2017 in review

OK, this year I really didn’t fly very much.

Numerous factors contributed to this, but the main one was probably that my mother died in March. No need for sympathy, Mom lived longer than anyone in her family tree ever had, was still going strong in her own house that she heated with wood, and was driving her own car, until a sudden and rapid decline. Most importantly, she still had all her marbles right until the end. But I’m the executor of her estate, and dealing with that, including getting her house ready to sell, took some of my time (and will continue to for a bit longer).

I consider myself primarily a mountain foot-launch pilot, but I had only one mountain flight this year, a sledder at Ascutney. I also had two beach days (one of which I had to cut short due to glider problems), and all the rest was towing. I had the fewest days since my first years of training at Morningside, and the least airtime (by a large margin) since I started flying mountains. I did at least have one decently high flight. And I picked up a new skill, static winch towing, though there’s plenty of work left to be done on that.

By the numbers:
Months flown: 6 (Jan, Mar, May, Jul, Sep, Oct)
Flying days: 8
Days when I showed up with my gear but didn’t fly: none that I can recall, unless I brought my stuff to the Greylock work party, not really expecting to get a chance
Flights: 16 (3 foot-launch, 4 aerotow, 9 static winch; 2 soaring, 2 extended sledders, 11 sledders, 1 prudent early landing)
Sites flown: 4 (Wellfleet, Tanner-Hiller, Ascutney, Good Hill Farm)
New sites: 1 (Good Hill Farm)
Gliders flown: 4 (Ultrasport 147, U2 145, 2 Falcon 170s belonging to Greg S and Michael S)
Longest flight (time): 1:30:42 (Jan 22, Wellfleet)
Longest flight (XC distance): 3.15 km (July 4, Ascutney sledder)
Total flight time: 5:11
Max altitude: 6073 feet (July 5, Tanner-Hiller, from a tow to 5180 feet)
Damage: 1 broken downtube (Ultrasport)
Injuries: none

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Not that kind of wench

[100 pop-culture points to anyone who gets the reference in the title]

Years ago, there was a hang gliding school in Connecticut called Tek Flight Products. They stopped doing instruction about a decade ago, but some of the Connecticut pilots had learned there, and remembered that they had a static winch. This is a device for getting a hang glider into the air without a mountain or a tow plane, and some folks from the club talked to the proprietors and arranged to acquire said winch. There was a minor problem that nobody knew how to operate it or to get towed up with it.

Last year, they scheduled a clinic, and arranged for an experienced tow instructor to come down from Ontario and provide a remedy for that. Unfortunately, several weekends of unsuitable weather got in the way, and the clinic had to be postponed. I had thought that it might happen in the spring, but it wasn’t until autumn that arrangements could be made. About 15 pilots signed on, three consecutive weekends were chosen (in the hopes that one of them would work), and the instructor was again contracted to help us out. The schedule was for an evening of classroom instruction (held at a yoga studio owned by my friends Charlie and Rhonda (thanks!)), and two days of hands-on at Good Hill Farm airport in Roxbury, CT.

The instructor was the venerable Michael Robertson, of High Perspective. He gave us several hours of instruction and demonstrations of how the tow line release works, with the main emphasis being on the communication and safety aspects of the whole operation. One of the pilots in attendance appeared to be skeptical of the very concept, and was there perhaps primarily to save the rest of us from ourselves, but he did show up the following two days and participated.

I was a little late arriving Saturday morning (we were scheduled to start at 8 AM), but that was okay because there was a bunch of stuff that needed to be done before we were ready to start. Kevin had been doing some maintenance work on the winch, but he still had some issues to work out. The winch uses a two-cylinder Briggs & Stratton engine, that runs a hydraulic pump. That in turn drives a hydraulic motor that provides a controlled torque to the winch drum. The result is a constant tension in the tow line, which provides some significant safety advantages over other forms of towing, in particular, if the pilot gets off line, the tow forces will not increase, and as a result there are virtually never weak-link breaks. This particular winch is pretty old, and has some shortcomings. One is that the lever that adjusts the hydraulic pressure is very short, thereby not providing for subtle control, so one of the first orders of business was to add an extender (a piece of tomato stake attached with ductape and zip ties). The winch also does not have a level-wind mechanism, so it was going to be up to the pilots to stay centered on the winch so that the rope wouldn’t all pile up on one side of the drum. And the rope that was on it was some braided yellow poly stuff, not the preferred Spectra line, but that wouldn’t be a big deal for the introductory towing that we’d be doing.

