Tuesday, October 16, 2007

First (and Last) Summer Flight

(This flight took place on May 25)

The weather had been uncharacteristically hot (90+F) for the previous 2 days and the forecast for Friday was the same. I peeked at the Blipmaps first thing in the morning trying to come up with a reason to avoid work but the anemic climb rates and low cloud base topped off with a sweaty hike into Ascutney just didn't seem worth the effort. I even talked with Johnny Z and told him I was skipping the day. A bit later, out of pure habit, I checked the local forecast and noticed that the NWS was predicting temperatures 10 degrees F warmer than the Blipmaps. I checked the forecast for Ascutney and saw the same discrepancy. Um. I wondered what the climb rate would be if the NWS was correct. With the higher temperatures, the soundings forecast predicted moderate climbs to 7500 feet. Since the NWS is usually accurate with the temperature forecast I decided to put my faith in their forecast and headed north.

John was as surprised to see me as I was to see him when he showed up on launch. John, John's driver Steve, Greg, Jake, and I sweated out our precious water as we rigged under the simmering sun. A few wispy clouds accented the hazy gray sky and we decided it was time to cool off at cloud base.

Jake launched first and almost immediately found a climb. I launched next, bounced around in a couple small climbs, and then hooked into a juicy 600 fpm thermal over the center of the mountain. I watched Greg and Jon launch and let them know I was in a good climb. Jon asked how high I was and we were both shocked when I said "breaking 8500". I guess the NWS' version of the day was playing out.

I caught Jake at the top of that climb and we headed out together to the east over Claremont. We both had good glides and climbed back to 8300. A large cloud sitting over Green Mountain was starting to age and we debated on the best course line. Jake center-punched the thing and I flew around the south side where I spotted some wisps still moving up. I quickly got a 1500 foot advantage on Jake from that one decision. We kept moving east towards Newport and Lake Sunapee about 2 climbs in front of Greg and Jon. The climbs were consistently 300 - 400 fpm bottom to top with no real change in strength anywhere in the climb. Jake and I were moving along at the same speed, but separated by 1500 feet. I thought we would be spending the day together hoping from cloud to cloud when Jake got pinched off over Lake Sunapee. I had enough altitude to drift out over the lake to stay in a climb but he did not and was forced back to landable fields. It was tough watching Jake land after doing so well.

I moved on to the north side of Mount Kearsarge and stumbled a bit myself as I got lured to a cloud over the mountain that just faded away. I was 1500 feet over the top of the mountain looking at an ocean of trees over the back. I decided to dive towards the one little field before I lost any more altitude. I found a weak climb behind the mountain that kept me afloat but really slowed me down. Meanwhile Jon also had some confidence-shaking moments and decided to be more conservative with his altitude.

Once I got high enough to safely leave my little field, I moved on towards the Merrimack River. Greg was climbing over Kearsarge and Jon was over New London. I took some pictures as I slowly climbed to 9100 feet. At that altitude I could barely see the ground through all the haze. It was difficult to see anything other than the few wispy clouds nearby. I waited around for Greg, but his climbs were as slow as mine, so I moved on.

I detoured to the north to check out the New Hampshire International Speedway. After that I headed east southeast to check out some lakes and avoid a large forest. My harness zipper ripped completely open when I attempted to "dump water ballast" somewhere near Pittsfield. After that I couldn't stay in the harness when prone so I flew the rest of the flight in a semi-prone drag-chute position.

Since it was so hazy, I had to rely on my GPS for directions. I would normally be able to see the coast at my altitude, but all I could see was a gray horizon line. A couple of times I thought the blank gray was the ocean, but as I moved on it just turned out to be more trees. Eventually I could make out a large bay ahead. I thought it must be Portsmouth NH but my flight computer said I was north of Ogunquit ME. I didn't think there was a bay near Ogunquit but since I have never flown there maybe I was wrong. Jeff, who was on the ground wishing he was in the air, got on the radio and offered to help me out. Steve and Jake, who were chasing in my truck, also lent a hand. I sounded like a "fool lost in the woods" trying to find his way out! I finally decided to ignore the GPS when I could see all the large aircraft on the runway below me; it had to be the old Pease Air Force base. I was 8000 feet over Pease so I could head south to Hampton Beach NH or north to York or Ogunquit ME. I decided to head north since I had never flown there before.

I had a easy glide to York and arrived with 4000 feet. I thought about going on to Ogunquit but decided to hang at York when I heard Greg was in a climb and might gain enough to glide over. I was already thinking about the lobster dinner that awaited us before heading home. I flew over the beach and saw enough sand to land on so I flew to the north to take some more pictures, especially of Nubble Light(house) and the rocky coastline.

Once I got bored with that I flew back to the beach and noticed all the cars parking and people getting out. I also noticed that the tide was coming in. York is a shallow beach so a small rise in the water level consumes a lot of dry sand. All the people stopping by on a Friday holiday evening where being squeezed into a smaller and smaller beach. Dang, this was going to be a chore.

I found a spot near a drain outlet that people were avoiding. I was going to approach the beach at a 45 degree angle and land near the drain and hopefully short of the sea wall. Greg announced he was coming this way and Jake and Steve pulled up as I was beginning my approach. I quickly directed Jake and Steve to where I planned to land and started my water skimming final.

I was beginning to think it wasn't so smart gliding over so much water at the same time I noticed a couple walking towards my intended LZ. I turned onshore a bit and then turned back to the left as I flew over the water's edge. The sea wall ahead of me got my attention (not super close, but close enough) so I rocked up and flipped a good flare. Oops, too early or too strong on the flare. I zoomed up. If I had been pointed into the wind, it would have been a show-off landing. However, I was partially cross to the wind and started drifting to my left as I came down. Not pretty. Also the left wing was dropping faster than the right and I immediately knew the landing wasn't going to be graceful. The tip hit the sand and spun me forward around the frame before I could get my left hand inside. Crap. (Jake thought I might have flared with the wings uneven, which is entirely possible.)

So much for looking good for the crowd. Time for the routine body check. Um. Where's my left arm. Oh, what's it doing back there. My left arm was rotated 180 degrees back from its normal position. I immediately knew what had happened (spiral fracture). Everything else seemed in order so I slowly rolled over and let the arm drag back into place. Jake came running over and wanted to know if I was ok since I didn't answer his calls on the radio. I told him I broke my arm and he asked "911?". I said, "yeah".

