Eaaaaaaasy flyin’


From what I’m told, Plymouth used to be where H2s turned into H3s. They’d rack up multi-hour flights in smooth coastal air there to get the airtime required. These days, it’s West Rutland where H2s go, because Plymouth has had access issues over the last decade that included shutting the site down for a couple of years. Now it’s a P3/H3 site, and HGs don’t fly there so much because the only place we’re allowed to park is quite a way off, requiring a substantial hike, with gear, both before and after flying. A site intro is also required, and that can be tricky to arrange, since most of the club officials that can give it are PG pilots, and less inclined to show up on a day when the wind is strong enough for HG flying. Eventually, I just drove down there on a light day without my glider, and jogged out to launch to get the site intro so that I could come back and fly another day.

I drove out with Tom L., and we were able to take our time, since the tide was best in the middle of the day — low tide provides the most beach area for landing, and this would be a difficult place to top-land a HG. I used my little cart to transport my glider, which made for a less stressful (though no faster) hike then Tom carrying his ponderous Lightspeed. He also didn’t care for the amount of poison ivy that we had to brush past on the way.

While we were setting up, Nick C. arrived. This was good from my point of view, because it meant that I’d have two people to act as wire crew on my first launch from this site. Very experienced, people, too: Nick has been flying here for 35 years, since the bamboo and plastic days. The wind was coming straight in at about 17 mph (or a bit more, depending on how you held the wind gauge). With two people on the wires, it wasn’t difficult to slide the glider out to the lip of the bluff. I picked it up and let it lift off my shoulders, to do a tight-strap launch. I had a reasonably easy time controlling the glider, but I could feel the wing pulling forward. I had read about ramp suck, but this was my first experience with it, mild though it was. Realizing that I was about to launch whether I wanted to or not (unless I put the glider down), I cleared the wire crew and stepped off smoothly into the air.

I had never met Nick before, and he didn’t have any idea what my abilities were. I made sure that I was stable and in control before turning, and that was a bit later than the experts on the ground would have advised. From what I hear, Nick was saying, “Oh no, we’re going to have to drag him back up here!”, and Tom reassured him by saying, “If he sinks out, he can drag his own ass back up!”. Not to worry, though, I did turn early enough, and the lift was abundant, so I stayed up and headed up the coast.

Tom was next, and he had Nick on his wires, but he also has more span than I do, so it was tricky to get the glider around the bushes and out to launch. He had a little more stress than I did, but it went well. Nick went back to get his glider and set it up, so Tom and I had a while to fly by ourselves. The soarable bluff is roughly a mile long, and I did a lot of laps back and forth.

Early on, I tried to call Tom on the radio, but I got no response. It didn’t take long to realize that I had a wire disconnected on my radio. I have a headset that works quite well, but it has at least one quirk. It’s manufactured as a modular harness, so that they can mix and match various mics, earpieces, PTT switches, and radio connectors. The downside is that it has several DIN connectors, and they don’t have as much friction as I’d like. The connector between the pigtail that plugs into the radio (in my side harness pocket) and the rest of the harness had come undone, and that connector is at my waist on the right side. I tried reconnecting it one-handed with my right hand while I flew with my left, but that didn’t work. Next I tried flying no-hands and reaching across my chest with my left hand, but I couldn’t reach far enough. Then I realized that I could reach behind my back with my left hand, but flying in that contorted position just didn’t feel very safe. Finally I did it one-handed by feeling for the keyways with my thumbnail so that I could rotate one connector about the right amount before trying to plug them together. Probably took me 20 minutes to do this, but it was worth it to be able to talk with Tom during the flight. I need to come up with some kind of keepers for those connectors.

Nick had the most challenging launch, since there were no wuffos around to hold his wires. Tom and I were able to hover around and watch from above (Tom had promised to keep an eye on him in case he blew launch and needed help). It was a slow process as he inched his glider forward in tiny increments, putting it down frequently, to get it around the bushes and weeds while not losing control in the breeze. Tom commented that he didn’t envy Nick, and we learned later that he almost backed off, but eventually he did get to the edge and had an excellent launch. Nick was flying a Magic 4, an even older glider than mine, but a fine ship for the beach. I was flying pretty high (as much as 500 feet over the beach), and Tom was typically even higher, which gave us a great view of Nick down lower doing what Tom called “stress testing his glider”. Too tricky to get pictures of any of the wangs, but here he is in level flight.

Among other things, this was my first time trying out one of my remote cameras. I bought three Pentax Optio A10 cameras last winter, two of which have broken LCD screens. I usually fly with one strapped to my control bar, but the real reason that I got them was that a camera on a wing or keel doesn’t need a screen, since you can’t see it anyway. These cameras use an IR remote, and this was the first time I’ve gotten around to actually trying that out. The people who live near launch has asked the club for aerial photos of their houses, and nobody had gotten around to actually taking any. I put a camera on my keel and snapped some pictures like this one as I flew by (launch is visible here, not at the peak of the bluff, but about halfway from there to the next house back).

This was the easiest flying I’ve ever done. Nice smooth laminar coastal air at just the right speed made it a cinch to maintain altitude without worrying about it, and there were even thermals coming off the water now and then which got us way up. It was a surprisingly clear day, and we could see the entire length of Cape Cod all the way across the bay. The wind remained steady all afternoon, and the main factor affecting our decision to land was the tide. There were a couple of exposed sandbars, once of which had a fisherman on it, and I decided that when it went under, I’d head down. Tom agreed, and we discussed the best spot and direction to land, avoiding the boulders that were strewn across some parts of the beach, while trying to land reasonably close to the stairs that we needed to use to carry our gliders back out.

Tom went first, and I watched to see if it was going to be difficult. I kept thinking that he had landed, but then I’d see that he was still moving forward. Seemed like it took him an awfully long way to get down. He reported that the wind in the compression zone on the beach was pretty light, so the crosswind conditions weren’t too bad. I was a little concerned that I might have trouble getting out of the lift in order to lose altitude, but by flying out over the water, I was able to drop down to where I wanted to be for a final leg. The landing was as smooth as the flying had been. As I approached the sand, I considered just going into a comfortable walk as the glider flew slowly, but with a small flare I was able to bring it to a stop, though I did touch the sand with my right wingtip, no big deal.

Tom used the “Aussie breakdown method”, tying his nose to a post and keeping his wing off the ground, while I used the normal approach, saying to the Mark IV, “Welcome to your destiny, beach glider — SAND!”. It was my longest flight of the year at 2:36, and my second-longest flight ever.

flights: 1, airtime: 2:37

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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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