The real Ultrasport shakedown run

Anybody want to fly Saturday? Anybody?

You’d think that there would have been some kind of response. Sunday looked like it was pretty clearly going to be blown out, and though a few had headed for Ridgely MD for the ECC comp, and some others might have satisfied their flying Jones the previous weekend, I figured somebody would want to fly. Sure, the forecast didn’t look so good when the weekend actually drew near. Okay, so the Vermont sites looked really unlikely, and only the Trail showed a glimmer of hope. But there was still… Ellenville? What’s a four-hour drive each way, and probably more than that for most people? Are you going to let that stop you? I guess so, because I heard nothing. And I figured, well, I’m not going to drive all that way by myself again.

But then John B. called and said he was up for a flying adventure, and he’d meet me as soon as he could get his stuff together. The road trip was on!

My gear was all packed up and I already had the rack on the car, so I just needed to grab my bag and throw a glider on the roof. Another Falcon day, sigh. Because I had already decided that I wanted my first soaring flight with the Ultrasport to be at West Rutland. After the three test hops at Morningside, I next wanted a familiar site with a roomy setup area, a comfortable launch, a big flat LZ with windsocks, and where I’ve had enough soaring time that I know where to go for the house thermals, and… wait a minute, that sounds like Ellenville! I hadn’t even considered taking the Ultrasport there first, but it made perfect sense. So I loaded it up and drove out to meet John.

This was also my first trip with the new improved heavy-duty version of my rack, and it rules. With two heavy gliders (the Ultrasport and John’s Lightspeed), it was rock solid, and I hardly knew there was anything up there. I found myself driving faster than I intended with no worries, and I expect that three gliders on the roof will likewise be fine. I’ll make an entry in the wiki for it as soon as I get a chance to take good pictures of the various components.

The sky looked great on the drive down, so we wasted no time in getting signed up and making our way up to launch. As soon as we pulled in, I got to meet phantomflier. The conversation went approximately like this:
tgalv: Hi, J-J! Want to meet phantomflier?
jjcote: Sure! Hi, phantomflier!
phantomflier: Hi! CLEAR!

A few pilots were launching, but folks were having some trouble staying up. By the time we got our gliders assembled and preflighted, things were looking better, but with all the driving and other details, it was approaching 4 PM. I launched before John, so that he could kibitz my assessment of the wind cycles (which I appreciated). I picked what I thought looked like a good moment and went for it, and my guess turned out well, putting me a couple of hundred feet over by the time I got back from the second knob.

The brief synopsis of my impressions of the handling of the Ultrasport: it flies like a hang glider. Nothing difficult, nothing unusual, it just responded the way I expected. It took little to no getting used to, and I was able to fly around the way I usually do. If you could put me in the air under a hang glider so that I couldn’t see it, I’m not sure I could tell the difference, based on handling, between the Falcon, the MarkIV, and the Ultrasport; more on this later.

Conditions were quite good; I was able to get one decent climb before John launched, then after he did, I got the big one of the day, which I was able to drift back with to somewhere around 6000 feet, the second-highest I’ve ever gone. Around that time, I got a call from John on the radio. I wasn’t sure where he was, and the call was too garbled to understand, but I assumed he was telling me that he was going XC. Eventually the sky filled up with wings; I counted a dozen in this picture, plus more on launch, in the LZ, and above me.

One thing that I get, and a couple that I don’t, at least not yet:
1) Thermalling. When I find rising air, I don’t seem to have a problem with cranking into a tight turn and staying in the good part. This is not to say that I’m doing it anywhere near as well as the old hands, but I don’t find it as baffling as some other intermediate pilots say they do. Based on the sound of the vario, it’s like I get a picture in my mind of where the “up” is, and just based on feel and sound, I automatically adjust my turning to stay where it’s good. At least it seems that way, and it’s fun rather than frustrating.
2) Clouds. They tell me there’s lift under cumulus clouds, and I won’t deny it, but I’ve never been able to get that to work for me. Go under a cloud and find lift, huh? I’ll take your word for it. This is something that I need more experience with. I’ve certainly never been to cloudbase.
3) VG. This was the first time I ever pulled a VG cord in flight, and I was looking forward to the experience, to find out what “increased glide” and “stiffer handling” were all about. Hmm. Pulled it halfway, didn’t feel much of a difference, pulled it all the way, same thing. Still turns okay, still goes down if you aren’t in lift. Seemed to want to go into PIO if I wasn’t careful when I had it pulled on, but that could just be due to the fact that when I pulled the VG, I also pulled in on the control bar to fly faster, since that’s the whole point. It also seemed to not fly so well hands-off with the VG pulled, wanted to wander off in weird directions. So it didn’t seem like a dramatic difference.

To be fair, though, I think this glider handled more like I kind of expect a glider to handle, compared with the novice gliders. Instead of just sinking faster when I pull in, I think I was probably covering ground faster, and getting places at a reasonable speed. I also spent some time behind launch at altitudes that I think would have given me some concern with the Falcon, low enough that I wouldn’t be certain that I could penetrate forward to safety, but it was no big deal with this wing, just pull in, and presto! out front once more. Improved penetration is the #1 thing that I’m looking for, and I think I have it.

Even a good thing can become tiring after a while, and for me, three hours boating around in the fishbowl got me kind of weary, especially since I still needed to retrieve my car, fetch John from wherever he had gotten to, and make the long drive home. So I wended my way over to the LZ, which I present here for those unfamiliar with Ellenville.

The upper right is Greg Black’s operation (Mountain Wings) with its crescent-shaped training hill and small LZ. The top center of the picture (gray dirt) is a cattle farm. The nice grassy field with the design mowed into it is Tony Covelli’s LZ (Ellenville Flight Park) with its cone-shaped training hill. And the lower part of the photo is in the infamous Pumpkin Patch, which might look like a reasonable LZ from this altitude, but the vegetation is a lot taller than you would guess!

I carefully boxed the field, watching the windsocks. They were switching from SW to NW, but in truth there wasn’t much wind. I landed diagonally, to the west, and flared a little late so I had to run it out for a half-dozen steps, but that’s not so bad.

My cell phone had a message from John, who had landed about an hour earlier. At Tom G.’s suggestion, he had flown to New Paltz and landed next to the Gilded Otter, wherehe had happily settled in at the bar with a pint or two to await my arrival, and listen to the fascinating life story of the guy on the next stool. We got a bite to eat there before hitting the road, and I was in bed just after 2 AM. A very successful outing!

flights: 1, airtime: 2:59


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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