An emergency room nurse happened to be on the beach and started the first responder routine. I told her I was familiar with the procedure and had already done it but would do it again if she wanted. We ran through routine and finished just as the paramedics arrived. (Yep, they arrived that quickly). She transfered control and they started the check again from the beginning. Meanwhile the tide was coming in and the water line was just short of my glider. The paramedics did a much more complete check and by the time they finished the water was almost to my face. Jake offered to remove the glider which they were reluctant to do at first, but he convinced them that he can do it with minimal disruption. (Thanks Jake). They have to put on a neck brace since this was an aircraft "crash" but I don't like the icy north atlantic water that was soaking me, my harness and my equipment. I held my breath as the next wave covered my nose and eyes. I joke that cold water or drowning is not good for the patient. I suggest that Greg (who landed after me and got a little wet) undo the leg straps and cut my shoulder straps. I would hold my broken arm and roll onto the backboard myself. Since no one else has a better plan, that is what we did.

A couple of straps over the board, a few steps up to the street, and I'm on my way to the hospital a few minutes away. Jon landed near the waters' edge about an hour later and got his vario wet.

Not exactly how I envisioned the evening unfolding! I want to thank Jake, Greg, Jon, and Steve for all the help on the beach, for packing up my equipment, for taking my truck home the next day, and for stopping by and acting as my own personal medical advisory committee in the emergency room. (I'll post some pictures from the hospital in another entry).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Drifting Down the River

(I apologize for getting so far behind on my blog.)

On May 22nd, I took a "mental health day" from work and went flying at Mount Ascutney. I met Rodger in Leominster and we shared the rest of the ride north in his truck. Like my first flight in New England this year, it was below freezing when I left home, the sky was clear, and the wind was light.

After we setup our gliders, we looked for signs of thermal activity and watched a military plane refuel in-air far above us. John A launched first and easily climbed up. I waited for some wind to blow in and ran off the rock next. John and I were soon at 9000 feet in the turbulent air rolling off an inversion layer. I headed to some wispy clouds forming over the high ground to the south. I expected John to leave with me, but he stayed behind until I found a reasonable climb. John and I played around the Springfield Vermont area in widespread, but broken, lift. John finally moved on to the south, but I wanted to hang out with my ground crew so I flew most of the way back to the mountain to meet Greg and Dan. I marked a good climb and we quickly joined up.

I was eager to move on, but Greg and Dan wanted to stop for every bit of lift. It was fun playing around for awhile, but I was soon getting impatient. I decided to head back upwind when I saw Jon and Toni coming our way. I knew I could catch up with Dan and Greg later. I flew with Jon, but Toni was a bit lower. I was also scanning the sky and the radio for Rodger, but couldn't find him. I found out later that Jake and Rodger landed at Morningside and Jon and Toni landed near Charlestown New Hampshire.

After a quick climb I caught up with Greg and Dan out in the blue, but I was much higher. I could have passed them and hooked up with John A who was climbing further to the south. Instead, I decided to blow-off a couple thousand feet and hook up with the low man, which at that time was Greg. Well, that was a dumb move since I ended up struggling along with Greg. I finally moved on and found a relaxing climb north of Bellows Falls Vermont. I wanted to fly over town assuming the town would be brewing up good thermals. Greg wanted to stay on the high ground to the west so we parted ways. I found a good climb over town and the water falls, but lost most of my newly gained altitude in a long line of sink on the glide south.

I came in a few hundred feet below Greg back on the west side of the river but wasn't satisfied with the broken lift he was parked in. I drifted out over the valley and didn't find anything and was soon shopping for an LZ. I found a measly 50 fpm climb 300 feet over a tree-line and slowly started climbing out. Meanwhile Dan called out a strong climb just south of me, but probably 5000 feet higher. Greg, who stayed behind in the weak climb had enough altitude to connect with Dan's climb. I lost track of them after that when I turned off my radio to concentrate on my elusive little climb.

I slowly floated upward in the light northeast wind and enjoyed the scenery. It can be a lot of fun flying slow in mellow air where you can feel every little shift and surge in the thermal. Eventually I got high enough to looking for a new place to land further down the river. I turned my radio back on and heard Dan and Greg heading towards Brattleboro, Vermont to the south. I had enough altitude to leave Putney Vermont, but decided to turn around when the two fields downstream looked like they were planted with winter wheat; I wasn't going to ruin someone's crop just for a couple miles. I headed back to a nice short green hayfield across the railroad tracks from an picturesque Vermont farm.

I later learned John A landed in a field where the owner's were definitely not happy to see him. According to John, the owners were quite vocal and started tossing equipment across the fence line. As all this was happening, Greg and Dan floated into the same field! Although I landed a couple miles shorter, I was glad to miss out on that experience. ;-)

Alan, Greg, Dan, and John picked me up on the way back north. Meanwhile Rodger was heading south. I jumped to Rodger's truck at the closest bridge across the river and was soon heading home.

I know I have learned much from racing, but didn't realize racing was also changing my personal style of flying. I found myself becoming inpatient where in past years I would have been content. Even when I felt I was "hanging back" others thought I was "pushing". It's funny to hear comments like that because I always saw myself as the slow pokey one!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Opening Day

Although the mornings are still frosty, the grass is now green, the leaves are bursting forth and the daffodils and tulips are blooming; it must be time for opening day at Mount Ascutney.

I met Rodger and a relative newcomer to the New England area, Greg K, at a mall in Leominster where we tossed everything on my truck for the trip north. Since the state park is not open we are bound to the terms of our "special-use permit". One key provision is that we will not leave vehicles at the top of the mountain while we fly. This implies we need drivers to take the vehicles down and of course most of us don't arrive with drivers. So we all start working the phone network. Jeff, PK, Chip, and Dennis were showing up, like us, sans driver. John had a driver, but no spare room. Dan had a driver and said that Greg H would be there in spite of landing in Boston at 6:30 am after a flight back from Alaska.

