Friday, June 23, 2006
Wednesday, I was a zero. It was a welcomed dry spot in a very soggy season. It was the first day in many where the Blipmap showed a negative number for the overdevelopment potential. Cummies started forming by 8:30, the wind was light northwest going south, it was cool in the morning, and it was the longest day of the year; it just had to be good. I originally planned to tow at Morningside, but the gang talked me into launching from the northwest launch at Ascutney.
Everyone (Greg, Jim, Pete, Tim, and me) met at the base of Ascutney, loaded into two trucks, and headed up. The wind on launch was light, but blowing in every direction, including down. The clouds were already drifting from the southwest which is 90 degrees cross to launch, but it was light enough we could fall off the rock cliff launch. We were all surprised when the sky started filling with thick cirrus. By the time I stepped onto launch at 1pm, all the cummies were gone except for an old looking one above us. I waited for a decent launch window and then sprinted into the calm air. I immediately dove around to the previously sunny southwest bowl looking for my ticket out. However, all I found was bubbly air and then crushing sink. Crap. I had to make a hasty retreat back around to the northwest side so I could land in the LZ. On the way back I found a small climb over the rock cliffs at the base of the mountain and started climbing and drifting north. It was slow, but steady, so I began to think I might get back up. I noticed Pete launching while I was climbing. However the climb faded and I was soon getting ready to land. I didn’t see any movement in the trees around the LZ, so I landed to the south preparing for a no wind landing in tall grass. However, I ended up with a 10 mph tailwind into tall grass. I flared, fell through the grass, and planted my feet in 3 inches of muck that held on so tightly I couldn’t take another step. I fell forward onto my knees into the muck. Oh joy, a great ending to a great flight … NOT. At least the black flies were there to keep me company.
Pete continued to climb as Jim and Greg launched. Jim was soon circling the losers’ pit, but at least got a good wind indication from me and had a nice landing. Greg was fighting a good fight but descending while Pete continued to climb. Soon Greg was swatting bugs with us in the LZ. A short time later Tim launched, struggled momentarily, but then started climbing. Pete eventually said he was heading cross upwind to Morningside and Tim was heading downwind to the northeast over the forest.
I had to apologize to our driver Allen, who brought along his GPS so he could build a track log of his retrieval adventures. No adventure today. Since Tim was heading towards Greg’s home, Greg sent Allen home in his truck while he took off after Tim in Tim’s truck. I didn’t have enough flying yet, so I drove over to Morningside for a tow. Pete, who landed shortly before I got there, said there was some lift around, but it was smooth overhead. John Z was being towed up as we spoke so I waited to see how he did. He pinned off in what he thought was good lift, lost it, got stepped on, and then couldn’t get back to the airfield. Ouch. We watched him turn around to land just far enough away he had to break down. Toni was next and essentially had a slow-descent sled.
Um, maybe I should leave the glider in the bag; … or maybe not. The cirrus was moving off and cummies were forming. What the heck! I rigged the glider, suited up, hooked in, and followed Rhett to some fresh cummies around 4:30. The climbs were weak, but enough to stay airborne. It was nice flying around the area in the light wind. I hung out on the Vermont side of the river for awhile and then crossed over to the New Hampshire side for a change of pace. I eventually made my way back to Morningside for a landing in the nicely mowed LZ. I found out from Greg that Tim had flown 52 miles over some very challenging terrain. He was definitely the hero today.
After packing up, Lee and I checked out the new pizzeria/bar in town. I’m sure it will become a new favorite. I started heading south on Route 12 which runs along the Connecticut River. There wasn’t a breath of air moving. The river was a perfect mirror image of the blue sky and green trees above it. There wasn’t another car in sight. I was flying along the glassy smooth pavement, windows open, wind swirling across by face, singing along with U2’s “Beautiful Day” that was escaping the truck’s speakers on the longest day of the year at sunset. Ah. Life’s good … even for a zero.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
A thunderstorm had passed through the area an hour earlier so the runway was soaking wet, which meant that I would soon be wet as well. It was fun watching the tug’s prop blast water off the grass as we started our roll out. As we climbed and turned towards the setting sun I was treated to very sweet sight. Every valley had fog rising and gently drifting to the north. The moving white fog shined brightly against the dark shadows of each ridge line. This pattern repeated itself as far as I could see to the west. Power pilots probably see this all the time, but I rarely fly my hang glider after thunderstorms at sunset!
