Road launch

I got an email on Friday evening from John B, saying something like, “Cheerio, old chap, do you fancy a go at Ellenville this weekend?”. (He talks that way, because he’s a Limey.) Saturday looked like the ideal day for something like that, but I had other things on my schedule (as did he). Sunday was going to be colder, and there were some things about the wind forecast that had me a bit wary, but what was the worst thing that could happen? We’d spend eight hours in the car driving there and back and not get to fly. Sounds like a plan.

The drive down featured some entertainment as John tried in vain to use the voice activated feature of his GPS, which refused to pay any attention to his Queen’s English unless he tried faking an American accent (which actually sounded more like a robot). Nevertheless, we got to Ellenville and saw no cars parked in the LZ and no wings in the air. The day before had been good, so we figured maybe the locals were all just tired. We signed in with Tony, and he assured us that the day would be flyable, so we drove up the mountain.

This time of year, the normal launches at Ellenville are inaccessible due to snow (as are all of the mountain launches in New England, which is why we drove down to New York). The internet forum had reports from people who had either tried and failed to get 4WD vehicles past the gate, or who had made it up with snowmobiles and reported that there was no way to drive a car to launch. But Ellenville has a backup plan, the road launch.

They have built a concrete launch ramp just on the other side of the guard rail at a scenic pullout, and you set up your glider on the side of the road, climb over the guard rail, and take off.

It’s a couple of hundred feet lower than the normal launch area, but once you’re in the air, that hardly matters. Pilots from the club shovel out the access to the ramp, and after I took these pictures, they also brought up a set of folding steps to make it easier to climb over the rail with a glider. The one weird thing is that, because everything is so visible to motorists, there are more spectators than usual for Ellenville. The ones who park and get out of their cars and ask questions are no problem. On the other hand, the ones who just stop in the middle of the road expecting to see a launch, not realizing that a pilot may wait on the ramp for 5-10 minutes if wind conditions are unfavorable, seem like they are at serious risk of causing an accident.

John and I were the first pilots to arrive, and as neither of us had ever used the road launch, we parked at the lower end of the pullout, figuring that we’d rather let some others go first so that we could watch and pick up on any peculiarities of this launch ramp. A few cars arrived shortly after us, and we soon had about eight gliders setting up. The wind was behaving a lot better than we had feared, so there was no waiting around required. Greg B and Dave H had come up with the other pilots, and they started wiring people off. Everybody was climbing as soon as they got into the air, so I got ready and got in line. The wind looked just a bit light when I got onto the ramp, so I waited a few seconds for it to pick up, and had an easy launch.

(The snowy clearing at the upper right of this picture is the normal setup and launch area.)

Lift was easy to find, though not that easy to exploit. The thermals seemed pretty skinny and kind of disorganized, but on the other hand, maybe it was more a matter of my being rusty coming off of the winter. I climbed to above 4500 feet early on, then lost a bunch of that in a sink cycle, and spent the rest of the flight mostly hanging out at around 500 to 1000 feet above launch. It was a little cool, probably in the high 30s F, so I tried to keep moving my fingers so they wouldn’t get cold (I had on gloves and bar mitts). I took a few excursions up the ridge a little way, and on one at the end of the flight, I kept gradually climbing as I flew northeast, and could probably have gone quite a way, but with a four hour drive to get home, I didn’t want to risk any additional delays if I were to land out. I heard that several of the pilots who launched before me flew up the valley and landed at the airport.

Manuk and his very recognizable TRX

I think every time I’ve flown at Ellenville, I’ve landed because I decided it was time, not because I sank out, and this was no exception. After a couple of hours, I found myself looking for some sign that I could wait for to be my indication that I should head for the LZ. There were about four of us left in the air at that point, and I decided that when somebody else landed, my turn would be next, so I followed a Sport 2 back to the LZ, which turned out to be full of deeper snow than you might have expected (LZs are always deeper than you’d expect).

(It’s deeper than it looks in this picture, too.)

George gave me a ride back up to retrieve John’s car, and we hit the road just after it got dark (first evening of Daylight Saving Time), and I almost made it home by midnight. A fine start to the flying season.

flights: 1, airtime: 2:21


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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2 Responses to Road launch

  1. Lee says:

    Great write up and pictures. I hope you find the rest of 2014 this rewarding. – Lee

  2. Chris says:

    I only had a few winter Ellenville rides, but this reminds me how beautiful it was from the air. I remember a particularly warm January 1st…

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