Friday, May 20, 2005

Greg shortly after landing. Posted by Hello

Jeff checking his map. Posted by Hello

Marshall drove to the top to help us launch. Posted by Hello

Judy waiting patiently waiting on the pilots. Posted by Hello

Ascutney: OD

Jake awoke me this morning with a call asking if I was going flying. Although it was sunny at the moment the last forecast I read was predicting rain, scattered thunderstorms, and maybe some small hail. However, it doesn't take much to get me interested in flying, so I told Jake I would check the weather and let him know if I was going. The morning blipmaps were interesting. The RUC model showed a lot of over-development, OD, along the coast and to the north. It sounded like a convergence line and that would explain the rain in the local forecast. I also noticed a lot of predicted OD from the Ascutney area north, but not much west of the Connecticut River valley or south of Ascutney. I briefly considered going to West Rutland, which is even further west than Ascutney, but it would potentially required launching with a tailwind, a longer drive, and probably no driver. I also thought about the Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts, but again with no one else around getting back to my truck would be difficult. So I left a message that I would meet Jake at the mountain at noon, convinced Mark to drive up with me, talked with Tim who was also thinking of going, talked with Greg who decided to go at the last minute, and started making calls to potential drivers. Oh, yeah, I needed to pack my gear.

Mark showed up around 10am, wrestled me away from a phone conversation with Julie and Dave who are playing in the skies of Florida, and started our 2 hour drive north. The clouds were quickly building and filling in, but that was forecasted for our area so we didn't get too concerned. By the time we drove through Keene at 11am the sky was looking great and the OD we saw earlier was behind us to the south east. Once we drove into the Connecticut River valley we could see cloud decks forming to the north. The tops of clouds were blowing over around 7000 feet and filling in the sky quickly. At least the clouds would probably not go ballistic and form cu-nims. Mark and I realized that the first 25 miles away from Ascutney would be tough. We just hoped the sky to the south stayed this way and that we could tip-toe through the OD to get into the "good stuff".

We meet up with Jake, Jeff, Judy, Greg, and Tim at the base shortly after noon. Marshall showed up just before we drove up the mountain and offered to help us launch and maybe even drive. Whew, talk about a last minute save.

It was blowing in lightly when we arrived to launch after our "enjoyable" hike in. However, there was very little sun making it to the ground. Total shade would be a fair description. By the time we were ready to go, we even spotted showers over the Green Mountains to the west and over the White Mountains to the northeast. The pilots closest to launch wanted to wait until a small band of sunshine reached the mountain. I would have preferred to launch into the wind blowing into launch but I was willing to wait. We made another "sled-ride suicide pack" and all dove off one after another in a rapid fire sequence. (Thank you Judy and Marshall for the wire launch assistance.) Mark found a small thermal that got him up shortly after launch, but the rest of us sank below launch; some sank very far below launch. Jeff found a good climb over the ski area, but Jake could not connect with it from below. Jake ended up landing out front; I felt his pain. Jeff was soon at cloudbase around 7000 feet and radioed that he was heading down the river. Meanwhile, Greg snagged a climb low over the ski area while Tim and I worked some broken stuff in front. Soon Greg, Tim, and I were slowly climbing and drifting away from the mountain at 4000 feet. I was tempted to returned to the mountain and hope to get another climb but wondered if there would be another climb to get. Tim turned and headed back just as I decided to drift away at that "less than idea altitude" (4000 feet is not much higher than the mountain and doesn't leave a lot of options for LZs). Meanwhile, Mark returned from the south to join Greg and I; I guess he likes our company!

