Saturday, April 28, 2012

Race & Rally: Day 6

It has been a long day, so this writeup will be short.

We had a 98k task (61 mile) starting at Suwannee County Airport in Live Oak Florida, traveling east-southeast 75 km, then 26 km north to a small airstrip.

The day started with fog, then a sky filled with cumulus, and then dried out to blue.  The wind was west-southwest around 12 mph (16 k/h).


My launch position was 2/3 of the way back, but I decided to "wait my turn" instead of launching early.  When my turn came I only managed to climb above the tug before my weak link broke and I landed in the prop wash with a bang.  ;-)  I checked my glider, attached a new weak link, composed myself, and then stepped back into line for another go.

Things went well until around 400 feet (120m) when Russell got knocked around in the tug and me soon after.  I almost locked out, but managed to save it.  Just as I thought I was through it, the tug suddenly dropped and the weak link broke with a bang.  The air was rough even off tow.  A tug coming in powered back up instead of landing in crap.  I tried to hang on long enough to let the turbulence work through and had a good landing.


There were only a couple pilots left on the ground when I left for the third time.  Mark dropped me off near climbing pilots and I slowly ascended while finally relaxing a bit.


I waited around at the top for the few pilots left at the field and then pushed on towards the start circle.  I had a great start for the last gate; crossing high a few seconds after it opened.  The flight went well until I messed up a climb at Keystone Airport.  I started a glide with Alex but watched the altitude between us grow as he flew deeper over the trees.  I faded in his direction but stepped into sink and was forced to run to a prison yard for landing.

It was obvious which sections of the prison had razor fencing and guard towers.  There was one field that looked level and large enough to land on.  However as I flew over, I spotted large posts scattered all over the field.  Dang.  I quickly ran to a clear-cut area immediately downwind of the prison and started cursing my fate.  The field was active, but not enough to climb out from.  The field had been logged and replanted so there was nothing really tall, but brush was scattered everywhere.  I flew through a dusty on final without much ado, but had a sloppy landing and let glider's nose touch the loose sand.

Aside from the heat, long walk, and poison ivy, I thought my retrieve would be simple.  However, a couple prison guards showed up asking for identification and wanted to know if I was OK.  Two more guards showed up about the time Linda flew overhead asking for the wind direction.  She had a great landing a few feet from the small crowd.  Once their attention turned to her, I carried my glider to the tree line for shade and began packing my glider and about 30 pounds of sand.

After a bit of bush-whacking we got our gliders to the road with Amy and Rob's help.  Amy and I drove to goal to pick up Richard.  As expected, I learned just about everyone made goal.  Sigh.

We broke up the long drive to Moultrie Georgia with a stop for dinner in Valdosta with several other pilots.  We were bummed to hear that Eric busted his elbow on landing and was waiting for surgery in Gainsville.

Tomorrow (well, today now) is the last day of this year's rally.  I hope the weather is good; I want to prove to myself that I still know how to get to goal!

Flights: 3, Duration: 2:01, Distance: 32.9 miles

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Race & Rally: Day 5

We left Quest Air today and headed north.  The daily meeting was repeatedly postponed as we waited for the task committee.  That usually means the committee is having a tough time designing a task and it also usually means the task will be difficult.  The committee sent us north with a crossing tailwind to a turn point at John Travolta's airstrip northeast of Ocala and then into the west southwest wind to Williston.

I saw plenty of evidence for a strong westerly sea breeze which would make that last leg nearly impossible.  Since I was slated to launch near the end of the ordered launch, I rushed to get ready for the 15 minute open launch window before the ordered launch started.  I had trouble deciding between launching early and stressing my sore shoulder for 1:20 before the first start gate or launch at the end of the line and risk missing the first start.  I finally decided to launch early and do as little as possible until it was time to race.

I had a good start and was one of the leaders on the first long glide.  We found a climb but I notice Ollie climbing better to the west.  Should I give up the moderate "sure thing" or go for the "better thing"?  I decided to stay put but regretted the decision when I noticed Ollie climb above everyone else and leave.

Things started rattling apart as I crossed the turnpike and woods south of the Villages.  I was low and watched a couple gliders land below me.  I struggled to get some maneuvering room and couldn't find a good climb.  A bald eagle shared my climb for 5 minutes as I continued to drift off course line.

