AAS: accidental airborne selfie
The word went out that Rhett would be towing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I had to work Friday, and there were orienteering meets on my calendar both days of the weekend, but I came up with a plan to get in at least a little flying. I figured that if I went to the airport after the orienteering, and I could skip the time it takes to set up my glider, that I could make it work. So I got off work a little early, cruised home and loaded up my gear, and headed for Tanner-Hiller. The idea was to set the wing up Friday night, then stash it in the hangar so it would be ready for the weekend.
When I rolled in, there were a few pilots still around after a good day of flying, with climbs up to 5000-6000 feet. As I was setting up, they asked if I was going to fly, and though that wasn’t the plan, I said, “We’ll see”. Rhett had a tandem flight scheduled, and he said he could pull me up after them. I looked at my watch, and thought I might be able to get into the air by about 7:45, and that seemed okay. I got a cart and wheeled my wing up to the NE end of the runway, and watched Rhett tow the tandem up.
It had been over seven months since I’d aerotowed, and after a winter break like that, I’ve usually stepped back to my Falcon for the first flight, or at least put the fin on my U2, but with the calm evening air, I decided I didn’t need that. On the ground roll, the cart drifted a little to the right, and instead of bumping it back to center, I just lifted off, a little out of line. That shouldn’t have been a problem except that I was rusty, and that misalignment was all it took to get me yawing and oscillating. I’ve been around enough to know that I just needed to let it settle out, so although the first couple of hundred feet was pretty klutzy, I was fine after that. Rhett was ultra gentle, pretty much just towing me in a straight line. The sun was getting low and the air was very stable, so I neither expected nor found any lift, but I took a few pictures and played around with slowing the glider way down to try and get it to stall (it really doesn’t want to stall) and enjoyed the view. On landing, I waited a bit too long and my flare was on the weak side, so the last few feet were rolling in on the wheels. Then I was able to deposit the glider in the hangar and head home without having to fold it up.
Saturday I was off to southern Connecticut with my friends Nancy and Stephen for orienteering. We got some lunch and some ice cream on the way back, then dropped Stephen off, and when we got to where I had left my car in Worcester, Nancy headed home and I went back to Tanner-Hiller. It was later than I was hoping, and again, most of the pilots were done after a good day and were about to head home, but there was again a tandem scheduled and Rhett said he’d take me up right after, which turned out to be an hour or so earlier than the day before.
This time I had the glider under control from the beginning, and Rhett gave me more exercise, taking me up in a sinusoidal path to give me practice following him in both right and left turns. After pinning off, I had smooth air ahead of me again, and I went on a tour of nearby landmarks: a couple of solar farms, the athletic fields, the sandpit, the derelict factory, and then back around to the airstrip. Setting up to land, I was paying too much attention to my altimeter and not enough to what I was seeing, and I went on final with way too much altitude. Instead of landing in front of the hangar, I kept going toward the SW end of the runway, finally landing all the way down by the numbers. I overcompensated for the previous night’s late flare by flaring too early, so I ballooned up, then settled down onto loose gravel where the wheels wouldn’t roll, and the nose went over. John M was still around, preparing for one last tow, and he was nice enough to bring me a cart with the ATV. Then back into the hangar with the glider, and I was off.
Sunday morning I woke up, and checked the internet to find out which parking area we were using for the orienteering meet in New Hampshire. Hmmm… what orienteering meet? It had been on the schedule when I put it on my calendar, but at some point after that it apparently got canceled. OK, that meant I could go flying earlier!
John M, Peter J, Justin P, and Pete P were already there in various states of readiness when I arrived a little after noon. I pulled out my glider and got in line behind them while John went up for the first tow. I was chatting with one of the other pilots when he heard a plane coming and asked, “what’s that?”. I started to say, “That’s Rhett coming back for the next tow”, but then I looked up and saw that the aircraft coming in had lights, and Peter was scrambling to get his glider off the runway. It turned out to be a DeHavilland Beaver with floats, and we all went over to admire it, and the proud and amiable owner invited us to hop up and take a closer look if we liked (and I did).
Rhett chatted with the Beaver pilot for a while, thinking that we needed to wait for the day to heat up, until we realized that John was still up, so the air must be pretty good already. Peter J went up and was back down in short order, and Justin and Pete P hung on a bit better. I was next in line, and Rhett warned me that this was going to be more active air then the previous two evenings. I said something to the effect that that was what I was afraid of, and he said that I’d be fine, and I should take whatever was there and ask for more. Okay!
The start of the tow was straightforward, then just off the end of the runway we went into a left-hand spiral climb that was a bit of a rodeo ride. I knew I could pin off at any point if I was uncomfortable, but I was able to stick with it, though I had trouble keeping myself low enough (might be that I was turning a slightly smaller circle than the tug, and was in stronger lift). Compared to the night before, where the rate of climb during the tow was 1240 fpm, this one was 1640 fpm — we were getting 400 fpm out of the thermal. After Rhett waved me off, I was able to keep climbing in that thermal to about 4500 feet before I lost it.
Thinking that lift was going to be relatively easy to come by, despite the solid blue sky, I casually checked out a couple of the nearby spots that seem like they should be good sources of warm air. Over the sandpit I found some zero sink, but it seemed like I should be able to do better than that, so I went southwest to a big patch of blacktop (no good), then back to near where the first climb had been, and finally over the airfield. The whole way, I was getting crushed, 500-600 fpm down wherever I went. Up near the NE end of the runway I was down to about 1000 feet and figuring that I was going to be landing soon, and my vario started beeping, so I turned.
It wasn’t fat easy lift. I was banked up pretty tight, and made a couple of dozen circles while climbing nearly 3000 feet over the course of the next 15 minutes. The lift was strong and concentrated enough that at times I’d hit it with one wing, and that wing would get yanked up and I’d get turned away from the thermal more strongly than I could counteract with weight shift. When that lift died, I hunted around, and after losing 1200 feet, I got another climb and gained it back.
I had been keeping an eye on the other pilots: Justin and Pete P were pretty low, but Peter J, who had come up again after me, had worked his way north and was now off to the west of me, a little higher than I was, and climbing. Since my thermal seemed to have fizzled, I pulled on VG and hightailed it over to where he was. That turned out to be a disappointment, as it was all sink on the way there, and as I hunted around I couldn’t find the lift, despite the fact that he was above me and still climbing. When I got low enough that prudence said I should give up, I headed back and tried once more where my big climb had been, but it wasn’t working any more, so I did a few circles and landed (still not a great landing, but better than the previous two). There was enough time for another try (Larry G and Mark H had arrived in the meantime and had just gone up), but I was satisfied with what I had, and decided to pack up. I spent some time first chatting with Carol C, a prospective pilot who was going up for a tandem flight later on. Peter, Larry, and Mark all found some great lift after that, and got so high it was hard to see them.
Quite a bit of fun jammed into what was really a two day weekend!
Flights: 3 (in three days), airtime 0:18, 0:23, 0:58