With this big crowd of newcomers to this aspect of hang gliding, we were fortunate that Jon A came down for the first day. He had worked with Michael in the past and has extensive winch towing experience, so he was able to be the first test pilot, as well as giving instruction at launch while Michael operated the winch. The wind on Saturday was a bit cross, coming primarily from the NW (the runway is oriented almost directly N-S), so we had to set up the tow diagonally, which meant that the winch was significantly downhill from launch, and we wouldn’t be able to have very much tow distance. I started out observing from the winch end, and Jon set up for the first tow. The first thing that we learned was that the engine on the winch is too loud, such that the winch operator could not hear anything on the radio. We started out with me standing about 10 meters away so that I could hear the radio, and relaying the calls with hand signals, though later we switched over to having a flag man at launch to do the signalling.

Jon’s first tow was successful, except that he got only a few feet off the ground, despite the fact that Michael was running the winch full-out. That didn’t portend well, although we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that Jon, who is quite tall, was likely the heaviest pilot in attendance, and that for initial training, we didn’t really need to get very far off the ground anyway. But it did suggest that maybe this winch would not meet our expectations of being able to tow us up to soaring altitudes. Jon did another couple of short tows to work the bugs out of the system, then others of us stepped up for a try. We had several Falcon 170 and Falcon 195 wings set up to share, thanks to the generosity of their owners, and were using training harnesses that Michael had brought along with tow releases already set up on them.

video by Steve W.

Early on, we had a pretty sketchy operation going. The winch was underpowered, the pilots had trouble remembering the verbal signals to give, many couldn’t remember that the harnesses we were using didn’t work well if you moved your hands to the control bar, communication was dubious, the winch operator couldn’t see launch very well due to the shape of the terrain, etc. Plus we were towing downhill, and HG pilots don’t like to be facing a downhill landing, so most were releasing very early, after just a few seconds. At least one started on a too-small glider and got dragged across the field on the wheels. I had one try where I got too far off line at the beginning and had to abort because I was heading in the wrong direction. After a bunch of this, we fired up the grills and took a break for lunch.

Two positive things happened during lunch. The first was that the wind straightened out some, so that we were able to set up the winch in a better spot that would allow us to tow almost parallel to the runway. The other was that a couple of the pilots who have some skills with hydraulics looked the winch over and found some adjustments that they could make to increase the tension. Jon took a tow, and it worked! He was able to get up to some more substantial altitude. In particular, he was able to get high enough to transition.

Transitioning is something that happens in winch towing, but not in aerotowing. For the initial low tows that we had been doing, the winch was always out in front of us, just like a tow plane would be. But when you winch tow higher, the line starts pointing further and further downward. The problem with this is that the control bar is in the way. Initially you need the tow line to be above the control bar, but eventually it needs to be below the control bar.

The solution to this is “transitioning”. The tow line ends in two pieces, one longer than the other, and the chest release has two levers. The short line passes above the control bar and connects to the upper lever, and the longer line, which is initially slack, goes under the control bar and connects to the lower lever. When towing, the tension is initially in the shorter upper line until you get to an altitude where it’s pushing down on the control bar. At that point you hit the top lever to release it, and the lower line takes over. This allows you continue until you’re directly over the winch, if conditions permit.

Things started going more smoothly as everyone got used to the process, and a few other pilots tried tows with transition. Woz got one tow that allowed him to turn around, fly back, and land close to launch (there was almost no wind at this point). The afternoon was wearing on, and we were using as much daylight as we could, and I grabbed a glider and went for one as well, deciding to try a transition even though I hadn’t been up since the short, tentative tows of the morning. I got off the ground cleanly, and was determined to stick with it, taking the tow up until the operator dropped the tension, and turning back toward…


I glanced to the west, and the ridge just beyond the edge of the airport was exploding with some of the most intense fall foliage I’ve ever seen. I’m colorblind, but this still blew my socks off. I managed to keep my attention on what I was doing, and landed very close to launch, minimizing the effort of getting ready for the next pilot up.