I finally spotted pilots from the second start so I turned back and finally climbed out with them.  We meandered across the countryside, flicking from one weak climb to the next.  I was pinched off and left to fend for myself.  A bit later, Richard flew by and we shared a climb before we pushed upwind and landed about 20 km (12 miles) short of the turn point.

I hovered down into a large pasture field full of frisky cattle.  Luckily, I was scary looking enough that they kept a comfortable distance.

Amy showed up as I was sliding the glider through the gate.  We rounded the corner and picked up Richard.  While there, a crew from the Marion County Firefighters stopped to check out the activity.

I don't think anyone made goal, but a large group rounded the turn point and pushed upwind about 10 km (6 miles).

Amy, Richard, and I stopped for Mexican food in Gainesville, before driving on to Live Oak, Florida where we will launch tomorrow.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:24, Distance: 41.6 miles

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Race & Rally: Day 4

After spending the night at yesterday's goal, Lake Wales Florida, we got a text message telling us to move to Quest Air for the day.  After a quick breakfast we drove to Groveland Florida and setup.  Davis gave us the weather forecast; light winds, blue skies, and relatively low top-of-climb (4000 feet / 1220 m).  We were staying local since the winds to the north were predicted to be too high for flying today and tomorrow.  Carl presented the task, a 4-sided polygon that started at Quest Air, extended south to the intersection of Route 33 and 474, then back to the northwest to a turn point at Center Hill Florida, then northeast to a turn point 5 km from an airfield called Flying Baron Estates, then back south to Quest.  Total distance was 101 km (63.1 miles).

Pilots rushed to get ready in the 45 minutes between the morning meeting and the opening of the launch window.  Most of my time was spent entering the data for 3 new waypoints into my flight computer.  Although rushed, most pilots seemed ready to go when the tugs fired up.

I was about 20th in line and could see the earlier pilots were sticking.  I had a quick tow behind Russell and was dropped off in a good climb.  Most of the field was bouncing off the inversion at the top of lift for nearly an hour and were glad when the first start time rolled around.

I had a good start but made a minor mistake stopping for a climb that wasn't worth it near the first turn point.  However, a strong climb north of the gliderport allowed me to reconnect with most of the lead gaggle.  It was a good day; I saw several pilots make low saves with strong thermals forming almost to the ground.  Although uncomfortably low a few times, I never thought landing was imminent.

I was too cautious on my final, but after my poor showing yesterday, I wanted to be at goal so I arrived about 500 feet (150m) too high.  I wasn't fast, but did get to watch many pilots land.

Almost everyone was in a good mood after a long, fun, and safe, day of flying.  The drivers, including mine, didn't have to leave the shade tree all afternoon.

Amy after a grueling afternoon of not chasing.

Richard (Looking for sponsorship from a beer company?)


Red Shoes

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:57, Distance: 63.1 miles

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Race & Rally: Day 3

It was a bit funky today on the Race & Rally.  The weather was much better than yesterday, but still breezy, blue, and low.  Excitement replaced "bad weather jokes" as everyone busied themselves with preparation for a day of racing at the Marion County Airport in Dunnellon Florida.

The task was a 152 km (95 mile) dog leg through Quest Air to the Lake Wales airport to the south.

We had an ordered launch with a 30 minute open launch at the beginning.  A few pilots took advantage of the open window, but most waited for their allocated turn.  The climbs initially looked weak but it was soon apparent that some pilots were climbing higher than predicted.

My number was in the middle of the queue and gliders were already near the 15 km (9.3 mile) start circle when I launched.  I had a long, but reasonably smooth, tow to 1900 feet (580 m) where I released into a climb.  (The vario wasn't beeping on one long stretch, even behind the tug).

I drifted through the start circle 1 minute before the next 15-minute clock, so I flew back upwind for 0.3km to get the 2:45 start time.  That was my first mistake, as I lost my flying buddies Dean and Pete.

I glided down across the trees but finally found a climb and became instantly popular with a half-dozen pilots in the area.  My newly adopted gaggle (Charlie, John, Alex, and a few others) was making progress, but was flying too far west towards the sea breeze for my taste, so I made a 90-degree turn to the east when I saw someone climbing.  Second mistake.

I had a couple other climbs and glides but deviated from course line, got low and pinned to a field northwest of Groveland.  Third mistake.  I hovered down in the westerly sea breeze for a no-step landing.

Aside from landing 1/2 way into the task, I had a 1+ mile hike out to a locked gate.  Fourth mistake.  At least the cows kept me company.

