Cape activities

There was chatter on the internet about the Sunday forecast looking good for Wellfleet, and when I mentioned that I might be going, Nancy said she’d be interested in coming along. Nancy has approximately zero interest in hang gliding, but the weekend had some potential to be appealing for her. She’s a big lighthouse fan, and there are a few she hasn’t seen yet. I was also planning to stay Saturday night with my friend George, which opened up the opportunity for her to sleep later than me, so that I could head up to get ready to fly by myself, and she and George could come to the beach later.

With an 11:20 AM high tide, the plan was to fly early. I woke up at 5, and was at White Crest by 5:45 and started setting up behind the building across the street using a headlamp when it was still fairly dark. When I was about ready, I went over to the beach side lot to chat with Jon A, Dave F, and Mark G, who had arrived a little later and were starting to set up. The wind was just about straight in, and there was plenty of it; at one point I measured 30 at the top of the bluff. There was some concern that it might be too much, and the forecast showed it continuing to build through the morning.

If conditions were really great, I was figuring that the more experienced pilots would help the newer ones launch, then we’d join them, having less need for ground crew. There had even been discussion of formation flying to the lighthouses. But with the concern that it might be too strong for some, Jon decided to go first. Since I was ready, I said I’d be right behind him, unless anybody else wanted to go and needed wire help. Jon opted to launch from a little way down the ramp, where the wind was a little lighter, and was soon on his way. Mark decided it was worth a try, and Scott B had arrived in the meantime, so we still had three pilots to assist Mark. Dave decided to wait and hope that conditions would get more civilized, and Scott wasn’t set up yet, so I went and got my wing.

We had additional assistance from a wuffo, who I put on my nose wires, and I went down to the same spot where Jon and Mark had launched from. I had a no-problem takeoff, and headed north. Having started a little low, it was a bit of work to get up, and I was at or slightly below the lip of the bluff for a while, where I found the air rather chunky, and I wasn’t having a lot of fun. Once I got up to Cahoon Hollow, I was able to get more altitude, and the air smoothed out. I had to fiddle with my cords for a while to get zipped (the ski gloves I was wearing didn’t make things easy), and I turned around just before reaching Doane’s Bog Pond.

Scott had asked for a signal to indicate how I felt about the air, and when I flew over launch, I gave a noncommittal gesture that kind of turned into a thumbs-down. But that was right around when I started to think that it wasn’t entirely the air that was the issue. I got a weird, slightly familiar sensation that I had experienced once before, as the glider decided to speed up on its own and go into kind of a dive. I had to push out on the control bar to keep it under control, which is not something that you usually do when flying at the beach. I glanced up to see if the nosecone was in place, and it was — more on that later.

It’s one thing to be dealing with an issue like this when you have a couple of thousand feet of altitude, but it’s a bit alarming when you have dozens of feet. I really didn’t want to be struggling with control like this somewhere that might result in a very long walk back, so instead of heading for a lighthouse, I made a quick decision to get it down immediately. Sometimes it’s difficult to lose altitude at the beach, but not in this case, the glider sank right through the lift band. Normally on final you pull in for a lot of speed, but I was actually pushing out to keep myself from cratering into the sand. I didn’t figure it was going to end well, and I did what I could to flare, but being mushed, it was hard to keep the wing level. I succeeded in protecting the pilot, and kept the glider out of the drink, so the loss of a downtube was a minor inconvenience.

Notice something in that picture: the nosecone is off. When I first landed, it was still attached at the bottom, but the velcro on the top surface had come loose and it was dangling. Because the previous time I experienced this problem was when the nosecone was missing entirely, I suspect that it had come loose, and despite the airflow that you might expect would keep it in place, it was letting enough air in to cause problems with the airfoil. Indeed, testing it out as I was breaking down the glider showed that the velcro was not sticking very well at all.  I’ll have to investigate whether it’s clogged with sand or fluff or something, or if it just needs to be replaced.

Dave carried my harness and helmet up, Scott helped me get the glider back to the parking lot (thanks, guys!), and George and Nancy arrived shortly after. No more flying for me with a broken downtube, so I packed up and we headed out. Dave and Scott did both fly later, as did John B, who arrived as we were leaving. At least one of the pilots made it to both lighthouses, so it was a great day. Since we had plenty of time left, Nancy and I made the most of the day, stopping by to visit some relatives on the way home.

