Saturday, April 26, 2008

Santa Cruz Flats (Day 6)

Although the winds were light, it took longer to get everyone on course yesterday due to weaker and wider-space climbs. At times it seemed that every 4th or 5th pilot coming through the line had already towed before. Some came through again because of weak-link breaks and some because they simply sunk out. Either way, we had more launches than any day so far. Also unlike earlier days, I saw several busted down tubes, corner brackets, and even harnesses.

Rob graciously offered me a little Wills Wing Sport 2 135 to rig in the dust and fly after the competitors left. I wasn't sure it's wings were big enough to get be airborne; it seemed more like a large umbrella than a hang glider! Rob insisted it would do fine, so we wound up Jim in the tug and I was soon looking for lift. Jim towed me upwind, which was also along course line. It really sunk in how difficult the day was when I saw 4 or 5 gliders on the ground in or just slightly outside the start circle. I checked out the scenery and gradually wondered back towards the resort since I didn't exactly know the glide slope of the glider I was flying. I finally found a climb near launch and started climbed. I was soon joined by two competitors still in the area, but left them below as I threw my little sports car into the surges of lift that finally consolidated into a strong climb to 6000.

I went to get my camera to take pictures of the mountains and the patch work agricultural fields when I noticed my drink tube. Um, a drink of water would be good. I pulled out my line and ripped the nipple off. It immediately started spraying water over my helmet and harness like a fireman spraying down a burning building. It took a couple seconds of frantic grabbing before I caught it. I decided I should drink before it was all gone. Ever try to drink from a water fountain with a helmet on? It is not easy! By the time the water drained out I lost the climb and was getting too far from the resort so I never got to take my pictures. I found a couple more climbs, but arrived back at the resort lower each time. I eventually landed after nearly an hour of playtime.

A small group gathered as I lazily broke down in the shade on the cool green grass. We watched the two rigid wings arrive at goal. We also saw Rhett leave to tow Brian back up after he landed just short of goal across the road. Brian gave the spectators a good show as he flew in over our heads. Later in the afternoon several of us went to watch for arriving flex wings from the top floor of the resort tower. We saw two gliders slowing climbing and drifting from our left more than one glide away. Meanwhile we watched other gliders land at the edge of our vision. We were trying to guess if the pilots had goal or not. The further pilot, who turned out to be Brett, looked like he needed a climb. The closer pilot, who turned out to be Nene, was close; sometimes it looked like he might barely make it, other times not. It was a real nail-bitter that would have made for an interesting TV plot. It was also fun watching Brett and Nene's struggle from above. In the end Nene landed 800 meters short of goal and Brett a bit further away. (You can see Nene in the center of the picture. He landed in the open spot in the field in front of the resort. Brett landed in the green field to the right of the houses and trailers). Nene won the day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Santa Cruz Flats (Day 5)

The winds were forecasted to become stronger later in the day so launch and start times were moved up. Adding to the minor confusion was the reorganized staging and launch lines so gliders could land on one side and tugs on the other. Enthusiasm for flying started waning as Brian brought the Swift back in for another try. Then another rigid landed, then another. The pilots hanging on were low and drifting away from the field. As the wind started cranking up to the level we towed in the day before, pilots started asking if the safety committee was "evaluating the conditions". After watching a couple more rigid wing relaunches, a pilots meeting, and a lot of milling around, the safety committee called the day.

Meanwhile most of the rigid wings were on course. Brian said he, Bruce, and Campbell got stuck ridge soaring Picacho Peak. Campbell was at the wrong side of the peak when Brian and Bruce got a ride out. Cambell was the flushed off the ridge and was setting up a landing when we found a weak little thing that he drifted away in. He repeated that approach, climb, drift performance again before hitting the mother-lode and getting a strong climb that allowed him to glide 20 miles into goal.

