The forecast was SW, and that meant Rutland. Well, no, actually, it wasn’t. It was kind of light and variable, with a bit of a southerly bias, but a pretty good thermal index, and that meant we wanted someplace with a bunch of altitude. (Or towing, but I forget, maybe there were no towing opportunities available.) Various people claimed they were heading to various places, but everybody ended up at Rutland.
Conditions didn’t look too bad when we arrived (straight in, though maybe a little light), so we started setting up quickly. However, instead of continuing to improve, the winds backed off somewhat and came in cross from the right, or sometimes completely over the back. To kill some time, PK and I wandered down to the “lower launch”, an area of bare rock a short distance down the ridge where you could in principle launch a hang glider, though nobody has done so in years. (It would be a lot more feasible for a paraglider, because lugging a hang glider down through the woods to set it up would be annoying, especially if you decided not to launch and had to carry it back up.) That clearing faces more SE, in contrast to the SW ramp, and the cycles seemed pretty reasonable down there. When we went back up, we suggested to some of the paraglider pilots that they might want to try it. They assumed that we were trying to sell them a bill of goods, but they did wander down there without their gear, along with HG pilot John S.
We spent some time fretting at the windsock, and finally PK suited up and moved to launch with his Lightspeed. He was tired from having flown the day before, and said something about just going for a short flight. It was a tricky time, waiting for a good cycle or at least a lull, but he did get into the air safely, and started hunting around for lift. He hung on by his fingernails for quite a while, working hard but gradually losing altitude, and the rest of us were not encouraged. Finally he got above the horizon, way down the valley to the west, and worked his way skyward. It was obviously doable, but not easy.
Just as PK started finding success, Randy was ready with his Combat. Before he moved to the ramp, John came back up from the lower clearing and started giving him orders. “Do exactly as I say. I’ll stand behind launch and let you know when I don’t feel any wind on my back. If the streamers are showing a lull, that’s when you launch. Turn left immediately and go around the corner, where you’ll see the PG pilots sitting in the clearing. There will be a thermal there, and you have to crank and bank when you hit it.” And what do you know, Randy followed those instructions to the letter and it worked out exactly as John had said. The tight spiral as he climbed out was really impressive. John told him where to find it, and Randy knew how to take advantage of it. As he specked out, John said, “What have I done? There goes my site record!”. Years ago, John had put up an impressive XC flight from Rutland on an unusual day, flying to the west, and it looked like Randy might be heading in the same direction. But I pointed out that it was already late in the day, and there wasn’t enough time to get very far.
Krassi was next with his U2. The wind direction had gotten even less favorable, and he did find a launchable cycle, but didn’t find much in the way of lift and was soon on the ground. Tom stepped up with his new T2C 136, the first time he had footlaunched it. He looked around in the same place where Randy had gotten a climb, but had no luck, and his gradual descent soon had him heading for the LZ. Jeff C with his Sport 2 got into the air but struggled and was soon on the ground. Jimmy’s experience wasn’t very different. Pete J, also with a Sport 2, at least managed to get over the top of the ridge, and was able to stay in the air for almost a half-hour. John S with his ATOS was close behind Pete, and he had a very tricky time finding a launchable cycle, but started working hard and managed to soar.
There were several of us left, and we had to decide what to do. Allen started pulling battens, and I decided that it was easier to pack up in the LZ than on top. I was kind of thinking that it would be polite to drive Pete’s truck down for him, but it turned out that Allen had that covered. The less experienced pilots didn’t look like they wanted to risk it, but I figured if I could get a launchable cycle, I could give it one shot. I had a plan: head for the plowed field next to the LZ and hope for a thermal, and it not, then just take the sledder. It took a while to find a moment that was to my liking. It would be barely trickling in, or trickling over the back, or blowing stronger but really cross. I finally picked a moment when I could go, but as I ran down the ramp, it felt like the wind switched to coming from behind me, and the wing didn’t want to hold my weight until I ran out of ramp. Still, I made it off safely and didn’t have any trouble clearing the trees. I stuck with my plan and headed directly for the LZ. About halfway there I got a little chirp out of the vario and did one turn to look for the lift, but I didn’t find it and continued on. Nothing over the plowed area, and the most “promising” bit was when I was setting up my landing on the west end of the field, and it felt like I was getting a little ridge lift from the small hill down there. It was enough to do a few S-turns before going on final in an unusual direction, heading east.
The other pilots trickled in, with PK and Randy, the two who had launched first, being the last to arrive, along with John. PK complained that he hands had been getting really cold when he was at 7000 feet (the rest of is felt sooooooo sorry for him!). Randy did not in fact go XC, but returned to the same LZ as the rest of us. Those three had better luck then the rest of us.
Luck, of course, had very little to do with it.
Pete J, me, Randy B, Tom L
flights: 1, airtime: 0:05