Saturday, December 10, 2016

Max Gone Flying 2016. Episode Three.

Pretty much the end of the flying season in New England. September and October. No XC flights but I got a new glider. A super ship. A rocket! And I flew the hell out of it. And of course, my trusted Sport got some mileage, I mean hours, too. Awesome flight at Cape Cod was a nice addition to the end of the season.

So, what's now? I got just one flight in November at Tanner-Hiller, but I plan to drive to Florida in a couple of weeks. Not sure if it all warrants another episode, but who knows... 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Max Gone Flying 2016. Episode Two.

The heart of the season. June - August. A few XC flights, long West Rutland flight, and just having fun all around. Awesome summer!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Max Gone Flying 2016. Episode One.

For the last two seasons, I was doing flying season compilation videos. I wanted to make something different this year. When I started putting a video together, I quickly realized that I had so much video footage that even with creative cutting I couldn't fit everything into one song.

Not that it is a requirement, but a length of a song is a good measure. No one wants to watch 15 minutes of boring flying clips. So, what should I do? How about a several episodes? Hm, not a bad idea, I thought. And I'll make it chronological too. This way several episodes would make more sense... maybe.

And so, SkyMax Studio proudly presents - the first episode of "Max Gone Flying 2016" series.

This episode includes January to part of June. I also coupled month and location. Take a look. I hope you enjoy it

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sunrise Trouble

Sunrise wanted

There are certain things you want to see and do for no particular reason. For me, one of those things was to fly into sunrise at Wellfleet, Cape Cod. The idea had a good romantic feel to it, plus, an excellent photo op. The downside - it's 2 hours 40 minutes drive and one hour setup time. With sunrise at 6:40 AM, I had to leave my house at 3 AM....

I posted on a local email list that I was going to do this crazy thing. Ilya decided to keep me a company. Such an early trip wasn't his idea of fun, but I guess, my enthusiasm was contagious. Having another pilot to help me launch was very much appreciated. Thank you, my sky brother!

But not everything was going smoothly. I got sick just a couple of days earlier. No matter. I was going. Flying at the Cape doesn't happen often, and forecast was too good to skip it. I knew I could focus and just do it. It would be much easier if I wasn't sick, but hey, gotta suffer a bit to have some fun. Right? Maybe? No?

Getting ready

Natalia and I left our house as planned - 3AM. It helped that we went to bed early, but I don't think we got more than 4 hours of sleep anyway.

Drive down the Cape was pretty easy. Empty roads and all. I didn't feel too bad. We arrived to White Crest Beach a bit later than planned, around 5:45 AM. Along the route there was a road construction going on, and we had to take a detour. Anyway, still plenty of time to set up... Except, setting up in the dark was not all that easy. It took me way longer than I expected.

By the time, I was ready to take off, sun started to light up clouds on the horizon. I was late by a few minutes, but the view was still pretty nice. I didn't really have time to enjoy it yet - take off is a serious business.

Ilya was helping me on launch, holding nose wires down. Natalia, reluctantly, helped us to cross the road (is that a set up for a joke?), and carry the glider toward the launch line.  I thinks, it was the last time she would do it for me. It was more stressful for her (she is not a pilot) than it was for us.
Crossing the road

On launch, winds were around 20mph. It wasn't too bad, but something wasn't working. I couldn't feel the glider. It slowly occurred to me that I had to talk to Ilya and tell him what I needed. I was amazed at the realization that since a pilot was helping me, I expected him to know what to do.  Ok, I gotta stop it, I am the pilot in command - communicate with my wire crew.

One of the problems was that Ilya was holding nose wires too tight/low. We don't fly at the ocean too often, and all our reactions are based on mountain sites, where a thermal can roll through at any moment and pick you up. It is different at the ocean - laminar airflow makes things easier.

I asked llya to let the glider slide up. Now I could feel it. I switched to the base bar - the glider still didn't feel the way I wanted it. I remembered, an incident last year where Jeff Curtis had a wing lifted at launch, and he barely recovered.

 I also remembered what Tom Lanning said after that day - point the glider perpendicular to dune, even if wind is crossing. Wind deflecting from the dune rises straight up, and you want to be straight into THAT flow.

Into Sunrise 

Wind was slightly crossing from north, and that's the way my glider was pointing - into the wind. I asked Ilya to turn until I felt we were in the right position. All felt good now, I yelled "Clear", Ilya let go and done some crazy ninja dive to get out of the way. Glider started to turn into the wind slightly, I got it under control and floated up above the dune.

Phew! All was well now. Most stressful part of Cape Cod flying was behind me. After being so focused, I could finally relax and enjoy the view.

Launching into sunrise

Trip to Nauset lighthouse

While waiting for Ilya to launch, I decided to do the easy trip to south lighthouse. Probably 40 minutes round trip. There are no big gaps to cross, and it's a good way to adjust to dune flying.

