Shoulder Season

photo by George Wright

My plan was to fly at Tanner-Hiller on Saturday. The forecast looked good, Rhett would be there towing for the first stint of the year (third day out of three), and Nancy was interested in coming along and going for a hike. So I loaded up my stuff and we drove on down. I was scanning the sky as we approached the airport, but I didn’t see any gliders. It was supposed to be a SW day, so I looked at the NE setup area, but there was nobody there, just a few people flying RC planes near the middle of the runway. So I drove to the hangar, and Rhett was hanging out there with one pilot who was hoping somebody else would show up for him to fly with. That would be me. So I drove back up to the setup area and started setting up, and he came along in a few minutes and did likewise.

With my wing about halfway assembled, I went to the car to take out the rest of my gear so that Nancy could drive away and go for her hike. One look in the back of the car, though, and I changed my plans and packed the glider back up. What I noticed was that my big black bag was conspicuously absent, because I had left my harness back at home in the closet. I wasn’t going to do a two-hour round trip to get it, so I joined Nancy for a jaunt on the Midstate Trail. Fortunately, just as I was about to leave, Matt C showed up to fly, so it presumably wasn’t lonely in the sky. The weather turned out great that afternoon, I didn’t hear any reports on how the flights went, but the clouds looked terrific.

I had already planned to take Monday off from work to attend the funeral of an elderly relative down on Cape Cod. We were entering a weather pattern with a storm system off the coast where the wind was predicted to be NE for several days. On Sunday some paraglider pilots went to Wellfleet, even though the forecast was for enough wind that they were joking that they’d have to do tandem flights with mini-wings. One of them did have the gumption to get out there for 30 minutes with the wind blowing 21-24 mph, while the others stayed on the ground, though one stopped by Plymouth on the way home and said he was seeing 26 mph, which he described as “Not for me. Ooooo doggie.”.

But they fly paragliders, and I fly a hang glider.

The forecast for Wellfleet on Monday was 17 gusting to the mid 20s, and the rule of thumb is that you if multiply that forecast by 1.5, that’s about the windspeed you’ll see at launch as the wind accelerates up the slope, so that meant at least 25. I threw my beach glider on the car in case the forecast improved, but didn’t know if I’d even drive the extra hour to get to White Crest. On my way to the funeral, though, I got a text from Randy B who said that he heard I was thinking of flying, and hoped to meet me there. He was planning to get there around 11:30, and I told him I’d be there around 2:00 at the earliest.

I had the opportunity to spend more time with my extended family after the funeral than I had expected, so when I finally headed to the outer Cape my ETA was 3:30. Given the forecast for intimidating wind and the fact that it was raining, I likely wouldn’t have continued out there if I hadn’t gotten a second text from Randy saying that it looked perfect and he was looking for wire crew. When I pulled in, the parking lot was empty except for his car, and he was in the air.


photo by George Wright

I didn’t waste any time and just started setting up. I had called my friend George who stopped by to take some pictures and give me assistance with launching. When I was about ready, I asked George for his guess as to the windspeed, and he said 30 mph. My pocket wind gauge showed a steady 28, without much variation during the brief time that I stood there. Too much for the PG crowd, that was for sure! A couple of other cars had stopped in the meantime, and I knocked on the window of one of them and asked the people if they’d be interested in helping me launch. The guy got out and he and George helped me go through my preflight checks then carry the glider out to launch. I was glad that I had help, because it was a lot to handle as we moved out of the lee of the knoll, and as I stepped over the knee-high berm at the edge of the pavement, the glider was already lifting off my shoulders and pulling up on my leg straps.

One man on each wing, and nobody on my nose, so I had to put in some effort to keep the nose down. I had instructed them on what was going to happen, and as soon as I could get the nose down enough that they could let go of the wires, I yelled Clear and stepped off into the air. And 28 mph is fine for a hang glider. Even with inexperienced wire crew, the launch was a piece of cake. I made a few short passes in front of launch so that the people on the ground could see the glider flying, then casually hightailed it south to Nauset Light.

It’s nice flying when there’s ample wind like this, because you don’t have to be careful about maintaining altitude. Most of the time is spent well above the top of the bluff, and when there’s a minor gap, there’s always plenty of lift on the far side, and you can pretty much fly as fast as you like. There was only one moment when I thought about it a bit, when a weird little gust turned me briefly downwind, and after recovering I sank a bit in the lull behind it, but it was just a few seconds and then I was on my way again. There were people out walking despite the sketchy weather, and one of the cool things about flying at the beach is seeing people waving and having the chance to wave back.

