Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mount Washington O&R

Eric writes:

I enjoyed the opportunity to accompany Greg, Dan, Evan and Tom on a flight in NT from Post Mills to Mount Washington on Sunday. Greg had previously mentioned the idea of conducting lead and follow coaching for PMSC pilots to learn cross country techniques and I felt I was ready to try it. Although I'd had some cross country experience in Australia, New England's rugged landscape had made me shy about venturing out by myself. So I was delighted to be able to fly with a sense of safety, following seasoned pilots on their semi-regular run to Mount Washington.

Although the day was not particularly easy, it was possible to find strong lift, and especially so after we crossed the river into the New Hampshire high country. We crossed at Bradford and headed for Moosilauke. I think Dan scouted an area that looked promising but turned out not to be. Greg eventually found something in the foothills east of the river and we all came over and to join him.

Thus went more or less the whole day, with one pilot or another reporting something and others adjusting their flight to take advantage of it. We climbed twice on the way to Moosilauke and then once just north of the mountain itself. Dan checked southeast of the summit, but there was nothing particularly strong (which is surprising, given the gentle southerly). We then made a long cruise along the Cannon mountain ridge until we found lift south of Franconia. We spent a long time there in weak lift; Greg and someone else were at cloud base but my climb was taking forever. Greg advised we push on, "let's find something stronger."

After that, more long cruises and with widely spaced climbs. This was definitely a new style for me since I would have normally stopped to top up in anything strong ("you never know when you might need it"). At our second climb after leaving Franconia we had Mount Washington Hotel in sight with Mount Washington in the distance. We'd made it in six climbs from Post Mills! We then flew northeast with the Dartmouth Range beneath us and the Presidential Range to our right. We flew past Madison and I recognized all the territory from wave camp last year. Then, after Evan scouted northward only to find a "big blue hole", we gathered and climbed near Gorham and discussed going westward into Vermont.

Somehow though, having accomplished what I'd wanted for the day, coupled with the idea of pushing on in not particularly easy conditions, left me feeling it was time to head back. I said goodbye to the group and set my sights on the breadcrumb trail of alternate airports that would lead safely home.

Flying back seemed straightforward as far as navigation went since I could mostly recognize the landscape from the trip up, but a long stretch of sink on the way to Franconia, followed by a spell of major sink near Cannon Mountain (which I suddenly realized I was on the lee side of) suddenly left me low and considering Franconia airport to be my likely landing spot for the day.

There was lift in the area, but it was uneven and I needed a big climb. After a small climb I ventured west but was completely dissuaded by the heavy, ever-present sink. I returned to Franconia airport even lower; barely pattern altitude. I radioed them that I was a Post Mills pilot trying to return home but might land there if I couldn't get away.

My second try worked out better, I really just persisted in the lift that was there and as I got higher, the lift became stronger and more uniform. I was finally able to climb above Cannon's elevation and find a region of lift/zero-sink that I could proceed south in. And as I went south at mountain height I found more lift, climbed further, and kept heading south. At some point on that leg I was within final glide of home, and I must say it was a great feeling.

Thank you Greg, Evan, and Dan for the wonderful adventure and for encouraging us to stretch our wings and venture cross country.

[Extracted from the PMSC Forum.  Here's a video from Eric's cockpit. -Ed.]

Monday, May 29, 2017

Traps that can catch you

On some XC soaring days the areas with few clouds look iffy, and areas where there are plenty of obvious cumulus clouds look inviting.  That can be a trap, though, since the numerous clouds can fill in and become an overdeveloped layer with little lift.  It takes an hour or so for the layer to evaporate, then the sun reaches the ground again, and new thermals develop.  Or not.

Another trap that we are susceptible to when soaring XC is the concept of a landable spot that we keep within range.  Of course that's necessary, but not always sufficient.  If you get low and have to stay close to the one landable spot in the area, you can't reach lift that is just a bit too far away.  Moreover, not all the "landable" spots are desirable.  Some are hazardous, albeit better than nothing.