And we did still see two lighthouses.

flights: 1, airtime: 0:10

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Late shift

The classic weather scenario for flying at Wellfleet is to get there when a nor’easter is approaching, and to take advantage of the winds before the precipitation starts. Chatter started late in the week about the prospects for Sunday, which was looking as good as you can hope for in January: ENE winds at about the right velocity, low tide in the afternoon, high tide not that high anyway (quarter moon), unseasonably warm, and it was a weekend, to boot. Okay, so the Patriots were also playing for the AFC Championship (home game, not too far away, in fact), and while that might have been a priority for some, I’d much rather participate in an activity than watch other people on TV.

I tend to not trust the forecast until it’s about time to go, but I did load up my glider the night before, so I was ready to head to the Cape in the morning. The way I was reading the forecast, I didn’t need to be in a big hurry to get there, because the wind was going to start out pretty cross and light, and I didn’t think we’d be flying until early afternoon, at least, so I rolled in at 10:30 AM. There were some pilots who had arrived as early as 7:15, I think, and even a while after that it was reportedly blowing from the SW. By the time I got there, it was pretty much N, and wasn’t even strong enough for the PG pilots to kite their wings. But it was pretty comfortable — I had seen 50F on the thermometer in my car shortly before reaching White Crest.

Often when I pull in, there are already wings in there air, but today, nobody was flying, and the picture below was all that was going on. I was haranguing the PG pilots, saying, “You’re doing it wrong! You have to point the wing that way, or none of us get to fly!”. (As if the wind responded to them, rather than the other way around.) There were already about 10 hang gliders set up, so I set about leisurely putting mine together as well. I thought about going for a trail run, but then I got a text from my old friend George saying he was on his way to watch the proceedings, so I stayed put so I could hang out with him.

The forecast said that the wind would clock around to the ENE, and right about the time that George got there, the direction abruptly changed, and a couple of PGs took to the air. When they managed to stick, all the rest of them made a stampede for the edge, and soon the sky was full of bagwings. Those of us with lawn darts had to wait around a bit longer, because there wasn’t yet enough velocity to keep us up. But as predicted, the wind speed built rapidly, and before too long a couple of PGs got blown back and landed in the bushes, and one almost got dragged across the parking lot. Perfect. There was really only about a 30 minute window when conditions were right for them.

A couple of the HG pilots were at Wellfleet for the first time, so we figured it was best to help them launch before it got too strong, and we queued them up while the PGs were still flying. (One of the more experienced pilots had gone out to launch a couple of times, but backed off because it seemed too light.) Launching at the beach isn’t really that hard, but it can be intimidating if you haven’t done it before, especially if you’ve watched a bunch of YouTube videos of people blowing it (because after all, those are the most interesting ones). Dave F was first, and after spending a while getting a feel for the ground handling and listening to advice from a half-dozen people (some of whom probably contradicted each other), he had a good launch, turned a little late… and sledded to the beach. We jogged down to give him a hand, and he asked what he had done wrong. Nothing, I told him, other than making it hard for himself to carry the glider back up the beach after landing by turning it away from the wind, and… WTF is that stench?! His other mistake was stopping right next to the rotting seal carcass (I took a picture, but I’ll spare you).

I think Mike A was next, and he got the same kibitzing treatment as Dave, but having had the opportunity to watch a launch, he was able to catch the lift band and soar, and he was followed by Dave on a second try, and he succeeded as well. I helped wire off a few other pilots, then went across the street to get my wing. By this point it was after 2 PM, and I decided to not bother with fussy details like hooking up my radio, I just suited up and had my friends assist me in getting back across the road. Straight in, wind felt good, I could control the glider easily, and people were soaring: no reason to futz around, I just took off immediately.

thanks for the awesome picture, Nancy!

Kind of a standard flight plan, I headed north as far as Newcomb Hollow, then flew back past launch and headed down to Nauset.

There were a few other wings ahead of me, and I was gaining on most of them, while maintaining more altitude, at least for a while. When we were approaching Marconi beach, I glanced away for a moment, and when I looked back, one of the gliders appeared to be on the ground, on top. Hmm, that’s unusual, but it looked like he was moving around. I saw that Jon was on his way back, so I continued on, figuring that he’d look to see if the pilot was okay, and when I was heading back from the lighthouse, I checked in on him as well. By that point he had started to break his glider down, and he gave me a thumbs up. I pointed toward Marconi Beach, in case he didn’t realize that that was the closest parking lot. He did in fact carry his gear over there, and hitchhiked back to launch.

The eastern shore of Cape Cod is constantly eroding, and has been for a very long time. Houses like this:

are in peril, and before long (a few years? a decade?) will be condemned and will fall off the cliff if they aren’t demolished first. That’s why this blew my mind:

It appears to be new construction, just a few yards from the crumbling sandy bluff. What is somebody thinking? They must be paying cash, because I can’t imagine any bank would lend money for a project like that. I can’t even understand how the town would issue them a building permit.