My trip there was indeed pretty easy and uneventful. The view was pretty nice with sun rising slowly above the ocean. I didn't set my camera the way I thought I would, but it still took some nice shots:

Sunrise flying

I was flying "downwind" so it didn't take too long. Nauset lighthouse, my first destination, - tagged!

Nauset lighthouse


While flying back to launch, upwind, the progress was slow. I got bored crabbing, and started experimenting with flying faster. I pulled VG to half, and started diving at the dunes. Wind deflecting from the dunes was providing a nice cushion. Instead of diving into the ground I was accelerating along the dune!

Speed flying

When I was flying here in January I couldn't do the same. Flying in a straight line at full speed was still a challenge at that time. Now, after ~60hours on this glider, this was a breeze. I loved it! Higher VG settings also meant lower bar pressure and less effort required to fly faster.

Trouble at launch

Very soon I was back at launch. A few pilots pulled in since I left. I saw Ilya finally getting ready to launch. He had a full wire crew.
Ilya with his wire crew

I decided to wait for Ilya so we could fly together. I was hanging out a hundred yards south of launch,  doing figures 8s. Waiting. A sudden motion attracted my attention and, with a stomach sinking feeling, I saw Ilya's glider flying in a wrong direction toward utility polls. It happened so fast...

The glider hit a pole and stopped. Everyone was running toward it. A few long seconds later, a very pissed off pilot emerged from under the glider. The way he walked indicated no damage to the pilot. That was a relief. The last thing you want to see is someone getting hurt. Glider can be fixed... As much as the whole incident sucked, a major disaster was miraculously avoided.

I boated for a bit around the launch, contemplating if I should land. Seeing that Ilya was fine and going about his business assessing the damage and disassembling the glider, I decided to keep flying.

Crossing the Gap

In all my previous flights at the Cape I never crossed the big gap north of launch. Never flown to north lighthouse (Highland lighthouse). Today could be that day. I should go for it, or landout trying.

I remembered Jon Atwood's advice to open harness before attempting to cross and be ready to land. That was exactly what I've done. Also, with my newly obtained skills of speedflying, I dove in for speed while I had the altitude.
Accelerating toward the gap
Beginning of the gap - still flying fast

Middle of the gap - slowing down to stay on the top of air going up

End of the gap - task completed. Dunes start to rise again.

As I got the the lowest part of the dune I started slowing down, modulating my speed to keep me off the ground. Very quickly I was on the other side. That was fun!

Here is a video of that crossing:

A couple of miles farther north, there was another gap. It went as smoothly. I tagged northern lighthouse and went back, crossing the gaps again without an issue.

Speeding past North Truro AFS radar station

Speeding toward Highland lighthouse

Highland lighthouse tagged!

Other activities

When I got back to the launch site a few more pilots got into the air. I chased them for a bit, sometimes passing below tops of the dunes. Here is Lee's video showing my pass:

After another 30 minutes of playing, I got bored. I landed and broke down the glider. Then I helped other pilots to get into the air and to retrieve a couple of unlucky ones that didn't cross the gap.

Safe on the ground. 'Twas a good flight.
Here are a few more videos from that day:

Flight time: 2h 16m
Flight stats:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Leaf peeping anxiety

October is beautiful time of the year in Vermont. Many people visit the state to enjoy colorful views that nature preparing for winter has to offer. There is no better vantage point for leaf peeping than from the sky. And no better way to experience it than free flying in mountains.
Saturday forecast was pretty good for that kind of flying. Not a good thermal day (rarity that late in the season), but ridge soaring was a possibility.

In the morning at Morningside

With all those beautiful thoughts I still found a way to be anxious about upcoming flying day. It's not like being anxious is my favorite thing, and, if necessary, I don't shy away from experiences that require a healthy dose of anxiety. By now, I've launched hang gliders hundreds of times, but every time is different. And if there is a new element at play - anxiety level is even higher.
Leaf peeping flight was gearing up to be one of those new experiences. I felt I was ready to do some mountain flying on my Combat. My first foot launch, and my first mountain flight on that glider. No better place to do this than West Rutland, Vermont. It's a very forgiving site and is a go-to place for new H2s/P2s to experience their first mount flight.

Light days is when paragliders shine

I've launched at West Rutland quite a few times. I had great soaring flights here, and my longest flight was here as well. All that didn't stop me from being nervous like hell.

In the setup area

I managed to ignore most of that rattly feeling until it was time to hook-in. I paused and took a moment to breathe to calm my nerves. Then, standing on the edge of the ramp, I let a pre-launch routine to take over, pushing out the new, high performance aspect of this launch out of my focus. 

Check wind direction, wait for a good cycle, balance the wing, keep the nose down.... "Clear!". I made the first step, and accelerated down the ramp. The glider effortlessly floated away from the mountain.