Randy had been somewhere up north when I launched, and as I headed back from the lighthouse, I encountered him coming toward me and we passed each other. Then he turned around and surprised me by overtaking me from below, giving me a good look at his colorful new wing.

After cruising past launch I headed up to Newcomb Hollow and played around with storing up a bunch of altitude and then heading across the gap. I didn’t make any serious attempts to cross it, turning around halfway or so and making it back with adequate altitude to keep flying. I went back toward launch to see what Randy was up to, and saw him landing. It turned out he had been about ready to land when I showed up, and kept going so that we could fly together, and got a total of about three hours. He was down on the beach flying his glider with his feet on the ground, maneuvering it closer to the ramp up to the parking lot, and I flew some more between launch and Newcomb Hollow.


photo by George Wright

I didn’t have a watch or a vario, and wasn’t sure exactly how long I had been flying, but I considered my landing options. Landing at White Crest would take some mental effort to figure out how to get down, and then it’s (sort of) a long climb to get the glider back up to the parking lot. Instead, as I often do, I opted to go back up to Newcomb Hollow, where it’s easy to lose altitude in the gap. I noticed that north part of the gap had areas roped off that I assume were denoting potential nesting sites for piping plovers. The bottom dropped out on me as I got down to the sand, and I landed on my knees, then spent a few minutes swinging my arms around to warm my fingers back up (the gloves I had chosen have great grip, but aren’t overly warm, and even when it’s 50 F your hands can get cold). Easy to get my stuff up to the parking lot, and my text messages to George and Randy didn’t get through, so I just jogged the couple of miles back to where I was parked, easy peasy.

That was the last hang glider flight at Wellfleet this season. There were two days left before the summer shutdown to accommodate the plovers, and a handful of PGs did show up on the last day in less than favorable conditions (light and cross); I heard that two of them scratched out short flights.

flights: 1, airtime 1:16

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Bare Trees

A week earlier, some folks had gone to Ellenville, and Mike S posted a video. Looked like it was a good flight, but definitely rowdy air, he was getting kicked around a lot and I didn’t feel too bad about missing out on that. Then as the last weekend in March approached, the various things that might have been on my schedule didn’t materialize, so if the weather cooperated, I was clear to go flying. Mike said he was going back to Ellenville, some other folks indicated interest in that as well, Woz floated the idea of pulling out the tuned-up winch, and although I didn’t know it, paraglider pilots were looking at Wellfleet and Plymouth (E winds on the coast when it’s NW inland?). But what bubbled to the top of the idea pile was hiking up and flying Talcott.

I had a little excitement when I got in my car and couldn’t roll up the windows — then I hit the starter and the battery was dead. While I had been changing out my snow tires for summer tires the night before, and then while I was putting the rack on my car in the morning, I had been listening to the car radio, and I hadn’t thought to turn off the headlights. I couldn’t jump start it from Nancy’s car because she had gone skiing. Fortunately, I still drive a standard, and I live at the top of a hill, so it wasn’t too tough to push the car out of the garage, then run around and open the door and jump in, do a three-point turn entirely on gravity, and pop the clutch to get the engine running. Problem solved!

We had arranged to meet at the LZ at noon. I drove by the access road on my way there, and the place was already a madhouse, cars parked all along the side of the highway because the gate wasn’t open and people wanted to got for a hike on such a nice day. Woz had already dragged his gear up to the helipad with a kayak cart, and along with Mark H and Danny B we headed up in two cars. There was a policeman directing traffic at that point, and he let us drive in to drop off our gear by the gate, and luckily for us a couple of parking spaces had opened up.

Mark shouldered his glider and went with Woz up to the helipad, while Danny and I used my two carts to go up the wider trail. Carol showed up and helped Danny with his heavier glider, and soon enough we were all at launch. My main concern prior to that had been that the conditions might be too light, since the NWS forecast called for a maximum of 7 mph in the afternoon. But what we found when we got there was 17-19! Yikes! We set up anyway, in hopes that it would die down a bit before it swung too far to the south as evening approached.

The park was pretty crowded. I lost count of how many times I said “Hang glider” to people asking “What’s that” as I pulled it up the trail. Then as we were setting up, dozens of people stopped to watch, ask questions, and hopefully see one of us fly. It was clear from the some of the questions that a lot of people have a pretty meager idea of what hang gliding is about, expecting that we “jump” off the cliff and then glide down to the field, having no idea that we can actually soar and stay up for extended periods of time.

