Thursday, June 24, 2010

Plowed Field: The Video

I'm finally reviewing video recorded while flying.  As expected, its mostly circling around and around, which besides being boring, will probably make many nauseous.

The first video was recorded on a flight from Mount Ascutney in Vermont to Concord New Hampshire.  I wrote about the flight earlier.  Unfortunately the camera battery died before I landed, so I only captured part of the flight.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

East Coast Championship Day 7

I thought we only had a 50% chance of flying on the last day of the East Coast Championship.  First light was more of a yawn than a dawn as slate gray clouds masked the sun.  The forecasts looked marginal with a moderate humid south breeze blowing apart low (2500 feet / 760 m) weak thermal.  The wind alone would have killed the day in previous years, but this year we had a new grass strip perpendicular to the main runway that faced almost directly into the wind.

The sport class task was straight downwind to an airfield at Massey, while the open class would continue on to a small airfield in Townsend.  The sport class pilots could leave the 10 km (6.2 mile) start circle anytime they wanted, but the open class pilots had to wait until 2:00, 2:15, or 2:30.  That effectively meant no one in the open class would launch until they could safely blow across the start line immediately after tow.

Rick's flying "project"

Rick, a good pilot that wasn't part of the competition, launched first and reported decent climbs so us lemmings started launching.  I was 5th or 6th to launch and broke a weak link around 300 feet (90m) for what appeared to be no good reason.  I had enough altitude to make an approach but had to dodge Larry who was coming back in after sinking out and the jump plane loaded up with skydivers.  I landed nicely but had a long hot sweaty walk back to the tow line.  (Did I mention it was 93 F / 34 C?)  I got a full tow on the second go and quickly found light lift which drew together a few more pilots.

Hugh, Larry, and I drifted through the start circle at the top of lift (2400 feet / 740m).  We drifted along in a series climbs and hooked-up with Rich.  We caught up with another larger gaggle when I found a sweet 700 fpm (3.5 m/s) climb.  We then had Dave, Steve, Mitch in out group.  Dave, Larry, and I lead out for the next climb while Steve followed and Mitch and Rich hung back.  I was the furthest west on the spread and lost altitude to Dave and Larry to my right.  I quickly faded back to the right to stop my losses but was too low to get into the next climb.  Meanwhile, Rich, who also flew further west, found a strong climb that took him high enough to reach the turn point.  Rich ended up winning the day, while the rest of the group landed just a bit further than I did.

Charlie and David pulled up with the car just as I was finished packing the glider.  David did a great job as a driver this week, arriving every day before I finished and on one day arriving even before I did.

After downloading my flight data for scoring, I took a refreshing dip in the pool and got ready for dinner and the awards ceremony.  As usual, the food was excellent.  We stuffed our faces as we relived our flights from the previous week.  David hosted the awards ceremony which meant the pace was fast and entertaining.

Larry placed first in the open class, followed by me, and then Rich.  It should be noted that Rich dominated several days at the meet and showed he has "arrived".  Nick won the last day in the sports class but didn't stockpile enough points to unseat John who won the sports class meet.  The day's scoring and the final standings are available online.

I want to thank Adam and Sunny for once again hosting a great competition.  The East Coast Championship is a fantastic low-stress hang-gliding vacation that shouldn't be missed, especially for pilots new to the competition scene.  You owe it to yourself to join the fun.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:49, Distance: 38 miles

East Coast Championship Day 6

Although the weather forecasts varied greatly, each predicted light winds.  The pilots on the task committee, including me, wanted to return to the airfield for a change.  I even pushed for a small triangle task for the sports class, which so far has only flown directly to goal.  The open class task selection was more difficult given the varying forecasts for wind direction, lift, and cloud cover.  We finally decided on two triangle tasks; a large triangle if there were cumulus overhead at launch time and a small triangle if the sky was blue.

The sky was filled with gorgeous clouds by launch time, so we flew the larger task.  No one was playing "waiting games" either since it was obviously soar-able.

Many of the open class pilots were in a climb near the start circle south of course line with lots of time to waste before the first start clock.  Some, including Larry, flew through the blue north towards Greensboro. Others, include Sonny, flew back towards the airfield.  I hung around the start circle with the sports class pilots, Charlie, and Daniel.  As the blue hole opened between me and the course line and the start time drew close, I noticed Larry climbing quickly to the north at the perfect spot at the intersection of the start circle and course line.  It was too late to do anything about it, so I started at cloud base, but a few miles downwind of the course line.

