Monday, August 06, 2018

Brace for Summer

I couldn't refuse another hazy, hot, and humid day in this summer of rain, so I chose to hike and fly at Brace Mountain.  Donna and Sergio were meeting early at the park-and-ride along the Mass Pike and I could have ridden with them, but decided to wait 30 minutes and meet Aine at the same place since she was making the trip alone.

Everyone was still at the LZ when we arrived including Don, Joe R, Leslie, Tom P, Zoe, and probably a couple more that I'm forgetting.  We played the "I don't want to drive but we can take my car" game before loading up and making the drive to the backside of the mountain.

As I mentioned before, it was hot and humid, so our pace up the mountain was slow.  Tom and I eventually found ourselves out front alone.  Somewhere along the hike, while commenting on the old guys leading the pack, Tom mentioned that he will have been flying hang gliders for 50 years next summer.  Probably longer than any other person!  (Tom started flying very young).  Needless to say, I was impressed and think that fact should be better known.

There was a light pleasant breeze trickling in when we arrive on top.  We had a leisurely lunch, unpacked, and generally tried to avoid the heat however possible.  Meanwhile, Josh and Shane made their way up for the afternoon festivities.

The forecast predicted increasing southerly winds (90 cross to the ridge) during the afternoon so we were a bit anxious to launch but didn't want to take sledders either.  Donna started the parade, followed quickly by Sergio and Joe.  Donna and Sergio got low but climbed back up while Joe slowly climbed over the ridge.  Tom beat me to launch, but I was in the air shortly after he left.

I sank below launch but found a slow climb to base.  Joe and Sergio were drifting over the back heading out for an XC flight, but given the sky, the forecast, and no retrieval plans I decided to stay put.

Inviting sky looking this direction...

Not so inspiring looking this direction.

Instead of drifting off downwind, I pushed upwind several times to connect with clouds across the valley.

Target in sight

The southerly breeze did develop as predicted and we were soon stuck soaring thermals shearing off the ridge line.

I played around for awhile and then decided to go land and leave the ever shrinking lift band to the others.

After fetching Aine's car, Aine, Josh and I had dinner at the Taconic Wayside Inn before heading home.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:47

Sunday, August 05, 2018


Hazy, hot, humid coupled with stable and light winds.  Not a great forecast for soaring ... or hiking.  However, it wasn't raining which is rare this summer.  Only a few pilots turned up with the less-than-stellar forecast.  John, Pete, and Tim were already hiking up Mount Tom when I meet Dennis and Mike at Pat's (LZ).  The three of us left a trail of sweat along the path up.

We ate lunch and slowly prepared our wings in the sweltering heat.  John had a tandem flight scheduled later in the afternoon so he stepped up to launch first.  We hide in the shade while John melted on launch.  After an hour of essentially no wind, John retreated to the shade to cool off.

Just as Ben arrived we noticed a light breeze wicking up the slope from the left.  A couple of us walked over to check out the "west launch" and discovered more wind there.  That report was enough for John and Tim to suit up and move to the other launch.  We helped John lay out his glider and stood back as a light breezed puffed in when I noticed Tim hadn't walked over yet.  I told everyone to be prepared for "that bastard" to come flying past us.  About 2 minutes later, we all cheered Tim as he came by at our height after taking off from the primary launch.  He made a quick pass and, as soon as he cleared the cliff, John launched.

They both got established above the ridge but Tim sank below as he ventured north.  However he found a weak thermal and was climbing when I went for my gear.  Gravity had prevailed by the next time I checked their status; Tim was on the ground in the LZ and John was maintaining in a weak thermal.  The combination of seeing Tim on the ground and calm wind on launch slowed and then smothered any effort to suit up.

Eventually John found a nice thermal, got relatively high, and flew out into the valley, and then to the LZ to meet his tandem passenger.

I have never launched at the smaller "west launch" and what little thermal activity we had seemed more robust over there, so I suited up and headed over with Dennis.  Locals Ben and Pete, helped me lay out the wing correctly and then Pete held a streamer up front for me.  Unlike before, the tiny thermal cycles seemed to be coming from the right (north) of launch.  That was a problem since we had the wing spread out facing to the left (south) of launch.  I tried to inflate the wing several times, but each time the wing was blown to the left unevenly.  I finally gave up and hiked back to the primary launch.