We also had a moment of anxiety and excitement. One pilot went for his first transition tow, successfully did the first release, then as he approached the winch, the operator dropped the tension, and the rope streamed back behind him where he couldn’t see it. He thought that it must have somehow released, so he just started flying the glider, as everyone on the ground looked up in horror as he was still trailing the rope. We were dreading the possibility that he’d catch it on something on the ground and find himself pulled into a nosedive, or snap it on the electrical wires along the road. Normally the winch operator would grab the hook knife and cut the line so that it would at least not go taut if he flew too far from the winch, but… there was no hook knife there! The winch motor was shut off, and Michael started yelling “RELEASE!! RELEASE!!”. The pilot said that he couldn’t make out what was being said, but he could only think of one reason why somebody would be yelling at him, so he hit the release and all was well. It was probably only 10 seconds or so, just enough to make everybody more careful.

We regrouped the following morning at 8 AM (well, I was a little late again), and we had some changes. First, the hydraulic pressure had been increased even more. Second, the wind was a bit stronger, and now blowing directly out of the south, so we’d be towing in the opposite direction, and could use the entire runway. Third, Michael had added some additional rope that he had brought so that we could manage longer tows. And importantly, Larry took charge of whipping a little discipline on us, in terms of what our roles would be, and what the proper protocols were. This allowed the operation on Sunday to work much better.

There were plenty of jobs to keep everyone busy. At the winch end, Michael started training the local pilots to run the winch, so there was an operator plus someone observing and keeping the log sheet. At the launch end, there was the pilot, plus another pilot getting ready. One person was in charge with a radio to let launch know who was up next, what he weighed, what glider he was flying, and what the flight plan was(the latter quickly became “full tow with transition” for everyone). There was also a flagman giving signals to the winch operator once the engine was running, and a retrieve driver on an off-road go-cart, ready to grab the end of the tow line after it was released, and pull it back to launch for the next pilot. I had done a bunch of retrieve driving on Saturday, and did a lot on Sunday as well, and also put in a lot of time as flag man.

Instead of the five gliders and wandering harnesses that we had used the day before, we switched to using three gliders: a Falcon 170 with a small harness, and two Falcon 195s with medium and large harnesses. We kept the harnesses connected to the gliders, and with efficient line retrieval and pilots generally able to land close to launch, we were able to get fast turnarounds and a lot of flights for everyone.

video by Michael S.

Jon wasn’t able to come the second day, so I stepped up for the first tow, and made an educational mistake. We had a couple of false starts until we got the communication worked out, so that by the time I got into the air, I had forgotten about the transition. I suddenly remembered while I was on my way up, and though I actually had plenty of time, I hastily reached for the release and inadvertently released both levers. It’s easy to do that, and with good reason, because you want to be able to get off the line quickly in case something goes wrong. In fact, it takes a bit of technique to release just the top line, and I did it wrong. No big deal, it just meant that my flight was short. I did a couple of others that went fine, though the wind was picking up and I got a little uncomfortable with the level to which I was getting bounced around. No real need for anxiety, because the nature of the towing equipment minimizes problems in that regard, quite unlike aerotowing.

Another lunch break, this time featuring some delicious homemade sausages, courtesy of Justin, and we were back at it for the afternoon. After a stint as winch operator, Kevin came to the launch end for a tow, and because he wanted to know how high we were managing to get, he strapped on a vario, which was fortunate, because he hit the sweet spot of the day. It had heated up enough that there were some thermals (high clouds came in a bit later and shut that down), and with the vario, he was able to take advantage of them, hanging on for a 27 minute soaring flight, the only one of the weekend.

Michael himself came down for a tow, once he had confidence that the winch operators were competent on their own. And finally, as the clock was winding down and Michael wanted some time for a debriefing, I got a little greedy and slid into line for one last flight. Wanting to cap the day off better than I had started it, I was careful to do everything right, and stayed on the line until I was directly over the winch and they dropped the tension, at an altitude that was 892 feet above launch according to my GPS. Not bad! I milked some time out of the sledder, then carved some expressive S-turns near the ground, and topped it off with a sweet no-step landing.