Anyway, shortly after that, I encountered a lesser disaster:

Another unplanned top landing, though this one resulted in some bent aluminum (but no injury). The beach can seem like a casual place to fly, but it does sometimes feel a need to show us who’s boss. I continued north to Newcomb Hollow again, when John B was hanging out really high up. I thought about trying to make the crossing, and in preparation got as much altitude as I could manage, about 370 feet, but not as high as John. Jon A showed up and went for it, and it looked like it was close, but he made it across. I made three tentative attempts at it, but the wind was getting pretty strong, and every time, it felt like I was really sinking fast. In my mind, I was getting about halfway before turning around, but the GPS track shows that I was really getting barely farther than the parking lot. I was also not really in the mood to land out and have to deal with getting back to my car. As it turned out, Ross and Stacy had been up to Highland Light and back, and Jon made it up there, but on the way back, he just fell out of the sky trying to cross Ballston Beach.

Stacy

I was flying the Ultrasport, because I had (correctly) anticipated strong winds, and I was glad to have the higher performance, although I never pulled the VG past 1/2, because it’s so hard to pull on that glider (compared to my U2). As I got the last of my airtime for the day, I spent some time just hovering in place, pointing straight out toward the water, and to move forward took quite a bit of bar pressure. When I’d had enough, I flew back to White Crest, used the low section of the bluff to escape from the lift, wrangled my way through the bumpy air down near the sand, and had a reasonably decent landing pretty close to the parking lot.

John B

Mark G

Usually there’s a dead spot at the base of the bluff, but the wind was picking up enough that Mark’s glider was sliding up the slope as he was breaking it down. I took my harness up first and brought my car over close to launch, then Kevin helped me carry my glider up the ramp. It was blowing so hard (somebody said 35 mph) that we had trouble putting it on my roof rack as we were getting mercilessly sandblasted. A good time to be done, as darkness was also approaching, and it started raining soon after I started homeward. I made it to Nancy’s house in time to catch most of the second half of the football game that I passed within about four miles of on the way (Patriots are heading for the Super Bowl). And so 2017 begins.

flights:1, airtime: 1:30

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2016 in review

This is where I annually post my grouchy holiday message that it was a crummy flying year.

I didn’t do a whole lot of flying in 2016, in large part because I had a lot of other stuff going on. I had more airtime than in 2015, but that’s not saying much; prior to that, only 2007, my first year of mountain flying, had (barely) less airtime. 12 flying days is a tie with 2015 for the fewest for any year in that time, and 16 flights is more than only the 15 in 2012. The year ended on a low note, when I almost managed to finally fly Mt. Tom, but instead blew launch, did some minor damage to my Falcon, and ended up hiking everything back down the mountain.

But the year wasn’t actually bad, it had some nice highlights. After not having flown at the beach the past couple of years, I went to Wellfleet three times, and managed for only the second time to jump the northern gaps and make it up to Highland Light. A nice late evening flight in May at Tanner-Hiller took me to the second-highest altitude I’ve ever reached (7520 feet). My one flight at Ascutney this year had me looking like I knew what I was doing, launching early and staying up when almost everybody had sunk out. And in August, I had what was in some sense my first “real” XC flight, as I just headed out from the mountain (Burke) with no destination in mind or any idea of what lay ahead of me, just staying up as long as I had lift and then landing in a completely unfamiliar field.

This was the first time that I flew all four of my gliders in a single year, at least two flights on each of them. (Seriously, though, four wings is too many, and I don’t need two beach gliders — anybody want one?). Also on the plus side this year seemed to have been without the disaster rate of the previous year. I’m certainly not the only one around here who blew a launch, I was around for a couple of landings that took out downtubes, and a friend of mine on a flying trip elsewhere had a spectacular incident, but I’m not aware of any serious injuries in these parts. And my own landings were generally pretty good.

All things considered, 2016 wasn’t such a bad year as far as hang gliding was concerned, compared with a lot of the other crap that happened. For instance, a lot of people did die, but they tended to be musicians and other admired, famous folk.

