Posted by: overtheback | March 9, 2009

Back in the Saddle

The week after my blown launch I took a flight. The launch went smoothly, and I clawed at the anemic lift for an extra two minutes. I capped the sledder with a fly on the wall at the training hill. The flight did it’s job of restoring my confidence, but it barely scratched my itch for airtime.

Dawn on Saturday announced the arrival of SPRING! From the forest critters, to the birds under a clear blue sky, life blared in a cacophony of sound. Warm rain from the night before, combined with 60 degree temperatures, had eradicated all but the last dregs of dirty snowbanks. Less than an hour after rising I was at the shop.

I was not surprised to find only Manuk, Dave Hopkins, and myself on launch that morning based on the iffy forecast. Woody Allen says 80% of success is showing up. Thermals alternated between the West and Northwest launches as we setup. Dave Hopkins launched first off the west launch, and worked his way up with no problem in abundant light lift.

The west launch at Ellenville is a tree lined slot. You have three tricky steps down from the road embankment to the launch. Sharon held my nose as I navigated them. A cycle was building and I was ready for it, maintaining my angle of attack with wings level. As soon Sharon cleared my nose I barked clear, and took a step. In a firm grapevine grip, I fought to keep my nose down, but my second step was on air. After levitating a dozen feet in a second, I transitioned to the base tube for more leverage, and began creep forward. The end of the west launch grass is only 50 feet away. I reached it in about ten seconds, easily a hundred over, and then I fell out of the core. I crabbed back for more.

Less than a minute later I had found the top of my lift. 800 over launch. The thermals drifted too far back over tiger country for me to chase them all the way in my Pulse. Dave Hopkins topped out only a thousand higher so I did not miss much. The cores were tight and punchy, with occasional snot ripper shots of lift. Manuk and I spent a half hour bouncing around, as Dave watched on high, zooming up and down the Shawangunk ridge in his ATOS.

I headed out for the valley to see if I could find something to take me higher. Just out a little way out I got smacked again. I cranked it over and as I centered up, I saw Manuk zeroing in. As he slipped in just above me, I saw a Redtail Hawk less than a hundred below join the circle dance. We climbed together in a tight little gaggle for a few hundred feet before I jumped out. I decided to end on a high note and headed for the LZ. As I reached it I could see that the wind was strong, but smooth with all the socks and streamers aligned. I put it down with a no stepper, in the only dry spot…the parking circle.

The blown launch has made each launch since more focused, and I don’t think that is going away. I bought a very valuable lesson at a bargain basement price.

Posted by: overtheback | February 19, 2009

Naughty

It had been weeks since my last flight, and I had been checking the weekend forecast with anticipation. By Friday night it showed a holiday weekend, with three soarable days in a row. Pigs might be flying this weekend at Ellenville. I arrived early Saturday morning to observe a few students, and take my new glider out for a morning sledder to get dialed in. While I had a few flights last summer on this Aeros Discus, this was my first flight as it’s owner. After checking the forecasts again for the umpteenth time we headed up to launch around 9:30am. We hiked our gear up to Greg’s launch and began to setup. The wind was light and variable, but the sock on Tony’s launch, showed a steady 6-8mph straight in. As I watched, a Bald eagle popped out from behind the knoll, flew out into the valley, where it rode a smooth elevator up for 500 feet.

We talked and joked as we setup. I told the guys that I had come up with a name for my glider. Since Aeros is Ukrainian, I thought Nadia would be a good one, since it means hope. Jonathan asked how do you spell it? N-A-U-G-H-T-I-A? That sealed it for me.

Naughty Nadia

Naughty Nadia

Each day has it’s own pace. Sometimes the stars align, and you can do laps with your sledders, while others have the elements conspiring against you. This was one of those days. The morning was eaten up with twitchy winds, glider gremlins, and a general sluggishness. By the time the students took their flights, I finished my setup, and did a pre-flight it was almost noon. Both student pilots had hit mild thermals, which had raised my hopes, as well as my concerns. This was supposed to be an easy flight to familiarize myself with this glider. Manuk had stopped by to watch the students launch and I asked him to stay, to give me a full hang check, and watch until I got off.

While I stood on launch waiting for the switching winds to stabilize, I began to review my situation, and the certainty of flight evaporated. I said aloud to Manuk “I think I might breakdown..” along with a litany of reasons from weather to expectations. I was just not feeling my customary hunger to launch. After a bit of chatter I overrode my fears, regained my resolve, and settled in to wait.

Soon the winds began to straighten, and steady. A 20 degree cross wind, at 6mph, held long enough for me to make the decision to launch. I checked my wings, locked my gaze on the horizon, and committed to flight with my first step. By the second step I felt the glider begin to float up and relieve a little of my launch anxiety. To hasten my peace of mind, I responded by relaxing my grip even more, and the glider snapped my hang strap tight as it went to trim. In an instant, my world became a tumultuous storm of heightened senses, as my left wing lifted high. I was frozen for half a second, before my brain re-engaged. By that point it was too late to correct, as I had taken to the air in a tight turn. My glider was about to embrace a boulder during the second half of the aforementioned second. My reptilian brain commanded my limbs into a fetal position just before impact. I experienced the crash simultaneously, in time dilation, and time compression. I was facing back up the hill, adorned with a boa of twisted aluminum that had been my control frame. Instantly I knew I was okay except for a bruised bicep.

