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).