By the numbers:
Months flown: 7 (Mar-Aug, Oct)
Flying days: 12
Days when I showed up with my gear but didn’t fly: 4
Flights: 16 (10 foot-launch, 6 aerotow; 10 soaring, 5 sledders, 1 early tow release)
Sites flown: 7 (Morningside, Wellfleet, Tanner-Hiller, West Rutland, Talcott, Ascutney, Burke)
New sites: none
Gliders flown: 4 (Vision MkIV 17, Ultrasport 147, Falcon 2 170, U2 145)
Longest flight (time): 2:27:48 (May 21, West Rutland)
Longest flight (XC distance): 6.6 km (August 27, Burke to East Lyndon)
Total flight time: 13:49
Max altitude: 7520 feet (May 20, Tanner-Hiller, from a tow to 4630 feet)
Damage: 1 bent downtube (Falcon), 1 bent control bar (Falcon), 2 abraded batten ends/strings (Ultrasport)
Injuries: stubbed toe

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Mt. Tom, almost


I’ve wanted to fly Mt. Tom for quite a while, and I finally got a chance to show up, with Jon A and a bunch of other PG pilots. I could make a long story out of this, but the short version is that at a site where it’s important to launch well, it doesn’t work out if you launch very poorly — see picture above. I ended up in the bushes, they helped me carry the glider back up, and I packed up and went home. No injury, and only minor damage to the glider, nothing that would make me hesitate to fly it if I were being chased by zombies.

It’s been that kind of week. As I write this on Wednesday night, the Check Engine light in my car has come on.

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Beach weather


There’s a particular weather forecast that Jon A describes as a chocolate eclair. It’s when conditions are just exactly right for flying at Wellfleet. I think I had looked at the forecast early in the week and it showed barely any wind at all, so it wasn’t even on my radar when Pete J posted a note on Wednesday morning asking if anybody was thinking of flying on Thursday. Kevin said he was considering it, and I took a look and sure enough, it looked promising. There was a bit of dispute about the timing of the tides, but it boiled down to low tide being in the morning, so flying early should work. I had a 2 PM meeting at work, but figured I could still make it as long as I left the Cape by 11:30, and the coworker in charge of the meeting said that my attendance wasn’t really essential anyway. So I hit the road Wednesday night after the last Clinton/Trump presidential debate, and spent the night with my friend George, who lives on the Cape about 40 minutes from Wellfleet.

I woke up repeatedly during the night, each time glancing at the clock and realizing with relief that it wasn’t time to get up yet. At 6 AM I did get up, slipped out the door, and headed for White Crest Beach. Pete had posted a message at 5:22 AM saying that he was on his way (from Boston), and he arrived shortly before me. Neither of us had managed to bring a wind meter, but the wind seemed to be straight in, the velocity felt good, and it was warm! 60 degrees at sunrise, which is quite a contrast from the typical day at this winter-only site. The sun peeked over the horizon just as I started setting up my glider. I have two beach gliders these days (too many, anybody want one?), and I had selected the Mark IV, figuring that conditions might be light and I might as well bring the larger wing.

George came by about 7:30, and just as Pete was ready, Kevin rolled in as well. We helped Pete bring his glider out to launch, and he quickly confirmed that it was soarable (Kevin had a wind meter, and I think he said it was 15-18 mph). No reason to wait, so I finished my preflight, gobbled down half a doughnut, and walked my glider across the road. The forecast had predicted that it would be gusty, but as far as I could tell, that never happened, it was perfectly smooth the whole time we were there. Launching was a piece of cake, I didn’t need any assistance, the wind lifted the glider off my shoulders, and I pretty much just picked my feet up and I was flying.

Pete was off to the north, so I headed up that way, and went up to Doane’s Bog Pond, the first small gap. It looked like it would be easy enough to cross, but just in case it wasn’t, I didn’t want the flight to end embarrassingly early, and I turned and headed south to follow Pete. I radioed back to George that we were headed down to Nauset, and we made our way to the easier of the two lighthouses. The wind was very slightly cross from the right, which makes this trip even easier, and strong enough that I had no trouble at all crossing the slightly dicey section between launch and Lecount Hollow. I was able to pretty much keep up with Pete’s faster Sport 2, and on the way he appeared to be surrounded by a big flock of gulls (though he said from his perspective, he didn’t notice that).


At the Nauset parking lot, I did a few swooping turns for the amusement of some beachgoers. On the trip back, I spotted a seal in the surf — there were probably plenty of them out there, but I only noticed the one. The trip back was uneventful, and this time when I got to Doane’s, I went ahead and crossed it and flew up to Newcomb Hollow to check that out. I was able to get pretty good altitude just before it, and the crossing looked feasible, but I decided to hold off on that for a bit. Pete and I spent the next while shuttling back and forth between launch and Newcomb, not wanting to take the chance until we had racked up a decent amount of airtime, and also waiting for Kevin to finish setting up so he could join us in the air.


