Thursday, August 24, 2006

If you wait long enough...

Five eager pilots called me as I was heading out to dinner on Tuesday evening wanting to know if I was going flying on Wednesday. I gave each the same answer, “I’ll know after I check the weather in the morning.” I watched a great stretch of weather slip by as I dug out after my trip to the pre-worlds in Big Spring. I still haven’t caught up, but I needed to deliver a suitcase for Rhett Radford and a glider for Jim Scoles (from Ottawa) to Morningside and that gave me a convenient excuse to go flying. It has been tough to forecast the weather this week since cold air is making a comeback as summer retreats. The cool, but not yet dry, Canadian air induces just a little too much instability leading to over-development and spot showers.

Pete and I were about 40 minutes into our drive when we started seeing ugly system-induced clouds to the north. A short time later Dan and Rodger, who were worried about a thick band of clouds they were seeing on the satellite over upstate Vermont and New Hampshire, called and wanted our opinion. I confessed to not having a clue! I’m not sure why, but they decided to continue on from Dan’s place until they were past Concord where they heard about rain at Ascutney from Jake, more thick clouds from Pete and I, and probably saw discouraging skies overhead. They turned around and moments later Greg called to say he was also “out” for the day. I had deliveries to make, so Pete and I continued to “press on”.

We ran into our old friend Brian Boudreau, a curling fanatic from “up north” at Morningside. We tried to ignore the clouds hiding the mountain as we tossed Brian’s gear on board and drove over. We waited around a short time at the base for PK but decided gave up when it started raining, we couldn’t see the top of the mountain, and we couldn’t see blue anymore. After a quick misery-relief stop at the bakery we headed back to Morningside. A short time later PK joined the rest of us in the hanger helping Steve unpack new Falcons. Finally Pete and I decided it was time to give up. We unloaded Brian’s gear and made one last pass through the hanger to say goodbye before heading home.

Well, much to our surprise, the clouds were dissipating before our very eyes when we walked back outside. After watching the clouds for another 10 minutes we decided to go back to the mountain for a late afternoon ridge soaring flight. The sky was mostly blue by the time we hiked to launch and there was just enough wind to ridge soar at times. Hikers on the mountain started congregating as we rigged. I guess we were not the only ones trying to squeeze in another day before summer sneaks away.

A few cummies starting to form upwind and a little wind started blowing into the becalmed launch so I finished suiting up, did a quick hang check, and climbed to launch. The wind was dying by the time I stepped onto the rock so I waited for the “good stuff” to return. I was ready dive off for a certain sled ride when it started blowing in slightly again. I ran off and connected with a weak climb that lifted me above launch. Pete wasn’t far behind and we scraped along the contours of the mountain slowly climbing in weak but widespread lift. Um, this doesn’t suck! It was a lot better than driving home empty handed.

Brian and PK dove out and joined us for a late afternoon romp around the mountain. I connected with a climb that got me high enough to leave, but I came back to spend some “quality time” at the hill. I flew out to meet the clouds out front, but was only rewarded with broken lift that had more sink than lift. I put my tail between my legs and ran back to the mountain for a recharge. I wasn’t sure I would get back up, but managed to jack myself up in small shots of lift that were too small to turn in. I found a steady climb near the observation tower and then moved upwind to connect with a stronger climb PK found. PK headed back out front when the lift diminished but I stayed with the climb until I got to cloud base. Since I rarely retrieve the vehicle I thought I should head to Morningside (about 10 miles away) since someone might land out front and it would be dark before anyone could walk around to a truck. Aside from a few bumps as I exited that climb, I had a glassy smooth glide all the way to Morningside. After all the hurried racing I did in Texas, it was nice to leisurely glide along with almost no wind noise and watch the world go about it business below me. I arrived with enough altitude to circle the flight park, swoop around the silo, see my reflection close-up in the pond, scatter the geese, and land in a mowed field full of white clover.

