Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Flying Spring

One would hope that after a crappy flying season a great flying season was going to be next. But no... Spring of 2018 in New England seems to be a repeat of last year. All high winds and rains were perfectly aligned with the weekends. I tried to work around this nonsense by taking a day off here and there, but work is busy and interesting as well (I am building robots now!), so I cannot just take a day off any time I want to.

Nevertheless, I managed to fly for a few minutes almost every week. Aerotowing at Tanner-Hiller airport and Morningside. Not going into the mountains. Flying is flying. All worries still disappear as soon as I touch the sky.

Soaring over Morningside

Banking hard near Tanner-Hiller airport
I am still flying my trusted Sport 2. It so familiar now and so easy to fly that I find myself getting more comfortable flying closer to the terrain, and attempting really low saves. I quickly get reminded that I need to pay more attention though.

An attempt to delay landing at Tanner-Hiller almost put me into the trees. All those years of training kicked - I pulled in, flying fast _at_ the trees so I could clear them. It would be a totally unnatural reaction for me a few years ago. Even now, I had to consciously tell myself to keep pulling in.


The first weekend of June had finally some possibility of XC. East-south-east wind with reasonable (below 10 mph) velocity, and decent thermal index. The only problem - a blue day, no cumulus clouds to mark the lift.

I have never attempted flying west from Morningside. A quick look at the Google maps showed that it was possible to reach Rutland, VT -- 32 miles... or even farther than that. Possible - if you can stay high over all green forests below. Google maps showed a few possible landing options, but not too many. A crazy adventure for sure.

Crystal, Ilya, Bill and I decided to launch around 2pm. That gave us about 3+ hours of best thermal forecast.

I launched first.  Found some weak lift, with very strong sink in between. Thermals were broken and punchy below 3000 feet AGL. The progress was very slow. Frustrating.

Crystal launched second, and pinned off low. I kept drifting NW. We wanted to fly XC as a group, so I abandoned my weak thermal, and went SSE toward where Crystal was. She found another thermal and I joined in above her. Very soon she climbed through me and then left in a search of something stronger. Since I wasn't going down, I stayed where I was.

The thermal I was in finally turned into 200 fpm up. Nothing too exciting but respectable. Meanwhile, Ilya got towed up and reported 600 fpm up where he was. I still stayed put a thousand feet below him. Thermals were too broken to go hunting. Bill launched last and he was struggling to get high. Crystal also couldn't find a stronger core anymore. We were getting separated. This wasn't going an easy day....

My patience was finally rewarded. I joined Ilya at TOL. We drifted a couple miles NW, crossing Connecticut river. Springfield airport was now on a glide. Should we go? The day was too blue, thermals were too broken. Flying over all those hills and forests didn't seem like a good idea anymore. And what about Crystal and Bill? Crystal radioed that we should press forward without her. Do we want to, though?

I noticed Ilya was flying a bit close toward me. Not being sure if our thermaling paths were about to collide I banked hard away from him, briefly noticing that Ilya was gesturing excitedly. I guess, we got too close? He didn't say anything on the radio. I slowly started another circle, while setting up my vario with Springfield airport waypoint. A minute or two later, I looked around, and couldn't find Ilya. Oh, there he was - far in the distance to the NW.

- Ilya, are you going XC?
- Yes.

Hm... Ok. I guess, I am going, too. Time to leave doubts behind and keep my flying buddy a company. I didn't lose much altitude while playing with vario, and Springfield was still on a glide. Here I go.
On a glide to Springfield. Ascutney is on the right.
It was way easier to have another glider in front of you. I saw Ilya losing altitude, and then gaining altitude - another thermal! Now I can definitely make it to Springfield. By the time I joined Ilya in his thermal, he reached TOL and went NNW. I was still another thousand feet below him. Where I was drifting, the terrain kept going up leaving even less AGL altitude to play with. I stayed where I was, trying to make it back to TOL before making another decision.

A few minutes later, I saw Ilya pretty low, turning back toward Springfield. Was he landing? He reported as much. There was nothing to be found NNW.

I finally reached TOL while drifting very close to the hills NW of Springfield. There was a pretty big hay farm right on the other side, right in my flight path (I assumed it was hay by the color of the field). Another glide then. I was a bit anxious about this decision. There were simply no other landing options but that farm.
Drifting past Springfield
Nice view of Ascutney to the north of my position.
Midway toward the farm I found another thermal. I slowly drifted toward my new LZ with plenty of altitude to spare. Here I determined two things that I couldn't see from far away - there were electric wires/polls crossing one side of the field, and second - both sides of the field were on an slope. The lower part of the field was not too bad, but my ideal path would be downhill anyway. Not good.

