Thursday, May 31, 2012

Easy come, easy go

A couple weeks ago, Friday May 18, Randy and I drove to West Rutland Vermont with hopes of flying north to the Canadian border.  We talked about potential routes and what has worked (and not worked) for me in the past.  A lot of big talk on my part, but I'm getting ahead of the story.

We loaded on Kip's truck at the base, along with Jeff C.  The waterfall at the gate was singing its gurgling spring song.

We rigged under the blue sky along with a dozen other pilots.

My glider next to Randy's

It was lightly blowing in but there were no signs of lift.  John S took off and with skill and effort worked his way above launch.


A couple other pilots launched and soared a bit but everyone, including John, eventually sunk out.

No rush

We finally got bored waiting and started launching again.  Randy stood on launch a long time and was immediately rewarded with a climb.  I ran off next and slid in underneath him but couldn't match his circles since the ridge was in the way!  I gave up on that climb and like John an hour before, I slowly worked my way above the ridge line.

Jeff and Kip waiting to launch

Jeff joined my climb near launch.


I was comfortably above the ridge watching pilots mark climbs below me.

Instead of staying on the ridge, I flew into the valley to a climb I mistakenly thought Kip was in.  Crap!  I sank like a rock on the the way there and like a piano on the way back.  I went from comfortably soaring to looking for a low save as I slid off the ridge into the valley.

Jeff and I played around the LZ in a broken thermal that kept tempting us but we finally had to give up and land.

Notice the orange windsock to the right of my helmet.  The wind is nicely aligned so I can land next to Kip on the high (and dry) ground next to the driveway.  I fly forward a bit, enter a downwind-base-final approach when I watch the windsock switch 90 degrees on my base leg.  Sigh.

OK, time for plan B.  Oh, there's Jeff coming in at the same time.  Oh joy!  Plan C.  We both swing wide and land in the upper-right corner next to each other in very tall hay.  Sigh.  Nothing like a long hot slog through waist-high hay to soothe the pain of landing early.  ;-(

Meanwhile Randy and PK were climbing out over the mountain.  Randy took off while PK came back.  I watched a steady stream of pilots land after brief soaring flights as I packed up.  I started driving north to chase Randy but since his radio wasn't working, I didn't know how far to go.  I had stopped for ice cream when I got a text message saying he had landed at the Middlebury airport.  (You can read about Randy's flight on his blog).  We broke up the long drive home with dinner in Keene.

It was late when I got back home.  Another day with more time driving than flying.  Next time I'll be more careful with my altitude and position on the ridge!

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:16

Monday, May 14, 2012

Slipping Out

I was outside working in the yard shortly after 6 am this morning watching high clouds choke the rising sun.  A couple hours later Amy and I met our son for brunch to celebrate Mother's Day.  When we got back home around 1pm the sky was clearing and a few high cumulus clouds were starting to pop.  The cut-off time for a fly or no-fly decision has typically been 10am but with the opening of Hang Glide New England in New Braintree MA, I proved yesterday I can now leave home at 1:30pm and still go soaring.

Allen, Kip, Matt, and Randy were already setup when I arrived at the airfield around 2:30.  Randy said there were strong gusts ripping through, but most of the time conditions were good with the wind blowing down the runway.  I quickly rigged and was second in the launch line behind Randy.

I had a civilized tow out of the field behind Rhett.

Tanner-Hiller Airport

I lost track of my altitude as I watched the Quabbin Reservoir provide a backdrop to Rhett's green tug.

I paid for my hasty rigging when my harness unzipped from the top when I went prone after releasing.  I still had a buckle across my chest, but without the zipper, I can slip through the shoulder straps.  Not wanting to leave a good glider and parachute behind, I rocked up and tried to correct the problem.  I might have been able to unzip and re-set the zipper, but I couldn't get the zipper head to pass under my chest buckle with my gloves on.  I definitely didn't want to accidentally release the buckle, so I gave up on that idea.  I next tried using my tow bridle to tie the shoulder straps together.  That also didn't work well with gloves on and the uncooperative thermal I was climbing in.  I struggled to weaved the tow bridle around the straps, but nothing provided the tightness and security I needed.  In hind sight, I should have taken my gloves off, wrapped the bridle around the shoulder straps, and simply tied a square knot to secure the whole thing.  Sigh.  I finally decided to fly around rocked up in my standard landing position.  I considered heading off downwind but the conservative voice in my head won out and I decided to land back at the airfield.

While I was flailing with my harness, Randy was waiting for me overhead wondering why I wasn't climbing better or joining Paul who was soaring a powered Mitchell Wing nearby.  I finally got on the radio and announced my intention to stay.  I watched Randy leave when we were both above 7500 feet (2300m) near cloud base.

I drifted a bit north into the trees before heading crosswind to the center of Barre MA.

Trees (It is New England after all!)


It was tough watching Kip turn and head downwind as I plowed upwind near base.  I played around for a short time, but was concerned that any rough turbulence might turn my day of hang gliding into a day of sky diving.  I cruised off my excess altitude and headed back.

Rhett, Louie, and passenger climbing out.

View of the airfield from the west.