I later learned a dozen or so pilots never got away from the field before the sea breeze shut everything  down.  Many of pilots from the first three starts made goal.  The gaggle from the fourth start that I ditched flew another 25 miles (40 km) or more than me  Sigh.

Still it was fun flying and I hope I make at least different mistakes tomorrow.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:24, Distance: 43.7 miles

Monday, April 23, 2012

Race & Rally: Day 2

Amy, Richard, and I left Quest Air for the Marion County Airport in Dunnellon Florida this morning at 8 am.  We were greeted by blustery winds that never abated.  We had a short pilot's meeting at 11 am, a couple 1 hour delays, and then the day was officially cancelled.

We spent the morning using the sun to counteract the cold wind from the northwest.

Tomorrow looks flyable.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Race & Rally: Day 1

I assumed the first day of the Flytec Race & Rally would be cancelled when I awoke to rain and slate gray skies.  The forecast for increasing winds reinforced that idea.  However, when a task was presented at the morning meeting and then clearing skies without winds appeared around noon I gladly had to change my mind.  Most pilots had rigged and staged their gliders and when a pilots meeting was called as the launch window was about to open.  I assumed we would get instructions on the new launch procedures or maybe a 30 minute delay to accommodate stragglers.  However, Mitch described a rough tug approach, explained how difficult it is to tow in a west-northwest wind, and reminded everyone of the earlier forecasts for wind.  He then stated the day had been cancelled.  I was surprised, but not upset.

A small group of pilots suited up for flights and had a good time for a couple hours until the promised winds, probably reinforced with a sea-breeze, showed up.  As far as I know, everyone hovered in without incident.

I thought we were staying local, but got a text message late in the afternoon saying we would be towing out of the Marion County Airport in Dunnellon FL on Monday.  The airfield is large and provides a better angle into the forecasted northwest wind. Amy, Richard, Paris, and I will be driving north tomorrow morning.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Pilots continued to pour into Quest Air Friday in preparation for the start of the Flytec Race & Rally on Sunday.  The forecast called for showers and thunderstorms after noon so I inhaled breakfast and rigged for an early morning "smoothie".

Without a doubt, it was the most beautiful tow I've ever had.  Cloud base was low, around 1300 feet (400m).  Paul towed me up to cloud base, then circled alongside the cloud until we flew across its top.  We emerged into field of brilliant white puffy balls of mist.  I pinned off and immediately flew over the tops of clouds doing wing overs until I was leaving vortices in the roiling tops of the clouds.  I flew through several cloud canyons until I emerge below the cloud base.

I gained several hundred feet in a weak climb near the field and then landed a happy man.

About an hour later I took to the skies again, after Dan G and before Roger I.  The tow was bumpy but I didn't find any climb until I was down to 1000 feet (300m) east of the field.  I followed a soaring bird to a better thermal nearby and started climbing in earnest.  Roger joined me as Dan landed.  Roger and I climbed to base around 2600 feet (800m) and then followed a lines of clouds upwind to the southwest.

The climbs were stronger and I had to run to the edges of clouds to avoid the higher base at 3200 feet (950m)  I continued to push upwind until I got low and had to turn around.  James, Ollie, Roger, and I all decided to land as a light rain started to fall.  We spiraled down and had good landings in a heavy sprinkle.

Pilots continued to launch as I broke down.  The sky continued to build and eventually we heard distant thunder which convinced many pilots that it was time to land.  Several large cells moved through before a few more pilots launched later in the afternoon.

A large group of us had dinner at Red Wing before returning to the club house for the evening.  The first meeting of the Race & Rally is Saturday evening.

Flights: 2, Duration: 1:27, Distance: 12 mile triangle

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Long Nights

I haven't posted in a few days since I've been fighting a flu that spread through a couple of the Florida flight parks.  That explains why I was so sleepy on the flight south about a week ago.  It started with a sore throat that grounded me but I did manage help an infestation of rigid wings launch at Quest Air before collapsing under the shade tree on Sunday.

The sore throat abated by Monday morning so I setup and was the first to launch into an breezy overdeveloped sky.  The first several hundred feet were rowdy, then the remaining portion of the tow was smooth ... too smooth.  Paul waved me off at release altitude and I didn't find a bump until I was down to 1400 feet (420m).  Ollie was next up and pinned off early to join my ripping 40 fpm (0.2 m/s) climb.  When he asked "were is it?" I had to answer "you're in it!".  I blundered around a bit, but landed soon after Ollie a few minutes later.