Winch towing does look like it has a lot of potential, and it has some surprising differences to what we’ve been used to. You get off the ground very quickly, and the climb rate is impressive, even with this relatively low-end winch. The piloting on tow is quite unfamiliar, because we’ve become accustomed to almost always pulling in to some degree, but while under tow you need to let the glider fly at trim. This starts even before launching, because whereas we’re used to being told to keep the nose low when foot launching at mountain sites, here we were constantly telling pilots to get the nose higher. Once flying, the trim nose angle is also very high, which can be disconcerting. The angle of attack is still normal, because the airflow is based on the direction of travel, and “down” from the glider’s perspective becomes the direction of the tow rope, though the pilot still feels normal, “real” gravity. And the chest-mounted release mechanism is a new piece of gear to get used to.

The weekend was a complete success. There were no mishaps, no injuries, nothing worse than grass stains (well, there was one minor rope burn to a leg that happened in the last couple of feet as the rope was being pulled back to the waiting glider). And Michael proclaimed us all successfully trained in stationary winch towing. There is another aspect of it, step towing, that will allow us to get higher, but we didn’t expect to get to that, and there’s tentatively a club trip planned up to Ontario next year to learn how to step tow, once we have more experience and are comfortable towing with our own gliders and harnesses.

As a nice bonus to cap everything off at the end, we were treated to an impromptu airshow by two local biplane pilots.

Saturday: flights 3, airtime 30 sec, 30 sec, 90 sec
Sunday: flights 6, airtime 30 sec, 2m15s, 2 min, 2 min, 3m15s, 4m20s

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Schedules and weather being what they are, I hadn’t been in the air for well over two months. There had been a few opportunities that I had passed up for various reasons, but Sunday came around looking reasonably favorable for a day of towing, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. When I arrived at 11 AM there were already quite a few people setting up, and I didn’t waste a moment doing so myself. With reasonable care and diligence, as well as a little time to chat with other pilots, I was ready to go at 12:30 and put my wing in line at the SW end of the runway.

Flying had been going on since before I arrived, but not much in the way of soaring. It was the most solid blue sky I’ve ever seen, not a cloud in sight all day. It was quite warm, probably close to 90 F (at one point the thermometer in my car, parked in a grassy field in the sun, claimed 97 F), but it was hot all the way up, with the temperature at 6000 feet predicted to be nearly 60 F. As a result, it was very stable, with nothing going up or down.

We had a little bit of unwanted excitement when one of the pilots, flying a trike, came in for a landing and had a prop strike. Everybody looked up, and most went over to see if he needed help. He was fine, but not so much for his equipment. It turned out that the right rear axle had snapped on landing, with the wheel rolling away and the rest of the chassis dropping to the ground. We helped him roll the crippled ultralight back to the hangar area, where he broke down and assessed what repairs would be needed.

I believe we had 11 gliders waiting in line for a tow at one point, and Rhett was pulling them up as fast as possible. When I had moved up to second in line, there was a delay while he took the tug back to hangar for refueling and to deal with some other business. CT John B was waiting on the cart when Rhett was ready to go again. This was John’s third flight on his new Sport 2, and when Rhett came to hook him up, they discussed the conditions, which by that point (around 3 PM) had the potential to be a bit active. More of a concern, though, was the wind direction, which was tailing, and had been pretty consistently for a while. Rhett won’t tell you what to do, but he will drop hints, and he was kind of suggesting that it wouldn’t be ideal to take off with a tailwind, due to the unpleasantness of a downwind landing if there were a low weak-link break. The hint was taken, and John (and the rest of us) made the migration to the other end of the airfield. I had it easy since I was on deck, and my glider was therefore already on the other cart, so I pushed it down the taxiway and was the first to arrive.

Jon A and Mike A

We had agreed on a radio frequency, but since it didn’t really look like I’d be sharing the air with anyone else in these conditions, I didn’t bother to plug in my headset. My tow went quite smoothly in the easy conditions, feeling like I had better control of my position than usual. Perceptions from the air can be funny: at one point Rhett towed me very far to the west, so far that I could see that we were nearly at Quabbin Reservoir. Looking at my GPS track, I can see that it was nothing of the sort, we were less than a mile from the airfield, while the Quabbin is nearly six miles away. While on tow, I did see one very tiny, ratty-looking cloud, very far away.