On a glide into unknown. A lot of forests and hills. Okemo mountain in the distance

Trying not to think about landing, I was milking that thermal I found. My next possible LZ was a big field closer to Okemo mountain - 5-6 miles out. I couldn't break 4000' MSL and wasn't about to risk gliding over 5 miles of forest. All fields along my path that looked pretty good on Google map, didn't look very inviting from the air.

Eventually, I lost the thermal and couldn't find anything else. Bubbles of air going up here and there, but nothing that could sustain me, or propel me up.
Thermalling over route 131 in Vermont. A lot of green...
Landing... which way? Upwind downhill? Downwind uphill? None of those seemed like something I wanted to do. While I was waffling, it was time to land. My automatic brain decided to split the difference - landing diagonally to reduce downslope effect but with cross wind. I was over a wrong part of the field for that approach. That got fixed by a diving turn. Not ideal, but worked.... then it was a transition time.... glider started going up! It was either ground going away or I let the glider pop on transition, or both. Images of a hard whack, bent downtubes, and similar fun items started flashing in my brain. I was pulling in as far as I could, but couldn't bring the glider down. I stepped on the basebar and pulled it in with my foot. It worked! Except... while doing this I initiated a turn (weight shift and all). Now images of a hard cartwheel started creeping in... all while my body was automatically in a hard recovery mode. It worked in the last second. Glider's wings leveled out and it stopped with a loud "Fuck!" coming out of my mouth. Saved by the Sport! This glider's handling certainly made it possible. Phew!
Thermal aerobatics over potential LZ. Hoping for a low save...
Turning on final
I hiked the glider out toward the road, then made a little XC dance. My rescue arrived 5 minutes later! What a day! Flying XC in New England is a crazy thing, especially when TOL is that low. Till next time then, eh?

Flight distance:
  12.2 miles launch to landing

Flight visualization:

Flight stats:


Just want to give the thumb up to https://www.livetrack24.com/ site, and an android app that I use on my phone that keep the tracking/flight info updated ->  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tony.ttlivetrack24v2.pro   The app sends an SMS to a number of your choice with a launch and landing location. It also auto-uploads your tracks to a few popular websites like doarama and leonardo. Pretty neat!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

GSSK-2018 - Task 4

Saturday. The last day of the competition. The evening prior we discussed a possibility of me getting into the top 3, but I didn't think it was a likely scenario. Other pilots flew really well and I wasn't concentrating on racing at all. Besides, winning is not why I came here in the first place.

That being said, the weather finally turned on and the forecast was excellent - light SSE winds, top of lift (TOL) at 5000', decent thermal index. The only problem - it was going to be yet another blue day.

The goal was set at Leeward Air Ranch. That was the the place where I made my first goal last year. And won the task the following day. I knew that route, but so did the guys in the top 3. At least two of them were here in the last year competition. The only difference this time -  there was a turnpoint trying to keep us more to the west, for safety considerations - more landable areas and all. Anyway, I wasn't in a race mode. I wanted for the whole A-team to make the goal.
Task 4 (photo by Kyle Orth)
Task 4

Our mentor for the day was Pete Lehmann. He was one of my mentors last year. A very experienced pilot and a great mentor. If only radios would work this time. Right?

Another change was that finally this time we were launching last. We launched first two days in a row, and since all days worked better later, we had a slight disadvantage... theoretically.

Launching last, with all that late-day advantage is a bit more stressful. You see a huge gaggle above your head and keep wondering why you are still on the ground. It took an hour for the launch line to clear before we finally took off.

We were getting ready 15 minutes prior our launches. Pete - radio check - PTT is not working! Ilya - PTT button that he fixed a couple of days earlier failed again. A-Team wasn't surprised. Working radios would make it way too easy.

Crystal and I were the only ones on the comms. Not ideal but better than nothing. We flew like that before,  and we worked out a certain routine that helped us to coordinate... as long as we kept visual contact.
A-Team is on the line!
Pete launched first, then Crystal, Ilya, and I. In a few minutes we all were in the same thermal going up 200-400 fpm with a bunch of other gliders. Crystal was 600' above us, and Ilya and I were approximately on the same level. For a moment there I thought - we got it. We all go on a glide together soon enough.
On my way to the gaggle
Climbing up with Ilya
Crystal radioed that she was topping out at 4200' MSL. She was probably in a different core because we couldn't get past 3000'. I wasn't going to leave starting cylinder from that altitude when the day was obviously working for another 1000'. We needed to find another core.