I was ready to park the glider for the day since I was sneezing a lot.  The remaining pilots launched and Ollie urged me to "give it another go".  I wasn't ready for another sled ride so I asked Mark P if he was finding any lift.  I didn't understand what he said but could hear his vario chirping wildly, so I got my answer.  Ok, one more attempt.

I was the last to launch and Paul drug me right into a strong climb near the field.

The entire crew was now in the same climb, and even Paul soaring in the yellow tug.

The climb to cloud base was easy, but I was having visibility issues.

No, it wasn't the cool hazy fog at base, but the results of constantly sneezing while wearing a full-face helmet. :-(   I flew upwinds to the south towards the Seminole Lake Gliderport and watched Mark P and Ollie land.  (Miller pushed on upwind to Wallaby Ranch).  I took a few more climbs over sunny fields but the sneezing just got worse.

I finally turned tail and bounced around the airfield before landing in a nice headwind.

We shared an early dinner at Red Wing and I turned in early hoping for a good night's sleep.  Oh, what a night.  Aside from a nose that was running like an open faucet, everything around me conspired to keep me awake.  First, neighbors decided that 11pm was a good time for an hour of motocross riding behind my tent.  Then an armadillo decided to churn the ground all around my tent.  Once the armadillo left, I heard a vehicle slam on its brakes on the nearby highway.  I didn't hear any crashing so I thought nothing more about it.  A short time later a lift-flight helicopter circled the field with blinding flood lights and finally landed but left the turbine running.  Apparently someone was having a worse night than I was.  Toss in a few roosters that crowed at 4:30 while still dark, a few barking dogs, and noisy birds and you get the general idea how the night went.

I spent the next day in a fevered daze; cold even in the baking mid-day sun.  Of course it was a spanking good day and I watched everyone sky-out under sweet looking cumulus.  I slunk back to my tent around 8pm for another fever-induced delirium that lasted almost until daybreak.

The weather deteriorated as I recovered.  Several pilots took extended sledders on Wednesday and by the time I was feeling good on Thursday, rain damped the day by noon.  Pilots are starting to arrive for the Flytec Race & Rally.

Aside from watching it rain, we are also watching the local wildlife.

Flights: 2, Duration: 1:40

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lazy Days

The last several days have been nice, but the wind has kept most pilots on the ground.  I snapped some pictures using my iPhone of the younger Jason landing after an evening flight at Wallaby Ranch on Thursday.


Jason (my tent is tucked in along the tree line in the center of picture)

I awoke to balloons landing near my tent on Friday morning.

Rodger and I paid to visit to Steve at Flytec on Friday morning and explored beaches Friday afternoon before I dropped him off at the airport for his trip back home.


Friday, April 13, 2012


Two weeks of flying, partying, and being active was finally catching up with me.  Instead of sleeping in on Wednesday, I was up at 5:30am taking PK to the shuttle stop so he could head home.  I was wide awake when I got back so no more sleep.  While other pilots set up their gliders after landing out on Tuesday, I fell asleep on the bench of the picnic table.  I was ready to go back to sleep when Mike roused the troops for a trip to the Florida Ridge, a little over 100 miles (160km) to the south.  The nap would have to wait.

Once again I pinned off into a climb to base.  Mike, and then Aric, took off, but I waited for Jason who was climbing to the northwest.  While Aric and Mike cruised south along the east side of Route 27, Jason and I flew along the west side.  Mistake.  I watched Aric bop from cloud to cloud while we struggled with weak climbs.

Meanwhile Rodger relaunched and was heading south.  The drivers, Dennis and Wayne, were getting ready to chase.  Jason and I finally started moving again and did OK until we flew into the Lake Wales area.  Jason was ahead of me a few miles, but neither of us could put together a reasonable climb over 3500 feet (1000m) while the clouds teased us above at 6500 feet (2000m).  Aric and Mike continued to widen their lead while the drivers were soon directly underneath us.

Persistence paid off and I started moving again, drifting over the airfield at Avon Park at 7000 feet (2100m).  However, my shoulder was starting to hurt and I was loosing interest in fighting for climbs.  After a couple half-hearted attempts, I stepped over tall power lines, scared a few cattle, and gently touched down south of Sebring.  Unlike most landings, I wasn't upset to be on the ground.

