Sunday, May 25, 2014


The forecast was wet and uninspiring.  I had written-off flying for the holiday weekend, but it would be nice to see friends like Brian Bordeaux, Dean Funk, Kari Castle, and others that rarely visit Morningside.  I was getting ready to go "socialize" when Jake Pierce called wondering what I thought of the weather.  Apparently the same as he did.  However, since he lives close to Mount Ascutney, he was going to check out launch with John Arrison.  A few minutes after he hung up, Peter Judge called looking for an excuse to go flying.  Addicts don't need much encouragement.  We were soon loading gliders onto Peter's SUV for a late trip north.

I tossed on both gliders; the T2C if I was able to tow and the Falcon in case a break in the weather allowed a quick flight or two from the hill.  Peter wondered if we should turn around when it started raining on us less than 30 minutes from my place.  I reminded him this was primarily a "social" trip again when we drove through another spot of heavy rain.

There were gliders launching from the hill when we arrived but activity quickly came to a halt as thunder rumbled across the river from a storm in Vermont.  We thought of Jake and John when another cell starting dumping copious amounts of rain on Ascutney.  We chatted inside with a large crowd as light rain fell.  The storms moved southeast, the skies cleared, and then filled with cumulus to the northwest.  I saw the break and started setting up the T2C.


I was concerned the sunshine might brew up more storms but as the afternoon wore on it became apparent that the wet ground was retarding thermal development.  Although clouds developed, they were wispy, ragged, and malformed.


Smooth tows, smooth flights, and sledders for everyone!

Nick Caci giving a lift to John Musto

No big flight, but since I didn't expect to fly it was a bonus.

Flights: 1, Duration: 0:15

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Down Along the River

Sunday was the best day in the surrounding five, so it was easy gathering pilots for a flight from Morningside Flight Park.  John Beckley and Jeff Curtis met at my place where we loaded up for the drive north.  Peter Judge was already at Morningside and arranged to have Marilyn Nichols drive for us.  Randy Brown followed later in his own car since he needed to get home early.  (Doug Brown and Todd Kellog also showed up).

The clouds were towering at 9am when we left eastern Massachusetts but the sky slowly dried out and was totally blue by Keene.  We interpreted the blue sky as a good thing since there was a chance of showers, and possibly hail, back home.

We rigged across the road since the ground, aside from the runway, was saturated.  After walking our gliders to the runway, we broke out our gloves, coats, and heats packs for a day of spring flying.  (The predicted freezing level was around 6500 feet (1980m), and the temperature at cloud base was 22F (-6C)).  Although I originally intended to fly east in a predicted northwest wind, the northerly drift of the clouds convinced me to cave to Peter and John's desire to go south along the Connecticut River.  Jeff launched first, then Peter, followed by me, and then John.

There were only a few anemic clouds overhead as we launched.  Not surprisingly, Jeff reported an initial climb rate of 82 fpm (0.4 m/s).  Oh joy.  I had a busy tow behind Eric but he dropped me into a solid 120 fpm climb so I was relatively happy.

I quickly drifted away, but flew back upwind to join Jeff and Peter in a climb at Morningside.  We again slowly climbed out and hoped to hookup with John.  Repeated calls to John went unanswered so we assumed he was either on the ground, busy, or had a broken radio.  (We found out later he could hear but couldn't transmit).

There was an obvious shear and transition layer around 4100 feet (1250m).  The wind changed direction to the northwest and the temperature was noticeably colder.  As expected it was cold at 8700 feet (2650m); the hose to my water pack froze solid.


I let Marilyn know Jeff, Peter, and I were leaving the area.

Jeff (lower right), Peter (lower center)

I flew crosswind to a forming cloud and was rewarded with a rowdy 1000 fpm (5m/s) climb.  While Jeff was also able to snag it, Peter missed it and was soon far below us.


I took a long glide to a slow climb southeast of Fall Mountain and Bellows Falls.  I chuckled as Jeff, far to the north, tried to "center" me in a climb below him until he realized the lower glider was Peter.  I appreciated the gesture, though!

Jeff and Peter flew down the river valley as I stayed over the higher terrain to the east.  It became more and more tempting to scrap the "down the river" plan and fly into the lovely cloud field over the ocean of trees to the southeast as the wind aloft became more northwest and nothing but blue blanketed the river.

Walpole / Bellows Falls

Not wanting to deal with either the trees or a convoluted retrieve, I decided to stick with the original plan and kept flying directly crosswind into the blue to keep over the river.  I found a good climb in the notch where the river flows west before continuing south to Brattleboro.  I lost the climb while trying to locate Jeff and Peter and instead of taking the short-cut over the high ground, I continued pressing upwind to follow the river searching for a climb that would safely lift me over the congested area around Brattleboro.

Looking southwest towards Brattleboro

Unfortunately, I ended up trapped north of town hunting for what should have been an easy-to-find climb along the river. Finding lots of disturbed air but no lift I finally had to give up and retreat to a large field where, surprise, I found the thermal during my landing approach.