I didn’t see Kevin launch, but I spotted him a few seconds later, heading north but a bit low. He had waited for a lull in order to be able to more easily handle the glider, and turned a little late, missing the lift band. I suspected that he’d sink out, and I was right, in about 30 seconds he was down. His nose went over gently, and I commented on the radio that George would need to help him bring the wing back up to try again. However, when I flew over, I saw what appeared to be a bent downtube. Sure enough, he had caught a corner of his control frame on the ground and the left downtube crumpled, spelling the end to his flying for the day. In a weird twist, he ended up needing medical care, but not for any kind of injury from the landing. Instead, he broke out in a massive case of hives, apparently being allergic to something at the beach (he’d had a similar reaction on his previous visit to Wellfleet).

So, it was just Pete and me. On his previous flight here, he had tried to cross Newcomb Hollow, but hadn’t made it across. He asked what I wanted to do, and I said I was thinking of letting him try first, because his glider has VG. He replied that he was thinking of letting me try first, because my glider doesn’t. Somebody had to try, so I was willing to be the one. I crossed Doane’s again, and got as much altitude as I could and worked my way out toward the water, then went for it. For a while, it seemed like there was enough lift to maintain my altitude, but then the descending glide kicked in, and it looked like my glide slope would be enough. I got to the bluff on the north side of the gap, and it took a few hundred yards to be sure that I was solidly in the lift, then I radioed that I was soaring on the north side, and Pete called back, “Nicely done”.

Around this point, I missed the shark. It was a dead shark, that Pete said was 6-8 feet long, washed up on the beach, and there was a group of people around it taking pictures, but I was too focused on what I was doing to pay any attention to what was going on underneath me. I did fly through my own big flock of gulls.

But shortly after that, I saw the whales.

Glancing out to sea, I saw the distinctive plume of a whale spouting, and then more spouts close by, and watching more, I saw other groups. I keyed my radio and said, “Whales! There are whales out there, Pete!”. He said he thought it was just whitecaps, but I could tell the difference, and I could also see the occasional fluke poking out of the water. (Later, after landing, he watched and agreed that it was whales, and from the beach I could also their backs from time to time.)

I’ve flown down south to Nauset many times, but up here on the north side where I had been only once before, it was adventure territory. Pete crossed Newcomb, but I was quite a way ahead of him, so I turned back briefly to sample the crosswind: I could still make progress going back, but it was slow progress. The next obstacle was Ballston Beach, which looked different from what I remembered. I think the erosion on the southern part of that gap has improved the situation from a soaring point of view, because the ocean has chewed its way into some higher ground and created more of a bluff, but north of the parking lot, it’s completely flat, with waves at high tide washing clear over into the marsh that drains across to the bay, thereby making North Truro and Provincetown intermittently an island (and maybe that will become permanent before too long). With the tailwind component, crossing that gap was pretty easy, and it was onward to Highland Lighthouse.

I didn’t push my luck by going very far past the lighthouse, and when I turned around, I was pretty much parked. I considered the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to make any southerly progress at all, and would have to go a bit further north and land at the Coast Guard beach, but I pulled in some more and was able to crawl forward without sinking out. So, patience, patience, and I worked my way back,and as the shoreline curled around, the headwind gradually lessened. But the Ballston Beach gap looked pretty wide from this direction. I doubled back to the tallest part of the bluff and slowed down to get as much altitude as I could, then pulled in for best glide speed and gave it a shot. A pathetic attempt, I think I got a little more than halfway across, but I’d had the foresight (pessimism?) to unzip, so I got upright, and had a landing that was the complement of my launch: I slowed to a stop just above the sand, and didn’t need to flare, I just put my feet down. There was enough wind for the glider to keep flying once my weight was off it, so I kited it over behind the dune next to the parking lot and set it down, then grabbed my camera and went out to cheer Pete on.

He also got as high as possible, and with full VG and still zipped up, he went for the crossing. I thought he very nearly made it, he thought he was pretty short, but in any case he went further than I did and coasted in for a gentle belly landing (turned out that he was still zipped up because he forgot). Since the zipper on a pod harness is on the bottom, I knew he was kind of trapped until I came by to unhook him (been there, done that), and he therefore had to pose for pictures.

Pete got in touch with Kevin by phone, and he relayed to George where we were, and George hopped in my car to come pick us up. While we were packing up, a young lady stopped by and asked what we were doing, and when she heard that we were hang gliding, she said that was something she’d always wanted to do. Pete always carries business cards to refer interested people to Morningside Flight Park for lessons, and it turns out that her sister lives near there, so maybe we’ll see her in the sky at some point.