While waiting for us at the base of the mountain, PK met Ryan who was checking out the mountain road for land luge. Ryan wanted to see hang gliding and offered to drive my truck back down. Thanks Ryan! We tossed PK and Jeff's equipment on my truck, exhaled, squeezed in, and drove up.

Although there was plenty of mud, I was relieved to see all but a few pockets of snow were gone and that the black flies were still absent. The cool air made the hike almost pleasant. (Notice I said "almost".) I was also pleased to see the wind blowing in at times since the computer models predicted a light NE breeze over-the-back. Foot launching at a mountain site is quite different from the all the aero-tow launching I did in Florida. You need to pick the right time to launch and that was especially true on Saturday. At this site you really only get one chance. Make a mistake and your flying for the day is over; there are no "re-flights". The wind on launch was probably either rotor or air being sucked up from thermals lifting off into the blue on the sunny back side of the mountain. I timed the "good" cycles and found they were between 10 and 15 minutes apart and lasted about 5 minutes. That meant we could probably launch 3 pilots every 15 minutes; it was going to be hard to get everyone in the air at once.

Chip launched first, briefly climbed, and then headed out. John launched and climbed out to the left. Jeff launched and lost of a lot of altitude heading to the north side of the mountain. I stepped up as the cycle was ending. I watched Chip and Jeff start nice climbs far below, but couldn't launch since it was either blowing 90 cross or tailing. Jeff found a climb over the ski area and I wanted to launch so bad but wasn't willing to make my first foot launch for the season a tailwind launch. It started to blow-in as Chip lost his climb and Jeff and John left the mountain. I launched into a slight headwind and a climb; I was above launch on my first turn. As I was climbing I watched Rodger launch, glider a little further out front, and miss the climb. Doh.

Meanwhile I struggled to free my snagged harness zipper; my winter gear made it as difficult as picking up marbles with boxing gloves. I fumbled around, lost the climb, and had to come back to the mountain. I cruised down along the top, down the front, and then back to launch without hitting a bump. Did that mean the next ride was 10 minutes away? Oh no! I was heading down to the ski area before heading out to the LZ when I stumbled into a snaky little weasel of climb. Thinking it might be a long time before the next legitimate thermal came through I swung around and did my best to extract every bit of lift. It wasn't impressive, but I was climbing. I kept looking up at launch wondering why everyone wasn't diving off to join me. Soon I was looking across at launch and then down on launch. Once I drifted back of launch to the sunny side of the mountain the climb turned on and I beamed out and said goodbye to Ascutney.

I headed south over the high terrain on the west side of the Connecticut river valley and found strong bullet thermals but nothing satisfying. I decided to give the man-made areas with less water on the ground a try. I crossed over the river and found a strong climb over the factories, over the airport, and then over the town of Claremont. The entire time I was scanning the horizon for other pilots that might have gotten away from the mountain. If they managed to escape I planned to fly back across the river and join them. Meanwhile I enjoyed the view of the snow capped White Mountains and the sun-dogs in the high cirrus overhead.

I began to think I was the last to escape so I flew south to Morningside. Just before I got there I found another sweet climb to the top floor. I wasn't too excited about heading off without a driver but I couldn't just let all this altitude go to waste so I moved on. As I was gliding south the cirrus became much thicker and I began to second guess my decision. Did I really want to land in a muddy field 20 or 30 miles to the south? Nope. So I turned around at Charlestown and worked my way back to Morningside.

I was down to 500 feet and checking out the wind in the LZ when PK came on the radio announcing he was at 5000 feet, leaving the mountain, and wanted to know where I was. Crap. I thought everyone else was already on the ground. I found a weak thermal drifting from the southeast and tried to climb out but the poor thing died at 1700 feet. Oh well. I set up an unusual approach over the road to land into a breeze coming down the hill from the east. Jeff was there to greet me as the first pilot to fly in from the mountain this year. I talked with Ron, Julie, and several other pilots as I lazily broke down.

PK eventually landed at Morningside after getting too cold and fighting lift to get down. (How can pilots sink out when others are "fighting" to get down?) Somehow I missed Greg K going by on his way to his LZ at the Fort at No. 4 north of Charlestown. Jeff landed north of Fall Mountain for the long flight of the day. I had my first foot launch this year, 2 hours airtime, and lots of time catching up with friends. Not epic, but a good start to the New England season.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Flytec - Day 7

I broke camp and was ready to leave immediately after the pilot's meeting. At the morning meeting Davis described the stats from the previous epic day of flying and the less than exciting weather forecast. Those two bits of information helped PK and Tim decide to also skip the last day and send their gliders home with me instead of inconveniencing Mark V. I ran into Beth and Bubba on the way out; I wish I had more time but I needed to start the wheels turning.

I left under a solid overcast sky but was looking at puffy cummies lined up to the coast as I got east of Orlando. I called Dave back at Quest and he forwarded my observations to everyone sitting under the tree waiting for something to happen. Later in the day, I called Linda and found out people did fly but that she landed in a dry swamp area and was up to her chin in brush. Um, glad I skipped that!

Unlike the uneventful first day of driving, I kept encountering accidents and delays on the the second day. After using some creative "off road driving" to get around a nasty 2 hour backup in New York City I had a front-row seat to a accident on I-684 near the Connecticut border. I had to wait while the state troopers, ambulance, fire trucks, and cleanup crew cleaned up the mess.

I made the doctor's appointment at 9:00 Monday, only to be told that "yep, you should have a CT scan and we'll let you know when that is available". Couldn't that been scheduled over the telephone so I could have flown Saturday? Sigh. Anyway, I had the CT scan and the original mass didn't show up which is really good news. However the CT scan did show a nodule in a lymph gland that will need to be scanned again in the near future to see if it changes, an abnormality in my trachea (which I think might have happened during a flying "incident" a few years ago), and an enlarged thyroid. These are all minor and although I joke that I would have been better off not knowing anything, they are good to know about.

Now I just have to get over a flu "going around" that buried me once I got home and wait for the perpetual rain over New England to leave so I can go flying again.

Flytec - Day 6

I was at the door of the urgent care facility when they opened at 8:00 to pick up my x-rays and the radiologist's report. The staff were friendly and accommodating; unlike my physician back in Massachusetts. I called my physician around 8:15 and left a message with an operator telling them I faxed them the report, I had the x-rays, I was in Florida which was at least a 2 day drive away, and I would appreciate a prompt call back. I called another pilot from my area, Mark V, to see if he could shuttle some gliders back home if I left before the meet was over. Mark said no problem.