As I expected, Woz was the first to be ready to go (he was also the only one of us who had brought a double-surface glider, the rest of us had lightweight Falcons). The wind mellowed, and he suited up, with a big crowd watching. He got big cheers when he launched, and the spectators were all very impressed at how well he was doing, while Mark and I were shaking our heads with mild disappointment that he was just cruising back and forth at launch height. They thought he’d be gliding down to the field, and with the wind the way it had been, we were expecting he’d take off like a rocket and be hundreds of feet over. I went back to my glider and did a preflight, and by the time I was done, he was indeed 500 feet or so over our heads.

Launch was uneventful, the way it should be. I went straight out, not climbing or sinking, turned left, and when I returned two and a half minutes later, I was 500 feet over myself. Right after that I latched onto a thermal and started turning, and by five minutes after launching, I had to pull in because I was bumping up against the altitude ceiling that we have at that site due to the airspace of nearby Bradley Airport. In the times I’d flown at Talcott, I had only once gotten up to 1800 feet, most times not even close to that, and here I was immediately climbing to 2100 (1350 over launch).

It’s easy-come, easy-go in this game, though. At most sites I would have kept climbing and banked up as much altitude as possible, then floated around up there if possible. But not wanting to run afoul of FAA regs, I left the lift, and instead found some pretty serious sink. Down I went, almost as fast as I had gone up, and in short order I was below the cliff, close to the trees, and heading out to the LZ for an early landing. A spectacular start to what was looking like a very short flight.

But you don’t give up until you have to, and as I headed to the LZ, just below the end of Cobtail Lane I felt lift and started turning. It was a solid thermal that I worked to comfortably above launch, and after losing it briefly a couple of times, took it all the way back up to the airspace ceiling. Shortly before I had launched, Dan had not yet set up and was saying that he was not comfortable with the conditions and was going to pack his gear back down to the car, but I guess he was encouraged by how I was doing, because I could see him setting up.

There was a time a few years ago when I had been trying to take a good picture of the Heublein tower from the air, but hadn’t had much luck.The problem had been that I was flying on ridge lift days and not getting very high, and I was nervous about going too far south along the ridge in case I had trouble getting back to the LZ. It’s not really very far, and I later managed to get a number of good pictures, getting well past the tower. But I realized that I had an opportunity to take a picture of it from an unexpected angle, and maneuvered myself into position for one fortunate shot.

Woz at this point had gone well to the west, out over the valley, which I now realize was for a game that pilots like to play here: fly directly over Woz’s house. He had also been going further east behind the ridge than I had, and later said that had considered heading south to Rte. 44, which is the edge of the restricted airspace, where there’s no longer an altitude ceiling.

Around the time that Dan was ready and moved out toward launch, conditions softened again and I found myself sinking fast. Below launch height again, I tried the same trick as before, found a thermal in the same spot, and got myself reestablished. I was facing the wrong direction when Dan launched, so I missed it, but I hoped he’d be able to catch the same climb that I was in. He said he did briefly, but then lost it, and had a smooth trip to the LZ that he was satisfied with.


Woz over Holcomb Field

After that I did the usual back and forth passes along the cliff, occasionally tagging hikers with my shadow and waving to people who were looking up. Mark got ready to go, but by the time he was out there, he said the wind had really died down. It was a strange day, although the wind streamers at launch usually seemed to indicate that the wind was blowing hard, the ridge lift didn’t seem to be working, and it was thermals that were keeping us up. Although I hoped that Mark would be able to get into the air before I landed, some clouds came over and shut the lift down, and my third try for a low save didn’t work, so I headed down for a fine landing in Holcomb Field, and started breaking down my glider next to the road.


Mark and Danny

Just as we had had lots of spectators up top, so we also had plenty of people in cars waving or honking after we landed, including a few who stopped to ask questions. One of the more interesting questions came from a woman who asked if I was going to go up. No, I said, I just came down (though to be fair, we have done winch towing from that field). I pointed to Mark’s glider, which was visible up on the cliff, and said that he was going to be flying soon. The woman parked her car across the street to watch. Less fun was another woman who stopped and politely but firmly instructed us to pack up and get off of her property as quickly as possible. Except… it’s not her property. She and Woz exchanged introductions, and he recognized her name as being from the family that owns some adjacent property, but not the field we were using, which we have explicit permission for.

