Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer Flying in New England

I owe PK for the nice flight last week in western Vermont.  I knew it would be a good day but even with PK's encouragement I couldn't get motivated for the early departure and 6 hours of solo driving.  I resigned myself to another day on the ground as I picked produce from the garden and had a leisurely breakfast.  I played out in my head the day in front of me; dull work and an evening alone since Amy was going out with friends.  Crap, maybe I should have gone.  Everyone was meeting for the ride up at noon.  It was 9:15 and it takes 3 hours to get there; already late and I still had to pack up and load the glider.  What the ****!  I literally ran around the house gathering my flying gear, tossed it in the car, hurriedly strapped the glider on top and rolled down the driveway by 9:30.

I got my fill of racing and shaved 15 minutes off the drive north.  Luckily for me, Keith and the rest of the crew (Al, Amy, Bo, Dan, Jordan, PK, and Todd) waited on the tardy one.  We were greeted by light soarable conditions on top.  Bob was already rigged and proved it was soarable as we quickly setup our gliders.  Bo launched next and was soon far overhead in his paraglider.  Sweet.

Of course, as PK, Keith, and I suited up, Bob floated by launch and said it was getting marginal.  Sigh.  PK launched and found a little bullet thermal to the west.  Keith waited for signs of life before launching.  He must have chosen well since he was already above the ridge when I ran off after him.  I cruised around in the bowl maintaining or slightly climbing until a real thermal blew through and quickly climbed out.

Bowl in front, Todd on launch at left end of ridge

I flew upwind into the valley and found a climb that eventually merged with a climb PK was in further out.

Thermals merge into one

PK and I climbed out as everyone else in the air was flushed to the ground.  As they say in real estate "location is everything"!

Climbing downwind of launch

The clouds downwind to the east looked great and the wind was stronger than we expected.  It would have been fun crossing the Green Mountains at 6500+ feet (2000m), but we were not sure how strong or reliable the lift was and crossing the Greens would make retrieve driving much more difficult for Jordan, our driver for the day.

Todd's daughter and driver, Jordan

Although the sky wasn't as promising and flying crosswind would be a chore, we decided to fly north along the western edge of the Greens.  Our first glide lead to broken and weak climbs under a dying mass of clouds.

Gliding north

The surface winds were southwest, the bulk of the column westerly, and the top northwest.  Press weak climbs (100-200 fpm, 0.5 - 1.0 m/s) through that grinder and you have challenging climbs.  We floundered for a bit before drifting into the valley and eventually onto the Greens.


Of course I had to stop and take pictures!

I always want to pass Lake Dunmore to the west over open fields, but always end up flying over the trees downwind to the east.  The same thing happened this time, even after using two glides and climbs so I could be upwind of the lake.  Sigh.  From now on, I'm just going to suck-it-up and head straight for the trees!

Looking north towards Lake Dunmore.  Notice the wind lines on the water.

Looking southwest towards launch (upper center left)

PK and I shared a smooth climb over Lake Dunmore.  We were flying at the same altitude for a relatively long time.  He would occasionally ask on the radio if I was still there since he couldn't see me right behind him.  At one point I positioned myself so I could fly directly over him as the sun was on our backs.  As my shadow passed over his glider I gave him a good banshee scream.  Didn't need the radio for that!

Lake Dunmore

Looking east over the Greens

Looking southeast over the Greens

As it always happens the day started to wane.  We left the mountains and flew to the valley fields into a noticeable headwind.

We flew along the west edge of the mountains east of the Middlebury airport.

Middlebury airport at the base of the ridge, Lake Champlain and the Adironacks in the background

Although it was breezy above, we landed in nearly calm wind south of Bristol.  The neighbors were friendly and talked about someone landing there years ago during the July 4th holiday.  Jordan arrived just as we finished packing.  Thanks Jordan!