I wasn't sure if I should break camp and start driving, go get a CT scan at a local hospital, or go flying since nothing important could happen until Monday (it was Friday). I called my physician's office again right before the pilot's meeting at 10:30. This time I got a nurse that said the doctor only answers phone calls between 4:00 and 4:30 in the afternoon. What? Yep, can't do anything until then. Well after that infuriating exchange the booming forecast and a 127 mile task to the Florida Ridge made it pretty easy go flying.

Although I have flown from Wallaby Ranch to the Florida Ridge before, I knew it would be fun to fly there from Quest. It would also be fun to fly with a lot of other gliders since I usually fly that task alone. I have to admit my medical issues kept creeping into my mind, but once the tug started rolling all that other stuff simply faded to the background.

I had sweet tow and solid climb to what I thought was base at 3600 feet. I then looked to the east and saw Ron coming my way in his Canadian maple leaf glider several thousand feet higher. Yow! The entire gaggle moved to the northwest and slammed into a climb that yanked us into the ice box at 6900 feet. I immediately got on the radio to tell anyone on the ground to wear whatever they had and that this was coming from a cold weather New England pilot. I never got below 4800 feet again until I was gliding into goal.

Most of the field was bobbing around at cloud base and took the first start. I zipped over to Route 27, but it didn't pay off as it did yesterday. The main gaggle found an equivalent climb on course line that left me a half-climb behind. I flew to a developing cloud over the Route 27 and I-4 interchange that I just knew should be working but wasn't. I spent too much time trying to prove myself right and lost the lead group. No worries, just move on; it's a long flight. I checked in with our driver Mark, who made a quick stop at Wallaby on the way south. I told him to tell anyone with a glider to get into this epic air right now or they will regret it.

The classic Florida convergence line setup up right down Route 27 south of Lake Wales. I've had several runs on this sweetie but never during a competition and not at 7000 feet. There really wasn't much strategy involved; just keep flying the cloud line, pull the bar in, occasionally turn in really strong lift. I could have flown faster, but my arms were soon too tired to fly as fast I as I should have. My SeeYou flight analysis states I was rising 30% of the time when flying straight; I wish every flight was like that. I got on the radio at one point saying I knew I was coming into a strong thermal since it was filled with gliders, birds, trash bags, and leaves!

Somewhere south of Sebring, my "other world" forced its way into my mind. I started having those "what if it's cancer" thoughts. About that time I spotted a big flock of large birds coming into the cloud I was gliding under. If I had surgery in my future, this could be my last flight for awhile. I decided it was more important to play than race to goal. I took a detour and merged into the middle of the flock as they cruised around base and exited out the other side. It was fun having birds completely surround me; well worth the diversion.

Back on course I continued gliding south to the Ridge. The convergence line weakened and faded further east as I reached the Route 27 and Route 29 intersection. I had positive numbers to goal, but knew this area was always full of surprises. I also had other pilots with me that I wanted to beat into goal. I decided to drift east over the open fields and then dive due south to the ridge. I passed a couple pilots, but Montana Jeff was slowing catching me. I dove across the line 1 second ahead of him; whew too close!

Once on the ground I quickly dug out my cellphone. I had one message. As expected the doctor's office called after 4:30. It was now 5:02. I called but only got an answering machine. Dang. I guess I should have flown faster. ;-) I left a message and started to break down. A few minutes later I got a call from my doctor's office; I guess not everyone left at 5:00. I setup an appointment for 9:00am Monday morning in Massachusetts which meant the meet was over for me.

It was strange merging the Quest and the Florida Ridge experience I had just a week ago. After we broke down, the Brits were back at their favorite spot on the deck, Dennis was moving through the pilots, Steve was laughing out loud, and Cheryl was taking pictures. There were many many happy pilots at goal. I lost count of the "this is my longest flight ever" high-fives. Even PK, who landed short on the other side of the river, still had his longest flight ever. It was truly an epic Florida day. I flew 128 in 3.5 hours and averaged 37.5 mph, which after factoring out the wind, meant I was flying at 27.5 mph which is very fast for me.

Now we faced the long drive back home. At least everyone (Dave, Derrek, and I) landed at goal, but that really didn't take the edge off the double long drive for Mark. The crew indulged my desire to get a picture of the sun setting over the orange groves. We passed Jack and PK in Sebring and invited them to join us for dinner at Sonny's. We got back, quickly unloaded, checked-in, and disappeared into the dark.

Flytec - Day 5

I noticed a voice mail message on my cellphone last night just before I crawled into my tent. It was from the nurse at the urgent care facility I visited on Sunday. She said it was important that I call her back. I assumed they needed information to complete the insurance forms. I started to call in the morning but was interrupted by some friends and was soon swept into the day's flying.

With the forecast for a north wind around 15 mph I thought the task committee might send us straight downwind to the Florida Ridge. However, in an effort to spare our drivers, the committee called an 85 mile task to the intersection of Route 27 and 544, then a crossing downwind leg to the east at an intersection, then a long crossing downwind leg to the west back across Route 27 to an airfield at Fort Mead, then another crossing downwind leg back to the airfield at Avon Park on Route 27. Once I saw the task I knew it was going to be fun and challenging.

I had a sloppy start but wasn't too worried since I knew I could make it up. I left the main gaggle north of Wallaby and flew directly east to better looking clouds over Route 27. That paid off as I cut off most of the main group as I crossed I-4 south of Wallaby. However, I played around in weak lift much longer than I should have in the lakes area around Haines City and several pilots caught me.

The second half of the second leg and the first third of the third leg was directly downwind of a large lake. I hung back in diminishing lift to stockpile as much altitude as possible. The entire gaggle left at the same time for a long glide into the blue, with me several hundred feet higher. I noticed gliders along the far east side of the lake but they were not as far south as us since we stuck to the course line. I kept heading for the turn point even as I noticed the lower pilots start to break rank looking for lift. I radioed back to Dave, Derrek, Linda, and Mark to leave with as much altitude as possible. I noticed a pilot turning down low but he was drifting off course line. I kept pushing for the turn point which should be outside the wind shadow of the lake. Bingo. Me and three other pilots found a strong climb right near the turn point. Once again I stocked up for the glide back across the blue as Dave and Derrek came on the radio saying they were coming into the turn point very low and might not make it.

