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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Thanks, Magic Mike!

July was marching on, and I’d had too much going on to get into the air. The forecast for Saturday didn’t look too great to me (apparently some people flew in the torrid conditions, and managed to get onto the ground before the approaching thunderstorms made things intolerably interesting), but Sunday looked more civilized, perhaps even too ho-hum (by which I mean less than promising, not hot-and-humid, in which regard it was an improvement). Northwest wind, so I asked by email if anybody was interested in Ascutney (or the Trail, or Ellenville), and again I heard back nothing. I finally got word that a few pilots were heading for Ellenville, but they went down the night before, and I wasn’t organized enough to join them, then another sounded like he was interested in going in the morning, but decided that the forecast didn’t justify that long drive. I was willing to drive up to Ascutney, but moreso if I knew that anybody else would be going. I finally got word that a crew was probably planning on heading over there from Morningside, and the details were on TwitFace or something. Yeah, whatever. I finally heard from a few pilots who do still read email, but who said that for various reasons they weren’t going. Well, I’ve flown Ascutney alone before, and if need be I could do it again (and on a weekend, there would probably be some hikers I could get to help out on my wires). So I headed up there, arriving at 10 AM, and in serious need of a nap. I parked at the base of the road and sent out one more email asking anybody who showed up to wake me up, and caught a snooze in the driver’s seat of my car.

About a half-hour later, I woke up because I thought I heard Kevin’s voice. Indeed it was Kevin, and some other folks had arrived as well. We all went over to the ranger station to sign in, and Magic Mike, who wasn’t flying, asked if I wanted to toss my glider on his truck for a ride up. Sounds great, thanks Mike! Once up top, I wasted no time because I’m a lightweight who can’t carry all his gear in one trip, so I scooted off to launch with my harness and battens and control bar then jogged back for the glider, and was out at launch early enough to get my wing mostly assembled and stashed off in a corner before some of the others were ready to start setting up. (A number of the other pilots had wisely brought along sherpas to help them bring their gear out.)

One thing that I noticed when getting things together was that the battery on my vario was really low – the warning indicator was already blinking. I asked around if anybody had a spare AA, and Mike said he had one, but it was back in his truck at the parking lot. I considered what the conditions looked like, and decided it was worth a mile of jogging to have it working, so I borrowed his keys and did the 15-minute round trip (thanks again, Mike!). By the time I got back and installed the battery, John A was about ready to go, and we were all eager to see what the wind dummy (or in this case maybe the wind smarty) would have to show us. After a promising but small bump soon after launching, he went into a fruitless hunt for lift as he sank out to the LZ. People were concerned that he might be too low and downwind to even make the field, when he found something that popped him up a little. Max said that he didn’t think it would be enough, and I said, remember down at Whitwell when we thought Mike Barber was about to land and he found some little shred of lift, and Mitch Shipley immediately said, “he’s got it”, and Mike proceeded to work it steadily and climb out to cloudbase? Max said yeah, but lamented that he’s no Mike Barber. I reminded him that he’s no John A, either, as we watched John stick with it and claw his way back up to launch altitude. At that point he disappeared around the corner to the left, and that was the last we saw of him; at this point I have no idea where he eventually ended up.

Despite that display of skillz, nobody looked very interested in going next, talking about how John had only launched so soon because he had other things he needed to do and couldn’t wait around all day. I thought about the fact that there were some other things I could be doing as well, and since my answer to the question “When do you like to launch?” is “Second”, I started suiting up. I had just installed a radio headset in my new helmet, and needed a little assistance to get the PTT button and the helmet connected, and then I stepped up on the rock, with a good crowd of spectators, both pilots and wuffos. The wind was pretty steady, though tending to be cross from the right, so I just waited for some trees down below to start rocking and for the streamers to straighten out, and I went for it. Max captured the launch on video; certainly not the best, as is obvious by the comments from those assembled, but it got me in the air.

