Shoebox diorama

[ Very Sad Mood: Very Sad ]
Sad? After this flight? Isn’t that the wrong mood? Hmm, maybe “relieved” would be a better choice, but that wasn’t on the list. But the mood doesn’t really have anything to do with the specifics of the flight, it’s all about the shoebox diorama. And that’s where we’ll start, but first, here’s the new glider, all set up and ready to go:

(Yeah, that stuff is snow. Doesn’t scare us off!)
I said that I would help a 5th-grade friend of mine with his social studies project, building a diorama of a frontier homestead. The original plan was for me to arrive at his house at 4PM, but with the forecast looking very good for flying, I called his mother and discussed the idea that I would show up somewhat later after going flying. Drove out to the site known hereabouts as “the Trail” with Tom L, and got my brain injected with several hours worth of the finest kind of knowledge and wisdom in the process, which makes the whole thing worthwhile irrespective of the flying. We toured the LZs (it was my first time at this site) and noted that the wind direction kept switching between N and S, which made us a bit apprehensive about the prospect of landing. We drove back up to the top, carried our gear out to launch, and set up, being joined up there by local pilot Brooks E.

The wind, that had been looking reasonable, got pretty light, and after waiting a while for a good cycle, Brooks launched. He got tossed around some, but by the time I got hooked in, he was 500 feet or so over launch, and the wind had gotten more consistent. My launch was pretty comfortable, but I got bounced around as I started making passes out front.

It didn’t take me long to get enough altitude to make the jump southward to the higher section of the ridge, but once I did, I ran out of lift and got a little bit concerned. I still had enough room to turn around fast and head for the bailout LZ, but the main LZ looked an awfully long way off. Between being unfamiliar with the site, and not having any kind of feel for the glide slope of this new glider, I just had no idea whether I could reach that field, and I was scoping out closer ones in case I got into trouble. The trees under me were also feeling kind of close, but I found a little bit of climb to turn in and got some breathing room. Then a bit further south I hooked into some much more serious lift and headed for the blue in a big way.

As often happens, there were some fine opportunities for learning. Here are a couple of things that I learned:
— It is possible (though not easy) to get gloves out of a jacket pocket while flying. Brooks had launched with bare hands, so I hadn’t put my gloves on either, but as I climbed, it started getting cold, and I fished them out without dropping either one. Would have been a lot smarter to put them in the harness pocket where they belong.
— This glider, like my Falcon, flies just fine with no pilot input. Before trying to deal with my gloves, I decided I should find someplace where I wasn’t sinking. Arriving at a thermal, I cranked it over, then let go and started fishing around in my pockets. When I looked up, I saw that I was circling just fine and climbing at 600 fpm.

I had no experience in air that was anything like this, and I didn’t have a good basis of comparison. It felt kind of bumpy at times, but you don’t know what qualifies as “bumpy” until you have some kind of reference. Maybe thermals are supposed to feel this way? I was flying with a radio for the first time, and I didn’t know whether I had everything hooked up properly until Tom called asked where I was. At that point I could see both of the other gliders way below me to the north, and I was somewhere above 5000′. Tom asked if I was getting tossed around like he was, and I didn’t really know how to answer. (I later found out that he got thrown against the keel a couple of times, which was much rougher than anything I ran into.) I had to change the scale on the graphic bar of my vario because it kept getting pegged. I had never encountered lift before that was anywhere near this strong, and I had to set it to +/-1000 fpm to keep it from saturating. The highest value that I saw on the 20 sec averager was 900 fpm, but after the flight the vario reported that the max climb rate was 1200. Yow!

Tom had trouble finding lift, and I watched him heading for the valley, not sure whether he was going to make it, while I continued to go up, eventually getting almost to 7000′, with the thermometer reading 33F. Tom finally found something down low, and I watched him climb back up to the top of the ridge, and then I lost track of him. I quit looking for lift and dropped down a couple of thousand feet to where it was a little warmer, and eventually Tom and I found each other when we communicated that we were both at about 4500′, and I could see him well to the east of the ridge. He continued up to 7700′ while I headed for the valley to look into landing. I was somewhat concerned about what I was in for, since he said that he wasn’t looking forward to landing.

I got to the LZ with about 3000′ of extra altitude, so I had time to cruise around and look at the windsocks and flags. They were now blowing consistently NW, which was good, but when I tried to bleed off altitude, a couple of things happened. One was that there was a lot of lift coming off of the town, and as I boated around, I was gradually going up. The other was that when I did get down a bit, at the level of the ridge to the west I got slapped around big time — turbulence coming off of the ridge, I figured. It was enough to make me not want to try and land there, and I considered some big fields to the south, but Tom pointed out the value of having the windsocks nearby.

Once I got down to about 1000′ AGL, the situation changed, and I started dropping rapidly. My approach was okay, but when I was on final, the right wing got low just as I was approaching trim speed, and I didn’t do much of a flare, because I didn’t want to go into a hard ground loop. And the result, instead: whack. Not real hard, but an unambiguous whack nonetheless. A rather undignified way to end my first “real” flight with this glider. Hard to get a firm impression of how it handles, since the air was so rambunctious, but it seemed to be adequately easy to handle. This was a new PR for me in altitude, as well as the greatest distance flown (just under three miles), and the first time in conditions that were this strong in terms of lift.

Tom had even more trouble getting down than I did, but eventually found some sink to core and came into the same field, followed closely by Brooks. We got on the road as soon as we could, but I was already in the doghouse. Remember that social studies project?

I was on the phone with my friend and his mother a number of times on the drive home, and she was basically furious with me, because her son was reportedly in tears, due to my having let him down. He sounded okay when I talked to him, but he’s pretty good at just putting on a brave face. I finally got there an hour before his bedtime, and we worked pretty efficiently, with a little bit of drudge-work gluing left for me to finish up while he was sleeping, and a final ten minutes of work for us to do together in the morning. So: very sad that I gave that little guy unneeded stress, though in the end it all worked out okay, with respect to both the flying and the project. I think it turned out pretty well (and he was quite proud of it):

flights: 1, airtime: 1:11, XC distance: 4.6 km


About cleversky

Hang glider pilot in New England since 2004. Also an avid orienteer, and an embedded systems firmware engineer. And some other outdoor stuff.
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