I started the third leg nice and high (4300 feet) and with good company. As we got lower, I took a gamble on a new cloud that was forming downwind of course line. Oops. Nothing workable there. (You can see the diversion on the track log). The pilots that kept pushing along the course line eventually found a good climb over Route 27 but the climb was gone when I got there. I was now too low to go anywhere else since I was pinned up against two large lakes. That little diversion was the "memorable mistake" for this flight that ruined my scoring for the day. I wallowed around in bits and pieces of lift while I watch group after group of gliders fly in over head, connect with a climb, and move on. Oh well, such is life. I finally gained enough altitude to plow upwind to the northwest to a forming cloud where I found a strong climb and got back into the game.

I pushed a little upwind of course line hoping the northern edge of a lake might trigger some thermals, but I didn't find anything. The blue sky wasn't decorating thermals so there were a lot of gliders sniffing around for a climb when I arrived near the 3rd turn point. However, the group worked together and finally consolidated in a nice climb to 5000 feet. I had positive numbers over best glide to goal after quickie climb to 5400 feet just past the 3rd turn point. Some pilots rushed off for goal but I kept my speed in check since I wasn't sure there would be a "bailout thermal" if I came up short near goal. The remaining pilots seemed to agree with me as we headed towards goal at a conservative speed. The speedsters were soon veering off course line looking for lift as the rest of us continued on. I took a few "safety turns" but they turned out to be unnecessary as the area right before goal was lifting off as we flew through.

The goal field was filled with gliders, even Fred, Raean, and Mike who flew in from Wallaby. (Thanks for the awesome postcard Raean and Fred!) I parked near Ron, snapped a few pictures and wasn't even broke down when Mark V, Dave, and Derrek showed up. Apparently my advice to stock up before diving for the 2nd turn point helped Mark F and Linda, but Dave and Derrek were not in a position to heed my warning.

I finally called the nurse on the ride back home. The radiologist had found a suspicious mass on my x-ray and recommended meeting with my physician and getting a CT scan ASAP. Not the kind of news anyone likes to hear. So much for privacy also, there is nothing like discussing important medical news in a crowded HG retrieve vehicle!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Flytec - Day 4

Today was a day of unusual clouds. Although the low-levels of the atmosphere were mostly stable, the mid-levels were unstable and active. This produced a lot of unusual cloud patterns that changed from hour to hour.

The 72k (45 mile) task was to a small airstrip to the northeast and then to field to the north northeast. Kevin took a test flight and reported abundant light lift so the tugs started rolling on time. I had a sweet tow behind Jim to a climb and slowly climbed to 5000 feet over the field. A few of us headed to the start circle and didn't find much. We were still wallowing around when the next gaggle joined in a bit higher. I didn't have much altitude but flew back upwind to snag the 2nd start clock and returned to the gaggle.

It was then that I made the biggest mistake of my short flight. I was ready to go and instead of continuing the climb I joined a couple other pilots on a glide along course line. I faded furthest east but the glider furthest west found the next climb. By the time I got to the climb I was below the rest of the forming gaggle, including the gliders that let us take the risk leading out. I never really found the climb and had to move on low. I connected with a couple little climbs but was never "in the race" with everyone else. Jack, I and another pilot found a bumpy climb short of the first turn point that was drifting off course line and over a lake. I thought that climb might be our ticket out, but it just gave me enough height to cross the lake and make minimal progress until I had to turn down wind further off course to find an LZ. Four other gliders that glided directly across the lake higher landed in the same field in a light rain about 3 miles short of the first turn point.

Mark and Dave picked me up shortly after I finished packing. We drove on to pick up Derek who landed with Kevin and Jim about 10 miles short of goal.

Once again I had problems flying effectively in the large gaggles. I had trouble climbing when everyone else was turning in large circles that prevented me from centering in the small bubbles. Even so, the single decision to fade east on a single glide probably did me in for the day. Many pilots made goal and I'm sure I dropped a lot of places in the standings. Still, it was an interesting flight and one I would have not tried if free-flying.

Rain fell last evening as we enjoyed a very good female singer with an acoustic guitar and free-flowing blueberry beer. I slept well if not long.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Flytec - Day 3

Everyone was ready to fly today after watching the wind blow on the first 2 days. There was some initial concern with wind and turbulence this morning but that gave way to the apparent lack of lift. After a 30 minute delay on a late task to begin with, we finally kicked the rigid wings into the air and soon followed. I had a good tow and found a tiny patch of light lift that everyone wanted to share. Flying in the gaggles today, like most blue days, required constant attention. I swear several pilots tried to hit me and many others were tossed into my path (and me into theirs). Flying in large gaggles in weak choppy lift is probably my least favorite part of competition flying. You do better sticking with the gaggle, but it isn't necessarily fun.

There was little time for sightseeing on the trip south to the intersection of Route 27 and 544 and then to the southeast, but I did get a chance to check out all the contrails over the Lakeland airport during the aerobatics shows. (I would have taken a picture if I wasn't so low).

I flew with many friends today, but ended up flying with Kevin and Guga from Brazil as the day was shutting down. We climbed and drifted in a proto-thermal for a long time. Kevin headed downwind to the east while we stayed behind. Since Kevin didn't find anything I decided to drift across the north end of a lake and use my 1800 feet to glide due south on the east side of the lake. I lead out and Guga followed. I hit a strong bubble over a tree-line and thought we might get a climb out. However, it was a "one hit wonder" and I was soon shopping for LZs.

I could flown a little further but I found several fields with hills; in Florida! The fields had 75-100 foot mounds that just didn't look like fun. I turned around and flew back to a nice flat cow pasture and landed in a moderate west wind. Guga landed about a minute later.

A bunch of pilots made goal so my score for the day will be minimal. I should have jumped gaggles during the 2 times I had a shot. I would have gotten further along course line; and maybe into goal. As it was I flew 70k along course and was in the air over 3 hours.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Flytec - Day 2

Windy; called after a couple delays.