Because of the prevailing wind direction, I did my hunting off to the north, figuring that in a north wind, I’d rather be in front of the ski area ridge than behind it. Sure enough, right over the top of the ski trails, I found rising air, and as soon as I got enough separation from the terrain to do complete circles, I was able to thermal up to about 1300 feet above launch. Once everybody could see that things were working out pretty well for me, they apparently decided they wanted some, too, and started popping into the air, with mixed results. Some managed to climb up and join me, others found the thermals too elusive and were soon on the ground. Crystal and Ilya were in my neighborhood for quite a while, and Kevin found a climb somewhere out over the flatlands, and surprised me when I spotted him well above us when I figured he was probably already on the ground.

Crystal and Ilya

The highest any of us got was somewhere around 4700 feet, which is maaaaaaaybe enough to go over the back, but maybe not if you aren’t confident of finding more lift, and this was a day with no cumulus clouds, just some cirrus. The one time I did go XC four years ago, I had been at 5400 a way back, and chickened out and tried to make it back to the mountain, but then I wasn’t sure I’d make it and turned around and ran. This time I was almost as far back with quite a bit less altitude, but the U2 has more get up and go than the Ultrasport did, so I was able to get in front of the ridge with only a modest altitude loss.

The other downside of my new headset, beyond the difficulty hooking it up, was that it doesn’t have an external volume control, and out of habit, I had turned the volume on the radio all the way up. So I’d be in a climb, listening to my vario, and radio chatter would start, so I’d hear “beep… beep beep… bip beep… bipOK, I’ve got a climb over here, 400 fpm, nope, it just petered outboooooooop“. OK, gotta work on my equipment.

The thermals near ridge height were kind of chunky and occasionally rough, though they tended to be better when we got higher up. Ilya and Crystal got pretty low at one point, but caught a climb up the ridge that got them back up to launch height. For a while we even had a visiting lift indicator, as a sailplane showed up and soared with us for a while (I was too busy to try and get a picture). The best thermals seemed to be narrow, snaky things that were small enough to be difficult to turn full circles in, and before long Ilya and Crystal had enough of getting kicked around, resigned to the fact that they weren’t going to get enough altitude to go XC, and headed for the LZ. Denise had launched in the meantime and joined them, while I decided to stretch out whatever else I could find. The ski area worked for me again, little up little down as I patiently did circles for about 20 minutes. I hadn’t known that the old ski lodge had burned up (apparently a year and a half ago), but there it was.

Unfortunately, it was time for a decision. Up at launch, we had talked about the two LZs, Africa and Kansas. Africa is always OK to land in, but there was some question about Kansas. Only OK on weekdays? Or as I suggested, only OK when Jake (site director) isn’t around? It was certainly appealing, since there were haybales on one edge, suggesting that it had been mowed. But Max and Mike H had landed in Africa, and then everybody else had joined them.

Doesn’t look too bad, does it? Nice grassy field, and there are the other pilots… but I know that field, and I’ve landed in each of them about the same number of times. I had been hearing radio comments:
“It’s… manageable…”
“I just kept going and going… oof, this is awful.”
“It was lifting off, I should have waited.”
“Are you okay?” “Yeah, just got some grass in my teeth, it’s chest-high here.”

The field slopes downhill in the direction I needed to land, and I know well that what looks like grass from the air can be tall weeds when you get there. Africa isn’t a hayfield, it’s some kind of bird sanctuary, and what the meadowlarks prefer isn’t necessarily good for hang gliders. The tallest stuff was in the northwest quadrant of the field, which was right where I was headed. I also hit lift down low, and had to do a number of S turns trying to bleed off enough altitude to get as close as I dared to the trees before diving into the field. I got it down as quickly as I could, following one of the mowed paths through the weeds, looked at the treeline, and wasn’t sure whether I was going to stop before I reached it. But then I flew over a wind streamer, and saw that I wasn’t heading into the wind. I judged that I had enough energy left and did a quick turn to the right, improving my wind heading but going more downhill. I probably waited a bit too long to flare, but I ended up very close to one of the trails, so that was good. And tall weeds make a nice cushion for a belly landing.