Bob, Charlie, Daniel, and I raced along the clouds that lined the southern edge of the blue hole taking advantage of the strong climbs.  I slowed up when I noticed the first turn point was out where the advancing sea breeze sweep away all the cumulus clouds and presumably all the climbs as well.  Charlie and then Bob kept pushing and were soon low settling for any climb.  I had the turn point but wanted enough altitude to continue on so I turned around and flew over a large fire raging through a wheat field.  Although there was a lot of smoke, I didn't find a climb, lost my ability to glide to the turn point, and was soon down to Bob and Charlie's altitude.  Sigh.

I watched Charlie land as I struggled with Bob in broken and rowdy lift.  I pushed on towards the turn point and was preparing to land when I flew through a strong surge downwind of a tree line.  I snapped a quick turn and started a classic low-save struggle in broken and quickly drifting lift.  I repeatedly popped up and then fell down as I jacked myself up off the ground.  Three buzzards jumped out of the trees to join the fun.  The four of us worked together to climb back to 2000 feet (600m) before we moved on towards our respective destinations.

I repeated this low-save, climb-while-drifting-back, pushing upwind routine several times.  However, I was only gaining a mile or so on every cycle in the strong sea breeze.  I finally decided I was done and glided to the ground short of the turn point that I once could have easily flown over.  Bob landed one field closer to the turn point than I did.

I hovered down in a nice bean field along a paved road.  I finishing my packing when Jim approached from the north.  He somehow found a slope on the peninsula and landed downhill into the wind.  David and Charlie showed up a moments later with the car.

Sonny won the day with almost double the distance I managed to eek out.  He mistakenly thought pilots flying back for lift had already reached the turn point and were moving on when in fact he was way in front of them all.  Way to go!

Sonny visualizing his victory!

Unlike the open class, the sport class had many pilots complete their course since they were well away from the sea breeze.  It was good to see giddy sport class pilots that simply had to walk over to the tie-down line to get ready for the next day's task.

The scores are available online.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:27, Distance: 56 miles

Thursday, June 10, 2010

East Coast Championship Day 5

Day 4 of the East Coast Championship was rained out.  Some pilots went sightseeing, some shopping, some bowling, and I stayed at the airfield and did some work for a client.  I wanted to get away after working most of the day, so I talked Brian, Charlie, and Nick into visiting "In Japan" again to meet up with the gang that went bowling.

The weather forecast for today was much better than I expected so the task committee patched together a 73 mile (117 km) course downwind to the east, then crosswind to the south, then downwind to the southeast, then crosswind to the south, then landing at the Ocean City airport.

Although the forecast was good, reality was a bit different.  Thick cirrus moved in around noon and shaded the ground.  Some cumulus clouds formed when the launch window opened, but no one immediately launched.  About 30 minutes before the first start clock a group of pilots launched and almost landed before snagging a good climb right over the airfield.  They climbed to cloud base and took off.

I waited awhile and started the second wave when I walked up to launch at 1:55.  I had a nice long tow into the smooth air and was soon landing back at the airfield without hitting a single bump.  I now had to wait at the end of the line.  Another group of pilots found a climb and got away while I waited on the ground.  My turn to launch finally rolled around, but I snapped the weak link both on my shoulder and on the tug with a wicked slack tow line at 50 feet off the ground.  I quickly pulled in and landed running sideways in a strong crosswind.

By the time I was ready to go again, I was the last glider in line.  I had an uneventful tow and pinned off in a broken climb with Steve.  We climbed and eventually merged with Mitch.  Mitch and Steve raced off as I stayed and climbed higher so I could round the first turn point with as much altitude as possible.

I snagged the first turn point and had a long uneventful glide down to a 1000 feet (300 m) when I glided into a weak climb.  I drifted off course line but never really gained much altitude.  I soared a tree line a bit before landing in a large recently disced field next to a paved road.

I was very short of goal, but I later found out so were many other pilots.  Today's scores are available online.