I turned right, flying along the ridge, keeping my airspeed up. Most likely higher than I had to. I still had rather low hours on this glider, and I wasn't going to take any chances. "Don't get too close to the terrain. You are not in your Sport", I kept reminding myself. 

The day was very light. Not a high performance glider day. In fact, a few pilots on T2Cs that launched before me, couldn't stay up for long. Thus, I didn't expect much.

As I was flying down the ridge, I couldn't feel any strong lift to turn in. I was probably (and most likely) a bit tense, too. A few hundred yards later, I had a decision to make - turn around and try the ridge again, or go out and look elsewhere. I picked the latter. One step at a time. There will be another day. 

Just as expected, I didn't find anything away from the ridge. Made a couple of 360 degree turns here and there, but couldn't go up. It was time to box the LZ and land.

I gave myself plenty of room so I wouldn't go too long, and as I was making my final turn, I got dumped much faster than I thought I would. I didn't make a hard slipping turn, so maybe it was just sinking air. No matter. No time to ponder - pull-in and get ready to land.... except I was going short now. I didn't think I would ever go short in that glider, but it was happening. My flight path was through a dry corn field with dry corn stalks, probably 5 feet high. Not a nice place to land in. 

I slowed down for early ground effect, stayed prone, trying to extend my glide just a bit. I made it to the edge of the corn field, kicked the top of the stalks with my feet while I was transitioning, and flared hard as I was about to hit the ground. It worked. It was probably the best landing I got on this glider so far (except for going short part). The flare wasn't perfect as I dropped the bar, but I didn't whack. Good.

in the main LZ
So even though this flight was really short, I was happy with it. I am slowly gaining confidence with this high performance machine. Hopefully, in a season or two I'll get my Combat skills to the level I can be content with. Time will tell.

PS. About that leaf peeping thing... um, well, I did sort of enjoy the views from launch for a couple of hours, but my flight wasn't long enough to appreciate them from the air. Oh well, priorities, priorities.... I got what I came for. I left leaf peeping marveling to gentler souls.

Monday, September 26, 2016

My First Combat at Tanner-Hiller

I finally got enough confidence in my Combat flying that I took combat to another site. Still aerotowing, but different.

Excellent day! A lot of flying and thermalling practice. I was thinking to write something about it, but ran out of steam. Instead, I offer this video with short sub-titles style commentary...

A few snapshots from the day

Climbing in a nice thermal while enjoying a magnificent views of Western Massachusetts  

Chasing Mark Hermann in his T2C (part 1)

Chasing Mark Hermann in his T2C (part 2)


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Fruits of labor

Labor day forecast was looking very good. A hurricane was making its way toward New England, creating some calm-before-the-storm sort of weather. It is often the best days for free flying. Plus, the hurricane was pushing air from east - that meant a few east facing sites were possible, including Mount Washington. Hey! I am an H4 now, I can fly the tallest mountain in New England! But... forecasts is one thing, reality is another.

To be ready for awesome flying, I took Friday off, and came to Morningside on Thursday evening. Gotta practice flying that Combat. She is a fiddly princess...

Nick Caci was towing. He doesn't have a lot of experience towing (started just this year), so we both were figuring things out. As a result - one snapped weak-link, one early pin off due to heavy PIO, and one solid tow. It was a bit windy, and I was glad to see that - I needed to try conditions that were closer to midday air. I didn't want to fly this glider in calm air forever.

After those three flights, I declared myself ready for the next step - midday tow. I left the glider set up... But Friday was blown out. Oh well, as I said - reality vs forecasts.


Crystal, Ilya and I decided to spend Saturday at Tanner-Hiller. Finally I could fly there with my friends. I didn't mind driving for such occasion either. I picked Green Sporty as my aircraft of the day. I was not ready to fly Combat at a different site yet.

As we started driving south toward Massachusetts, we saw cirrus clouds moving in. That didn't look promising. After a brief discussion, we decided to continue the trip. A change of scenery was welcomed anyway.

As far as flying was concerned that was actually a good call. Blue hole over Morningside didn't let pilots to fly away that day.
Takeoff at Tanner-Hiller
Tanner-Hiller, on the other hand, yet again, surprised us with some decent air. Even though sun couldn't warm the ground at full power, there was enough air moving to soar for long time. Lift wasn't strong for a good XC flight, but everyone had soared. I enjoyed an hour and twenty minutes in the air. It was a challenging day, but rewarding at the same time.

Low save
On a fast glide back to the airport 
Ilya breaking down his glider

Forcasts for Mount Washington was right on the money. But we couldn't fly there this weekend anyway. Apparently, park rangers didn't want people to stop on the auto road to watch hang gliders fly, creating traffic problems. Even though it was just a few of us ready to go - they wouldn't have any of that. No flying on holiday weekends. Period.


On Sunday winds were blowing east at Morningside. 5-10 mph. I figured, I could give Combat a try. Not an XC flying, just to boat around in midday conditions.