Marilyn agreed to haul my butt back to the mountain when Pete called to say they landed about the same time I did and that Brian got a ride with the first car that went by so I didn’t even have to drive back to the mountain. After packing up I talked with Rhett, Marilyn, Steve and a stoked family taking tandems flights in the glassy evening air. I don’t know exactly how, but we managed to squeeze airtime out of promising day the “went bad”.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day 7)

Whew! I don’t think I could have packed anything else into the last day at the pre-worlds. The day started with a spot landing contest. I snapped a quick picture of the rain falling on the contestants lined up for take-off when Mark Dowsett and I drove onto the airfield. The showers were light and after drying the leading edges the tugs started dragging contestants into the air. There was a category for each class; single surface, sport, flex, and rigid. Oh, yeah, a bonus competition between the meet-heads David and Davis. I have a lot of low-res clips of the spot landings that I’ll try to patch together into a short video later.

Since Bubba, Davis, and I were at the spot landing contest, we started the task committee meeting about the same time the full pilots meeting started. We wanted a task that would bring the pilots back for the awards ceremony in the evening, but the wind and continuing overcast made a short run to the northeast the best bet. Unlike the previous day, the clouds retreated and the ground started heating shortly after we began staging.

Bo and I were worried the day would explode once the trigger temperature was reached. Bo, Pete, Bubba, Carl, and I quickly jumped into the line and beat most of the priority queue to launch. Armand towed me up to the west, which turned out to be the best place to be. While others struggled with weak lift, I steadily climbed to cloud base and remained there flying upwind from cloud to cloud with Gerolf until the first start gate. I warned the others on my frequency about the developing cloud suck and the towers shooting up from the clouds to the south. There wasn’t anything threatening at that point, but it was a sure sign to run the course as soon and as fast as possible.

A line of clouds formed to the left (northwest) of the course line that started dumping rain about the time the first start gate opened. It was totally blue to the left of the clouds and mostly blue to the right (which was our course line). A climb or two later many of the clouds in that line were dumping rain and one or two were tossing out an occasional bolt of lightning. The pilots I was with ran along the edge of those clouds being careful to maintain plenty of maneuvering altitude above the ground and below the clouds. I was rounding the largest cell when I saw a glider loop and head back. A couple other gliders soon turned and followed. That is usually a sign the day as been cancelled so I got on the radio and asked if anyone had seen the “riding bicycle” sign. Mike asked our driver Beth to call David to see if the task was cancelled. A few minutes later Beth came back and relayed a message from David that the task was “still on”.

The course line in front of me had gaps between the rain but I was not comfortable diving through a hole that might close up before I got through it. I decided to head west to the totally blue sky. Unfortunately that meant flying over a particularly nasty gust front below. I wanted enough altitude to either outrun the front or land away from it in the sunshine to the west. 5 or 6 of us flew perpendicular to and over the gust front climbing in the rowdy air. I saw Glen Volk run towards goal through a gap and was considering the same path until the gap closed from the top to the bottom with a curtain of rain. I continued to circle around the rain basically under a blue sky until I was almost due west of the goal. I raced back east in front of a line of broken showers in smooth air towards the airport. I was not only racing other pilots that were diving through the gaps, but also the slowly approaching rain. Mike Barber, who dove through earlier, reported the airfield was still dry and that six gliders had already arrived. Five more gliders dove in below me as I bled off the excess altitude.

Once on the ground we quickly broke down before the rain arrived. We could hear the thunder in the distance and see the rain to the south, but other than a few brief periods of “heavy sprinkles”, we stayed mostly dry. I was surprised to see Jorg landing as were we getting ready to leave about 45 minutes later. (He said later he was “hanging around” the area waiting for a good opportunity to come into goal.)

Meanwhile Bubba, Carl Burick, and Pete Lehmann landed somewhere back on course. Bubba landed near a road and was quickly picked up by Beth. The two of them stopped to help a Brazilian pilot who was rushing to break down before a gust front arrived. Glen got a ride back with someone else which left Mike and I at goal. Luckily Beth and Bubba were close enough that it made sense to get us and before picking up Carl and Pete.

