Thursday, July 13, 2017

Orange on the Red, White and Blue

Weather gods stopped smiling on us. After returning from Florida it rained and blew almost every weekend. A few really good days were in a middle of the week. Work got in the way. Gotta pay for that Florida vacation somehow. Overall, I got maybe 2 hours of airtime over 2 months. What a contrast to the last season.


On July 4th weekend, forecast was finally pretty good. A bit on a windy side, but no rain 3 days in a row! 

For a couple of days, I launched from 450' hill at Morningside a few times, trying to stay current on my foot launching. No XC flights. It was either too light, or way too windy.

The last day, July 4th, was the most promising. NNW wind 10-15 mph at 3K MSL. Crystal and Ilya decided on a hike to Ascutney. That was too much work for me. I launched from Ascutney a few times in the past, and I didn't feel the amount of effort worth the reward. It can be a fun physical challenge, but I wasn't feeling it this time. I like it better when it's easy.

Aerotowing is much easier for me. I decided to be a wimp and stay at the park. As a challenge, I jokingly promised that I would fly over Ascutney before heading south. With 15mph wind and my slow glider - not likely, but one can dream.

By 12pm the sky looked awesome! Cloud streets stretching all the way south. There was a noticeable drift, but it didn't look too bad. On the ground - wind was right down the runway - perfect. 

I planned my day to launch around 12pm, and I was ready. Let's go!
Go, go, go! Lee Minardi helping me on launch.

The launch went without an issue, and Nick dropped me off in lifting air. I climbed for a few minutes and lost it. Tried going upwind as promised, toward Ascutney. Crossed the river, but found nothing. I was going down pretty fast. It was time to consider plan B - back to the airport and relight.
Crossing the river toward Ascutney
Landing right next to the setup area for a relight

When I landed, Peter Judge was about to tow. No one else was ready. I grabbed a cart and got in line. 10 minutes later I was back at 3000' MSL. This time, I stayed with whatever I got, not trying to be brave and fly to Ascutney. Sorry guys. Maybe some other time. 

After what seemed like a very long time, I finally got to 5500' MSL. Drift was taking me SSE. It took me past the flight park already. I made a few calls on the radio to see if anyone would join me. Got no reply. Decision time... Wind was pushing me south. I either had to go with the wind, or come back to the park. I was gone with the wind.
Finally got established in a thermal, but drifted to the south end of the runway already

The plan was to fly south down Connecticut river. There are plenty of fields alongside of it. The drift was taking me away from the river. I had to constantly fly crosswind back toward it. Climb to 5-6K MSL, pick a cloud close to the river - glide toward that cloud. Zig-zag. Rinse and repeat.

After an hour, I checked how far I was from Morningside. I crossed 16 miles! My first goal was complete - fly farther than 15 miles in New England. Now I was at cloudbase again, and I knew I would get past 20 miles as well. I was not trying to guess beyond that mark... yet.

Past 20 miles mark and at cloudbase! You can see Ascutney in the distance.

The flight was going great so far. The only problem I experienced was my water bladder malfunction. I could barely get any water out of it even though, I knew, it had plenty. I tried to shake it free, thinking that tube got pinched, but the quick connect simply disconnected, leaving me without water for the duration of the flight. Sigh... I pressed on.

Another hour past. I only got low (below 2000' MSL) once, getting lucky a couple of times, finding thermals where I didn't expect them to be. I checked my distance again - 35 miles! Now I was halfway to Tanner-Hiller airport in Massachusetts. I started wondering if I could actually make that far...

Climbing next to Spofford lake in NH. The lake was bustling with activity.

First thing first - I had to fly SE across 3 state forests with no LZs in sight. My instrument told me that I was barely making Orange airport on the other side of those forests. 14 miles stretch. I saw a cloud street roughly halfway between me and Orange - and I went for it. 
At the point of no return. Halfway to Orange airport over large forest with no LZs

It was pretty unsettling to commit to this. I was looking at tiny fields and wondering if I could land in them if worst came to worst. Soon my worries were put to rest. Thermals gods were very generous - I stumbled into a thermal before I got to the clouds. I still had 4000' MSL of altitude (about 3500' above ground). Now I knew I made it at least to Orange. It's another 15 miles to Tanner-Hiller after that

As I set on a final glide to Orange I got somewhat target fixated on that airport. Hoping I could get there high, and I was not looking for another destination. I probably had a better chance crossing to Tanner-Hiller if I flew directly to Gardner airport, a few miles east of Orange. Farther away from Quabbin - more farms with large fields to land in.

