Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brace Mountain

Sometimes it is fun to do things the hard way.

[This flight took place on October 4, 2009.]

Although I've visited Brace Mountain, located near the corners of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York, I've never flow there.  Its not because of the flying or the long drive; its the 2 mile (3 km) hike into (and up to) launch.  I was waiting for a cool day with enough wind to ridge soar and that day just happened to align with a migration of other lemmings towards the mountain.  (JJ, Jeff C, John B, and PK were some of the other New England HG pilots that volunteered for torture).

Kermit was kind to drive a full load of pilots from the Brace Club's LZ to the back side of the mountain.  Kermit also carried my harness to the steep climb which was a big help.  Thanks Kermit!  Although not a joy, the hike wasn't killer either.  The first part of the trail is level, followed by some sections that have water running in it, and then a rocky ascent past the last stream crossing.  The brisk autumn air keep us cool and the usual thoughts of endless airtime kept us motivated.

At launch the wind was too strong for paragliding but OK for hang gliding.  The wind was crossing from the right (north) but seemed to blow straight into launch at times.  The launch is a good paraglider launch but demands attention from hang gliders.  The launch is a shallow slot with brush growing along all sides.  Paraglider pilots get their wings into the clean airflow above while hang glider pilots are forced to launch through mechanical turbulence.  I carefully watched how the wind curled around the slot edges.  I knew I would barely clear the trees at the end of the slot.  My launch would need to be near perfect.

I setup, inhaled a sandwich, gulped some water, suited up, and wiggled my way to launch.  The few pilots that launched earlier found a climb to the north under a mature line of clouds.  I waited for all the streamers to blow straight in, charged off the hill, managing to dive and get in an extra step to build up as much energy as possible.  I had several people tell me later I had the best launch (that they saw) of the day.  You can see from this video someone else took, that many of the launches were marginal.  Notice the "nose pop" on the first launch and the launch around 4:40 minutes into the video.

I quickly got above launch in mainly ridge lift but realized the wind was very cross.  Also the pilots that were once near cloud base were now coming in below me.  I cruised along the ridge barely maintaining and looking for a climb.  Each little thermal I found was shredded as it dragged along the ridge instead of over it.  The pilots falling off the ridge were not doing any better so I stayed on the ridge and tried to hang on.  I managed to hang on while everyone else landed but was little consolation as I too sank out and headed for the LZ.

The LZ is a large hayfield with a set of little "stair step" hills on the south end.  I couldn't pass up the opportunity to do some "nap of the earth" flying on final.  I dove for speed and flew the contour of the field a few feet off the ground.  It was the best part of the flight.

Of course after landing and protesting the injustice of being flushed with fellow victims we noticed people were launching again and staying up.  The winds had dropped and a sweet wonder-wind had set up.  Although they were not getting high, they didn't seem to have much trouble staying aloft.  Sigh.

I grabbed a couple landings on video.  I apologize for the video quality.

People kept soaring until the sun was setting.  I snapped a few shots of the last pilots landing before huddling around the fire.  After a quick trip into town for dinner and some stories around the fire I slipped into my tent and started dreaming about how I was going to soar all day next time!

Flights: 1, Time: 28 minutes, Distance: - , Hiking: 2 miles

Thursday, March 05, 2009


[This flight took place on September 24, 2009.]
It had been several years since I flew the sand cliffs near Plymouth Massachusetts, so it didn't take much convincing to join JJ for a day at the beach.  It is a coastal site with sand cliffs constantly eroding into the sea.  The cliffs form a shallow bowl about 3 miles long (4.8 km).  Parts of the beach are littered with rocks and boulders, but there are plenty of places to land when the beach is deserted.

After the 2 hour drive south, we parked JJ's car along the highway and hiked our gliders 0.6 miles (1 km) to launch.  The hiking wasn't bad, but the shiny succulent leaves of poison ivy lining the trail were trying to paint my arms and legs with days of torture.  I took a mini-dust/sand bath before setting up to remove as much oil as possible.

We were just about finished rigging when Nick unexpectedly showed up.  He graciously offered to help us launch before going back for his equipment.  The combination of tall shrubs, slightly cross wind, and a curved washout made it near impossible to get gliders into position at launch and safely keep them there.  Nick and I helped JJ launch first.  With only two of us, it was much more difficult getting me into position.  I told Nick I was concerned about him launching by himself, but he assured me he would be OK.  I promised I would be directly overhead when he launched to offer help if something went wrong.