Flights: 3, Duration: 1:28, Distance: 23.7 miles

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

East Coast Championship Day 3 & 4

I forgot to mention how well fellow New Englanders are doing.  On day 2 Nick Caci had his longest flight ever, first goal, first day win, and first 1000-point day on his first competition day.  I jokingly told him he should retire now since its all downhill from there!  Brian Boudreau, an honorary New England pilot, placed second for the day on his longest flight to date.


We had another good day of flying yesterday.  Early morning cummies teased pilots but a quick look at the weather showed we had a blue day in store but still with good lift.  The task committee, (Brian, Davis, John, Larry, and I), picked a 69 mile (111 km) task to the eastern shore, then crosswind to the south, then crossing upwind to the southwest.

I got delayed on launch with radio issues.  Bob towed me into a climb over the airfield where Charlie joined in.  We would end up flying the entire course together.  We climbed to 5500 feet (1676 m) where the views of both coasts were spectacular.  We then stalled at the start circle for 10 minutes in buoyant but slightly sinking air but managed a reasonable start.

We had a good run to the first turn-point, but ran into a devil-spawned thermal at the first turn point that I eventually left because it was too scary.  Rich and Jim caught us between the second and third turn point when then beamed up in a climb just upwind of our position.  They are gone by the time we reached their altitude (7200 feet, 2190 m) but the climb was well worth it.

We wasted too much valuable time floundering around the third turn point before heading off towards goal.  Charlie and I started final together, but I was on a better line and made it into goal while he landed just a mile or so short.  Bummer.  I had my "blonde moment" when I headed to a field that wasn't goal and then had to make a dramatic and wasteful 90-degree turn into goal after Larry radioed to "look off your left wing".  Duh.

We landed at a nice field along a tree-lined river.  They were very welcoming and didn't mind us "dropping in".

David Glover, my driver, was already at goal when I arrived and even provided wind direction information.  Thanks David.


I ended up with the lowest score for those that made goal.  Rich won the day again and now has a solid lead.  Several pilots made the sports class goal.  The scores are available online.


Day 4 looks washed out at this point.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:10, Distance: 69 miles

Monday, June 07, 2010

East Coast Championship Day 1 & 2

I arrived at Highland Aerosports in Ridgley Maryland late Saturday afternoon.  I spent the rest of the evening and most of the following morning catching up with old friends and making new friends.

We called a task for the first day on Sunday, but everyone knew it would be either too windy or possibly rainy.  No one was surprised when the task was canceled by 1:30.

Just the opposite held true for the second day on Monday; everyone knew it would be a great day and we were not disappointed.  We called an 87 km straight-line task for the open class and a 53 km straight-line task for the sport class.  Although the pace around the airfield was relaxed, most pilots were excited about hooking into a good day.

There was a moderate NW breeze so I wasn't eager to launch early and have to fight to stay inside the start circle.  However after more than half of the open class launched, I decided suit-up and go fly.  We did struggle to stay in the circle; some more than others.  I was lucky enough to ignore the crowd and fly directly upwind and found a great climb that left me just inside the start circle at cloud-based when the clock rolled over.  Sweet.

I listened to everyone else on my radio frequency struggling to get a good start while I was cruising along the course line.  I was out front and flew the entire course alone.  I lost vital minutes struggling low over a small town and then again as I tried to figure out where goal was.

The goal field was near the coast so I was on the lookout for a sea breeze.  I didn't see any signs of wind when I arrived, but noticed a SE breeze after flying in a NW wind all along the course.  I tried to swing wide over some small fields separated by deep drainage ditches filled with water.  I got caught in sink behind a tree-line and had to turn downwind to avoid landing in the ditch.  I flared hard and tried to run it out, but yes, I whacked.  (The only consolation was that I saw at least 4 other pilots set off tremor alerts).

I broke down and then took off my shoes and socks to wade through the muck and briers on my escape route.  The pilots at goal shared stories until gliders were loaded and we headed off.  The scores are available online.

Tomorrow looks like another good day.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:16

Saturday, June 05, 2010

All-You-Can-Eat Soaring

Peter, Rodger, and I need a shot of airtime, so we loaded up and made the long drive to West Rutland, VT.  We met Bob, Beth, Brian, Louie, and PK at the parking area near the LZ.  Bob was kind enough to give the three of us a lift to the top on the newly graded road.  (Nice job Gary!)

Louie was looking for his first soaring flight there and I knew he wouldn't be disappointed when it was already soarable when we arrived on top.