It took me 20 minutes to drag all of my stuff up the field to where everybody was hanging out, and as I packed up, the remaining three pilots who had launched after I landed came in. I was beat, and gratefully accepted a ride back to my car from Magic Mike (thanks once again, Mike!), and headed home. I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast except for a little water, so when I got to the car I sucked down a quart of Gatorade in less than a minute, and on the way home wolfed down a steak and cheese and a large ice cream. Mmmmm!

flights: 1, airtime, 2:00

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Trio of Falcons

Well, the weekend hadn’t worked out for flying, but that wasn’t my last chance to get in a flight in June. With the late sunsets, it seemed possible to squeeze in an after-work flight, even it it wasn’t at Tanner-Hiller. The forecast was west, pointing to either Mt. Tom or Talcott. The former is slightly closer, but the hike up the mountain would be a lot more daunting. Mark G had made arrangements with Peter B for a site intro at Talcott, so since I knew there would be other pilots there, that’s where I headed.

I left work a little early to drive down, thinking I had packed everything I’d need, but when I looked through the stuff on the front seat of my car, I realized that I had left my T-shirt on the kitchen table back home, so I had nothing to wear for flying but the button-down shirt that I had on at the office. In the spectrum of mistakes, that’s pretty minor. It was warm, so I left the shirt unbuttoned as I dragged my glider up to launch on the cart, primarily to display my manly physique and drive any ladies into a swoon (yes, I realize how dangerous that is with a cliff nearby).

At launch, I was pleased to find that Mark and Peter were still there. They had arranged to meet at noon, and Mark likes to not be rushed, so he had actually gotten there at 10 AM and took his time checking the place out. Peter had given him a tour, and they set up, but it had reportedly been quite strong earlier and they had had to wait for hours for the wind to calm down. It was looking pretty nice when I showed up, so they got ready to launch while I put my glider together as quickly as I could (I had brought the Falcon because it was lighter for hauling up the trail, and it also assembles a lot more quickly). Woz showed up to assist with launches, and a good-sized crowd of wuffos gathered, wanting to know when we were going to “jump”.

As the new guy, Mark went first, had a fine launch, and started out conservatively enough that we weren’t sure whether he’d be able to stay up or not. He moved in closer and caught the lift band before he lost too much altitude. Peter went next, and he has plenty of experience at this site and was able to launch casually and settle right in. I finished preflighting while Woz picked out a likely looking wuffo and gave him some instruction as to what to do in order to be my second wire man. I didn’t expect to need much help, and I was right. Straight in, good velocity, a vigorous charge off the cliff, and I was in the air as well, while Woz graciously brought Peter’s and my carts back down to our cars.

Mark G

We were interestingly stratified. Although were were all flying Falcon 170s, Mark was hanging out just above ridge height, I was generally a couple of hundred feet higher, and Peter was a couple of hundred feet above me. That made the ridge right-of-way easy, as it was a cinch to spot the other two before making a turn, and see that they were well separated from me vertically. It was a nice clear evening, and I’m pretty sure I could see all the way to Mt. Tom up to our north.

Mark headed for the LZ first, and Peter went not so long after him. The wind had continued to abate, and I played the game of seeing how long I could maintain altitude above launch, and when I dropped below it, I followed them down to the field as well. Dead air on the surface made it easy to pick the most convenient landing direction (the one with the most space), and I set it down with style.

My Falcon 2 170 and Peter’s Falcon 3 170 — same color scheme, virtually indistinguishable.

Peter stuck out his thumb and got a ride up to fetch his car, then he drove Mark and me up to get ours. Not a bad way to end up a work day, and Mark and I stopped at Rein’s Deli on the way home, one of my favorite restaurants, but one that I don’t get to very often these days.

Mark G

Peter B

flights: 1, airtime: 0:37

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On your mark, get set… no.

First, I had a thought that I’d go for another Friday evening flight at Tanner-Hiller. Weather seemed good, so that seemed like a plan. I put my glider on the car to bring it to work, but then I saw a note from Cristina. She had two tickets to see The Nields on Friday night, and the friend who had been planing to go with her couldn’t make it. Did I want to go? Sounded great… hmm, not enough time to do both. But I could do some prep work. I drove to the airport after work, getting there about the time everybody was done, set up my glider, and with Rhett’s blessing, I put it in the hangar to save myself some time when I came back.

The concert was excellent.