A while later I parked directly over Nick as he carefully and methodically worked his way to launch.  I could see the glider getting tossed about and was glad I was in the air and not on launch.  I was impressed with his finesse as he inched his way forward and then simply stepped off for a clean launch.

It was mindlessly soar-able.  I suspect there was more than just ridge lift at work.  The ocean at that time of the year is much warmer than the land, so widespread thermals or some type of convergence must have been helping out.  It was also strange that the lack of wind lines on the water didn't indicate strong wind.  I was high enough that I could easily see the ocean to the southeast towards Buzzard's Bay and the outer cape across the bay.  I even spotted fields well inland I could reach if I flew too long and the tide consumed the beach.  It was definitely not a day of "dragging wing tips through the sand".

I practiced high-speed runs in the glassy air and then entertained myself and golfers at the club with some "expressive flying".

Notice how the flag in the next picture is blowing directly opposite the flag in the previous picture.  Think there might be rotor present?

I eventually watched Nick land, break down, and hike out.  Unless I wanted to land with no beach and no light for the hike out, it was getting time for me to also land.  I had to work hard to get down below the top of the dunes to the south of launch.  Even so I floated much further along the beach than I expected and had to hike back to the stairs off the beach.  JJ landed a bit later winning the "air hog" award for the day.

 Carrying a glider up those stairs is always a joy!

Here is short video I shot during the flight.

Flight time: ~3:00 hours, distance: 3 miles (many times), wing overs: too many to count

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

West Rutland

[This flight took place on September 11, 2009.]

By September cross-country flying in New England is usually just a memory.  However, after staring at a reasonable forecast and refusing to give in to reality, a few airheads blew off work and headed to West Rutland, Vermont.

We savored the early afternoon as we rigged our gliders, selected radio frequencies, and made loose plans for retrieval just in case we actually went anywhere.

Art and JJ offered to drive since they would likely land near the vehicles in one of the designated LZs out front.

On the other hand, John and PK were hoping for some sightseeing if that was possible. (We all know I'm going to go cross-country flying!)

I launched into a weak thermal that drifted over the back and fizzled around 3000 feet (900m). I flew back into the valley to join JJ already climbing in a smoothie. John, PK, and I hooked up as we drifted over the back and waved goodbye to JJ.

Although the climbs were weak and sometimes broken, they continued to above 5000 feet (1500m). Since the climbs were weak and the winds light at 5 mph (8 km/h) I had plenty of time to check out the scenery below. I inhaled as much "summer air" as my lungs could bear.

John and PK had trouble connecting with a devious climb I found on the east side of the valley northeast of Pittsford but that allowed me to take some pictures of them climbing below.

I also took some video, but the wind noise ruined the audio and I'm not good enough to capture stable video while dealing with rowdy air near base. However, I included a few clips if you want to check your nausea tolerance.

John and PK peeled off to the open fields to the west while I continued along the treed ridge line to the east. I kept topping out lower and lower and was soon considering a run across Lake Dunmore to an LZ. Instead I joined some crows playing along a rock face simmering in the afternoon sun. It was exciting wrestling with the bullets ripping up the face and extracted enough height to glide to the Middlebury State Airport.

I arrived with enough height to do a traditional aircraft approach (left-hand downwind, base, final) through some mild turbulence to a near-perfect no-step landing in front several people resting in the shade of the main building. After my previous less-than-elegant landing at Mount Washington it was good to hear people comment on how cool they thought my landing was. I just have to ensure I land that way all the time!

After chatting with people for awhile, I turned on my phone and noticed several messages. It seems the person that drove my truck down the 4x4 trail stranded the truck on its belly when she pulled off to the side to let someone coming up the hill go by. Attempts to free the truck were not working until JJ showed up and demonstrated how to use the adjustable shocks to "lift" the truck off its belly.

I broke down, drank a soda, and listened to music while John and PK were trying to hide from swarms of blood-sucking mosquitos where they landed. Bummer. Next time try to land at the airfield! ;-)

Time: 2 hours, Distance: 25.5 miles