I had a exciting approach into the field.  One of those "occasional blasts" was ripping through the field as I rounded base and final.  It was challenging, but I managed a no-step landing near our launch spot.  (Matt landed later in totally benign conditions; so much for timing!)

I packed up and was rolling by 5pm.  I offered to help Allen find Randy who was now out of radio range.  We drove to the high ground at Princeton but still could not raise him.  Kip called and said he landed in Pepperell which isn't far from home so I continued on with Allen.  We later discovered Kip had actually landed in Dunstable, the next town over.  I definitely liked the huge flat field he found, but hated driving by all the great ice cream stands on the way there!

By the time we packed up Kip, we learned Randy had landed at the Steck Farm Airport in Pelham NH.  I was already late for dinner at home so I lead the way in the opposite direction to Randy's LZ.  We briefly spoke with the owner Paul before heading to Martha's Exchange in Nausha NH for a late dinner.

It definitely stung turning back as Randy and then Kip left for ~50 mile (80km) and ~40 mile (65km) flights over my home territory.  Although checking my zipper is part of my pre-flight, I obviously need to either eliminate the risk of incorrectly starting the zipper or develop a better way of ensuring it is correct before launch.  Needless to say, it was better to miss a good XC flight than to slip out for a quick speed glide to the ground.

Update:  Randy wrote about the day on his blog.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:59

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

High Day

The forecast yesterday morning continue to shout "Mount Equinox", an east facing launch in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  I wanted to fly there if possible, since easterly winds are rare around here.  It was also a weekday, so the number of pilots available was limited.  Peter, PK, and Randy were ready to go, but we needed someone to drive the vehicle back down the mountain and wanted someone to drive retrieve.  We were running out of ideas and phone numbers when PK offered to hike back up if necessary.  Although unlikely he would (could?) do the hike, it was enough to get us going.  What about a retrieve?  It will somehow work out.

Peter and I loaded unto his SUV at my place and were leaving to pick up Randy in Leominster when I got a call from John.  It didn't take much discussion before he was taking a day off also.

Pilots typically launch early from east facing launches since the morning sun bakes the slopes starting at sunrise.  However, Mount Equinox is a 3+ hour drive, so it was already after noon when we arrived at the bottom of the toll road.  It took us even longer to cram everything into PK's SUV.  (Everything included PK's friend Ron who volunteered to drive down, 5 pilots, 5 gliders, and 5 harness bags.)  We chuckled when the toll attendant, worried about our safety, suggested we take multiple vehicles since an overloaded vehicle could cause the brakes to fail on the way down.  We assured her that everyone except Ron would not be coming back down!

Feathery cirrus started to creep across the blue sky as we set up.  A light breeze trickled into launch.  Nothing indicated it was soarable.


Snug setup area

PK wanted to draw straws to see who would launch first.  I ensured him it wouldn't be necessary as I would be going soon.  We were talking when John noticed a large hawk rapidly climb as it meandered across the bowl in front of us.  Ok, then; time to go.

Each of us self-launched into the nearly perfect conditions.  I launched first and gained a little as I followed the ridge to the left but returned below launch on my way to the right side.  I stumbled into a strong climb near the car pull-off and started climbing to 9750 feet (2970m) msl.  Everyone else launched and also climbed into the high-altitude freezer.

Well, I sure wasn't going to stay put with that kind of altitude, retrieve or no retrieve.  I lead off to the north with Randy fading to my left (west) and the rest slightly behind.  We had a long glide to a large area lift coming off the peaks north of Manchester VT.  Once again we took bumpy climbs to the top floor.

I crossed the valley south of Danby while everyone else followed a better line over the main peak to the north.  We all joined up over the high terrain to east of Danby, but John and PK were now significantly lower.

John & PK

Randy continued on while I circled in light lift and took these pictures.

Looking south; Mount Equinox is the peak near the center of the horizon line.


Looking north; Rutland airport is at top right.

I moved on while John and PK crossed the valley and struggled a long time on a small plateau.  I climbed back to 8000 feet (2500m) over a large rock slide and then to 7000 feet (2100m) near the airport.  The cirrus was getting thicker and the climbs shorter and weaker.  John and PK managed to bobble down the valley to fields west of the airport.  Although he had plenty of altitude to move on, Randy decided to land at the airport with its large level field and wind socks.  Flying most of the time by himself in his Sport 2, Peter landed in the large field just northwest of the airport.

Meanwhile I kept moving along the higher terrain slowly lowering my entry and exit altitudes as the cirrus smothered the day's heating.  The climbs were now weak but very smooth; perfect for sightseeing.  I checked out the severe damage done by the hurricane last fall along Route 4 to the northeast of Rutland before flying northwest back out into the valley.  I watched people on the greens at a golf course, soccer players, and farmers tilling fields.  I eventually floated into a large field decorated with dandelions and had a sweet landing in front of several cars that stopped to watch me land.

I called Peter to let him know I was down safe.  Our flight was great, but he wanted to know "Now what?"  ;-)  PK was already working the problem and found someone to take the drivers back south to Mount Equinox.  Randy and I had to entertain ourselves for an hour or two.