With that mindset, I made a decision to leave glider bags in the truck. Mistake... Never leave ground without them, eh... Then I forgot my phone in the truck. Huge mistake. Not sure how that happened as I don't go anywhere without my electronic leash.

I launched around 2PM. PIO-ed a couple of times, but got it under control. When off tow, I tried to find me some thermals, and see if I could make Combat to go up.
It took a while, and I got low, but eventually I found something that was slowly pushing up. It was over the hill on the west side of airstrip. The drift wasn't bad, and I slowly climbed to 4K MSL inching toward Connecticut river.

Getting low

Soon Ilya launched. As he pinned off, I excitedly reported my good climbs. I saw him flying full speed to get right under me. The thermal was still working.

Actually, we started finding thermals everywhere. Not a single cloud in sight, but plenty of lift. After an hour of this, I felt much better working with Combat, and I started gliding around Morningside just to keep myself entertained.
On top of the world
After flying back and forth got old, I figured, why don't I make a triangle around Morningside? I had no problems finding climbs, my confidence got a very good boost, and I completely forgot that I didn't have XC bags with me, or a phone.

The first part of the triangle I picked was upwind. That was a good cautious decision as I could easily glide back with downwind help. I set on a glide SE over some forest toward a big farm. While on course, I found myself in a lift line. It improved glide dramatically. My goal was just 4 miles away. I made it there and back with some altitude to spare.

Next target - Claremont airport. It was just 3 miles crosswind. I found another climb and set on a glide. It wasn't too hard at all, and I again flew back to Morningside to recharge.

Soon, I was back at 4500' MSL, and damn ready for more! Springfield airport was 6+ miles away.... I could do it! I could! ... a few minutes later I was at east side of the airport at 3K MSL. Not bad. Not bad at all!

I found a climb right next to the airport, but it was slow, and I was getting tired. I gained 200 feet and decided to leave. My reasoning was - I flew over some lift on the way here and I can make it back the same way... I completely forgot that I was flying downwind, and return leg was upwind. It was a mistake to leave that early. Airport was a much better LZ anyway. But my tired and excited brain made a decision...

 From where I was I could barely see Morningside. As my glide progressed, vario was bouncing between - "you are not going to make it" as I was flying through sink,  and "no worries, plenty of altitude" as I was going through zero sink.

As I realized mistake I made, I tried to take any weak thermal I was passing through. I released VG rope and... WHAT THE HELL? VG got stuck! I pulled it back, and I had VG rope in my hand, completely disconnected from the glider. Nice... I shook the control frame to check if VG was in off position. It was. Phew! At least I can land with this.

Now my glide was diminished significantly, and while I was distracted, I lost that weak thermal. I pressed on. It wasn't the best decision either. In retrospect, I should have turned around toward the airport, or at least tried coming back to that weak thermal...

I saw a couple of farms below me with large fields. Low save is possible! Keep working it! But as I approached the last large field before much longer "no LZ" glide, I found myself pretty low over the terrain. My vario was still showing 1800' MSL, but my brain was throwing TERRAIN-TERRAIN alarms. It felt like I was at 500' AGL! I made a few attempts to find lift over that last field while trying to figure out the best approach. The field was recently mowed but it was slopped. Fortunately for me, uphill-upwind, and I couldn't see any movement on the ground anyway.

I didn't make the best approach for the topless glider, but I made my turn as wide and as shallow as I could. Landing went well. I didn't flare, but ran it out. Safe on the ground.

That's when it occurred to me that I didn't have either glider bags or my cellphone. Ilya was still flying and could hear me on the radio. He relayed information to a willing rescue driver (Thank you, Kevin Webb!). Kevin suggested that I would use GPS coordinates from the vario. Smart! I passed the GPS info to Ilya, and he repeated it to Kevin. Sounds pretty ridiculous, but it worked.

I hiked assembled glider toward a farmhouse, there I found farm owner with a kid. I apologized for landing on her property. She was rather welcoming and offered to use her phone. All was going pretty well considering how unprepared I was for an XC flight. ... I know it sounds obvious, but always take your glider bags, and especially your cell phone, with you. You never know when you might need them.

Kevin brought my truck 20 minutes later and even helped me pack the glider. Thanks again, Kevin. And big thanks to Ilya for helping organizing the retrieve from the air. You guys are awesome!

And so, unexpectedly, I got my first XC flight on a topless glider. This glider still intimidates me, and landings need a lot of work, but I certainly see how far it can take me, too. This flight was my longest distance (triangle) flight. 19+ miles. Just like that. Me likes it.

Everyone had great flights as well. Ilya had the longest flight of the day - over three hours. Crystal won the highest altitude "competition" - 5266 MSL. She beat me by 2 feet!