The thermal was disappearing under Crystal. She needed to use that altitude while she could. A-Team got separated again. Crystal went on course. Ilya and I tried to follow but sink was too great, and we started searching again. I had a good visual on Ilya, so I was trying to report my position, climb rates and status of my visual contact with Ilya. I was hoping that Ilya and Crystal would find that useful.
On a glide back to Quest
Around 2300' MSL I decided that I had enough of drifting away from the airport. It wasn't working well, and I wanted to relight if I had to. I radioed my intentions, and set on a glide toward Quest. A mile later, at 2000' MSL, I finally felt another thermal. Reported my discovery so Ilya could join, and started working the lift. Ilya came in below me, but got in as well, and very soon he was climbing higher than I was.

And yet again, we topped out at 3000' MSL. Not good, but we still had some altitude to play with before turning back. I set on a glide downwind in a direction of a small gaggle - there must be some lift there. A couple of miles later we got some lifting air, but it was as weak as the previous one. This was getting very frustrating. We were 35 minutes into the flight and still couldn't break 3000'.

Two things happen at that point. We were close to a gaggle, and much farther from the airport. Going back for a relight wasn't an option anymore. Go, go, go! We pushed forward. Bounced off another 3000' climb, and set on a glide for a bit longer. I could feel that we were getting in more lifty area. Our glides were shorter before we were finding more lift.

Meanwhile, Crystal kept reporting climbs, altitudes and how close she's gotten to the waypoint. She was making outstanding progress, and was ahead of us by a few miles. I was happy for her, and it also gave me hope that we should get our ticket to TOL... eventually.

And we got it! We joined a gaggle we were flying toward to, and went up to 4300' MSL. The day started to look much, much brighter. I immediately got my aggressive mode back on. If I could glide instead of circling - I'd rather do that.

Ilya and I were on a glide together for a while... until my line got really sinky. Ilya got a better line but without a radio he couldn't tell me about it. Crystal was reporting a good lift above a huge chicken coop. I remembered this place from last year where it helped me with a low save. This time I was 2000' above it, not really a low save, but I needed to recharge all the same.
Hey, chickens! Let's fly!
And it worked. I climbed back up to 4700' ! Ilya was circling west of me and our thermals connected at the top. Time to go on course. I got plenty of altitude so I went straight where the arrow was pointing. There was a huge mine straight ahead, right next to prisons. Usually, it's a good thermal generator. I was hoping that I will get more lifting area before I get there. Aggressive, but not completely unreasonable.

Flying fast in sinky air on a sport class glider - you drop down pretty fast. Ilya was behind me and decided that this was too much for him. He chose a safer approach and went toward a gaggle to the east of our position. A detour. That's where a radio com would help. I wasn't aware that we split up until I got another climb. I got it around 2800' MSL. I had still enough altitude to press forward if needed to be. The climb turned on awesomely showing 600' up. I looked around... I was all by myself.
On a course line... all by myself...
Crystal reported distance to the turnpoint that was longer than mine. Huh? I guess, she took a detour as well. I wasn't trying to pass her, but I never got a visual on her either. Oh well. At this point all I could do - keep pressing forward.

In 10 minutes I was comfortably sitting at 5100' MSL. Very relaxing feeling, and nice views.  I saw a gaggle in a distance to the east. People there were doing well, but they were a bit off-course. I pressed forward.

I tagged the waypoint shortly after (it had 8km radius around it). I still had enough altitude to keep gliding forward. Fly toward mines didn't make sense anymore, a better option was going straight through a huge housing development - The Villages. It might generate enough lift to kick me back into the sky.

While on that long glide, I went through some lifty areas and recharged back to 4000' MSL. Then set on a glide again and got served with huge sink. It's a balance thing... I got to The Villages with only 2000' to spare. I needed some lift.

It took more than 10 minutes to find a solid climb. Air over the houses was rising, but was soft and bubbly. Not lifting up enough for another glide. And then other gliders started to arrive. We all circled together searching for that perfect thermal core, waiting for the power to turn on. And eventually it did. I was back at 4800' MSL and the air was getting crowded. I didn't want to bump into other gliders just to get another 200', so I left.

I still didn't have the altitude for the final glide, but I was going over some potential heat sources, and I hoped my strategy would work out.

Pete was in one of the gliders that were circling with me over the Villages. He later told me that he saw me descent rather quickly, and he went around where he could feel a better, more lifting line. I was, obviously, not aware of that development. I just pressed forward like I always do.
Getting low a half way through The Villages
It was a long 6 miles glide. By the end of it I started to get a bit nervous - I was getting rather low - 1600' MSL, and still going down at a good rate. I started adjusting my glide to test different buildings for potential thermal triggers. A big field next to a huge housing development finally gave me what I was looking for. I was rewarded with a fast elevator to the top. 400' fpm right from the start. The drift was not taking me toward the goal, so I decided to recharge with some margin - no need to stop again. I was monitoring "L/D-required" on my instrument and decided to leave when it showed 9.5 ratio. It was most likely an overkill, but I'd rather be safe. I needed to cover ~8-9 miles on a single glide.

