Mary Poppins (the Disney movie), ends with the song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”. My friends Rachel, Nicole, and Stephen are in a ballet rendition of Mary Poppins this weekend, with Rachel in the title role, Stephen as Michael, and Nicole as a chimney sweep. I had promised their mother that I could help out with some stage carpentry on Thursday evening. But then the forecast looked good, nay, outstanding for flying on Thursday. I called Nancy and assured her that I could fly, keep everything on the early side even if it meant sledding out, and still be back in time.
I met PK, Jake, Dennis, Greg H, and Jeff B at Ascutney. Oof, I was flying with the big boys today, four Lightspeeds, an ATOS, and me on an Ultrasport. PK and I shared the load (with some help from Ryan) carrying gliders, since he is scheduled for hernia surgery (yikes!). Jake knew that I had time constraints, so he saved me the front spot in order that I could launch first. Everybody appreciates a volunteer wind dummy! As I was finishing setting up, Greg looked out at the sky and said, “You can’t ask for more than this!”
Yeah, based on what I’ve read and heard, those clouds are just about perfect. The wind was very light, and generally straight in, but occasionally cross or even blowing down as thermals came through. I stood on the platform with Jake for a bit, receiving advice, until Dennis piped up with, “It’s time to sacrifice the virgin!”. I looked at my watch, and agreed that it was time for me to get moving. A nice cycle came through just after I did my hang check, so I didn’t have to wait to launch. Then I went down, down, down. I briefly got above launch, then sank until I was more than 700 feet below it. I was doing what I could, working little bumps and hanging on by my fingernails, but it looked like the time was coming to head for the LZ. Jeff and Greg launched behind me and got some lift, then I found a thermal that I could stay with, and over the course of the next 16 minutes I steadily gained 4800 feet of altitude. That put me at right around 7000 feet. You know what was at 7000 feet?
That’s right, big gangs of tiny water droplets. My first ever visit to the legendary “cloudbase”! I was as high as some wispy tendrils, but avoided going through any white stuff. It got chilly up there (the mid 40s F, I think), and I was glad I wore a jacket instead of the long-sleeve T-shirt I had been considering. PK climbed up and joined us, and I saw Dennis launch as well.
The traditional first XC in these parts if the Ascutney to Morningside run, about 10 miles. I had a clear view of Morningside, and the rule of thumb is that you need 5000 feet to leave the mountain. I had that with plenty to spare, it was downwind, and I felt pretty certain that there would be more lift available on the way.
But I had a schedule to stick to, and getting a ride from Morningside back to my car would have incurred a delay, so instead I pulled on the VG and experimented to see how much progress I could make upwind. I made it out past the LZ still with a lot of room between myself and the ground, as I watched Jake scratching down low. For a while I thought he was heading for a landing, but around the time that I decided that I needed to make my way to the ground, he found a good climb and spiraled up. The other four had already left for epic flights of up to five hours, traveling between 50 and 80 miles (Greg landed in Maine), and Jake eventually wound up at Morningside. After about an hour in the air, I had a great landing across the street from when I had parked my car, and hit the road early enough to get the dance studio before Nancy did.
I’ve been thinking about this Mary Poppins character. She flies around using this gizmo made of fabric with metal ribs in it, that folds up for easy storage and transport. Maybe it doesn’t look exactly like the hang gliders that we we use, but I’m just sayin’…
flights: 1, airtime: 0:57