I plowed through some heavy sink as I dove for a darker cloud-complex to the south. I was rewarded with a climb that finally took us to 7000 feet. I boated around near cloudbase waiting on Greg and Mark. Meanwhile I watched Tim come in far below us and work over the few fields in the highlands. I should have been watching what I was doing since I was too close to cloudbase and started worrying about getting sucked into the clouds. I started turning in light sink to keep out of trouble. I also kept looking for Jeff, who reported earlier that he was south of Springfield but not doing so well. I stayed over the high ground as we finally moved on and connected with another good climb south of Springfield. I soon realized that Mark had gone more towards the river valley and Greg somehow got much lower than either of us. I played around at cloudbase again, diving under the edge into the 900 fpm climb and then taking a long loop in the sink to lose some altitude. I was also watching another darker area form to the south and was ready to head there when the rest of the crew caught up. Mark found the strong climb and was soon at cloudbase ... oops it looked like he was above cloud base. (He probably was inside the dome so it only appeared he was in the cloud). I decided I should not be playing around the edge of the cloud knowing that Mark would soon be running my way so I started gliding for next cloud I had been watching. I was punished during my glide, falling from 6200 feet to 1800 feet. I was still over the high ground so I wasn't very high off the ground. I finally found a nice climb over a burning pile of trees. Mark came in below me but could not find the lift. I waited around at 5000 feet in weak broken lift while Mark found another climb.

Meanwhile I was looking for Greg, Jeff, or Tim. It was also becoming clear that we were not going anywhere far today. I was only averaging 16 mph and it was already 4pm. Jake, who grabbed Jeff's truck, informed me that our driver Marshall had changed his mind. Oops, now what. Jake said he could pick us up, but only if we landed soon so that Jeff could get home at a reasonable time. At that point Mark headed towards the river valley south of Bellows Falls. I headed a little further south over the high ground, but decided a ride home was better than more miles and flew out over the valley. I bounced along for a bit and then spotted Greg about a mile down the river. I flew over and joined him. Greg's microphone wasn't working so we could only ask "yes" or "no" questions. Two clicks meant yes, one click meant no. I asked Greg if he wanted to move on to the dark cloud to the south. Four clicks. I guess he was tired of that thermal. We went on a long smooth glide to the south west along the river. We did our best to find something to keep us going, but the day was quickly fading. I cruised low over the river and Interstate 91 before turning to land on a grass airstrip on the Vermont side of the river north of Brattleboro. Greg landed about 30 seconds after I did.

Greg and I had a nice conversation with the owner of the air field just before everyone, except Tim, showed up. After we were loaded up, we headed out to find Tim. We spent an extra 45 minutes on a false lead before returning south to find Tim on a farm up in the hills. Tim definitely has his restricted landing field technique polished if he landed there!

I found out this morning that someone flew 96 miles from Ellenville, NY yesterday. I wonder what I could have done if I launched at 10am instead of 2:30pm. Still, a 36 mile XC flight and a few hours spent with friends is an acceptable way to spend the day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Ascutney: South Launch

A small crew flew from the south launch of Mount Ascutney yesterday. I stopped on the way to the mountain to work out some retrieve details with Julie. I met Jake, Judy, John, and Greg at the base of the mountain at 11am. We were almost to the top when I got a call from Allen at the base. Oops. (Allen made it up later, but decided not to fly). The winds were forecasted to be SE but some of the pilots thought the winds were coming from some other directions. Without any clouds it was tough to verify the direction so we hiked out to the south launch without our gliders. It was blowing in lightly when we arrived at launch so we made a quick trip back out to get our gliders.

Jake and I were soon ready to launch, but were blocked by John and Greg. Greg had problems with his radio. We had to contact Julie so we could change frequencies. Meanwhile John was having radio problems and then had some sort of problem with his VG. Jake discovered that one of his bungee locks for his parachute was missing. Sigh. Maybe I will launch tomorrow! One by one each problem was solved and we started launching. John and Jake got off into a nice cycle and soon were above launch. A few minutes later Greg moved to launch and got the end of that cycle and got up. By the time I made it to launch the wind was too cross to launch. I waited, with Allen's help, until it was launchable. I should have waited until it was launchable AND soarable.