We later discovered the pilots that launched after us had short flights.  Several went back up for another that were also short.  Sorry guys.  :-(

This flight was very enjoyable.  We didn't go very far, get very high, or even explore new territory.  However the air was pleasant, the views great, the pace relaxing, and the company good.  It was definitely worth the effort (and miles) to make it happen.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:07, Distance 31.7 miles

Monday, August 20, 2012

Race of the Century

Amy and I checked out the "Race of the Century" at the Collings Foundation in Stow Massachusetts on Sunday.  Quoting from their website, the purpose of the Collings Foundation is to "organize and support “living history” events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation".  The "race of the century" pitted "some of the greatest technological advancements in air and ground transportation against each other in a series of races".

I like horses and old automobiles as much as most gear heads, but the aircraft were my favorites.


T-6 Texan



I think the universe wanted me to stay on the ground Saturday.  It took forever to gather the flying and camping gear and then get Amy and I on the road.  A quick projection showed us arriving at Morningside around noon, which probably meant I would be so far back in the launch line that I would miss the afternoon soaring window.  Maybe I could shave time off on the drive north.  Hardly.  I stopped for gasoline only to find the pumps broken.  The next place we stopped didn't accept credit cards and I needed cash for tow fees.  Sigh.  After feeding the car, it was time to feed the humans on board.  The first place we stopped was done with breakfast.  Ugh.  We drove onto another place as I began to see the pattern for the day.

A short while later the universe then threw another roadblock in front of us; literally.  We were driving through a small town when traffic stopped and we could see the parking lot extending far ahead.  No problem, we'll just look at Google Maps and find a way around.  We dropped onto side streets and took a parallel road that merged back with the main road.  I was feeling smug until the paved road shrank to a gravel road, then a rough dirt road, and then a narrow logging road with potholes the size of small lakes.  Given the way the day was unwinding, I fully expected a locked gate or washed out bridge at any moment; but after some four-wheeling we broke through the trees onto a paved road near our intended route.  Whew.

Aside from the frustrating slow drivers that didn't understand how important it was for me to get to the flight park quickly, the rest of the trip went well.  ;-)

Although the hillside was decorated colorful gliders when I arrived at Morningside, I was surprised to see no one setup along the runway.  I had just stared talking with Peter J as Jon S pulled in.  We each asked "what are we waiting for?" as we looked up at the cummies overhead.  Apparently nothing as we headed across the road to setup.

The wind was light westerly, or 90 degrees cross to the north-south runway.  The wind had been predominately north or northwest while we setup, but switched with noticeable velocity from the south as Jim R towed two tandems.  Jim stopped by and said we would be launching from the north end of the runway.  Peter scored a ride with four-wheeler but I carried my glider and harness on foot.  Of course the wind blew in my face from the north during the entire walk.  I had a bad feeling but I needed to go where the tug was.  I helped Peter launch around 1:50pm after waiting a long time for the wind to go completely calm.

The wind remained calm while Peter was on tow, but started blowing on my back as loaded the glider onto the launch dolly.  I then noticed the launch dolly only had narrow grooves in the cradle; cut for round base bars.  When Jim returned I asked him about the dolly and he recommended not using it with my wide carbon speed bar.  After a quick call back to the hanger, I was left with the option of taking the dolly back to the shop for "sculpturing" or come up with something else on my own.   Jim recommended wrapping shirts or towels around the dolly supports to "fill in the holes" but I was totally out of spare shirts.  Lucky for me, Rob J stopped by and offered two shirts from his truck.  Thanks Rob!  We tied the shirts around the supports and both thought it would "probably" work.  ;-)

Now I had the issue with the continuous tailwind.  Jon was towed to the north end of the runway an a 4-wheelers just as we decided to walk all the way to the other end of the long, long runway.  He rode as I walked, once again, the length of the runway with all my gear.  I was beginning to wonder what it is that I specifically like about this sport.  ;-)

About an hour after Peter's launch, I wiped off the sweat, collected myself, and successfully launched using the jury-rigged cart.  I pinned off at 1400 feet (450 m) over the factories and started climbing at 150 fpm (0.75 m/s).  All was good until the thermal faded at 1700 feet (518m).  I searched for another climb and found a numerous bumps but was back on the ground after 15 minutes.  It didn't help that Jon was climbing under a cloud that Peter reported was at 6600 feet (2000m).