Bruce, Mark, and I were chosen as the safety committee. It looked windy in the morning and the reports from the surrounding airports verified that. However, the winds were predicted to slacken and they started to drop off to the north. Bo went up and said it might be ok for one or two pilots going XC but recommended not launching a large competition field. If you know "go for it" Bo then that might have been enough. However the deal-closer was the fear that the rush to setup gliders and dash into the air to get the expiring start clocks would create an unsafe atmosphere where one or more pilots might incorrectly rig a glider, bypass a safety check, or not carefully think things through.

Dave, PK, and I had lunch at Wallaby. PK needed to pick up a part and I wanted to see some visiting pilots; Dennis, Mark, and Phil from New England and Rick and Philipi from Ohio.

I included some pictures of a plane that visited Wallaby a couple of weeks ago. It was decorated as a dragon.

On a personal note, I finally went to a doctor Sunday afternoon. Without tests he could not be sure but he began treating me for "walking pneumonia". For the first time in over a week I awoke this morning feeling like getting out of the tent instead of crawling back in.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Flytec - Day 1

Squall line rolls through just before the morning pilot's meeting. It rained so much the clubhouse was surrounded by a shallow lake. Then it blew hard all day. Needless to say, the day was called. (Click on the radar image to see it in motion. Thanks Nigel.)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 7

I didn't sleep much last night due to my coughing and probably bothered everyone camping in the orange grove. As expected I dropped a few spots when the new cumulative scores were posted. Kevin had a good day and was now just a few points behind me. I hate passing up good flying days and with the race so close I just couldn't sit out the day even if I didn't feel good.

I talked to several more experienced racers and they all said I should stay close to Kevin and just make sure I arrive at roughly the same time. I had only tried to "cover" a pilot one other time when I unsuccessfully tried to hang onto Bubba at the East Coast Championship two years ago. I liked the thought of doing something different so I had a plan for the day.

I had a fast tow to a good climb behind Russell in the silver bullet. I climbed well and was on top waiting for Kevin. The gaggle soon topped out and began bouncing around at the top of the bubble, bobbing up and down on every circle. I waited for Kevin and soon we were following each other around the sky. (Anytime I couldn't immediately find Kevin, I would look behind and see him on my tail.)

We had a good start and had predictable glides and climbs close to course line. On the way to the second turn point we came up short for a climb and had to stop in a weak excuse for a thermal. We all were searching for that elusive core that just didn't seem to be there. Kevin made a large swing to the west that didn't pay off and came back lower than the main gaggle. I was ready to move along course line when Kevin headed 90 degrees to course line downwind. I know I had a plan, but I just couldn't bring myself to follow him. So I let him go and pushed on. I looked back and could see he found a good climb, but was drifting off course.

I joined Davis in a good climb before the second turn point and from there the rest of course was straightforward. Around the second turn point the pilots that took the later clock caught up; they probably didn't suffer through a slow climb like we did. I was leaving the turn point when I saw Kevin coming in. I shared a nice strong climb to cloud base with Paris before heading towards goal northwest of La Belle.

I watched Kevin pull into the last climb before goal. I was tempted to leave when I had 1000 feet over best glide but decided to be conservative since I saw 2 gliders circling just short of goal and I didn't want to blow final glide; I just needed to match Kevin. I finally left when I had 2000 feet above best glide to goal. The glide was ok for awhile, but I ran through some sink that took my altitude down to 500 over best glide. I made a single turn in strong lift and that is when Kevin blazed by me. I followed closely and crossed the finish line a few seconds behind him.

Kevin was a real sport and walked over and congratulated me when I parked my glider. It is fun competing with friends and good sports.

Brian, Patrick, and Rodger all were waiting at goal, since their task was a downwind run to the same grass airstrip. I snagged a quick picture of all the sport class pilots that made goal. Linda, George, and Mark all arrived at goal so Ron only needed to make one stop to pickup his crew.

Rodger won the national sport class title and also the sport class meet. Linda won the women's title, Campbell won the rigid wing title, I won the national flex wing title, and Dave Matthews from Great Britain won the flex wing meet. We eat pizza, drank, and talked into the night; well most of us did. My voice was totally gone and I was wiped. I took a nap on the hammock in the middle of all the commotion.

Florida Ridge - Day 6

I had to eat my words today. I told Brian and Rodger that we wouldn't fly after a strong storm blasted through at dawn. Well, I was wrong. The sky gradually cleared from the north and the predicted over-development and thunderstorms never materialized. Although still ill, I decided to fly and staged right behind the task committee (Davis, Kevin, and Jim) and listened in as they wrestled with the task selection. The original task to the south would have taken us directly into a area shaded with cirrus. Instead they decided to head cross-wind to the north into the cumulus field. It was a good call.

I launched early and got a sweet tow behind Rhett. After a good climb I headed north and formed a mutating gaggle that just wouldn't move even when we started sinking. I got on the radio and said it was either time to head back or push on. I finally got impatient (smart?) and moved on. Several other gliders left and we found a good climb just outside the start circle. I quickly climbed up and then headed back to nick the start circle and reset my start time. Linda got on the radio and wanted to know where I was going. I curtly answered "start circle". She quickly replied "No way!". I made the 1.5 mile round trip and got back into the same climb. Several tardy pilots were not so lucky and eventually headed back towards the airfield.

Linda topped out first and led out. She led me and a handful of pilots to a couple of more climbs before I caught up and left on a long glide across the blue. I flew the next portion of the 70+ mile course by myself racing hard. I made a strong turn east off course line to a cloud line that didn't really payoff that let Bruce and Jack catch up. We shared a climb or two before I headed more upwind while they proceeded along course line. While I had a buoyant glide with lots of little climbs, they pushed along with a mostly smooth glide. I came in over them south of the airport that was yesterday's goal. I should have kept pushing more upwind but I saw Bruce turning so I swung around and headed back east to join him. Bruce really didn't have a good climb and before long I lost my height advantage and soon was even a little below him.