On Saturday morning I rode my unicycle down to the auto repair shop to pick up Nancy’s car, and she drove over in the spare car and met me at my house. She had wanted to climb Mt. Monadnock for a long time, and this was finally our opportunity to do it. I wanted to head down to the airport to fly afterwards, and had put the kayaks on the roof in case she wanted something to do while I was in the air. After Monadnock, we headed straight to the field to assess the situation, and I got my glider out of the hangar. Most of the pilots were done, as it was late afternoon, although Dana was on the cart, hoping for some smooth evening air to try pro-towing for the first time. He was willing to defer his spot to me, but like him, I wasn’t that comfortable with what the wind was doing, especially after watching a couple of pilots come in through bumpy air for challenging landings, so I made the decision to stash my wing back in the hangar, and Nancy and I headed over to the nearby state park for some relaxing sunset paddling, with a rising full moon.

Sunday was Father’s Day, which doesn’t mean so much to me, since I’m not a father myself and I don’t have one any more. But there was an orienteering meet going on (my friend Alar decided that what he wanted to do for Father’s Day was to host a meet), so Nancy and I headed there. A scorcher of a day, and I made it around the longest course in a not-embarrassing time, then headed back to Tanner-Hiller one more time to try to round out this multisport solstice weekend.

As I pulled in, Pete J was on a cart and he and Rhett took off. I jogged down to the hangar, tossed my glider on a cart, brought it to the top of the runway, hooked up my harness and did a preflight, and got into position just as Pete landed. Hmm, not a very long flight. Rhett came over and we did preflight checks, then Pete came over and we started considering what the wind was doing. It was distinctly cross from the SE, and despite my hopes, it wasn’t showing lulls or changes in direction. After we sat there for a while, Pete finally asked, “What exactly are you waiting for?”. During the next bit of discussion, Rhett said something about how he hated talking somebody out of flying, and that tipped the balance for me. I wheeled the cart over to the sidelines, and Pete and I broke down together.

You can’t always have things work out, and deciding not to fly is never a bad decision in my opinion. As Pete pointed out, there wasn’t any lift, so I wasn’t missing much. Other than using a little extra bit of cheap gasoline, there wasn’t really any downside to the whole expedition.

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Climb first, soar later

Going back to Tanner-Hiller was probably an option for Saturday, but I wanted to try for some foot-launched mountain flying. The wind was going to be southwest, perfect for West Rutland. I sent an email to the local lists asking if anyone was going.


I posted again, noting that: 1) the lift forecast looked pretty decent, 2) the wind direction and strength looked good, 3) winds aloft were going to be essentially zero, 4) lapse rate was supposed to be quite good, 5) there was a glider on the roof of my car, and 6) I wasn’t going to drive 2.5+ hours up there if I was going to be all by myself. (In particular, because my car can’t drive up the road to launch.)


I knew at least one PG pilot was planning to go, but that didn’t do me any good because they don’t have racks on their cars to carry hang gliders. By mid-morning Saturday, not having heard any responses, I was about to take the glider off of my car and go mow the lawn, when I got an email from John B saying that he’d drive up there with me. That was good in terms of making the drive less lonely, but it didn’t solve the problem of how to get to launch, because his car has less ground clearance than mine does. He was confident that there would be other HG pilots there. I guess the problem is that I’m a white-haired old geezer* who isn’t hip to the latest forms of communication, and instead of the email lists all of the cool kids are using SnapLink or Instas’App or TwitFace or something these days.

*My hair is pretty white, but most of the HG pilots in these parts are at least as old as I am.

Anyway, we figured out a place to rendezvous, put both wings on his car, and headed up. Because of the delays, we arrived about an hour later than the typical meeting time, and there was nobody in the parking lot. There were cars there with HG racks, and there were already four PGs in the air, but we didn’t have any luck contacting anybody by phone. It was time for our backup plan: John dropped me off at the gate, and I went up to launch on foot. I call it “running”, but only the first few hundred meters are buoyed by enough optimism to really be done with a running gait; after that, it’s power walking. Still, I don’t think many pilots could keep up with me. When I hike up to retrieve a vehicle, I usually go through the woods to cut off at least one switchback, but I didn’t want to risk missing anybody who might be driving down, so I went up the road the whole way. Just under 35 minutes, not bad considering I was wearing jeans. When I got to the to the ramp and asked if anybody would lend me a truck to get the gliders up, the crowd standing around asked if I had run up the road, and I said yeah. They seemed not overly surprised, having come to expect that sort of thing from me, and Keith graciously offered me his keys. I hopped in , and realized that it had a manual transmission. Now, I’ve been driving stick since 1978, and I’ve never owned a car with an automatic, but the Rutland access road is challenging in any vehicle, and the clutch on this macho truck just added to the fun. I made it down with no problems, and even figured out how to get it back into 2WD to drive around on the roads to pick up John. More fun on the way back up the mountain, when we encountered two vehicles coming down, and I had to back up until I found a spot where I could pull over enough for them to squeeze by.