Mike was launching when I arrived, and since no one else was ready, I walked onto launch, spread out my wing, pulled up, and ran into the air.  Timing is everything!

Although sparse and weak, there were thermals lurking about.  I slowly climbed above the ridge and was joined by Ben and Dennis.

Lift was plentiful for a short time.

We danced above the ridge for a short time and then started to sink out.  While the others slide down to their LZs, I found a little thermal on the south end of the ridge that I shared with a vulture for almost 20 minutes.

Working my way up.

Can see the top again!

Once above the towers, I was able to start circling and climbed to the top with my feathered wingman.

Flying buddy

Once high it was relatively easy to stay up.  I played around the ridge and watched John finesse his tandem glider and passenger into the air.

By the time John got into the air, the day was shutting down.  I flew with them for a couple passes and clung on as long as possible.  Pete launched over me as I passed below him along the ridge.  It was soon time to go land.

I talked with John's tandem passenger before packing and then John, Pat, and I hung out in the shade catching up before I headed home.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:12

Monday, July 30, 2018

Summer Haze

West Rutland, Vermont is a long drive (roughly 6 hours round trip) so it was nice when Mike offered to share part of the drive.  I met Mike in Walpole, New Hampshire and we continued on in his vehicle.  We arrived in time to toss in with a large group heading to launch up the backside.

The wind was blowing in when we arrived but not strong enough to convince anyone it was soarable. The sky was a stagnate hazy milky white, devoid of any soaring birds, bugs, or leaves.  We took our time getting ready and practiced our fine art of politeness, "No, I insist, you first.  I'll help you layout your wing." or "Looks good, need a wire crew?".

I thought it might be soarable, but was willing to wait.  Then I remembered Mike and Sue were planning to arrive mid-afternoon, which meant I could probably get a ride back up if I sank out early.  I went to suit up when I noticed John and Kirill were dressed and walking to launch.  John launched, settled a bit, and then started climbing.  Kirill launched next and then me.

Getting help laying out.  (Photo courtesy Aine Friend)

With a little patience I found a climb and rose above the ridge line.

Airborne (Photo courtesy Aine Friend)

I climbed high enough to briefly think about XC but just didn't have any faith in the day.  Instead I enjoyed the scenery and the company.

Speaking of company, we had a small plane fly overhead at the altitude I just left.

Plane in upper left corner

The cirrus grew thicker and most of the pilots we rode up with sank out to the LZs below.  Kirill and I danced around each other as we clung to the hillside trying to stay airborne.  I really enjoyed that part of the afternoon.

Kirill eventually had enough and left the entire mountain to me.  I flew with a juvenile hawk and played with the increasingly solid lift.  Things were getting easy by the time that the late shift arrived at launch.

I made the mistake of radioing down that the air was really nice.  In almost no time, the armada was airborne.

We all flew until we had enough.  It was still soarable when I landed to avoid making Mike wait.  It was an impressive soaring day considering how unexciting the day looked.  A couple pilots even had personal bests.

Here is a short video from the flight,

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:32

Friday, June 22, 2018

Consolation Prize

I had a couple decisions to make early this morning.  My wife wanted me in New Hampshire by late afternoon.  I could ignore the request, but knew it wouldn't be a good idea.  Peter J offered to pick me up at my place and drive to Mount Greylock.  Other pilots were chatting up coastal flying in Plymouth.  The weather forecast was reasonably good for both.  Mount Greylock offered the chance for XC flying while Plymouth was about a hour closer to home.  Although I was starving for XC, I decided to catch an early consolation flight at Plymouth and be home in time to leave with my wife.

I arrived at launch just before 8am to discover there was no wind.  Zero.  Nil.  Nothing.  So much for an early soaring flight.  Driving from there to Mount Greylock wasn't a sound plan, so I stayed put and sent messages to the other in-bound pilots about the current conditions.  John G jokingly responded "Your not flying at the airport", referencing the wind reports from the Plymouth airfield which is inland a bit.  I replied "I am at launch."  I had similar interactions with other optimistic pilots as I waited in the early morning sun.