Randy hung out at the airport.  I packed up, stashed the glider, and started walking.  The first stop was at J-R's Eatery for a slice of lemon meringue pie.  I continued walking south to the center of Pittsford, VT.

I really liked the style and color of their library.

Daylight was fading as John, Peter, and Randy pulled into the center of town.  After picking up my gear, we headed south to dinner in Rutland with PK.  The 3+ hour return trip ensured a late arrival at home, but it was definitely worth the hassle.  Several of the group set new altitude personal bests and it was virgin territory for some as well.  It was a nice reintroduction to New England flying after a flying a month in Florida and Georgia.

Update:  Randy's writeup is available on his blog "Iron Man Hang-Gliding".

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:35, Distance: 46 miles (OLC 1 point), 39 miles straight-line


I packed my gear Saturday night in preparation for a day of flying at Mount Ascutney the next day.  However, the sky was totally socked in across all New England early Sunday morning.  After 2 hours of phone conversations I decided to skip flying for the day.  Peter stopped by and said he was going to check out Rhett's new gig at Hangglide New England at the Tanner-Hiller Airport in central Massachusetts.  The airport, about an hour drive away, is the closest I've ever lived to a launch.

Amy and I went for a "Sunday drive" with the airport as one destination.  We arrived around 2pm and parked among a gaggle of rigged gliders.  Brooks, Kip, Matt, Peter, and Randy were ready to go.  We signed the ever-present liability waivers and then moved to the southwest end of the airfield.

Randy & Rhett

Matt was the first to launch.



Matt had a short flight under a mostly over-developed sky, but things were improving.  Peter was next and he stuck.  Meanwhile, we moved the tow operations to the other end of the field before Kip, Randy, and Brooks launched and soared overhead.  Peter landed, but he and Matt decided to go again after Brooks embarrassed everyone with a low save over our heads.

Peter and Louie

Eventually the sky dried up and everyone landed after soaring flights.


Amy and I later enjoyed ice cream in the scenic town common at Barre, Massachusetts before making the pleasantly short drive home.

It is great having a place to fly so close.  I'll definitely be back to fly soon.

Randy posted about his experiences on his blog "Iron Man Hang-Gliding" and a video on YouTube.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Race & Rally: Day 7

Although I am home in cold and cloudy New England, it is easy to mentally transport myself back to the hot and sunny skies of Georgia and the last day of the 2012 Race & Rally.

We were launching from Moultrie and flying, via a turn point near a small town, to Americus.

I setup and tried in vain to remove the black powdery dust that covered my glider after the previous day's landing.  I originally thought I was near the end of the ordered launch line and would need to launch early until Charlie pointed out we would be launching from the other end.  Doh.

Many pilots took advantage of the open launch window before the start of ordered launch.  For a few minutes it appeared some of those pilots might sink out.  However, just about everyone was still soaring as the ordered launched started.



I had a sweet tow behind Johnny towards a large column of billowing smoke from a brush fire just out of reach of the tow planes.  Johnny pointed to the smoke and waved me off.  I was soon climbing well in the aromatic smoke.

I watched a couple experienced pilots toy with the gaggles, leading them off into the blue at times, but most of the field was in good position for the first start.

The field divided into east and west gaggles as we approached a large wedge of trees to the north.  I took the westerly path and kept a watchful eye on the other gaggle far to our east.  We exchanged the lead several times but essentially got to the turn point at the same time.

It was a good day to be flying with buddies; the sky was blue, the top of useable lift low, and the climbs widely spaced.  I was disappointed when I took a bad line and ended low just past the turn point.  However, I was a bit relieved when I noticed the remainder of the gaggle struggling further to the west along course line just short of a large lake.  I was able to catch up and climbed with a bald eagle just before crossing the large lake.  The gaggle did better than I did in a broken climb over the lake and I got pinched off just out-of-reach of the next climb that took them into goal.  I bubbled about in broken lift over a small brush fire hoping to escape but landed in a plowed field after startling a deer as a flew along a row of pine trees.

I packed up and then Amy and I drove the short distance to goal.  Dang!

We shared the good times at goal and then headed off to our hotel for a quick shower before the awards ceremony later that evening.  Davis officiated the short program.

Ollie won the rigid wing category, and Pedro, Paris, and Kraig were the top three in the flew wing category.  The full scores are available online.

Before long we were transferring gliders between vehicles and saying goodbye.  Amy and I left the next morning for New England.

I was initially disappointed by my performance in this meet.  Then I remembered a few weeks ago I wasn't sure I could even fly a single competition day, let alone 5, due to my shoulder injury.  I also realized this year's meet featured a full dose of blue days and many of those days included low top-of-climbs.  I have always been more comfortable flying with lots of room between me and the ground.  I am reasonably good at low saves, but only if an LZ is directly below me.  I'm now more aware that I need to improve my low-level blue-day thermal hunting skills.

Looking beyond the "competition" aspect, I had great fun flying with friends, sharing climbs with a half-dozen bald eagles and many other birds big and small, exploring new territory, and of course hanging out with a large group of seriously cool people.

Update: Alex posted a nice video of the start circle and first leg.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:30, Distance: 85.7 miles