As expected, the instrument was super optimistic when I started, but at some point was showing that I wasn't going to make it. It all evened out. You fly through sink you fly through lift. I flew through a nice thermal with another 2 hang gliders circling a few hundred feet below. I didn't need to stop. I was sure I made the goal.
I arrived with 1000' AGL to spare and was in another thermal above the LZ. I didn't need it. It was a hard battle and I wanted to be on the ground. I landed. On the ground, I was surprised to learn that my time was 13 minutes faster than the closest sport class glider in goal. I guess, I won the day.

Unfortunately, Crystal and Ilya didn't get all the way. They were close though. Ilya beat his personal best, too. Nice flying guys! I wasn't flying any better, I was just more aggressive on a stronger day, and it worked out. Like educated gambling :-) Since I took a more direct route, each time I was looking for lift, I was also a bit closer to the goal.

Fun day! Natalia picked Crystal, then Ilya and Zac Majors (Ilya landed in the same field with Zac). I got to nap for 20 minutes before my rescue arrived.
All packed up and ready to be rescued

Skymax crosses a barbwire fence (photo by Ilya Rivkin)

At the awards ceremony I learned that I won the competition. I wasn't expecting this. It just so happened that this day was a 1000 point day, and 2 top contenders didn't make goal. By winning this high scoring day I got a huge points boost. Oh well. I said my goal wasn't winning, but I'll take it. It's awesome to win once in a while :-)

First place cup
This year I came to Green Swamp Sports Klassic event to learn how to fly as a group. The result was mixed. Our team didn't make goal together, but I learned a lot, and we flew together really well (at least part of the way) even with all the radio problems. We were getting much better by the end of the week. Now we can practice back in New England.

I was impressed how smooth everything went this year. With a double number of competitors and mentors comparing to the last year, there were no hiccups at all. Everyone was in the air right on time. Everything was operating like a clockwork. Huge thanks to Davis and Belinda for organizing this event and to all staff and volunteers who helped to run it so smoothly. Wilotree park is also getting a facelift which is awesome! We'll be back next year.

Huge thanks to my lovely wife who picked up the whole team. She didn't really want to be an official retrieve driver, but she is very good at it. The retrieve was flawless!

A video of that flight:

Visualization of A-Team tracks:
Day results:

Final competition results:

Crystal wrote about this day here:

Saturday, March 24, 2018

GSSK-2018 - Task 3

Friday looked pretty good. Lighter winds with more north component in them. That meant we could fly past Wallaby Ranch and make some distance... but the day was again a blue one. No clouds to mark the lift. And top of lift was forecasted yet again pretty low - 3500'
Task 3 (photo by Willie Van Caulart)

Task 3
Our mentor for the day was Dave Lopez, flying T2C. We discussed our strategy before we launched, but got hit by radio problems... Again! Dave's PTT got stuck (the channel was constantly open), he couldn't talk and guide us in the air. Oh well, all we could do was to learn to help each other. That's the best way anyhow...

I launched first, then Crystal and Ilya. I struggled right off the start. No thermal off tow. Searched for a few minutes with net-negative result. I was floating toward south end of the airport, expecting to land for a relight in the next few minutes. Meanwhile, Crystal and Ilya were circling together going up steadily.

Around 1000' AGL I found some lifting air, but lost it very shortly, dropping even lower - 900' AGL. Frustrating. I started making wider circles, and finally found that lift again. All while slowly drifting south. This time I didn't lose this elusive thermal. It took me close to 3000' MSL. I almost caught up with Ilya who could barely break 3000' himself. Crystal made a decision to search upwind a couple of times, and started lagging behind. By the time I caught up with Ilya, Crystal was at TOL, but a couple of miles back. We all were on the course line, and were exchanging information - position, lift rates, decision points. Good practice for our future New England XC flights.

Ilya and I made a few short glides downwind as we reached TOL. Otherwise, we were mostly drifting down the course line. It was acceptable progress for now. We would have to go crosswind to hit second turnpoint at some point, but for now - it was all we needed - patience.

We made a longer glide toward Seminole Lake gliderport, and struggled for a bit north of it. There were a bunch of other gliders in a similar situation. Air was getting crowded at times. I got myself out of a thermal to avoid another glider or two, but I also used other gliders to get back into the lift band. Rather new experience for me.

