We woke up to a valley filled with dense fog, and as the sky above us started looking encouraging, the fog below persisted until about noon. The task committee called the same goals as yesterday:
C pilots: GALLOWAY
B pilots: GALLOWAY-HENLZ
A pilots: GALLOWAY-HENNW-GALLOWAY-HENLZ
with a launch window from 1:30 PM to 6 PM (started out with different opening and closing times, but this was what we ended up with). Nobody could fly until we could see the ground well, and then our driver Lee was one of the early wind technicians, on his first flight here in 30 years.
Lee had an uneventful trip to the LZ, where we had stashed a car for him to come back up. A bit later another wind tech, Jen, headed out on a Falcon and had one of the finest flights of the day, patiently working a couple of climbs deep in the valley that got her well above launch. In hindsight, that might have been a good time to launch, but it made us optimistic that the day would be improving, so we all waited a bit more for things to heat up.
After a few more pilots launched and found climbs, people started getting in line. Unfortunately, the success was short-lived, and by the time the first of us, Max and Tom, got to launch, the lift had faded, and they had quick trips to the ground. Jeff was close behind them, and he stopped on the ramp and waited for some sign that there was a climb out there (paragliders, birds, clouds, anything). In the meantime, some pilots with priority stepped in line ahead of myself and Vitaly, and then somebody called “Push”, and Jeff had to launch or step aside. He decided to launch, and didn’t get anything. The extra pilots ahead of me provided an opportunity for some lift markers, so I had something to look for when it was my turn.
I was on the radio with Jeff, and noted that there were pilots turning off to the right, near the highway. Jeff said that he thought they were too far away to reach the climb from launch. They drifted closer, though, and I saw my chance. I launched, pulled on the VG, and headed straight there, arriving just below them, with Vitaly close behind me. I found the lift and started circling, but it was weak and elusive at that altitude. Vitaly fared better than I did, but I just managed to clear ramp height by a bit, and then started falling out of the bottom. When I decided that I had lost it, I headed toward the LZ and found something happening over the small hill just before it. I worked that for a little while, staying up but not managing to gain anything, and then had to set up for a landing. I fumbled around trying to find the unzip cord on my harness, and had to give up and unzip a little by hand and do the rest by spreading my knees. With my legs out, I set up to land to the north, which is downhill, and had to really pull in hard to burn off enough altitude to get it on the deck. I did not run out of field, and in fact landed fairly close to the spot, with about two steps, the best landing I’ve had this week.
Tom and Max had already headed up for a second try, and Jeff was packed and ready to go at that point. We had set a deadline of 4:30 for going around for another flight, and at this point it was 4:34, and I told Jeff to just go. As I was packing up, Max and Tom both landed again, the former with another sledder and the latter having soared for about 30 minutes without finding a climb that could get him across the valley. Some of the pilots who had been circling with me, including Vitaly, had gotten up and away, and a few of the A pilots made goal or at least tagged the turnpoints.
Vitaly radioed that he had landed partway to his turnpoint after a 40-minute flight, the best on our team. Lee drove down and I hopped in the car and we headed over to pick him up. Mitch and Aaron had landed near him just after, so we waited and gave them a ride back to the LZ.
Afterwards, since it was Vitaly’s birthday, a little celebration was in order, especially in recognition of his flight, the only one of us to get our beyond the bailout LZ. Our guess is that team Critical Mass is in last place.
photo by Max Kotchouro
flights: 1, airtime: 0:16