Friday, May 27, 2011

Chasing the Wind

I had my first flight since returning to New England on Wednesday.  I really needed to do something active outdoors after sitting around watching it rain for over a week but I didn't want to re-injure or retard the healing of my shoulder.  That is why I dragged my feet when JJ called all excited about flying at Mount Ascutney.  I just knew the "death march" into launch would be pushing my shoulder too far.  Luckily, at least it seemed like it at the time, the morning forecast showed Mount Greylock (with a very short walk into launch) might be a better choice since the forecast called for very light winds from the east.  I added Peter J to the call and he was also in favor of skipping the long hike.  After adding in PK's moaning about his shoulder and Randy's sore muscles, we "settled" on Greylock for the day.

John B called to say he was coming as I was leaving to pick up Randy and JJ.  He didn't want us to wait, but we ended up picking him up along Route 2 after taking longer than expected to gather the other pilots.  Of course, we kept questioning our "decision" all the way there.  We could have used some maple syrup to go along with all the waffling.

We met Peter, PK, and Gary at the top.  Unfortunately, it was blowing down on launch.  We waited for launchable cycles that never came.  Time for plan B.  It was too late to make the 2 hour drive to Mount Ascutney, but we discussed Petersburg Pass before settling on the Mohawk Trail across the valley.  Lucky for us, it was trickling in nicely when we arrived at launch so I lead the way back to the cars for my glider.

New glider in New England for first time


The Mohawk Trail is only about 700 feet (213 m) above the LZ, so it can be difficult to get up on a no-wind day.  Peter needed to leave early, so he didn't waste any time suiting up to go.


He managed to get above launch and hung on for awhile but eventually settled into the LZ below.  PK was next.  His flight was similar to Peter's up to the point he was about to start his landing approach.  He snagged a weak thermal and, with us cheering on launch, managed to climb away.  JJ was next.  He briefly got above launch but was soon wiggling into the LZ.  Randy launched into the best cycle of the day.  He got above the ridge and managed to hold on.  I was next.  John pointed out a hawk climbing down the ridge to the left, but the wind was too cross on launch.  Every time I had a good launch cycle, Randy and/or PK were right above or in front of me.  Of course, every time they were climbing away, it was 90-degree cross.  Sigh.  I finally ran off in a reasonable cycle while Randy was overhead and climbed above the ridge.

Randy and I shared some climbs and one disorganized climb lower on the ridge where Randy finally said he had enough and went to land.  I played with the birds that were also struggling to get up while PK floated far overhead at 5000 feet (1500 m).  The highest I got was 3400 feet (1000 m), about 1500 feet (450 m) above launch.  John launched and soared a bit before landing.  I flew for about an hour before leaving for the LZ; no need to stress the shoulder.  PK landed shortly after I did.

John and Randy

We packed up and stopped for dinner on the way home.  JJ later pointed out that the amount of airtime a pilot got was directly proportional to their physical discomfort.  Um.  ;-)

We interrupted a couple in a truck when we pulled into the in the dark parking were we left John's car.  We had a good laugh at their expense after they composed themselves and drove away.

I was tired of tying and untying gliders by the time I got home; I had tied and untied the straps eight times!    Maybe the season around here is finally underway.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:51

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spring Training Wrap-up

I'm back home watching a cold rain fall from a featureless gray expanse overhead.  It is hard to believe that a few days ago I was in the middle of the "best east coast flying" I've ever seen.  I picked the perfect time for an extended flying safari.  I flew at Wallaby Ranch, Quest Air, the Florida Ridge during the Rob Kells Memorial Competition, and all over northern Florida and Georgia during the Flytec Race & Rally.  I flew 32 out of 55 days and many of the days I sat out were still soarable.  I accumulated 84 hours of airtime, flew over 1200 miles (1900 km), and I've got the tendonitis in my shoulder to prove it!

I spent time in the air and on the ground with many new and old friends from around the globe and created enough memories to fill a room.  Us hang gliding pilots are a strange breed; the variety of people hooked by this sport continues to amaze me.  The only thing more amazing is how this diverse eclectic group comes together like family.

After a few more days of forced rest while this cold (50 F / 10 C) springtime New England rain falls and I'll be ready to take to the sky again; for the season hasn't even started here!

Photo by Steve Pearson

Update: This was my 500th post!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Flytec Race and Rally - Day 6

The task for day six was from Viladia Georgia to Allendale South Carolina.  Once again I contemplated not flying due to my shoulder, but hey, how hard can it be to fly a hang glider?  ;-)

The town mascot showed up for our morning meeting along with several reporters.

We staged our gliders along the launch line and then waited for any sign of lift in the blue sky above.

Some cumulus started popping and pilots started queueing for launch.  I made the mistake of waiting too long and most of the line emptied out in front of me.  A few of the earliest launching pilots returned to the field, but most climbed out.  I was second in line to launch when we had to move the launch line to deal with a wind direction change.