We had time for a brief get-together in Woz’s back yard before I had to head home. From the reports that came in, we made a good choice: though not everybody soared at Talcott, Ellenville served up only extended sledders before it started blowing downhill, and Wellfleet was light and cross and challenging for the paragliders who went there.

flights: 1, time: 1:05

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2020 in review

This was a bit of a surprise.

Months flown: 7 (Jan, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov)
Flying days: 16
Days when I showed up with my gear but didn’t fly: none
Flights: 23 (8 foot-launch, 12 aerotow, 3 static winch; 9 soaring, 3 extended sledders, 11 sledders)
Sites flown: 5 (Talcott, Tanner-Hiller, West Rutland, Ellenville, Wellfleet)
New sites: none really (I winch towed for the first time at a place I had flown before)
Gliders flown: 3 (Falcon 2 170, U2 145, Vision Mark IV 17)
Longest flight (time): 5:07:13 (Aug 9, West Rutland)
Longest flight (XC distance): 8.08 km (Nov 22, Wellfleet)
Total flight time: 19:08
Max altitude: 6572 feet (July 5, Tanner-Hiller)
Damage: nope
Injuries: meh, a skinned knee

Despite a decidedly late start to the year due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I barely missed (by about 30 seconds) having the third-most airtime of any year so far. It’s tempting to attribute that to the fact that I had a bunch of free time on my hands. The vacation trips that I had planned evaporated, and my main activity, orienteering, was pretty much not happening. After February, orienteering events were pretty much cancelled, and are for the most part still on hold. In the years since I started keeping this blog, I averaged 26 days a year of orienteering, but in 2020 it was only 4. However, my average number of flying days had averaged 14, and it went up to only 16. Combine that with the fact that almost half of my flights were sledders (the shortest half dozen flights combined were only 16 minutes), and it’s only because I posted a 5-hour flight (my longest to date) that I was able to get to such a high total. There were some other good flights mixed in there as well.

On the flip side, there were definitely some things that did not go well this year, for other pilots, when I was not around. One pilot had to toss his chute when the nose wires on his Falcon 2 became disconnected during flight — he was fine, but the glider was totaled after coming down through the trees. (That whole episode is something of a mystery to me.) Another pilot had a very bad crash on his mountain bike, resulting in hospitalization and a long recovery. And worst of all, a third pilot had a huge mishap at a site with a sketchy launch. I’m not certain of the details, but it sounds like he probably clipped a tree with a wingtip and pivoted back into the rocks. That resulted in broken body parts and an airlift rescue and a bunch of surgery and a very close brush with death. Yikes. This reinforces my lack of desire to fly at that site again. Be careful out there, folks (in many, many ways!).

It was nice to get back out to Rutland, Wellfleet, and Ellenville. I hadn’t been to any of them for several years, aside from one sledder at Ellenville. No Ascutney flights, though, for the first time since I got my H3 in 2008. And I missed a couple of good Greylock days as well, but there will always be more chances in the future.

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Wellfleet for HGs

I certainly wasn’t the first one to get to Wellfleet. The forecast was very much to my liking, and there were already HG pilots who had gotten there early and were either in the air or already landed, and the PGs were either standing around scared or kiting down on the beach. Plenty of wind! Unlike the previous time, there was a setup spot available up front where somebody had just left, and I dropped my glider bag right next to Krassi, who already had his partly assembled.

No time to waste! I set up as quickly as I could, threw on my flying clothes, grabbed one camera, and started moving over to launch. Ross saw me and immediately rustled up some help for my wires. This was a piece of cake, I got my hands on the control bar, took a step, and went right up. I started out northbound, as far as Newcomb Hollow, then turned around and headed for Nauset Light. No issues, plenty of lift, and I went all the way past the lighthouse and to the very end of the bluff down near the Coast Guard station.

Most of the early HG crew had landed, but Krassi had launched a bit after I had passed by the parking lot southbound, and followed me down to Nauset. He turned around sooner than I did, and landed when we got back to White Crest, but I continued northward. At Newcomb I felt that I had enough altitude to jump the gap, so I went for it, and made it across, though with not all that much to spare. The bluff gets taller after that, and I was in pretty good shape when I got to Ballston Beach, but I did an extra pass to pick up another 100 feet of altitude before I crossed that one.