I released before the use of oxygen become necessary. (Thanks for the tall tow Rhett!) I did the usual check-out routine and determined the glider was just fine. I was enjoying the scenery some more when I noticed Mark was climbing in one of Rob’s trikes. I zipped over towards him and positioned myself above and behind him in his blind spot. I could tell he was looking for me, but I kept hidden until the last minute. I then zoomed down over his wing and did “full colors” wing over to his right. (Mark later said he knew I was around but not where until a large shadow passed over his sail.) We flew some sharp tight spirals together and then headed back to the field.
I setup to land at the same time as Mark. I made it obvious I was going to land on the bull’s eye across the road from the runway. We were both on long parallel finals with Mark to my right. I just couldn’t resist some more play. I turned directly towards his approach path, but kept my helmet facing away from him towards my LZ. Mark couldn’t see my eyes under the visor and therefore didn’t know I knew exactly where he was. I could see Mark starting to get nervous, wondering if I knew he was there. Just when Mark looked like he was going to alter his path I waved and did a lazy wing over back towards my LZ. I landed short in the LZ, but it was worth it.
Not a bad way to do someone a favor”. Got any more gliders that need a test flight?
Monday, June 19, 2006
Like every recent flying day, we worried about overdevelopment and showers. 45 minutes after the first clouds appeared, it become obvious our concerns were warranted as the sky filled with towering clouds. By the time everyone arrived, the lower setup area, including the “path” to launch, was stuffed with gliders. Although Mark was down in a corner, he wanted to leave before the day shut down. With everyone’s help, Mark’s glider surfed over our heads and gliders to launch like a body in a mosh pit. Mark soon launched and was floating around the top of the mountain. I was eager to go, but waited for Jake and Jeff to take off so I could get to launch with less help. The wind, which was blowing almost straight in, was now blowing from the left. I sat on launch for several minutes waiting for the wind to switch back around while Jeff and Jake beamed to cloud base. By the time I launched, they were leaving and I was stuck with a totally shaded mountain, anemic lift, and no where to go. I floated around launch trying to just hang on until the next thermal would hopefully drift through. Greg and John launched and soon the three of us were snooping for anything useful.
I finally got a workable climb and drifted behind the mountain. Greg and John started climbing much better than me upwind, so I swam upstream and joined them. The climb grew progressively stronger but somehow Greg missed the good part. Soon it was just John and I at cloud base with Greg going back to hook up with Dan. I raced east to catch Jake and Jeff while John headed down the river. I found another strong climb just where it should be and was quickly back to base. (I love it when climbs are where they “should” be!) I look over at my altimeter and was shocked to see I was at 8000 feet. Yahoo; I was only expecting 6000. I had an easy cloud base cruise to Newport and then decided to plow upwind to connect with a line of clouds that would take me north of Mount Kearsarge. Once again, the lift was strong and where I thought it should be. Now I could spend time gliding while still going up.
Meanwhile, I could hear Jeff and Jake having problems to the south of me near Bradford. The ground was becoming shaded and the lift weaker. Behind me, Dennis, Greg, and Dan were looking for lift at 3500 feet where I had just passed through at 7000 feet. Several pilots had landed in the LZ at the mountain, unable to find that initial climb. I was climbing over the north end of Lake Sunapee when I noticed that the line of clouds I was intending to run was dying. The better clouds were upwind, but I was not ready to go on a risky glide north of Mount Kearsarge where the LZs are sketchy at best. So I made the conservative choice and made a sharp turn to the south to a good looking set of clouds over Henniker. That would also allow me to hook up with Jeff who was climbing over the town.
Behind me, Dan and Jake had landed, Greg was flying through rain, and Dennis was looking for a climb. I found a workable, but slow climb, over a quarry in Henniker. The sky to the east was now blue. There was a nice line of clouds down wind, but they headed right into the controlled airspace at Manchester. I asked Jeff were he was; he replied “south of Henniker”. I looked around but didn’t see him. I left hoping there would be something rising off some sunlit fields to the south southeast. I arrived at 4000 feet and started searching. Jeff said he was coming upwind at the same altitude. I told him I would search the northern end and would land in the “plowed” field if I didn’t find something. He said that looked ok, but the field with the white house looked better. I looked down wind and saw a field next to a white barn and house and agreed. I continued looking for a climb as I headed down wind. I was now down to 1600 feet still didn’t see Jeff. “Where are you?” He replied “I’m right over the power lines. I think I’m going to land in the field with the large hay bales”. I looked around; there were no hay bales in sight. Only then did I realize that although we had been talking about “the fields” for 10 minutes, we were not really talking about same fields at all! (It turned out Jeff was 3 miles east of me).
