Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Support the U.S. Women's National Team

You can help support the U.S. Women's National Team and get a cool tee-shirt in the process. You can even purchase one on-line thanks to Davis at the Oz Report. (If you are in the Rochester NY area, Linda can fix you up.)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sledding to the Bottom

My driving-to-flying ratio took a major hit today when Peter J and I drove 5.5 hours for 10 minutes of airtime at West Rutland. It was 19F (-7C) this morning and the high 41F (5C). The late winter sun barely lit the ground and the howling winds of the last week were mysteriously absent.

While we waited on PK in the LZ, the first truck load of pilots called to warn us about the icy rock faces on the road near the top. The ice wasn’t our biggest worry however, as Peter’s Honda Pilot was dragging over every high spot on the road way. We also stopped at the hunter’s cabin to let the transmission cool off. It was there that I learned it was the first day of hunting season. Maybe I should have worn orange today.

Bo was ready to launch when we arrived at the top. He took off and slowly climbed in light ridge lift. All of the sudden it didn’t seem cold and I quickly assembled my glider. One other pilot launched and then a couple of pilots lingered on or around launch. Since no one seemed anxious to launch, I stepped through and walked onto launch. Yep, Bo is still up and I see a bird circling in the bowl. It looks good. Well, it didn’t really “look” good. The visor on my 4Flight helmet kept fogging up like it always does when it is cold. Once I felt a puff of air, I lowered my visor, launched, turned down the ridge, and decided I needed less foggy view of the world. I flew through some light lift but didn’t turn or tuck into the ridge since I was cleaning my visor. I was finally ready to climb out as I entered the bowl but was summarily flushed. I tried the other side of the bowl but only found more sink. I zipped back to the spine, but was now too low for any ridge lift. I found a small thermal that I extracted some time and altitude before heading to the rest area along the highway far below. I found another small climb there and thought I might get back up. I had enough time to notice 3 hunters slowing walking along the slope looking for deer, but not much more. The thermal slowly faded away and I made a last minute dash across the road and landed uphill for a pitifully short flight of 10 minutes. Oh how this sport can make you humble!

Most of the other pilots had similar flights, with Bo and John being the only pilots that got, and then stayed, above the ridge top. Bo landed after an hour with freezing hands. I gave him my barely used hand warmers and we watched the other pilots show off their landing skills and, for one special pilot, their approach skills. ;-)

Some other pilots flew at Brace Mountain a couple hours to the south and captured some video of the day. Notice how weak the sun looks, even in the middle of the afternoon.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I laugh now when I read a definition of addiction: “Strong emotional and /or psychological dependence on a substance or behavior that has progressed beyond voluntary control”. I guess I might have one.

Winter was muscling its way into our neighborhood like a roguish thug, I spent one too many days hibernating in the pale light of the computer screen, and I couldn’t remember my glider’s colors anymore. I needed to fly! Oh, but I needed to drive to Rochester NY later. It really didn’t make sense to drive 5 hours for a sled ride just so I could get a late night start on the 6 hours of driving to Rochester. Well, it didn’t make sense unless you are addicted!

Pete J also wanted airtime, so us junkies loaded up on my truck and started the drive north to Ascutney. We both realized that just getting airborne in late October is a “good day”, but the BLIPMAPs hinted there might be enough wind to ridge soar and maybe, just maybe, some very weak thermals. The crystal blue sky provided a nice backdrop to the hillsides’ fading colors. That is until we entered the Keene valley. Dropping into the valley was like dropping into a witch’s misty brew. Moist, gray, no sun and frost covering everything. We were disappointed when it was still foggy on the other side of the valley. We remained in the fog right to the base of the mountain. Since the sun this time of the year produces about as much heat as a butane lighter, we wrote off encountering any thermals. However, the sun started to peek through and soon the fog was disappearing and we could see some wispy clouds forming over the mountain. Yes!

Jeff B showed up with some interesting reading that helped pass the time while we waited for Greg who was about 30 minutes behind the rest of the crew. Jake and Marshall rolled in after leaving a vehicle in the LZ out front. Once Greg arrived, we loaded up his monster van and drove to the top.

For some reason the hike into launch was very enjoyable. That doesn’t happen often, but just being outside with the smell of the leaves, the blue sky, and enthusiastic friends was enough to mask the usual chore of getting to launch. There was some wind blowing in when we got to launch but probably not enough to ridge soar. There were no birds in the air and the insects were long gone. Just as we finished rigging a couple ravens cruised by launch and then climbed out over the north side of the mountain. Time to fly!

Jake, who usually launches first, offered to launch last in order to help Marshall and the rest of us launch. (As someone who also likes to launch early I appreciate what he did.) Jeff went first and almost immediately started a slow climb. I launched next and slowly sank below launch. I wasn’t worried until I had trouble swiveling my neck looking back up to launch. I finally found a mellow little climb in the gorge below launch. As soon as I broke launch level Pete ran off and joined me. Greg was next but didn’t connect with the fading climb we snagged. I used my meager altitude to see if life was better on the sunny lee side of the mountain. Nope. I cruised back to the upwind side of the mountain and found little bits of lift almost everywhere. Jeff took a run to the west towards Little Ascutney and lost very little altitude. I followed and soon we were climbing at a respectable rate in a nice thermal. Pete and Greg soon joined us in the same climb while Marshall and Jake launched and got established on the mountain.

We were like kids that found a secret stash of hidden candy. Not only did we avoid sled rides and soar, we were actually climbing in thermals. As I approached 5000 feet instincts took over and I started looking downwind. Since I had a long drive home and then a longer drive to Rochester I announced on the radio that I was going to Morningside where I could probably get a ride back to my truck. I remembered all the fog in the valley so I stayed over the high ground in Vermont instead of heading directly to the valley and Morningside on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River. Pete and Greg were a little lower and decided to work a climb on the lee side of the mountain. Unlike the initial climb, the climbs away from the mountain were weak and broken. Still there was enough to climb and do some sightseeing at the same time. I headed towards a developing cloud over the ox bow in the river. I found scattered light lift and played there with Jeff while Greg and Pete caught up. We reached cloud base under the only cloud in the sky and were within an easy glide of Morningside. Jeff and I played around with tiny flowing wisps of clouds that formed below us. The White Mountains to the northwest were true to their name, capped with a blanket of white snow. Dang, where is that camera? Greg was having a good time too. He got on the radio and announced “Ridge lift? We don’t need no steenking ridge lift!”

We flew all over the valley, a valley that was earlier filled with thermal smothering fog. We didn’t quite understand how there could be thermals here, but we didn’t spend too much time looking this gift horse in the mouth. We flew until it was time to go home. I made a few high-speed runs over Morningside and landed after Pete, Jeff, and Greg. As I turned around after flaring, I saw another glider on approach. After spending some time flying with Marshall and soaking up the scenery at the mountain Jake decided to join us.

Mark V stopped by for some company after taking photographs of the fall foliage in the area. Marshall drove up and offered body rides back to the mountain. Pete was kind enough to get my truck while I watched pilots flying and chatted with friends. Pete returned, we headed south, and I eventually headed west.