Continuing on, I soon had the radar installation in sight, then the Jenny Lind Tower, but… where was Highland Light? It couldn’t be missing! As I got closer to the golf course, I could see what was going on, the lighthouse was surrounded by scaffolding and wrapped in tyvek, presumably for painting. Oh well, I had run out of space on my camera’s memory card anyway…

Another about-face, and it was time to try to get back to the car. The crosswind wasn’t that bad, and I was making some progress even up by the lighthouse. As the angle of the beach curved around I did better, until I got back to Ballston Beach. I had mentally prepared myself for the possibility of landing out up here, but I banked up some altitude and gave it a try. The Mark IV doesn’t fly that fast, which means I was hanging in the gap (and sinking) for too long, but I got to within maybe 100 yards of the other side before I was on the sand, with a gentle tiptoe touchdown.

I should have worn heavier gloves. After I got my glider turned around, I spent several uncomfortable minutes as my fingers thawed out, then set about packing up. Max, who had arrived shortly after me and who had taken my setup spot when I launched, flew over as I was getting things bagged up. I stashed all of my gear behind a dune, and then set off to get my car.

As I said, I was mentally prepared to land out, and I was mentally prepared to deal with it. I figured I was about five miles north of White Crest, so I took off at a jog. The surface was mostly firm intertidal sand, so it was easy going. I stopped a couple of times to take pictures, once when I saw some seals, and the other time when Max passed overhead at Newcomb Hollow on his way back south. He flies a Sport 2, which has better performance than my old beach glider, but it also struck me that he started out across the gap with more altitude than I had, and made it across easily. I need to think about getting much higher than I have been when doing this.

There were still a lot of PGs down on the beach when I got back, after running for about an hour. I said hi to Ross when I climbed back up to the parking lot; when he asked where my glider was, he looked at me like I was nuts, and asked why I hadn’t called him for a ride. Hey, I was happy to get the exercise! It’s not the farthest I’ve landed from launch, and not the farthest I’ve gone on foot to retrieve my vehicle (I’ve jogged around Ascutney, among other things), but I think it’s the farthest I’ve landed from launch and then retrieved my vehicle on foot.

flights: 1, time: 1:30

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Mystery locale

First, the CT crew was talking about taking the winch out to Holcomb Field, and conditions looked just right. But then various factors came into play (the wind conditions and the state of the field itself), so that didn’t look like such a great idea. I had an alternative that I had suggested in the past, and when it came down to it, they agreed, and we took the winch somewhere else. (For reasons that I won’t explain, I’m not going to say where that was.)

Things generally get smoother every time we do this, but that doesn’t mean everything gets smoother. One thing we had decided to try this time was to have the winch operator communicate with the pilot by cell phone, rather than having a flight director on radio or using a flag. I had bought a Bluetooth headset in order to be able to do this. Unfortunately, the cell coverage wasn’t adequate where we were, and the calls kept dropping, so we went back to using the radios.

We also need to get everyone set up to be using their own harnesses and their own gliders. It was fine sharing when everybody was on a Falcon and we just had a training harness set up, but using somebody else’s pod doesn’t work so well, and switching things between gliders caused needless complications. If we can just use the biners to switch the tow release between harnesses, and everybody uses their own gear, that will work a lot better.

We also had a couple of hiccups that were just things that happen, and we handled them okay. One was that on the first tow (me), we had a crosswind when I got above the treetops. That combined with my release rigging being not adjusted quite right meant that I veered quite a bit when I released the upper line, but I got it straightened out just fine. However, I also released a bit downwind (to the left) of the runway, and the wind blew the line further in that direction. I watched with dismay as the recovery chute dropped into the trees, but the tow operator kept the power on, and dragged it through the foliage with no harm done. Another pilot had a weak link break when he hit the upper release, and he properly handled it and landed fine. He was convinced that he had screwed up and accidentally released both, and when he landed it took a bit of discussion for me to persuade him that he had not released the lower line, as evidenced by the fact that it was still connected to the release and he was holding onto it.

Retrieval of the line has always been a bit of an issue. Although there had been some talk of bringing a hairy overpowered ATV, I brought my mountain bike, which I figured would be fine. As far as I’m concerned, it was, but not everybody understood how to use it. Ultimately we ended up doing most of the line retrievals with a car.

One other success for me was that I finally winch-towed my U2. That was almost entirely without issue, although for the first few steps it felt like the glider was trying to just move forward and not lift , so I was afraid I was going to end up dragging on the ground. The video looks pretty much fine, though, so it wasn’t as sketchy as it felt. I probably need to keep the nose up a bit more, and remember that the smaller wing area is going to need more airspeed before it lifts.