Oh well. I decided to land in the hayfield with the white house and barn. I wish I had more altitude to take pictures when I arrived since the grounds were beautifully landscaped with roses and shrubs. I landed in the hayfield and walked along the edge of the yard to the road. I had a pleasant conversation with the owner of "Rose Acres Farm", who was mowing the yard before I dropped in “unannounced”.
I called our driver Kellie, who was already on the road near Newport. After I broke down my glider, I spent some time on the cell phone helping others arrange rides, walking along a nice country road, and taking a nap under a shade tree. After dropping Kellie off near Concord, Dennis, Jake, Greg, and I shared a fun ride back to the mountain. Although I would have enjoyed going further, I had fun zipping along at cloud base when the climbs were good. I posted the track from the flight online.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The sky was quickly filling with clouds as we set up. By the time we were done the clouds were starting to tower and we began to worry about rain and maybe even thunderstorms. Mark, Jake, and Dave launched and had to work to stay at launch height. John Z was really concerned about all the shade and decided to back off of launch and wait for something better to appear. I noticed that all three pilots, although not high, were climbing in different places. That was enough encouragement for me so I launched and connected with a good climb right over launch. I then zipped over to join Dave at the northeast side of the mountain and beamed to cloud base with him and Jake.
The cloud was forming all around us, so I zipped to the edge and noticed that we were significantly higher than the base of the next cloud to the south. Cool! I flew along the east side of that next cloud far above its base; it’s nice when you can skip a climb and see just a cool sight at the same time. I moved on to the next cloud, found a climb, and reconnected with Jake. Dave, who must have taken a different line was now below us and moved out into the river valley before finding a climb. Jake and I continued to move along cloud to cloud until the sky shaded everything except the river valley to the east. However the river valley was shimmering like a disco mirror with all the water standing in the fields and not a single cloud was forming over it. So I dove for a spot of sunshine on the high ground to the south while Jake took off for a sunny patch to the west. I found some bubbly lift that was good for some altitude, but I was soon gliding into the dark again. I tried to get under some marginally good looking clouds to the west but ended up trapped in a high valley with no good way out. The air was buoyant but I couldn’t find a productive climb.
I leisurely cruised about the valley looking for a climb and a place to land. Everything looked wet and muddy. I finally noticed a “mound” in a barnyard. Um, that looks like a challenge; I’ll land on the top of that mound. I had to keep clear of a fence on my approach but flared about 2 feet from the top, landing like a bird on a perch. Although the landing was fun, walking through the mud and manure to the gate was not. My shoes and base bar will smell for the next 3 weeks! I guess I had spectators watching my landing.
Although the flight was too short, flying along the side of the clouds, zipping along west of the river valley, pulling off an atypical landing, and meeting some interesting people made the day rewarding.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
I was hooked up to Zack in the yellow tug and away we went. Something hit us at 300 feet and my weak link broke. Dang. I figured anything strong enough to knock me off tow might be strong enough to climb in so I started turning. I quickly drifted down the runway but climbing. I stayed with the climb and got up, but a couple miles down wind of the airfield. The field of clouds that were overhead was quickly receding to the east. It was a tough decision; go downwind to the clouds and hang out on the outside of the start circle for almost 30 minutes or risk going back upwind into the blue. I finally decided to head back knowing I could re-launch if I landed.
I plowed back upwind 4 times, arriving low each time. I was now second guessing my decision, but the die was cast. I finally got a decent climb and broke through the inversion around 3200 with Bubba and Paul. After all the drama, I was in a good position to start and glide down wind into the blue chasing the departing clouds. Bubba and I had a good run to the clouds and things were going as planned. We went on a glide that should have taken us through some lift but didn’t. Just about the time I started getting worried I hit a boomer that Bubba didn’t connect with and beamed up. I said good bye to Bubba and moved on. I had another long glide with no lift. I thought the day was over for me. I radioed Drew that I was below 400 feet, unzipping, and was approaching my probable LZ. I found a few bumps and start circling as I drifted away from the road to a tree line. I was climbing just enough to keep a safe glide back to the field. I dared to think I might be up before reaching the coast when the climb got solid and then went ballistic. Yeehaw! I was soon back to cloud base and moving along the course line again. Whew, that was close.