We set up as quickly as possible, and I moved out to launch behind John C with his PG. He hadn’t been flying lately and wanted to wait for things to be perfect, so he stepped aside and let me through. With all of the delays, even with the expedient preparation, it was about 2:45 PM when I moved onto the ramp. By this point a lot of pilots (some HG and a lot of PG) were already on the ground, and I think I said something to John along the lines of, “this could be pretty brief”, another case where I figured I had only a 50% chance of staying up under the gray sky. But I hit the odds again, and knew things were looking okay as soon as I turned right and started climbing up the ridge.

John launched soon after I did, and for most of the time it was the two of us and one other HG (who turned out to be Joe S). It was one of those back-and-forth-on-the-ridge days, with an occasional chunky bit of lift that would take us a little higher, but the highest I ever got was about 1200 feet over launch. Due to the unusual weather conditions this year, the trees were late leafing out, and I found it interesting that the ones that prefer growing on the northern slopes seemed to have the jump on the ones on the southern slopes.

I could see that other pilots were leaving the parking lot and heading out, and it was the kind of day where you have to think about how long you’re interested in staying in the air, whether you want to scratch the last of the evening lift. When John headed west, I followed, to get a change of scenery even though I knew it would mean the end of the flight. We went about 1/3 of the way to Castleton, then circled around to land. It was late enough that katabatic effects were happening, and I ended up going on final heading northwest.

Two days in a row, and some exercise to boot. Not bad. And I got ice cream on the way home with John.

John B

flights: 1, airtime: 2:28

Posted in Flying days, West Rutland | Leave a comment

Friday evening

I went to a club meeting on Tuesday night, and Pete J mentioned that Rhett was going to be towing Thursday through Sunday, and that Thursday looked great. I’m not retired like Pete, so I can’t as easily go flying on a weekday, but later Mark G posted that he was planning to go after work on Friday. Hmm, that sounded like a plan I could manage. I went in early on Friday, with my glider on the car, and left the office at 3:30 to head for the airport. Traffic was heavier than I had hoped, so what was supposed to be a one hour drive turned out to be almost 90 minutes. When I pulled in, Mark was in the air someplace, Noel was being towed up, and everybody else was done.

No time to waste, I started setting up my glider, and when Rhett landed, he remarked that there was still some lift up there. I wasn’t expecting much to be left by the time I was ready, but that was okay, because mellow evening air would be fine considering I hadn’t towed with the U2 in quite a while. When I started wheeling the cart with my glider down to the end of the runway, Scott B came along to give me a hand getting ready. Rhett pulled me up, made a turn to the left, and then started flying in a straight line to the northwest. I didn’t seem like we were climbing particularly fast, and he commented later that we were in steady sink the whole way. He had to pull me three-quarters of the way to the reservoir before finding anything going up, and we were far enough away that he said he figured he had to drop me in a climb if I was going to stand a chance of making it back.

Quabbin Reservoir. The long narrow island in the center of the picture, with a causeway extending from the left end, is Mt. Zion Island, proposed future site of a rattlesnake sanctuary, if the DEP can get past the hilarious alarmist objections of residents of nearby towns, who fear that the snakes will leave the island, head for the mainland, and bite people.

A climb it was, 450 fpm up, and I rode it up to about 7500 feet, which is the second-highest I’ve ever been. There was a fine-looking line of clouds stretching off to the southeast, practically begging me to go for an XC flight. I followed them for about three miles, and stopped when I encountered another good climb, which I rode up to cloudbase again. The temperature was down to 45F, and as I had not been expecting to get high, I was wearing only a t-shirt, a light jacket, and a pair of work gloves. Although I could probably have stayed at that altitude for quite a while and frozen my fingers off, I opted to try something different.