I zipped up the glider bag just before the drivers pulled up in Jason's truck.  Speaking of Jason, he was flying overhead so we drove back to Route 27 and headed south to Lake Placid.  We stopped to water the drivers at The Royal Palm Cafe and waited for the pilots to check in.  As usual, the day waned and pilots started dropping out of the air.  Mike squeaked into the Florida Ridge after climbing out from 350 feet (100m) near the canal, Aric landed just shy of the 100 mile (160km) mark north of LaBelle on Route 29, and Rodger landed behind us at the airfield in Avon Park.

I assumed driving responsibilities and was pulling out of the cafe when Jason reported he was south of Lake Placid, about 32 miles north of the Florida Ridge.  I did some rough calculations and figured he was actually on the south end of Lake Placid.  I asked Dennis and Wayne to look out the window and see if they could spot him.  Sure enough, Wayne spotted him flying directly over us at 500 feet (150m)!  We drove a couple hundred yards to the north and watched him land.  Everyone helped him quickly pack up.


Unique spot for a falcon nest!

Since Rodger had access to a pilot's lounge and food a short walk away, we decided to continue south to pick up Aric and then Mike. We took a few minutes to say hello to friends at the Ridge and a grabbed a quick bite to eat in LaBelle before heading back for Rodger.

We got back to Wallaby Ranch at a reasonable time given the distance everyone flew and I finally got to take my nap at midnight.

Duration: 3:15, Distance: 60 miles

Thursday, April 12, 2012

North or South

The forecast for Tuesday was a mixed blessing.  The strength and height of the lift was better to the south but a trip southward would mean flying into an increasing headwind.  I was also concerned that the conditions would be "too good" and eventually over-develop and maybe even rain.

Dennis C, Jason W, PK, Rodger F, and I eventually settled on a trip to the north.  I took a short tow to a climb right over launch, released, and was soon running from the haze forming at cloud base.  I played around with many other pilots while I waited for everyone else to climb up.


Jason had a weak-link break shortly after tow and suggested we move on without him.  Dennis, PK, Rodger, and I were together at base so we dove to the north.  Unfortunately, the rapid development we originally climbed in shaded the area and it was now a large blue hole.  Rodger, suffered on the long glide and landed shortly after.  Dennis, PK, and I found a weak climb but PK dropped out when he couldn't connect with Dennis and I in our next climb.  With two of our buddies standing on the ground below, Dennis and I moved on.

We had easy climbs to just under 7000 feet (2100m) flying along the lakes.  We passed Mike B heading south after tagging Quest Air as a turn point.  We continued to a string of dark clouds looming over Groveland, about 20 miles (32 km) to the north.  Dennis glided through slightly ahead of me without finding a bump.  I was convinced the area should be working so I swept wider to the west and slammed into a 1000 fpm (5 m/s) climb.  Meanwhile Dennis continued gliding and searching in vain.  Eventually he landed below me just south of the Route 33 and Florida Turnpike intersection.

With all my buddies on the ground, I decided to turn around and fly back upwind to Wallaby Ranch.  I got low near Quest Air but slowly climbed out before taking a long glide to a thermal marked by Mitch soaring upward in a Dragonfly tug!

One more low-ish save and I was back at the ranch.  Of course once there I watched Jason soar the edge of the field in light lift, unable to get down.  For the first time in my life, I pimped another pilot, Scott L, for sink!  We spiraled down while we could and landed at the same time on opposite sides of the field.

Jason and I jumped in my car and meet Igor, Dennis, and Rodger at the spot where PK landed after taking off from Quest Air for his second flight of the day.  We stopped for dinner and drinks before returning to the ranch.

Duration: 3:56, Distance: 66.5 miles

Wills Wing Demo Days - The Day After

On Sunday, the day after the big party, many people slept in, packed their bags for the trip home, and said goodbyes, while a lucky group of us were packing our harnesses and getting ready for a day of flying.

Wallaby Ranch (up close)

I had a nice short tow over the field before releasing into a smooth climb to cloud base.

I played around the field for awhile and snapped a few pictures.

Wallaby Ranch (from the southeast)

Downtown Orlando in the distance

Looking north along Route 27

I took a stroll to the northwest and flew with several sail planes at Seminole-Lake Gliderport before returning to the ranch for "pizza night".

Duration: 2:48, Distance: 30 miles