Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Running Empty

I originally planned to return home on Monday or the first non-flyable day after that.  I almost left on Tuesday after dragging around Monday evening and Tuesday morning with a mild virus I picked up somewhere along the way.  Wednesday looked good, so I decided to stay for another day.  That worked out well for everyone that wanted a ride north for their gliders, especially for Peter J who would have been left without a glider and harness on a good day.

Peter need to stay local so he could drive to the airport after flying, but Jason W and Scott L were up for some XC flying.  I packed the tent, loaded the car, and tracked down gliders while everyone else rigged.  Pilots were heading to the launch line while I was still getting ready.

The day looked good at first, but cloud cover was on the verge of being too extensive by launch time.  I was dropped in a weak, but consistent climb, that ensured I wouldn't be landing soon like a few other good pilots were.

Wallaby Ranch (lower left)

I played near base waiting for Jason and Scott.  I used up most of my altitude watching a pilot get low over a field of nearly invisible 10 foot (3 m) sprinkler heads downwind of Wallaby Ranch.  Everyone that flies here knows to avoid the field, so I assumed the pilot didn't know about the hazard and might need help.  I radio'ed to Scott, who was on the ground waiting for a tow, to let the crew know someone was landing there.  I hung out overhead until I saw the pilot successfully land between the rows of  poles and then immediately flew back to the ranch to avoid the same fate.

Lucky for me, I found a solid climb over the orange groves and was soon at base playing with Wolfi and a few other pilots.

The only thing I heard from Jason was he was heading north, so I raced off in hot pursuit.  The climbs were slow, but the drift was good towards my turn point at QuestAir.  I was almost there when Jason announced he was on the ground not far from the ranch.  That explained why I couldn't find him in front of me!

QuestAir (lower center)

I flew over QuestAir at cloud base and headed back to the ranch.  I soon realized the combination of wind and weak climbs meant I was making slow forward progress; I would glide forward, get low, take a weak climb, and then drift back to the place I started the glide.

After several of these cycles, combined with my low energy levels, I decided to give up and land at the Seminole-Lake Gliderport.

I was greeted by several sailplane pilots, including two ex-hang glider pilots.

I watched the sailplanes launch and land as I packed up.  I also had a chance to talk with Russell B; another nice surprise.  It was early enough in the afternoon that Peter was willing to drive my car over and pick me up.  Thanks Peter!

I briefly talked with Jason when I got back before he took off to fetch pilots in Groveland.  I loaded the remaining gliders and hit the road.  I was running on empty by the time I got to Jacksonville 3 hours later and called it quits for the day.  It was a "good" tired.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:10, 32 miles

Monday, April 08, 2013

What's Wrong with Mondays?

The weather remained good on the monday after the Wills Wing Demo Days at Wallaby Ranch.  Many of the remaining pilots were ready for some XC flying and I was no exception.

I shared an initial climb to base with Mike B, Kip S, and Dave A before heading upwind to the southeast.

I was hoping to share at least part of an XC flight with Peter since this was his first trip to Florida in over 15 years but was disappointed to see him very low over Route 27 to the east.  I should have waited overhead instead of pushing upwind again, because the next time I saw him he was touching base at least two climbs away to the north.

I yanked on full VG and blazed northwest to catch him, skipping one too many climbs on the way there.  I arrived with 1500 feet (450m) and couldn't find the weak thermal he was parked in.  I was whining and down to 800 feet (250m) before finding a thermal-wanna-be that barely kept me in the air.  Eventually I found something substantial and started climbing.  Whew.

We danced around in the broken lift before I flew to the north and found a healthy thermal and called Peter over.  We finally were synced up; at least until I glided northwest to a big cloud south of Seminole-Lake Gliderport.  I called Peter on the radio after stumbling into large smooth lift and not seeing him anywhere behind me.  Peter reported he was low southeast of the gliderport.  He definitely got the bum line on that glide!