Crystal almost caught up with us, but then lost lift and couldn't recover. Ilya and I continued on, just two of us now. We got to our highest climb as we passed the gliderport - 3500' MSL. Life was improving. Excited we went on another glide. Until I heard on the radio "Max, which way your turnpoint arrow showing?". It took me a while to process what Ilya was asking... OMG, we missed the first turnpoint! It had only 400m radius, and we were too busy surviving. Now we had to fly back to tag it. Thank you Ilya for staying on top of things. I would have totally missed that part otherwise.

Fortunately, we were just 500m away from the edge of the turnpoint's cylinder. We tagged it and continued on. The next turnpoint was more to the east, crosswind.

We didn't have enough altitude though. The course line was going through some forest, with lift most likely broken over it. I radioed that I was going to explore downwind. Ilya decided against venturing that far away from the course line. I went alone.

I struggled for a bit, but found another thermal to 3500'. At this point my concentration was failing. I forgot that I needed to monitor my instrument, to see what direction I needed to fly. I just didn't want to land.

There were only 2-3 gliders with me at this point. I recognized Icaro Orbitter that Christian Ciech was flying (our mentor from day one, and a hang gliding world champion). He was below me, but climbing fast toward where I was.

"Hm, I'll just follow him", I thought. He climbed to my altitude, and set on a glide. I set on a glide behind him. After 3 km, he turned around and went back. I wasn't sure what to do. I should have had a plan, but my brain refused to form it. I stumbled into a climb but left it as soon as it got soft. If I started following Christian, I guess, I should follow him. I turned and went back to highway 33.

Now I was even farther downwind. Not much of a problem if you have altitude. I was only at 1300' MSL and didn't feel any confidence that I could stay up.

That's where it all fell apart. I put myself in unnecessary dangerous situation. I left zero sink area over nice big fields, and went searching downwind, flying over highway 33. It worked before... why not now?

The problem was, there were no good LZs reachable from that altitude. Another problem with that decision was - it didn't get me any closer to the second turnpoint. I already got as close to it as I could while on a glide behind Christian.... Oh well. Mistakes were made.

I saw some construction site, with a warehouse. It had a dirt parking lot I thought I could land in. I would have to slip a turn though. I remained amazingly calm for the rest of the process.

I circled the parking area. Checked for obstructions. Checked for lift... (never lose hope) Made another S-turn and dove in. Slipped right where I wanted to be, but recovered fraction of a second too late. My ground effect glide was taking me 60 degrees away from my initial plan. I managed to adjust the path while in the ground effect, and then flared hard to stop before the trees. Glider stopped on a dime, but went up pretty high. I held the flare like my life depended on it... which it was... Parachuted down and landed on my ass. It felt like a jump from 5-6 feet. My left ankle wasn't too happy with the impact, but it wasn't too bad... you know, just a notion of an injury. It was fine the next morning.

I carried the glider out of that parking lot, closer to the highway. Chatted with a nice gentleman who saw me fly over his house, and was curios to see if I landed. Then my rescue arrived. Natalia already picked up Ilya, and Tom tagged along just for fun. They helped me to breakdown the glider and we were back at Quest in 20 minutes.

Here is the video of the end of the flight showing the decision point, and the landing:

My friends forced me to put some ice on my overworked ankle... and then gave me a safety talk.
I said - Safety first!
I agreed, I was frustrated with my bad in-flight decisions... On the other hand, I was pretty happy that I could pull this landing off. I have a soft spot for tiny LZs. Tom Lanning approved LZs confuse the hell out of me.... they are just too damn big.


Competition results:

I got third sport for the day with total distance of 33.14 km.

My overall result was pushed into 4th place.

Here is the visualization of our tracks (Crystal, Ilya, Max)

Video clips of the whole flight:

Friday, March 23, 2018

GSSK-2018 - Task 2

After a nice start of the competition mother nature decided to blow and rain for three days in a row.

Time was spent hanging out, attending talks and playing tourists.
back massage (photo by Crystal)

Absorbing information (photo by Crystal)

Thursday was finally flyable, but the forecast wasn't too exciting. Low top of lift (TOL) and 10-15 mph NW winds all the way up. Add to that gusts and launching/landing might not look so appealing. However, expert pilots say that day is almost always better than it looks. The task was declared (the same as the last one, with the goal at Wallaby), the safety was going to be reevaluated just before launch window opened.

If you don't setup and get ready to fly - you are not going to fly for sure, so I assembled the glider and got my gear in order. Winds on the ground were rather strong in the morning, but by 2PM everything looked reasonably safe. It certainly wasn't anything I haven't launched in before.
Getting ready (photo by Crystal)

Ilya was a bit anxious about the weather as well, but decided to give it a try. Crystal decided not to fly. Mike and Dana have been put on another team to reduce number of people that mentor had to worry about. So our team was now only Crystal, Ilya and me.

