Monday, July 18, 2011

Morningside Lives On

Morningside is open again!  The new owners, Kitty Hawk Kites, finalized the purchase on Friday and opened for business on Saturday.  (Impressive!)  Many local pilots, myself included, showed up to meet and welcome the new owners.

The website for Morningside, A Kitty Hawk Kites Flight Park, describes the services they offer.  They also posted a news blurb about opening day with many pictures.  Most of us were impressed with the new crew and I personally look forward to a long and rewarding relationship with my old new "home flight park".

After a lot of socializing, I decided to aero-tow given the total lack of wind and signs of lift.  Rodger started the parade of soaring pilots around 2pm.  Rhett towed PK, Al, and Nick up before dragging me into a weak climb to the north of the field.  I spent the rest of the afternoon soaring in abundant but weak blue thermals that dissipated around 3400 feet (1036m).


All types of gliders from single surface floaters, to blade wings, to rigids, to sailplanes played around in the mellow air.  We watched a couple A-10s fly far below us as well as numerous small planes headed for the Claremont airport.

Randy with Rhett towing in the background


Sailplane and Claremont airport at the top of the picture



Meanwhile Greg and Jeff launched from Mount Ascutney and were flying at cloud base around 6500 feet (1900 m) further to the west over the higher terrain.  PK and I unsuccessfully tried several times to get into the better thermals, but never had enough altitude to cross over the ridge line on the other side of the river valley.  I would return each time with just enough altitude to snag another thermal from the tree tops and start the slow climb again.

Clouds out of reach

On one return trip, I soared over the 450 foot (137 m) launch at Morningside with Randy and Rodger before Randy and I dug into a good climb that finally took us over 4500 feet (1370 m).  I momentarily thought about gliding south to see how far I could get, but decided to float off my altitude and land at the bullseye and socialize more.

Randy, Rodger, and I stopped for Thai food and ice cream in Keene NH on the way home.  The world seemed a little more "normal" now that gliders were flying at Morningside once again.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:45

Around the Mountain

Jake, Peter J, Rodger, and I started the weekend early with flights from Mount Ascutney on Friday afternoon.  Conflicting weather forecasts and the possibility of sled rides or not launching at all probably kept everyone else away.  The forecasts ranged from very little lift to serious overdevelopment and from light northwest winds to strong north winds.  The wind forecast concerned me most since the launch on Mount Ascutney faces northwest and a strong north wind makes launching a challenge.  Ryan volunteered to pick us up if we could escape from the mountain.

After surviving the hike into launch we were greeted with a promising, but unusual sky.  There were cumulus clouds but instead forming the usual round tops they were spreading out over large areas after hitting an inversion around 10000 feet (3050 m).  This produced a sky filled with widely scattered "cloud platters on cumulus pedestals".

Jake volunteered to go first.  He waited for a break in the north cross and punched into the air with his usual great launch.  I scrambled up the rock to quickly join him but the wind was blowing directly across launch.  While I waited for my opening, Jake flew down across the northwest face to the ski area that faces north.  He searched for lift getting quite low before finding a weak climb.  I lost track of him while I waited for my invitation from the launch gods.  I asked where Jake was when the wind appeared to be switching in my favor and was told he was over the LZ.  What?  Crap.

I finally got a light northwest cycle and ran into the air.  Like Jake before me, I flew down across the northwest face encountering mechanical turbulence, but nothing worth turning in.  I continued on across the north facing ski area.  Again, nothing.  With my LZ getting dangerously far away, I pushed on around into the northeast bowl.  I decided to ignore the useable but unfriendly fields below as I kept going.  I finally stumbled into a stream of warm air rising up the far side of the northeast face and started a slow climb.  I radioed I was climbing, but Peter and Rodger were not impressed and stayed put.

I was very happy when I could see the top of the ski lift and then the top of the mountain.  I relayed my climb rate and position to Peter, who was waiting for his own invitation from the wind gods on launch.  I slowly playing in thermals flowing up the northeast bowl.  I watched Peter launch and find a climb on the northwest side before hopping over the top of the ski area to the northeast bowl.

We watched Rodger sit on launch as we climbed to base as one of the large cloud complexes formed overhead.

While Rodger, and later Dan, sledded, we had a sweet joy ride at or above cloud base on our way south to Springfield.

I flew out ahead to mark a climb near the Springfield airport.  (My glider has a much better glide than Peter's so I took the risks hunting for climbs).

I had a tough decision to make after topping out with Peter near Springfield.  The best clouds were further to the west where the LZs were further apart and Peter would be at a disadvantage with his glider.  Instead of diving over the higher ground, we shifted east towards the wispy clouds along the Connecticut River valley and its plentiful LZs.  We found a couple thermal-wanna-bes but nothing substantial.  I pushed on towards Bellows Falls towards an aging complex that offered up one more climb.  Peter was too low to reach my climb and landed along the river in a huge mowed hay field.  I climbed to around 5000 feet and started a long smooth glide to Putney.

Aside from the small helicopter that was crossing the southern end of my chosen LZ, I had a landing fit for a Vermont travel brochure.  I banked over the Connecticut River, flew along the edge of a verdant corn field, flew a long final beside a railroad track and landed in still air at the entrance to a recently mowed alfalfa field across from a red barn with a white silo.

I had pleasant conversations with several neighbors and admired the wild flowers while I waited for Ryan.

Jake, Peter, Rodger, Ryan, and I enjoyed dinner at a typically atypical Vermont eatery.  A Mexican - clam shack combo that featured live contemporary acoustic music on a summer evening.

Pilots remember flights for the quantity, (height, distance, or time), some outstanding event, or for the quality.  This flight definitely fits into the last category.  Going "all in" to snag the first climb and avoiding the ground, being rewarded with a dreamy flight along cloud base, a long smooth glide over towns and farms, a near perfect landing in a post card setting, and a fun funky dinner filled with flying stories makes this flight a "keeper".

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:55, Distance: 29.8 miles