Many XC pilots will tell you the adventure starts AFTER you land. Well, that was true today. A rancher stopped and gave Pete directions to his location which Pete forwarded to Beth. Lucky for everyone involved we were riding in Bubba’s large 4x4. We drove a long way on slippery dirt tracks through very scenic canyons, washes, mesas. We could have spent all day looking at the scenery, but we had pilots to retrieve. We eventually found Pete standing at the side of a dirt road and started working on our plan to find Carl. After getting Pete onboard we headed out along some barely visible tracks through a ranch. We came to a dead-end when we noticed the rancher that previously talked with Pete was following us. He suggested another route further back so we turned around and followed him back to a makeshift gate that he graciously opened for us after giving us some directions. (The directions were something like “follow the fence line awhile until you see a track to the right, take it for awhile and you should find your guy".) The rancher could not have been more friendly or helpful.

We drove across the range hoping that we didn’t puncture a tire on a mesquite thorn since the spare was not in good shape. It felt like we were on some kind of safari! (I’ll bet people pay good money for this kind of outing.) We finally found Carl standing near a corner where two fence lines met. He found a nice place to land, but if we were driving anything else he would have had a very LONG walk out. Once Carl was onboard we continued our backcountry tour of Texas until the dirt tracks turned to dirt roads and then finally to pavement.

On the way back we heard from Glen that the day had been cancelled. Uh? Cancelled after the day was finished? That didn’t make sense so I called and talked with David. He said Attila had filed a protest and the protest committee declared the day invalid. I have a lot more to say about what apparently went on but I am saving that for the Oz Report.

Once back to the airfield, I tossed the glider on the truck, grabbed a quick shower at the motel, and then headed to the awards party. A local businessman offered his home to us for the evening as he did last year. (Another sign of the great hospitality I continue to see at Big Spring). We ate, drank, and compared notes on the day’s flying. Pilots landing near the gust front from the big cell had exciting stories to tell. Some pilots were upset the day was declared invalid while others where happy it was called; most wondered why it wasn’t cancelled in flight. I talked to Jeff O'Brian who was on the protest committee and got a short description of what took place while I was on safari. David later presented the spot landing awards and the awards for each class in the main event. After the awards we said goodbye to our “competition friends” and promised to meet up “somewhere down the line”.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day 6)

I knew we wouldn’t fly today after looking at the sky and reading the NWS forecast. It was funny when Gerolf asked Davis and Gary if they looked out the window after giving an optimistic forecast for the day at the pilots meeting. I’m sure they, and everyone else, knew it was raining just a few miles away, but it was still funny.

Although some pilots left their gliders in the hanger, I dragged mine out hoping a cloudburst would wash off the dust from the dust-devil attack on the second day. I spent most of the afternoon talking with pilots as we sat around gliders on the south end of the runway. I finally gave up on the rain (and flying) and walked my glider back to the hanger. I arrived just as David announced the day was cancelled. I snapped a few pictures, had a nice meal in town, and went back to my room to get some sleep. (I didn’t get back to my room until 2am the previous night and had to be at the airport by 8am to download my flight).

(I took these pictures with a Motorola Q cell phone. The picture quality is not as good as the Canon SD300 I usually use but they are better than nothing which is what I would have if I had to dig out the camera.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day 5)

Flights like the 139 mile flight I had today are the reason I love flying cross-country; racing over beautiful eye-popping every-changing scenery until the sun goes down.

Although the weather forecasters predicted blue skies, we settled on a 156 mile task to the north-northeast. I was a little slow out of the start gate and quickly fell one climb behind the leaders. I was enjoying the climb-glide cycle over the farmland north of Big Spring until I approached some mesquite covered hills with uninviting LZs. I thought it might be safer and faster if I teamed up with some other pilots to look for lift. I waited at the top of a climb for 3 other pilots. When they reached my altitude I led out and expected them to quickly follow and hopefully spread out. However, they kept orbiting in place while I reached out over the unfriendly terrain looking for lift. I should know better to wait on other unknown pilots; you’ll just waste time and still end up finding the next climb alone. (I’m a slow learner as I repeated the same mistake once more later in the day!)

