Quite a fine sledder

There had not been an east-wind Greylock day all year (okay, maybe one), but the weekend was forecast to be east both days.  I thought about going on Saturday, but the overcast sky made me reconsider, and I went for a longish trail run instead.  From what I hear, one HG and two PGs showed up, with mixed results.  Sunday, though looked like it would be a typical jam-packed Greylock day.

I picked up Jeff C, who just bought a new car and is temporarily without a glider rack, and we arrived to find the setup area full of wings, as expected. Not many in the air, though, as the cloud cover had not really lifted (it had rained a bit just after I picked Jeff up). No rush to get set up, so I took my time and did it carefully while listening in as a magazine reporter interviewed Gary T and Mark D.

The reporter and Mark D

Enough PGs got into the air and managed to stay up that a few of the HGs decided it was time to try. Something that tends to happen at Greylock is that conditions will be marginal, such that it’s possible to stay up by making passes back and forth in front of launch, but there’s no opportunity to climb out. On days like that, it gets crowded, and this is compounded by the fact that the variety of wings flying at different speeds.  Despite the fact that the site is open only to advanced or chaperoned intermediate pilots, some people with substandard skills inevitably show up, and they don’t always play well in traffic. Some of the launches were less than great, and that was apparently the case flying in the mosh pit as well. But as I had joked to Jeff on the drive out when the weather wasn’t looking too encouraging: it won’t get crowded in the air if everyone sinks out. And that’s what happened, the lift faded away, and at one point I was looking down to the bailout LZ and could see two hang gliders and nine paragliders setting up landing patterns, plus a few more already on the ground.

HG pilots John G, Brooks E, and Dan G — it’s as much fun to listen to Brooks as it is to watch him gesticulate.

Pete J, man of the day

There were a few cycles like this during the course of the day, but the sky kept looking better. During one of the down periods, Pete J and Brooks E had enough altitude that they were able to take off for the driving range LZ. Out over the valley they found some thermals they could work, and managed to get up above launch (Brooks at one point came back and flew over the summit). That encouraged people, and they started lining up to launch. I helped wire a few off before going to fetch my own wing. Launches were not going off rapidly, because it was often necessary to wait for traffic in front of launch to clear, and when it did, the wind was light enough that some pilots were wary about not being to get off safely. I’ve launched enough on days like this that I can recognize when it’s as good as it’s going to get, and I was standing on launch for exactly one minute before I saw my opportunity and called Clear.

Keith had been with me at launch, and he said that it looked like there was workable lift north of launch, but that he didn’t want to give me advice that might turn out wrong and make me hate him. I turned left to look for that lift, and didn’t find it, so I went for the more logical choice of going to the south side of the mountain, since the wind was slightly cross from that direction, and that’s where the solar heating was — it was getting to be well into the afternoon at this point. Nothing there, either, and now I was well below launch. No sense looking around for lift where there wasn’t any, so I went north again, then headed for the LZ. Before I got very far, there was some beeping from my vario, so I turned to stay in the lift. It wasn’t very strong, but going up slowly is better than going down, so I worked it patiently. There was a group of at least a half-dozen PGs and at least one HG 1000 feet or so above me and somewhat to my northeast, and I did what I could to try and climb up to where they were. The thermal I was in eventually petered out, before I got up to launch altitude, and I headed over to the north end of Ragged Mountain before giving up. Sure enough, there was another thermal there, and as I circled in it, I considered the bailout LZ, which was now upwind, and the driving range, which I now had within reach, and decided I could plan on eventually going for the latter. In the meantime, I worked my way down the ridge of Ragged, taking advantage of the lift I encountered to extend my flight. At some point I looked back toward Greylock, and there were no gliders to be seen, apparently everyone had either gone down or gone up. The last place I was able to climb was in a thermal that seemed to be coming off of the big parking lot in front of some new store that’s almost across the street from the LZ. It was keeping me up, but it was not that pleasant, as it was rather turbulent lift, and circling over an asphalt parking lot isn’t exactly the most scenic experience. Finally getting fed up with that and not convinced that I’d be able to get any higher, I decided to set up a landing approach while I still had enough altitude to make it in with comfort.

My landing went quite well, and I was surprised to not see any other wings at the edge of the field. I carried mine over there, and entertained a family while I packed up — a curious kid who was about five years old asked how I hold on, so I had him climb into my harness and then lifted him up by the ‘biner so he could feel what it’s like to fly. It turned out that the reason there were no other gliders was that I was the first one of the day to land there. Most had landed at the bailout, a few had gone XC, and some were still in the air and soon joined me.

A fine landing for Dana H

Jeff had gotten a ride up the mountain and had retrieved my car (thanks!), and a bunch of us headed over for dinner at our usual spot, the Freightyard Pub. A great evening for outdoor dining; almost everybody in this picture is a pilot who had flown that day.

Pete and Brooks had the best flights of this crowd, up to cloudbase and close to three hours of airtime. John G and Eduardo had the longest XC flights on their PGs, putting in 55 miles and landing near Glens Falls, NY. And my flight almost qualified as a sled ride, depending on your definition. Some say it’s a flight where you never climb above launch height. That’s nearly true in this case, though I did get above launch for about three minutes late in the flight, but just barely. This was a very satisfying flight, though, because working thermals is fun. My track logs often look like a ball of steel wool, but this one was very different.

vertical scale exaggerated 2x

The magazine article:

flights: 1, airtime: 1:06, XC distance: 6.2 km


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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