Bob and Louie

Louie launched first and was soon above launch and on top of the ridge.  PK quickly followed, then Peter, and Bob.  Rodger and I took a bit longer on launch as we had more trouble getting our wings level in the crossing and mildly gusty wind.  (Thanks Beth and Brian for the help on launch.)

Green, as in the Green Mountain State

As usual the Green Mountains were decorated with clouds, but it was mostly blue above.  It was easy to climb to 3500 feet (1000 m) but more difficult to bust through 4000 (1200 m).  However, once above that, the climbs became very turbulent before topping out around 5000 feet (1500 m).  PK and I thought about taking off downwind but bagged the idea due to the turbulence, an unfavorable wind direction, and no driver.

 PK and Green Mountains to the east

 PK and launch

We played around the ridge for a couple hours in very soarable conditions before landing.

We were broken down and on the road long before we normally consider landing, leaving lots of soaring potential untapped.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:20

Friday, June 04, 2010


I already decided to stay at home on Tuesday (May 25), but was susceptible to outside influences since I was going to be stapled to the ground over the upcoming holiday weekend.  An updated forecast that predicted improved climbs and a higher cloud base and Peter's offer to pick me up pushed me over the edge.


The sky at Morningside looked good and seemed to be getting better, so we didn't rush to rig.  Instead we talked with everyone before wandering across the road to set up our gliders with Brian.  I was the first to launch around 2:30.

Following Rhett

The clouds that were present all morning long literally dried up while I was on tow.  Rhett dragged me to the last remnants of a cloud across the river to the northwest.  I released and bounced off weak bubbles but was soon below a glide back to Morningside.  I found a few hits of lift that allowed me to climb up enough to get back.

I made a pass over the training hill on my way to the runway and stumbled into a snaky little thermal that took me over the 450 foot (137 m) launch, but it didn't stay together long enough to get me up and away.  I played with my hard-won altitude and setup to land on the runway.  Unfortunately, someone parked the launch dolly right in the middle so I had to make a last minute turn into the taller grass.

 Brian on final

Brian and Peter did better, managing climbs under the occasional clouds that formed shortly after I landed.  Rhett encouraged me to tow again, but my heart just wasn't in it.  Instead I sat in the shade, broke down my glider, and then enjoyed ice cream in Charlestown NH on the way back home.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:41

The Second Time Around

Although it didn't look like a great day for XC flying, Friday, (May 21), arose from the wasteland of blown-out or rainy forecasts like a beautiful spring flower.  John B, Peter J, and Rodger loaded up on my Subaru Outback for its maiden "fully loaded" trip.  Randy, who lives in the same town as I do, ended up driving by himself.

We easily settled on towing behind Rhett at Morningside.  After the customary chit-chat, we rigged, along with Tim B, on the mowed taxiway before launching around 2:00.  I had a smooth tow to the factories (the house thermal) and pinned off at 1700 feet (518m) in what I thought was a good climb.  Oops.  I floundered until I found a very weak climb that took me back to release height before it faded away and I had to run back.  Rodger, who launched before me, was coming in at the same time.  He took the runway so I landed with a no-stepper in the grass to his left.  Everyone else had similar "mini-flights".

Rhett helping Randy

Needless to say, those flights didn't satiate our hunger for airtime.  We took to the air again around 3:30 with much better results.  Once again I released over the factories but immediately found a weak, but reliable climb.  I spent the next 2.5 hours climbing in anemic thermals but cruising around the valley at will in the light and variable winds.

Rodger and I watched Peter and Randy climb below us as farmers tilled the fields fueling our ascent to 6100 feet (1860 m).

 Looking north

Looking south

John and I were heading north at one point when I called him over to a climb I stumbled into near Claremont NH.  Of course the thermal dried up by the time he got there and soon we were both heading back to Morningside.  The best we could find was zero sink.  I wasn't going to land before John, so I was doing everything I could to stay in the air!  We circled for 20 minutes sinking from 2900 feet to 2800 feet (884 m - 853 m) before slowly starting to climb.


It eventually turned on, we climbed out, and I flew south and then east of the airfield.  My total flight path was over 30 miles (48 km), but never more than 8 miles (13 km) from the flight park.


I ended the flight with a nice "run-in" landing on the runway in totally calm air.  I was much more satisfied the second time around.

Flights: 2, Duration: 2:49