Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Maine Line

I talked to Randy about traversing New England west to east Saturday evening, but gave up the idea after seeing cirrus and thickening clouds forecasted to move in by Sunday afternoon.  It was still a good forecast in a sea of crappy days so we were ready to fly.  Jeff and I joined Peter and Lee at the park-and-ride in Dunstable Massachusetts.  We spotted Randy's car at the park-and-ride in Bow New Hampshire and then drove in Peter's fully loaded SUV to Mount Ascutney in Vermont.

Lee dropped us off at the trail head before heading to Morningside for the day.  The lower setup area was already full when we arrived at launch.

Us late-comers rigged while talking with friends, hikers, and photographers.

(left to right: Peter, John A, and Kip)

(left to right: Jeff B, John A, and Jake)

Jake spent time going over the finer points of launching and flying at Ascutney with Russ, who was preparing for his first flight here.


I felt trapped behind all the gliders in front of me and was relieved when pilots started launching to the applause of the onlookers.  Russ received an extra-loud response when he ran down the rock.

Pilots were soaring, but just barely.  Kip, the pilot in front of me, had to wait for launchable conditions before diving off.  It was launchable when I stepped up with Jake and Ryan, but I had to yield to pilots sinking in front of (and below) launch.  Jon yelled from above to stay put.  I kept telling myself patience is a virtue and waited.  Jeff B found a nice climb to the right of launch that I wanted to join, but the wind was now blowing across launch and it was unsafe to go.  Sigh.

Once everyone climbed away and the thermal faded it was safe to launch and I ran off.  I danced around the mountain top for awhile before Jake, Jeff, and I found the elevator near the radio towers.  We spun up to cloud base which was surprisingly high and cold.

The three of us shared several climbs as we flew over the Connecticut River, Claremont, and Kelleyville.  I caught up with Randy near Kelleyville but couldn't wait as I was thrown to cloud base.  I cruised over Newport and found a climb over Lake Sunapee.  I saw Randy climbing at the south end of the lake but lost Jake and Jeff.  I continued on to New London and found a strong, but skinny, climb near the golf course.  I watched a sail plane flounder below me as I beamed out.  I wish I could have told the pilot they brought the wrong weapon to the fight!

I made a mistake leaving a good line of clouds to get video from the top of Mount Kearsarge.  The clouds to the east of Kearsarge were drying up, but I thought I would be able to squeeze enough out of them to make it to the more robust clouds on the other side of the Merrimack River valley.  I waited too long to return to the good line of clouds to the north and arrived at the river south of Tilton too low to continue traveling east.


I was looking around at the clouds when I spotted John above me in a weak climb.  Where did he come from?  He didn't wait on the floundering fool below and moved on.  I continued searching until I found a slow climb that got me back to base and on my way east over the trees towards the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The road east

I easily connected a few climbs and flew directly over the raceway.  I picked out an oasis in the green and blue beyond that but had enough altitude to check out one more cloud before landing.  I found the thermal and started climbing and surveying land-able fields downwind.

Oasis among the trees

I convinced myself the openings in the trees ahead were useable LZs and kept moving.  I took my time enjoying the views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains.

Aside from a brief exchange with Peter, I could not raise any pilots on the radio since I left Mount Ascutney.  (I knew my radio was working since I had a pleasant conversation with another amateur radio operator on the ground).  When I had the airfield in Rochester within glide, I decided to land there and wait for a ride instead of flying to the next cloud and potentially landing on the beach south of Ogunquit Maine.  (Although I knew high tide was at 2 PM and the beach would be growing, I was worried about some unexpected summer festival complete with ferris wheels, tents, and crowds coming into view as I approached the beach with no other place to land!)

Airfield at Rochester.  (Ogunquit beach is the bright line beyond the next cloud shadow.)

I flew off my altitude touring the town and taking pictures of Great Bay and the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease.

Great Bay and Pease airfield.  (Notice thickening clouds chasing us).

I flew over the Rochester airfield checking the landing options and wind direction.  I was getting ready to start an overly long open approach pattern when I noticed a hang glider off the northeast end of the runway.  What the....  I thought twice about giving up a nice airfield, but it would be fun to land with another pilot.  I flew in under the glider and it turned out to be John again.  He was circling in a weak thermal that I was able to use to climb up to him.


John broke to the left as I continued to float along in a lifting line to the right.  I was soon 1500 feet (500m) above him as I watched him turn back to the west.  He continued back to the northwest as I checked out the golf course below me.  I knew I would have a long wait for a retrieve.  Should I land with John in a muddy farm field with mosquitos and black flies or on a golf course with a mowed lawn, wind indicators, and a clubhouse with drinks and dinner?  Um.  Bye John!

I checked the wind direction using the flags on the clubhouse and greens at The Links at Outlook.  Light southwest.  Good.  How can I make this landing fun?  I settled on a wire-singing flyover, a high-bank turn around some trees, and then a long swoop across the driving range and an uphill landing below the club house.  I nailed the landing with a no-step flare and was rewarded with applause from the small crowd.  I rotated the glider and took a few steps to a shady spot along split-rail fence to break down.

I knew John landed nearby, but I soon got a text from Randy saying he landed about 10 miles (16 km) to the southeast at York Beach, Maine.  Flying from Mount Ascutney to the coast is a rite of passage in New England and he had just joined that elite beach club.  Congratulations Randy!

It was a good day overall.  John had turned around to ensure he landed in Maine, a first for him.   Jake landed in Candia, Jon in Strafford, Kip in Epsom, Jeff B in Concord, Jeff C (a personal best) and Peter in North Sutton, and Allen, Bob, and Doug at Morningside.  The first-timer Russ had a great flight in spite of having trouble getting down to land!

As expected, retrieval was a logistical workout.  After Lee packed up at Morningside, he drove Peter's truck to pick up Peter and Jeff C.  They then drove to Concord where Jeff jumped into Randy's car to fetch Randy and I.  Allen followed Jeff to join Randy's celebration at the beach.  Jake and Jeff B drove north to pick up John, and Doug drove from Morningside to get Jon.  (Thank-you Lee, Peter, and Jeff for the pickup).

I spent the evening going for a walk starting at the Red Barn at Outlook Farm, where a wedding reception was in full swing.

I walked to the center of South Berwick and just snuck into a small store before closing time for a cookie.

I was completely dark when Jeff and Allen pull in and even later when we reached Randy.  Although Randy tried, we didn't get our customary lobster dinner.  We were lucky to find a bar still open on a Sunday evening that served pub food.  We left York at midnight and I got home in the rain around 2 AM.

It was a very enjoyable day using high cloud bases, light winds, and reasonable thermals to launch in Vermont, traverse New Hampshire, and then land in Maine.  Even better was taking in the scenery and sharing the excitement with a bunch of pilots after a good day of flying.

Randy wrote about his flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:11, Distance: 84.9 miles (straight-line)


Randy Brown said...

Awesome flight Tom! Way to go. Thanks for all your advice and help over the years. I've learned, and continue to learn a ton from you.

Fabiano Nahoum said...

Wow, that sure reminds me of the Race and Rallye task over the forest! Except maybe I could see more landings then! Great write up Tom looking forward to flying alongside next spring! Cheers, Fabiano