Today was a nice fix and it will help calm my addiction for a few days.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Columbus Day Flood

Everyone was looking forward to see how Rob and Sandy could possibly top the transformation of Camp Rob into a pirate ship for last year’s Halloween party. Pilots and their families made customs, the Vermont Hang Gliding Association scheduled a fall meeting for the same evening, Rob K from Wills Wing flew into town with several demo gliders, our regional USHGA director Gary was holding a CPR clinic, and Rhett stayed around to tow everyone into the sky. Too bad someone forgot to arrange the weather. I am one of the last people to turn away from a party and chance to fly, but I wanted to stay home after looking at the weather forecast. It wasn’t just going to rain; it was going to pour; not just Saturday and Saturday night, but the entire 3 day Columbus Day holiday weekend. However, once people commit to a plan, momentum soon takes over.

A dozen or so pilots and friends braved the drenching downpours and huddled around the campfire laughing at all the OTHER stupid people who showed up. The food was good, the fire warm, the company entertaining, the mud deep, and the rain relentless. I left the party with a witch and headed to the Claremont Motor Lodge to warm up and dry out.

The sound of a truck backing down the small road the room along side the motel interrupted my sleep. I looked out the tiny back wind and saw it was a fire truck with its lights flashing. The crew was not rushing so I assumed it wasn’t significant and went back to sleep. My sleep was interrupted again a few hours later by the hurried owner on the telephone telling me that we must leave immediately. What? She insisted that we must leave. I asked why. She said the river was flooding. Oh. I thanked her, looked out the window and immediately told Amy it was time to scram. I guess the fire truck I saw earlier was evacuating residents in the lower areas behind the model.

The Sugar River runs in a deep channel in front of the Claremont Motor Lodge. Normally the river is only a foot or two deep and far below road level. I was shocked to actually see the rushing water out our window. I have never seen the river that high even during spring melt. The water wasn’t just oozing along like it does in the flatlands; this water was crushing down the hillside dragging trees and other debris along for the ride. We tossed our stuff in the truck and zipped across the bridge wondering if it was still safe. Looking back across the bridge we could see water pouring into the parking lot.

We stopped at the bridge going into town and then drove around to the mill dam. I got a short video clip with my digital camera. You can easily see the water flowing over the dam and across the fenced-in walkway next to the building. After that we stopped by Dusty’s for breakfast and listened to everyone’s stories of flooding. Many parts of Claremont were already under water. Someone said that Newport was under several feet of water. Dams were breaching. People were being evacuated all over southern New Hampshire. After breakfast we listened to the weather radio and discovered that most of the routes home were already flooded, washed out, or closed due to impending dam failures.

We hopped across the river to check out the Black River in Vermont before heading home via Bellows Falls. There was barely a trickle running through the gorge on Saturday morning, but by Sunday morning the Connecticut River was thundering through the falls. Route 12, and the way home, was blocked by the raging Cold River in Walpole. We went south on Route 5 in Vermont and hoped the last bridge back over the river before Keene was still open. We were lucky and got back on Route 12 and headed south. Once in the Keene valley we faced more typical flood scenes with people towing cars out of flooded parking lots with whatever was available. We made a couple detours but were soon on our way home.

We finally started getting the whole picture by Sunday evening. It was tough seeing the damage to so many of the towns that I routinely fly over or land in. The hardest hit areas received 11 inches of rain in a single day and night. The governor of New Hampshire said this was the worst natural disaster in 25 years. After learning people died and many lost homes and property, it was easy to ignore the party weekend that was washed out.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Floating through the Sky

I felt like I was floating through the sky when I went kayaking on a glassy smooth lake this morning. The cirrus above met the cirrus "below" as I silently drifted through the liquid sky. Today could have been the textbook example of "stable". I was on this lake until after noon and didn't see a single wind induced ripple on the water or a single leaf flutter along the shore.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


I didn't get to fly today but I did get to watch a couple sailplane pilots fly around the observation deck on the top of Canon Mountain. It was fun seeing the other people on the deck get all excited and explain how the gliders "seek out downdrafts to keep in the air". However, I did hear one person comment that one glider was close to stall and I had to agree.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Pete, Pete, and Pete

I needed to get out of the house today, so when I saw that Pete J was heading to Greylock I quickly called to see if he wanted to share the 2 hour drive. The hours on the road pass quickly when sharing the drive with Pete, so I was happy to hear he wanted to share the ride. I called Dan to let him know we were headed west but he decided to skip the day since it might not be soarable. Kathleen called and was looking for signs from fellow pilots on the best place to go for the day. Although the winds on Cape Cod were probably too strong for paragliders in the morning; the lighter winds in the afternoon might work just fine. I was a concerned that the winds might be too north for reasonable soaring. Inland, the winds were predicted to be light and lift weak, so just about any mountain or tow site should work. I talked with Rodger who was driving to the cape with Phil for a noon-time flight to take advantage of low tide.

On the ride out I got a call from PK (another Pete). He was going to Morningside, but eventually decided to join us at Greylock. We also got a call from Rodger who reported the winds were blowing in nicely at the cape and they were getting ready to fly. Given the stable forecast for the inland sites, I wondered if Pete and I were heading the wrong direction. However, with winter approaching, we were both happy to sneak in another mountain flight before the snowfall leaves the cape and frozen lakes as the only viable options.

Shortly after arriving at the driving range (the old RC field) we loaded on another Pete’s truck and headed up. A couple paraglider pilots entertained the crowd of spectators by launching into the late morning thermals wafting up the bare rock below launch. It was a gorgeous fall day with crystal blue skies, low humidity, and reasonably warm temperatures. It seemed everyone, including the spectators, was enjoying the day.

Although the paraglider pilots already in the air kept getting low they kept popping back above launch every so often. I didn’t need to see more, so once I finished rigging and signing-in I headed down towards launch. There was very little wind and a lot of traffic in front, so it took a few minutes before I could dash off. I quickly found myself sinking below the rock slide area that generates most the morning thermals we need to get going. I finally found a tiny little bubble and stated carving very tight turns close to the trees. I could not keep in the sweet spot since that would put my wings in the branches so I had to settle for a good climb on only the backside of the circle. I finally jacked my way above launch and the rest of the pilots in the air. Whew!

A few minutes later everyone was climbing and many of the pilots waiting on launch dove into the air. Thermals were lifting off the mountain and ridge tops and disappearing around 4800 feet. I wanted to avoid the dodge ball everyone was playing over Mount Greylock, so I headed east to the smaller ridge in front. I flew over to North Adams before heading back to Greylock to hook up with Pete and PK. I headed back towards the valley again and found a strong 650 fpm climb that punched through to 5200 feet. I think that strong climb was the result of a compression convergence as the wind in the valley switched from NE to SE. The three of us played in weak lift near the north end of the ridge while almost everyone else sank out. I zipped back to the mountain in time to see Brooks launch as I climbed to the south of launch. After playing around south Greylock I returned north to notice that Pete and PK were getting ready to land. I also noticed Brooks on a long glide down the ridge towards the LZ. It looked like all three of them would arrive at the same time. This should be fun to watch! Sure enough, the air was soon raining gliders and Pete took “one for the team” by bailing out and landing in the field north of the golf range.

I wasn’t ready to walk on the ground yet so I flew back to the mountain and met up with John in his VR. I could see more pilots launching as I dove over the monument on the top. John and I took a lazy pass over the valley before returning to the ridge for a recharge. After another “lets see what’s happening” pass over launch, I headed to the opposite side of the valley that was now glowing in the afternoon sun. I spent some time soaring the thermals on the lee side of the valley before spiraling down to land.