Pretty dark by the time were were packed up and done. And the one other thing that made the day notable was that while we were still setting up, I got a phone call from Nancy saying that the Associated Press had finally called the presidential election for Joe Biden. Finally the Trump disaster would come to an end (though we had no idea how much more drama was yet to come!).

flights: 3, time: 4, 4, 5 minutes

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T-H season closer

I appeared that it was going to be the last day of the season at Tanner-Hiller, and Nancy was interested in going for a hike. I suggested that we go to the airport and I could do a short flight, then we could hike together. A short flight because the forecast just didn’t look very promising, but I had hope that there still might be some nice foliage to see.

And… right according to plan. There were about four others in line when I got there, and Rhett was dragging them up, starting with Pete J. Nobody was having too much success, and neither did I, although I gave it my best shot. I was able to maintain for a short while at the spot where I pinned off, then when I started sinking I headed over toward the sandpit. I’ve gotten a reputation for being able to hang on at marginal altitude, and that’s what I did, milking some zero-sink at about 700 feet AGL for over 15 minutes. That’s challenging and fun, but I spotted Pete over the hill that’s to the west of the airport, and figured that might be worth a shot, and if not, it was probably about time to land so as not to keep Nancy waiting anyway.

I didn’t really find anything out there, so I came back and set up to land, but then when I got to the end of the runway with too much altitude, it was just a little lifty and I had to do a whole bunch of S-turns before I felt like I wasn’t going to way overshoot. As it was, I went way past my car and landed beyond the hangar.

And then Nancy and I went for a swell hike in the fading light.

flights: 1, time: 0:38

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Wellfleet for PGs

I hadn’t been to Wellfleet for three and a half years, so it didn’t take much to get me to head down there. The forecast looked pretty decent, but I was thinking that the high tide in the morning would mean that there was no need to get there early, just show up whenever and wait for the beach to get wide enough to make things comfortable. In addition, there was something I wanted to check out. I had spotted another possible spot on the Cape to fly, quite close to the vacation house of my coworker Steve. He had moved down there for the summer since we’re all working from home due to COVID-19, and he had sent me some pictures. It looked promising, so I went down to see it in person, and Steve met me there and also showed me his house.

On the way to White Crest, my phone rang, and it was my friend George who I had also called. Turned out he was in the car right behind me, so he followed me over and we got to visit while I set up. The contours of the beach vary from year to year, and this year it’s very forgiving, with plenty of sand even at high tide, so some HGs had already flown. There were plenty of PGs up as well, so the front parking lot was packed. The back lot is currently chained off, so I parked in front and carried my gear out behind the little building to put it together. There was also a pilot who just moved to the area (Vijay K) who had been asking about a site orientation, and I spotted his car and chatted a bit with him.

The flying… was less than spectacular. Although the wind was adequate for the bagwings, it was pretty light for me, as well as being somewhat cross. I flew three times, but never managed to get established in the lift band, so I was on the sand in less than two minutes each time. Steve stopped by just before the second one, so he at least got to see me launch.

Although I had hopes that the wind would pick up, I finally decided to pack up my gear down on the beach so that I wouldn’t be tempted to try for a fourth time after carrying it back up the hill (but thanks to George and Vijay for the help carrying it up the three times that I did). Then I did something I’d been interested in checking out for quite some time. I knew there were trails though the terrain west of the road, and George and I went for a hike out there as the sun was going down. Quite a nice time.

flights: 3, time: 1, 2, 1 minute

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Cloudsharing

Pete J on the cart, with Doug B assisting

Nancy’s house sold quickly (above asking price, it’s really a seller’s market), which was great, and it meant that I was free to get out and fly the following weekend. Rhett was towing, so that was the easiest place to go, with hopes that maybe the foliage would be nice. Nancy was interested in going for a hike nearby as well.

When we arrived, there were a bunch of people hanging around at the hangar (is that why they call it a hangar?), and they joked that they were glad that I had arrived so I could go up first and try out the air. I went up to the NE setup area and started putting my glider together immediately, but I’m more meticulous (read “slow”) than some, and a couple of the guys leave their wings at the airfield already assembled, so I was not in fact first in line for a tow.