No problem, I'll just tow again.  The last words I heard as the tug wound up was something on the order of "don't release early this time".  Of course the weak link snapped as I came out of the cart.  I had a great landing in spite of the prop wash.  "OK, this isn't funny anymore!"

I dug out another weak link, put my harness back on, forgot to turn the video camera back on, and mounted up around 3:45, almost two hours after I was originally ready to go.  Sigh.  I had a good long tow to the factories northwest of Morningside where we met Jake flying in from Mount Ascutney.  I released once I was over Jake, waved a "thank-you" to Jim, and started climbing. Finally, the universe relented!

Jeff B and John A soon joined the weak and sometimes broken climb.  We flew around the valley and enjoyed the late afternoon.  I snapped pictures of Jim towing up a tandem over the river.

Jim towing over the Connecticut River

I flew around until the day started fading.  I soared with 3 paraglider pilots and another hang glider pilot on the 450 foot (137m) Morningside ridge.  It brought back memories of earlier flights when just getting above launch was a major thrill.

I made sure I was the last glider to land.  After everything was packed away, Amy and I drove to the top and soaked up the evening.  The nostalgia continued as I watched students launch into the smooth air over the valley below.

Morningside 450 launch

Early evening in the valley

Flights: 3, Duration: 1:43

Monday, August 13, 2012

Better Lucky than Good

The weather forecast for the rest of the week was painted with pictures of dark clouds and rain.  Peter and I knew Tuesday could be a day of "driving and sledding", but it would be better than the rest of the week.  PK was eager to get reunited with his glider after its trip from Texas to my place, so he was also willing to take time off.  We couldn't decide to sled off tow behind Jim at Morningside or sled off the mountain at West Rutland as we left my place and were still undecided an hour later as we drove through Keene and approached the mandatory decision point.  Both options had advantages but we finally settled for foot-launching and a slightly better shot at soaring at West Rutland.

We met PK at the bottom and then John S, Bob, his daughter, and her friend at launch.  We were delighted to arrive to soarable conditions; the wind was stronger than predicted, thermals were blowing through, and wispy cumulus were forming.  Apparently the hazy humid air from the south had not yet moved in.

Bob launched first and immediately climbed above launch.  Although Bob warned John it was weak at times, John hurled his ATOS VR into the sky and also climbed out.  Us three late-comers each self-launched starting about 20 minutes later.  I was the last to launch.

Peter on launch

I slowly climbed in front of launch with Peter until I was high enough to fly further west and climb well above the ridge in a thermal.

Peter and launch

I flew to a cloud over the valley and drifted back to the ridge climbing in weak lift.  My weak climb merged with a climb PK and Peter were in over the ridge.  After topping out, PK flew directly south while I flew directly west.  I accidentally made the better choice as PK lost his precious altitude while I, flying crossing upwind, barely lost anything.

PK heading south

I flew to the west where John was flying.


The two of us glided into the basin south of a point called "Bird's Eye".

Bird's Eye basin


We played around for a long time, easily bouncing into the ceiling at 4400 feet (1350m).

I kept looking back at PK and Peter low on the ridge and wondering why they weren't getting higher.  I soon found out when I glided over to fly with them.  Ugh.  It was easy to stay up, but hard to get a climb out.

Looking towards launch from the south

John landed and then a short time later so did Peter.  Two visiting pilots showed up wanting to fly so PK also floated in and landed.  I decided to play along the ridge until John, Peter, and the visiting pilots reached launch.  I flew over, encouraged the pilots to step into great soaring conditions and then headed out to land myself.

Looking east past launch

We packed up, said goodbyes, and started our 3 hour drive home.  We stopped for dinner at the Pot Belly restaurant and pub in Ludlow and reflected on our lucky decision to go flying in spite of the bland forecast.  It was definitely better to be lucky than good.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:39

Friday, August 10, 2012

Big Spring - Day 7

The pilots wondering if this year's meet would close with a barbecue task or not got their answer when Glen, representing the task committee, walked to the front of the pilot's meeting and unveiled "zee task".  They concocted a 163.1 km (101.3 mile) Z-shaped task that would make us work, but still end within an hour's drive of Big Spring and the awards ceremony.  The first leg was northwest to an intersection at Patricia, then crosswind to the east-northeast to an intersection at Gail, then back west to the airfield at Lamesa.  Not only was the task relatively long, the sky was predicted to be blue and the southeast wind could make the two crosswind legs a chore.

