Schedules and weather being what they are, I hadn’t been in the air for well over two months. There had been a few opportunities that I had passed up for various reasons, but Sunday came around looking reasonably favorable for a day of towing, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. When I arrived at 11 AM there were already quite a few people setting up, and I didn’t waste a moment doing so myself. With reasonable care and diligence, as well as a little time to chat with other pilots, I was ready to go at 12:30 and put my wing in line at the SW end of the runway.
Flying had been going on since before I arrived, but not much in the way of soaring. It was the most solid blue sky I’ve ever seen, not a cloud in sight all day. It was quite warm, probably close to 90 F (at one point the thermometer in my car, parked in a grassy field in the sun, claimed 97 F), but it was hot all the way up, with the temperature at 6000 feet predicted to be nearly 60 F. As a result, it was very stable, with nothing going up or down.
We had a little bit of unwanted excitement when one of the pilots, flying a trike, came in for a landing and had a prop strike. Everybody looked up, and most went over to see if he needed help. He was fine, but not so much for his equipment. It turned out that the right rear axle had snapped on landing, with the wheel rolling away and the rest of the chassis dropping to the ground. We helped him roll the crippled ultralight back to the hangar area, where he broke down and assessed what repairs would be needed.
I believe we had 11 gliders waiting in line for a tow at one point, and Rhett was pulling them up as fast as possible. When I had moved up to second in line, there was a delay while he took the tug back to hangar for refueling and to deal with some other business. CT John B was waiting on the cart when Rhett was ready to go again. This was John’s third flight on his new Sport 2, and when Rhett came to hook him up, they discussed the conditions, which by that point (around 3 PM) had the potential to be a bit active. More of a concern, though, was the wind direction, which was tailing, and had been pretty consistently for a while. Rhett won’t tell you what to do, but he will drop hints, and he was kind of suggesting that it wouldn’t be ideal to take off with a tailwind, due to the unpleasantness of a downwind landing if there were a low weak-link break. The hint was taken, and John (and the rest of us) made the migration to the other end of the airfield. I had it easy since I was on deck, and my glider was therefore already on the other cart, so I pushed it down the taxiway and was the first to arrive.
Jon A and Mike A
We had agreed on a radio frequency, but since it didn’t really look like I’d be sharing the air with anyone else in these conditions, I didn’t bother to plug in my headset. My tow went quite smoothly in the easy conditions, feeling like I had better control of my position than usual. Perceptions from the air can be funny: at one point Rhett towed me very far to the west, so far that I could see that we were nearly at Quabbin Reservoir. Looking at my GPS track, I can see that it was nothing of the sort, we were less than a mile from the airfield, while the Quabbin is nearly six miles away. While on tow, I did see one very tiny, ratty-looking cloud, very far away.
I don’t know if John was still in the air when I got off tow, but I didn’t see him. My vario immediately started making unhappy noises as I started my inevitable sled ride. No thermals to be found, until I had lost at least 1500 feet of altitude, and I encountered some little bumps near the SW end of the airfield. I started working that “lift” as aggressively as I could, trying really hard to get centered in it and banking up tight to take advantage of the tiny bubbles. Circling for about ten minutes, I wasn’t going up at all, but at least I wasn’t going down. When even that zero sink softened up, I moved on and found another spot over the logged area near the NE end of the runway. This was lower down, and instead of just maintaining altitude, I was alternately climbing and sinking slightly, but still for no net gain. Still, better than just dropping.
Too busy wrestling with these subtle thermals to take any pictures, I finally lost enough that it was time to pack it in and land, which I did in a fairly unimpressive manner back down near where my car was. Flared late, but even tiny wheels help on mowed grass, so no harm done.
John B looks on as Pete J explains something complicated to Ross L
flights: 1, airtime: 0:40