OK, so, that 2 PM meeting… well, I had to stop for gas on the way back, and I needed something to eat so I grabbed a sub, and those things slowed me down a bit. By the time I was approaching the office I had already missed enough of the meeting, and it was still such a nice day… ah, screw it. I took the rest of the day off and went mountain biking.

flights: 1, airtime: 2:13, XC distance: depends on how you look at it. I landed 8 km from launch, but if you consider the lighthouses as turnpoints, then it was more like 35 km.

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A foliage peek


I had been looking at the forecast for Wellfleet for several days, and it had looked like Saturday was a promising day. But as the time grew nearer, a high pressure system got closer and it looked like the wind would be too light. People started chatting about the possibilities for West Rutland, though. This was a little odd, as Wellfleet is a NE site and West Rutland a SW site, and you wouldn’t typically expect the wind direction to be right for both of them on the same day. When the time for the decision arrived, I decided to join the crowd in the mountains, with hopes of viewing the Vermont foliage at peak. As it turned out, Jon A did go to to the beach, and found light conditions that allowed him to get an early flight with his PG.

Tom L was interested in heading to Rutland, so we met and took my car up. Tom had brought his PG, so he hopped in the first truck heading up the mountain, while I looked around for somebody who could carry my HG. Bill G had a rack consisting of just two bars with a ladder for his wing, but it was simple enough to take my ladder with the glider on it and just transfer it to his truck, and Kevin W did likewise, and with the three ladders we headed up the mountain. We were relatively early to arrive, but more kept coming; by my count, there were eventually 20 hang gliders up there, and probably about the same number of paragliders. This brought concerns that it was going to get crowded in the air, but these fears turned out to be unfounded.

We all set up, and PGs started launching, but there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm among the HG crowd, as, despite the fact that the PGs were soaring, the wind was pretty light for our needs. I had the pleasure of finally meeting Ryan V who had come up from Ellenville; I’ve interacted with him on the internet for years, and I own a glider that used to be his, but we’d never happened to be in the same place at the same time before. He stepped up to be the first to launch with his T2C, with John S and his ATOS close behind him. I noted that this was going to give the rest of us no information about the conditions, because if those two ace pilots could stay up, it was no indication that any of the rest of could.


Ryan immediately got above launch, and soon swung back and buzzed launch at a zillion miles per hour. That was the beginning of the end, though, as he started getting lower and lower. He worked some bits of light lift tenaciously, and almost looked like he might pull off a low save, but ended up in Ducky’s LZ, which, thanks to the extreme drought this year, was completely usable instead of being a big shallow swamp.


Meanwhile, John didn’t fare any better, and we were dismayed to see him headed the same way. My prediction turned out to be wrong, because the fact that those two didn’t stay up was a pretty strong indication that there was no hope for the rest of us. And we continued waiting.


You can’t wait forever, though. Various pilots would either work up the gumption or lose their patience (depending on how you looked at it) and launch into a promising cycle, only to take another sled ride. The PGs who launched in between almost all got right up and soared, and we looked up at them, thinking they might present a traffic concern, but none of the HGs were getting high enough for that to be an issue. Ilya brought us some hope, though. He had done some damage to his Sport 2 at Wellfleet the previous week, so he was flying his tired old Falcon instead, and a single surface seemed like it might be the best bet in these conditions. Sure enough, he came back above launch and was able to hang in there. That was all it took to get a bunch of lemmings to jump off the cliff, myself included.

By the time it was my turn, it wasn’t like the other HGs were all specked out. They were sinking, maybe even Ilya by this point. But you can’t wait forever, and it was already 3 PM, so it was time to take my shot. I picked a less mediocre looking moment, ran down the ramp, and turned left. People had been trying various strategies, but I hadn’t seen anyone go for the approach of hugging the contours of the ridge tightly, so that’s what I tried. If the purpose of the trip was to have a flight over spectatular foliage, then I succeeded completely. The colors as viewed from the ramp had been pretty nice, but when I got around the spine into the bowl, there was an explosion of color, even to these colorblind eyes. I figured I might not be up for long, so I’d better take some pictures while I had the chance. They came out blurry, and the colors on the screen are nothing compared to what I saw in person, but here’s a taste.

After one long pass all the way to the west end of the ridge, I turned back and made my way back to launch, but got there having lost 400 feet of altitude. My method clearly wasn’t working, so I headed out toward the valley to hope for a thermal. It always feels encouraging to leave the mountain, because the terrain drops away and it looks like your altitude is increasing, and that’s a pleasant illusion. The vario beeped a little at the beginning, and then again as I got closer to the highway. I took one shot at catching that bit of lift, but only succeeded in exploiting the sink next to it, and the resulting spiral dive left me concerned that I wouldn’t be able to reach the LZ. I pulled on some VG for good measure and stopped fooling around, arriving at the field safely, but with enough altitude for only a single S-turn before going on final. I inadvertently left the VG on slightly, which may have contributed to the very crisp flare, resulting in a no-step landing and bumping the ground with my keel.