I had a nice glide around a large blue area and flying back south west to the course line. I started getting low and settled for a slow climb. Bo and then Bubba caught me since I was afraid to leave before getting more altitude. From there the 3 of us bounced under clouds on our way to goal. About 13 miles out I noticed clouds forming at 2000 feet underneath the larger clouds at 5000 feet. Um, looks like a sea breeze moving in from the east. Although the flight computer showed I had goal by 1500 feet, I continued to climb with Bo. We started our final glide, neither wanting to waste altitude that might be needed to penetrate a head wind at lower altitudes. I ended up wasting several minutes since the transition from the northwest wind to the south east wind was reasonably clean and wind was weak until we were close to the ground. (My flight is available online).
Bubba, who was lower, landed at the edge of the goal circle, while Bo and I headed to the far side to land. I landed next to Davis and Jeff; thanks for the wind indicator Davis! Jeff snapped a picture of me just before Belinda got a called from Marcello. He was suggesting that I ride back with them. Uh? I called Drew and he said it would help since the land owner of Bubba’s and Marcello’s field was upset and was calling the sheriff. Since a thunderstorm that chased us all day was approaching, Jeff helped me pack up the glider so we could beat the rain and not keep Davis and Belinda waiting.
Greg called wanting to know how I did. He was surprised to find out I got the second gate. He relaxed his pace thinking no one was behind him. He also wasn’t sure he arrived at the correct waypoint so he flew on to another nearby waypoint that had a similar name before landing.
Once we got back to the airfield we all huddled around David Glover on his scoring computer as each person checked in. After all the dust settled, Greg won the day, but I managed to win the meet for flex wing class. The scores are available online. A large group of pilots went out for pizza and beer in town afterwards and relived our day’s adventures as pilots often do.
This meet was fun, primarily because of the people involved. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Also there were a large number of pilots, like me, that had a good shot at winning since the superstars, like Oleg, were not here. The launch line was never crowded; you basically suited up, picked up your glider, and walked to launch. The enthusiasm of the sport class was contagious; they were trash talking all the time!
Thursday, June 08, 2006
We called a 38 mile triangle task that was crossing downwind, upwind, and a short crosswind back to the airport. We set the launch for 12:30, but pushed it back 30 minutes when nothing was soaring, not even the buzzards. Bo was ready to go again at 1:00 and the task committee decided not to push the clock back again since we didn’t think anything would change for the better or worse. The first gaggle circled down to 800 feet while I waited on the ground. Davis, Bubba, Jamie, and I launched as the gaggle started to slowly climb. I found a light climb and was soon drifting down wind towards the start circle. The big question for me was should I try to stay in the start circle or should I blow off the start time and go for only distance points. It soon became apparent everyone else was going for the distance points. I decided to head back to the start circle 1.75 miles upwind when everyone else went downwind. The day was probably too weak for such a “bold” move, but I wasn’t going to play it safe and I used up my altitude getting a valid start time.
I was low before finding a weak climb. Soon Bo and I hooked up and we shared most of the trip towards the first turn point. Bo moved on and I stayed to climb close to cloud base since I previously found stronger lift there. Once near base, I had an easy time reaching the first turn point and caught the pilots that “skipped” the start time. It was nice having company on the tough upwind leg. We finally dove into a shaded area with no cummies. We were getting dangerously low when Jeff found a weak climb to my left and Davis was working a climb slightly ahead of me. I decided to join Davis since he was further along course line. I never really connected with a good climb, but was still maintaining or climbing while several other pilots were landing below me. Sun was now shining on the course line ahead and decided to wait for something to happen. I grew impatient and left the climb for some birds circling down wind. Oops. That didn’t work and I couldn’t find the previous climb I had. Dang. I pushed on and landed along course line without making a single turned before flaring. I landed in a huge corn field next to a dirt road. (My flight is available online).
I watched Davis and Jeff slowly climb out and then move on the cummies that formed over the sunny areas. They had the final turn point once they left my landing area and would be the only two to make goal. Drew and the group arrived even before I had the glider packed up. We were soon back at the airport swapping flying stories about a day that originally looked so bleak but turned out to be fun.