I didn’t mind squandering some altitude in order to get warmer, and there was something I had been wondering about. There was another line of clouds off to the northeast, beyond the airport. I didn’t know how far away it was, or whether I could reach it, but I wanted to get a sense of whether I could. I pulled on full VG, went into a tight, streamlined position, and pulled in on the control bar. I figured that if I turned around when I was still at 4000 feet, I’d be able to get back comfortably (and failing that, I picked out a nice big field that I could land in if necessary). I got close to the cloud, but not quite close enough to see if there was any lift under it, however, I felt like I had met my objective of determining whether I could reach it. I turned back, and reached the airstrip with about 1500 feet of altitude to spare. Looking at the GPS track afterwards, I see that it the glide was about 7 miles, and I dropped about 2700 feet of altitude in the process. So that gives me a reference for future exploits.

Had I stuck around under the cloud, I could have stayed up longer, but even so, this was my longest flight to date at Tanner-Hiller. Not bad for a weeknight.

flights: 1, airtime: 1:00

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Four for 4

Word on the internet was that Saturday was shaping up to be an excellent flying day at multiple sites. I wasn’t seeing it; the winds were supposed to be light, but everywhere I was looking, it seemed to be the wrong direction. For sites with a lot of vertical, that can still work out okay, because you can launch in a lull and look for thermals (and the lift forecast looked pretty good). Still, the most promising spot looked to me to be Tanner-Hiller, because if the wind is light, the direction is irrelevant for towing, and it’s all thermal flying anyway. And word was that Rhett would be out there towing.

I had some things to do in the morning, but brought my glider with me, and arrived at the airport at around 1 PM. Max was there, having made a 40 minute flight, Rhett was pulling somebody else up, and the other pilots who had set up at the SW end of the runway were moving up to the NE end, because the gentle breeze had shifted to that direction. I had brought my Falcon, for a couple of reasons. One was that I had towed only once in the preceding year, and was feeling out of practice, so I figured I should fly the most docile wing (and it wasn’t like I was planning on going XC, or worried about penetration). The other reason was that this was my fourth flying day of the year, each on a different glider: U2 at Morningside, Ultrasport one day at Wellfleet, Vision Mark IV the second day at Wellfleet, and now the Falcon at Tanner-Hiller. The downside was that although I had tried to remember to being everything, the vario mounting bracket was still on my U2, so I had to strap the vario to the downtube with a messy wad of ductape.

The day had actually petered out by the time I was ready to fly, so it was just sledding for me. On my first tow, I found one little puff of lift that I did a turn in without losing any altitude, but I didn’t hit anything actually going up until I was barely over treetop level, and I didn’t bother with that.

And the second tow went about the same,a little loitering around the spot where Rhett dropped me off, but basically all downhill.

One other interesting thing about the day was that it was my first time towing with my new helmet, a Kali Prana fiberglass BMX helmet. There is a school of thought that says that helmets designed for flying have aerodynamics and style as priorities, and they’re not actually very good at protecting your head. I decided to go with the recommendations from that camp, and got this ostensibly more crashworthy piece of headgear, which is only slightly heavier than my old Charly Insider, with a “different” visual aesthetic, and as it turns out, quite affordable. Due to the venting, it seems to be noisier (hard to hear the vario when moving fast, like when on tow), and the chinguard makes it a little more difficult to check the parachute pins during my preflight checks (but I can still find the parachute handle no problem). I haven’t installed a radio headset in it yet, and when I do, I may make some adjustments to reduce the wind noise, and at some point I’m planning to add a converted chainsaw face shield as a visor. (Personally, I’m not relying on my helmet to do much to protect my brain in case of a crash anyway, it’s just a place to mount the radio headset and it’s a requirement for most flying sites. My primary line of defense s making sure I don’t crash. But I do see its value for face protection, concussions are one thing, but protecting against knocked-out teeth of a broken nose is more feasible.)

flights: 2, airtime: 0:26, 0:21

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