Woz

It was Pete J who went first, followed by Doug B, then Max, then Noel. I was next up, followed by Greg S, Woz and Jaybird. I think Pete’s tow was normal, but at some point after that we noticed that the tows were getting pretty short, people were pinning off early. There was a big cloud just off the NE end of the runway, and everybody was circling under it and climbing well. Rhett was saving a lot of fuel, and getting people into the air quickly. When my turn came, I was anticipating more of the same. The tow went well, I was relaxed and let the glider just correct for itself when we hit active air. Rhett did two circles over the airfield in which we seemed to be climbing pretty well, so a bit below 1700 feet AGL I hit the release and started circling on my own.

The popular spot was noticeably downwind of where I was, so after a few circles I decided to head toward the party. But after a few seconds, I thought, “no, you dummy, you’re in lift, stay with it!”, so I headed back. But I didn’t go back far enough, I didn’t find the climb again, and shortly I headed off toward the trendy cloud anyway getting there at about 1500 feet AGL.

And… yeah. With a couple of brief slips where I had to look around a bit to find the core again, I gained about 4000 feet in a bit under a half hour spiraling up under that cloud. Although it seemed like the place to be, I didn’t really see other gliders around, they must have either been well above me, or off to more promising areas. There were some higher clouds forming into a solid overcast, so it was kind of gloomy up there, and it was cool enough that I used my bar mitts. When it seemed like I had topped out, I had a decision to make. If I just wanted to be safe and try to maximize airtime, I might have been able to just boat around at that altitude, either maintaining or sinking very slowly. Or I could head off and look for glory elsewhere.

The view to the SW, with the cloud deck approaching from the right
And looking NE, with the shaded area to the left

The solid cloud deck wasn’t everywhere, it was still sunny over to the east, so I decided to try my fortunes in that direction. The peak of optimism would have been if I found good lift and could continue eastward; I thought I could probably find Spencer Airport, and I knew that Nancy was hiking near there (having driven there in my car), and she could come pick me up. So I picked out a likely-looking cloud in that direction, grabbed an armful of VG, and went into let’s-get-somewhere mode.

I made it out to the edge of the sunnier area to the east, where I hoped I could find more lift, but there wasn’t really anything going on, so I headed back to the airfield. I entertained the folks hanging around the hangar by circling for eight minutes at 500 feet AGL before landing. The end of the lift had affected most of the other pilots, and the only one left in the air was Woz. In retrospect, I probably could have stayed up as long as he did if I had just stuck with the climb that I had and not gone looking for a possible XC adventure, but you make the choices that you make, and satisfy yourself with how they tun out. On the plus side, it’s just as well that I didn’t head off to Spencer, because by the time I landed, Nancy was already back to Tanner-Hiller.

Noel, Jaybird, and Pete J, practicing social distancing

flights: 1, time: 1:01

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Back to back

I saw an opportunity for Labor Day weekend. There was some chatter about Talcott being flyable on Friday afternoon, and Saturday looked like a decent day as well. During these trying times, finding lodging is not always straightforward, but I have a friend in Connecticut who doesn’t use his apartment very much (he usually stays at his girlfriend’s place), and I gave him a call and he said I was welcome to crash there. (“Crashing” is something I like to avoid in the context of this blog, but it’s okay in this case.)

I also gave my friend Clint a call, and he and his son Hayden met me at Talcott. Clint had seen me fly once before, a sledder at The Pulpit back in 2007 when I was a H2. They lent a hand pulling my stuff up the trail to launch, and also helped as wire crew and brought my cart back to the car and brought the car down to the LZ.

Woz and Digger were there as well, Woz being ahead of us as usual since he lives so close by. Although he was ready to go, his first trip out to the brink made him a bit nervous, so he backed off and let the wind mellow a bit, but the second try had him in the air before Digger and I were finished setting up. I went as soon as I was ready, easy peasy, great climb right off of launch, and Digger wasn’t far behind. It was a nice late summer evening, with plenty of people on the ridge enjoying it for me to wave to and do some turns for.

launch sequence photos by Clint Morse

Holcomb Field was still under cultivation, and the fallow part was overgrown, so the main LZ was the order of the day. Woz landed first, no problem. Digger went out a bit before me, and he went long, landed out by the road, and carried his glider back to the LZ along the shoulder. I had never landed my U2 in the main LZ, which is fairly tight. I set up for a NW approach, got it down as quickly as I could on final, and then hoped I could bleed off enough airspeed before I reached the ditch. I flared at the last possible moment, but I was still moving a little too fast, because I ballooned up and then dropped the nose with an audible clunk — it was obvious even to the wuffos that that wasn’t an elegant landing.

