Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flytec Race & Rally (Day 4)

Today was a bit disappointing since I was standing on the ground looking up at my buddies instead of flying with them.

We had a 109 km task from Quest Air to the airport at Avon Park.  The forecast called for blue skies, light west northwest wind, and weak to moderate lift. 

Pilots were slow to launch since it didn't look soar-able especially after a couple early birds circled their way back to the ground.

My entire tow was spent circling over the field behind Bob.  I climbed a little after release and then lost most of my altitude flying upwind.  The rest of my time in the start circle was low trying to keep my feet off the ground.  I finally stumbled into a climb that allowed me to join the main gaggle in time for the last start.

Although we were working hard to stay upwind of course line in the moderate west wind we were making progress.  I pushed upwind of the group and had to turn around for a climb, came in low, and couldn't find it.  I wasn't worried, but should have been.  I continued on and was soon picking out LZs.  I climbed from 300 to 700 feet (90 to 200m) in a broken climb but had to bail out so I could reach my LZ.  Of course after landing I looked up and saw a dozen gliders climbing above me.  Dang.

Bill arrived before I was finished packing up.  We picked up Patrick on the way back.

Bill and Patrick

I was very disappointed to be on the ground so early on a fun flying day but that's the nature of this silly game we play.  Tomorrow is another day.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:06, Distance: 39 km

Flytec Race & Rally (Day 3)

It looked good for flying yesterday until I was on tow.  It was active all the way to the top.  At one point my right wing fell into a hole and momentarily rolled close to 90 degrees.  Bobby and I got quickly got things back into line but it was an adrenaline rush.

I managed a couple climbs but I was constantly working to keep the glider going where I wanted.  The lakes below were all "lit up" with wind lines and gust swirls; more than I've ever seen in Florida.  I also watched how other pilots were coping with the conditions.  Many were regularly knocked out of thermals or doing unintended wing-overs on glide.  On top of everything else we were quickly blown away from the field and off course line.

I finally decided I had enough and decided to land.  I rarely "bag a soar-able day", but yesterday was a day to "throw back".  Within a few minutes most of the pilots landed and after some discussion the task was stopped.

Although we decided to move on after the day's flight at the morning meeting, we had another vote and decided to stay at Quest for another day or two.  Needless to say I was very disappointed.  From my perspective we killed the rally and turned it into a traditional meet held at Quest.

Connie made us a great dinner last night and we spent the evening hanging out with friends in the club house.

 Dangerous non-flying activity
 Beer, testing equipment, and a fast truck; what can go wrong

Don't ask!

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:28

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Flytec Race & Rally (Day 2)

It rained Sunday night.  It stormed.   It poured.  It flooded.  It rained more.  Lightning lit up the sky.  It rained more.  Get the scene?

I spent most of Sunday night bailing water that was pouring in through a failed seam the bottom of my 20 year old tent.  Water poured in the door when I accidentally unzipped the bottom of the door to check the depth of the water outside.  I tried to sleep sitting up on my pad with my electronics sitting in my lap between bailing sessions.  Needless to say, I was quite tired when morning and the clearing line finally arrived.

 Patrick trailer surfing

I scurried about trying to dry everything so we could move on to our next stop.  I also managed to rig the glider before the morning task meeting.  The task committee came up with two tasks, both requiring new waypoints which were not written down anywhere.  While everyone was trying to get the coordinates to the waypoints, Davis was explaining how we needed to stay on course line to avoid controlled airspace.  On top of that, people were mumbling "we're not seriously thinking of flying are we?".  In other words general chaos.

 Getting ready

The real question was whether the predicted high winds would materialize during the afternoon.  We spent the day doing the one thing I dislike about competition flying; going through the motion of getting ready to fly when your not sure you'll actually fly.  We had the customary politicking, lobbying, hand wringing, and bravado.  The start time was pushed back 30 minutes at one point.  I didn't understand the reason for that since the winds would only get stronger.  I thought the day should be canceled, but was ready to fly.  I was in the launch line when the day was finally put into the trash can.