The mesquite opened up into a nice large canyon with little mesas in the middle. The view was great and I regret not snapping some pictures. I inadvertently slowed down as I started wandering around but snapped back into the race when I saw pilots race in below me. I moved onto the flat cropland beyond the canyon and was punished with widespread sink. I got low enough to announce an “imminent landing warning” to our driver Beth. I flew over to a tower along a ravine and was rewarded with a smooth 800 fpm climb back into the sky. The farmlands once again gave way to a larger canyon area that was more impressive than the previous one. I crossed the area very high (11,000 feet) and comfortably enjoyed the view unlike several competitors far below me. I found a reasonable climb on the far side of the canyon where I expected it to be and eventually joined two other pilots as we left the canyon and glided over green farmland again.

Unlike my previous two experiences, the other pilots joined the hunt for our next climb. We glided a long time before one of the other pilots started turning in some weak lift. Since we were low I joined the slow climb while visually looking for anything better. I was anxious to leave when I noticed the time; it was getting late and the day was probably shutting down. I decided to become more cautious as we moved forward circling in little bits of lift. My new flying buddies were not doing as well as me and eventually they landed south of a narrow canyon that had a golf course in the middle.

I floated over that little canyon hoping for a climb on the far side, but expected to land in the fields just beyond. I found a mushy climb that allowed me to drift downwind towards a little town in the middle of a sea of crop land. I was sure my day was done when that thermal dissipated. I cruised over town hoping to snag a late day “pavement thermal” but came up empty.

I moved on and tip-toed into a little 10 – 20 fpm climb that was drifting downwind at 11 mph. I knew there wasn’t enough daylight left to drift into goal, but maybe this lifting line would eventually turn into a real climb. The thermal was smooth and fairly wide, just not strong. I settled in and started flying with one hand in the center of the base bar as I watched a thunderstorm develop ahead of me on course line. I heard Glen landed just inside the goal circle, Mike landed just outside of it, and Carl was ahead somewhere. Beth was picking up Bubba and Pete who were on the ground behind me. I just kept checking in and reporting that I was drifting at 11 mph towards goal while climbing at 10 feet per turn. I drifted for miles in that mellow late day wisp. I was close enough to goal that a “real” climb would probably get me in. I started daydreaming about coming into goal at sunset to be the fifth pilot there. However the rain and lightning ahead of me and the setting sun quickly brought me back to reality. When the lift finally faded I went on final glide not really looking for another climb. I ran down wind above a series of telephone poles along a paved highway. As I descended the wind got stronger and the telephone poles started flicking below me like railway ties below a train. I did a 180 at the last minute expecting to hover down, but landed in completely calm conditions. I guess an evening gradient is one of the benefits of an 8:15pm landing. I walked over to the road and started breaking down before it got dark. I snapped a couple pictures of the storm ahead of me and the sun setting behind it. The crew swung by and picked me up just as it was getting dark; it was good ending to a great day of flying.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day 4)

Many pilots complained yesterday that the tasks were too wimpy. So the task committee (Bubba, Davis, and I), gave them a chore today. We couldn’t decide between a 162 mile crossing down wind dog leg to the northwest and then northeast or a 99 mile triangle where every leg was at least crosswind and the trip home was cross upwind into a 13 mph headwind so we let the pilots decide at the morning meeting. The triangle won by a large margin. Dave also tried a race start for the top 30 pilots and while everyone else had the choice of three starts.

I had a long wait on launch since I didn’t beat the priority pilots into the launch line. I waited while all 15 stepped into line in front of me. I was finally deposited to the northwest of the airport in a weak climb. It wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but it worked out ok. I, like most pilots, took the same start as the top 30 pilots. Unlike my previous two outings, I maintained a reasonable pace. I synced up with Bubba and Bo near the first turn point at the end of the crossing downwind leg. I started moving quicker on the second crosswind leg by going off course line and using the clouds to mark the best lift. I was about half through that leg when I spotted a large dust devil ahead. I got on the radio to announce my position to our driver Beth and said I was heading to a large dust devil. About 3 seconds later I saw a parachute inflate with a glider hanging below it. I got back on the radio and told the other pilots and Beth about the deployment while watching the pilot descend into a large cotton field. Mike gave directions to Beth who drove to the field to ensure the pilot was ok. (We saw the pilot gather up the parachute which was a very good sign).