While I watched Peter sniff around for lift I spun up to base with Aric who cruised in behind us.  I don't think I turned more than a couple times on the cloudbase highway from the gliderport to Groveland.  Peter announced he safely landed at the gliderport and Jason W, who was having an off day, offered to pick him up.  Since Peter wanted to checkout QuestAir, I decided to land there after Jason picked him up.

I shared several climbs with Davis, Olav, other pilots that launched from airfield, and a bevy of pilots rounding QuestAir before returning to Wallaby.  We shared one climb that was classic Florida; big, smooth, and going up fast.  Ah.

I kept gliding east to the lakes or south towards the gliderport until I had just enough altitude to turn around and zip back to the field.  On the last of those glides, Jason announced he had Peter and was heading north.  I looked down and almost immediately spotted my car below.  I asked Jason if the Red Wing restaurant was open on Mondays.  I watched as they pulled into the restaurant and check the hours.  I then followed them to the field.  Unpowered aerial surveillance, sweet.

The field was lifting off as I setup my approach.  I delayed until I thought conditions were improving.  A bevy of vultures hopped out of the trees upwind of my chosen spot and started beaming up as I turned onto final.  Great.  I was so busy keeping the wings level that I missed the cue to flare and let the nose slowly touch the ground.  Dang.

I chatted with pilots as I slowly broke down and then gave Peter a quick tour before Jason, Peter, and I stopped for dinner at Red Wing.  We exchanged flying stories with Greg, James, Larry, and Sue who also stopped in for dinner after flying north to Dallas and (almost) back.

Not bad for a Monday.

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:57, Distance: 25 miles

Sunday, April 07, 2013


As expected, the weather improved as many headed home Sunday after the Wills Wing Demo Days.  However, a sizable flock was on hand to take advantage of the conditions.

Carolina and Oliver helping Bob

The tow was surprisingly smooth given the billowing clouds overhead.  I released into a consistent, but weak, climb.  A quick scan confirmed everyone else was also climbing slowly.  After reaching cloud base, I pushed upwind to the east by myself.  I joined a mature bald eagle for a few circles before following him (or her) further upwind to another climb.  Sharing a climb with bald eagles is fairly common in Florida, but what happened next was a first for me.  I flew further south as I grew inpatient with our weak thermal.  The eagle followed!  Normally you share a climb with an eagle and go your separate ways at the top.  Instead, I spent the next 20 minutes with the eagle as my wingman.  Sometimes the eagle would lead out and I would follow and other times the roles would be reversed.  Magical.

I reluctantly waved goodbye as he glided into controlled airspace and I turned back towards Wallaby.  I arrived with 300 feet (100m) and joined two turkey vultures along the western downwind edge of the field.  We bounced around in a barely-useable climb, as we drifted over the trees towards the orange groves.  I climbed to 900 feet (300m) before I needed to either commit to the climb or return to the field.  Just as I decided to return to the field, I was treated to a fantastic air show by a trio of swallow-tailed kites.  These kites never fail to amaze me with their aerial maneuvers; they are truly the fighter-aircraft of the bird world.

Although I landed just as the lunch bell rang, I was thrilled with my flight.  Its funny how sometimes adventure is just outside the front door.

Although the clouds were drying out, a couple pilots soaring overhead convinced Peter and I to give it another go after lunch.  Those pilots landed as I was hooked to the tug.  Oh well, at least I will be able to fly the glider back to the tie-down lines.  The smooth tow further confirmed my expectations of a sledder; at least to the point where the vario started singing.  I was waved off into a strong climb that ended at cloud base.


A friend buzzed me from behind and below in his motor-glider as I was gliding upwind.  One minute I'm looking down at the countryside and the next instant my entire field of view is filled with a shiny white cockpit and wings.  Very close, very startling, and very cool!  He circled back for a wave before flying off to parts unknown.

Later I was cruising around at cloud base with a group of pilots before heading off to play with high-speed glides on the new glider.  Unfortunately two pilots followed me before figuring out I wasn't looking for another climb.  I felt bad.  Sort-of.  Well, ok, not really!