I watched John land to the north. I was in the same pattern that John used when Pete got on the radio and said that the wind was light but coming from the south. I thanked him, quickly did a 180, ducked behind the nets used to catch golf balls, flew through a narrow pass above a swampy area between the tree line and the poles holding up the nets, and glided into the grassy area that used to be the RC runway. After that sweet and cool approach I embarrassed myself when I let my nose gently touch the ground after flying into a thermal as I was preparing to flare. I hate it when that happens!

After the glider was in the bag and we were driving away I found out Kathleen had started her drive north to Burke, but turned around and came to Greylock only to launch a few minutes before the point when almost everyone sank out. Bummer. While we were driving home Rodger told us how the wind was not as “straight-in” when they launched and they had to settle for short soaring flights tethered to the higher dunes near launch. It was definitely a good day of flying and a good day to be “out and about” for Pete and me. Good company, 3 hours of good airtime in nice conditions, and we even got home at a reasonable time. Just what the doctor ordered.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Just Go!

Sometimes I don’t even try to explain why I need to fly; even to myself. I almost didn’t go flying this morning since the logical place to fly was West Rutland, which meant at least 6 hours of driving. On top of that I wasn’t sure it would be soarable. If it was soarable there was no hope of going XC. I know how I have hated myself in the past for spending an entire day, a tank of gasoline, and time away from family for an 8 minute sled ride. Although I talked myself into staying at home, I kept looking at the sky, the trees, and even the bugs for signs of lifting air. Who am I kidding? It was time to forget the reasons “not” to fly and just go.

I quickly bolted on my rack, tossed the glider on top, stuffed everything into the harness, grabbed some water, and hit the road. I remembered John G was looking for a ride from the Rutland airport to launch, so I gave him a quick call and told him I would be passing by around 12:30. I was leaving Keene when John called and told me he had already rented an SUV and was leaving for launch. He said there was no wind at the airport and that the ride up from the islands was glass smooth. I knew the air was going to be smooth, but I had hoped from some wind. I called Gary for a weather report in the LZ and he said there was a light wind blowing in at top. Ok, maybe not all is lost.

Everyone besides me and another PG pilot were already at launch when I arrived in the LZ. I told him to throw his wing into the truck and hop in. We met another pilot in a mini-van waiting at the base of the mountain. I assured him taking the mini-van up the mountain would be a mistake. I offered him a ride up in my vehicle and the three of us were soon bouncing our way to the top.

The cloud of dust that followed me up the mountain swirled around the truck as I pulled into the parking area. Seeing Bianca launch and rise above the tree line was just what I needed. I grabbed my harness and waded through the crowd of HG and PG pilots. I quickly greeted everyone, especially many of the PG pilots like Bo and Kathleen that I have not seen for most of this season. I chatted with Mark A, Lyle, and John S while I stuffed battens. Once rigged, I took a quick stroll to launch. The PG pilots were launching one after another and staying up. I took a couple pictures and then suited up.

I wiggled through some hang gliders still sitting around the setup area and then launched after John in his VR. I quickly climbed above the top of the ridge and joined everyone else. I love navigating through the constantly moving 3 dimensional landscape that presents itself above a soarable ridge on a weekend. I remember flying here when I was a fledgling pilot and how those crowded days were challenging and invigorating. However, today it was more like cruising down a familiar curvy road enjoying the sensual curves, dives, and arcs.

Although I was having fun, I could tell that some pilots were not comfortable with the close quarters so I did my part to thin things out by spending a good part of the afternoon flying across the gap and playing on the shallow hill to the west. John and I kept looking for little hot spots and would fly as far away as possible before returning. On one of my trips back to launch, I noticed that PK launched. We spent some time flying upwind along lifting lines that allowed us to explore the valley. We were not getting high enough to go anywhere but we did have enough altitude to return to the ridge each time and work back up.

Pilots slowly started landing below. Soon there were only 3 or 4 of us left on the mountain. The air was becoming smooth, the sun was starting to settle, and I got that strange little feeling I get this time of year when you feel like you have stayed past closing time. Although the leaves were still green, I knew winter was just around the corner. After taking a long look over the larger valley to the west, I buried the bar to my waist and let my Litespeed do what it does best; fly fast! I zinged around the valley and then the ridge at 70-75 mph. Ah, that felt good.

Once I regained some altitude I noticed that my truck was still on the top of the mountain, pilots were leaving the LZ, and the sun was sinking towards the horizon. I quickly headed to the LZ so I could at least hike up in twilight. I was checking out the windsock in the LZ when I noticed it was blowing from the east. East? Yuck. There isn’t a good way to approach the hill top LZ from the east. A PG pilot below me was soaring the tree line and I also thought it was a good idea to wait and see what develops. Sure enough the wind died off and then blew gently from the west. The PG pilot landed and I came in a minute or two behind him.

Gary was gracious enough to offer me and a couple other pilots a late ride to the top. Thanks Gary. We stopped for dinner in Rutland before we all started our long drives home. Once on the road, I was thinking that the 3.5 hours of flying was a worth the 6 hours of driving and the late arrival back home. Maybe I should continue to ignore those common sense reasons to not fly.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Morning Thermal

Although I didn’t fly today, I did stop to watch some early morning thermals rising from a freshly plowed field just north of Morningside Flight Park. It was interesting to see how the surrounding air was slowly pulled into the main column of rising and twisting air. I captured a few minutes of the dance on video.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Gift

I really didn’t expect to fly today. I awoke at Morningside to a heavy fog that filled the entire valley. The heavy fog meant any thermal production would be delayed several hours. September in New England means we only get a few hours of sunlight each day so losing the morning sun hurts. Then as soon as the fog cleared the wind blew hard from the northeast and shut down all flying at Morningside. Since the National Weather Service forecast called for a slow shift in direction to the northwest, I held on to a slim hope of flying later in the day. By noon I had succumbed to reality. Amy and I were heading down Morningside Lane to go mountain biking when Jeff B called. He was at launch with Andy, Chip, Jake, John A, and Pete J. He said it was coming in straight in at 15 mph and he wondered when I was coming up. Now, for the few that don’t know how things work at Ascutney, this phone call smelled like the standard “set up”. It was probably blowing in much stronger at launch and the crew already there probably needed help to launch and I was it. I knew it was a setup, but told Jeff I would be there in an hour or so.

I was surprised when I got to launch and saw it really was blowing straight-in at 15. If I wanted any help launching, I had to setup and get out of there ASAP. I started throwing battens into the glider as Chip, Pete, and Judy helped launch the rest of the crew. I was cramming stuff in my harness when Pete launched. Chip was still not ready, so I hustled to launch and with Chip and Judy’s help I was quickly in the air.

Although I expected Pete to still be around, I was surprised to see that only John had left the mountain. I found a strong climb right in front of launch and was soon at the low cloud base with Andy, Jake, and Jeff. I was also surprised at the strength of the climb. I am happy to find 300-400 fpm this time of year, yet that initial climb was 700 fpm. Meanwhile, Pete was struggling over the ski area not noticing our climb and Chip was still on launch struggling with his harness and backpack. (Gary would later show up and help Judy launch Chip).

Once at base I wasted no time in leaving. I decided to leave the thermal by swinging around the west side before heading south. Oh boy, was that a mistake! I put my tail between my legs and plummeted away as fast as I could. I soon found myself downwind and below the mountain. Even worse, Andy and Jeff followed me and were treated to the same gift. Jake, seeing what happened to us, wisely stayed further east. I started getting seriously worked over by the rotor and noticed Jeff was also. I quickly radioed to Amy that I might not even make it across the river. I found some buoyant air that finally turned into a weak but turbulent climb that allowed me to drift away and then above the mountain. It took Andy and Jeff more time to get out of that trap, but eventually, we all continued on.

