningside and celebrate Ilya's "rite of passage".

Should I run that street?

I watched Max break a weak link on tow as I glided through trashy air above him.  I landed short of Randy as he was getting ready to tow.  He eventually made his way under that tempting line of clouds and later told me the thermals creating that line were weak and broken.  Even with his better glide, he returned to the river valley instead of facing the forest.  It seems I made the right decision to land at Morningside.

Randy getting ready to go

Meanwhile Amy dropped Jeff at the base so he could fetch Peter J who landed about 20 miles (32 km) to the south.  Amy then drove back around to the LZ to pick up JJ, Ross, Doug, and others before returning to pick up Stacy and then driving to the top of the mountain.  A couple pilots hiked in to help the last pilot, ARt, launch.

A flight from Mount Ascutney to Morningside is traditionally the first XC flight for New England pilots.  This rite of passage is celebrated by a long-standing tradition of tossing the pilot into the pond.  Ilya was a good sport and a large crowd was on hand to celebrate his accomplishment.  Well done!


Although the day looked great, no one went far.  Max's day continued offering challenges as he broke yet another weak link on his next flight.  Amy and I  ensured his day ended well by treating him to drinks and dinner at Ramunto's with Peter, Stacy, and Ross.  After dinner I returned to Morningside and Camp Rob for an evening of shenanigans around the campfire.

Here is video from that flight,

Ilya also posted an article about his flight.  Morningside posted a video of the ceremonial dunking on their Facebook page.  JJ also wrote about his day.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:37, Distance: 9.6 miles

Sunday, June 01, 2014


Jeff Curtis and I independently drove to Gardner to carpool to West Rutland with Rodger Furey and his daughter Asia.  Although the sky was crystal blue and the air cool when we left eastern Massachusetts, the airmass enveloping western Vermont was hazy, warm, and humid.  It seemed, with a little driving, summer had finally arrived.

Asia, Rodger, and our gear rode up the mountain in Pete Cassidy's truck, while Jeff and I rode up with Jim and Lil.  Dave Baxter, Dave Parks, and John Beckley followed us in Ilya Rivkin's truck.  Keith Beebe and John Sillero were already rigged when we arrived at launch.

Keith launched first and easily climbed above launch.  John's rise above the top of the mountain a bit later seemed to confirm it was soarable.  However, a couple low saves later, Keith's landing, and increasing cirrus tempered our enthusiasm and delayed many launches.  I decided to go after a couple other pilots launched and managed to keep their feet off the ground.

The thermals were nice and strong, but broken and far apart.  I was below launch many times during the afternoon.

We were all quickly sliding down the hillside during a widespread flush when Dave Baxter found a badly needed climb near the highway.  Everyone hung on as we twirled up in the shifting climb that stood between us and the LZ.

I was more cautious after that, ensuring I had plenty of altitude in reserve.  I was conservative since I was flying the green Falcon instead of the T2C (which was at home awaiting a part from the factory).

I could have taken off downwind at several points in the flight, but stayed put since no one else left.

I played along the ridge but was missing the reach of the T2C.  Every time I went exploring I returned lower on the mountain.  I knew it was just a matter of time before I would push it too far and end up landing out.  So I flew into the valley to play and then land.

LZ (big green field in lower left center)

Land short if you like swimming!

Even the LZ is wet.

Tall hay on the walk out.

Welcoming committee

Just about everyone had soaring flights.  John Beckley joined us for great food and drinks at the Vermont Tap House in Rutland before we all started the long ~3 hour drive home.

I hacked together some video footage from the flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:37