Second helping

For the longest time, a forecast of SW winds meant a trip to West Rutland, close to three hours each way. Now, however, the same forecast can work for towing at Tanner-Hiller airport, the closest flying site to my house, less than an hour away. I had left the glider on the roof of my car overnight, so I had the added convenience of not even having to load up the car, I just packed some lunch and got to New Braintree as a few other pilots were starting to set up.

Pete J and Stacy P

I wasn’t first in line, but I was ready pretty quickly. Chris was there, and he had grabbed the tail fin, so I was interested in going early, before the air got too interesting. Since my first tow with the U2 a week earlier had been so easy, I figured I could give it a try without the fin. Rhett seemed to feel that it wasn’t an unreasonable idea, and Ross assured me that the U2 tows very easily and I’d have no trouble. By the time everything was in place, though, it was just before 2 PM, which is kind of midday, so maybe I should have known better. On the other hand, thermally air may have had nothing to do with the excitement I was in for. We started the tow, and as soon as I left the cart, I went into a steep bank, then overcorrected to a steep bank the other way. Rhett had my back, though, and seeing my plight in his mirror, he swerved and got the tug in front of me. By the time were were a little over the treetops, I had the swings damped out, and the rest of the tow went fine. There were a couple of moments when the glider wanted to fly sideways, but I just let it, understanding that there’s no harm in that sort of yaw.

Rhett dropped me off in a climb, and I was able to gain a little less than 500 feet of additional altitude before it tapered off, and then I got crushed. No matter where I went hunting, all I could find was 400 fpm down. Sheesh! Well, no matter, it was still better than a sled ride, and I had an opportunity to improve my landing. Last time I had run long, but this time I had a better idea of what to expect for glide performance, and I set down directly opposite the hangar, despite the fact that the only lift I found was over the runway when I was on final.

There were a dozen of us flying, so I had plenty of time to leisurely carry my gear back to the staging area, eat my lunch, and help/observe a few others launching. I was out at the tow line with airport manager Bob and a couple of other pilots when Nick went. Nick is the tandem pilot of this operation, so he tows often enough that hooking up and launching is a quick and seamless process — unlike with other pilots, Rhett doesn’t bother to get out of the plane. As Nick came out of the cart, he was a little less than smooth, then Rhett did a really crazy maneuver with the tug. This wasn’t like what he had done with me, it looked more like he was ribbing Nick, as if to say, “Hey, if you can’t fly in a straight line, then why should I?”. And Nick responded likewise, flailing on the end of the tow rope. As I watched this, I was baffled for a few seconds until the more astute Bob hollered the explanation: “Dust devil! Grab the gliders!”. When he saw what Rhett and Nick were doing, he looked at the flagpole, and realized that they had just flown through an invisible vortex (not much dust around here). We ran for the gliders and held onto the ones that were not tied down until the little twister blew through. I was glad that it was Nick on the end of the rope just then instead of one of us who would have been less able to handle the situation.

Ross got towed up, and Rhett intended to pull Stacy up so that the two of them could fly together, but the timing didn’t work out, and Ross was on the ground before she could launch. When she did fly, she got pretty high, enough so that the gliders way up there were indistinguishable to the naked eye. I handed Ross my binoculars, and also used my camera with the killer zoom to verify that the glider we thought was Stacy actually was her.

Scott was getting ready to try out the Sport 2 that Matt has for sale, so he had gotten the fin after Chris landed, but given the exciting conditions, Rhett recommended that Scott hold off until a little later. I grabbed the fin and got myself in line for another flight. This one was a piece of cake, despite the presence of active air. When Rhett started turning in a tight circle, I realized what he was telling me, and pinned off in the lift before he gave me the signal. This time I was able to hang on and gain over 1300 feet of altitude, and was still in that climb when he towed Larry up.

I had enough altitude to do some exploring, and found another climb, then spotted Matt circling and went over in his direction to find another that got me up over 5000 feet again. I really have little experience flying in places with flat topography, so this was somewhat new, looking for thermals coming up from likely spots on the ground, or under clouds. I managed to extend my flight nicely, then pulled on the VG and went zooming around to various places in the neighborhood.

Continuing to tighten up my landings, this time instead of doing a long final down to the hangar, I set up a lower base leg, starting back over the trees, and aimed for a landing much closer to where I was parked. That worked out well, and I set down about 140 meters from where I had started the takeoff roll, for a nice short walk back across the runway.

I joined the others in packing up, but stuck around long enough to watch Scott get towed up on the Sport 2.

flights: 2, airtime: 1:04


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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