Both of these traps caught me Saturday as I ventured out XC, despite cloudbase being lower than forecast, not much above 5000 MSL - conditions that normally make me stay close to the home airport.  After traveling North to outside glide range of home, I met Greg and Dan who seemed to be heading SE.  I headed NW to near the Montpelier airport before realizing that that area was overdeveloping.  Turned back East too late, and as I got lower had to abandon the better looking clouds and head to the supposed safe spot, Carrier airstrip, South of the Barre stone quarries.

I've never seen that airstrip before, and as I got close to it got a little scare, since it's hard to spot.  There was a large flat farm field a bit further North, but I didn't know how tall was the crop that looked like corn.  The GPS got me to right over the airstrip though, at about 1000 feet above the runway which is fairly high at 1600 MSL.

Next problem was that this runway is about 50 feet narrow, with various hazards along the sides: rising banks, drop offs, fences, cows, trees, buildings, and vehicles.  It's also sloped: rising to the North.  As they say, if the slope is obvious from the air then it's significant, and one should land uphill.  With light wind, that was fine.  The Northernmost third of the runway is a bit wider and flatter, and does not have hazards along the edges, so that's the preferred landing zone.

Never give up though!  I found a small bump, and worked it carefully.  After some time, gained 100 feet, then more.  Eventually got to 4000 MSL (still only 2400 AGL) so explored a bit further, and lost the altitude.  Rinse and repeat.  That went on for more than an hour, with my mental state alternating between hope and resignation.  Never got high enough to reach a better landing spot.  Kept losing sight of the airstrip, so used VOR navigation to find it again and again.  No, I didn't use the VOR signal, it's just that the (MPV) VOR building is easy to spot visually, and then looking a couple of miles Northward from there helped me re-spot the airstrip.

Finally the clouds broke up and the ground started heating up again.  Alas I didn't have the few extra minutes it took for the thermals to restart.  But the skies to the NE looked good soon after I landed, of course.  Landing was OK, having short wings helps.  (And they also make landing out more likely.)

Mr. Carrier was there and friendly.  He knows Karl well - Karl flies there often from his home field a few miles West of there.  Mr. Carrier also has been to Post Mills, he flies an ultralight out of his field.  He's working on widening the runway a bit: bulldozing the embankment on the East edge and moving that material to the dropoff a bit further South on the same East edge.

Driving directions to Carrier's, in case you need it: North on 110 9 miles from Chelsea to "downtown" Washington, turn left by the store, about a mile to the farm (keep right at the forks).  Big house and barn.  The airstrip is not visible from the road.

Thanks Paul for the retrieve!

- Moshe

Monday, May 15, 2017

Going Long

I've been shopping for record weather on the Appalachian ridges.

The forecast surface charts for May 8 had the look of a classic ridge day, with one or two wrinkles to keep me guessing. The low and high pressure centers were forecast to be well positioned & strong enough but very slow moving (not necessarily a bad thing).  The jet stream was forecast to track roughly over Tazewell (that is, well South) with 500 mB winds at around a hundred NW.  6000' wind forecast was perfect from Lock Haven, PA to Gate City, VA.  Lower level wind forecasts were a little soft and too Westerly.  Stability was low, air was dry, forecasting a great thermal day but all blue at the South end.  So not necessarily a record day, but definitely a long strong soaring day covering a lot of real estate.  I made the decision to go on Friday evening. Saturday I drove to Mifflin Co airport in the rain.

The front blew through Sunday afternoon.  A bunch of other New England glider pilots are at Mifflin Co. for a club encampment  and we all go fly.  I had a nice little rip around Jack's, Shade & Tuscarora, got too aggressive on the upwind transition to Shade at 6pm and landed at Mifflintown airport, 13 air miles from Mifflin Co.  That really annoyed me, as the plan was to leave the ship together and watered overnight, and get some real sleep.  John Good came and fetched me by trailer, and accomplished the task so speedily that we got back & rigged again in daylight.  Watering was put off until after dinner.  I hoped that maybe the extra work would make for sound sleep.  No dice.  I might have slept an hour.  I was pretty wired.