The flying after that was enjoyable with 600 fpm climbs to cloud base over the west side of the river. It was hard to believe it was September. Ahead of us a large cloud complex was developing on the east side of the river while the west side was turning blue. When Jeff and Jake turned back upwind to join a climb with Andy, I continued on to the east side of the river. I didn’t expect great climbs under the dark clouds, but did hope to find buoyant air that would allow me to glide past the now large blue hole on the west side. I glided. I glided some more. I glided even more. No climbs, not even weak climbs. Oops. I tried some good looking spots, but nothing was working. I looked back upwind and noticed a line of clouds forming. I drew a line from those clouds to my area and decided my last-ditch attempt would be to dive to the east and get in that line and hope that something lifts off.

There was obvious wind on the ground so I wanted a big field to land in. I was due east of Fall Mountain by this time and knew I needed a climb or I would be forced to land or fly into the rotor behind that mountain. About that time I saw John breaking down in a field below and in front of me. I decided to hit the little hillside to the east and if I didn’t find anything, I would land with John. I found a snotty thermal with a good climb rate for about ½ of a turn and was quickly drifting away from the last good landing field. I had to reevaluate my situation after each turn. Finally I started climbing with some certainty and decided to let go John’s field.

Once climbing again, I looked around for signs of the rest of the gang. I couldn’t spot anyone. Surely, they are still in the air, but where? I also noticed that the wind had shifted more to the northwest and I was drifting out over the trees towards Keene. I didn’t want to drag my knuckles through the trees on a windy day with a low cloud base, so I used most of my altitude on a glide back to the edge of the river valley. I stumbled into a reasonable climb south of the Route 5 & Route 12 intersection and started checking out my options. The sky to the north was quickly drying out. There were no clouds on the high ground to the east of the river, but good looking clouds on the west side. I knew I would not be able to make the west side with a single glide. Um, what to do?

Something caught my eye and I watched someone land south of Bellows Falls. In an uncharacteristic move, I decided I had enough flying for the day and decided to land with that pilot. I flew upwind about 5 miles to land with that glider and on the way there I noticed Andy and Jeff climbing near cloud base further upwind. I also noted that the trees below were dancing all over the place in the wind. Oh joy. Although I expected turbulence, I had a smooth landing in a stiff breeze that made it easy to carry my glider over to where Jake was already breaking down. Within 10 minutes the wind dropped to almost nothing, the sky dried out, and it seemed like most thermal activity stopped. I later learned that Jeff and Andy flew another 25 miles south, with Jeff landing in Massachusetts.

Jake and I had a good time reliving the flight as we broke down. Amy and Judy showed up with the vehicles even before we finished packing. When we got back to Morningside, some pilots thought I was joking when I said I just got back from a nice early fall XC flight. The wind was still blowing from the north-northeast and no one even considered flying the entire day. I guess I owe Jeff a thank-you for the phone call!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Even the Buzzards Were Walking

I really needed to get away for a day, but it was still a tough decision to go flying this morning. The winds were forecasted to be totally calm, the lift was forecasted to be exceptionally weak to non-existent, and the first satellite image of the day showed cirrus covering most of New England. Did I really want to drive 5 hours for a sled ride? I guess so.

I was driving into Keene when I noticed that even the buzzards were walking. Not a good sign! Pete posted earlier that he was planning to be at the base of Mount Ascutney at 11, so I stopped by to say hello. I wasn’t going to hike into Ascutney for a sled ride so after waiting 20 minutes with no sign of pilots I headed to Morningside. The training hills at Morningside were covered with Falcons. I forgot how light wind days are desirable for training.

I was about to leave when Scott decided to drag his glider across the road for a quick tow. There were a couple wispy cummies around, but nothing that indicated it would be soarable. Rhett gave Scott the first-rate tour of the area and finally dropped him off across the river towards Springfield. Scott started turning and soon reported a 400 fpm climb. That was enough to get Dave D and I enthused for a flight. Meanwhile Pete showed up after hiking out to the launch at Ascutney without his glider and deciding it wasn’t worth the effort. Pete caught the contagion and also setup his glider.

Scott topped out the climb and headed back towards Morningside. He spent some time in a weak climb but soon was landing in light and variable winds. Meanwhile Dave launched into a tailwind and about belly landed shortly after launch. Dave got off after a high tow and was about to land when I launched.

Rhett and I ran into some light but widespread lift over the factories, so I pinned off and started a slow climb. After some snooping around I found a good 350fpm climb to over 5000 feet. Instead of moving on to something else, I tried to stay on the top of the thermal. Since there were no clouds, I could climb to the very top where the air slides off to all sides. It was fun playing around and trying to “balance on the top of the ball”.

I eventually tired of that game and tried to see what else might be working. The hottest looking spot, besides the metal roofs of the factories, was the Claremont airport. I went on a long smooth glide to the airport. I began to wonder if I made a bad choice, but I finally started hitting some turbulence and then another good climb back to 5800 feet. I continued moving around looking for “hot spots”. A couple of large parking lots provided some more climbs before I headed back towards Morningside to fly with Pete.

Pete had found a diffuse thermal that wandered all over the place. We climbed together for awhile before the little thermal died of exhaustion. I made a long glide over towards the river and the quarry, but I didn’t find anything this time. I did find a few reasonable bumps back of Morningside, but finally was forced to land. Pete landed just a minute after I did.
It wasn’t an epic flight by any measure, but it was fun to be in the air and somehow satisfying to squeeze 1.5 hours of flight from a stable day.

I had my first instruction flight with Rhett on the Dragonfly this evening. It became immediately apparent that it will take some time for me to get the feet and hands working together so I can coordinate my turns. I am really looking forward to my next lesson.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Ready, Set, Stop

Today was the last day for the 2005 Big Spring Open. I didn’t think we would fly today until I saw a decent clearing line form upwind to the south of us. For a short time I thought we might have a fun day of flying. However, 40 minutes later towering cumulus clouds formed wherever the sun hit the ground. I watched the same thing happen to the southwest when some sun finally appeared there.

The task committee did the best they could and called a short barbeque task to Lamesa so we could be back in time for the awards ceremony and party this evening. Some pilots, such as Larry, simply packed up their gliders and left. Some, such as Dave and Ron left their gliders in the bag waiting to see what else develops. The rest of the pilots, me included, started preparing for another comp day, but in slow motion. Some pilots would scold anyone that appeared to be moving their glider towards the staging area. Everyone knew that if anyone started walking down the runway to stage, everyone else would be forced to follow suit. After much delay Davis started down the runway and soon after the stampede started.

The sky eventually cleared overhead and the rigid wings, after a delay, took to the sky. We flex wing pilots stood around and watched them struggle to stay in the air. We also watched the wind mills to the southeast stop turning, small cummies form overhead, and big cummies explode to the south and southeast. Once again anyone making a move for their glider was greeted with “don’t do it!” from the other pilots. However, once a couple of rigid wing pilots started climbing instead of maintaining, a launch line quickly formed and the game begun.

