Sunday, July 5, 2015

Memorial Weekend 2015

It's been a while since I last blogged, so I am skipping most of 2014.  When I did fly, I either forgot the Go-Pro or deleted the video accidentally.  Then there were fires most of the summer that clouded up the skies near the flying sites.  

So here it is 2015.  The closest thermal flying site for me is four hours away, so getting flight time in is a bit of a challenge to say the least.  Woodrat has the best access of all the sites I have flown.  

Hence, we were off to Woodrat for another Memorial weekend.  

This time, I was flying in a new rotor harness for the first time, using a new instrument, and had a change in cg.  I was hoping for one of those smooth thermal days for my first flight.  The first day, the thermals were light and it was a crap shoot to hit a thermal before heading to the LZ.  The first and second days were both light thermal days so my flights were short.  Air was smooth coming in for landing both days.  However, I found that pulling in for speed on my Atos is about 25 mph with full flaps. 

Luckily, that weekend there were four Atos pilots there;  the most I will likely see at any flying event.   We had discussions about coming in with one hand up and one down because one of the pilots had missed the down tube which resulted in a whack and a bent down tube.  The consensus was to come in with hands down on both down tubes.  

Then the third day came, and conditions were a little better for thermals.  A good take off and up I went.  I hit a nice thermal but I couldn't zip up my harness.  On the ground, I figured out that I had got my foot caught up in the zipper string.  Up high or at the top of thermals, the wind speed was about 20 to 30 mph.  It was a little fight to stay in the thermal and there was more than usual sink out of the thermal.  It was getting tiring not being able to zip up so I flew toward the LZ.   Once over the flatland area/LZ and at lower altitudes the winds were calmer.   

As I was coming in on the downwind leg, the air was getting bumpy.  On the previous two days, I had come in short of the spot which is located at the upper end of the field.  (In the video, you can see the white spot on the airfield.  The camera is tied right below my chin so you get a good view of the angle of my approach.  If you notice my windspeed monitor, it's at 25 - 30, and the Hall's airspeed max on it is 30).   When I turned in on final, I knew I was high but it was blowing 8 to 10 mph.   I was lined up just perfect for the spot.   It was going to be a nice landing. 

Then a thermal pushed me up, and I was now looking at the fence ahead.  I decided to do a little S turn, and if I was then too high  I could make into the next field over the fence.  The thermal was small and once out of the thermal it dropped me like a rock.  This was a good thing because I had plenty of time to get down before the fence.   

I have never landed a hang glider in tall grass.  I was breathing a sigh of relief because the glider was easing down just perfect when the bar caught the top of the grass and over it went with nose hitting first.  I had no clue as to what had happened.  The only thing I knew was that I was unhurt.

I think they put a lot of thought into the crashing of a hang glider or Atos as the down tubes and all are built to take the initial shock without breaking everything else.  

In tall grass, flare before the base tube hits the grass!  

Also, I plan to go back to one hand on the down tube and one up.   

Comments or advice are welcome.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Welcome to My Blog and A Turbulent Memorial Day Weekend

While on the interview trail in the Pacific Northwest with my wife in October 2009, I took a drive around the area surrounding Fortuna, California while my wife interviewed for a job.  Taking random roads, I came to an area called Table Bluff and encountered a group of hang gliders.  While I watched them, I started to think that I might want to try the sport one day.  As they answered my questions, I knew I was hooked.  I definitely wanted to start taking lessons.

Heading back East to my then home in Atlanta, I found Wallaby Ranch Hang Gliding School in Florida which was near one of my kiteboarding sites.  From there I went to Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding where I completed my first aero tow solo flight, and my first foot launch off of Lookout Mountain.  Soon, we made the decision to accept the job offer in Fortuna and moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and settled in the small farming town of Ferndale which is only about 10 miles south of Table Bluff.  In time, I bought an Eagle hang glider and started learning and getting more experience, finally obtaining my H3 certification.

Hang gliding at Table Bluff
Years ago, I had flown the Cessna 150 and 172.  The weight shift of the flex wing hang glider was not to my liking.  In my research  about the rigid wing, (pros and cons) I knew it would be similar to an aircraft.   It has a better glide ratio and higher speed capabilities.  Also, I wanted to challenge myself with possibly doing cross country flights.  After several months, a used Atos (b/c) became available.

My first flight with the Atos was last September (2013) at Hull Mountain near Pillsbury Lake.  Luckily, it was two days of smooth air and good thermals. Unfortunately, though, that was the end of the flying season for me as there were some other priorities which arose.  As spring arrived, I got some practice time at Table Bluff.  Table Bluff is a small ridge at the ocean, about 150 feet MSL and always smooth air.  It is a good practice site for H2 pilots and the rest of us during the off season getting ready for the big air of summer.  Here's my video of my first flight off Table Bluff.

Table Bluff, near Loleta, CA
A couple of weeks ago, an informal fly-in was cropping up for Memorial Day weekend at Woodrat near Jacksonville, OR.  My wife was off for a few days and wanted to go camping.  We packed up everything including our two dogs and headed north to Woodrat.  It's a nice, scenic, four-hour drive, and as we got closer, I spotted the paragliders, so I knew the weather would be good.