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I could see that Manuk had only taken his first step towards the wreckage, as I started yelling “I”M OKAY MANUK, I’M FINE..” in a constant sing song until I finally made eye contact. He let out a huge sigh of relief, and visibly relaxed. I then dug out my cell phone and called the guys in the LZ. They were already in a car heading up the mountain. They heard the crash from a mile away as sharp crunch. Two bald eagles flew overhead as I waited, and caught a thermal just north of launch. For the couple hours, while extracting the glider, breaking it down, and taking it to the shop, I was in a jangly distracted daze. I was very lucky. My glider only needed minor repairs, and all I had was one bruise.

I’ve had a few days now to relive that morning over and over. I could focus on the technical aspect of the launch and crash, but it’s not really necessary. I know how to launch, but that day I didn’t execute. It was not a failure of technique, but rather a lapse in judgment. The salt in the wound is that I knew it before hand. To paraphrase Eddie Van Halen…If it feels hinky, it is hinky.

I should have just broke down.

Posted by: overtheback | January 12, 2009

The view from above

The snow storm began Saturday afternoon and proceeded to blanket the Shawangunk Ridge with several inches of snow. Sunday dawned with blue skies and brisk temperatures in the low teens, that would eventually soar to 21. Freight trains rolled through all morning long, accompanied by a background murmur of 10-15 mph winds. The cotton candy cumulus clouds of mid morning, melted away by noon as the winds began ever so slightly to ease off. After perusing the rounds of weather sites for the umpteenth time with the H2 pilots, we headed to the road launch with shovels and hope.

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Thanks to the Ellenville highway department, the overlook was clear for parking, and glider setup . As an instructor I was flying last, so I attacked the snow bank at the guard rail as Chad , the designated wind dummy, began to setup, with the H2 pilots. While fashioning crude steps up and over the guard rail, I heard an expletive as Chad discovered he had left his battens at the shop, so off he went. A short time later, Greg showed up to launch the H2s and I was bumped up to the head of the line.

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I setup quickly, and threaded my glider though pilots, cars, and wuffos so I could “jump” off. A full wire crew helped me over the guard rail. Once on the platform and in the air flow, the ramp suck demanded my complete attention. The streamers smoothed out, I lifted my glider, barked clear and took one step into the lift band elevator.

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My first minute or so, were spent on a roller coaster of lift/sink/lift, until I was able to nudge my glider in lift clear from the terrain. I stuck a tip in a strong pocket that put me up 500 in a less than a minute. With a bit of breathing, room I heading out to valley, to see if smoother lift could be found, and for a little peace of mind. In a Pulse, I am picky about the days I drift back on the ridge, over tiger country. Today was not one of those days. To my delight, the valley was mellow and going up. As I climbed I relaxed more, and took time to look around. Other pilots had taken off from the upper launch, and were climbing up the ridge. I also noted that a mile out, I was higher than them and still mostly climbing. The wind aloft was more northerly, and as I flew into it the Catskills were dead ahead.

I was in wave lift.

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In time other pilots had taken note of my progress and joined me. About a half hour into my flight, gliders were everywhere, and I saw Greg start to launch the H2s. The first one scratched a bit before sinking out. I watched the second one launch and turn down wind away from the LZ. I felt a knot begin to form in my stomach. From 2500 feet above it is difficult to tell how close someone is to the trees below. The pilot eventually turned back to the lz but was out over the wooded portion of the valley. For minutes that seemed like hours, I mentally urged the glider back towards the open fields for bailout. The pilot scratched back and forth instead. Finally they turned for the bailout, but by this point their shadow on the trees below had closed with the glider. Just as glider and shadow were about to merge the pilot cleared the trees.

Whew!

Then they performed a 180 and flew directly into the tree line. I saw the glider rotate like it was flaring, as the trees shook. I waited for the pilot to step out and wave, but at least a minute ticked by with no movement. I saw the first H2 pilot begin running from the LZ half a mile away. The knot in my stomach moved to my chest.

I was flying without a radio and vowed it would be the last time. I stuffed the bar and started to descend. I spent 20 minutes fighting my way down. Alternating my slipping, with stalls and dives to relieve the burning in my arms and the dizziness in my head. By the time I was on final approach my triceps were wet noodles and my brain was sloshing in my head. In a final burst I flared. I dropped my glider at the breakdown area and started to take off for the downed pilot. A shout stopped me in me tracks.

The downed pilot was alright, with not a scratch.

By the time I got there a crowd had built, and the glider was already packed up. The only damage was one busted leading edge. The pilot was laughing with the rest of us in the LZ at the end of the day, reliving the flight and eating some humble pie. For a very cheap price, they had learned some important lessons.
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