I got hit with sink right out of the gate. I had to quickly make a decision between the "scuba field" LZ and something more friendly to the west. It was an easy decision so I continued my plummet to the west. Once I rounded the mountain it become painfully obvious that the wind from the southeast. Crap, I was flying on the lee side. The air dropping over the mountain was smashing the thermals escaping from the rocks below. It was like one of those "bull rides" at country and western bars. I managed to extract enough altitude to drift to the west of the mountain and the LZs we use for the northwest launch. I found a nice little thermal that actually got me back to 2500 feet before it faded away. I headed towards Greg who was climbing to the south, but was rewarded with 900 fpm down as I approached the rising terrain. Crap! I had to turn around with my tail between my legs and head to the LZ, making it there with just enough height.

Julie soon showed up with the truck and we both watched Jake and Greg climb out over the mountain. They flew together for awhile, but Greg decided to stretch for the clouds above the convergence line to the east while Jake continued north in the blue. Jake landed around 25 miles to the north and Greg landed around 56 miles to the north. Jake said he heard John was moving up the river after he landed. I don't know how far John made it, but he had to rub it in with an article on the Vermont Hang Gliding forum titled "Hibernating bears blow comp pilot out of water". It's nice to have such good friends!

John Chambers had a nice out-and-back from West Rutland yesterday flying in the same convergence. You can read more about his flight on Al's logbook.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Full load of gliders and pilots. Photo by Dan. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 06, 2005

John after we broke down the glider. Posted by Hello

Greg, Dan, and the Snow on Launch. Posted by Hello

Ascutney Launch Posted by Hello

Ascutney: Opening Day

I had my first flight in New England yesterday and it was everything I was afraid it would be! I was spoiled by my month in Florida; waking up in the morning, climbing out of my tent in shorts, checking out my glider, and then launching a few hours later from the same spot. That sure doesn't describe flying at home. The closest flying sites are 2-3 hours away, implying I'll be in the truck at least 4-6 hours whether I fly or not. The temperatures have been in the 50s F, below freezing at cloud base; no shorts here. Our primary site includes a 1/3 mile hike over rocks and around trees; no parking the glider next to my tent.

I left the house yesterday morning about the time I normally arrive at the mountain so I could share the ride with Dan. Company helps pass the time in the truck covering roads I know like the back of my hand. We meet Mark and Greg at the base of the mountain. Since the state park is not yet open to the public we have to use our keys and follow the negotiated procedures. We are lucky to meet some guys clearing power lines on the mountain and we get them to drive Mark's truck back down later in the afternoon. Meanwhile, we are waiting on PK to show up. The day is slipping by, but we don't want to leave a fellow pilot at the bottom with no way up. We spend 15 minutes talking with the power line crew and PK finally shows up with flames blazing from his truck as he slows to sub-light speed.

The trail into launch is still very soft and there is still snow scattered around in places. A few trees have fallen across the trail but it is in reasonably good shape. We however, are not. With the exception of Greg, each one of us was moaning, groaning, and using an occasional foul word as we got reacquainted with the joy of that hike.

The forecasted winds were very light NW going SW. We were pleased to feel a slight trickle into launch when we arrived. We were also pleased to find out the black flies have not yet hatched. Yippee!

Mark started the chain of equipment problems for the day when a zipper on his glider wouldn't work. We finally got that fixed. Greg announced that his cell phone was not working properly because some pears got into the connector. I didn't ask how.

We made our usual "Sled ride one-for-all all-for-one pack". Everyone would launch as soon as possible, even if the first pilots were sinking out. Dan went first and managed to maintain altitude to the south of launch. Greg was soon airborne. I discovered on the way to launch that the radio frequency we picked was the one frequency that I get noise from my vario. Oh well, I'll just turn the radio on when I need it. I dove off in no wind, followed by PK and then Mark. We soon climbed out to 8000 feet and realized it was going to be a very cold day. (The water in our camel back lines froze.) My full face helmet immediately steamed up and then froze over.

