Lookin at a Thing in a Bag

Before I bought the Ultrasport 147, I had been talking with Sean about buying his Ultrasport 135. After I wrecked the 147, he sent me an email and said that I needed to get back in the air, and if we could rendezvous at some flying site, he’d bring the wing. After my recent trip to Wellfleet when I packed up on the beach, I got so much sand in the Falcon that I decided to take the sail off to clean it out properly and really rinse it off well.

In the process, I discovered a couple of items that warranted attention, so the Falcon is out of commission until I get the upgrade parts from Wills Wing. The Mark IV is still waiting for me to replace the crossbar hinge (anybody out there got a set of hinge plates in a parts box?). That left me with nothing to fly, and I missed at least one possible day when other people went flying because I didn’t have a wing. So on a day when I was up in the area, I gave Sean a call and stopped by his place. He dug the glider out of his barn and let me take it, saying that I was welcome to fly it and see if I liked it well enough to buy it.

Check it out, check it out, check it out, check it out….

The glider bag was all covered with dust and bird droppings, but the contents were clean, and I was relieved to find that mice had not found their way into the bag. I set it up in the yard, and gave it a reasonably thorough scrutinizing. It’s not a new glider, it has had at least three owners, and has been rebuilt after some kind of a crash, but I was pleased to see that the sail was actually in quite good shape, only a couple of small holes (that had been repaired), and not all “bagged out”. Sean had mentioned that the VG was sticky, that a pulley needed adjustment such that it didn’t release as easily as it should. I fiddled with that some, and got it working acceptably, but concluded that it’s hard to know how it will behave in flight by examining it on the ground, because it’s not subject to the aerodynamic loads, so I’ll have to wait until I can try it in the air to know whether I’ve really fixed it.

Before I could fly it, I also needed to make sure that I could hook my harness to the glider. The first try at that presented a problem:

Seems I’m hanging a bit high here. That’s not going to give me very good control authority.

This is more like it, probably even too low. This picture shows me hanging from the backup hang strap. Since the Ultrasport has a kingpost-mounted hang strap, it’s not just a simple matter of whipping another strap loop around the keel. Hang straps are available in standard and custom lengths from Wills Wing, but getting one from California would incur a delay and expense that I wanted to avoid if possible. After consulting with Tom, I decided to attach a strap loop to the existing hang strap as a temporary solution, and get a proper hang strap if I decided to keep the glider.

Work and other commitments kept me busy for a bit, but then a weekend in late November rolled around looking like it would provide opportunities for flying on both days, very unusual for this area at this time of year. On Saturday the typical email negotiation took place, with most people deciding to not try the west-facing mountain sites, and to instead wait for Sunday or Monday at the coast. At that point, I committed to doing some other things, so when John B. called an hour or so later and said that he was interested in heading out to the Trail, I couldn’t go. Sigh. Well, the Trail probably wasn’t the best place to try out an unknown glider anyway. Sunday saw east winds suitable for flying at Wellfleet, and also at Greylock, and quite a few pilots went, but I had relatives in town whom I had not seen in a number of years, so I opted to visit them instead. This was the weekend before Thanksgiving, and was the start of a period of way too much insane driving, six states in about eight days, with multiple trips to some of them. Add to that the fact that I’m on a rush project at work, and it made no sense for me to try and fly on Monday. So, of course, I did it.

In order to be able to both fly and work, I figured that I should launch as soon as possible after dawn, which meant loading up the car the night before, waking up at 4 AM, and hitting the road immediately. That also worked in terms of the tide, as low tide was mid-morning. When I got to White Crest Beach, Matt M. and Pete J. were already there setting up, and a minute or two later, another car rolled in with Randy B. and Tom L. Where Sunday’s forecast had been a bit light and somewhat cross from the left, Monday’s was perfect in terms of strength, and straight in. The reality, though, was that Sunday was plenty strong enough to soar (and enough that a couple of PGs reportedly got blown back), and Monday morning, it was howling. My wind gauge had it as about 25 mph, and if I had brought a Falcon, I wouldn’t have even taken it off the roof of the car. As we set up, Tom noted that the phone wires were whistling, a sign that it was really strong. Fortunately, I had a double-surface wing, and a small one at that, so I wasn’t as worried as I might have been otherwise. And with only 60 feet down to the LZ, this was a pretty good place to give the glider a first test. On the plus side, it was unseasonably warm at about 50 F, so we wouldn’t sed to worry about freezing fingers.