After all that excitement, I decided to skip the dust devil and found a tamer climb to the east. The course line went over some scrub areas I didn’t want to land in but I never got low enough to be worried. I moved quickly through that area and rounded the second turn point and started the crossing upwind leg of the triangle. I let several pilots get ahead of me when they “cut the corner” heading to a line of clouds. I was sure they would be punished for gliding into the blue, but we all arrived at our next climbs at the roughly the same altitude; except they were now a climb ahead of me. I quickly zipped to cloud base and then cruised down the cloud street towards Big Spring. That line of clouds made the difference between a tiring task and a gruesome task. I glided under the clouds making good progress upwind until I made my second memorable mistake of the flight. Instead of staying on the east side of the cloud line, I pushed to the west side towards another line of clouds that was forming on course line. Instead of lift I got slammed with sink and 4 pilots that were behind me got in front. From there I picked a gentle curve towards the airport that passed under several newly forming clouds. I was surprised at how much altitude I lost gliding into the airport, but my safety reserve allowed me to cross over the goal line with more than enough altitude.

Several very good pilots came up very short of the goal line today, including Bubba. I feel for you bro.

Although I flew for more than 5 hours, I think the strong air and fast glides required more effort than usual. I doubt I will have any trouble falling asleep tonight!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day 3)

Once again the weather forecasts did not align; some calling for widespread showers and thunderstorms while others predicted mostly sunny. The primary task was another crossing downwind task to the airport at Brownfield we flew to on the first day and another shorter but more crosswind task to Gaines. Cummies started forming after 11:00 and it started looking like any fears of rain were unfounded.

I launched about 45 minutes before the first start gate and got a quick enjoyable “home town tow” behind Rhett right toa climb. I was in a good position to take the first start, but decided to let the day develop more. I also passed on the second gate since the pilots further on course did not impress me. I was not in a good position for the third start so I took the final fourth start gate. I had a good start and stopped for a relatively weak climb after a long glide. I looked down and realized I was in the same spot I was 2 days ago when I lost 25 minutes in a weak climb. I decided to avoid that mistake and pushed on. I found a couple shots of lift that got me another 500 feet but eventually I had to turn around and flare. A few seconds later a dust devil blew through covering me with dust; I looked like I had been standing in that field for weeks. I tried to dust myself off, unhooked, looked up and saw a single surface glider passing overhead. Needless to say I was upset to be on the ground but why was the universe adding “insult to injury”?

Beth turned around and showed up with the truck just as I was zipping up the glider bag in the sweltering heat. We loaded up and drove to goal where almost all the other pilots were packing up. Everyone was talking about how good the lift was (many pilots had climbs of 1000 fpm or more) and how quickly they got to goal. Dang, not only did I essentially get zero points for the competition, I missed a really good flying day. Sigh.

I hope tomorrow is better.

(I included some pictures taken before the competition started.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day 2)

It was tough to choose which weather forecast to believe. Forecasts ranged from blue skies, weak lift with light southeast winds, and a slight chance of overdevelopment by early evening to scattered showers and thunderstorms with light northeast winds. We settled on a triangle task that assumed a mostly blue day with southeast winds but would work with the dry northeast forecasts as well. The sky was still blue around 10:30 but exploded with clouds shortly before the launch window opened. Fearing overdevelopment and rain, we switched to the secondary task, a straight downwind run to the northwest.