I "ground flew" my glider back to the tie-down area, unpacked everything, and set the tent back up when I found out we would spend another night at Quest.  Later in the evening we went for Thai food at Otto's restaurant.  I went to bed early in a nice dry tent and quickly fell to sleep.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Flytec Race & Rally (Day 1)

I spent my last night at the Florida Ridge in my small tent.  The bigger tent and all non-essential equipment was tucked into my car, which thanks to the crew from Puerto Rico, was in Orlando.  (Thanks guys!)

There was a lot of discussion between hang glider pilots, tug pilots, and meet organizers about whether to rush to Quest Air in Orlando to beat an approaching cold front and severe storms or try to squeeze a short task into before moving on.  Thanks to sacrifices by the tug pilots, we managed to have a task to the northeast in light breezy conditions.  At least cloud base was low.  ;-)

 Derrek, Jack, Patrick, and Mark

 Steve and Bob

Rhett and Dave

Everyone was trying to time their launch so they could simply float out of the start circle while climbing.  I was lucky enough to find a climb near the field and even made one upwind glide back to the field.  I was circling with Johnny, Eric, Mark, and Patrick waiting for someone to move on.  Since we were circling in light sink, I headed back upwind to another climb.  Soon as I left, the crew moved on, but I was already committed to my decision.  I never found the climb and was soon drifting away from the course line in a anemic thermal.

I drifted over Moore Haven and then out over Lake Okeechobee.  Greg joined me in a climb as I watch Jeff S land below in a swampy area.  I was motivated to stay in the air and wish I snapped some pictures to help convey the "importance" of staying airborne.  ;-)

Greg and I kept pushing north and was joined by Glen as we arrived over dry ground again.  I was the last to join a weak climb and Greg and Glen left me.  I shared a few bumps with Campbell before striking out into the hazy blue.

The glide was too smooth and I knew I was on final glide.  I looked to the west and saw the wind lines on the ponds were from the west.  The wind lines on Lake Okeechobee were due east.  Duh.  I made a terrible rookie mistake; I missed obvious evidence of a lake breeze and probable lifting convergence line.  I was already too far east and too low, so my fate was sealed.  Dang.

I wasted some distance to make a few turns to detect the wind direction for landing.  I couldn't detect any drift during the first turn, but by the last turn I detected an obvious east wind and had a good dry landing in a huge pasture next to the road.

Bill, Patrick, and I stopped for lunch and a drink at a small bar before stopping briefly at Wallaby Ranch to pick up my car.  We arrived at Quest Air just as the storms let loose.  I ran into the office and chatted with Paul and Lauren before going upstairs for pizza and an evening of "hanging out".

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:42, Distance: 50 km

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rob Kells Memorial (Day 7)

The day got off to an early start as a small crowd gather to watch Bill take his first solo flight shortly after sunrise.  James gave Bill some last minute reminders, Bill launched like a pro, and the crowd cheered; another one leaves the nest.

Right before Bill's first solo flight

We had a bit of a comedy routine with the task selection.  The original task was changed when the organizers found out an airshow was planned at the goal airport.  Everyone was essentially ready to go when the task was changed to a field a safe distance from the airshow.  Then we slowly realized that there were two waypoints with similar names.  Some flight computers overwrote the first, some renamed the waypoints, and others simply chose one.  So more confusion ensued and starts delayed until everything was sorted out.

Unlike previous days I had an uneventful tow and easily climbed to base.  However, each time I flew upwind to stay near the airfield I ended up low.  I tried to get upwind of the start circle, got low, and had to take a slow climb away from the start circle with a few other pilots.  We arrived at base when the second start clock went off.  Instead of accepting the 15 minute delay, I flew back to get the later start and got separated from the main gaggle.

I had a nice strong climb at the first turn point and then ran a line of clouds to the east of the course line.  That worked well and allowed me to catch and pass most of the lead gaggle.  When offered a chance to glide to a climb with the lead gaggle or continuing along my course, I chose the former to my determinant.  From there on my flight was a series of low saves.

I had an interesting low save as I dove low into an enormous orange grove that was 5 miles by 8 miles (8 x 13 km).  Chris joined me as we sniffed around for our way out.  We found a very broken climb and fought our way out.  Whew.