I burned through the smooth evening air before doing a nice spot landing near the tie-down lines.

Flights: 2, Duration: 2:49

Demo Daze

Although Wills Wing Demo Days at Wallaby Ranch has come and gone, I'm still in a daze.  I awoke early most mornings after a late night to the sound of tugs dragging people into the air over my tent.

I was overfed with great meals prepared by the constantly in-motion crew.

I was treated to an unreal selection of great music each evening.  No kidding, great music.

I caught-up with old friends and made new ones.

I tried out a heads-up flight-computer display.

Celebrated Wills Wing's 40th anniversary with a huge tent full of air-junkies.

Oh, I almost forgot, I picked up a new glider, saw the new "Alpha", attended wonderful sessions on landing and aerobatics lead by Ryan Voight, and watched many happy pilots demo everything from Falcon 4s to T2Cs.

Wills Wing and Wallaby Ranch really know how to throw a party; I hope both continue to celebrate long into the future.

Update:  Pilot videos capture the action on the flight line herehere, and here.
Update: Casey shared a great video of the music and action.
Update: Flyby that I watched from 3000 feet.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

April Fool

I left Massachusetts at 4 am Monday April 1st.  Since it was April Fool's Day I wondered if the joke was on me as the 20-hour drive slowly rolled by until I arrived at Wallaby Ranch in Florida at midnight.

The welcome sounds of tugs coaxed me out of the tent into the bright sunshine the next morning.  After many greetings, unloading Nate's, Peter's, and Rob's gliders, and a not-so-quick breakfast, I sauntered over to the Wills Wing trailer to find the new toy with my name on it.  Larry invited me to join Davis and Mitch on a trip around the Green Swamp, but I wasn't mentally or physically ready for anything demanding.  Instead I took my time fondling my new T2C 136 and preparing a late afternoon flight.  Steve Pearson and the sky full of cumulus convinced me ditch the plan and just go fly.

Launch went great and we passed through a thermal at the west end of the main field.  The tug pilot whipped a quick 360 and we passed through it again.  Good enough for me so I released.  Only when I glanced at my flight computer did I realized I released at 500 feet (150m).  Oops.  Not only that, I was right on the flight path from launch.  Crap.  I quickly snapped into survival mode and slowly got up and out of the way of everyone else before shifting to a nice climb to base.

I announced on the radio that cloud base was 6000 feet (1800m), the wind was east, and that I was just west of Wallaby Ranch.  A few seconds later someone came on the radio and announced very calmly they were in orbit a some ridiculous altitude and approaching the shore of Indonesia.  I chuckled thinking someone was making fun of me.  However, the operator then continued on with other flight information and invited other radio operators to contact them.  Somehow, Tyson suggested a radio frequency used to communicate with the space station.  Sigh.  (I later found out from Mike that I was listening to a recording of a previous session broadcasted by an operator in Jacksonville.)  Needless to say, my radio conversations for the day were difficult.

I synced up with Jason and Ken and took a easy glide north to another good climb.  Jason wanted to know if anyone wanted to head off for an adventure.  As usual, I'm easy and was soon heading northwest for an out-and-back to Groveland without any retrieve.


It was easy going until we ran into a huge blue hole north of Seminole-Lake Gliderport.  Jason got low and turned around.  I continued on until I had to choose to land at QuestAir or retreat to clouds to the south.

Since we didn't have a retrieve, I turned around, worked several slow climbs, and was back to base as I watched Jason landed along route 574.  It was now up to me to get back and drive retrieve.  The only problem was I got low over the sand mines and was struggling to find climbs.

Patience paid off and the heat from the bare sand eventually lifted me back to base and an easy glide to the ranch.

I used my altitude to explore the trim, turn, and stall behavior of the new glider before pulling off a nice spot landing next to the road.

It was very nice playing in the air again.  Winter was much too long.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:27, Distance: 35 miles