The air was nasty.  Although flying fast, the glider stalled and radically dropped towards the ground.  The field was big enough that I was able to continue directly onto final once the glider was flying again.  However, I was racing across the field at dangerous speeds in spite of heading into the prevalent wind direction.  I was bracing for a serious crash when my ground speed suddenly slowed and I started drifting to the right without changing my flight direction.  Airspeed evaporated and I flared with one hand still on the base bar.  Between the partially effective flare and the deep recently tilled soil I landed without injury.  (I later discovered a slight bow in my right upright.)

After some reflection I think I landed to the left a clear dust devil.  That would explain the frightening high-speed downwind final and the sudden switch in wind direction that carried me to the right.  In hindsight, it was kind-of cool flying forward but moving sideways.  At least until it was time to flare.  (I would not be able to run out a sideways landing in a plowed field.)

Both Jeff and Peter were on the ground by the time I called Marilyn.  She picked me up first since she was in Brattleboro and arrived before I finished packing.  Thanks!  After loading, we crossed the river to continue back north on the New Hampshire side.  We picked up Jeff near the bend in the river and Peter just north of the Route 12 and 63 intersection.  The driver insisted, with zero opposition from the pilots, that we stop for ice cream at the Walpole Scoop Shop.

What happened to John?  Well, I got a text message saying "Just landed at Tanner Hiller".  We thought he might be joking.  However, a few minutes later a phone conversation confirmed he landed 67 miles (108km) away at Tanner-Hiller Airport, where we tow up with Hang Glide New England.  Well done John!

After offloading Jeff and Peter's gliders at Morningside, I took off on the long drive to pick up John.  The glow of the setting sun was fading away when I arrived.  We talked with the airport manager, Bob, before leaving and then John regaled me with the details of his flight on our drive home.

Here is video from the flight.  (The camera stopped recording mid-way through the flight due to the cold).

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:45, Distance: 30 miles

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Opening Day (2014)

Peter Judge and I met at Heather and Jeff Curtis' home early Wednesday morning for the first day of flying at Mount Ascutney in 2014.  The four of us stopped and picked up Ryan Crawford before heading to the base of the mountain where we met Jake Pierce, Marilyn Nichols, and PK.  I don't know how it happened but we had 3 drivers for 5 pilots; decadence!

The trail into launch was in reasonably good shape with the exception of scattered snow and mounds of moose droppings.  There was even snow left in the setup area.

As usual, we had opening day issues.  Some pilots had problems fitting harnesses over cold weather gear and "padding" added over the winter.  We went through endless rounds of "can you hear me now" correcting radio problems.  Several, including me, had first-foot-launch-in-6-months jitters.  Ah, the joys of opening day!

Jake launched first and soared at launch height for a few minutes as I waited for a break so I could launch next.  He started sliding down the mountain and we thought he might be done when he caught a nice climb on the way to the LZ.  Launch conditions kept me on the rock until he was well above us.  The crossing wind straighten up and I launched into a light but nice cycle.  Thanks for the wire assist Marilyn and Ryan!

I soon discovered the thermals were tiny strong bullets of rising air surrounded by turbulent crap.  All of us danced as close as we dared to the trees and each other.  I was having trouble getting my "mind into the game".  First, my ski pants got caught in my zipper and I couldn't zip up or down.  I struggled trying to free my pants so I could eventually land, all the while getting lower and lower.  I had made changes to my glider that were making it much stiffer than normal, again not something I wanted to deal with darting around the treetops!  Someone's radio was stuck on, transmitting continuous noise.  Mother nature got into the act by throwing thick cirrus overhead, threatening to close the thermal factory for the day.  Sigh.


Up and down we went until the bus came through taking us all upward with style.  Even though we got quite high, I was prematurely willing to scrap the day and head to Morningside for a known and comfortable LZ.


Jeff was the first to leave the area.  No one else followed so I thought they were also heading to Morningside.  I watched Jeff for awhile and decided to follow when I saw him slow up and start turning between Claremont and Kelleyville.  Of course, Jeff stopped turning when I approached.  Instead of pushing on, I turned tail and headed back upwind towards Claremont.  Jeff followed.


We got low just east of Claremont, but worked broken lift until I got high enough to attempt crossing the ridge into the river valley.  Jeff continued to follow, but much lower.

Meanwhile our radio frequency was continuously blanketed with noise that limited communications with our drivers.  While Jeff and I struggled upwind, Peter flew down the valley and landed in Kelleyville.  Jake flew over our heads to Newport and landed in the large fields to the east of town.  Radio communication slowly started getting better, as we later found out, as PK flew further and further away to the east.  While PK was flying east to Hennicker, Jeff and I flew around Morningside for the rest of the afternoon.

Jeff and I landed almost at the same time, which meant one of us had to land across the road from the main LZ.  I darted across the road and prepared to make a strafing run along the road but had to abort when I saw a black truck round the bend heading my direction just as I started diving.  Bummer.

Heather picked up Peter and returned to retrieve Jeff and I.  Thanks Heather!  After chatting with the crew at Morningside, we met Jake and PK for dinner and trivia at One Mile West.

Here is video from the flight.

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:17, Distance: 9.6 miles straight-line / 21.9 miles 3-point