Matt launched first and started swooping around, shortly followed by Randy. I helped them launch, and Tom and I got Pete into the air as well, at which point Tom started looking around anxiously, hoping that Rodger F. would arrive soon so that we’d have more wire crew. Sure enough, he rolled in a couple of minutes later along with John B. I was almost ready, so I finished packing my harness. Seemed like with the amount of wind, I would probably have enough to think about just flying the glider, so I opted to leave the drinking water and the cameras in my car, but I did hook up my radio headset. My friends helped me maneuver the glider through the turbulence, and I did a full lie-down hang check. Ready to go, and like the other pilots, I opted for a tight-strap launch: get into position, and let the glider rise up off of the shoulders so that the leg loops snug up, move the hands to the control bar, and start flying the glider before moving, then a step or two and a bit of pitch adjustment, and you’re airborne. This technique works very well in these conditions. In my case, it wasn’t a vertical takeoff, but rather several moonwalking steps forward as I waffled off the hill. I never really got comfortable, and turned a little late as a result, which put me too far forward of the ridge, and out of the strongest lift. One pass back in front of launch, and I beached it after about a minute.

OK, well, fine landing, not too bad for a first flight on the wing. I walked it back to the path, managed to get it up over the five foot drop at the base of the ridge, and carried it partway up the hill. Tom was set up, so I waited and watched him launch over me. I was pleased, as up until this point I had not managed to go flying with Tom all year (or see his new T2C).

Okay, you’re weird.
Rodger and John helped me get my wing up the rest of the way, I hooked in again, and gave it a second shot. The launch was similar, but I turned sooner and got into the lift. Strong wind, pull in to make sure I stay out front, and WOW! Urgh… This… glider… has… a… TON… of… pitch… pressure! Man! I would generally expect a higher performance glider to have lighter pitch pressure, but this little wing required more force than anything I had ever flown. Strange. Well, it flew okay, though. Except that the handling wasn’t exactly awesome, though it’s hard to evaluate that when the bar is pulled in so far in order to penetrate against the gale. I thought about the VG — I remembered from when I had the glider set up in my yard that the cam VG really visually changes the shape of the wing, and in particular that the VG includes pulleys inside the kingpost that lower the reflex bridles. So I figured it was worth a shot, and I pulled on a couple of feet of VG cord, which wasn’t easy, because I could barely let go of the bar. Did it help? Maybe. A little. Oof. I managed to get a hand free for another couple of moments in order to zip the harness up partway so that I could unlock my knees, and settled in.

I went north as far as Newcomb Hollow. Getting across the little pond gap went okay, but I didn’t want to try a big gap since I felt very speed limited. Instead, I turned around and headed south. One of the other pilots waved shortly after I passed launch, and then I was on my own all the way to Nauset Light. Having experienced the north side, I now realize that there is nothing on the south side that qualifes as a gap, and it’s easy flying down there. As I flew along, I kept thinking about why the pitch pressure was so high, and the answer dawned on me. Normally, I like to have the backup hang strap in front of the primary, but on this glider, I had left it where it was, behind the primary, looped around the keel just behind the kingpost track. The problem was that the backup needs to be considerably longer than the primary, and because I had lengthened the primary, this one wasn’t. As a result, when I pulled in, the backup snugged up and took all of my weight, so that I was in effect flying a glider that was trimmed waaaaaay too slow. Doh! That also explained why the turn handling was rather less than impressive. I considered my options:
1) Cut the backup with my hook knife while flying.
— Uhhhh, no.
2) Top land, remedy the strap problem, and launch again.
— Since I don’t know how to top land, and was not about to try and learn in these circumstances, that was right out.
3) Land on the beach, carry the glider back up, straighten things out and try again.
— Maybe, but I was getting pretty tired, and needed to head in to work anyway.
4) Land on the beach, pack up, and leave.
— Now there’s a plan.

Of course, I needed to fly back to launch first, and by the time I got there, I had been in the air for over an hour, so I didn’t feel like I had been shortchanged. Matt had just landed, and it was of course a bit difficult to get out of the lift and make it down to the beach. Rodger came down and helped me carry my glider up so that I could break down in the parking lot, which allowed me to keep the glider relatively sand-free. John had just launched, and Allen S. had arrived, so we wired Rodger off. Then when Allen was ready to go, Matt and I had just finished packing up, so we gave him a hand. The timing worked out nicely, with everyone having wire crew available.

Some of the pilots flew for as long as five hours. Rain started while I was on my way to work, and I got there by about 1 PM. First day with this glider, and despite the trim problems I managed to get a flight that was my second-longest ever in terms of how far I got from launch. Not too bad, though it will take some more flying (particularly in inland conditions) before I decide whether it’s a keeper.

flights: 1, airtime: 1:07

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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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