Entertaining the souvenir shoppers

The weather in New England has not been so good for flying this year, and I was facing the fact that I’m going to be out in the Rockies for over a week (with no glider), so I wanted to get a little airtime before that if I could. Friday looked like the best prospect, and I was able to get out of work. Couldn’t exactly go flying alone though, so I pestered the most likely person (Tom L) to see if he was interested. As late as Friday morning he was still on the fence, but decided to give it a shot, and said that PK was interested in joining us at The Trail as well. I had just finished building extenders for my rack to allow me to carry two gliders easily, so I offered to drive. The forecast looked okay to me, but Tom was worried about overdevelopment, and when we got there, we were faced with more clouds than we really wanted to see.

PK arrived, and we left my car in the bailout LZ and took his up to launch. Although the sky was looking a little dicey, and there was some concern that it might rain, we set up our gliders anyway, and then set about eating wild blueberries while we waited to see what the sky would do. Tom and PK, stylish guys that they are, had matching outfits as well as almost matching gliders.

It was one of those days when nobody is sure whether to launch because the cycles are weak and irregular. The clouds improved somewhat and we started getting enough motion in the leaves that I was willing to roll the dice and see if the air was interested in keeping me up. I tried my best to time my launch right, but I pretty much got nothing, and just flew gently down, down, down, to the bailout LZ, less than three minutes in the air. My landing was pretty easy, and I considered it to be a successful, if far from spectacular, day, because I flew without bending anything. Hard to be disappointed when you actually get up in the air. I also hoped that the other two would make better luck for themselves, and I could drive retrieve. (I’ve never really done that, and it seems like a cool thing to do.)

I waited to see the other guys launch, and when they did, they both seemed to gain some altitude, then started losing it, and then gained it back again and more. After 10 or 15 minutes of this, I heard Tom say on the radio that he was heading out, and both of them went south to the bigger part of the ridge. I packed up my stuff, loaded the glider on the roof, and headed toward town. When I got close to the main LZ, Tom and PK were talking on the radio, and PK said that he had just landed and asked Tom to let me know. I replied that I was just pulling into the parking lot and could see him. The main LZ is a golf driving range, and he was way out at the far end, beyond the reach of anyone but Tiger Woods. I walked out there and got to watch him pack up his glider and helped him carry it back to the car.

That just left Tom, who had been high over the ridge, but who I could no longer find in the sky. We asked for his location, and he said he had flown a few miles north of launch and was finally approaching 5000′. Since it looked like he might still be up there for a while, PK offered to take me back up and help me launch again. (He had schedule constraints that wouldn’t permit him to do any more flying.) The wind conditions were looking more favorable, so… sure!

My second launch was really easy. I brought my glider out front, it was blowing in okay, and the leaves below were moving, so I didn’t have to wait, I just said “Clear!” and ran off. Here’s what launch looks like; the bailout LZ is the field that you can see.

The first few minutes of the flight brought some anxiety, because the lift was light and elusive, and I was concerned that I might just sink out again. I managed to climb to almost 500 feet over launch, then sank back down to 100-200 over, and couldn’t get any higher. The rule of thumb at this site is that you want to have 500 feet before jumping the gap southward to the larger part of the ridge, but you don’t have to go there if you don’t want to. After a little while, I realized that although I couldn’t gain any altitude, I wasn’t have too much trouble hanging onto what I had, either, and settled into flying back and forth repeatedly over a short section of ridge right in front of launch, just about a kilometer between turns.

Flying in New England means flying over trees, unless you want to spend all of your time at the beach. Friends sometimes ask me if it’s scary being thousands of feet up, and my answer is that no, that’s the relaxed part. What scares me is being close to treetops, especially if I’m worried about being able to reach an LZ. This was a good day to work on that. Here’s a view of launch from the altitude that I spent most of my flight at.

Since I spent so much time just over those trees (sometimes dropping as low as 30 feet over launch), I got a lot of practice maneuvering the glider while scratching, and feel considerably more comfortable with it now, with a much better sense of how much I can expect to drop in a turn, for example. The road that you can see in that picture is a popular scenic drive, and quite a few cars coming up the hill beeped their horns, and I waved. At the top of the hill, there’s a souvenir shop, and a lot of the people who stopped there watched me fly for a while, and some took my picture, so I returned the favor.

Tom mentioned that the far side of the valley was going into shadow, and wonder wind was likely to start picking up. After a little while, it got easier and easier to maintain my altitude, though I still wasn’t able to climb very high. I did extend my excursions, going a mile and a half up and down the ridge. Lift was easy enough to come by that it would have been a cinch to fly south to where I could reach the main LZ (where Tom had finally landed after over 3.5 hours in the air), but PK had enlisted some people to shuttle my car down to the bailout LZ, so there was no need to go anywhere else. I decided to play a little game where I would keep flying as long as I could keep myself above launch. A couple of people showed up on launch to watch the sunset, and after waving to them, I tried another glider-handling trick, that I got on my second attempt: fly so that my shadow passed right over them. I eclipsed the sun, yeah! I hope that looked cool to them. Finally I dropped a few feet lower than launch, climbed back to just over launch height, and headed down. I had plenty of altitude, so I had the luxury of being able to set up a very clean DBF landing (well, sort of — there was no wind at all in the LZ), and when I touched down, I had been in the air for 2 hours 19 minutes, my second-longest flight to date. Packed up, picked up Tom at the driving range, and we headed home. Definitely a day that was worth the gamble.

flights: 2, airtime: 2:22


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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