I knew we would have a small window of opportunity between stable and explosive, so I tried to carefully pick my place in line. I forgot that the top 10 ranked pilots could move into line at will. I think all 10 stepped in between me and the front of the line. I was afraid I was going to be too late. As I lay in my harness looking at the quickly building clouds I noticed that the wind mills were now spinning rapidly. Um, that is odd. I then realized that the outflow from one of the towering clouds was heading our way. I started passing the word up and down the line. The launch was put on hold while Dave checked with the tug pilots. The tug pilots reported a wind shift above and it became more and more apparent that foul air was heading our way. Several pilots in front of me stepped out of line and started heading to the hanger with the carts! I pulled out and pulled a little forward, but stayed close to the launch line. A few minutes later, Dave cancelled the day. Michael, who decided early to skip the day, walked with me as I quickly rolled back to the hanger.

I was lucky to have the cart and a good protected spot to break down. Some other pilots had to struggle with their gliders and were breaking down outside when the gust front and rain hit. Luckily, most pilots had their gliders behind the hanger or partially disassembled before it got ugly. Meanwhile, the few pilots in the air were trying their best to get down. I heard that most of the pilots were back on the ground before the gust front arrived. Dustin, however, wasn’t so lucky. He said he noticed the wind pick up on the surface and decided to skip the washing-machine landing and decided to out run the front. He found a good 700fpm climb and then started heading away. He said clouds were forming below and slightly in front of him as he was running. He finally ended up with a good landing at the intended goal in Lamesa. Kevin dashed out with Rob’s truck and brought him back just in time for the dinner.

We had the awards ceremony in someone’s backyard at the edge of town. Once it again it shows how welcoming the people in Big Spring are. Would you open your home and host a party for a large group of strangers? That is exactly what this couple did! I wish I could remember their names. They provided us with snacks and sandwiches, drinks, a live band, and a nice cushy yard. Thank-you!

We had the typically informal awards presentation followed by more music and dancing. One pilot even wrote and sang a song about the competition that had everyone laughing and singing along. I said goodbye to as many of my friends as I could before heading to the truck with Linda and Mark for our leisurely 32 hour non-stop drive home.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Drifting Away

The day started off with Kevin blowing a loop and safely coming down under two parachutes. Needless to say everyone was relieved to hear he was ok. Maybe Kevin will write up something on his blog.

It was breezy today. Bobbie parked the tug at 2000 feet which confirmed that the early morning clouds were indeed screaming by from the south. Some pilots openly wondered if the day would be cancelled, but I was hoping we would get a task. I got my wish at the pilots meeting, a 127 mile downwind shot to an airport near Littlefield. It was windy enough that moving the gliders onto and off of the carts was difficult for some. I didn’t have any problem floating my glider onto the cart and then turning it around for a “wind cart” ride to the staging area to the north.

Since the wind was blowing, we knew that launch time was probably close to start time. I moved into the launch line behind Mike and in front of Bubba. I had a scary moment when my upwind wing lifted off the cart just as the tug powered up. I held onto the cart, but the cart started rolling off to the right. I was momentarily stuck to the cart and then managed to lift off. By then the tug was far to the left, so I tried to correct without entering a dangerous lockout. I manage to shot back to the left behind the tug just as the tug was hit with something the sent it skyward. I pushed out with everything I had and finally got in position behind the tug. The rest of the tow was reasonably smooth and uneventful. The air was also pleasant. It was like flying in Florida.

I immediately found a climb after releasing and was soon at cloud base. I could have taken the first start time, but decided to fly back upwind. Several pilots were around for the second start time and several of us did a “fake” start before turning around and flying 6 miles upwind to the airport. Finally a good group formed (Mike, Andreas, Carl, and another pilot) and we took the third start time.

We moved under the moist clouds darting left and right trying to find lifting air while still gliding at 65 mph over the ground. I got behind the two lead gliders only to pass them up on the next climb. I headed northwest on course line, but the others pilots took a more northerly course. After topping out I headed northeast to rejoin the group. I caught Carl but missed the rest. Carl and I continued heading north under a nice line of clouds rarely turning. I kept trying to move west towards the course line, but Carl would continually move away from course line to the east. I thought it would be better to have a partner looking for lift, so I kept close enough to take any climb he found. We had a couple low climb outs, but each climb took us further off course line. I should have ditched Carl and gone west to a nice looking line of clouds as we approached Lubbock. Instead Carl and I plowed into an area with dying clouds. We tried to work some lift at 100 to 200 feet off the deck as we zoomed across the cotton fields. I thought we might actually pull it off, but we were soon turning into the wind and landing together.

It turned out that Carl couldn’t get his GPS to work correctly and didn’t even know where the course line was! Carl said he would have followed me if I made a hard turn to the west. What I interpreted as a desire to go east of the course line was his idea the lift was better on the east side of the clouds. Sigh, I haven't made such a needless mistake in a long time.

It was tough being on the ground with such wonderful looking streets and convergence lines setting up to the west. I pointed out one line to Carl and said that if anyone got into that line, they would have an awesome joy ride. I later found out that Bubba was on that line and flew at least 20 miles along it with almost no turns. Julie and Dave, who landed a few miles north of Big Spring, showed up just as we finished packing the gliders in the middle of the road. Carl join us and we headed back to Big Spring with a brief stop at the Dairy Queen in Lamesa.

I had hoped to do well today and maybe move into the top ten. I can forget that now. Bubba said 6 or 7 pilots made goal and many others were scattered about on the way to goal. I thought I would have done better in this meet but now realize I still have a lot to learn, especially about when to trust my own judgment and when to follow the group. Oh, I forgot to mention in my last entry that Dave’s flight yesterday was his longest flight to date. Congratulations Dave. Today I managed 37 mph for the 77 miles I completed, which is probably my fastest average speed on course so far. (The leaders yesterday were going at 40 mph).

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Town and Country

It’s late, I am dirty and tired, but I am happy. I made goal after a truly enjoyable 88.7 mile flight that featured high cloud bases, lift up to 1000 fpm on the 30 second averager, and a dose of light air tip-toeing at the end. Many pilots made goal and a couple were very close.

It was mostly clear this morning with some high cirrus floating around and a few storm clouds far to the west. Gary predicted higher cloud bases, stronger wind from the south, and stronger lift except to the far north. Davis presented the 88.7 mile down wind task to the Town & Country Airport near Lubbock. I flew that route last year so I knew the way there.

Everyone was ready to go at the scheduled time, but there were no signs of lift and a good breeze that would make staying in the start circle difficult. The task committee pushed all the times back 30 minutes, which gave Dave and I some time to relax under our gliders. After the 30 minutes went by, the rigid wings took the still blue skies and slowly climbed and drifted away. None of us flex wing pilots were inspired to fly after watching the rigid wings so everyone just stood around waiting for a sign from above. The sign finally appeared as several cummies forming over the town and the airport. Since I was near the end of the staging line, I suited up and joined Robin, Dustin, and a few others and raced to the launch line. Our action was enough to start the stampede but I was lucky enough to be one of the first 10 to launch. Whereas a few minutes before the sky looked barren, Neil pulled me through several light thermals on the way up.

It was too late to take the first start time but I was in a good position to take the second start time. I left with several pilots but turned around when it become obvious no one really intended to go. Nice fake job guys! I didn’t have any problem getting back to the start circle and even back to the airport. The day was really turning on. When the next start time rolled around, most of the field was bobbing around at cloud base at the start line. This time most of us actually left.

I took a bad line and came in below about half of the pilots at the first climb. We immediately got squeezed off when the lift quickly slowed down. Remembering my pledge to “just make goal” I stayed right where I was and climbed back up. Meanwhile Dave took a risky long glide that paid off with a 500 fpm climb that put him at least one thermal ahead of me. Dave remained in front of me for the next half of the flight.