I was in the middle of the ordered launch which seemed about right for the wind and lack of clouds.  I felt even better about my position when several early pilots landed for another go.  I found a climb soon after releasing, but almost decked it when I returned to the field to take a later start.  I always wonder why I play those silly start games!  We had a virtual blender filled with gliders climbing out low over the airfield.  I heard later that Lori looked up and said, "uh oh, looks like we need more fuel for the tugs"!

I hung on and climbed away.  I was in a reasonable start position for the next start, but once again waited for the next start when I really didn't have any other choice but to go.  I had a fun run trading positions with Jeff O'Brien and John Simon on the first leg.  I stopped for a climb that didn't pay off near the first turn point and lost my traveling buddies.  I got swept up with fast group from the next start clock on the second leg.  Things were moving along nicely until I swept wide and came in low to a climb over the "bad lands".  I couldn't find the climb everyone else was in and drifted away just to stay airborne.  I kept drifting further and further off course line over scenic but uninviting territory.

I could only find weak climbs that barely improved my position.

I even spent some time ridge soaring; in Texas.

Of course, I didn't mention to my crew what kind of retrieve was in store if I landed.  ;-)

I finally found a couple climbs that got me high enough to reach the turn point at the scenic plateau in Gail.  Now, I had venture back across that same area.  Oh joy!

I flew along the ridge lines I explored earlier but the day was dying.  I had good glides, but the climbs didn't really match the opposing wind.  I played with a number of tiny climbs and lift lines until I could see the western edge of the plateau decorated with crop circles.  I couldn't tell if I was going to be above or below the ridge line when I arrived.  I envision landing within a wing span of the edge, flaring, and hoping I didn't get blow back off the cliff!

One last climb gave me enough altitude to safely reach the plateau but not the 2400 feet (730 m) I needed to reach goal.  I flew over the cliff edge, over a house, and landed next to a paved road in a cotton field.

LZ.  Cliff edge is off the left side of the glider nose.  (Click to enlarge).

5.5 hours of flying only to end up 6.5 miles (10 km) short on a 163 km task.  Sigh.  However, I really enjoyed the flight and the challenge of "getting back into the game" once I was blown off course.

Ryan, John, and PK showed up before I finished breaking down.  The owner of the cotton field stopped by and we chatted awhile.  He wanted to know where his bottle of champaign was!  As usual, he and his friend were hospitable and fun.

We made it back just in time for dinner and the awards ceremony.  Kraig, Jeff, and Larry took the top 3 spots.  (All the scores are available on Soaring Spot).  I said good bye to friends and collapsed in my motel room around mid-night, exhausted from a long day in the saddle.

The next morning we loaded up gliders and harnesses on John's car before heading to the airport in Midland.  John picked up a few souvenirs before leaving.

I definitely enjoyed the flying this year.  I thrive in challenging conditions that require strategic thinking and dogged determination; and Texas delivered.

Flights: 1, Duration: 5:34, Distance: 94.5

Big Spring - Day 6

John, PK, Ryan and I stopped to check out the mesquite and cactus on the way to the airfield.  Definitely don't want to land out in that stuff!

Although the day looked better than day 5, I was convinced it would explode into thunderstorms again.  However, I thought the storms might develop later which would give us enough time to fly away from the greatest probability of storms.

The task committee set out to "hurt us" with a long 197.7 km (123 mile) task west-northwest to an airfield in Andrews and then north-northwest to an airfield near Yoakum.

I wanted to take the first start and made a beeline to the start circle.  Of course everyone else was also there darting between the thick quickly-building clouds.  Rain started falling to the south of us as the start clock flipped over and we raced away.  I'm not a racer at heart, but today was a day to keep the accelerator down.  A line of rain developed south of the course line and the southeast drift meant we were racing storms as well as the other pilots.  Each look over my shoulder at the rain and gust fronts kept me motivated to fly quickly and efficiently.