I don’t know if John was still in the air when I got off tow, but I didn’t see him. My vario immediately started making unhappy noises as I started my inevitable sled ride. No thermals to be found, until I had lost at least 1500 feet of altitude, and I encountered some little bumps near the SW end of the airfield. I started working that “lift” as aggressively as I could, trying really hard to get centered in it and banking up tight to take advantage of the tiny bubbles. Circling for about ten minutes, I wasn’t going up at all, but at least I wasn’t going down. When even that zero sink softened up, I moved on and found another spot over the logged area near the NE end of the runway. This was lower down, and instead of just maintaining altitude, I was alternately climbing and sinking slightly, but still for no net gain. Still, better than just dropping.

Too busy wrestling with these subtle thermals to take any pictures, I finally lost enough that it was time to pack it in and land, which I did in a fairly unimpressive manner back down near where my car was. Flared late, but even tiny wheels help on mowed grass, so no harm done.

John B looks on as Pete J explains something complicated to Ross L

flights: 1, airtime: 0:40

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Late sunset

In early July, sunset is still within a minute of two of the latest it gets all year. Although I had to work on the 5th, I left my wing on the roof of my car because I heard that Rhett would be towing. I left work an hour earlier than usual, and took a back-roads route to the airport. Most folks who had flown were already on the road home, but Lukas was still flying tandems, Matt C was on the cart waiting for a tow, and Pete J hadn’t left yet, so he came by to chat while I set up.

Matt was up and back down before I was even ready, and reported that he hadn’t really found any lift at all, though Rhett had towed him quite a ways looking for it. I didn’t mind, a flight is a flight and I just wanted some more towing practice, this time with no fin, so smooth air was A-OK, and I was ready to go a little after 6 PM. I had a little trouble right at the beginning when the cart wanted to veer left more strongly than I could correct it by bumping, so I came out a bit earlier than usual and was fine after that. I did have a couple of moments during the tow when I got off line and started oscillating, but I relaxed and let things settle down, and avoided getting locked out.

Rather than dragging me all over kingdom come in search of lift, Rhett took me just off the SW end of the runway and looked for the best spot. He pulled me up fairly high, and handed me some zero sink. I flew around gently for a little while, extending the sled ride and drifting toward the NE, then when it stopped helping I flew back toward the airport. Right about when I got there I found some light lift and cautiously circled. And circled. And circled. It turned on more when I reached the middle of the runway, and eventually got to be 300 fpm up. I patiently worked that climb for about 20 minutes, up to about 6000 feet, until the sun went behind a cloud bank and it shut down. I switched over to looking for other possible sources of lift, while flying fairly slowly to minimize my sink rate, and stretched it out as long as I could. Down at about 1000 feet, there was a shear layer and the smooth evening air got bumpier, but my landing was still sweet. Over an hour of airtime when I was anticipating a sledder, not too shabby.

Mt. Wachusett

Quabbin Reservoir

flights: 1, airtime: 1:03

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Purfuit of happiness

Plenty of places looked like they would work on Independence Day, but I had a hankering for foot-launched mountain flying, so since Ascutney was one of the candidates, I didn’t hesitate to head there. I arrived early enough that some of the rest of the crew were off checking out the LZ, so I scooted up the mountain, dropped off my glider and gear, and drove my car down to get a body ride back up.

Seven of us showed up, and only two, the beasts known as Jeff B and Mike H, carried everything out in one trip. Jake had a driver to help him, Ilya and Crystal did two trips sharing the load, I did two trips, and Kevin started with all of his gear, and then dropped the glider off and did two trips for the rest of the distance. I had expected a much bigger crowd, but the hike wasn’t such a popular idea on a warm day, so we had ample room for setting up (if the space at Ascutney can ever be considered ample). Jake was grumbling about the hike getting difficult (he has knee problems), and I was likewise thinking that it’s getting to be too hard to do solo, so I may look for somebody to share the carrying with next time.