We decided to head north up the river. The first glide was kind to everyone but PK. He turned around and was 1700 over the LZ before snagging a ride back up. He ended up being one climb behind us for the rest of the day. The first couple of climbs were much weaker than our climb at the mountain. The clouds were formed from multiple cores instead of a large single core. This meant that our group was soon fractured and spread across the sky at various positions and altitudes. I kept slowing up, but was forced to move on when my fingers would get so cold I couldn't feel them anymore. I also kept moving to the high ground west of the river. That made it easy to clear the airspace around Lebanon and the clouds looked more promising. Speaking of clouds, they were drying almost as soon as they formed. I finally discovered the only way to make use of them was to run to a wisp the instant it formed. That strategy, although a little chaotic, worked most of the day. It also dawned on me that I could stay warmer if I didn't climb all the way to the top. Duh. I spent the remainder of the day between 4ooo and 7000 feet giving up the nice climbs between 7000 and 8500.

Meanwhile Greg's radio died, Mark was getting lost over new terrain, my hands were freezing, and Dan wanted to know were everyone was. It was comical; nothing like a fine tuned machine blazing through the sky! Although we were not coordinated and it was cold, the view of a snow covered Mount Washington was awesome. Also the air was clear so everything below was popping in sharp detail. I have flown this direction a couple of times before but on warm southerly days when the air is hazy and humid. It was cool to see everything so clearly.

I noticed cirrus moving in behind us and realized I hadn't seen anyone in awhile so I turned on my radio. Mark had landed next to what he thought was Greg landing at his house. It turned out it was PK. Dan managed to snap a picture of Greg's house before floating down the river valley and then landed. Since we didn't have a driver, I started heading towards the river valley which was at least two glides away. I thought everyone was on the ground and was starting to spiral down next to an intersection when I saw a glider dropping into the valley. Cool. It was Greg converting his altitude over the high ground into forward distance. I decided to follow and watch the show from above. I was amazed at how far he traveled before turning to land. I continued on to check out the dam at Moore Lake and then turned around and flew south about 3 miles to land in a big field in Barnet VT, about 62 miles from the mountain.

I immediately had visitors. A guy on a bike with his son stopped by to check things out. He then went and got his daughter so she could see this flying machine. John, a boy living in the neighborhood stopped by and wanted to know everything about everything I had. He was interested in my radio, my GPS, and of course my glider. John even helped me break down. Since I didn't have any radio or phone coverage in the valley, I hike with my glider up the hill to the center of town.

I became concerned when I couldn't reach anyone. I knew Greg's phone was broken. I couldn't leave a message for Mark and Dan. I left a message for PK, but knew he probably wouldn't check his messages. I only saw 3 cars pass in the 20 minutes before sunset and they were not interested in giving me a ride, so I started to work on plan B, C, and D. I finally reached Sue, Greg's wife, and discovered that Dan got a ride from a women named Katie to their house. Dan was on the way to pick up Greg. Sue offered to call the people that owned the land where Greg landed and have them relay a message to Greg. I reluctantly accepted the offer. Thanks Sue. I went inside the general store, got some ice cream, and waited for Dan and Greg to show up.

Greg did get the message and arrived with Sue's car. Um. Sue's car only had a single ladder so we double stacked the gliders, with Greg's on top of mine. That seemed to work ok, but what about the other 3 gliders to the south? Meanwhile, Mark and PK started walking to Greg's place when they got stopped by a police officer. After some quick background checks the officer gave them a ride to a local restaurant. They were having a quick meal when we arrived. After some discussion we decided to use our clothing as pads and load all the gliders onto the car and head to Greg's place. What a sight that was! Greg then took one for the team by driving us south to Ascutney in Sue's car and leaving his truck at the base overnight. Thanks Greg.

I got home around 1:30am. As always, flying around here is an adventure.