I outflew a thunderstorm along the mid-section of the first leg that exploded behind me and threw out a large gust front that was at least 3000 feet (900m) high.  The rest of my retrieve crew, John and PK, had to abort the task and run to a safe landing spot.

My attention turned to the rain and small gust front that was approaching the first turn point.  Unlike some pilots, I stopped and climbed to base so I could round the turn point high and have plenty altitude to outrun the gust front below.  I cruised over the turn point at base and flew over the large area of mesquite and oil wells without loosing altitude.

I was soon flying under a benign sky and realized I was in front of just about everyone.  Patrick, and then Bob, caught up with me when I stopped for a weaker climb near Seminole.  I was about to head on when I saw Patrick below me doing the "bicycle kick", a sign the task has been stopped.  I thought about continuing on to goal but with 38 miles (61 km) to go, I could save my crew a lot of driving if I landed now.  Although I was near cloud base, I thought I could easily get down and land at the airport below me before the gust front I left behind reached me.

I soon learned how difficult it is to lose a lot of altitude quickly.  I was only half-way down when I realized that I wasn't going to beat the gust front by a comfortable margin.  I wore myself out spiraling down and then setting up an approach in twitchy conditions.  I was just about at the point in my landing sequence when I could simply walk-out the landing in the breeze along the runway when I was popped up and tossed to the left.  Crap.  Not the landing I was expecting; a strange and unusual last few seconds.

I picked up my ego and walked over to the tie-down area.  I was just about to set my glider down next to the tarmac when Jim yelled, "not there, stickers everywhere".  Thanks.  I continued a few steps and set the glider down on the asphalt.  I watched Patrick land, got out of my harness, and was contemplating moving my glider behind some hangers when it hit.

The gust front dragged our gliders (and carbon base bars) across the asphalt.  It was all we could do just to keep them grounded.  Luckily for Jim and I, David, Larry, and Tom stopped by and lent us a hand.  Bill was on hand to help Patrick.  Thank-you David for all the help handling my glider!

Tom, Larry, and David

I did my best to put everything in the bag, I would have to check out potential damage back at the airport.  My crew was still back in Andrews, so I tossed on with Bill and Patrick for the ride back to Big Spring.  We stopped for dinner at the Texas Cajun Cafe and shared our stories of adventure with a room full of pilots.

With hindsight as a guide, I wish I had continued on to our goal.  The pilots that landed there said the conditions were mellow and there were plenty of rides available.  In spite of, or because of, the weather, I had an enjoyable day flying the big-air of Texas.

The scores for the day are available on Soaring Spot.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:08, Distance: 84.8

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Big Spring - Day 5

It only took a quick look at the sky outside the motel window on day 5 to know the day was in jeopardy.  After checking the weather forecast on my phone, I suspected the day would be called but not until after we "played the game" (drag our gliders out and pretend to get ready).

Davis described a front that was stalled just to our north and light showers were falling under the front.  When I asked about the CAPE, (convective available potential energy), for our area he said it was high, implying the day could explode.  In my opinion we could still fly if there was enough cloud cover to dampen most thermal activity.  However, I knew we were finished once I saw the mid-level clouds break and the sun start baking the ground as we walked to the staging area.

Gary Osaba took his sailplane up for a spin while the poor task and safety committee reassessed the conditions.  The task committee changed the task to a straight-line upwind dash to the south away from the front and showers.

I was near the front of the ordered launch and was worried I could launch into benign conditions that would later explode.  About a dozen pilots launched during the open launch window that lasts 15 minutes before the forced ordered launch opens.  While those pilots were launching I watched a cumulus cloud grow from nothing into a towering beast that started dropping rain about 1 mile (1.5 km) west of us.  I had serious reservations when it came my time to suit up.  I asked the saftey committee if they were considering canceling the task and they responded "not yet".  Um.  I decided to suit up and get in line.  As I lay in the launch cart I could see cu-nimbs developing 20 miles (32 km) to the south along course line, so the explosive conditions were not limited to our immediate area.  Every cloud I could see to the right and left was towering.  Everyone in front of me was launching in a strengthening tail wind.