The flex wing pilots spent the afternoon eating, swimming, sleeping, and drinking at the resort. Looks like another dust bath today.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Santa Cruz Flats (Day 4)

The course today was a windy trip from the oasis to the desert to the southeast. The launch line was a total dust bowl; at times pilots could not see the pilot laying in front of them. (I'll be coughing up dust for days!) However, the launches went well and pilots got out even though some tows were rough down low. Amy and I drove by an airplane graveyard, took the long way through the Saguaro National Park, stopped to see the happy pilots at sweet RC airfield serving as goal, and then drove through the gap to Tucson.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Santa Cruz Flats (Day 3)

After launching everyone, Amy and I showered, enjoyed an leisurely lunch on the patio, and then went to the top floor to survey the launch area and watch pilots coming into goal. Brian came in first on the Swift, then Bruce on a rigid, and then Andre on a flexi. 1 more rigid and 5 more flex wings managed to make it around the course. We watched Jeff (OB) land about a mile short; bummer. Scores are available online.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Santa Cruz Flats (Day 2)

We had a little excitement yesterday when Rhett struck a couple gliders in the launch line. I was pre-flighting Larry Bunner when I got a glimpse of green coming our way. I heard a crunch on the glider behind us and a strong strike to Larry's glider as the tug passed right over us. The entire glider shook and the downtubes bowed outward as the cross-bar broke. Larry was a bit shocked and then asked if any battens were bent. I stood up and immediately saw Larry was done for the day as his glider looked like a wounded bird with a broken wing. Once the shock wore off and reality set in we moved Larry aside. Instantly Rob Kells was working on a backup plan. Before long Larry was back in line with another new-looking T2C and looking relaxed and ready to compete. (He did quite well as you can see in the daily results.) I talked to Rhett later in the day and he said he was coming in, got dumped, applied power, and then listened to the engine stutter. He immediately came over to make sure everyone was ok and, as expected, felt very bad about what had just happened.

Aside from the constantly shifting light winds and a few weak-link breaks, launching went well. After a quick shower Amy and took off for some local touring. There is a lot of open land around here with lots of scrub and farm fields. We also passed several mega-feedlots filled with cattle. No exageration, they were huge. We also stopped at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument that was just off the yesterday's course line. I was impressed that anyone could build a 4 story mud building, let alone have it last over 700 years.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Santa Cruz Flats (Day 1)

Amy and I are at the Santa Cruz Flats meet in Casa Grande Arizona. Instead of competing I'm volunteering, which means I get to eat a lot of dust helping pilots get safely into the air. Amy is also helping and easy outdid me and maybe even Curt Schilling by keeping the line moving even after getting wounded and bleeding all over here sock. (This only makes sense if you are Boston Red Sox fan.)

The weather is hot, dry, and sunny. It was breezy early this morning but the winds calmed down by launch time, so the task was changed to return here for goal.

Although the launch is in a flat dusty field, the LZ is just the opposite. We sat in the shade on cool grass as we watched pilots come into goal. Most came in with lots of altitude, but a couple came in with just enough to clear all the toys.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mohawk Trail - Summer in April

The forecast for Friday on Thursday evening was looking great for XC. I rattled the usual cages and went to sleep dreaming of flying home across the state of Massachusetts. Pete J needed to make the go/no-go decision early in the morning so we were both checking the weather at 6 am. The forecast was less stellar but still good. By the time Pete showed up at 9:00, Rodger was calling to ask “what are you seeing that I don’t”? Dang, the updated forecast deteriorated to the point that it might not even be soarable. Pete and I searched for a good excuse to drive 4 hours. Although the computer-model-based BlipMaps indicated it would be barely soarable, the humans at the National Weather Service were forecasting a higher surface temperature. I know from experience that the NWS does a good job for forecasting the day’s high temperatures and if I used their forecasted surface temperature it would be soarable by mid-afternoon. That was enough for Pete and if it was good enough for Pete it was good enough for me!

It was surreal when we arrived at the Mohawk Trail launch. It was hot like mid-summer, but there was snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees above. It seemed a like a dream; what I saw didn’t match what I felt. The sun glared through a totally blue sky roasting us like a late summer day at the beach. We rigged and kept ourselves busy setting out streamers and cleaning up litter while waiting for the sun to heat up the northwest-facing slope under our feet. We soon saw the birds dive out of the trees and start soaring; well a little. The thermal cycles become stronger and more frequent. It was getting soarable when Brooks showed up; what good timing. Brooks told us it was 81F down in the valley, even warmer than the NWS predicted. It was time to fly.

With Pete’s help I launched first. I easily climbed above launch as I watched Pete head for his glider. I had already topped out and was heading back when Pete launched. Pete worked at launch height for awhile before getting up. Brooks took even longer, but never got below launch height. We all had a pleasant afternoon soaring in our summer gear while looking down on frozen lakes and remnants of snow left in the forests. (About half of the snow cover disappear between my flights on Tuesday and Friday). Brooks headed north while I headed across the valley. Pete was skying out as I returned at ridge height. We all spent the late afternoon criss-crossing the valley enjoying the civilized 200-600 fpm climbs to 6000+.

