February Falconry

I missed out on the one really good chance to fly in January, when a bunch of PGs (and a couple of biwingual pilots with a HG) had a great beach day at Wellfleet. But one of those guys posted that he was looking at taking his PG to Mt. Tom on Friday afternoon. It looked too cross to me for Mt. Tom (and HGs aren’t welcome there), but the wind looked great for Skinner, just across the river. So I got in touch with him and we made plans to meet — he was working at a job site pretty close to where I live.

Jon A has been flying for a long time, and there have been a couple of occasions when were were at the same site on the same day, but we had never actually met. Skinner is a relatively nearby site, less than 90 minutes from home, and we had a fine chat on the drive out there. The one hitch is that it’s a state park that’s closed for the season, so driving up the mountain was not an option; we’d have to do it with muscle power. I had brought along my old bicycle trailer, so that made the hike a lot easier than it would have been with gliders on our shoulders. Because of the hike, both of us opted to leave our Ultrasports at home and bring our lightweight Falcons instead. Normally the plan would have been to take the trailer as far as the ranger station and then carry the gliders up the Halfway Trail, but that trail gets a lot of foot traffic in the winter, which packs the snow down and turns it to ice. We’ve gotten very little snow this year, and most of it has melted, but when we got to the trail, we saw that it was just a nasty path of treacherous footing, so we decided to take the longer route, pulling the trailer all the way up the road to the summit parking lot.

We decided on two trips from the parking lot to get our gear to launch. We took the harnesses first, and when we arrived we were met with 8 mph steady wind, straight in or perhaps a tiny bit from the right, which was good because the forecast had suggested that it might swing around to the left by afternoon. After the second trip with the gliders, though, it had picked up a lot, and was now 15-20 with gusts as high as 24. Not good. It was a nice sunny day, so we positioned ourselves out of the wind but in the sunshine and relaxed for a while. The thermometer on my wind gauge said that it was 44 F, but Jon was skeptical, it seemed more likely that it was no higher than the predicted 38 F.

We agreed that even if we wound up carrying the gear back out, it was already a successful day just based on getting outside. The wind seemed to abate somewhat, and we rustled up some sticks to hang streamers from to show the direction. Jon said that he’d be happy even if he just got a sled ride, and we went ahead and set up the gliders. He volunteered to go second after wiring me off. (A few hikers had passed through, and we were hoping to be able to enlist them for assistance, but they were all gone by this point.) I got myself ready, we turned my wing around on the narrow shelf, and we waited through some fairly strong winds. Once they settled down and looked like they were going to stay civilized, I picked up the glider and launched without hesitating.

Sometimes when you launch, you have to scratch around for a while before finding a climb that provides some comfortable altitude, but this was not one of those days. This one was more of a blastoff. Two minutes after launching, I was 540 feet over, not too bad for 4 PM ridge lift in February! I had been a little concerned that the gusts we had experienced on the ground would translate to a bumpy ride, but the air above the ridge was adequately docile. Jon moved his glider to the center of the launch area, but kept it positioned well back until he saw a cycle that he liked, then walked it forward and kept going into the air.

(Yeah, that’s what a hang glider launch site looks like in this part of the world — see Jon’s glider as he’s getting hooked in?)

We had about an hour left until the sun would be going down, and we used basically all of it. Although it was winter flying, it wasn’t that cold, even though I hadn’t bothered with serious arctic clothing (I did use bar mitts, and I’m very glad I did). Staying up was a cinch, and I kept glancing at the sun and at the time to make sure that I wouldn’t be landing in the dark. We had a smooth time, most of it spent 400-600 feet above launch, occasionally getting up to 800 feet over. We had decided not to bother with radios, but both made the choice to head for the LZ at the same time, boxed the field together, and landed virtually simultaneously. I hadn’t flown the Falcon in over a year, boy does that glider land easily!

After packing up in a hurry, Jon got the truck and loaded the gliders, and I trotted back up the mountain to retrieve the cart, and had a nice jog back down the road in the moonlight. A fine start to this year’s flying!

flights: 1, airtime: 1:03


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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