I had enough.  I stood up, got off the cart, and walked my glider back over to the staging line.  I drew a lot of attention but didn't care.  I originally planned to wait and maybe launch at the end of the line but when I saw heavy rain to our west, rain to the southeast, and tall clouds everywhere I decided to put my toys away and play another day.  I tossed my harness in Patrick's van and started walking my glider to the hanger.  I said to Kraig "smell that".  Yep, smells like rain.

It was a bit difficult walking the glider back to the hanger as several mild to moderate gust fronts blew through.  I was just outside the front doors when a loud crack of thunder echoed through the sky. "That will get their attention!"

After safely stowing the glider, I helped other pilots walk or land their gliders in the strong wind and/or rain.  Most of the pilots already in the air,  (Riker, Randy, Zippy, and others), decided to fly south and find a better spot to land.  We did a loose accounting of pilots to ensure everyone was either down safe or running away as we watched the rain fall.  Everyone had safe, but maybe exciting, landings.

I spent the afternoon talking, lounging around, and watching it rain at the airfield.  Most of the competitors followed Gary's recommendation for dinner at the Firehouse Grill.  Randy, Tom, Dave, and I headed off afterwards to gather more data on the differences between ice cream at Dairy Queen and Sonic.  We were treated to a sweet double rainbow and Texas sunset.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Big Spring - Day 4

After spending the previous day on the ground, everyone was ready to go on day 4.  The task committee created a dog-leg task; northwest to the airfield at Lamesa and then north-northeast to a small airfield call "T-Bar" just west of Tohoka.

It was hot and blue as we staged our gliders.

It was one of those days we search for any sign of lift.

Randy, John, and Patrick looking for encouragement.

Only shade around

Winning style, name withheld ;-)

Moments before the launch opened

Due to the "luck of the draw", I was near the end of the ordered launch, and, for one day only, there was no open window when anyone could launch before the ordered launch started.  I was dropped off in stable air but found a weak climb to the northeast of the airfield.  I watched several pilots search in vain below me before returning to land.  I clung to that weak climb until I was over the town of Big Spring.

I had a good start position but was behind most of the field and mostly alone on a weak day.  I had several reasonable climbs and glides until I approached a large mass of cumulus and mid-level clouds that were dropping rain and shading everything near Ackerly.  It was too big to go around so I tried to pick my way through it.  As expected the air was dead.  No beeps from the vario and no signs of lift anywhere.  I made a last valiant glide to a sunny spot near the airfield north of town.  From there I began a long knuckle-dragging slog drifting off course line just trying to stay in the air.  I called in "imminent landing" announcements on the radio several times.

Meanwhile, John and PK were approaching the first turn point and doing well.  They really knew how to rub salt in my wounds!  I drifted over irrigated cotton fields and a couple downed pilots before getting a climb near the "washes" east of Lamesa.  I then had to plow upwind to the airfield which again raised the possibility I might be landing.  However, I found a weak climb that was now drifting along course line towards goal.

PK came on the radio asking for wind direction on the ground at goal.  He urgently asked again.  I finally interrupted my concentration to tell him that the first one to arrive at goal from our group has to figure that out on their own!  I'm sure he was glad to beat John and I in.

I topped out my climb and started a very long slow final glide, flying just over best-glide speed.  It was a pleasant glide that allowed me to enjoy the scenery below, including an enormous dry lake bed that was chalky white; very cool.

I was greeted by a reasonable number of pilots, but some "top competitors" had landed behind us.  One pilot still missing was John.  I had assumed he arrived shortly after PK, but he made a calculated move that didn't pay off, missed the turn point, and then drifted away climbing back up.  He persevered though; getting the turn point and then goal, albeit a bit late.  Since Randy also made goal, the entire New England crew was once again at goal.  Good times.

I checked out the work horse while John and PK packed up.

We finished loading and joined a group of pilots for Mexican food in Lamesa before returning to Big Spring.

Scores for the day are available on Soaring Spot.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:03, Distance: 73.1 miles