Third time’s… less spastic


The lift forecast a day or two out will sometimes look outstanding, but then when the day arrives, the outlook gets less rosy. That was the case with Saturday; the lift map was all red when I looked on Thursday, but by Saturday morning it had faded to yellow with a little orange, and there was a possibility of rain late in the afternoon. With little to no wind in the forecast, it was an easy call for aerotowing, and I figured I might as well get an early start. I arrived at Tanner-Hiller a little after 11 AM, and the only ones there were Rhett and Ghassan. After a brief chat, I drove down to set up at the SW end of the runway, since the little trickle of wind was coming from the north.

Jeff C and Pete J arrived as I was getting things together, and I fetched a cart and got ready to tow first. I announce that in the interest if getting high and flying far, I was using the Murphy’s Law approach of dressing lightly and not bringing my glider bags. Rhett took the turns maybe a little tighter than he has with me in the past, and I got into a bit of oscillation on one turn , but gt it settled down. Soon he started another turn, and I did a worse job, got headed for the outside and figured I was about locked out and was just about to reach for the release lever when the weak link broke. Well, okay, I was maybe 1000 feet up, but we had encountered some lift, so I figured I might as well try to find it. I hunted over the sandpit and found some air rising weakly, but it wasn’t enough to get me climbing, so I headed back for the airstrip, and after consulting the windsock, landed in the opposite direction to how we had taken off.

Pete and Jeff went next, and Rhett took them up kind of high, because there weren’t many climbs to be had. Meanwhile, Mark D had arrived and set up, but the two of us considered what the flags had been showing, and though it seemed to be mostly just thermals, what wind there was had been coming from the opposite direction, so we put our gliders on carts and took them to the NE end of the runway. Jeff and Pete were back down before too long, and in the meantime Matt C, Mark H, and eventually John B showed up as well. Unfortunately, the sky had kind of overdeveloped, so there were clouds, but not any sunlight heating the ground.

Jeff C on final with his spiffy new S2C, under a gray sky

Jeff C demonstrating an excellent flare

Mark was the next to go, and schooled everybody by staying up until the end of the day on his new-to-him T2C. When it was my turn, the initial tow went only a few feet before my release let go. Probably the result of the release handle having gotten pushed off to one side or something, we reset it and took off without incident. I was a little better on the back end of the rope this time, up to a couple of thousand, at which point I got locked out again, and this time Rhett gave me a somewhat frantic gesture which I took to mean “Get off!”, which I was about to do anyway. It was pretty obvious that I was seriously out of whack from the spiral dive I found myself in right after releasing, but that was easy enough to pull out of, and this time I did manage to find a climb over the sandpit. I worked that for a while and got enough altitude to work with, so when it gave out, I went looking. A few spots nearby didn’t yield anything , so I decided to try the solar farm east of the airfield, but there wasn’t really anything going on there either. After a little circling around it was time to set up to land, but the flag was showing NW, so I set up to use the side lobe of the field that isn’t really a crosswind runway, but is close enough for hang gliders. My flare was maybe late and definitely ineffective, and I came in on the control bar, but thankfully the small wheels worked on the short grass, and there were no ill effects other than a scraped knee and shin (that’s what I get for wearing shorts).

As the afternoon progressed, the clouds got more organized, and there was a lot more blue showing. Pretty much everybody was getting towed up and sticking, and I figured it was worth one more try to see if I could do this right. Fortunately for me, Rhett spotted a friendly cloud SW of the airport and took me there in a straight line, no turns, and I was able to maintain my position behind him adequately to get towed all the way up. He told me later that he was initially concerned because after releasing I kept going straight and he thought I was going to get past the cloud, but I did turn back and find the lift.

It wasn’t strong lift, but I was going up, not down, so I stuck with it. There was a much nicer looking cloud 4-5 miles to the NE, which was where I figured I should go, but first I needed to get enough altitude to get there. I patiently worked what I had, gradually gaining, with Matt and (I think) Mark D in my vicinity. Every time I decided to head for the enticing cloud, I’d pull on the VG, go a few hundred meters, and realize that I was in lift and should stay and exploit it. At some point I heard a radio conversation between Pete and Jeff, where Pete was asking Jeff how he was doing, and got the reply that he was just finding sink. I chimed in, noting where I was, and that I was climbing at 350 fpm. Those guys found climbs, and eventually I could see that there were gliders high under my target cloud, and I had enough in the tank to go for it. Pretty cool experience when I got there, several other wings within a moderate distance, all circling up nearly to cloudbase at over 5000 feet.

The drift was to the ENE,and looking out ahead, mostly what I could see was the wide expanse of trees in the state forest, not very inviting to land in. As the cloud appeared to be dying (and maybe all of the lift elsewhere along with it) I headed back to make sure I could reach the airfield safely. Arriving with ample altitude, I lazily wandered around in the last weak bits of lift as I watched the others land, then set up a landing I can be reasonably proud of, not too far from the hangar and my car. Glad I stuck around for that third flight, my longest so far at Tanner-Hiller.

Mark H on approach

Mark H on base leg

Mark H and John B (sporting his stylish utility gauchos)

flights: 3, airtime: 0:09, 0:26, 1:17

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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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