The rigid wing pilots, who launch first, were not even finished launching when Bo kicked off the flex wing class for the southern launch line. Once I saw Bo climbing I tossed on my gear and headed to launch. I had a sweat tow behind Armand and was waved off below, but near, circling pilots. Since I had plenty of time I settled in for a lazy climb. There was the usual “start circle” chatter on the radio until everyone started commenting on rain that was beginning to fall around the area. I started noticing sprinkles on my visor but wasn’t concerned. I continued to climb and the sprinkles turned to rain which I took as a sign to leave! As I glided to the south side of the airfield the rain got heavier. I got wet and was looking for any sunshine I could find. Most of the pilots in the air congregated around the south end of the airfield as rain halted the tow operations. Many of us were initially low but managed to find little climbs that would last a few minutes before rain would start falling. All I wanted was something going up without water coming down. A column of gliders formed and we waited to see if the rain would simply pass by or become more widespread. We also started watching a large thundercloud form to the north not far off course line. Things continued to deteriorate and Drew stopped the day. We dashed back to the airfield during a break in the rain for safe landings. I went out of my way to cross over the “goal line” just so I could say I “made goal” for the day. It was a fun and interesting flight even if it did only last about an hour.

Once again a line formed at the entrance to the hanger and once again I was lucky enough to land close enough to the hanger to avoid most of that line. After I stored my glider and gear I got some pictures of the pilots waiting to get inside.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day 1)

The weather was good for the first day of the pre-worlds in Big Spring, Texas. After a lengthy introductory pilots meeting this morning we staged our gliders at either the north or south end of the taxiway. The original task was a 73 mile triangle to the northwest, back to the south east, and then back to the airfield. However, just before launch opened it was changed to a straight line course to the northwest.

The launch operation at the south end where I staged was amazingly smooth and calm. Jeff towed me up with his trike and waved me off between two climbs; it is nice having a choice! I reached cloud base and starting killing time by taking pictures before the first start gate would open 45 minutes later. When I got bored taking pictures I joined Glenn V, Mike B, and Bubba over town. Since the task was a straight run to northwest, I thought it would be good to exit the start cylinder upwind of the task line. So I flew around to the east of a large low cloud when everyone else headed northwest. Once on the other side I realized that although it was a good position in theory, there was a nice cloud line right on course line. So I used up a lot of altitude heading back to where I was before and then started heading towards the gang. However their climb was now fading. Mike hung on long enough to get the first start while Bubba and Glenn flew back towards me. We were dancing around with a growing crowd of pilots in marginal lift when the second start gate opened. I was a couple thousand feet below most of the other pilots due to some unsuccessful exploring but decided to head on course and “make up deficit” over the 75 mile trip.

Well my plan had a major flaw; I didn't find the lift I expected outside the start gate until I was low and struggling. I floundered in weak lift as I watched the bulk of the field leave and was still struggling when the pilots from the last start gate flew overhead. I knew I had just blown the day, but still wanted to get to goal. I lost almost 30 minutes in that area before I got back into the race. I made a couple other less costly bad calls that cost me another 10 minutes or so. I finally dribbled into a goal field with more hang gliders than I have ever seen before. (From 10 miles out it was easier to see the mass of parked gliders than the terminal buildings!) I was at least a hour slower than the fastest pilots. I almost hate to look at the scores tomorrow morning!

Although I would have preferred to have flown the course faster and scored better, I did have a fun day of flying. Aside from one or two spots the climbs were quick and the glides reasonable. Of course, there were LZs everywhere and I rarely worried about landing once I got going. I really do need to drag my New England buddies here to sample this kind of flying.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day -1)

The airport was abuzz with activity today as pilots were unpacking and assembling gliders, registering, paying tow fees, getting waypoints loaded onto flight computers, and of course flying. The local volunteers were busy posting signs, setting up chairs for the dinner tonight and putting the finishing touches on the covered viewing platforms for spectators.

There wasn’t any high level clouds today; fields of white puffy cummies glowed in front of the crystal blue sky. I wasn’t going to fly, but as I told Jeff O, “the sky is calling”! I had another “bouncy” tow behind Lisa (who did everything she could to stay in front of this squid) and pinned off in a nice climb over the field. I went to zip up and caught my shoelaces in the zipper. Crap. I struggled for a long time to free my foot so I could eventually land on my feet. I eventually got it free but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t zip up the harness without catching laces from one of my shoes. I finally gave in and decided to re-tie my shoes in the air. I was just about done with one when I started climbing through another pilot. I ran off into the sink to get back below and then dove back in and started tying again. I finished one shoe when I caught up with the same pilot again. I ran off into the sink again, but this time I spent more time there so I could finish before dealing with traffic again. I finally got both shoes tied and my harness zipped. By then I was downwind of the airfield and had to push back upwind.

