On our own

I posted a note on the VHGA list asking if people were interested in flying at West Rutland on Sunday. There was one response saying that conditions looked unfavorable, but the forecasts I was seeing looked very different. In the morning I got a call from one interested pilot, and then made a couple of calls myself. In the end, the experienced pilots all decided to pass, and that left just me and Bob R. Bob lives local to the site, but for me it’s a 2h40m drive. The conditions at my place were looking excellent, but the forecast was calling for clouds to really come in up in Vermont by noon. I was waffling on what I wanted to do, and finally decided to head up, and call Bob from Keene to see if things had deteriorated.

Since it didn’t look too horrible, I did drive the whole way up, and as I made the left-hand turn to head to West Rutland, I saw a truck just ahead of me: Bob and Beth (with the spiffy new glider rack!). We both pulled into the Stewart’s, and Bob said that a couple of other pilots were showing up as well. When we got to the parking area (hey, where did the pile go?!), it turned out to be Matt M and Dan G, both H2s who hadn’t flown the site before. That would require an official observer, but a couple of phone calls didn’t find any who could come out. No matter, they were willing to just come up, take a look at the launch area, and lend a hand.

There were six of us in the pickup going up the mountain (Matt’s wife was there as well). The road up does seem to be significantly improved already (promarily due to the efforts of Bob and Beth, I believe), and there’s supposed to be some more work done shortly. When we got to the top, we were in a new situation. Instead of being the newbies, with some sky gods chaperoning us, Bob and I were the only ones flying. It was the first time for either of us to fly the site without at least one H4 around, as far as I know. (In fact, I think PK, the site manager, had always been there with us before.) Other than at Wellfleet, I had never flown without a senior pilot to keep an eye on me. It was up to us to not do anything stupid.

In addition to not being the noobs, we were also in a sense the experienced guys, since we had a couple of H2s with us who we were sort of showing the ropes to, even though they couldn’t fly. It was nice to have them there, actually, since they were available to serve as knowledgeable wire crew. The wind was coming straight in at a steady 10 mph, so even though the sky was completely overcast at this point, we went right ahead and set up. Bob was ready first, and he was closer to the ramp anyway, so he went ahead and launched.

Yeah, it was soarable: he started climbing right away, and the others estimated that he was 1200 feet over by the time I was able to carry my glider to the ramp. I waited about a minute for the flow to straighten out, and had a fine launch, running all the way down the ramp, and doing a good job of showing the new folks how to do it right. I was also able to climb easily, and after a few passes I was more than 1000 feet over.

I was expecting all ridge lift, but there were some pockets of rising air that we were able to turn in and get up (and as there’s no free lunch, there was also plenty of sink around). I topped out at almost 2400 feet above launch (4200 MSL), and Bob was probably about the same. I had a camera in my pocket, and snapped a few photos, though I lost a lot of altitude in the process of screwing around with it. There were times when he was much higher than I was, and vice versa.

Most of the time we weren’t flying that close to each other, and he doesn’t have a radio, so were weren’t in contact. It did get a little chilly, and I started to try to take my gloves out, but I had them in the wrong pocket, so it was too much hassle. I was glad that I had put on a jacket, unlike Bob who was flying in a T-shirt. He headed toward the LZ after flying for about 45 minutes, and I went after him a few minutes later. There was some lift well away from the hill that I circled in a little, and I also tried stuffing the bar to see how the Mark IV feels when going fast, and I did a stall to see how it handles in that situation (seemed more gentle than the Falcon).

The only slightly worrisome moment came on final. The wind was directly out of the west, and the glider started rocking and rolling as I came through the last couple of hundred feet. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to flare, and that I was going to drag a tip and ground loop. What was going on? PIOs? Was I going too fast? It settled down as I came into ground effect, and the flare was fine. I remembered later that this site has a reputation for that layer of turbulence, due to rotor coming off the small hill to the west. Just shy of one hour in the air.

The weather call was timed perfectly. Bob had headed out because he thought that it had started to feel damp, and he thought rain was coming. Sure enough, it started to sprinkle as were were packing up. It was probably best the way it worked out for everyone, as it was fine flying weather for us H3s who just wanted to boat around the ridge, it was maybe a little too bumpy for first-timers, and the old hands who would have wanted to go X-C would have been disappointed. For my own part, I was glad to get in a real day of flying, since the next two weekends I’m already committed to other activites.

flights: 1, airtime: 0:55


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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