Woodrat is probably on the top 10 list of hang gliding spots in the US because of its glass offs, potential for cross country flights and smooth air.  But this weekend, the wind Gods were angry.  I call it the "Hundred-year turbulence."   I am learning that in hang gliding, turbulent conditions can and will  happen.  Later, one of the locals would say that this weekend was one of the worst conditions to fly in at Woodrat in years.  

The first day was great with normal conditions.  I was nervous, as this was my first mountain flight at a site that I had only flown once, over two year ago with my Eagle.  Luckily, it was smooth conditions where I easily "thermaled" my way up, flew over to the another mountain ridge and then back to the LZ at Longsword Winery for a great approach and landing.  All in all a nice hour and half flight.

On Day Two, the "Hundred-year turbulence" struck.  I would later find out from the local hang gliding instructor that was flying below me, that it was the roughest conditions that he had ever flown at Woodrat.  The second day started off looking good but clear.  As the morning continued, the wind was increasing slightly at launch.  As I got ready, about ten or so hang gliders had already taken off and about that many were still waiting or getting ready.

My launch was okay to the say the least (you'll notice the right wing low in the video), but I had to use the ridge lift to stay above the trees.   A short time later,  I hit some small thermals and got up to a nice height (about 7,000 for the day).  A couple of hours later,  I noticed the gliders on the launch site were neatly stacked behind each other.  I though, “what is the problem, conditions are good up here.”  (I found out later, it was high winds and gusty at launch). 

I flew toward the LZ and noticed a number of hand gliders had already landed.   I got on the radio and winds had started to gust to 20mph at the LZ.  I thought to myself, "OK, it is now about 4:00 p.m.  I can stay up and wait until it smooths out."  But, it only got worst.

I flew over to another ridge of mountains upwind of the LZ.  I was now showing about a 15 mph wind as compared to 10 mph wind earlier.  Conditions were beginning to change from smooth to bumpy.  In the distance, I could see a topless headed in my direction but at a lower altitude.  (Later, I found out that it was Jim Tibbs, a hang gliding instructor).   I turned and stayed over him.  He headed right for the LZ and made a turn to final but flew right over the LZ and then headed back toward launch.

Bells were going off in my head because it was obvious there was a problem down there.   In the meantime,  I started pulling in to lose altitude.  I was at 6500 ft and LZ is at 1600 ft.  It was now getting more turbulent, and I was thinking, I can’t wait this out.  For each 100 feet I lost, I gained 50 feet.  I felt like I was on a bucking horse.

My airspeed was about 35 mph following the topless.  Jim made another turn over launch. (I found out later, he could not get down on the first pass as there was no smooth air to be found).  Soon, I was over him again at launch site.  I made a slight turn to the right, and the left wing dropped.   For a spilt second,  I thought the wing had fallen off.  I felt like a rock plummeting to Earth.

I was in a half spiral, going straight down (the left wind had stalled:  going too slow in the turbulent air),  I gently pulled in, straightened out the wing and eased up to level flight.  It was now very turbulent!   I pulled in for speed, and the base bar was yanked out of my hand.  I grabbed the bar and gripped tighter.  Now I was trying to maintain about 43 mph but the speed bounced around from 35 to 50.  The vario was screaming from the lift.  Keeping the wings level was a task in itself.

Jim was now over the LZ on a DBF.  I was soon over him at about a 1000 or so feet.  He turned to final approach but did not appear to be moving for what seemed like minutes.  He was moving but yawing from side to side on the LZ (15 mph winds gusting to 30 mph).  He finally had a good landing, but he did not move his glider off the landing strip.  (Later, he said he was kissing Mother Earth).

I was now getting lower, entering the downwind leg.  I was thinking that the last thing I needed to worry about was running into that glider.  I looked over and he was quickly moving the glider.  I felt that I was high, but I was going to make darn sure I was downwind of those power lines on final.

I turned to base, then to final.  I was looking at about a 45 degree slope to the runway.  I pulled on the flaps, but, in all the rough air, I pulled on too much.  I was not moving forward, only down.  I managed to ease off the flaps, and I began to move forward again.  At tree level all hell broke loose.  I was trying to maintain an airspeed of 35 - 45 mph.  The Glider pitched 90 degrees to the right and now I was looking at a building structure.  I corrected, and then it pitched 90 degrees to the left (I probably over-corrected).  I straightened that out, and now was I below tree level.  There was smoother air with gusts, but with the Atos I felt like I was riding waves to the shore.  I made an easy landing on my feet.  I was so glad to be all in one piece on the ground.  What a ride!

In talking with Jim, he said that is the roughest air that he has flown in at Woodrat.  I am sure that some of you guys have been through this type of conditions or worst.  And by the way, the other gliders that were at launch waited for conditions to smooth out but it never happened.

The third day was ok but not great.  I think it was the aftermath of thinking the turbulent air may pass through again.  I have to remember this is hang gliding, and you've got to take the good with the ugly!
Here is my video from that weekend.  The one exciting thing that happened on Day Three was that I think I flew too close to a hawk's nesting site.  My GoPro picked up a streak of something flying by (which I haven't been able to find again despite looking at 2 hours' worth of video), but if you listen closely, you can hear the screeching as it makes another pass.  And, if I could hear that with a full helmet and the sound of the wind, you know it was close by!