Anyway, I got to Orange with 4K MSL to spare, found a weak climb on the south end and tried to climb out. The drift was taking me straight south this time, right toward Quabbin reservoir. More forest around it, not a good direction without a lot of altitude. 
Arriving at Orange airport. Quabbin reservoir ahead.

I lost that thermal at 4200' and decided to fly upwind, staying close to the airport. Clouds were disappearing all around me. I was in a downcycle with not a lot of options to explore. I think, at that point I just gave up, deciding to enjoy my flight as it was and not asking for more.

I was making a circle around airport, monitoring air traffic, and looking for a place to land. I saw a couple of slow moving shadows around my glider's shadow. Hm... other gliders? I couldn't see anyone above me, so I just concentrated on my landing. I picked a large field right outside of the gate. It had a flag right there, telling me wind direction. A perfect landing spot. 

The landing went well. I had plenty of airspeed to cut through a very turbulent layer around 50 feet AGL without much trouble. Flared lightly into headwind, and got a perfect no-stepper landing. I turned the glider around so I could break it down, and then I saw what those shadows above me were - skydivers. It dawned on me that at some point in my flight I was in danger of them hitting me. 

Later I checked my flight path. Considering that skydivers are being dropped upwind I wasn't very close to their most likely drop location. Still, I wasn't aware that Orange had skydiving operation. Another thing to check when preparing a flight plan.

Ready for retrieve 
But I digress... When I landed, a guy driving out of the airport stopped by - curious. We chatted. I was more than happy to brag and tell him more than he wanted to know about hang gliding. Then he drove away. Imagine my surprise when he showed up again, 20 minutes later, with a sandwich and a bottle of cold sparkling water. He refused to take any money for it. "You must be hungry. It was a long flight." People are awesome! For the last 3 years that I started flying XC, I met a lot of nice people. That experience alone worth the effort :-)

The last part of this flight was to figure out how I would get back to my car. A couple of people at the flight park offered to retrieve me if I went XC. I started calling. Nick Caci, our tug pilot, picked up. He was done towing, and was on his way home, passing Keene when I called. He was happy to give me a hand. He towed me up, he picked me up, he drove me back to Morningside. How awesome is that? Thank you, Nick! I owe you one.

Flight statistics: time: 3h21m; launch-to-landing straight line distance: 51.8 miles (83.4 km)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Don't Stop Me Now

I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
I'm going to go go go
There's no stopping me
So don't stop me now
Don't stop me
Cause I'm having a good time
Having a good time

Amazing weather that we got a week of Green Swamp Sports Klassic competition was coming to an end. Sunday was the only good, flyable, day left until next weekend. So when Tom suggested we should fly somewhere, I was all for it.

With SSW wind in the forecast,  Tom set our goal to Williston airport 70 miles away, with a potential detour waypoint toward town of Dunnellon, to avoid Ocala class D airspace.

Natalia agreed to retrieve us, even though it could be a couple of hours drive (if everything went according to Tom's plan).

Another "green swamper" decided to join us as well. Ricardo Vassmer, flying Bautek Fizz.

The day was looking pretty good toward the afternoon. Cummies were everywhere. It was very hot on the ground, so I delayed putting the harness on until I was near the launch line. Tom and Ricardo launched first as they were ready before me.
The launch went smoothly, and I pinned off early as I felt a nice fast thermal. A few minutes later I was at 4500'. Tom was circling near me as well, and I followed him to optimize my climb to 5200' MSL.
at cloudbase
Ricardo was struggling to get up and landed back at the airport. The thermal we were in was still working, so we decided to wait for Ricardo. While boating around at cloudbase I saw Tom flying straight at me. WTH? I made a diving turn in case Tom was asleep at the wheel, but he radioed that he was going for a better video shot. Thanks Tom. I am still waiting to see that shot.

Ricardo launched second time and climbed to the cloudbase with us. After 30 minutes delay, we finally set on course, going NNW.
Thermalling somewhere on course
Clouds were looking good in all directions with a few blue holes in between, required a detour or two. For the first 10 miles or so it was a pretty easy ride, but we were going a bit too much west. I saw Ricardo higher than me, then lower, then I heard Tom reporting that Ricardo was safe on the ground.

I was flying the way I flew at the comp, pressing on alone each time I felt the thermal was getting soft. I figured, flying the slowest glider - my comrades will catch up, or tell me if there is anything better in a different direction.