Ilya's rolling to the launch line (photo by Crystal)
Our mentor for the day was Mick Howard. He is very good at staying up and helping people in the air. I wasn't sure if I could get to the goal, but at least I'd get more practice in decision making process, and get different perspective of an expert pilot. And of course, I still wanted to go with my original plan - fly together as a group.... a reduced group this time.
Green Machine is ready  (photo by Crystal)

Go, go, go! (photo by Crystal)

Our team was first to launch. Everyone got towed up pretty quick. I was in the air in less than 90 seconds behind Ilya. All was going relatively well with our first thermal, too. I was constantly falling out of it, but was making it up for the loss on a strong side of that thermal. A lot of work, but does the trick.

We topped out around 3200' MSL, and Mick suggested we push west to counter drift. We started on a glide right behind him. And that's when I discovered that my PTT didn't seem to work. I could hear Mick and Ilya but no one responded to my requests. Oh well, this seemed to be the theme of this meet - radio problems.

I figured that Ilya was set on flying the route. Mick was pushing west, Ilya was flying in the same direction. I was 200' below Ilya but pushed west as well then very quickly decided against that move. Sinking fast and making 8mph over ground - not the best combination. I turned south figuring that going crosswind should work better. Very soon I stumbled into a weak thermal and started drifting with it. I was more or less on the course line.

I was expecting Ilya to join me in the thermal, but he turned around and flew back to the airfield. I wasn't sure if he didn't see me circling, or just didn't feel like flying out with TOL so low, or maybe he was just searching and would set on course later. Earlier Mick radioed that we were going... so... In any case, I was already at the point of no return... I was going alone. Again.

Patience is not my strong suit. I drifted with the thermal for a bit, but pushed again when I couldn't make upward progress. Pushing like that is always a risk. With low TOL the risk is even higher as I don't have much altitude to work with. It was working out for me though... until it didn't. I left weak lift or zero sink a few times getting slightly higher then losing altitude even more on a glide. After a few miles and getting as low as 1200' MSL, I finally found another strong(er) thermal. It took me back up to 3000' MSL. I should have stayed with it longer to see if it would drift me farther. But I didn't. I left as soon as it got to zero-sink.

And that was almost it. I got as low as 900' MSL, found a few slow, weak bubbles that took me to 1200'. Lost them and, again, didn't try to stay in zero-sink area. I landed not too far from Seminole-Lake Gliderport. I picked a large field and more or less right wind direction, but my brain farted loudly when I was rounding out. I let the glider pop and drop. Downtube went BOOM, but the rest of me and glider were ok. $110 landing. Oh well... some birds constantly forget how to land.

Here is a video from that day:


My distance for the day was 15.71 km. Since only a few pilots flew, I got 4th result of the day, and moved up into 3rd position overall. Very small points difference between all competitors in the top 10 though. Everything can change in the last 2 remaining days.

Day results:

Comp results:

Visualization of Ilya's and mine tracks:

Crystal wrote about this day here:

Monday, March 19, 2018

GSSK-2018 - Task 1

Sunday. The first day of the competition. The morning went just like last year - breakfast, pilot meeting, setting up the glider, checking everything and getting ready to fly. No rush. Not much anxiety... yet.

The forecast for the day was WNW winds at 10-15 mph, with cloudbase below 5000' MSL. The problem with that wind direction is it pushes us, free flyers, into the Orlando airspace. To avoid that, a turnpoint needs to be set to the west, to keep people zigzagging upwind and fly clear of any restricted areas.

Here is the picture of the task. For simplicity of this training competition, we launch in the start cylinder, and just have to cross its border to start the clock.

Task 1
We continued launch preparation. Our goal was to set the gliders in the launch line around 1:30 (launch window was opening at 2PM). And everything was going really well. Everyone was there on time, ready to fly.

The conditions were looking better than forecasted. Cumies were everwhere, wind was ligther - it could be a perfect day!

Our mentor for the day was Christian Ciech - hang gliding world champion. With that experience, I was curious how he would help us in the air.

Ilya (photo by David Aldrich)

 Me (photo by David Aldrich)
As I mentioned in the previous posts, I wanted the team to fly together if possible. And I failed that task right away. I launched after Ilya and around 1200' MSL, I thought, I was being pulled through a nice thermal. I pinned off. Gained 200' and lost everything. Searched for a bit, didn't find anything either. Landed back at the airport.

From this visualization of our flights, you can see that I am lagging 30+ minutes behind. That was my second launch: http://doarama.com/view/1966948

Dana find out that his rental glider was in severe need of some adjustments. He couldn't do it before the launch window opened, so he decided not to fly.