Once I climbed back up I just did the classic “climb and glide” routine. There is a scenic gorge area along the course that was just cracking today. I had several climbs that topped 1000 fpm and still remained so smooth that I was thermalling with one hand and taking a drink of water. I finally caught up with Dave at the northern edge of the gorge area and then pressed on into the crop land on the plateau. After a couple good climbs we entered an area of weak climbs and little clouds. This time I quickly slowed down and remained high as many pilots were now sharing the weak and precious climbs. I moved through the area without many worries, but did give up a lot of time by being cautious. I went of final glide from 12.5 miles out with 1500 feet above best glide. The numbers dropped to 300 feet about 5 miles out, but got better again when I cruised through some lift over a quarry just south of the airport. I arrived at the airport with 300 feet and landed without flaring into a good southerly breeze. I continued to keep the glider flying by jogging right over to the breakdown area. Sweet.

Since so many pilots made goal before me, I probably didn’t do any better point-wise than I did yesterday. However, it is satisfying to be at goal even if everyone else is also there. Julie and I were rooting for Dave when he radioed that he had goal by 500 feet above best glide. However, Dave landed 1.5 miles short next to the quarry I flew over a short time earlier. Mark F made goal with style, maybe even beating my time. Linda gave it her all when she kept flying until she was on the ground 0.55 miles short of goal. Bummer.

The local forecast is calling for a similar forecast tomorrow. I hope it is as fun as it was today.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

When trying hard just isn't enough

I awoke to a pleasant morning with mostly clear skies. A local church made us burritos and orange juice for breakfast at the airport. Some pilots started moving gliders to the north end of the runway even before the pilots meeting since we would probably launch there again today. I found out during the meeting that, as a member of the protest committee, I would be dealing with an official protest. I suspect the committee will meet tomorrow morning to decide how to handle the protest.

Our task was a triangle to the west northwest, then north, and then back to the airport. With an east southeast wind, the last long leg would be upwind and difficult. I launched early after Bo and Mike. I had some trouble getting out of the cart, a first for me. Bobby dumped me off almost at cloud base which was 2500 feet. I made an exploratory glide upwind to the southeast, found nothing, and almost decked it on the return trip. I found a weak climb and was soon at cloud base with an ever increasing number of pilots. Soon the entire start circle was filled with pilots floating about at cloud base waiting for the start gate to open. The sky over the airport was void of clouds, so everyone was hanging out on the edge of a large cloud to the northwest. Johnny did his usual “I’m bored” loop to burn off altitude. Given the long upwind leg at the end, I decided to take the first start gate with many other pilots.

The first couple of climbs were good and predictable. However, I kept getting lower and lower as I approached the first turn point, basically drifting in weak climbs. I join up with Kevin and Mike G and snagged the first turn point. Dave came back upwind to the turn point after drifting past it. I then headed north but decided to turn around after seeing several pilots land in front of me. I wallowed around in some “almost” lift with many other pilots. I radioed to Julie that Dave and I were just a few turns away from landing. I watched Bo land at the intersection that was our turn point. Dave and I found a good climb and were immediately swarmed with gliders. The climbed turned into a 600 fpm elevator ride to cloud base where I joined up with Linda.

Linda and I headed north northwest under some clouds. We had several nice glides and climbs together. I found a reasonable climb out in the blue that let me climb away from Linda before I headed up wind to a couple gliders that were turning down low. As I got closer I could see it was Carl and probably Claire. I joined in and we gained some much needed altitude before sneaking up on the second turn point. Carl and I found a strong climb and were soon joined by Kevin and another pilot. I was now high enough to get the turn point and start the tough upwind leg. Carl zoomed off while Kevin and I banked up on altitude. Kevin gained an extra 700 feet on me at the edge of a cloud before we dove out into the blue. I didn’t have enough altitude to continue with Kevin so I stopped to join a pilot circling over a cotton field that turned out to be Carl again. We shared a measly thermal that drifted more than it climbed. I eventually decided I had enough and headed down course line to a frustrating but good landing in a cotton field.

Now everyone says things are bigger in Texas. I am now a believer. I landed in a cotton field that I thought had an access road. The road turned out to be a ditch between two fields. No problem, I’ll just hike out to the paved road just a short distance away. Well, that road was a 1.5 miles away. Ugh. I walked my glider, with harness still on, for about a mile before I gave up and broke down in the field. Julie and Dave, who landed just before the second turn point, showed up, hiked in, and helped me hike out my gear. Thanks!

This makes the 3rd day I have not made goal. It is very frustrating but I am trying to learn from my mistakes. I am having a tough time adapting to the uneven climbs, that range anywhere from 100 to 600 fpm. I start out cautious, but turn on the speed after several 500 fpm climbs only to end up struggling with a series of weak climbs. I could have done better being more cautious all the time, but being cautious can cost big points when the day is good. Sigh. As they say, this sport is good for keeping one humble.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


The sky was filled with heavy low clouds when I peeked out the window this morning. I wasn’t worried since I saw this last year and the clouds burned usually burned off before mid-morning. The sky was clear by the time we started the pilots meeting at 11. We briefly discussed what happened yesterday with the cancelled flex wing task and then moved into the weather and task description. The task for today was a 76.5 mile straight downwind task to a small airport to the northwest. The lift was forecasted to diminish during the day around Big Spring, but continue into the late afternoon to the northwest. The rigid wings launch was scheduled for 12, just 25 minutes from the end of the meeting!

Dave was powered up and ready to go today. I could have used some of his energy and enthusiasm. I was dragging around just wanting to find a place to take a nap. Carrying the glider down the runway to the north with the wind at my back didn’t help. Luckily Linda offered to drive our harnesses down the fence line to our gliders. Once everything was in place and the times were pushed back another 30 minutes, I settled in for a much needed nap under my glider.

Unlike most days, I decided to let others launch before me. I ended up launching about middle of the field shortly after Dave landed from an early launch. I had another busy tow and was dropped off in a light, but workable, climb with several other pilots. After some bouncing around I finally climbed to cloud base. Soon most of the field was circling around waiting for the start gate to open. I originally planned to take the second start time so I was out losing altitude to avoid going into the cloud when almost everyone else left. After 20 seconds of deliberation, I decided to climb back to base and leave with everyone else. That put me behind the leaders by about 3 minutes, but not a big deal on a 76 mile flight.

Me and everyone else was just cruising under nice clouds and getting predictable lift until we ran off the end of a line of clouds. Oops. I soon found myself 800 feet above the ground. There were several other pilots around and most of us managed to pick ourselves back up and continue on. However, I was now much more careful with my altitude and climbs.

I faded west as I approached Lamesa and was rewarded with a nice climb. I soon synced up with Mike B for a couple climbs and glides until I went out of my way to a cloud that wasn’t working. I continued my glide towards a couple of gliders that were circling over damp looking cotton fields. I hooked up with Bubba as we struggled to stay in the air. I was stuck in that area for a very long time. Everyone that I previously passed now passed me. Dang. Bubba landed after a valiant struggle so I was on my own. I finally squeezed enough out of the area to move on.

