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)