After about 45 minutes a crossing breeze slowly began wafting in.  I unpacked and practiced kiting.  The breeze kept increasing until I could walk to the cliff edge with the glider flying overhead and then back away.  After doing that several times, Donna arrived.  She took one look at the wind streamers and said "It looks soarable".  I doubted it, but did agree it looked borderline.  I pulled up the glider, walked to the edge, and decided to "take the plunge".  That is exactly what happened.  Oh well; pack the glider and hike back up.  Over the couple hours Aine, Donna, Jason, John G, and Peter W tested the air with the same results.  Donna used her sledders to collect trash from the beach on her hikes back up.  I used the time to hike back to the car to shed weight and clothing.  (This was my first summer flying visit to the beach and I was overdressed.)

Around 11:30 I noticed the wind changing to a more favorable direction but was getting even lighter.  Several forecasts were predicting the wind to become lighter as the wind changed direction.  I debated leaving so I could get home in time to ride with my wife.  John thought a sacrifice on my part might help the remaining pilots.  I wasn't going to be the sacrificial lamb.  I stayed.

Peter W pulled up for another try and made it work.  That was enough for me and several others.  I had to carefully work to get above the cliff top, but once there it was comfortably soarable.

The view was great; blue skies painted with feathery cirrus laying over translucent water with the line of the outer cape on the horizon separating the two.

I tried flying smoothly and efficiently and was rewarded with a high spot in the stack.  I also had fun with mild wingovers in front of the golf course and flying with others.

Jason (lower) and me (upper).  Photo courtesy of Jason Wallace

The wind continued changing direction to the southeast and increase in velocity.  Although it was soarable, I needed my speed bar to progress to the south.  Everyone, aside from Donna and I, was on the ground.  We slowly made our way back to launch when I decided to land so I could at least make a token appearance with my wife.

After I landed, the remaining pilots took to the air again.

I made it back to launch in time to help two pilots launch into the heavy traffic.

Flights: 2, Duration: 1:37

Friday, February 23, 2018

Atlantic Sunrise

Left home at 4:00am to fly on the eastern shores of Cape Cod at sunrise today.

A couple hang glider pilots were rigging at White Crest Beach, while Jon was getting his paraglider ready when I arrived before 7:00am.  I quickly changed into warmer clothes, unpacked my paraglider, and walked over to launch.  Jon originally told me the winds were 13 mph (21 kph) but it was obvious the winds were stronger, probably closer to 16 mph (26 kph) with higher gusts.  We both decided to launch from the beach below where the winds were lighter.  Jon pulled up, backed up the walkway, and was soon up and away.  I had it even easier; I pulled up, and with the careful use of my brakes, managed to fly up the dune to the top.

It was easy to stay up but also easy to get pushed too far back in the strong wind.  I wanted to use my speed bar, but it just would not work.  After slowly inching out in front of the dunes I checked my gear and discovered the problem, I connected the speed bar lines through the inside of the shoulder strap and the friction was making it nearly impossible to use.  I disconnected the brummel hooks, rerouted the line, and reconnected it without dropping my gloves.  Whew.  Now I could continue to play.

The winds were forecasted to quickly shift to the southeast so I headed to the northern Highland Light before the wind became too cross.  I had never successfully crossed the larger gaps in a paraglider so I was prepared to land if necessary.  I barely crossed both, at times only a couple feet above the beach.  The initial progress was slow, but as the cape curves to the northwest and the wind became a crossing tailwind, I soon arrived at my first destination.

Highland Light

I played around the lighthouse before heading back in a strengthening cross wind.  I was using full bar to make progress towards the south.  I knew crossing the gaps would be more difficult in a headwind so I wasn't surprised when I ran out of altitude just short of the southern side of the first gap.  I landed with no forward speed and tried to walk forward to "float" up the dune on the other side.  However, the wind blowing through the gap was too much and I started drifting backwards.  I made the mistake of turning around and soon found myself being dragged across the sand for about 50 yards, laughing the entire way.  What a dope!

After emptying buckets of sand out of my harness I tried several times to relaunch but it was just too windy, too cross, and too environmentally sensitive for me to be successful.

Jim gave me a ride back to launch where a couple pilots were still hanging on in the strong crosswind.  Instead of doing the smart thing and leaving my packed glider in the car, I gave it another shot.  I managed maybe a minute of airtime before floating to the beach.  I took the opportunity to do some high wind kiting and practice cobra inflations.

A group of us had lunch at a nearby restaurant before heading home.

Flights: 2, Duration: 0:59