The lift was weak and broken, but there was enough to keep moving towards goal. I was finally getting positive numbers on my glide computer. The little climb I was in fizzled when the glide computer showed I had goal by 860 feet. Not a lot of spare altitude, but usually enough. I went on glide for a short distance and then was punished with heavy sink. I could see the airport, the wind sock, the direction the wind sock was pointed, the gliders and even the pilots standing around the gliders. I ran down along a dirt road until I was at power line height and then turned back into the wind for a nice no-step landing just a few feet from the road. I was only 0.5 miles from the goal line. Almost! (Goal was about 1/2 of the way between me and the red building in the picture).

I called Julie to let her know where I was. I got Dave on the phone instead. Dave’s glider was loaded and they were about ready to leave. A short time later a crop duster flew by and dumped something from the sprayer. I was not excited about taking a bath in that stuff so I called Julie to see how far away there were. Dave answered again and said it would be about 30 minutes after they got their ice cream. Maybe I should have landed earlier! I should not have worried about getting sprayed since the pilot just seemed to be flushing the tanks before landing at the airport. After Julie picked me up, we stopped by the airport and gave Greg a ride back to Big Spring.

It was another fun and slightly frustrating day in Texas. I enjoyed the flight and the varying conditions. It just would have been better if I landed ½ mile closer to goal.

Monday, August 08, 2005


When I peeked out my motel window this morning the sky was clear for the first time since I arrived in Big Spring. I showered and packed my gear expecting a great day of comp flying. After loading up the truck I looked to the northwest and saw a towering cu-nim. I turned on the national weather service radio and immediately discovered that a special weather statement had been issued for the area north of Big Spring describing a thunderstorm with torrential downpours. At least the radio statement said the storms were moving to the southeast and away from us.

Although there were mid and high level clouds to the northeast and east it didn’t look too bad by the time we had the pilot’s meeting at 11. The task was a trip north, then northwest, and then northeast to the airport at Lamesa. The task committee wanted us to get going early so the rigid wing launch was scheduled for 12:00 and the flex wing launch at 12:30. Unlike previous days, we were going to launch south of all the buildings along the runway. That meant a long “enjoyable” hike down the hot runway. There was general confusion since the pilots didn’t know where to stage their gliders. After about half of the gliders were in place, we had to move then again further south to a field along the runway. Although there was some complaining, most pilots just grumbled and moved their gliders. Aside from the thorns, biting ants, heat, humidity, and the prairie dog holes it wasn’t bad.

Around noon the task committee moved everything back 30 minutes, probably due to the lack of cummies. However, clouds appeared as the rigid wings started launching. “Appeared” doesn’t really describe what happened. The clouds seemed to explode onto the sky. They also grew with shocking quickness and height. Claire pointed out a cap forming over one cloud that rocketed skyward. I didn’t want to be stuck on the ground if scattered showers started appearing, especially over the airport, so I quickly threw on my gear and moved into line. Several of us regular early launchers, including Bo and Kevin, were soon being dragged upward. It only took about 20 seconds of towing to realize the air was alive. Unlike the previous days, this tow required full attention. I released, started turning, and was soon climbing at 500 fpm.

I could see rain falling to the northeast and to the southeast as I climbed to cloud base. I also saw the prettiest cloud street leading right to the first turn point. Dang, I had to wait an hour and twenty minutes before I could start. I was climbing to cloud base and then moving upwind. As the sky got more crowded I also went to the start circle and back and to the west and back. I still had more time to kill. One cloud had dangerous cloud suck that tried its best to devour me twice before I left the entire area. Meanwhile the rain to the northeast grew in size and I started noticing lightning bolts. I began pointing out the deteriorating conditions to Dave on the radio. He was also concerned. A little later I noticed rain directly on course line and an increase in the lightning activity to the northeast. I finally asked Julie if anyone was thinking about canceling the task. I was still ready to do the task, but I have seen days cancelled for a lot less than what I was seeing. Julie talked with David and said she would get back to me if something changed.

The start window finally opened before I got an answer, so I started the task. Dave and I both headed northwest off course line to stay clear of the rain and the growing thunderstorm. I connected with a good climb marked by two other pilots in front of me. I quickly climbed to cloud base while a large gaggle formed below me. I pushed on to the north trying to visually identify the first turn point. At five miles out it looked like the turn point was in the rain; it definitely was under an ugly thunderstorm shelf. About that time one of the two or three pilots in front of me turned around and headed back past me. Um, that’s strange. We were too far on course for someone to be going back for a later start. I got on the radio stating that I just saw a pilot turn around and openly wondered if the task was being cancelled. Just about that time David got on our frequency and announced that the day was cancelled. I was not unhappy to hear that.

Now I had to get back home. I was too far downwind to fly back to the airport with a single glide with the altitude I had. I continued on for another half-mile to a pair of birds that were climbing. I could see clouds forming just east of me that were only half of my altitude. Also the shelf was getting larger and closer. Once near base I quickly raced back towards Big Spring. I kept looking for signs of a gust front on the lakes below and in front of me. I also wondered what being struck by lightning in a hang glider looked like. I found another strong climb that gave me a positive glide back to the airport with some altitude to spare.

Dave got on the radio and said he was landing in a field just outside of town. I watched him land and then hopped on the radio to give Julie directions to his field. However, Dave said he could get a ride with the other pilot that landed just before him so Julie didn’t have to leave.

I did my best “dive into goal” run to the airport. I passed under several pilots that were still circling and wondered why they were still climbing. I saw a swarm of gliders over the airport circling down and waiting for their chance to land. I also noticed that everyone was landing to the south of the hanger. Since I wanted to avoid any possible gust front, I decided to skip the “slowly circle down” step. I opened my harness, spread my legs, rocked up, released the VG, and flew as fast as I could. I came down as fast as a Falcon on a speed glide run. I came in straight over the west side of the hanger, did a single pass across the runway, did a large turn back to the southwest and landed just north of the hanger. I was in the hanger before many of the other pilots were even on the ground.

A few unlucky pilots landed just as the gust front reached the airport. Some of those pilots were repairing gliders this afternoon. Several other pilots landed after the gust front passed in strong, but mostly laminar, air. Dustin even pulled off a nice “soar the buildings” beach style landing.

I had a fun, interesting, and invigorating flight today even though we didn’t complete a task. After everything was tucked away in the hanger I joined some pilots for a late lunch (or early dinner) and then drove around the hills outside town with Julie and Dave. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Two Left Feet

I felt like I had “two left feet” today. I was bumping into things while loading the truck this morning, I spilled water at breakfast, and repeatedly missed important climbs that other nearby pilots locked into. Aside from the bad case of “mind fog” the day ended better than I expected. A deck of clouds covered the sun this morning and the NWS was calling for “mostly cloudy with a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms”. Not exactly a forecast to get your blood racing. After stumbling around at the motel, I went to the airport and ended up helping Kevin and Paris launch with tandem passengers. Julie slipped into the rotation for her first flight at Big Spring. Although the air was flat, she had a nice flight that started with her first launch on pavement and ended with a no step “movie star” landing in front of all families waiting on the tandem passengers.

David Glover covered some administrative details at the 9:30 pilots meeting but we were told to come back at 11:00 for the task. I thought it was a joke when I walked into the airport office and saw the task board and a 60 mile triangle task. However Davis assured us that the cloud cover would break and we would have cummies and good climbs. Ok, but many pilots wondered if Davis was already raiding Belinda’s wine collection.

