Yo-yo

Driving range LZ and mini-golf, North Adams
My schedule recently has caused me to miss some excellent flying days. Some of the conflicts were due to orienteering meets, some were things I was doing with my girlfriend Nancy and her kids, and some had to do with starting a new job, which means that there will be no weekday opportunities for me for a while, my hang gliding will be restricted to weekends. Not having flown in over a month, I was hoping I’d get a chance to get in a flight during May, and I knew that I had too much other stuff going on Memorial Day weekend. So when the forecast was excellent for Greylock, I really wanted to go. Nancy wasn’t very happy about that, because she had been thinking about going to the beach, but after some “negotiations”, she agreed to come along to the mountains instead. It’s been about three years since she’s seen me fly, and I figured that Greylock was probably the best place for her to come along, since it’s an interesting place to visit even without the flying aspect.

We had to stop by my place to get my gear, which resulted in a late arrival at this east-facing, early site, and on a busy day, that can make a big difference. The rumors in the next couple of days about 200+ pilots having shown up were an exaggeration, but the truth was that 58 signed in (although one of those didn’t end up flying). That meant some waiting for anybody who was at the back of the line. Unlike the day last fall with the same size crowd, though, conditions were spreading people out. In September there had been weak lift that kept everyone out front, and a lot of wings got squeezed into a small space. This time there were alternating good and poor cycles, so there would be a bunch of people who got up, then the sink would arrive and the ones who had launched hoping to join the climb got flushed to the bailout, and the pattern would repeat. This did cause some traffic jams on launch, though. HG pilots and PG pilots have different habits in this regard. With HGs, you might see somebody sitting on launch for a long time, not picking up his wing, but when conditions are okay, quite a few can parade off in short order. PGs can launch rapidly when it’s just light, but these conditions were trickier for them, and a few PGs did multiple botched inflations, which doesn’t look very impressive to the crowd of spectators. Eventually a couple of pilots started doing traffic cop duty, and put in place a “5 HGs, 5 PGs” policy, which sped things up.

Meanwhile, I had plenty of time to set up, while lighthouse-fan Nancy checked out the memorial (which she informed me is a beacon, but was never intended to be used as a lighthouse, despite what I had heard about the original plan to put it on the coast) and watched some of the launches. I even got her to agree to pose for a picture, and she managed a smile.
Nancy at me at Mt. Greylock

Finally the line subsided and my turn came to launch. The first few seconds seemed promising, but then I wasn’t able to find much in the way of lift, and before long I found myself a couple of hundred feet below launch. Damn! No sense in getting myself in trouble, so I headed out to the bailout with a halfhearted hope that maybe I’d find a thermal on the way. Nine hundred feet below launch, and halfway to the LZ… I found one! Spun up onto a wingtip and held on for 10 turns, which got me back up to moutaintop height, and I was able to scoot back to the safety of the summit. I boated around there for a little bit, looking for my ticket up and out, and before long I was sinking again, this time getting a full thousand feet below, all the way over the LZ and prepared to set up a landing, when I got another save. Whew! This one also got me back to launch and allowed me to seek the high ground. The third time I reacted earlier and headed out front before I was in as deep a hole, and got a thermal when I had lost only about 400 feet, and once again retreated to the ridge.

I have tremendous patience, which sometimes veers into stubbornness, but after making the same mistake three times in a row, I finally wised up. The rule of thumb is that peaks are good places to look for thermals, but that’s a general approach, and some days don’t follow the normal patterns. There was no lift to be had over the mountain. The lift was coming from the bailout LZ! This time, I yanked on the VG and got myself to the field with as much altitude as possible, and started snooping around. Once again, I found a thermal, and this time I stayed with it as long as I could keep track of it, topping out at 2000 feet above launch. Yeah!
Mt. Greylock

I had given Nancy my spare radio, but didn’t have any luck trying to contact her (she had tried to call me when I was too busy scratching to pay attention, and then she had given up and was listening only intermittently). She did manage to find the bailout, though, and watched some PGs coming in. Had she looked straight up, she might have seen me circling, finally climbing out. After a couple of hours, I figured it was time to come down so that she wouldn’t get too bored. Not being sure where she was, I headed to the driving range, which is the preferred LZ. There were a few other wings ahead of me, so I bopped around in some bubbles of zero sink coming off of the nearby buildings and parking lots while I waited for them to land. The wind appeared to be switchy, with the flags and windsocks sometimes limp, sometimes pointing in very unexpected directions.
Driving range LZ, North Adams

Pete J was the glider ahead of me, and he landed at the very far end of the field, just making it in and leaving himself with a long walk in. I flew over his head on final, and made sure to note the locations of the yardage marker signs and to stay away from them. All was fine until I got a little lower, when more detail came into focus, and …. gaaah! There were metal posts all over the field! The LZ was a disc-golf course! Apparently Brooks had been warning people about this, but I hadn’t gotten the word — the baskets had been put up in the preceding week. I was not a happy pilot, but managed to land cleanly without hitting any of them. This is what I was faced with (I didn’t land this close, I just carried over to this one in the breakdown area).
RC Field LZ, North Adams

So, a successful day of flying, and an interesting one with the repeated low saves that had me feeling like a yo-yo. Nancy didn’t hate it, at least not entirely. Well, maybe she did. I had to promise that next time there was a choice, that we’d do whatever it was that she wanted to do, and the truth is that I’m not going to ask her to come along any more, if she ever wants to join me, she’ll have to let me know. It was successful for others as well — those with the timing and skills were able to really get up, and a few had excellent XC flights. Huzzah!

flights: 1, airtime: 1:58, XC distance: 6.2 km

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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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