The next day, with Eric's help, I installed a new VG rope, and test flown the glider. All went well. Can't wait for the next Combat adventure!

Here is the tracklog ( :
(click on the image for playback)

Music video of the day:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Advance into Advanced

Rankings, ratings, markings, grading... Why do I even care about rating? Just fly, be safe, have fun. Right? Maybe passing the test shows to your peers that you care enough about the sport? Maybe it is a way to prove to yourself that your skills advanced far enough that you can do things on demand, or under pressure? Whatever it is, I am not a rebel enough to ignore it completely.


I set a goal for myself to get H4 this year (advanced hang gliding rating). I thought, I would do it in the beginning of the season, but I had so much fun flying that rating-shmating didn't seem to matter at all. I got what I needed. Why care about some labels?

I dunno. As I was more and more comfortable with XC flying, and landing in some tiny obscure fields, I started thinking about passing the H4 test. Plus, Crystal was shaming me into it the way only Crystal can. I am too soft. Cannot handle peer pressure.

Anyhow, this Sunday (August 29th), I gave up. The day was gearing up a bit windy. I didn't really want to go anywhere, so H4 test seemed like a good idea. More challenging conditions even better - go big or go home.

H4 test consists of 2 parts - a spot landing test, and a written test. Spot landing always made me nervous. I never could hit a bullseye no matter how hard I tried. For this test, I had to hit the spot 3 times with average distance of 25 feet from the target (75, 0, 0 is acceptable :-) ) There was only one way to find out if I could.

The easiest way to do it was from aerotow. Eric towed me to 800' AGL so I had plenty of time to execute a proper approach. As soon as I pinned off, I felt a thermal picking me up... I made a couple of turns - yup, going up. Focus. Focus. Spot landing, not thermaling.

I left the thermal, and went to asses conditions on the ground. Wind direction, the best approach, etc. All went well, and I landed about 25 feet from a cone that Ilya set in some random place on the runway. Not too bad. Needed another 2 - the same or closer.

The second flight was even better. Thermals were trying to distract me again, but I stayed on target. Good approach... getting short again. Milked it, late of the flare, but a good landing about 10 feet from the cone! I can do it! I couldn't believe it myself, but I was getting what I needed.

Before the last flight, Eric, who was also rating me, told me not to try to land on the top of the cone, but rather show that I was in full control of the aircraft and execute my best landing, no matter the target. You got it, boss!

With the headwind I was getting, I was coming up yet short again. I could have milked it another 20 feet to be closer to the target, but if my rating official wanted me to do the best landing I could - this was what I was going to do... And I nailed a perfect no-stepper landing!

Thank you, Ilya, for filming all of this.

So this was done! Phew!

The conditions looked pretty good for a nice thermaling flight, but I opted to take a written test, just to be done with all of that rating nonsense.

In a couple of hours this was completed as well. Eric and I  had a nice discussion on the questions I got wrong. Then he filled the paperwork for USHPA. I was officially an advanced hang gliding pilot! Thank you, Eric!

I am glad I went through this, and it is behind me now. Not a fan of any kind of tests and examinations, but I admit, this has some value.  I want to thank every pilot I've met along the way - I learned from you, you made me a better pilot. Huge thanks to all my NE pilot friends - you gave me a lot of help and support over the years, and I wouldn't be where I am now without you


Now, a couple of new flying sites opened up for me. The one I really want to go to - Mt Washington. Hey, Weather Gods, can we have a nice easterly day soon?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cloud Street

Another weekend - another 10-ish miles XC flight. Me from 2015 would feel strange to say it, but it seems silly to keep writing about those short flights. And even more interesting question is - why write at all. I am not entirely sure. I find it interesting to reflect on my new experiences. It's a place to put my "flight afterglow" energy.

Back to short flights. So far, each of those short flights is different. I learn and experience something new every time. This flight wasn't an exception.


Saturday, August 20th, 2016.

I haven't flown at Tanner-Hiller in more than a month. The forecast for Saturday was nothing exciting, but decent for August in New England - SE wind in the morning switching to S later in the day. 7mph on the ground. Low cloudbase (below 5K), and no strong lift.

My ultimate goal was to fly to Morningside (~67 miles straight line), but a more modest one was to make it to Orange airport (Orange, MA) - ~16 miles. I thought it was doable... if I could get to the cloudbase.

What I like about Tanner-Hiller is that this airport is just an hour away from my house. I can have a late lazy morning, and yet make it to the airport for an afternoon flight.

I was hoping that Crystal and Ilya would join me this time, but they bailed, claiming the wind direction was too cross. It was true, but the wind was light. I have flown at Tanner-Hiller a lot (80+ tows so far), so my tolerance for cross winds there is higher. Plus, I didn't think 5-7mph would make much difference at that location (in my experience anyway). But it is a longer drive for them, so they took an easier option. I can totally relate.

XC wise, I was on my own this time. Less fun, but if day worked - I was game.