Mike Asel launched right after me. And he also landed back at the airport. When I finally launched the second time. Mike was still in the launch line, 6 gliders behind. I thought about waiting for Mike, but lift was spotty, and drift was pretty significant. My skill level and confidence wasn't there to wait in the conditions like that. So I left as soon as the thermal I was in started to disappear.

Now the whole team was split and separated. I was flying on my own, Crystal and Ilya were flying with Christian, Mike was on his own still in the launch line, and Dana wasn't flying at all. So much for keeping it together.

I wasn't racing, or trying to catch up with my teammates. I figured, in the conditions I was in, I'd be happy if I just make as close as possible to the goal.

I took a long glide from the starting circle to the next cloud. It wasn't going well. I was losing altitude fast, and drift was pushing me too far east. Then I saw a gaggle much higher than me and way more to the west. I made a slight turn and went where the action was.

I had low expectations from that glide. I was a bit too low and would arrive under that gaggle too late. But it worked out. I intercepted that thermal and started climbing. This flight started to look better.

I soon topped out this thermal... and by that I mean - the thermal was getting too weak for my taste. The upward progress slowed down drastically. There were gliders above be, another 500 feet probably. I didn't want to wait. I pulled VG and set on a glide to the next cloud. Since I was more to the west now I had some room to be pushed east, so my over-the-ground progress was slightly faster - going with more downwind component.

That continued for another 20 minutes or so. I find a climb, top it out, and leave even though there were gliders above me. At first I was gliding toward other spinning gliders, but by the third glide, I was on my own, and other gliders started to use me as a marker.

My flight turned from "let's try not to land" to "I think, I can get to the first turnpoint". This flight was getting much better than expected.

Another 20 minutes, and I heard on the radio "Max, is that your green glider? I am right above you". I caught up with Christian. Crystal and Ilya landed by that point, and Christian was helping me now.

We were pretty close to the turnpoint cylinder.  Christian helped me to optimize some decision making process. We got another weak thermal, lost it, moved closer to the turnpoint. Finally, I crossed turnpoint border, my vario made a happy sound, and I turned downwind - final glide to the goal. Christian found a thermal downwind, we climbed for a bit and lost it again. Christian radioed that he had enough altitude for the final glide. I didn't have that. But there was no lift, so I continued downwind. At 800' AGL, while working on my landing options - I finally felt upward moving air. It took me a few minutes playing at that altitude before I finally hooked it and was comfortably climbing. Now I could look at my instrument and see if I had the glide. A few minutes more, I decided I had enough, and on a glide I went... I made the goal! I couldn't believe it!

Natalia picked up Crystal and Ilya and they all came to Wallaby to pick up me. I wish we could have made the goal together... maybe next time.

Mike never left the airport, but launched 3 times. Good practice for launches/landings. Sorry Mike for the lack of XC help.

As to my race result... I didn't do all that well. 7th result of the day. But I was happy I made it. Here is the result table for Task 1 : https://airtribune.com/2018-green-swamp-sport-klassic/results/task3104/day/sport-class

And a bit long/boring video from my flight:

David Aldrich posted this vlog about Task One

Crystal wrote about it here:

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pre-GSSK-2018 - XC practice

Saturday, the last day before Green Swamp Sports Klassic competition. The last opportunity to practice. The event organizers scheduled a pilot meeting in the evening, so Crystal and Ilya didn't want to go on a long XC flight - too many things to worry about. I suggested that we do a small triangle. This way, even if we land out, the retrieve would be a short one.

Crystal decided not to fly at all. She wasn't happy with her landing on Friday and wanted to give some rest to her shoulder before the actual event. Ilya didn't mind going on a little adventure. I loaded Google Earth on my laptop, and started looking at the waypoints around Quest. I was going by the forecast I pulled from XC skies in the morning. It showed winds from the south the whole day. Thus, I set the first leg of the triangle going upwind/crosswind - SE, then WSW, and then N - back to Quest. We loaded the route into the instruments, and then waited for the conditions to pick up. It was a high pressure day - works better later.

In the afternoon the winds were indeed from the south. But turned almost straight west by 2PM. I have zero experience setting up routes, so I paid no attention that route needed to change as well.

We launch by 3PM, and conditions were unbelievable. Lift was abundant. It was strong and soft. I launched first, and was easily sitting at the top of the lift waiting for Ilya to get up. Ilya got delayed on the ground for some reason. And then his radio started to malfunction. He fixed his PTT button the previous evening, and his fix shorted out - making PTT button stuck and his radio constantly transmitting.

Crystal was monitoring the channel, and she saved the day by running all the way to the east side of the field to unplug the failed wire (Ilya didn't realize he was polluting radio waves). The crisis was averted, but that meant we had zero way of communicating in the air.

