Kevin demonstrating his cool personal transportation (later on, he added the wing and went flying)

A high-pressure system sitting on top off us spelled light and variable conditions, and therefore a bunch of choices of where to fly, with the prospects everywhere being dicey. For me, the choice was obvious: towing at Tanner-Hiller would involve the least driving and multiple chances if I couldn’t find lift. I headed over early, arriving about 9:30, figuring that smooth conditions might be a good thing, and set up my gliders. I brought the Falcon up to the NE end of the runway where people were gathering, and was the first one in line when Rhett was ready with the tug. The process is getting to be routine and straightforward, and just when you feel that way, something new gets thrown into the mix. The tow started out more active than any of my previous ones, as the thermals were starting to cook. At about 500 feet — poink! — the tow rope went away. It took me a second to recognize what had happened, as this was the first time for me: the weak link broke. I wasn’t locked out or even off line, it was just a matter of the tension peaking because of the vertical stuff going on in the air. OK, no problem, I know what to do, just go back and land. But as I headed for the runway, it occurred to me that I was probably in enough of a thermal that I could just climb out. I reacted to that idea too late, though, and though I tried one circle when I got a vario beep, I didn’t want to risk getting caught low over the trees, so I landed.

Well, that was cool, I got that inevitable experience out of the way. There were a lot of pilots who showed up, including Larry G, Mark H, Mike A, Kermit, Doug B, CT John B, Matt C, Mark D, Wayne R, and later Scott B, Noel A, and Chris L (did I miss anybody?). I didn’t get back in line right away, but assisted with some other launches. When I did take my turn, the tow went fine, and the air was smoother. I didn’t really find any lift, though I saw Matt climbing off to the east near the solar farm, but far enough away that I didn’t really feel like I could get there. A second good landing, and I brought the glider back to the staging area for one more try. Things were winding down by the time I went back up, with many of the pilots breaking down their gliders and getting ready to head home. On this flight, I did manage to find some lift down at the SW end of the runway, not very strong, only about 100 fpm up, but enough to keep me in the air for an extra 15 minutes or so.

Doug B ready to go

And that would be a fine day, but — I said that I had set up my gliders (plural). The Falcon flights were to get my skills sharpened up so that I could give a try with a more challenging double-surface wing. Specifically:

This is what I alluded to in my post on May 4. A fresh from the factory Wills Wing U2 145. I had assembled it in the morning (after having done so a couple of times in my yard after picking it up), but there was still more to be done to get it ready. I moved the vario over from the Falcon, as well as the tow release. Then Nick assisted me with installing an upper tow point cord. My harness has non-standard length risers for some reason, so I needed to swap in the custom hang loop that I had ordered. And to tame the tendency that the glider might have to be unstable in yaw, I got the tail fin that Chris had been using and bolted that to the keel. Chris was flying the same model and size of glider and warned me that even with the fin, it would still tend to yaw.

Rhett was towing Nick up with tandem passengers at the end of the day, so I put the U2 on a cart and rolled it up to the NE end while one of those tows was going on, and was ready when Rhett burned it down to get me. There was a problem, though, and I knew it before Rhett did: he had no tow rope. At the end of the tandem tow, he had inadvertently released from his end. Luckily, Bob the airport manager happened to be there with the electric cart, and he was able to scoot back to the hangar and get the spare. Rhett got me hooked up, gave me some advice about what might be different with this glider, and what to do if the upper tow point didn’t feel right, then he got in the Dragonfly, I did my final checks and had Bob give the signal, and…
The tow went about six inches. At first I thought that the weak link had broken again, but it was actually the main release that had let go. Unclear why, maybe some issue about the cable routing, so we hooked it up again, and… off we went. Bar pressure? Fine. Yawing? Nope. In fact, this was about the easiest and smoothest tow I’ve ever had, in large part because it was nearly sunset and the air was totally smooth. It was so easy that I just about dozed off. At the top of the tow, Rhett gave the signal and I pulled in and released, and I noticed something strange, though I didn’t really think about it until later. I’m used to releasing and seeing the ‘biner zing off into the distance. This time, the bridle came right off, but then the ‘biner just kind of hovered there, dancing in front of me for a second or two until Rhett did a wingover and dived away. What was happening is that this wing was keeping up with the tug.

I had no hopes of finding any lift, but I had a few thousand feet of altitude to play with, and a chance to see how this glider behaves. I’ve said many a time that I’m really oblivious to the differences between the various gliders that I’ve flown, and practically have to look at the sail to even know what I’m flying. They’re all just hang gliders to me. But this one is… a bit different. First, I headed back to the airfield, and, yeah, I could tell that I was actually covering ground at a pretty good clip. Then I took a look at my vario, and looked at the solar farm where Matt had been circling earlier. Can I get there? Yeah, no problem, without even losing very much altitude. I played around with some turns with and without VG, tried just letting go and hanging there like a sack of potatoes (glider flew nice and straight), etc. Yes, this will do nicely.

One more challenge, of course: landing. One thing that I had heard many warnings about was very much on my mind, that being that the L/D was going to be a lot better, and I might need (a lot) more room than I was used to. Rhett and Nick were at the NE far end of the runway getting ready for the last tandem flight of the day, and I set up my base leg over them at what I considered to be a prudent altitude, not wanting to be anything like low over the trees. I turned on final at 600 feet AGL, looked at the 3300 feet of runway in front of me, and felt kind of uneasy about the situation. So I did an extra turn off to the right and back to eat up some of my excess altitude, then pulled it in and got down to the deck. As expected, I cruised along a few feet off the ground for a good bit further than usual, with the hangar disappearing about 500 feet behind me, then hit the flare at what I believed would be the right time, and got it right, just a few easy steps in dead air. I set the glider down and watched the Dragonfly and tandem pass over me on their way up.  I packed up, and at 9:00 I hit the road for home.

There’s a lot of getting acquainted lying ahead for me and this glider, but so far, so good.

flights: 4, airtime: 1:10


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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