When I pulled into the airport, the conditions were indeed too cross to launch safely:

Fine, fine. No more sarcasm. Conditions were perfect. Very light wind, or no wind at all on the ground. Decent looking clouds... maybe a bit overdeveloped so early in the afternoon. Looked like a pretty good day.

I took my time setting up, then went for a sandwich to Cloverhill Country Story (nice place, good people, good food). And finally launched around 1pm.

I stayed with the tug all the way up. With forecast like this, I wanted to have some altitude to play with. Rhett dropped me off at about 4K MSL. Very generous of him. There was lift, but I only made it to 4200 before it disappeared. A bit lower than forecasted, and way lower than the cloudbase.

The day was gearing up to be very challenging. Staying in lift was a lot of work. For the next hour I was jumping from cloud to cloud trying to work my way to at least 4500' MSL before making a go/no-go decision. It was exhausting. I got as low as 1700 MSL twice, and got back up to 3000 MSL. I was not in a mood going anywhere. I actually flew back to the airport for easy and fast landing option.

Meanwhile, south of the airport, dark clouds were forming. I didn't like the look of them, but a couple of other pilots were still under those clouds, I just took a mental note of it - "pay attention. no flying in rain, please".

In the previous post I mentioned that often my go/no-go decisions are impulsive. This time, I pretty much decided that I wasn't going anywhere... until I noticed a "strange" thing. Each time I would turn downwind, I'd get into better lift. Then, slow me (took just an hour), noticed that there was a pretty long cloud street, and I was trying hard to stay on a very edge of it. Interesting... What if try to fly under - it might work. So what if I was low, if this cloud street kept me there, I might even be able to come back if I didn't like it.

I was very tired trying to get to the clouds above me. I didn't like the darkness coming at me from the south, and so at 3500 MSL I set on a glide under that long cloudstreet pointing north.

Tom Lanning told me once that flying under a cloud street it's like riding waves. You go up and down, but on average you either climb or maintain. Indeed. it was just like that. For 4 miles I was flying straight, and slowly climbing up. By the time this cloud street stopped working I was at 4300 MSL, and no silly circling was needed. Way less tiring!

The street continued for a half more mile, and then there was a gap over the forest. I have crossed that forest before, but with much more altitude. I was confident I could cross it again. Wind helping me and all. In retrospect, I am not sure it was the best course of action. That forest below was obviously interrupting the lift line, maybe flying east was a better option. Tunnel vision took over, and I continued straight.

I made it under the clouds on the other side of the forest, but there were only hints of lift. Certainly nothing I managed to stay in. I could see my intermittent goal - Orange airport. It was still another 6 miles away, and even if I was at 4500' MSL, I would need fly over/around yet another forest with no LZs.

A few minutes later, I landed in the exact same spot where Jeff Curtis landed last time. 11 miles point to point. Not too bad...
XC Dance or something...

I carried the glider to the edge of the field I landed in, and barely had a chance to get out of my harness as my phone rang. Rhett was calling to ask how I was doing. A gust front hit Tanner-Hiller 20 minutes after I disappeared, and Rhett was worrying if I got hit by that. All pilots that stayed at the airport scrambled to land. There were some exciting landings. With winds hitting 25mph, 2 pilots on Falcons couldn't make it back to the airport. Everyone landed safely, no serious damage was done. I missed that whole thing completely. The gust front never caught up with me. That's because my Green Sporty is super fast! Right?

Rhett asked me if I needed a retrieval. Of course! Apparently Jeff Curtis also got to the airport after I already launched. He was safely on the ground and more than willing to drive and get me. Awesome! I just finished breaking down my glider as Jeff already pulled in.

What a day! I couldn't have planned it any better, and as usual, I haven't planned it at all. I just wished there were a few more people flying XC with me...

Flight time: 1h 34m
Flight tracklog:


This flight put me over 100 hours of total flight time. It doesn't sound like a lot especially divided by number of years I am flying, but for a weekend flying warrior - it is a pretty good number. 60 of those hours are in the last two seasons. Oh, and every minute in the air feels like an adventure. Immediate. In the moment. Real. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Don't look back

Big part of cross-country free flying is psychological. It's all in pilot's attitude. If you don't think you are going to make it to the next cloud, or find that invisible thermal - you are not going to. Of course, the other way is not guaranteed either. Meaning, if you think you are going to make it, it might be not so. And yet, leaving safety of a familiar site behind is always the very first step. No XC flying is going to happen without it.

Do I have enough altitude? Is the cloud I flying toward to going to work when I get there? Is there a bailout LZ? Those things that are running through my mind when I am about to make that decision. However, my observational/analytical skills are still rather rudimentary, and a final decision is often simply impulsive... hopefully based on some experience, but impulsive nevertheless.

