The premier flying site in New England is Mt. Ascutney, in Vermont. It’s the jumping-off spot for most of the long XC flights in New England (not counting those incredible flights that start in New York and wind up in New England!), and if you take lessons at Morningside (the main flight park in this area), you become very aware of it from your first day of lessons, because you can see it from the training hill, and it’s common for people to fly over from the mountain and land at Morningside. Ascutney is a H3 site (though occasionally you hear someone say it should be H4), and getting to fly there is something of a rite of passage. In this area, it’s the big time.
It has been a crappy year for weather in northern New England. Rain, rain, rain, usually with thunder and lightning. A number of people were thinking about flying Ascutney yesterday, but the conditions were very strong, and only one (Jake, the site director) actually did. Today was the opposite, wind direction looked okay, but the forecast was for very light wind, and low top of lift with no clouds. Most of the pilots who had been eyeing the day checked the morning forecasts and went back to bed, but Jake wasn’t going to pass on a dry day. I was looking at a day that was exactly what I wanted, gentle conditions for a site intro, so I loaded up the car and hit the road. The ranger station where you sign in to fly has a very cool sign:
I wasn’t the only one getting a site intro today. Ed G. was there for the first time as well, and Phil A. would have been, but he couldn’t find his USHPA card, and the park won’t let you fly without showing it. He did come up to the launch, though, and helped schlep some gear. The hike out to launch is notorious, very rocky and uneven. It took me almost 18 minutes to carry my glider out there, but I brought my harness out on a separate trip, so it was 35 minutes altogether. As we were setting up, Dan A. (who had flown the mountain once before) and Dave D. also arrived.
The launch is kind of unusual. It’s a granite rock that you perch on top of, with a wooden deck built on the left side for doing hang checks, and for one wire crew person to stand on. When you’re ready, you run down the face of the rock, which is steep enough that I can barely crawl down it in sneakers without slipping. There’s room for about three steps, and then it drops off abruptly. It’s really quite a nice launch, but it looks pretty intimidating.
The cycles were feeling reasonable, so I launched shortly after him. After several years of anticipation, the launch was quite fine and uneventful. Although I had a bit of wind to launch into, I also didn’t find much lift, just a few bug farts, but not enough for me to hang onto, so I sledded down behind Ed. Although he had gotten some lift over the field with the line of trees in it, and moved on to the field behind it, I lost my altitude more quickly and landed in that first field. Jake launched after me and stayed up for 30 minutes or so, I think, and Dan also had an extended sled ride. I’m not sure what happened with Dave, he might have decided not to fly after all.
Landing was a bit interesting. I circled the field several times, and it really didn’t matter what direction I landed, because there was no wind to speak of. I retrospect, I would have been better off to have landed in the opposite direction. I set up to land in the direction of the general light wind that we had been seeing, which followed a mowed path in the field. I turned onto final just over the trees and dived in, and at that point got a sense of the slope of the field, which was slightly downhill in the direction I was flying. I glided along at high speed, then turned right a bit in order to use the full diagonal of the field. The ground beneath me still wasn’t getting any closer, but the trees on the edge of the field were, so I sat up tall, spread my legs for maximum drag, and really pulled in hard. That got me down to weed-top level, and I continued to glide along in ground effect for a long way, finally ending with an excellent flare that earned me compliments from some passing neighbors. I had a comfortable amount of room left between me and the trees, but the final leg had been almost 1300 feet long. Sheesh! Should have landed uphill.
Total airtime was less than eight minutes, and the whole trip was nine hours from when I left the house to when I returned. The weather was beautiful for hanging around outdoors in Vermont, and it was a damn sight better than sitting in the office. Overall assessment: resoundingly successful day.
flights: 1, airtime: 0:08