Pete was the first to head to the LZ at The Range, a driving range and mini-golf business that graciously allows us to interrupt their customers. As usual, the wind was switching and he decided to land on his wheels. It seemed like a great idea until he rolled into a muddy area and came to a quick messy stop! I flew over town for awhile and decided it was my time to roll the dice. I was about 1000 feet above the cemetery due west of the LZ when I first saw Brooks at the same altitude to the southwest. It was going to be enough “fun” landing without complicating it with two pilots competing for the same space, so I made a quick last-minute dive back to the ridge hoping to find lift and delay my landing. I found a lot of smooth air flowing up the ridge and decided to go with it. Meanwhile Brooks was chasing the windsock and pulled off a good landing heading directly at the ridge to the west.

I continued climbing in smooth evening wonder-winds until I was about a 1000 feet over the ridge. I yanked on the VG, snuggled into a clean cruising position, and went sight seeing. It was that time of the evening when the air is gentle and giving; I traveled north past the LZ, town, and launch and back without losing any altitude. Although I wanted to keep going south, I knew my friends would be waiting for me in the LZ. I could clearly see all the signs that cool air was sliding down the shadowed side of the mountain next to the LZ so I knew exactly where to find sink. It was bumpy on approach, but not harsh. Like Brooks I landed heading towards the ridge with a good no-stepper in front of all the golfers. Whew.

Brooks and Pete hailed a taxi to fetch vehicles while Grandpa Gary kept me company as I broke down. Its a day I’ll remember for a long time; its very rare to have 80F weather in April with dry ground and light winds. I also added another 2 hours of climbing and gliding to my flying “rehabilitation” program. Plus I somehow managed to get poison ivy all over my arms.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mohawk Trail

Blessed with a rare week of spring sunshine JJ and I flew yesterday at the Mohawk Trail in North Adams Massachusetts. Although it was 25F (-4C) overnight it warmed into the upper 50s (13C) by the time we launched. It was JJ's first flight there and since I was his observer we did the full tour of the LZs in the valley. I suspected the wind to be alternating between north and south in the LZ directly below launch, but was surprised when the LZ at the driving range was doing the same thing. I was even more concerned when it was blowing 10-12 north and then the same strength from the south moments later. I talked myself into believing it was due to the wind being perpendicular to valley and as the wind shifted to the north during the day, the alternating flow in the valley would also become north.

JJ and I hiked our harnesses out to launch first to see if the trail was flooded or covered with banks of snow. Luckily it was just a little wet and barely covered with snow. We met Brooks hiking his gear in as we returned to the truck for our gliders. We setup, put on our warm clothes, and got ready to launch. Brooks went first so JJ could see how its done. About 30 seconds into the flight Brooks yelled down "Lumpy!". I expected as much given the cold air, high pressure, and strong (for around here) sun. JJ was next with a good launch into a breeze straight up the slope. Once I saw JJ above launch I squeezed everything into my new Matrix Race, walked over to launch, and ran off into a nice mellow cycle.

It didn't take long to confirm Brooks' earlier assessment. The air was rifled with strong bullets; going both up and down. Yeehaw! I got a day of thrill rides without paying admission to the theme park! Once I managed to get above the ridge I started looking around for Brooks and JJ. I saw Brooks to the south at ridge height, but didn't see JJ anywhere. I got on the radio and asked how he was doing. Oops, I guess I should have looked up; he was already climbing through 5000. Since everyone was accounted for I headed south where the ridge is better defined. I passed Brooks coming north as I continued on to a nice bowl. Big mistake. I got violently flushed and was soon heading out to the valley. I kept getting hit with bullets but they were not big enough to circle in. I got thrown into the sail twice; not what a guy with a suspect arm needs! I really didn't want to land in conditions like this but needed to get to the LZ. On the way there I stumbled onto a thermal that was big enough to get half a turn in. Accelerated up, shot down, accelerated up, shot down. At least the up was a bit bigger than the down. I continued that yo-yo until it solidified at the ridge and I finally started climbing in earnest. Once I broke through 3500 it turned into a civilized 700 fpm up to 7700 feet. Whew, finally I could rest.

There was big contrast between the greening grass of the valley and the snow covered forests and lakes of the high country. The icy realm seemed like winter's army retreating before spring's green invasion. My thick gloves and constant battering prevented me from taking pictures. Sorry.