HGs continued to rain down out of the sky for a bit, but conditions did eventually improve, and for the last half-dozen or so, who waited the longest, the air finally agreed to hold them up, and they had sweet soaring flights. And Tom, my traveling companion? He had been among the very first to launch, and he landed a little after I finished packing up my glider, with a 3h45m flight. Awesome!

flights:1, airtime: 0:09

Posted in Flying days, West Rutland | Leave a comment

Special permission


The last weekend in August was coming up, and I hadn’t flown in a month due to other commitments, so I wanted to try and get something in. Jon A brought up the idea of heading to Burke, in northern Vermont, and tried to drum up some enthusiasm among HG pilots (PG is usually flown more by PG pilots, though it’s a decent HG site as well.) His suggestion was that a Falcon would be a good glider choice for that site if you had one. It sounded like a number of us were up for it, and Jeff C asked if anybody wanted to carpool, so I picked him up and off we went.

I think we were probably at least 2/3 of the way there when we got a phone message saying that somebody heard there was a road race at Burke that day, but they weren’t sure, but if so, the road to launch would be closed. Maybe not a problem, I figured, since runners usually like to get an early start for races in the heat of the summer, and we could probably drive up the road after the race was over. Jeff started looking for a phone number to call and ask, but I suggested just googling “burke hillclimb” and see if anything popped up. It did, and… uh oh… not a running race at all, but a three-day car race. Jeff has done some racing, and said that they usually take a lunch break at this sort of event, and maybe we could get up to launch then. I was skeptical, and we started discussing other options, like towing at Morningside (but I didn’t have my tow gear), or diverting to Ascutney, or maybe just going for a hike (but Jeff wasn’t dressed for that). I had my mountain bike in the car, so one possibility was to drop him off at Morningside and then I could just go for a ride. We got messages that the other pilots were turning around, but we decided to continue to Burke and see what was up.

We were greeted with disappointment. As we were approaching, we saw a car with a hang glider on the roof heading the other way, and when we got to the base of the toll road, the gate was locked with a sign saying “Closed all weekend for private function”. Oh well, we tried, time for Plan B. I turned the car around, and when we had gone about a mile, Jeff’s phone rang, and it was Tom saying that there were about 20 PG pilots gathered, and they had gotten special permission to make one trip up the road at 11:30 to drop everybody off. So another U-turn, and we met up with everybody at the parking lot near the LZ.

There were two pickup trucks loaded with all the PG people, but we needed to take my car because it had a HG rack — Jeff and I were the only HG pilots there. We caravaned over to the campground entrance entrance to the toll road, signed waivers, and waited for our designated break in the action. It seemed like things were turning our way, but there were still obstacles to overcome. We had two drivers to bring the trucks down, but I was going to have to drive my own car down and hike back up. I don’t mind the hike, and Jeff said he’d carry both of our harnesses and gliders down to the setup area and offered to put my glider together as well. When we got to the place where we normally park, the race marshalls had us move the cars much further off the paved road than usual, because we were at a hairpin switchback, and as it turned out, they were going to run the next race heat while we were unloading. They wanted to make sure we were well out of the way in the unlikely circumstance that a car were to blow the corner. Unfortunately, this meant that I was being directeded to back down a fairly steep, poorly graded access road, and as I did so, with my tires sliding, I got a sinking feeling that I might not be able to get back up it.

We unloaded the people and gear, and waited for the race cars to finish screaming by so that we could drive down. Tom pointed out that the P2 who had launched on what was supposed to be a sledder was hitting thermal after thermal, so we shouldn’t waste any time in getting ready. It was time to drive down, so I told the two trucks to go first, and as I suspected, I had no luck trying to drive up the hill — my car is great, but one of its shortcomings is climbing when the traction is bad. I backed up halfway across the ski slope to get a running start, and with gravel flying I made it up on the next try. Down the toll road we went, and when I spotted the guy who seemed to be in charge at the bottom, I asked if anybody was going to be driving up to bring the race workers down for lunch. He said yes, but the truck would be full. I said I only needed a ride up, and he said that the truck was empty in that direction, so I quickly stashed my car and was back up at launch before Jeff even had time to move all of the gear to the setup area.