The forecast had been for good lift and light winds, so we were a bit surprised when we got to launch and found it blowing pretty hard. Seemed to me that it might be the result of thermals (there were clouds forming over the summit), but it was pretty persistent. I had picked a spot near the back to set up, so I had some time on my hands, and I noticed that the windsock was there, but it was on the ground, not yet having been set up for the season. I asked Jake if I could provide some assistance in getting it up, and he accepted my offer though he cautioned me that it might be difficult. What’s required is to climb a spruce tree that has a pole lashed to it, then having the windsock on the upper part of the pole handed up, and lifting that upper pole (about eight feet tall) into position, and dropping it onto the lower pole. Sounds simple, right? But if the wind is blowing, you’ve got to fight with the fact that it wants to get blown back, while operating with very little leverage on the lower end, and holding onto the tree with just your legs. Kind of a solo Iwo Jima maneuver while doing a lumberjack pole dance. I managed to lean it forward, then wait for a lull, and let the wind stand the pole up for me while I quickly got the two pieces to match and dropped it into place. It worked on the second try. With all that, it looks small from launch, barely over the tree tops.

The cast of characters:







There were quite a few Fourth of July hikers out, hoping to see the crazy people fly. Jake went first, sort of hopping off of launch in deference to his knee issues. He didn’t climb as well as we were expecting, and when Jeff joined him, he wasn’t able to get a lot of altitude either. Next was Ilya, then Crystal stepped up as the wind turned pretty cross, so she had to wait a while for it to start behaving again. Mike was close to launch, but I was ready, so I went next, but by the time I got my wing up to the platform and straightened out my radio wires, Crystal was already in the LZ. Launch went well, and the next few moments were the highlight of the flight, as I seemed to have picked a good cycle and gained some altitude nicely. I headed up toward the ski area, where I had heard on the radio that the lift was ratty (though at least they were talking about lift up there). I flew through a few bumps on the way, nothing that felt like I could utilize. When that failed to pan out, I headed back hoping to get some lift over Rogers Rock, but I got there below the rock, so that was no good. I hit a nasty pocket of sink when I was fairly low over the trees, and I wasn’t in the mood for that sort of excitement, so I headed out over the fields.

Crystal had landed in Africa, which I knew would be tall weeds. The generally preferred LZ, Kansas, we had been warned was wet, and also was not yet mowed. But Jake had said that the hayfield across the road to the south was available as long as we could stay out of the way of the haying equipment. They had been working on the field through the day, and were largely done baling it, so I flew over there to see what the prospects were. There was, predictably, some lift coming off of it, so I did some circles, hoping to climb back up, but mostly wanting to not land in the field if it was still lifting off. Down to an appropriate altitude, I went on final, and found the air a bit bumpy down at ground level, until the bottom fell out before I was quite ready to flare. The result was a tolerable landing on my butt, and the wheels might have rolled instead of digging in if I’d had a chance to unlock them, but the nose didn’t go over. No harm done. For those of you who have never spent time around farms, a baling operation is a pretty cool thing. The tractor pulls the baling machine along the dried hay rows, it gets bundled up into a bale, which then pops up and out of the baler into the hay wagon, where the workers move it into position.

Mike landed in Kansas not long after, then Jake, and Jeff a while later. Kevin eventually joined Crystal in Africa, and Ilya was still in the air when Ryan arrived to drive us back around the mountain. Nobody got that high, and nobody was able to leave the mountain, though I think the longest flights were around three hours. But at Tanner-Hiller it was reportedly a terrific day, and likewise ten miles from where we were at Morningside, where Max towed up and went 50+ miles XC to Massachusetts.

flights: 1, airtime: 0:15

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Not the T-H swan song

Because we had finished the Greylock LZ work on Saturday, Sunday was available for flying. The simplest way to do that was to head to Tanner-Hiller for some towing. Word was that the airport had recently been sold, so it seemed possible that this might be the last chance to do so, although from what I hear the new buyers have in mind to keep operating it as an airport, perhaps with some increased activity that I’m hopeful won’t interfere much with hang gliding.

Noel was the only pilot there when I arrived, and he was fiddling with something on his glider, so I drove down to the SW end of the runway to set up. On the way, I picked up a fin from the hangar, because I hadn’t done any towing since last summer and I figured I should start out easy. By the time I was done setting up, the wind had shifted, so I got a cart and rolled my wing up to the NE end.

