Gimme day

We have all kinds of fancy weather tools available on the internet these days. I often marvel that people were able to hang glide 20 years or more ago, not knowing what the weather would be. My friend Tom tells me that there were a lot of days back then when they’d drive all the way to some site and find that it wasn’t flyable. Of course, we still don’t know what the weather will be like, but we think we do, because some forecasting tool gave us an opinion that we think will be correct. And if it doesn’t match what we think we want to hear, be it good or bad, we can ask some other meteorology site for its version.

Bob R had spoken initially, saying that it looked good for Rutland and he’d be going up early because he had to go in to work Saturday afternoon. But then some others (perhaps people who had other reasons why they couldn’t go?) started saying that they thought it looked like the wind could be alarmingly strong. One said the chances looked too low to risk all that driving for nothing, another said that maybe we’d fare better at Brace, where the winds looked lighter (and the hike in would be a lot more work). But there was enough interest for Rutland, and I carpooled up with Jeff C and John B.

We met Ilya and Jim C at the parking area and caught a ride up to launch (thanks, Ilya!). There were already at least a dozen pilots up there, so we all grabbed spots in the setup area and started putting our wings together immediately. The sky looked a little overdeveloped, but was it too windy? The fact that a couple of H2 students had already launched and were floating merrily over our heads indicated that it was not. I helped wire a couple of pilots off to get a sense for what the wind was doing on the ramp, then got in line myself.

Jeff C

I waited maybe two minutes on the ramp because the streamers looked a little switchy (although the windsock was steady), and when I took off, it went just the way I like it, a steady climb all the way up the ridge. In fact, the first 12 minutes of the flight was an essentially unbroken climb up to about 1300 feet over, just making long passes. After that, I settled in and gradually lost some altitude for a while, with short climbs here and there, never getting as low as 500 feet above launch. Sometimes long flights can be a funny thing, because you don’t always know in advance that they’re going to happen. In this case, nobody was very optimistic about the day being very great, just ridge soaring, maybe the potential for a couple of hours. I remember looking at my watch when I was 17 minutes into the flight, thinking, well, I should be able to get enough airtime out of this that the trip won’t have been a waste.

click to enlarge — can you spot eight gliders in the first pic and seven in the second?

Some people stayed up, some went and landed. The reasons varied from taking chances by getting too far from the mountain and losing the lift, to simply having had enough. After an hour or so, some of the clouds cleared out, there was more localized solar heating, we started getting thermals that we could exploit, and got up to over 3500 feet (launch is at 1840). The crowd gradually thinned out; I counted 21 HGs and two PGs who showed up, and we certainly had over a dozen in the air at once (with no significant traffic issues), but that eventually dwindled to four HGs: me, Russ K, John B, and PK. John and PK managed to get up fairly high, then the next thing I knew they were low in the valley. PK found lift that was marked by a bird and called us to come over and join him, but Russ and I were already in another climb and didn’t want to give it up. After several minutes, PK had worked his bubble skillfully and managed to get above us.

Russ K on his spiffy new Sport 2

The thermal phase of the day mellowed to a smooth wonder wind period, where we could just cruise back and forth effortlessly. Jeff was radioing up to us, saying, “Hey guys, there’s nice cold beer here in the LZ, why don’t you come down and have some?” That’s no way to get me to land, of course. Ridge soaring can get kind of dull, though, and PK came on and said, “I’m going to cross the valley. It may be the valley of death, but I’ve got to do something different”. He was referring to the valley west of the main ridge, that separates it from Blueberry Hill. I had been over that valley before, but had never crossed over all the way that I can recall. He was right, though, we had to do something to keep it interesting, so I joined him. I was sinking only a little bit, and there were fields within reach, so I was comfortable exploring even though I wasn’t all that high. It was a worthwhile venture, though, because I happened into the sweetest climb of the day.

It wasn’t all that strong, but I stuck with it and got up to about 3600 feet again. PK saw me turning and joined me, and he managed to follow it further back and get an extra couple of hundred feet. After that I took a leisurely cruise back to the bowl, and contemplated what to do as my fellow pilots headed out to land, one by one. Sometimes in a situation like this I play some game like soaring until I sink below launch, but there was still plenty of lift and I could stay 500 feet above by concentrating just a little. But the shadows were getting long across the fields, and I figured people were probably getting hungry — heck, I was getting hungry. So I gave myself five more minutes, then headed out. Everybody had landed in Mrs. Herbert’s field, except for John, who had gone down to Ducky’s. I was going to join the gang at Herbert’s, until I flew over and saw that the grass was full of lines converging at the road, the tracks left by pilots carrying their gliders through the unmowed hay. I glanced over at Ducky’s field, which had just been cut, and decided to join John. I had a fine landing, just a few steps in no wind.

After we packed up, we joined the others and got to meet John and Sam, the proprietors of Mrs. Herbert’s LZ, who love watching us fly.

It turned out to be my longest flight ever, by nearly half an hour. My three longest flights have all been at West Rutland; Wellfleet is the only other place where I’ve gone over four hours, and all four of those longest flights have been with different gliders (all of which are sitting in my living room right now). Before the flight, I had been thinking that I stood a good chance of getting enough airtime to push the total on the U2 past the total that I had gotten on my first Ultrasport. Not only did I do that, but on this flight alone I got almost 3/4 as much time as I did on that other wing.

We feasted on pizza, then got home late. Jimmy D and Krassi made videos — my wing with the silver upper surface shows up near the end of the latter.

flights: 1, airtime: 4:54


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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