[ Mood: Scared ]
To paraphrase something I heard once, the way to establish safe limits is to push things until they break, then back off some reasonable amount…
Pictures of my cool glider cart are below! Read on.
My last few outings have not resulted in any airtime. First, there was the day when I went to Morningside without a glider, and picked up the Ultrasport that I’m likely to be buying soon, but the winds were not conducive to trying it out. Then a couple of weeks later I went up to Morningside again and set it up again, even though the wind was really cross and there was intermittent drizzle. I figured if it slacked off to where it was essentially calm, I’d try some sledders, but it kept blowing and swung around to where it was coming kind of down the hill. So I packed it up and just stuck around for the VHGA meeting. But a couple of days later it looked good for the coast.
I didn’t hear from anybody else who wanted to join me at Plymouth. Some PGs had flown Sunday, but I had stuff to do that day, and on Monday people were presumably busy working. I got there late morning all my myself, loaded up the cart, and headed for launch.
My cart is an old Cannondale Bugger bicycle trailer. The canvas cargo hammock vanished years ago. Originally purchased in the 1970s by my cousin for his paper route, it later fell into my father’s hands, and he used it to schlep stuff like firewood around the yard. Going out the back of the yard, it’s uphill into the woods, and on a number of occasions I’d go up there with an bow saw, fell a standing dead tree, cut it up into 10-foot sections, and use the cart to wheel the pieces down to the house where they could be further chopped to put in the stove. Later, I would borrow it and strap a plastic garbage can to it, which I would fill up with gallon water jugs so that I could drag them into the woods for the water stops at orienteering meets. It has been a very handy piece of equipment.
A couple of years ago, I realized that it had potential for glider hauling and found a wagon at Home Depot that was better suited for my parents’ needs, and I snagged the Bugger for myself. After the addition of some padding, it became a plausible conveyance for a hang glider. I’ve used it several times: once as a test at Morningside, twice at Brace (where it’s really handy), and once before at Plymouth. It doesn’t increase my speed all that much compared to people carrying gliders, but whereas they arrive at launch exhausted, I get there feeling absolutely fine. No good at Ascutney — the trails are much too rough — and the same would apply to Skinner, which I haven’t flown yet. Most of the other sites around here have drive-up access.
So, an easy trip out to launch, and I took a look at the conditions. Straight in, and pretty strong, about 17-22 mph. Pretty good for beach soaring, but not so easy to launch, perhaps. Hoping that somebody else would show up, I delayed setting up the glider, and spent a little time picking up empty beer cans and other assorted trash that the local teenagers had left behind at their campfire. Grumble. While dropping the trash off out at the street, I talked with a neighbor who asked if we pilots could shove some drifted sand back into a hole that had blown out on the brink of the cliff. Sounded like a good idea to me.
Despite the lack of assistance, I decided to set the glider up and see if I could get a bit of airtime. Setting up went okay, so I checked the wind and it was unchanged. Now, how to launch without help? I had watched Nick do it last fall, after he and Tom had helped me to launch, and it seemed like it just required care and persistence. And some skill that I hoped I had.
The place to launch a hang glider at Plymouth these days is on the left side of the clearing. That’s where I tried to maneuver my glider to, but it wasn’t easy. The edge of the cliff is irregular, and there is vegetation that you have to work your way around as well. The aforementioned blowout was causing unbalanced airflow, resulting in my left wing lifting. I struggled with it for a while, and couldn’t keep the glider level, so I decided to come up with Plan B.
The place to not launch a hang glider at Plymouth these days is on the right side of the clearing. Paragliders launch from there all the time, but their wings are much higher up, away from the ratty airflow. On the plus side, there’s a shallow bowl a bit behind the lip where it’s easy to get established. But once you move out to the edge, the ground drops away most steeply directly ahead, and less steeply on either side. The result is an unstable launch situation, where getting off to one side pushes you more to that side. It’s the opposite of a ramp that has airflow under both wings, which is a very nice way to launch.
So, I worked my way out to the brink, little by little. Eventually I got there, and all I could do was to stand with my foot in front of the control bar and my shoulders against the downtubes, pushing forward to keep the nose as low as I could. Standing in that position everything was under control, but doing anything else didn’t seem so good. I had a pretty good idea that if I could manage to get about 20 feet forward, there was some pretty good soaring to be had, but getting there was the problem. Finally I decided to try picking the glider up just to see how that felt. That involved rotating it up in pitch a bit to get it to where I could put my shoulders between the downtubes instead of behind them.
Bad idea. As soon as the nose got a little higher, the wing started lifting, a lot. Too much for me to pull it back down. I did the only thing I could think of, which was to drive it forward, and in different conditions, that would have resulted in a launch. But things were too unbalanced for controlled flight. I’m not sure whether everything was off the ground at once (a wingtip might have been dragging), but my feet came off the ground. I failed to keep it going straight, due to the airflow coming up the shallow gully in front of me. The glider did a steep turn to the left with me as a useless passenger, nosed into a bush with the tail into the wind, turtled, and dumped me onto the lower surface of the sail. Doh!
I unhooked, spun the glider around to flip it upright, and carried it back to the relative shelter of the setup area. The control frame appeared to be unscathed, which was a good sign. No evident tears in the sail. Nothing obviously out of line… wait, the keel appeared to be slightly bent to the right. Not good, but perhaps not too horrible. I unzipped the lower surface to get a better view and… something was obviously very wrong. I undid some velcro to look at the crossbar hinge and it looked like I feared.
Discouraging. With that level of damage, the sail is definitely going to have to come off to see what else might have gotten bent. Depending on what else got bent, finding an old Vision Mark IV with the sail in tatters could be a good plan. But that will have to wait until I can see how deep the hurt goes.
No damage to the pilot. That was lucky, because things could easily have gone otherwise. And I’ve learned more about my boundaries. But no airtime, either, and there will be some work/expense to get this glider flying again. I still have the Falcon, though, as well as the Ultrasport if I can get suitable conditions to try it out.