I had a good tow and was on my way.  I wanted to start early to avoid a thick band of cirrus that was quickly approaching.  I was still in my initial climb for the first start but was in reasonable position for the second.

The first part of the course was fast and predictable but as we approached the convergence line from the coast things got soft and overdeveloped.  I tried to race hard as I could using a single hand in climbs and even sometimes on glide.  After a couple hours in the air, my shoulder was really bothering me so when faced with a long uncertain glide over trees and swamp with rain falling on me, I turned to the north and landed with Larry and Nick.  (Thanks Sue for letting me use your phone when I discovered I had no cell service.)

Bill and Mavis showed up even before I finished breaking down.  We loaded up and then picked up Patrick who landed only 7 km short.  Bummer!

We enjoyed sushi in Aiken South Carolina and relived our flights.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:53, Distance: 84.7 miles

Flytec Race and Rally - Day 5

The fifth leg of the Flytec Race and Rally was from Americus to Vidalia Georgia.  Any lingering plans to fly to Chattanooga were squashed with souring weather to the west and north.  Instead we turned towards the coast and better weather.

Personally, I've been dealing with an increasingly inflamed shoulder resulting from flying for a couple months without rest.  I thought about staying on the ground yesterday but just couldn't bring myself to pass up yet another day of great flying.  I had to dial back my flying, but still had a great time.

I had a good start but chose a path to the right of course line that initially worked well but left me struggling after a single good climb.  I spent the rest of the flight trying to work off that initial delay.

I had one memorable climb where I spotted an enormous swirl in a wheat field.  I watched three birds head for the invisible dust devil only to turn away after being tossed around.  Of course, I dove for the swirl and prepared for battle.  It was a "all hands to battle stations" for a few moments until I got established in a wicked-good climb.

I shared great climbs and views with many friends along the way.  Many pilots made goal.

We spent the evening sharing stories at a sweet "treehouse bar" in town the dragged ourselves back for much needed rest.

Flights: 1, Duration: 5:13, Distance: 120.6 miles

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Flytec Race and Rally - Day 4

The fourth leg of the rally was Americus Georgia to Eufaula Alabama.  The forecast for today originally predicted brisk northwest winds, but the morning forecast showed light and variable winds slowly becoming west-southwest.  The task committee chose a later-than-usual start since the task was shorter than the previous days and it took awhile for cumulus to form.

I was 3rd or 4th to launch behind Steve piloting the tow plan.  The ride was rowdy from the "get go".  I finally released around 900 feet (300 m) and immediately started climbing to base over the airfield.

Photo courtesy of Alex McCulloch

I soon noticed a glider with a broken keel laying on the ground just in front of the launch spot.  I saw people run to assist the pilot and became worried when the crowd didn't move the glider aside to resume towing.  This usually implies the pilot was hurt and this was the case.  Patrick and then Charlie got on the radio to let know that Julia had crashed and was hurt.  I watched the ambulance arrive as I glided away from the airfield in case a helicopter extraction was needed.  After awhile I was told to land and then told I could stay in the air if I wanted.  A few minutes later I was told to land immediately since the police wanted everyone on the ground before the medical helicopter arrived.

Mitch, Curt, me, and two other pilots did our best to chew down through 5000 feet (1500 m) of air.  The field was still active when we landed, but we all were on the ground and out of the way before the helicopter arrived.  (We found out later Julia was OK, aside from cuts and bruises).

The task committee hastily tried to salvage the day, but it was probably too late to pull off a task that would be fair to all the pilots.  Jamie finally cancelled the day and a few pilots decided to fly around the field.

Some pilots are fashion trend setters.

I parked my glider for the night near an abandoned crop duster.

Bill, Patrick, and I met a small group for dinner in Americus before returning to the airfield and our tents.

We plan to continue our journey tomorrow.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:33

Flytec Race and Rally - Day 3

The third leg of the rally was from Moultrie Georgia to Souther Field in Americus Georgia.

It was a beautiful day to fly.  I escaped the heat on the ground early, took a leisurely climb to  the top floor and then spent about an hour floating around in the cool shade of the clouds.

I decided to try a new persona and race hard and fast.  I was impressed with my new-found aggressiveness until I botched my final glide into goal.  My flight computer said I had goal by almost 900 feet (275 m) a long way out.  I was doing great for the first 2/3 of the glide and then shifted a bit to the east and was pummeled with strong sink.  I soon found myself low within sight of goal, but too low to glide in.  I struggled with very weak lift as a dozen or more pilots flew by overhead.  Crap.  Make that "double crap"!

I eventually got high enough to make it in but suffered greatly in the scoring.  It was cool though landing at an historic airfield.  Souther Field, now the Jimmy Cater Regional Airport was, among many things, the place Lindbergh first soloed.  I camped at the foot of a statue commemorating that flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:00, Distance: 74.6 miles

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Flytec Race and Rally - Day 2

The second leg of the rally was from the Suwannee County Airport to the airfield at Moultrie, Georgia.

