A trip to Mt. Rhett

It sounded like a lot of people were heading up to West Rutland again, but I wasn’t motivated to make that long drive. Instead, I went to the closest flying site, Tanner-Hiller airport, for some towing. I hadn’t been there all summer, and hadn’t towed since Easter down in Florida, and I got warm, enthusiastic greeting from Nick and Rhett when I arrived. Matt had just landed after a flight of about an hour, and there were at least a half-dozen other pilots there as well. I had expected the wind to be SW, straight down the runway, but it looked pretty cross. I drove up to the NE end of the runway anyway and set up with the others.

Not being in a big hurry, I took my time setting up and watched how the others were doing on their tows. It looked like conditions were a little bumpy until they got some altitude, which gave me a little pause. The active air at the surface didn’t translate to active air higher up, though. Although there had been a few cumulus clouds when I first arrived, they had dissipated, and there were more solid clouds higher up that blocked the heating. As a result, nobody was staying up for long. I put my glider on a cart and got in position, and waited for the tug. As Larry helped me through the final checks, one of the things he asked was whether I had my release lever where I wanted it, and I said yes. As we started the rollout, the cart drifted to the right, and resisted my attempts to bump it back in line. I came out of the cart off to the right, and did what I could to get back in line behind the tug. At an altitude of a little less than 200 feet, I suddenly became disconnected.

OK, think fast. I looked to see how much runway was in front of me, and I thought it was probably enough to get down and land straight ahead, but I hate that word “probably”. Glancing back, I saw that the flag and the windsock were completely limp, so I made the snap decision to land going the other way. A downwind landing is okay if the windspeed is zero! The landing wasn’t perfect, I flared a touch early, ballooned up a couple of feet, and dropped the control bar on the ground, but at least one of the pilots watching said he thought it was the best landing of the day.

So what happened? Rhett said he thought I had gotten off because the air was trashy, and I thought it was a weak link break, but the weak link was intact. Larry made a suggestion that I suspect was correct, that because of where I had mounted the release lever, I could have bumped it. I got in the harness and experimented, and realized that I could have hit it with the harness and not felt it, so I moved the lever lower and rotated it forward to eliminate that possibility.

I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to try again, but since I was there and set up and could use the practice, I gave it another go. Larry commented that the cart had pulled to the right on him as well, but I looked at the other cart, and it had a wheel caster that seemed downright sticky, so I used the same one. It pulled right again, but I was ready for it, and did a better job of following the tug. Because there was no lift to soar in, Rhett graciously didn’t wave me off until 4000 feet, the highest I’ve ever been towed. It felt like he was taking me halfway to Quabbin reservoir, but looking at the GPS track of the flight, it wasn’t nearly that far.

Usually a lot of my pictures are of gliders sitting on the ground, but here are some pictures from the air for a change:

I flew slowly, minimizing my sink rate and looking for little parcels of air that would at least delay my descent. Down to 700-800 above the end of the runway, there was something that was probably weak ridge lift from the tree line, and I was nearly maintaining altitude as I did S-turns to set up my landing. When I got low enough, I headed down the middle of the field, and this time got the flare timing exactly right. The approach may not have been perfect, but the landing itself was one I can be pretty proud of, a clean no-stepper. This time, I took the compliments with a smile.

flights: 2, airtime: 1 minute, 29 minutes


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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