I gave a passing thought to going down wind, but I thought it would be smarter to land near wind socks. I flew along the ridge for awhile and then headed over town where they were boiling up a pot of kick-butt thermals. I flew over the gap to the airport and then over to the Greylock ridge line to close off a little 20 mile triangle.

Eventually JJ decided to land, but the air wasn't ready to let him go. I watched him fly all around the LZ at what seemed like the same altitude. So much for a nice quite LZ. I found some neutral air where I could relax and lose some altitude near Ragged Mountain. Although bumpy, the air wasn't nasty as I approached the LZ. However, it was tough to judge an approach when you're constantly bobbing up and down. I came in a bit lower over the trees than I like on final then got knocked into a turn towards the creek. Ugh. I got the glider going in the right direction but was not perfectly leveled out when it was time to flare. Dang, I let the nose touch. :-( Moments later Brooks came in and also got turned towards the creek. It took him longer to correct but he managed a good landing on dry ground.

I expected the thermals to be strong, but I thought they would have been more cohesive, especially with the lighter winds. Linda flew in New York 250 miles (400 km) away and described similar conditions. Although it wasn't a cushy cruising flight it was a good workout and gave me a lot more confidence in my arm's ability to handle at least 1.5 hours of "rugged flying conditions".

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cape Cod

Drove 6 hours yesterday to watch the surf pound and wind blow at the cape. I knew it might be blown out but I didn't want to let a soarable day go unused since the cape is off limits for the season starting April 15. I hooked up with Rodger at the canal and then met Phil at the Wellfleet town beach. We hung out for a couple hours but twisting signs, powerlines, and trees were enough to send us home. To rub (sea) salt in the wound, I heard the sky was littered with pilots today; the day I thought would be too light. Sigh.

I did get to check out the rack Rodger made for his new Forester. As with all of Rodger's projects, its slick and looks factory installed. I now know how to convert Amy's Forester into a 1st class HG-mobile. (Thanks for the pictures Rodger).

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I'm back!

Rob and PK were pushing hard to get me join them for the Wills Wing demo days at Wallaby Ranch but last weekend, but I resisted ... at least until Wednesday night at 10 PM when I finally purchased airline tickets and started tossing long-forgotten flying equipment into my new never-flown Matrix Race harness.  I surprised PK at the Manchester NH airport Thursday morning.  Meanwhile I was calling Rob on the phone trying to keep him alert as he drove 24 hours non-stop to Florida.  Once PK and I arrived in Orlando, I gave Rob a call and discovered he was just a few miles from the airport!  I told him that PK could use a ride and surprised him as well when he pulled in to pickup PK.

  Later that evening I suited up and had my first flight since I busted my arm last spring.  I hooked into a brand new Sport 2 and aside from the oscillation I introduced trying to fly the Sport 2 like a topless glider, the flight was totally uneventful.  YES!  I was once again a pilot!  I snagged another flight on a 170 Falcon 3 to prove it wasn't a fluke.  It felt very good to be flying again; despite what the doctors recommended.

 Wallaby was packed with old friends, new toys, and great weather.  I flew a 144 T2-C on Friday for an hour and had to core sink to land before my chariot turned into a pumpkin.  (Demo flights on the T2s were supposed to only last for an hour).  I flew another 144 T2-C on Saturday and got to put it through its paces.  Towing was a no-brainer, but I was only on tow for 1000 feet both days since I pinned off early in obvious lift.  The glider is well behaved and feels lighter than my Litespeed 4S.  (I would like to fly in rowdy air to see how solid it feels.)  I yanked the VG on, grabbed the inner grips on the awesome carbon base-bar, pulled the bar back, tucked my arms under the neoprene fairing on the harness, and zoomed across the sky.  Wills Wing should be thankful that I didn't pack that base-bar in my bag for the trip home; it is sweet!

Many pilots cruised across the countryside on Friday and Saturday; mostly closed courses that returned to the ranch for dinner and late night partying.  Speaking of partying, Rob had a quad delivered to the ranch and we all made sure it was properly "tested".  Needless to say, riding through the swamps at midnight in an overload quad was much rougher on my healing arm than any flight!  The formal program included Chris Wills showing vintage hang gliding video on Friday night and Wills Wing treating everyone to a great barbeque dinner and short program on Saturday night.  On Sunday morning Erin and Yuan (spelling?) drove PK and I away from our little paradise and dropped us off at the real-world airport for our trip back north.