I drifted south of prisons, getting lower. Found a climb, and I was trying to get high before I would drift over the prisons. Getting low over those things did not seem like a good idea.

It worked out. I was out of prisons and on a glide toward turnpike. Tom was flying back and forth, getting ahead, flying back or waiting for me. It was hard to find him in the sky sometimes. He couldn't locate me at times either, because my ability to report my location is still pretty rudimentary.

Tom -  "what's your location?"
Max - "I am over the truck stop, at 5k"
Tom - "I am over the truck stop as well, and I don't have a visual on you"

Well, that is because Max was still 3 miles away flying toward the truck stop. From that altitude it looked like the target was right there... but it was still a few minutes away.

When I finally was over the truck stop, I stumbled into 500 fpm climb. Tom was in zero sink several miles ahead on the course line. Then he said something about a bad idea, but he was doing it anyway. Huh? Tom set on a glide toward my thermal. I guess he was getting bored waiting for a slow flying aircraft.

He was late to the party, just as he predicted. The next thing I heard on the radio  "I am low.... *something*.. landing *something*". Ok, there was something about landing, so I assumed Tom was done. I pressed on toward Dunnellon. I had that waypoint in my instrument, but I didn't bother putting Williston in. "Tom will take me there". Right. I guess I will just fly north after Dunnellon, and get as far as I can.
Thermalling over interesting looking housing development
A few miles later - recharging before a lot of forest in front of me, getting to 7k MSL, and staring feeling severely under-dressed - I decided to check if Tom was safe on the ground. Nothing on the radio... Thanks Tom... Then, as a couple minutes passed by,... "Sorry, had my radio off. I am at 4k flying N. What's your location?"

I was so glad to hear that Tom was still flying! I waited for him to catch up. At that point we were right next to Ocala airspace but cruising along at 7k+ MSL, chilled to perfection.

Tom decided that at this altitude, even with Sport 2, we should skip the detour waypoint, and go right over the airspace. He warned me several times that if I was getting low I should bail and glide out toward that field over there. Right on the border of the airspace.

I only gotten as low as 4k, found another climb to 7500'. Circling in a view of the airport was pretty neat. My instrument doesn't have airspace altitude information, and treats all of them as an infinite cylinder, so vario was barking at me, and showing the closet direction out of the airspace for all the time we were passing this place by.
Recharging over Ocala airspace

Tom pointed out that we could see the ocean to the west. It was an amazing view but a tiny gopro couldn't capture it...
Ocean to the west of me
After Ocala, it was a relatively easy glide to Williston, around 18 miles or so.... I cannot believe I am saying that! Just a week ago I had trouble crossing 15 miles mark from launch to landing. The reason it was relatively easy because we were consistently at 7K+ MSL at that point in the flight.

As we were approaching Williston, Tom asked if I was going to land there or keep going? Do you even have to ask, Tom?

I was on a long glide toward the airport, watching planes to takeoff and land. I got there with 4k altitude. Took a small climb while resting a bit, but couldn't climb higher. Day was ending, clouds were thinning.
"Goal" is reached - resting for a bit.
On a glide beyond
There was a cloud to the north of the airport. I went to check it out. Picked a field to land, right next to a road. Got there below 2k feet MSL. Found a very light climb, and was working it patiently. Tom, in his fast ship, jumped to the next line of disappearing clouds and reported strong lift, probably due to convergence with sea breeze. If only I could get where he was...
In the last climb - getting tired.
After what seemed like a very long time, I managed to find that last strong core going all the way up. I was at 7k again, closing on 6pm. Amazing!
Last clouds
Tom warned me to stay right of the cloud line for better lift. I was on a glide, a very long glide, often in weak lift. Weak lift I was passing through didn't have any oomph to circle me up. Tom was doing much better, finding another climb and flying farther.
On a final glide
I stretched my glide as far as I could, but my day was done. Another 20 miles from our original destination, I picked a decent looking field and set for a landing.
Over LZ
Landing didn't go all that well. The glider got turned on final by a cross gust, but continued flying/crabbing straight. That would be fine, but I also saw what looked like boulders on the ground, and I had to flare over them. I hesitated, and didn't flare. Flew over the "boulders" to the grassy area and ended up on my knees, hitting one knee on the basebar. Nothing broken on glider or me, but it hurt. The "boulders" that freaked me out were just grey sand patches in the grass. Oh well...
Sandy "boulders"
All is well that ends well. Enjoying sunset on the ground.
I carried glider to the edge of the field where I got greeted by local kids. They were not terribly impressed by a guy falling out of the sky, but one of them did ask a couple of questions.