I assumed that Ilya could at least hear me, so I was broadcasting all my intentions and also his actions that I could see. I was following him from the moment he launched until he finally climbed out, and we started to circle together. I asked on the radio if he could hear me - I saw an enthusiastic thumb-up from the red glider. We were in business! Half way, but that's better than nothing.

When we topped out the thermal we were in, I said that I was going on a long glide to the east to check what was there. From 5000 feet MSL, I had plenty of options.

A few minutes and a few miles later I stumbled into another thermal. Halfway to the first waypoint. I waited a couple of minutes to make sure I can consistently climb in it, and then called on the radio that I was in a solid climb. I hoped Ilya would decide to join me.

Circling in strong and easy lift was a joy. I was considering my next move, as I saw a red glider getting into my thermal. Yeeehaaa! Ilya heard me and kept me a company. Let's the good times roll!
Ilya is joining in
We circled together in a close proximity for a couple thousand feet, until lift started to disappear around 5600 feet MSL. I radioed that it was probably time to move on, and saw Ilya turning away from the thermal - getting on the course line.
going up together
We got to the first waypoint pretty quick. I got confused at some point and went off course. By the time I got back I was a few hundred feet below Ilya. We turned to the next waypoint heading west. And I immediately realized my routing screw-up. We were going upwind. Oh well, that's why it was so easy reaching the first waypoint - it was downwind of our initial location.

No matter. It was a practice run, maybe we could make it work. Unfortunately, our path went through some swamps and forest, no lift there. No clouds to help with thermal markers. No birds circling.

I finally felt some lift around 1800' MSL. Very weak. Gained another 200 feet and lost that burble. I continued on the glide to the second waypoint, hoping for another chance. There were wide farm fields ahead, close to route 33, so at least LZ was taken care off. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to thermal triggers, and tried to glide downwind for a bit to stay aloft. That's why it was a practice run - I needed a refresher on flying XC.

Anyway, going straight upwind didn't take too long before I was in a landing mode - harness unzipped, boxing wide empty field next to a lonely house. I lost track of Ilya a few minutes ago. I caught a glimpse of his glider above me, but didn't have time to look up for long.

A couple of circles over the field showed no problems with it. I verified wind direction with my instrument. It confirmed what I could feel on the glide. Good. Let's try not to screw the landing this time. I dove in, good transition in the ground effect, gentle flare - no stepper landing. Like a bird! I was extremely happy. I got my mojo back.

While I was breaking down, I heard a yell from the sky and saw a red dragon landing into my LZ. I always appreciate the company! Made the retrieve easier too :-)

Natalia, the best retrieve in the world, showed up a few minutes later. We were just 5 miles down the road. We broke down the gliders, and were back at Quest right in time for the pilot meeting.

Excellent day, excellent way to brush off that winter rust and ease into XC flying.... Oh, and my landing was perfect. I am so happy!

Here is a video of this flight:

Flight stats and tracklog:

Friday, March 16, 2018

With a little help from my friends

Crystal and Ilya arrived on Thursday night, delayed by another Nor'easter. Fortunately, they arrived just in time for the best flyable weather of the week.

Both of them haven't flown since October and were anxious to get going. The forecast called for a late day, but they didn't care - they needed to fly NOW! I decided to keep them company. We didn't plan to fly anywhere, just practice thermalling over the airport.

Around 11am we all got towed up, and managed to find small but strong thermals. Great for the practice day. Bill Gottling also was flying with us in his new Moyes Gecko. As day progressed, thermals started to get bigger and stronger, taking us to 4000 feet MSL.

Once I've got established in a thermal and traveled to the top of the lift for a couple of times, I decided that today was a video op day, and a silly fun day. I was trying to get videos of everyone thermalling with me, and then tried 'dead man float' thermalling, and standing on the control bar thermalling. All worked great. I had fun, but got bored after an hour forty minutes, spiraled down and landed.

Here are the aerial shots from that day:
'Dead man float' thermalling 

'Step on it' thermalling

'Step on it' thermalling

Bill Gottling

That was my third day flying this week, and I just started getting back into 'this is a lot of fun' mode. My first flight a couple of days back was mostly work. My body remembered how to fly, but my brain was lagging behind and the whole process required a lot of concentration. Now I could enjoy flying again and I remembered why I love flying so much.

And the last thing, neither my body nor my brain remembered how to land. All of my three landings were either outright whacks or slightly better drop landings. The glider and I survived, but I wasn't a happy camper. I showed videos of my landing to Crystal and Ilya and they gave me some input. Hopefully, I'll get my mojo back. Tomorrow is another day.