A few low saves later when I was a climb or two away from goal, unzipped, and ready to land I flew over a burning swamp and found a broken smokey climb that took me to base.  Not only will my glider smell like smoke for weeks I was quickly blown away from the course line and goal.  I pushed upwind and found another weak climb that was enough to glide into goal with 700 feet (213 m) according to my flight instrument.  However, I didn't trust it and tried to chase down another climb instead of gliding in. Big mistake.  I landed in a nice pasture 6km short of goal.  Bummer.

The results are available online.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:42, Distance 123 km

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rob Kells Memorial (Day 6)

Typical good flying conditions returned to south Florida today.  Cloud base above 5000 feet (1500 m), light winds, and climbs of 500 fpm (2.5 m/s) common with some reaching 800 fpm (4 m/s).  The task was a z-like course to the west-northwest-west and then back.  The sport class would have the same task they had yesterday.

Everyone was excited about the day.

The sport class launched first and then the rigid and open class.  I continued having troubles with weak links today.  I had a weak link break at about 50 feet (15 m) off the ground.  I did a quick 360, landed, and headed back for another try.  The next weak link broke at about 150 feet (45 m).  I flared too high and got dirt on the nose of my new glider.  ;-(

Needless to say, I was frustrated with the weak links I was getting.  (I went most, or maybe all, of last year with a single weak link.)  Several people looked over the weak links and commented that they were not tied properly.  Bill gave me one that he assured was tied correctly.  It did the trick as James gave me a tall tow towards the start circle.

Patrick and I took the 2nd start, but came back for the 3rd start after drifting back to within 0.8 km of the start cylinder.  I took a poor line to the first turn point and got separated from the lead gaggle.  I almost caught them again at the second turn point, but went around a blue hole while they cut across and found a climb in the middle.  The climbs and flying on the way to they 3rd furthest turn point was fun and predictable.  I tried to skip a climb just after circling the furthest turn point that eventually left me low and "looking for lift in all the wrong places".  I wallowed around in weak broken lift over a swamp as everyone left me behind.  I was reluctant to leave my pitiful safe haven as I watched another pilot land nearby.  I eventually summoned enough courage to back track to a cloud that finally provided a quick climb to base and allowed me to push on.

By that time the day was mellowing, which meant the climbs were slower, but the glides more generous.  Although not fast for me, the last two legs were fun and relaxing.  I arrived at the flight park long after many other pilots, but its always nice to return to the nest and avoid the hassles of packing and unpacking the glider.

I learned later in the evening that Jim made his first goal today and was the first there.  Congratulations!

The results are available online.

Flights: 2, Duration: 4:17, Distance: 124 km

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rob Kells Memorial (Day 5)

I was dealing well with the problems thrown my way today until I wasn't.  ;-)

Instead of the predicted sunny skies, I awoke to solid cloud cover.  Luckily it moved away and we began rigging.  Patrick and I decided to install our "racing wires" but ran into a few snags.  We preserved and rigged as some pilots starting carrying their gliders across the field to stage.  After carrying our gliders clear across the field, we discovered the staging area was back on the other side where we rigged.  Doh.

By the time we got our gliders back to where they originally were, we were missing the morning pilots meeting.  The one thing we did catch was that the day might overdevelop and launching would start in about 30 minutes.  I inhaled some food, quickly prepped my harness, programmed my flight computer, grabbed the smelly flight clothes, and walked out to the launch line.  The task was a short run to the east, then south, back north to the first turn point, and back to the tow field.

It was obvious that everyone planned to launch as soon as possible to beat the possible rain.  I somehow managed to be the third open class flex wing pilot in line.  I hooked up to the tug and away I went.  Sort of.  My weak link broke just as I lifted off the cart.  Luckily I settled back into the cart and coasted across the field as I bled off speed.  No worries.  I wheeled back to the launch line, got another weak link, and waited to step back into line.  The second tow went well.  Sort of.  Part-way through the tow, the new weak link untied.  I found a weak climb that fizzled and had to fly back to the field.  I stumbled into another weak climb that eventually took me to tow height and then to cloud base.