I was out of my harness, and was about to text my location to Natalia, as my red truck was already rolling toward me. I was speechless! I have the best retrieve in the world!
In the LZ. Finishing up breaking down the glider.
As I broken my glider down, Tom finally landed, an hour after my landing. He was another 15 miles north. We loaded my glider on the truck and went to pick up Tom.
Tom and I showing off our coordinated attire - Morningside T-Shirts
Two thumbs up  to an amazing day and an amazing retrieve 
Tom treated Natalia and I to a nice dinner at Great Outdoors restaurant in High Springs. A very nice restaurant that was still open late Sunday night. Great ending to an amazing day of flying.

This flight was all my personal bests for XC distance and XC flight time. I couldn't believe I flew that far and for that long. Thank you Tom Lanning for taking me on this adventure! You are the best! I also hope all this translates into better XC flying back home in LZ-deprived New England.

Recording of my flight:

Flight stats:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Green Swamp Sports Klassic 2017 - conclusion

Short version: I had so much fun it should be illegal.

Longer version:
I am not interested in competition all that much, so going to a competition event made me anxious a bit. Things were going to be rushed. Performance anxiety. Pressure...

None of that happened. I took performance anxiety out of the equation by performing poorly in the first 3 days :) But seriously, the event is as laid back, and smoothly running as they come. My anxiety disappeared by day 2.

I didn't feel rushed once. Yes, you have to be on a cart and ready to fly by certain time, but you have hours to prepare. I had time to take a leisurely breakfast, drive to a grocery store, very slowly assemble my glider, check everything as many times as I felt necessary, etc. You get the idea.
Team One on launch. Hooked in and ready.

Then there was a magic of 5 tugs towing us up. No long wait before you get in the air. It was awesome.

As to the competition itself, I was looking at it as an opportunity to fly with a purpose. It gives you a task to complete. Technically, you should always  plan your flights anyway, so here you can practice that. Practice working with your instrument to help you fly a selected route so you can fly farther.

Competition points...  I viewed those as measure of my progress. Yes, it is nice to win, but if that is the only driving force, then this event is probably not for you. This is a practice comp, no reason to be stressed about points.

Anyway, if you are an aspiring XC pilot - this is the event to go to. You will be practicing your XC flying skills with help from very experienced XC pilots. And if you want to compete, same thing - this is the best staring point for you, too.

Oh, and last but not least, flying in Florida is amazing. I logged more hours in a week than I logged last year in 2 months back home.

Winners on GSSK 2017

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Green Swamp Sports Klassic 2017 - Task Six

Friday was blown out. Task six moved to Saturday - the last task of this competition.
Another magical foggy sunrise - last day of the competition

Saturday forecast called for a blue day. No cummies. No lift indicators in the sky. Plus westerly wind up to 13 miles per hour.

To ease the retrieve before Saturday night award ceremony, the task committee decided to set a triangle - 2 turn points and return back to Quest. 50 kilometers total. Easy retrieve, not so easy to stay up.

We launched at 1:30pm. Our team was first to launch, and I was second in line.

After a very bumpy ride, I ended up in a very weak thermal. It topped out at 3k MSL. Meanwhile, other people started to show up, and that thermal got crowded. Up and down, more people - not much upward progress.
Team One in one thermal.
getting crowded
I thought a glider (away from this gaggle)  was climbing better. I went to check it out, and hit huge sink. Turned around, and couldn't get back to what I had. Went exploring - and didn't find anything. Time to land back at the airport.
Zhenya to the rescue

Meanwhile, my old gaggle found another climb in a different direction from where I went. Sigh.

Towed again. Tug dropped me off under the gaggle - not a beep from my vario. They all were floating in zero sink above me. 5 minutes and I was on the ground AGAIN! I was getting slightly pissed. Slightly, just very so very, very slightly.

Michelle helping on launch

Towed again. This time got into a weak climb. I topped out at 4k MSL. Progress... but that old gaggle (no one left yet?) was still higher than me.
They all higher than me... How did they get up there?
Our team mentor, Greg, was calling something on the radio. He had a shoulder mic with a lot of wind noise. In this weak lift that was breaking my concentration - I couldn't hear my vario. I turned the radio off and decided that I was done with this ridiculous day - I was flying out, on course, not landing back at the airport ANYMORE. I better land out and relax for the rest of the day... I turned my ass toward that gaggle above me, and left. Take that mother nature!

