Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride....

Broke 10,000 feet (10,007 LOL)
64 MPH Groundspeed
Rode out a gust front with huuuuge cloudsuck.
At one point I was 7,400 AGL

The lapse rate was predicted to have 11,000 thermal tops today and, sure enough, everyone got over ten (I was the lowest, most were up to 11). Launches were crazy, with gliders flipping, experienced guys flailing, etc. I dropped 500 ft before I got into my harness, ugliest effort since my first solo.

But, once you got a few hundred over launch, it was magic. I had a hard time keeping my Falcon within a safe glide of the edge of the trees. The Sports, Spectrums, and U2s were zooming around like sharks.

I was at 9K when, looking toward the desert, I saw an airliner on, fortunately, a slightly off bearing and decreasing range. I did two quick spins so the pilots could see the maximum amount of my wing and a few seconds later a Southwest jet flew below me and a little to the North... maybe 500-750 yards away. With the cloud ceiling at 12K and our flight park on a Victor Airway, we got a lot of traffic. A Beechcraft buzzed a Falcon, with a few hundred feet. A C17 actually turned toward us, Air Force weenies.

But, other aircraft were the least of our worries. Clouds were building to our East, along the mountains. I saw a brown cloud near the ground and thought it was a mist or a fog, a light cloud. Suddenly, everyone was bingoing to the LZ.

5 guys made it, the last landing right in the middle of a gust front. A Fusion pilot, a Talon pilot, and a KnumbKnut in a Falcon decided to try to gun for the open space.

I got my ass kicked. I thought the phenomenon was mountain based and a jaunt to the basin would be my salvation. Instead, I got run down by a hell of a fast moving front. At first, flying at trim got me 600 fps in a nice, straight line. But, soon, I had my knees on the bar and I was still going up about 500fps. Eventually, I had the bar completely stuffed and was in at least a 45 degree bank and still couldn't sink. So, I flew a straight line with the bar stuffed until I found sink and then cored that.

I was never really "worried," except for the fact that I was stressing the hell out of my glider. It held like a rock.

Finally, about 7,500, I got out of the cloudsuck and decided to limp home to the LZ.

Turns out the jaunt was at about 10 mph groundspeed because the winds were a rare, strong East in the wake of the gust front. Also, my arms were shot from stuffing the bar, so I flew with my elbows for a while.

As I approached the LZ, I briefly contemplated stretching the flight to beat my longest, but I realized that, after what I had been through, that'd be like cuddling with a hooker.

A hard, fast, but safe landing found a friend to hold my glider and a lot of smiling pilots. The other two pilots came down for great landings and cold beer.

45 minutes later, all evidence of the chaos was gone and a few paragliders floated down. One, a biwingwal pilot (who picked the wrong wing today!), gave a play-by-play of the whole evolution, from their 360 degree perspective on Marshall. When Mike landed in the eye of the front, they literally cheered. They also wondered who the crazy %$!(!% in the Falcon was, heh.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Weesie on the wing

Back on St. Valentine's Day, at her request, I gave my love a hang gliding tandem flight gift certificate. Today, she redeemed it.

She got a nice flight in strong conditions and I had the privilege of flying next to her and waving at her. My camera was a point-n-shoot, so I couldn't zoom much or get wonderful pics, but here's one of her in the air (the pic is a clicky).

She is still more enthralled with horseback riding, in part because of the emotional connection to the animal, but she understands my passion better now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Marshall 8-21

The McBus ran too early for a knumbknut to shlep out from OC, but Rob played matchmaker (thanks rob!) and Hollywood Jerry and I launched Marshall about 3:30.

The inversion layer was really low today, as I suspected looking at the smog and confirmed watching Jerry bounce his head against it. So, I hugged the hillside like Oprah hugging a hoagie until I stumbled across a big, fat, n00b-proof thermal at Cloud, that took me up to 5100, allowing me to arrive at Billboard right at the namesake antenna. I couldn't seem to get above it, though I had seen some others flying at at least 6K while we were launching, so I went over to pine, where the turbulence scared me into heading toward AJ. But, I caught another benevolent thermal that got me back up to 5100 and allowed me to vector toward billboard again.

I had to get home to a relieve babysitter, but there was really floaty lift at the edge of Cal State San Berdoo... a fun day... my only complaint was the relative dearth o' pilots to share it with. Woulda been a great Marshall day for the PGs, especially after 5.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Fun flight

Yesterday, I had quite a fun hang gliding flight. The temperature at the landing zone (a.k.a. LZ) was 103 deg. and the humidity was higher than it should be at that temp. At 5000', the launch altitude, the 15 MPH wind just bordered on the edge of cooling. Running into it combined relaxation with relief. Flying in it, 20 degrees cooler than the floor of the LA basin, was like floating in a warm pool.

I got 5 miles away from launch, up the ridge, over a couple of chasms that would suck to sink out in, to a spot I'd never reached before. My glider is a beginner model and, consequently, not the best for covering great distances. In winds like we had yesterday, there is a chance you'll get stuck someplace because the winds are going faster than your glider can. It turned out not to be a drama.

Because my instructor had to watch me land for my next rating, I stayed up until he was done with a tandem flight he started after I launched. So, I flew for 2 hours and 50 minutes. My right hip was a little cramped from the harness and shoulders were tired. Imagine doing very light military presses... for 3 hours. Eventually, it does add up. Before landing, I sat up and ran in the air, just to make sure the ol' sticks would move. I nailed an off-side approach and landing, which is a flying requirement for my next level of certification. Said level, "Hang 3," will allow me to fly all the sites I want to, except Torrey Pines and Yosemite (they are "Hang 4").

A couple of Red Tailed Hawks and I shared some thermals. At a place called Pine, with no other glider for 2 miles around, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and flinched. A gorgeous hawk floated right below me, from behind right to forward left, about 10 feet away at the closest. In the glint of the raptor's eye, I caught a hint of the taunt "n00b!" :) Later, another one was making big, fat, lazy circles down to my right, so I flew over. Sure enough, I found the thermal of the day, taking it up a couple thousand feet in gentle circles, with other pilots joining the party below me.

I picked the right afternoon to blow off work. I think I'll pay for it tomorrow, as I will probably have to blow off hang gliding to work on a Saturday. Blah.

Here's a map of where I flew. Reds and oranges are up, blues are down. It's a clicky.