Monday, February 09, 2009


Lee captured my less-than-graceful landing at Mount Washington so we can all enjoy it now. Pilots often talk about "intermediate syndrome", where an advancing pilot messes up by getting in too deep too fast. This landing was a classic case of "advanced syndrome", where an advanced pilot messes up by being sloppy or forgetful. I'm not going to point the things I recognized I could have done better. I want to hear your opinions instead, so please leave comments.

The wind in the restricted LZ was switching around and we are realistically restricted to either a north-to-south or south-to-north final approach. These pictures Lee took show Jeremy making the south-to-north approach. I came in the other way, but had flags showing me the wind in that direction for several minutes.

Thanks Lee for capturing the landing on video. I had some of my best landings ever on the flights that followed this "wake up" call. I did feel bad putting the first scratch on a nose cone that remained unblemished after years of heavy use. Sigh.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Throwing virgins off the mountain

[I apologize for not updating this blog.  It got harder and harder to start blogging again last summer as flight after flight piled up in the queue.  Although a lot of time has elapsed, I decided to add those flights to maintain a record.  This flight took place on Friday August 22 2008.  Most of these photos were taken by Rodger's brother-in-law Peter Paravalos.]

I needed a day in the air after reading about the good flights my friends were having while I was sweating away sunrise to sunset on laborious construction projects.  I finally got a day during the hot stable days of late summer at Mount Washington.  I've written before about the extreme weather on Mount Washington, where we wait until high pressure is directly overhead and the winds are light or non-existent.  I posted my intention to go the day before on the local club forum and ended up with a crew of excited "Mount Washington virgins" looking for their first flight off the roof of New England.

Lee and I drove north together, Jeremy drove in from the southwest, John G flew into a local airport, and  Rodger drove with his immediate and extended family from their vacation retreat in Maine.  We planned to meet at the toll road entrance to consolidate on as few trucks as possible.  We waited for Jeremy but decided to drive up without him when we discovered he followed his GPS to a location far to the north.

It was beautiful on the mountain.  There was just enough haze in the air to color the distance to surrounding and far-away peaks.  I was having a good time but the potential drivers in the back seat were not sure they wanted to drive down when they looked over the crumbling edge of the narrow single dirt lane!

There was a crowd on the summit enjoying the unusually benign weather so I knew we would have an audience.  We grabbed our harnesses and I showed Lee and Rodger the launch.  There was a little breeze blowing into and across launch, enough grass to use as a runway, and almost enough room to rig.  We walked back to the truck to unload gliders when Jeremy pulled in.  Great!

I warned everyone on the way to launch that there would be little thermal soaring today since the temperature profile was totally inverted.  It was the warmest I've ever experienced on the summit, probably 70F (21C) or more, and cooler in the LZ below.

We found little nooks and rigged our gliders amongst the rocks while John tried to launch his paraglider.  There just wasn't enough room or wind on launch so he picked up his glider and moved to the parking lot above us.  I knew he was airborne when the crowd starting cheering.

We collectively decided on a launch order and I started tossing the virgins into the void.  First up was Lee.  Lee is a competent pilot with good launch skills but he was understandably nervous after a less-than-successful launch earlier in the year at Mount Ascutney.  I had confidence in his ability and he proved me right with an excellent launch.  He was soon cruising along the mountain toward the LZ far below.

Next up was Rodger with his large posse.  We did our best mountain goat imitation, carefully picking our footing among the rocks while keeping his glider above it all.  After a short wait for a thermal to blow in, Rodger dove off and brought the crowds to life.

Jeremy was next.  The wind was getting lighter and more cross, but Jeremy waited and was rewarded with a good cycle and a good launch.

Now it was my turn!  I was able to turn my glider around with the help of Rodger's relatives and soon ran off.  Instead of turning north towards the LZ like everyone else, I immediately turned to the sunny south side of the mountain.  I found some very light lift, but not enough to maintain my altitude.  I soon had to come back around to the front near Tuckerman's ravine or get trapped on the wrong side of the mountain.  Once I gave up on soaring, I picked up speed and dove along the mountain side buzzing the road and hikers whenever possible.  I had an especially satisfying run along one section of the road where I was able to buzz along the road and then make a sharp banking turn at the switchback at road height back towards the mountain.

After leaving the road, I soaked up the scenery and decided to make a quick pass on the other side of the valley before heading into land.  Much to my surprise I found a weak thermal just at the point where I needed to turn back to the LZ.  I decided to stay and was rewarded with a slow pleasant climb back up.  Well, at least part of the climb was pleasant.  Around 4000 feet (1200m) the cushy little thermal turned into a harpy.  I climbed for another 1000 feet (300m) getting tossed this way and that until I was slapped enough to give up.  Yuck.  I even got on the radio and told Lee to occasionally look up to see if my parachute was open!

I used my altitude to fly to the east into a valley probably craved by glaciers and then back over to the Wildcat ski area.  I flew to the the southern edge of the ski area and was now well beyond the reach of the designated LZ.  The only LZ in sight was the ski area parking lot which was doable but I wanted to land with the rest of the crew so I started back looking for a climb to get me there.  I found a shy climb over a knife-edge ridge that reluctantly lifted me skyward.  I was considering my next move when the harpy showed up again.  I hung on for a few minutes and then realized I must be flying in a rotor.  I would get above 4000 feet, which is about the height of the mountain to the east, and then the light east wind would shear apart the thermal coming up the sunny backside that I was flying.  Ah ha; stay below 4000 feet!

I eventually grew tired of chasing elusive little thermals and headed back across the valley to land with everyone else.  Rodger stopped traffic on the toll road so I could whack in front of everyone!  (I'll post more about my bad form later.)

The drivers and Jeremy made it down without rolling off the edge of the road.  Although the ride down was uneventful, Jeremy's ride up was a bit more colorful.  I'm a bit hazy on the details, but I seem to remember he was offered a ride by a couple that in turn were already hitching a ride with a stranger.  On the way up they came across a woman who was too scared to continue driving.  Jeremy offered to drive but the a ranger stepped in and told him not to.  Apparently people too afraid to drive up are also too afraid to drive down!

It was a good first day for the mountain virgins and I suspect they'll be back for more.