I immediately felt better. Now I just needed to find me an LZ as far as my Green Sporty would glide. Plenty of fields ahead. Check. Blue day - pay attention to ground thermal triggers. Check.... As I flew toward a neighborhood with a lot of houses (as a potential thermal trigger), my vario told me that my day wasn't done... Yet...

And that pretty much described my flight for the next 2.5 hours. As a thermal I would stumble into gotten weaker around 3200-4000 feet (~150fpm or less) - leave. Glide to the next potential trigger, arrive sometimes as low as 700 feet, recharge, rinse and repeat.

Several times I thought I was done. Terra firma - here I come,I mean, here I fall out of the sky. But each time I was able to climb up using a few bug farts and helium in my leading edges. It was surreal.
Getting low... chicken coops to the rescue.
Only once, early on a glide toward turn point one, I saw a few other gliders. Tom with his team flew into a thermal where I was, but a few hundred feet higher. After that I was completely on my own. All alone in the sky.
Saying hi to Tom
Several times I drifted away from a turnpoint because I found a climb. It took a couple of iterations to figure out that I wasn't making much of a forward progress - glide, climb, drift back. So I set on a glide much farther and lost more altitude, but made the turnpoint and could finally change direction, flying crosswind.
Drifting away from first turn point
On a long glide to first turn point


When I was on a final glide, I stumbled into a Florida fat thermal. Soft and easy, it took me all the way up to 6200' MSL. Yet again I recharged too much for a final glide. But the way this flight was progressing - I didn't want to take any chances.

It was exhilarating to realize that I made it! I didn't expect that at all. I arrived with 2500 feet of altitude, shouting as I was floating above Quest, but I was too high for anyone to hear me. Exhausted, I spiraled down and landed.

On the ground I was told I was the first sport class pilot to show up! I won the day, second time in a row. And I wasn't even racing, I was just very pissed, and tried not to land for as long as I could. I guess, that can be a winning combination. Awesome!


All that awesomeness in the last 3 tasks didn't move me anywhere close to the comp leaders. I've done poorly in the first 3 tasks, and there was no way fixing that. But I got way more out of this competition than I expected. "NO REGERTS"

Recording of the flight:

Flight's stats/info:

Task 6 results:

Competition results:
I did manage to squeak into top 10.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Green Swamp Sports Klassic 2017 - Task Five

Morning or Day 5
Day five of the competition brought stronger south winds that were supposed to turn more west later in the day. The task committee decided not to get too creative and just repeat task from previous day - Quest to Leeward Air Ranch. Same task but potentially much faster.

Tom and I discussed what I've done not optimally on that route, so I was very excited to try and fix it. An opportunity like that was a nice gift.

Our team was second in line. Jeff launched first, and I a few minutes later.
Jeff Curtis ready to take off
Launch director, Spinner, running along with the cart on take off

With winds 10+mph it was a bumpy ride. We rolled through strong lift, but I decided not to pin off, and get everything a tug pilot would give me.

He finally waved me off, and I went up like a rocket - solid 500 fpm.
Lucky climb. First team to launch (seen below) wasn't as lucky.

6 minutes later I was in the wispies, radioed that I was going on course, and set on a long glide to the next cloud.

Initial climb is done. Ready to race. 
After a few clouds lined up for me without need to take a detour, I started to think of going for time. I was racing! I would leave climbs as they were getting softer, without waiting to get all the way to the cloudbase.

This time around, I also went over the villages. This option that seemed a bit intimidating yesterday was just fine today.  When I approached that junction, I could see that there were actually LZs I could use. And a few clouds were forming over the housing development anyway. I recharged a few times flying over that town, never getting low.
Recharging over the villages
On the last leg, I freaked out a bit and stopped to recharge even though I had plenty of altitude, losing some time. It wasn't necessary as I arrived at the goal with 3k altitude to spare. Actually, for the last 3 miles I had the bar to my knees and was I still going up. Ama-freaking-azing!

Flying fast
I arrived first, flew around for a bit trying to lose altitude. It required some effort. I could have easily flown farther than the task called for.
Monkeying around... because I can...

A U2 pilot beat my time by 2 minutes, but with 6% handicap that sport2s get, I still won the day. Felt good. It didn't improve my comp standing all that much, but hey, cannot get it all, right?


Jeff also made the goal, and because he was very consistent he moved into first place in the comp. Day 6 is blown out, so we probably have only one task left. Jeff has real shot at keeping his first place. Congratulations, Jeff! A job well done.

Task results:

Comp results:

Recording of my flight:

Green Sport Landed
Goal gets filled in.