There’s only one site in this area (that I’ve flown, anyway) that requires a gnarly vehicle, and that’s West Rutland. The drive to launch is much better than it used to be, but it’s still not suitable to run of the mill 2WD cars like the one I have. There are usually enough people showing up with SUVs or trucks that can make the climb that it’s not an issue, and I’ve never not been able to get a ride. I always try to make sure of that ahead of time, though, because it’s a long drive up to Vermont from my place and it would be a drag to get stuck at the bottom. I thought that might be the situation this past weekend, when I was unable to go flying on Saturday due to other commitments, despite the fact that the sky looked fantastic. It turned out that things conditions didn’t shape up too well at Rutland though, and most everybody who flew there on Saturday sank out (though there were some impressive flights at Morningside off of aerotow). Sunday had a forecast that looked kind of discouraging (high winds, maybe gusty, and dubious lift), and I figured maybe nobody would be going, especially after I put a query on the club email list and nobody responded.
Around 9 AM Sunday I got a call from Bob R. wondering what I was up to. I said that I was hanging out at home, thinking about mowing the lawn. He responded that he had expected I would have been on my way up, based on my email, and that he and a number of other people were going flying. That provoked an instant change of plans on my part, and I threw my stuff in the car and hit the road. When I arrived 2 1/2 hours later, there were five pilots up at launch, and shortly after I got there, CT John B., Megan, and Pat pulled in.
We hung out at the parking area and ate lunch while we watched the others fly. The sky had been overcast when I pulled in, but it cleared out and it looked like conditions were getting quite good. After the last pilot launched and Beth and Linda were free from wire crew duties, they drove the truck down and the four of us loaded up, along with George B. and his paraglider. Reports from the first shift were that conditions had been quite strong, and in fact the last pilot to launch (Al A.) had been hesitant about going. Since he’s much more experienced than I am, and was flying a U2, I was a bit apprehensive that it mught be blown out for my Falcon (and John and Megan were flying Falcons as well).
Up top, I walked out to the ramp, decided that it was quite good, and set up without delay. As soon as my preflight was done, I glanced over to Megan, who already had her helmet on, and asked if she was going to go. She said she was kind of hoping I’d go first, so I suited right up, carried the glider out to the ramp, and spent maybe 30 seconds eyeing the wind before I decided to pick it up and launch — I couldn’t have asked for better wind conditions. Four times I had been to West Rutland so far this year, and I had had four sled rides (two on one day, and another day I didn’t fly at all), but this was different. I think I heard a whoop from behind me as I connected with an elevator right out front, then I turned right and got the old familiar initial climb, steadily up all the way to the towers. Turning back, I came in a couple of hundred feet over launch, and Megan was already in the air. John came next, then Pat.
John has the least experience of the four of us, and flew cautiously, which unfortunately put him too far away from the ridge to lock into the lift, and after not so long, he had to beat a retreat to the LZ. The other three of us made it stick, and were soon soaring comfortably above the mountain. It had been too long (over a year) since I had been able to get some appreciable distance between my wing and the ground, and it felt good. Most of the lift was smooth ridge lift, but there were occasional tight thermals that I relearned how to ride, and my vario says I got as high as 2000 feet over launch.
It was one of those days when almost everybody basically gets to fly as long as they want. George was one of the unlucky ones — when we arrived, the wind was too strong to launch his PG, and he reported that it got even stronger while we were flying, though it was never uncomfortable up where we were. After Megan and Pat landed, it eventually lightened up enough for him to give it a try, but he wasn’t able to hang on, and had a short flight. That left me alone in the air. Sometimes you have a situation where you start wondering what’s going to make you finally come down. It could be fading daylight, or a need to go to the bathroom, or fatigue, or a desire to be the last one left in the air, or any number of other reasons. I was hungry enough for airtime that I wasn’t going to land until I felt compelled to, but eventually decided to play a game: I’d keep flying as long as I could maintain altitude above launch. Conditions got lighter and lighter, and I had to resort to different techniques to keep climbing, ultimately cruising close to the ridge and just maintaining zero sink, then gradually dropping bit by bit until the secondary altimeter dropped to zero, then -10 feet, and I headed for the LZ.
When I got there, I tried out an Arkansas windsock for practice (read about that here), and greased in a sweet landing just a few steps from the dirt road in the main LZ. Two hours and forty minutes in the air, just like old times (my fourth-longest flight ever, actually). Hey Day, I got me sum!
flights: 1, airtime: 2:40