Friday, August 5th, 2016

After taking another morning test flight on my speedy Combat, I started breaking the glider down with intention to take an afternoon flight on my Green Sporty. It's nice to have a few gliders to choose from, I guess.

It was Friday. I was pretty much alone at the setup area. But soon Ilya showed up and Mike Holmes as well. The more the merrier.

I wasn't particularly planning on any XC adventures. Didn't even check weather carefully. Just wind direction and speed. I'd get whatever was there, or just boat around. It's Friday, and I am not working. Win-win either way.

By 2pm my Combat was in the bag, and Sport was all setup and ready to fly. Ilya launched first. He optimistically reported that lift was everywhere. Well, great, return the tug ASAP, please.

When I launched, the ride wasn't as bumpy as I expected. Not too promising. Nick Caci was towing. We pulled through some lift over the sandpit south of Morningside. It wasn't anything crazy, so I stayed put. Plus Nick didn't try to circle in it. I mentally marked the place - might come back to it later.

But Nick turned around and towed me back north-east, missing that lifty area all together. Oh well. I pinned off in zero sink, and considered flying upwind to the sandpit, but saw Ilya circling NE of the hill. He was reporting some weak lift. I set on a glide toward him.

By the time I got there, it wasn't working. Ilya was in full search mode, 500' below me.  3000' MSL doesn't give you a lot of time. All I was getting was zero sink. Not a single complete turn in lift. Lift was indeed everywhere, just not big enough.

The sky, on the other hand, looked much better farther downwind. The closest cloud street was a couple of miles away, and, for all I knew about the clouds - it was working much better over there.

Since Ilya and I were flying together, I should have broadcasted my intentions, but that thought didn't even cross my mind. I was about to commit to a very questionable thing, with very questionable landing options below me... I guess, I wasn't completely sure in my decision so I kept quiet.

Ilya noticed that I was gone by the time I covered half the distance. He was lower than me, and decided against following.

As for myself, there was no turning back at that point. 3 miles later, I lost only 900 feet. Flying downwind is much better for glide ratio. There was no way I could have made it back upwind, though. 2100 MSL, probably ~1500 AGL. I was looking at a couple of tiny fields to land in. There were a few big fields too, but it looked like they had full size corn in them.

Before I could contemplate my willingness to land in tiny fields - I felt air shaking my glider. The vario confirmed as much - we were going up. Slowly. A few turns in 100 to 200 FPM, then it turned on to 400FPM. Phew! My landing options just expanded.

While climbing, I was also drifting NE. I crossed route 12 while still working that thermal. 4500' MSL. Not too bad all things considered.

Climb was fizzling out. Clouds were another 500' above me. I decided to glide under clouds, while still in lift. That's where my observational skills malfunctioned.

Looking at the tracklog, I didn't go directly downwind, effectively falling out of that cloud street. But I saw another one, and I was hoping to find lift there as well. And there was some, just for a few turns. I lost it... and I lost that confidence that took me thus far.
Camera points in the downwind direction. I picked cloud on the very right. Probably missing the whole cloud street opportunity.
Just like I mentioned before, the big part of XC flying is psychological. Again, checking the video and the tracklog, I gained 300', lost the thermal, and instead of working on finding that thermal, or another one - I started to panic - "getting low, a lot of forest around. Oh look - an airport! Let's go there". Interesting part was though, I was at 3200 MSL, 200' higher than my previous 'no return' decision.

And (no surprise there) just like magic, my XC flight was done. I did make it to the airport. It was east of my position, so I had to fly crosswind to get there. I arrived with ~800' AGL to spare (1300' MSL but the ground kept raising up). There was some thermal right above the airstip, but it was only good for 400 feet. I landed. Broke down the glider, and waited in a nice air-conditioned room (pilots lounge) for my rescue to arrive.

Happy pilot at a proper LZ. The best LZ a free flier can get.
Obligatory XC dance

Ilya picked me up. Very much appreciated, brother! His flight was over soon after I left. There was just no strong lift over Morningside.


To conclude - I got another one-and-done XC. I didn't expect to have an XC flight at all, so I wasn't too upset. The flight was plenty exciting! But it was short. 44 minutes total flight time. 10 miles point to point distance. I just hope that I started noticing what my decision making process was lacking. I am pretty sure, I could have covered more distance if I was more observant and less panicky. But, I made a safe decision to get to a nice LZ. I live to f(l)ight another day. No shame in that.

Here is the recording of this flight:

Combat Challenge

Need for Speed

Higher performance machines. It's hard to resist the lure. It's not like Sport Class gliders don't offer enough free flight fun, but the next shiny thing is out there. It calls my name.


I wasn't completely sure why I was coming back to the subject of topless gliders. I didn't really need one. Not yet. I still had too much fun with my Green Sporty.... but I test flown a T2C. I handled it. I wanted to challenge myself. Plus, of course, all top dogs are flying those wings. It's irresistible. It's inevitable.