About that time I noticed the texture of the air changed and I knew right away I was on the back side of a lake breeze front. Dang. I tried to push back upwind to where I was before but it was too late. I tried to work some broken lift but eventually landed in a field across from a fire tower in a light southeast breeze that was directly opposite the west northwest flow above. A few minutes later Bruce landed with me. Bruce and I started breaking down and then started seeing the "Spanish Armada" float over head. Bruce started counting. 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 gliders. Crap. A while later Mark made a picture-perfect approach into our field followed by Olav.

I had mixed emotions about the flight. I was pleased with my aggressiveness and was very comfortable being out front by myself. However, I was upset that I didn't notice the lake breeze until it was too late; I should not have missed all the classic signs that were there for me to read. Bruce and I lost our 2nd and 3rd places and Kevin just about caught me in the race for the national title. Bjorn was the only flex wing to make goal.

The sport class had a good day running downwind to Clewiston. Patrick spent some quality time with the local law enforcement, Rodger reaped the benefits of landing at a golf course (manicured lawn and a bar), and Brian (who won the day) discovered the joys of long downwind glides and how black wet recently-burned sugar cane fields can be.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 5

I have not felt well for a couple of days and I was really hoping for a day off today. Although the forecast included scattered thunderstorms, I knew we would fly. The forecast did not look good for racing; very little lift (<200> 15 mph). We staged our gliders and waited. Dave and Steve played wind dummies and promptly sank out. We waited some more. Dave, Steve, and a German comp pilot towed up and sank out. We waited some more. Some of the British team when looking for alligators in the drainage ditches, one pilot packed up and went fishing, and the rest huddled under gliders and tugs for shade. We waited.

Finally we spotted cummies forming to the southwest, then to the northeast, and then to the southeast. The high cirrus was moving away and ragged clouds began to form wherever it was blue. Davis and Jack towed up and managed to hang on for awhile. When I saw clouds form directly to the west, I suited up. Jack, Linda, and I were towed up at roughly the same time. Linda found a climb just as the sky started popping. I couldn't find her climb and finally decided to land and get another tow. I got punished coming into the tow field; rocketing 200 feet up and down while on approach. I finally dove into the field, rounded out, and flared into a gust. I zoomed so high that I was drifting backwards when I landed on my butt. Yikes.

I was now the last open class pilot on the ground and more cirrus was moving in blocking the much needed sun. I hooked in behind Rhett and started rolling down the field. I came off the cart in a turn but immediately got the glider level and repositioned behind the tug. Bad things can happen when the glider starts in a turn down low and I was not going to let that happen.

Rhett dropped me near a decent thermal and I climbed while drifting downwind towards goal 45 miles away. Ahead of the me sky looked great, but above and behind me the clouds were dying or gone. I moved north whenever I was high enough to run. The entire field was ahead of me but out of sight. I hooked up with James on his Phantom and Nigel for a couple of climbs but spent most of the trip by myself.

Once I got into the sun the climbs became more substantial and marked with clouds. A convergence line set up to the west of the big lake and things were easier once I reached it. I bounced under that line of clouds into goal.

I was slow but hopefully not embarrassingly slow. Linda gave herself a birthday present by making goal. Mark showed up with a gift at goal. While I was breaking down I saw Rodger fly overhead at cloud base. Rodger had the flight of the day in the sport class flying just short of 50 miles.

We awoke this morning to an approaching thunderstorm. I snapped a few pictures before the sky opened up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 4

Although it would probably rain or blow up into thunderstorms we setup for an early 34 mile task to the Lake Placid airfield to the north. I got into line as soon as I was ready and Steve towed me downwind to a wimpy little climb. At first I wasn't happy being dropped off with only 300 feet over best glide back to the field, but as I slowly climbed and watch other pilots land back at the field I changed by opinion. Once near cloud base the lift improved and I had no problem moving from cloud to cloud in the pillow-soft lift.

The sky to the north along course line started getting dark and then speckled with showers. I was ready to take the first start gate but no one in my gaggle wanted to go. No problem, it wasn't looking promising downwind anyway. I pushed back upwind and joined Kevin and Wolfgang in a little climb. Just as we reach cloud base it started to sprinkle and then rain. Kevin went on course line and I push back upwind. It continued to rain and I could see rain to the west as well. At that point I decided I had enough and took off to the east to find a dry place to land.

I landed in a light rain in a sugar-cane field next to highway 74 that had a bridge across the ever-present ditch/canal along the edge. A few minutes later I watched Paul land on the other side of the road in a pasture field adorned with small trees. I called in to inform Cheryl that I, a member of the safety committee, just landed because I thought the conditions on course line were unsafe. Cheryl informed me that the day was stopped 10 minutes earlier.

Meanwhile a Starling was constantly scolding me for intruding on his space. I could get within a few feet before he fly to the next bush only to return when I moved back.

Ron zipped out and picked me up and then we threw Paul and Olav onboard before heading back. It was a good thing we stopped the task because the radar of the course line was painted yellow and red with strong thunderstorms. A group of us drove into La Belle for Mexican food and retired to our tents for a loud and brilliant light show into the night.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 3

I was the first or second pilot to launch today. I got dropped off upwind but quickly drifted back in weak broken lift. Paul was dropped off above me and we both floundered awhile before pushing upwind. I was watching the altitude above best glide back to the Ridge drop lower and and lower. I kept watching Paul to see if bumped into a climb or turned back. I was down to 400 feet above and turned back just as Paul did the same. I had a better line back and made a pass over the nursery as Paul was landing. A 1200 fpm monster yanked me upward and for a moment I thought I might get up. However, after a 1000 foot gain, the rowdy climb turned into a trashy washing machine going down. I zipped over to the field and landed just a few feet from the end of launch line.

Although I was the first to launch I was also the last (open class flex wing) to launch. I was clipped in behind Lisa and we began to roll. Just as the glider started "jiggling" in the cart the tug slowed to a stop. Luckily the glider settled into the cart and I rolled to a stop. Since the prop was still turning, I assumed Lisa saw someone on approach but later learned she didn't have full power and properly aborted. The ground crew pushed me back to the start point and clipped me onto Russell's tug. The big engine on that beast yanked me into the sky and just as the start gate alarm went off. So much for an early start! The tug plowed through a strong climb at 700 feet but I shot up and to the right. I was reaching for the release when the weak link blew. It took a couple turns but I centered the thermal and climbed to cloud base downwind of the Ridge.

