It was the worst of times.
Sounds like a real downer, doesn’t it. I’ve been figuring for several months that that would be how I’d start this year-end wrapup. It’s not that that there was nothing good, but overall, I hope it doesn’t ever get this bad again.
For my own part, with regard to flying, there’s really nothing to complain about. I didn’t do very much flying this year, that’s for sure, mostly due to the good days for flying not lining up with my availability. For the first time since I moved beyond Morningside, I didn’t fly any new sites this year, and I had the fewest flying days in that time. The majority of those days were in Florida; I had only five days in the northeast. A lot of pilots who I’ve often flown with, I didn’t this year; Jeff C as an example, who I saw only once, and it was at a funeral. I had only one flight that lasted two hours, three more that were over an hour, and one more over 30 minutes. But all of the flights were fine in the sense that nothing serious went wrong, no injuries, no damaged glider parts. I’m one who’s always happy with a day of flying if flying happens and there are no adverse incidents, so at first glance, it was all good. Though I don’t think I heard about any epic cross-country HG flights in New England this year, there were certainly some good days, including a bunch of days in the fall when Wellfleet worked.
So what was wrong? Well, it was the year of death and destruction. It started with the passing away of Bob Reynolds, who I knew from at least back in 2006 when we were taking lessons at Morningside. Bob’s death wasn’t related to flying, it was cigarettes that killed him. Then in April I was in Quest somewhere up in the air north of the airfield when one of the tugs crashed, leaving Jonny pretty banged up, but he was moving around without assistance when they brought him back from the hospital later that day. In the fall, the day after I flew Greylock, John M had a crash where (as I understand it) there were some traffic issues in the LZ, and he caught a wingtip on a telephone wire. He was hospitalized for weeks, though he did go home earlier than originally expected thanks to diligent physical therapy.
And something like 20 people died in the US this year, split about evenly between hang gliding and paragliding. It got to the point where Nancy was expecting me to tell her about the latest fatality every week. One of those happened at a site where I’ve flown, when Scott Trueblood, a relatively new pilot, crashed into the hill at Ellenville. Also, for the first time, someone who I had met died in a flying incident. Bertrand Delacroix died while reportedly doing wingovers (which nearly killed me back in 2009, though he presumably knew what he was doing more than I did); I believe I flew with him once at Morningside in 2006, and again at Greylock in 2014. The deaths were due to a variety of reasons, with no trend that I could discern.
On top of this, the USHPA has lost insurance coverage. This is insurance that, in particular, covers the landowners where we launch and land if something happens that brings a lawsuit against the landowner (or against a pilot). Without this coverage, many (most?) sites in the northeast would become unavailable to us (we even have one site – Cannon – that requires more than the usual coverage). There is a plan in place to replace our insurance with a RRG, which is essentially our own little insurance company, and there’s a fund drive going on to raise the amount of cash we’ll be required by federal regulations to keep in the bank. This is the third organization I’ve been involved with that had an insurance policy as one of the benefits of membership. The first two were the National Association of Rocketry, which I belonged to in the early 1980s, and Orienteering USA. The latter has never had a claim against its insurance policy, and the former took pride in pointing out that it hadn’t either (I have no idea if they have since), which was a pleasant surprise, considering the flammable nature of model rocketry. Hang gliding, in contrast, has claims on a regular basis. As much as we may claim that it’s safer than you might expect, the truth is that hang gliding sometimes causes property damage and/or injuries to others. This is on top of the fatalities mentioned above; in almost all of those cases, insurance doesn’t come into play.
And there is a possibility that we might be facing either further restrictions or an outright ban from flying at Wellfleet, due to ongoing concerns regarding nesting birds.
One of the results of this death and destruction has been infighting. I should know better than to pay attention to anything happening on the internet, but I do, and I see blame and finger pointing, hang glider pilots versus paragliders, solo pilots blaming tandem instructors, people who live near unregulated sites asking why they have to foot the bill for people who fly at places that require insurance…
So, I’m disillusioned. Again. I might have a chance to do some flying fairly soon, maybe a little airtime will improve my outlook.
Months flown: 7 (Jan, Feb, Apr, May, Jul, Aug, Sep)
Flying days: 12
Days when I showed up with my gear but didn’t fly: none that I can recall
Flights: 20 (4 foot-launch, 16 aerotow; 4 soaring, 4 extended sledders, 11 sledders, one early tow release)
Sites flown: 5 (Quest, West Rutland, Ascutney, Tanner-Hiller, Greylock)
New sites: none
Gliders flown: 1 (U2 145)
Longest flight (time): 2:00:41 (May 29, West Rutland)
Longest flight (“XC” distance): 3.23 km (July 12, sledder at Ascutney)
Total flight time: 10:42
Max altitude: 5716 feet (April 2, Quest, from a tow to 3433 feet)
Bent downtubes: 0 (and no other damage, either)