Many of the pilots went to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Greensboro. We had a fun time taking over the place. We came back to the airport and watched thunderstorms roll through the area.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I was hoping to get a good start, but had to settle for a climb that took me to the south end of the start circle when I should have been on the east end. Bo and I had a reasonable start from that position and we run a short line of clouds closer to the course line. I had a better climb and started pulling ahead of Bo. It was kind of nice to be flying on my own, not worrying about other pilots circling close to me. I was doing ok, if slow, until I missed a climb which isn’t good when the top of lift is only 2500. I took a couple short climbs and finally landed in a corn field next to a paved road about 12 miles from launch. I wasn’t even packed up when Bo, Bubba, and Drew drove up; what service!
The weather forecast looks wetter tomorrow, but each day the current morning forecast is better than the previous day’s version.
Monday, June 05, 2006
I awoke to sprinkles falling on the tent this morning. The sky was still cloudy when the task committee met and was still overcast after the pilots’ meeting. However, the forecast said it would be good, so we setup under the cloudy skies. On cue, the sky started clearing just before the launch window opened. After a single 30-minute delay we started following the tugs to the low cloud base at 2000 feet.
I took some pictures while I was waiting for the start gate to open. I got a picture of Davis in his ATOS, Bubba and Paul in their flex wings, and a shot of the airport. After bouncing around at cloud base for 30 minutes, Bubba and I started gliding for the start circle and got our point within the start circle just before the clock turned over; I wish all my starts were this good!
The first climb was good and then we went on a nice long glide at cloud base. I thought we might get the first turn point, which was to the north north-east, without another turn. However we dove into the shadowed area and didn’t find anything exciting. After some snooping around, most of the gaggle reformed in a pathetic climb with Bo and Davis at the top. Bo and Davis snagged the turn point and returned to our climb about the time that Greg D, Bubba, and I started our glide to the turn point about 2.5 miles away. Greg and I found some textured air near the turn point and started searching at 1400 feet. Bubba and Jeff just kept going while Greg and I spent 400 looking for something that wasn’t there. I followed a couple of pilots below me to a crop field that had something trickling up. I search around with occasional climbs until I was down to 650 feet. I finally just cruised along the road and landed next to Lauren.
Greg, Bubba, and Jeff all flew further than I did by not fumbling with the weak lift. I wasn’t ready to cash my altitude into distance so I struggled to the ground. Davis and Bo showed us how it was supposed to be done by completing the course. Drew had us back to the air port before Bo arrived. I took some pictures of Bo’s approach and landing.
The flight is available online. It will not last, but I am actually leading the flex-wing class after two days. Probably see snow in the Sahara and palm trees in Antarctica tomorrow!
Sunday, June 04, 2006
After breakfast we decided that the first task of the East Coast Championship would be short 30+ mile crossing downwind dash to the southeast. The clouds were looking good everywhere except overhead and to the southeast along the course line. Many pilots were concerned about the wind (15 mph) and the possibly weak lift (100 – 200 fpm). Davis launched early and then reported the lift was good (400 fpm) and the clouds were better looking further along course line. So I saddled up and launched. I fumbled around for a few minutes and then found a nice climb to cloud base. I tried to push upwind to stay within the start circle but couldn’t find another good climb. I finally joined a group of pilots that included Buba, Davis, and Greg D in an agonizingly slow climb that drifted us to the start circle but off course line. The timing and the position for the start was good but we crossed a couple thousand feet below cloud base.
After getting back to cloud base I worked my way back to the course line and slowly lost flying companions as I clung to the course line. I finally noticed another glider further to the east off course line heading to goal. I was about 1000 feet above a glide path to goal, so I raced off to beat the pilot. I was gaining on him until I started encountered turbulent air associated with a line of thermals. I had to slow down to 50 mph to keep myself and the glider from rattling apart. I just could not convert the altitude into speed so the pilot beat me in. The pilot turned out to be Marcello, who was the first flex wing into goal after Davis. I crossed the line about a minute later. (The flight is available online).
I had a fun ride back with Davis, Belinda, Marcello, Claytor. We stopped for some fresh fruit; I bought a quart of fresh field-picked strawberries. I hope tomorrow remains dry.