T2C flight at Wallaby earlier this year, left me a bit indifferent. So that thought came and went. Tom Lanning, however, planted a seed in my hang-gliding-brain that I might like Aeros Combat better. Randy Brown was selling his, and he was brave enough to let me test fly it. The price was right, too, and the colors... the colors were right in my green color scheme! I couldn't resist. Gotta get that bug out of my brain!

First Combat

Randy came to Morningside on Sunday night. We waited for conditions to calm down. I wasn't really nervous, but a bit anxious. It is a mean looking glider after all.
Rolling to the starting position (photo by Crystal Wolfe)

6PM. Winds mostly died down. I rolled to the starting line. The tug waved its elevators at me. Ready to roll! "It's just a glider", I kept reminding myself. Liftoff - all was well. 50 feet up... Geez! Why am I going sideways to the left? I gave the glider some input to the right. Now it was sideways to the right. I was PIO-ing like crazy!

I thought I had a pretty good handle on that towing thing. Nothing should have surprised me anymore, but this glider have. It was way too sensitive for my rough inputs. I couldn't get it under control... Well, I eventually did, more or less. But PIO-ing hasn't stopped all the way up.

As I released from the tug, all senses too rattled to enjoy the rest of the flight. I kept thinking - "I don't need this glider. It's too much".

But, after all, I was flying a new very cool looking machine, and I managed to pay some attention to how this super-ship handled. I played with different VG settings and speeds. The glider flew well, and responded to my inputs without an issue.

The landing went well, too. I overshot the target by 100 yards, and almost ended up in a ditch, but flew over it, flared still a bit high, and parachuted down. The glider settled on top of me, and I dropped the basebar. No whack though.
On final (photo by Crystal Wolfe)

I carried the glider back to the breakdown area, and Randy asked me how it was. I just said "Sorry, this is too much for me. Not buying it". That's how I felt at the moment, still trying to get over (in my mind) disastrous tow.

A few days later, I couldn't get that flight out of my mind... I handled the tow even though I PIOed. I knew I could tow well. I knew I could do much better. It was just a question of adjusting my technique. I landed it OK. It's a very unique glider. It flies well. The price is right. And it's a challenge. Challenge accepted! And, of course, the colors match my theme pretty close. The only reservation I had was about not having a dealer near where I live (Highland Aerosports, official Aeros dealer, went out of business). But then again, those things can be resolved. I was sure.

Combat Training 

The following week I drove to MFP Friday night with intention to take an evening flight. Nick Caci was towing. He told me that he would tow me after tandems were done around 7:30pm. Perfect.

When I was finally ready to launch, the conditions were ideal for my second do-over flight. No wind on the ground at all.

Focus! (photo by Crystal Wolfe)
Ready to roll (photo by Crystal Wolfe)

Takeoff. I kept reminding to myself - "small inputs. let the glider fly". All was going well for the first 50 feet, 100 feet, 300 feet. I didn't PIO! If anything, I was happy that I got my towing mojo back.

Liftoff (photo by Ilya Rivkin)

Towing (photo by Ilya Rivkin)

Now that I had towing under control. I concentrated on flying the glider. I flew toward the river, then made a high speed jump downwind, flying over route 12. My vario was showing 60mph ground speed,  and 160 FPM sinc rate. Awesome!

I landed, but that didn't go exactly well. Something was different when I felt it was time to flare. I was a tad late, but the glider started going up. The only problem was - right wing dropped, and I whacked. Damn!
Whack! (photo by Ilya Rivkin)

I took another flight, and then another one in the morning. Both landings weren't good. Other pilots gave a lot of input on what I was doing wrong. The consensus was that I was rounding out too high, and as a result flying too slow by the time I got into the ground effect.

I also got into a habit of pumping the bar, feeling how glider responded. That wasn't an issue on a Sport, but I would lose flaring authority on Combat by doing that.

Never Ending Combat...

This is an ongoing process. I am not in a rush to fly this glider the way I fly my Sport. By now, I had a few more flights on Combat - landings are still a challenge. The good thing, I started noticing what I am doing wrong on the Sport as well. That is the first step to make my landings better.

Done for the night

My tows also improved on my trusted Sporty. I don't try to over control it anymore. Sporty never cared that much either way, but it's better to do things right. I also experimented with towing and landing Sporty at full VG. That was pretty easy, actually. Midday conditions and all. Sporty, even at full VG is a very forgiving and easy to fly/land glider...

Anyway, I am glad I have an opportunity to fly this super-wing. Learning more about flying different types of gliders is a fascinating and a very intense process. I hope, eventually, I get comfortable enough with the Combat to turn it into an ultimate XC machine. The way it was with its previous owners. Not setting any time frames, and I will keep two gliders for a long while. Still plenty to learn on The Green Sporty, too.

Getting ready (photo by Crystal Wolfe)