It was a struggle plowing upwind to the south. I knew I was late so I pushed hard to reach the start gate 6 miles away. I made cloud base over the starting line at the last valid time. Not the start I wanted but still acceptable. I kept pushing against the strong south wind and made slow but steady progress. I started missing climbs that I just knew should be there. I finally noticed that the wind had shifted from the south, to the south west, and then to the west. Duh.

I flew over George at the first turn point, rounded the turn point and headed to the next turn point north of La Belle. The sky over La Belle was dark, low and ugly. There would either be lots of lift or none. I turned back for a relatively weak climb to stock up. There was lots of lift over town, but almost none further north. I glided down to 1200 feet and was shopping for LZs when I stumbled into a weak climb. George flew in over me, worked together to center the thermal, and both climbed to cloud base. I lead out for the 2nd turn point bopping under some dying clouds. George found a little climb but I pressed on.

It didn't look promising ahead. There were already gliders parked along the road at the turn point and a couple other pilots diving over the turn point and heading back. I was very low by the time I got the turn point and drifted down wind looking for salvation instead of heading south on course line. I bobbled in some weak broken lift until I had enough altitude to push south to where George and Nigel were circling. I didn't find anything at 900 feet so I dove across a "tiny restricted" pasture so I could land next to the road. Then the "unplanned" part of the day unfolded.

Nigel floated into my field a few minutes later and George landed 1/2 mile down the road in scrub field. Ron showed up with the trailer so we could fit Nigel on our rig. We had not heard from Mark but Linda was waiting on the ground south of La Belle. Just as we were leaving a cloud of dust with a hang gliding truck in the middle showed up with Mark on board. We transferred Mark onto our rig and drove down the road to get George. We were tying down George's glider when we saw a pilot walking down the desolate dirt road towards us. It was Bjorn. We were not going to leave anyone stranded there so we tossed his glider on and squeezed everyone into the truck with me sitting in the center console in the front.

We didn't have anymore room for Linda so we needed a plan. I knew that Brian wanted to eat dinner in La Belle so maybe I could get dropped off in town, eat, and then get a body ride back. Brian didn't answer his phone so I called Rodger. Rodger said he would track down Brian and mentioned that Dave and Steve were driving in from Wallaby Ranch. So I called Dave. Dave was at least an hour away so I kept my options open, but was holding out for Brian. Brian called back and said he would come get us. So I asked Mark to pull over in La Belle and asked George to drop off my flight computer for scoring. Bjorn also offered to wait in town so we walked up to McDonald's for ice cream. A few minutes later Dave called saying he miscalculated his distance and was just outside town. Before long Dave, Steve, Bjorn, and I were sitting outside McDonald's on main street.

We made plans for dinner when Olav called Bjorn. Olav was still waiting for a ride and it was getting dark. Brian graciously offered to pick him up so we borrowed Steve's GPS while Dave and Steve went to check into their hotel. We picked up Olav just as the light was fading and got everyone back to the Ridge. We capped the evening off with yet another meal at the Gator Bait Pub. I don't think I could have made up a more complicated trip back home!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 2

The forecasts for today were mixed; some predicted light winds while others predicted moderate winds. The task committee picked a task for each forecast but by none it was clear the light wind forecast was correct.

Our task was a 45 mile trip to La Belle, south to an intersection, back to La Belle and then back to the Ridge. The sky was blue, the winds light, and the birds flapping. We had 4 15-minute interval starts beginning at 2:00. No one launched when the window opened at 1:00 but Olav, Bjorn, and Jack launched and discouraged further activity. Olav and Bjorn returned to the field, but Jack pushed on out of sight and eventually landed.

As the final start gate approached we started launched in earnest and surprisingly found workable lift. I worked my way to the edge of the start circle and took the last start. I was with most of the British team and Paris. We were getting close to the top of a climb near the first turn point when I pushed upwind a bit thinking I would find better lift. I fell off the edge of the climb and was soon 1000 feet below the rest of the gaggle that was just leaving. Crap. I flew the next leg behind the group but caught everyone on the way back to La Belle. We all wallowed in lightly sinking air before we all pushed on low.

I had a sweet glide northward and plowed into a strong climb near the turn point. I flew through the lift, got the turn point, went back and topped out with Bjorn. We started heading home and took a few turns we should have skipped. I finished 6th for the day, but 1st was within reach if I was more aggressive. Live and learn.

Rodger had an "outback" experience in the cane fields, Patrick won the day in the sport class, and we all spent the evening at the Gator Bait pub again.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 1

The wind shook the tents all night long and was still making the flags snap at sunrise. The fear of another blown-out day at the Florida Ridge was gnawing on my psyche. A quick check of the forecast on my cell phone from my tent gave me some hope as the computer models showed less wind later in the day.

Before we left the orchard where we are camping, Rodger showed us the Easter "surprise" his girls packed for him. Sweet.

The day's task was a zig-zag crossing downwind course to the south that turned out to have some crossing upwind legs after the wind veered more the the west than predicted. The sport class, that features Allen, Brian, Patrick, and Rodger had a straight downwind task to the same goal. We all had an open start window, meaning we could leave anytime after 2pm.

I launched second and left as soon as possible with Kevin, Paris, and Paul. We had long low-altitude glides with weak climbs until about the time we reached the first turn point. The climbs started becoming stronger and the were climbing higher. Unfortunately, the rest of the pilots were catching us. We turned into the crossing upwind leg to the second turn point and had to push upwind in the blue. It was tough, but not impossible since there was a lot of broken lift around.

The last leg was directly upwind, at least for me. I chickened out on the final glide over 3 miles of orange groves and took a safety climb that let 5 gliders get in front of me. (If I came up short I would have to land in the orchards, there was not bail out area.)

Most of the field, no matter when they started, landed roughly at the same time. I can not remember that happening before. I walked through the "inland beach" we landed in, broke down the gliders, took some pictures of the happy pilots at goal, and waited with George for our driver Ron. Mark landed back on course, but found another ride. We declined a ride that Jack offered so we could help Ron find Linda. Once loaded we drove a few miles away into a sugar cane field to extract LInda.

We had a good dinner at the Ridge and spent the evening at the Gator Bait Pub. All-n-all, a good way to start the meet.