It was hot on the ground, but we managed anyway.

The sky filled with clouds but we initially had an 11 mph headwind.  It was tough getting out of the start circle.  Every time I looked down I was back over the airfield.

I grabbed a quick shot right at the start.

It was a fast racing day; I could barely fly fast enough to keep up.  Whew.

I made goal, along with half of the other pilots.  We parked our gliders in protected spots in preparation for today's flight.

After a lively dinner at a Mexican restaurant we crashed for the night.

You can read more about the rally at the Flytec Race and Rally blog.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:37, Distance: 71.4 miles

Flytec Race and Rally - Day 1

Since time and internet access is limited, my posts might be delayed and almost certainly shorter than usual.

The drive from the Florida Ridge was an amazing drive through clouds of "love bugs".

We spent most of the afternoon after arriving at Quest Air power washing cars and trucks so our drivers could see out the windows!

The first leg of the rally was Quest to the airfield at Keystone Florida.  It was blue, the top of climb relatively low (3500 feet), and little or no wind to help cover the distance.  Pilots were reluctant to launch, especially after some of the early launchers landed.  However, we pushed on and managed to start covering ground.

I was doing well until I go low about 1/2 of the way there at the first turn point.  I struggle for 45 minutes before landing with Chris.  (I need to be careful picking in small LZs.  ;-)

My retrieve crew, headed by Mavis, arrived as I finished packing.

You can read more about the rally at the Flytec Race and Rally blog.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:53, Distance: 52.4 miles

Friday, May 06, 2011

Rob Kells Memorial - Day 6, 7 - Shaded

The safety committee cancelled day 6 due to the wind.  Everyone quickly scattered after breaking down gliders.  I spent an exciting afternoon at the laundromat while others drove to Fort Myers.  The wind let up later in the afternoon and Randy went for a quick XC flight.  Allen, Jim, and I picked him up in his "small" LZ and then stopped for ice cream.

We snacked on a sample of the boar that Dave killed earlier and Jen and Louie dressed out.

We were concerned about the weather for the last day.  Rain and thunderstorms were forecasted for late afternoon so we launched early into the building sky.  The task was essentially an out-and-back to the northwest.   A low save near the field saved me from towing again and allowed me to be at the start circle for the first start.  We had a couple climbs but mostly smooth glides into a shaded sky.  I landed after rounding the far turn point with Jochen.  Davis, Tulio, Julia, Charlie, and Dustin eventually settled into the same spot.

Bill and Patrick showed up with the bug-mobile before the rain moved in.  Thanks!

The scores are available online.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:23, Distance: 24.2 miles

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Rob Kells Memorial - Day 5 - Almost

We had a diamond-shaped 111 km (69 mile) task today.

I planned to take the first start to avoid possible problems with sea-breezes, lake-breezes, and an approaching front.  However, I let "group think" change my plans once I was in the air and in the end I landed short when the day quickly faded.

Since I had time to kill, I took pictures in the start circle.

I played one-to-many start circle games and ended up in a sub-optimal position and time.  I had a close call over a large orchard, but slammed into a strong climb that lifted me out of purgatory.  At the end of the next glide I ended up low again, but this time there was immediate ride out.  I sniff around for a long time before Derreck and I found a budding thermal that got us going again.

I was greeted by a large airliner coming at me as I approached the second turn point.  Needless to say it was impressive and a bit scary until it made a sharp turn to the south.

I quickly rounded the 2nd turn point and worked my way to the 3rd turn point with Charlie.  By then the day was dying and I glided to a large pasture field short of goal.

Once again the love-bugs were out in force.

The score is available online.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:14, Distance: 59.3 miles

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Rob Kells Memorial - Day 4 - Stuck

We had a fun task to an airfield near Lake Placid (north northwest) and then south to an intersection to the south southwest.  We had a mix of cumulus and blue sections and most importantly, the winds were light.

I got knocked off tow by a strong thermal that took me to base over the field.  I watched two tows end early below me as they also hit turbulence.  I was at the start circle for the first start, but flew back upwind and waited for the second start.  I had a great start and quickly moved ahead of most of the pack hopping from cloud to cloud.  Everything was going great until I crossed a large green field south of Lake Placid.  I got low and groveled as the pilots that started with me passed by and then the pilots from the next start time flew in as I finally started climbing again.

The rest of the trip was low drama.  I shared a mix-master with Greg and Ricker followed by a 800 fpm (4 m/s) smoothie with Jeff and a couple other pilots.  I took a weaker climb with Mark before starting a long buoyant glide into goal.  Goal was filled with many happy pilots.

We all gathered across the road at the grill for dinner, drink, and stories.

The results are available online.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:10, Distance: 118 km (73.3 miles)