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.