There were plenty of PG pilots up there, but we found enough space to set up our gliders while they were launching and there were only a few left by the time we were ready. Stefan was one of the last in line, and we discussed how many Pfams of epicness the day looked to be. He asked if I was planning to go XC, and I replied that I’m not really an XC pilot, and this was going to be an unusual day for me because I’d be landing someplace that I couldn’t see from launch (the “Hidden LZ” at Burke isn’t visible until you get into the air). In general the PGs were soaring well, but a few of them had some challenges trying to get launched.

I found my slot in the launch order and moved down to the steep part of the slope. I glanced around to see who else was in the vicinity and waited for some traffic to clear, but one of the PGs who flew over said “Don’t launch right now, J-J, it’s a down cycle”. Sure enough, nobody was climbing, so I cooled my heels for six or seven minutes and watched what was going on. At first, everybody was on glide, but then one wing directly out front started turning. And climbing. Quite well. And two others joined him. I waited as they drifted closer to the mountain… and I just needed enough breeze for a safe launch run… and I got it, cleared, and was off, and headed directly for that thermal. I was rewarded with one of the best initial climbs I’ve ever had, 10 turns in five minutes during which I gained over 2000 feet. Yeah!

All was not well, though. To begin with, I was all tangled. My harness suspension lines were all fine, I had verified that during my hang check, but I had other issues. The first was that one of the harness zip cords had gotten wrapped around my foot; that was easy enough to straighten out. The second was that the wire for my push-to-talk button was routed around the outside of my left downtube, again, a simple matter of taking the PTT off of my finger and pulling it around. The third snafu was more of a problem, though. The wire from my radio to my helmet wasn’t going over my shoulder, it was under my armpit, and it was too short for that. I tried in vain a couple of times to get the wire past my elbow, but had to give up. Meanwhile, Jeff had launched shortly after me, caught the sink on the back of my thermal, and was on an express trip toward the ground. I radioed that I was going to have to disconnect my headset, and managed to reach back to the connector and unscrew it, which was a lot more comfortable, but cut off my communication with Jeff.

I bounced around between 4000 and 5000 feet MSL over the mountain for about 15 minutes, catching myself a couple of times when I drifted too far back — it wouldn’t have been a concern with the U2, but with the Falcon I needed to be careful about not being able to penetrate. A bunch of the PGs caught a great thermal and disappeared up to cloudbase and off to the southwest, and I was still at the mountain with a few others. I could have kept looking for lift around the ski area, but Jeff was already on the ground, and I kind of didn’t want to go to the Hidden LZ if I didn’t have to, because it slopes the wrong direction and generally isn’t considered a great place to land (when I had flown at Burke in the past, I had landed in a different field that’s no longer available because a hotel got built there). So I did something that I’ve never really done before: with no specific destination in mind, I just said I didn’t know where I was going, but I was going. And I went.

The valley heading to the SW had some decent looking fields, so I picked the closest one and headed in that direction, with my fingers crossed that I’d find some lift. I still had plenty of altitude when I got there, so I looked ahead to the next field, and the one after that, trying to figure out which ones were mowed hayfields (good) and not horse pastures (bad), and which ones were level, or at least sloping the right way. I did find some lift and climbed a bit, which allowed me to stretch things out a bit further.

Down to 1000 feet AGL or so, without any more convincing lift, it was time to commit to an LZ. A large mowed back yard in East Lyndon looked like the best choice, so I S-turned my way down over the treeline, and had a nice gentle Falcon landing. I’ve not often dropped in uninvited on someone’s property, but the homeowners were very friendly, and in fact I was greeted by Murphy and his boy Lucas offering me cherry tomatoes.

I packed up quickly enough and got in touch with Jeff on the phone and texted him my location. Jon called as I was breaking down and asked how things had gone, and as I was waiting by the road, a car slowed and backed up; it was Sue, who had landed in a farmer’s field and he was driving her back to Burke. I said that Jeff was on his way to pick me up, and sent them on their way. Jeff called and said that his phone wasn’t finding the address, and asked me to drop a pin in Google Maps and send that instead, but then he couldn’t get a data connection, so he stopped and asked for directions. The directions weren’t so good, and the GPS that I keep in my car was being finicky, so what we finally did was to have me pull the map up on my phone and talk him in on speakerphone, since I was in a good location for a data connection. Problem solved!

Turns out that this was the third-longest XC flight I’ve ever done, by a small margin. Not so long in terms of airtime, but it was definitely a beautiful day to be outdoors in Vermont.

flights: 1, airtime: 0:38, XC distance: 6.6 km

Posted in Flying days, other | Leave a comment