I thought I was doomed to land when I found a scrappy little climb at the corner of the airfield that eventually turned into the real thing. Pilots slowly gathered as we floated up and towards a cloud that was dumping rain over town. We flew as close as we dare and then headed upwind. Rain was falling from several clouds in the area but it wasn’t threatening since the coverage was limited. After a couple more trips around the field I went to land when I noticed a large crowd of gliders in front of the hanger. (You can see them in the picture of the airfield). Um, should I land and stand in the heat or fly until the crowd thins. Ok, fly. I found a sweet climb just to the west of the hanger that took be back to base. Meanwhile rain was becoming more widespread and the storm to the north now had a gust front that was tossing dust a couple thousand feet into the air. The clouds upwind were also looking “too good” and I was starting to get sprinkled on so I decided it was time to land. Most other pilots still in the air had the same idea. I got to watch Johnny spin his way down as I made my boring approach. I landed and “flew” my glider into the hanger and it started raining just as I set the glider down.

We have a dinner and safety meeting tonight and the competition starts tomorrow. Let the games begin!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Pre-Worlds (Day -2)

A constant stream of hang gliding vehicles poured into the airport at Big Spring today. The hanger quickly filled with gliders as a high deck of clouds moved away. I jumped into the air early trying to find that sweet spot between too little lift and too much lift. (The forecast included thunderstorms). I pinned off early in a weak climb, goofed around awhile, and synced up with some other pilots in a climb that Dustin started. Speaking of Dustin, he was flying a T2 with a dark gray upper surface that Rob Kells says should last twice as long as traditional Mylar. Aside from the glistening sun off the new sail, it was hard to find Dustin at times if you were above him.

I spent a couple of hours getting banged around as the air was much more active than the water soaked air at home. I also had to dive away from clouds several times as the lift really accelerated near cloud base. I pushed upwind, took some pictures of the wind mills to the southeast of the airport, and kept an eye open for rain or lightning. A cell starting dumping rain to the south but it looked like it would drift to the west of the airport. I started another climb when I noticed two more showers directly upwind of the airport. I decided it was time to land, so I blew off my altitude and landed. Well, “arrived” might be a better term. I had a genuine whack as I flared too late and too little. I will do better next time.

There is a party tonight at the motel, so its time to go get some food and drink.

Pre-Worlds (Day -3)

I left the rain-soaked emerald forest of Massachusetts at sunrise on Sunday on my way to the arid plains of Big Spring Texas over 2000 miles away. I was already in New York when Rodger called to see if I was going flying. No flying for me, but I kept busy feeding updated weather information to Rodger and Dennis as I drove the first 11 hour leg of my trip to the family homestead in Ohio. (The gang flew but didn’t go very far).

After spending a couple of days with my mother (which included watching sunsets) I was back on the road. I saw corn and soybean fields in Indiana and Illinois, construction in Missouri, hayfields and pastures in Oklahoma, and small mountains silhouetted by the setting sun in Texas. (Somewhere along the line I spotted the Gecko field vehicle.) I was glad to see the oil refinery at the edge of Big Spring after 20 hours of driving at 1:30 last night.

The day looked good this morning but I found out we were not allowed to fly at the airport after bumping into the French team at Wal-Mart. Rumor is the site insurance only covered the actual meet and the 2 official practice days. I was bummed that I would miss a day of flying but given my lack of sleep and the eventual storms that developed early in the afternoon, it was probably a good thing. I hung out, helped slow up the assembly of the tugs, and caught up with the people that showed up early.

A small rabbit strayed into the hanger that Ellery, John Hesch, and I cornered but we eventually let it run back outside. Later, Rabbit Man Ellery caught the rabbit by himself and carried it around before releasing it. I told Ellery I would be really impressed if he caught one of the prairie dogs with his bare hands!