I managed to stay at base until the start gate opened and was on my way to the first turn point with good altitude and position.  I had another good climb at the turn point and pushed south into darkening skies.  I managed to stay upwind of the course line, but gave up my hard-earned position for a measly short-lived climb down wind.  That decision left me low over a housing development with Davis, James, and Joe.  Davis eventually landed while James, Joe, and I slowly climbed and quickly drifted off course line.  James and Joe struck out over the houses but I didn't like the landing options so I pushed back upwind hoping to find something over the now sunny fields.  No luck.  Instead I floundered before turning back downwind to land in a dry pasture with a shade tree next to a gate and paved road.

 My LZ

Bill arrived to pick me up before I could convince the cows to look for entertainment elsewhere and to break down.  We hopped into the van to fetch Patrick who placed third for the day.  (Way to go Patrick!)  Although Patrick landed high and dry, we had to take off our shoes and wade through water to carry his gear out.

Along the road at Patrick's LZ

I didn't get very far and my position will surely fall, but I still had fun flying and overcoming the little obstacles that seemingly get in our way.  (I'm getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes as I write this.)

The scores are available online.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:45, Distance: 20 km

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rob Kells Memorial (Day 4)

I was on the task committee today, so I needed to setup my glider before the 10:15 committee meeting and 11:00 pilot's meeting.  It unexpectedly rained last night so Patrick and I carefully unloaded the bags of water disguised as gliders trying our best to avoid an early morning drenching.

The task was a downwind run to a turn point near Fort Myers and then north to a small airfield.  The total distance was 104 km.

 Sport class pilots that made their first goal yesterday

Kerry towed me to strong climb and I was soon floating about at cloud base.  Unlike yesterday I lazily made my way to the edge of the start cylinder and was ready for the first start.  I was going to hold off for the second start until I saw the clouds staring to mushroom into large monsters to the southwest.

Belinda and Ricker

Aside from wasting time on my initial climb outside the start circle, I didn't make any major mistakes.  I shared a string of climbs and glides at various times with Davis, Greg, Ricker, and OB.  We flew fast on a couple sections of the course and its becoming apparent that my light wing loading is hurting my glider performance.  I enjoyed flying with my buddies and the numerous birds that simply joined our gaggles and climbed to base with us.

James at goal

It was a festive scene at goal since 15-20 pilots made it around the course.  Keeping with the rain theme, we drove through heavy rain on the way back and hear that some of the sports class pilots broke down their gliders in heavy rain.

The scoring for the day is available online.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:15, Distance: 104 km

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rob Kells Memorial (Day 3)

The national weather service predicted mostly cloudy skies with showers, but the day turned out to feature partly cloudy skies with a moderate northeast breeze.  I was glad there wasn't any drama associated with flying conditions since it was my day to be part of the safety committee.

The task was a relatively short run to the west southwest to a turn-point south of LaBelle and then south to the airport at Immokalee.

We rigged our soggy gliders and lined up for launching.

 Derrek modeling women's wear

I wanted to avoid being blown out of the start circle, so I delayed launching until 1:00, 30 minutes before the first start.  I had a nice tow, climbed out with Charlie, Jim and Linda.  We were at base just inside the start circle about 8 minutes before the first start.  I didn't think we could maintain our position that long and decided to fly upwind to a large gaggle near launch.  Big mistake.  I plowed through strong sink and floundered around never finding the climb.  I was just able to reach the park for another tow.

Thanks to Bill I was soon following another tug into the air.  I was waved off upwind of the field just as the last start gate opened.  I started pedaling as fast as I could trying to make up for lost time.  I quickly caught a large gaggle, but once again lost ground as I flew off course to the west thinking I might be able to skip a climb under a nice looking line of clouds.

Several pilots caught me at the turn point were I wasted time trying to top out before heading south over very wet ground under blue sky.  I was so focused on strategy, that I totally missed the turn point and had to fly 2 km back to tag it.  Sigh.

After that I resigned to just getting to goal.  I let a couple pilots get ahead of me as I just didn't want to risk landing short.  Of course, I arrived at goal with 800 feet.

 Ben at goal

Clouds chasing us

Although I didn't perform at my best, I had a great time flying with friends over lots of open fields.

