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"
Ouch!
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:
    http://doarama.com/view/1274561

Flight stats:
    http://www.paraglidingforum.com/leonardo/flight/1593394

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.
Landing
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:
http://doarama.com/view/1273937

Flight's stats/info:
http://www.paraglidingforum.com/leonardo/flight/1592512

Task 6 results:
https://airtribune.com/2017-green-swamp-sport-klassic/results/task2285/day/sport-class

Competition results:
https://airtribune.com/2017-green-swamp-sport-klassic/results/task2285/comp/sport-class
...
I did manage to squeak into top 10.