May is a pretty good time for hang gliding in this area, but it’s also prime time for my main activity, orienteering, so flying has been pushed to the back burner all month. Four consecutive weekends of running around in the woods with a map and compass: the annual West Point meet, a national meet near Danbury, CT (where I managed 3rd place in my age category), the national Team Trials in Harriman State Park, and finally the 32nd Annual Billygoat Run at Mt. Tom (which is also a popular unofficial PG site, but HGs are not welcome there these days). This was my 26th time doing the Billygoat, and my 24th finish within the 3.5 hour time limit. All I managed in terms of flying during this stretch was to stop by Skinner on my way home from the Team Trials to see three friends on the ground and three still in the air.
The day before the Billygoat was open on my schedule, and Jeff and I thought about heading to Greylock, but in the morning he didn’t like the look of the forecast, so we skipped it. It did turn out to be a good flying day there, but it was just as well that I stayed home because a problem popped up in the middle of the day, and I was fortunately home to answer the phone and defuse the potential emergency. I also thought about packing my glider and trying to scoot up to Greylock in the afternoon after the Billygoat, but it would have been fairly stupid to try and fly when I was that tired. It was looking like maybe May would go by without any airtime for me.
I had Monday off, and Tom sent out an email saying that the day looked promising, and he was thinking of going flying somewhere. In the end he decided to stay home and get some work done, but the ensuing discussion revealed that a couple of people were heading to West Rutland. Although it’s the site where I’ve racked up the majority of my airtime, I hadn’t managed to fly there in over a year and a half. I quickly packed up my car, hit the road for the 2.5+ hour drive, and arrived with perfect timing.
John S. and Bob R. were there, along with Bob’s daughter Sarah who was coming along to drive the jeep back down the mountain for us. When I first started flying there a few years ago, the road up to launch used to be so hairy that no matter how nasty and ugly the air was, flying down was bound to be less scary than driving down. The club (thanks due here primarily to Gary and Mike, I believe) did a lot of work on the road in the past month, such that it’s now almost civilized. Still not passable for ordinary cars like mine (and probably never will be), but for AWD vehicles I think it’s likely doable with caution.
Not a lot of action on the windsock when we got to launch. It looked like no ridge lift at all, just thermals, and we’d have to see whether there would be enough in that regard for us to milk. Bob was thinking of heading in at the normal time for his second-shift job, and since he had flown the previous two days, he wasn’t planning on staying up for more than an hour.
He was able to get above launch right away, but the thermal cycle fizzled out, and soon he was low enough that he needed to head out to the LZ. John was still setting up his ATOS, but I was ready, so I waited for another good cycle and launched. Like Bob, I started climbing, but after a few passes without finding anything that I could turn in, I got too low and headed out. I’m feeling rusty in several regards these days, and one of them is estimating how far I can reach on glide. This is complicated by the fact that I’m back to flying the Falcon, which I haven’t used much in the last two years, and I’ve also recently upgraded it to have mylar leading edge inserts (a long story) which may have altered its performance. I was a bit concerned about my altitude as I neared the highway, but when I reached the main LZ I had enough left to do a few S-turn passes before dropping it in right where I intended for a no-stepper.
It was a short flight, but my first real mountain flight since last summer. I packed up and considered swinging by Morningside on my way home to do some additional launch and landing practice, but Bob offered to drive me up for a second try as soon as Sarah brought the car down. John launched, and he was staying up, so I figured that since I had driven all that way, I might as well. We zipped back up the mountain and I set up the glider as efficiently as I could, and launched without delay. John had been tooling around at cloudbase for a while, but he came back as I was setting up and buzzed launch, tossing a little heckling down our way. I was encouraged to have him nearby as a possible help for finding lift, but that turned out to be a non-issue. I again did a couple of passes without finding much that was any good, then right in front of launch I hit the bullet that was determined to be my ticket out. Had I been able to crank into it, I might well have gotten a solid climb, but it caught my outside wing and turned me toward the hill, which I was not comfortable with. I moved out further to get some safety margin, but I quickly realized that I needed to head out again. There were a few bubbles on the way, including one that I tried turning in (no luck), but mostly sink. So much sink, in fact, that I became very concerned that I might not reach the LZ. On the drive up, Bob had pointed out another field and said that we had permission from the landowner to land there if necessary. It was closer than the main LZ, so I decided to play it safe and go there instead. Just one big S-turn and I was on final. It superficially looked like the same kind of deal as the main LZ, and I set up my landing just fine, but got kind of a surprise when I flared. Instead of a no-stepper into ankle-high grass, I just kept dropping for another couple of feet. The growth in this field was up to my thighs, but I had done just what you’re supposed to do in that situation, pretend that the tops of the vegetation are the ground. It wasn’t exactly an outlanding, because although it was an unfamiliar field with no windsocks (good XC practice, right?), it’s actually closer to launch than the main LZ, but I don’t think “inlanding” is a term that anybody uses.
Not much airtime (only 20 minutes total for the two flights), but I had two good launches and two good landings, which I kind of needed for my confidence. I also got back to fly West Rutland after all this time, and there was an additional thing that I was able to accomplish as well. On hot summer days, there’s a nearby swimming hole (an old quarry) where pilots will sometimes go to cool off. I never got there last year, but this was a hot day even though it was still May, so I did get to have a dip. As expected, this early in the season, the water was extra-refreshing!
flights: 2, airtime: 0:20