Flights: 2, Duration: 2:16, Distance: 29.9 km

Rob Kells Memorial (Day 2)

Rain, rain, rain.  I had an enjoyable 6 mile (9.6 km) run in light rain before breakfast.  After a shower in the rain we piled into a car for a trip to Fort Myers for lunch and a dash in the rain to the movie theater to see "How to Train Your Dragon".  The movie (in 3D) was excellent.  After some more dashing through rain to get to the Bass Pro Shop we returned to the Florida Ridge.  It didn't take much time in the rain to convince a group to head to the Gator Bait Pub for some food, drink, pool, and dryness.  We got the hint it was time to leave when the owners started turning off the lights.  I returned to my tent and fell asleep to rain on the canvas.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rob Kells Memorial (Day 1)

The day started cloudy and was sprinkling during the pilots meeting that started at 8:00 am.  Steve L reviewed the no-fly zones around the Florida Ridge and other typical flight park procedures.  Davis explained how the task and safety committees would be staffed by different pilots every day.  That should spread the burden and responsibility around so a few people don't spend all week coming up with challenging tasks or keeping everyone safe.

Although many pilots rigged yesterday, my glider was still in the bag this morning.  Around 10:00 am the light rain stopped and the sky brightened.  I was ready to fly even if the day was eventually canceled so I setup the glider and finished just as the pilots meeting started at 11:00 am.

We were assigned a 77 km task to the WNW, then NW, and then W to a small airfield.  The launch opened at 12:30 and the start gates opened at 1:30, 1:45, and 2:00.  Given the abundance of moisture in the air, I decided to launch early and take the first start if possible.

I was the 3rd or 4th flex wing pilot to launch.  I towed through rain on the way to a slow climb with 4 buzzards.  I played around light showers before committing to a very wet climb upwind of the field to the east.  After topping out at 2500 feet (760 m) I flew downwind to join a few other pilots.  It was then that I noticed that most of the gliders on the ground were moving back to the down-tie area.  Bill informed Patrick and I that the task was delayed but not canceled.  Meanwhile we did our best to stay in the air and to stay dry.  This continued until it became obvious that a larger and more ominous line of showers would pass through.  We flew back to the field and landed between showers.



While some of us raced to pack our gliders before the heavy rain hit, Dustin and Max raced ahead of the showers along course line.  I think they made about 30 km before landing.  I managed to get the battens out and packed and one wing rolled up before the skies burst open.  I stayed dry huddled under another glider but many people were soaked head-to-toe trying to wrap up their gliders.

I found out later that Fellipe heard my radio transmissions while flying around at 5000 feet (1500m) at Wallaby a hundred miles (160 km) to the north.  It was good that I couldn't hear him taunting me about my less-than-ideal flying conditions.

Tomorrow looks rained out.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:32

Friday, April 16, 2010

Florida Ridge

I started my 3+ hour drive from Wallaby Ranch towards the Florida Ridge yesterday afternoon.  I caught up with Bill C and Rich L on the road.  After some quick shouting across car lanes we stopped for lunch before continuing south.  James and Steve showed me the updates added since my last visit a year ago.  Also the trees have really grown and provide a lot of shade.  I pitched my tent, had a quick drink and dinner at the Gator Bait Pub, and then hit the sack.

Pilots continued to flow in on Friday.  At first it was too windy to tow, but the winds backed down and pilots needing air time to shakeout their equipment or skills took to the air.

 Charlie on tow

 Gliders in the sun

 Mike and Faye

 Davis on final

Almost everyone drove into LaBelle for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  The Rob Kells Memorial Competition start tomorrow.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Life in the Swamp

I'm getting ready to leave Wallaby Ranch for the Rob Kells Memorial Competition at the Florida Ridge.  I've had a great time not only flying but enjoying the camaraderie, morning runs, and all the wildlife that calls the Green Swamp home.  I've seen gators, snakes, hawks, vultures, split-tail kites, osprey, eagles, sand hill cranes, opossum, raccoons, armadillos, a dozen or more species of insects including the dreaded fire ants.  The rains brought out wild flowers that decorated our launches.  I'm already thinking about my return and I haven't even left yet.