After packing up, there was enough time for a run up on the ridge in the fading light, then I grabbed something to eat and headed over to my friend’s apartment.

There were multiple options for Saturday (all of which worked, as it turns out), and the one I picked was Ellenville. There were morning PGs doing sledders when I got there, and a couple of HGs on the ground that had already flown. I signed in and headed up top, where I ran into a number of people I knew, including Ross and Stacy, and John M. The wind was pretty cross from the left, so several people were set up at the west launch. There was enough for some PGs to stay up, but the HGs were sitting tight. John was the bold one who gave it a shot, but he just sank and sank on his way to the LZ. Finally, over the field, he found a thermal, and worked it diligently, finally breaking over the horizon above launch altitude. But it didn’t last, and before long he was on the ground.

That was followed by what I consider a typical Ellenville situation. The wind had clocked around and seemed reasonable at the NW launch. I was set up and ready, as were a bunch of other HG pilots, but nobody was moving except the PGs, many of whom who were up and soaring. I generally figure that the pilots who are regulars at a site know the local conditions, and if they aren’t flying, there must be a reason. But I’ve also got some experience with this stuff, and it looked pretty good to me, so I suited up with a big kite on my back and went for a jog down the hill. I called it right: I turned left, and by the time I passed in front of the west launch, where Mike S was about to take off, I was at least 50 feet over. In about four minutes, it was 1000 feet.

Mike S about to launch

So then everybody ran to their gliders and got in the air, right? Not really. Some did, to be sure, but some continued waiting and in the end some never flew at all. I can’t say I understand why. Anyway, it turned out to be a terrific day, with a lot of up and a lot of down. I never ventured too far from launch horizontally, but I definitely did vertically. When I hit climbs, they were serious elevators. It took me about 45 minutes of boating around before I hit the first really good one, up to 5000 feet, but that brought me pretty far back, so I decided to make sure I didn’t drift away, and in the process of pushing out to the front lost almost all of my altitude, and I was nearly back down to launch height, and thought I might be sinking out. But that’s where I caught the best climb of the day, 3500 feet worth up to 5500.

It was a very enjoyable day, with several other pilots in my vicinity (notably Mike) as well as a couple of sailplanes. After that big climb, I yo-yoed up and down for another hour as the lift would build and then fade. When I finally hit a weak cycle and dropped below launch height after making several passes in front, I headed out to the LZ and just had to make a few S turns over by Greg’s while I checked out the flags, then came in for a nice landing.

Two sailplanes far below me in this picture, as well as at least one HG and one PG

I packed up pretty quickly because I still had a long drive home. But I like to get some exercise every day, so I hit the trail and headed up on foot to get my car. If you do it right, it’s not that much slower than driving, though I messed up the navigation a little bit and hit the road a bit further south than I needed to be, after having needlessly gone through too much rocks and laurel. Still, 47 minutes isn’t too bad.

flights: Sat 1, time: 1:13; Sun 1, time: 2:04

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Before the storm

I’m writing up a bunch of these blog entries in early 2021, trying to remember what happened on flying days several months ago, and this one took a little head-scratching. I looked at my logbook, hmm a short midday flight. I looked at the GPS track, nothing notable there. I looked at my training log… oh, wait… back to the logbook to see who flew, ok, yeah, that day…

Stan M, ready for one of the last flights of Jeff C’s old Falcon
Max K

Only a few of us showed up to fly, I was one of five. My flight was an extended sledder, circling for a bit in weak lift after I pinned off, with substantial drift, then looking around a few other places without finding much, and landing with a strong breeze that resulted in a no-flare no-stepper that got some compliments, but then I started breaking down quickly, because along with that wind there was some obvious thunderstorm activity brewing. Everybody else did likewise except for one green pilot who had showed up late and was setting up until somebody talked some sense into him (there was no way Rhett was going to do any more tows in those conditions).

But the big excitement of the day same in the afternoon, when I went off to the south to run a section of the Midstate Trail. I dropped off my bike so I could ride back to my car, but the maps that I had weren’t accurate in terms of what was a road and what was a trail and what was private property. Ultimately it did work out, but not before I got caught out in the woods in the teeth of one of those thunderstorms, then due to inadequate planning had to cut through some land where I probably didn’t really belong on the edge of a huge active quarry. But it all worked out in the end, and it’s a lot less scary to be in the woods during a thunderstorm than it would have been to be in the air!

flights: 1, time: 0:34

Posted in Flying days, Tanner-Hiller | Leave a comment