Since the rigid wings were scheduled to start launching at 12:30, everyone left the meeting to grab some food, pack harnesses, and to move gliders outside the hanger. After a 30 minute delay and the gradual appearance of cummies, the rigid wings took to the air followed immediately the flex wings. I was the 4th or 5th flex wing pilot to launch and was surprised to find a nice climb to the southeast of the field. I wondered over to a gaggle to the northeast and missed the climb. I saw Dave circling to the north so I joined him for a reasonable climb as we drifted further northeast. After reaching cloud base I thought about heading southwest to some pilots sitting at the start circle. Instead, I plowed back upwind to the airport and arrived below the release height. Finally we headed towards the start circle.

Since we had a late start and since thunderstorms were still in the forecast, I decided to take the first start gate. Things were going reasonably well until the gaggle decided to head southwest instead of northwest along the course line. I didn’t want to go that direction, but also didn’t want to head off by myself. So I backtracked to the group just as their climb was fading. No problem, I just turned around and headed on course. Since the climbs were reasonably good, I flew fast and bypassed some weak climbs. I approached a good looking cloud and got “stepped on”. I was soon low and sniffing around for anything. I got low enough to warn Julie that I might be landing. I finally found a good climb that got me back into the game so I raced off for a climb that I totally missed. I sniffed around as I once again announced that I was low. Dave announced he was in a slow climb over the first turn point. Yikes, Dave had already passed me! I flew over a cotton field and found a reasonable climb that allowed me to glide to within a few miles of the first turn point where I found a 700fpm “boomer” to the top floor.

I easily got the first turn point, passed Dave still climbing at the first turn point, and started on the tough up wind leg. I pushed hard, skipping anything less than 350 fpm. I was passing gliders right and left while still maintaining a comfortable altitude. (My average speed on the directly upwind leg was almost as fast as the first crossing downwind leg.) I lead a group of gliders into a large blue area. Although I was more cautious than before, I was still pushing. I kept looking behind me for signs of a climb I missed. I started getting uncomfortable again when I approached highway 20. I looked back and noticed several gliders turning. I turned around and flew back to their climb but missed it. Crap. Now I was even lower. I pushed on and found some weak chop, but didn’t want to get stuck floating downwind and losing ground. I spotted two gliders in a good climb just outside my glide to the southwest. I hoped that I might get a gift and actually make it there. However, that didn’t happen. I lost some important altitude trying to snag a bubble and then couldn’t cross over a large set of power lines. I circled a few times over a working oil well pump and then had a no step landing in a cotton field under some power lines next to some oil tanks.

Meanwhile Dave was slowly moving on and approaching my position just as a huge dust devil blew through. I was lying on my glider to keep it on the ground as sand “pinged” off the oil tanks and the wind whistled through the power lines. Dave saw the dust devil but was too far away. He eventually landed a mile or so back from me in a small field next to a house. Julie was on top of things and showed up just a few minutes after I finished packing up. Although she suggested we get ice cream first, we picked up Dave instead before heading back to the meet headquarters at the airport.

After talking with several pilots, it seems many pilots got the climb I missed just before I landed only to land a few miles on the other side of the second turn point. It was disappointing to not be at goal with the 6 pilots that made it, but given my awkwardness today, I should be happy I didn’t land inside the start circle!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Big Spring Warmup

The NWS was calling for a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms today. I wanted a short warmup flight today so I headed to the airport early to beat the rain. Bubba and I wiggled our gliders out of the hanger and, in turn, we hooked up behind Neil and were pulled up under low building cummies. I floated about the airport for about an hour checking out my glider, the surrounding fields, and the prairie dogs below. Satisfied with my warmup flight I tucked my glider back into the hanger just as everyone else began pushing out. I spent the rest of the day helping people tune their equipment, helping on the launch line, taking pictures, and most importantlyThe NWS forecast included a 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms today. I wanted to take a getting ice cream with Dave and Julie at Dairy Queen. People flew all day until the first pilot's meeting at 5pm.

At the meeting we were served a very nice meal and were welcomed by town dignitaries such as the mayor, airport manager, and city council members. Once again the support from the town of Big Spring was overwhelming and heartwarming.

We meet at 9:30 tomorrow morning and then will have our first competition task. Let the games begin!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Big Spring

Left home at 6am Wednesday, picked up Linda at noon, and arrived at Big Spring before 3pm Thursday after driving non-stop (except to pick up Linda). 2100 miles of driving. I am going to have to fly many miles to keep the driving-to-flying ratio sane on this trip!

Pilots are showing up but no one is flying since it will probably rain later this afternoon and it is already cloudy.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Too Late

Greg H called and said that the weather was just right for the launch at Cannon Mountain. Dave, Greg C, and Mark also thought Cannon was the right choice for the day. Who am I to argue? We stopped at Ascutney to pickup Greg H's van that he left there before flying yesterday. On the drive to Greg's place on the way to Cannon, we noticed that the wind was NW, not the NNE required at Cannon. After some discussion at Greg's, we decided to drive all the way back to Ascutney.

Jeff and Jake were already setup when we hiked into the launch. The clouds looked good and there was some wind blowing into launch at times. After throwing our gliders together we collectively tried to figure out what was happening with the weather. Obviously the NWS forecast was wrong. The clouds were starting to show signs of building into large "complexes" that might produce rain. I wanted to get off launch so I offered to go first. For some still unknown reason my radio wasn't working. Meanwhile Jake launched and basically sledded to the LZ. Ouch. I wanted to launch right after him to help out, but the tailwind at launch keep me on the ground. Once the tailwind stopped I launched and found some bumps to the left of launch. I kept searching thinking it might be coming up the southwest bowl. Ooops, not there. Instead I got crushed and was soon headed to the LZ with Jake. I found a few pops at the base of the mountain and hung on. I eventually managed to start climbing and drifted to the south. I was about launch height when Jeff and Dave launched. I flew back to the mountain and joined Dave in a rough climb over the ski area. By this time Jeff was floating among the clouds over us. I gave a quick call to Mark to join us, but he had his radio off. The climb to cloudbase was rough so I was ready to leave when I got within 500 feet of Dave and Jeff at the top. We decided to head towards Green Mountain. For some reason Jeff started heading NE instead of SE towards Green. Dave and I maintained our spread by fading north to cover Jeff. Instead of heading towards the nice clouds over Green we were flying into the blue. What the ....? Finally I turned towards Green but not before losing most of our altitude. I found a broken climb that Dave found but Jeff missed. We watched Jeff land as we climbed high enough to continue on towards Green. Meanwhile, the clouds over Green were drying out. Dang, we missed it. We heard that Dan, Greg C, Greg H, and Mark were now leaving the mountain.

I found a good climb in the blue over Green, climbed a couple thousand feet, and then raced off to the still receding clouds. I connected with a good climb at the edge of the clouds. Dave was too low to push on, so I waited for him to get high enough to keep together. I noticed the clouds were continuing to recede and decided to push on towards Newport. I had a sweet glide, gaining 100 fpm along the way. I waited a few minutes and then Dave and I headed towards Newport and the quickly decaying clouds. We checked out a few dying clouds but eventually made our way to the forbidden fields since we didn't have enough to get over Mount Sunapee. I radioed my fate to Kristi, tried to find a flight-saving low climb, and then landed along the road.

I managed to turn around and watch Dave land. A few minutes later the rest of the gang floated in. We radioed the current conditions and that a thermal might be breaking off. They did find a climb and we thought the might get away. However after a few minutes they all came back to land with us. I got many pictures of each pilot's landing. It paid to get there early.

We broke down, got our vehicles, and still had time to get picnic food for the "movie" night party at Camp Rob before going to the VHGA meeting at Morningside.