I went up first, as some other pilots (Pete J, Doug B, and Mark H, and a bit later John B) arrived and started setting up. I wasn’t too concerned about finding lift, and in fact I didn’t find much. Rhett dropped me off in some air that was barely rising, and I got less than 150 feet out of it before looking elsewhere, but there was nothing out there. When I was down to about 1000 feet AGL near the NE end of the runway, I started getting some beeping out of my vario, and started turning. I did about 20 turns, delaying the inevitable but not really climbing, until I had bled off enough altitude that it was time to land, which I managed to do nicely about 20 meters from where the tow had started, so I had a nice short walk back to the setup area.

After taking a break for about an hour, I went up for a second flight. This time I didn’t get much out of the climb that Rhett had brought me to, but I did find one nearby and was able to get up above tow height, and when that petered out, I got another that took me to about 650 feet above. I found zero sink up by the NE end of the runway again, and turned a few times, but not as much as before. This landing was even better (I got a compliment from Rhett), and it was directly across the runway from where I had started, 10 meters away (intentionally). Pretty close to a spot landing.

Mark landed great, too!

Two flights was enough for me, and I had enough time left to do some additional things in the evening after packing up.

flights: 2, airtime: 0:30, 0:45

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Installing an LZ

One of the most popular flying sites in these parts is Mt. Greylock, the tallest mountain in Massachusetts. Because the launch faces east, which is not the most common wind direction, there aren’t too many flyable days there, and when there is one, the place can be a zoo (because it’s about the only place that works in that wind direction). When I was first flying, the site was closed for a while (I think there was construction going on at the state reservation, and the whole place was shut down), and then last year, it closed again, because somebody bought the farm.

That’s not as bad as it sounds, because it’s not a euphemism. Somebody literally purchased the farm that included the field that was our bailout LZ, and the new owners were not amenable to our continuing to land there. Without it, it wasn’t practical to fly the site, because if you didn’t find lift, it would be very difficult to reach another field. Some local pilots worked with the state officials to find a new LZ, and they were successful, but it had one problem: it wasn’t a field. Oh, it had surely been one at some time in the past, but now it had a fine supply of large trees and other smaller vegetation

Now, pilots tend to be really fussy about this detail, we really like for the places where we land to be fields. For some reason we find it just too inconvenient to be busting our way through trees on final. So we did the obvious thing: we installed a field. With the appropriate permissions in place, a call went out for a work party to do some clearing. It had to be postponed due to rainy weather, but on the appointed day there was a remarkable turnout of pilots armed with gloves, loppers, chainsaws, bow saws, a tractor-pulled brush mower, and an excavator.

I don’t have any real “before” pictures, because you couldn’t see very far anyway, due to all the trees. Take my word for it, though, it looked like a pretty daunting task, and the two days of work that we had scheduled didn’t seem like they’d be enough. But as the morning went on, and more and more pilots kept arriving, the work kept happening faster and faster. We were charged with the task of cutting all trees over a certain diameter to chest height, and smaller ones and bushes flush with the ground. Small enough stuff could be left for the brush mower, and the larger stumps got pulled out by the excavator and buried. State regs didn’t allow for any wood to be removed from the site, so the larger tree trunks were cut into bite-sized pieces for burying. The state had bulldozed a road through the area (following an existing route) and we dragged anything that would fit to the edge of the road to feed into a chipper, with the resulting mulch dispersed across the field.

Those who weren’t in a position to do the physical labor found other ways to help out. Doughnuts arrived in the morning, and pizza later on. Eventually we reached a point where quite a few people were relaxing in the shade of the large willows at the edge of the field, because all that was left was chipping, and there were plenty of folks standing in line to feed wood into the chipper (we had to take breaks because the chipper was overheating). I left partway through the afternoon, because the mission had basically been accomplished, and there wasn’t enough left to do to warrant coming back the next day. (There was still a bunch of excavator work, but we had to leave Gary T to finish that up, because he only brought one excavator.)

I think it was the following day when a few PG pilots got to be the first ones to use the new LZ, and not too long after that, Gary did a solo flight with his tandem HG and was the first to land a hang glider there. It’s not the best LZ in the world (kind of oriented the wrong way and on the lumpy side), but it should be adequate, and anyone with the required rating to fly Greylock should be able to handle it. I’ll still be looking to get up and away and land at some more distant field, but having the new LZ there will make it work.

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