Monday morning at 0630, the sock is limp.  Reports from Lock Haven, Altoona, Bedford and University Park report similarly light conditions.  Darn.  I tell (our tow pilot) Brian "no rush".  About 0930 I suggest: "Go get your airplane."  He laughs (he's convinced this is a dry run), says "I'll go check the ridge", which he does.  He returns, reporting that leaves are still.  I'm ready and my weather sense says the ridge ought to be waking up about now, so I saddle up and go, getting airborne at 09:58 and taking a 1000' tow to Jack's Mtn.  Initial conditions are about 12 - 15 kts WNW with very light convection starting.  Brian's right, those tiny new Spring leaves aren't moving at all and it's well short of record conditions.

Moments After the Start.  Southbound on Jack's Mtn
My declared course is 1400 km, give or take: Evitts Mtn (South end), Talladega Bowl (near Lock Haven) and Tazewell Gap (Southern VA, a little over 500 km straight line from Mifflin Co).  I hit my start on Jack's at 10:04, cruise down Jacks at 80 kts, jog over the Raystown, fly Raystown to within sight of the large open field at the South end, thermal up and make the transition to Tussey... just barely (my inner Flight Instructor is annoyed & says "see me after class, Evan"). Tussey and Evitts go well and nearing the end of Evitts at 11:10 I make the decision to fly the task in reverse order, heading towards Tazewell first.  

Anatomy of a Well Executed Upwind Transition.
Jack's to Raystown at Mill Creek PA.
The day strengthens.  It takes two thermals to cross Cumberland and Keyser to New Creek Mtn, home to 52 new and very imposing windmills.  Another thermal to Hopewell Gap, then a continuous run of 93 miles @ 104 mph to Mountain Grove.  Turbulence is the speed limiting factor here. Thermals are strong and the ride is getting brutal.  

Tilting at Windmills on New Creek Mountain.

A little South of Hopewell Gap.  Speed and Beauty.

Clouds end just North of Mountain Grove and it's time to test these blue conditions out, so I climb to 6500 (5.8 kts avg) and glide to Coles Mtn, looking for another climb in the blue to glide the direct route across Covington, high.  Ingalls airport (which is on top of a mountain) reports wind 290-ish at 11, which is a little on the soft side for this sort of mission.  I shift down a gear.  At Coles Mtn, I haven't hit another good climb, so I decide to divert to the Ingalls ridge.  I get the thermal I need at Big Knob, then I go back on the direct route (Lick Mtn) just South of Covington.  Not in a hurry here.  I'm doing a lot of looking at terrain and comparing to all my Google Earth-ing and other recon work.

On the Southern side of the Covington gap is Peters Mtn.  If you wanted to build a ridge for speedy and efficient soaring, you would do well to start by studying Peters.  Even in today's less than ideal conditions, head wind component and all, it's good for 115 mph ground speed.  All I have to do is hang on and keep cinching down my belts.  At Tazewell, VA I make the turn at 13:54.  It wasn't too hard to resist the temptation to head across the Tazewell gap.  I've already signed up for a 500K return flight starting at 2pm.  Do I really want to trade up to 650K at 3pm? Maybe not. North I go. On the Northbound trip I've got a tailwind component and I press to see what I can make my glider do.  I run out of nerve at 166 mph.  It was pretty rough in there! Nearing Covington, the wind slacks off again, but it never gets worrisome.

Seneca Rock (in shadow at center) on the Northbound leg.

Scherr WV Below.  New Creek Mtn in distance.
Thermal Soaring Preferred Here!

A 7 kt thermal at Covington, one more near the Hopewell gap and mostly porpoise flying in thermals to Cumberland. Back on the ridges until halfway up Nittany Mtn I throw in the towel, the wind is 270(!) and it's overcast.  So I bail on the task (1250 diplome another day...), head down Evitts to collect my last declared turn, jog over to Tussey at Bedback for variety and spend my return trip down Raystown taking in the view and just enjoying the ride.  Nearing Reedsville, I spin the numbers on the computer and realize I can probably run up my OLC score to 1500 km by dusk, and that becomes the final objective for the day.  It works, rolling over 1501 on my computer about 14 miles out of Mifflin Co. with the sun right on the ridge.  The airport beacon lights up as I cross the Reedsville gap, I click the mic to turn on the runway lights, strafe a couple of guys on the tarmac with water ballast and call it a day.  I won't be forgetting this one any time soon.


1501 km achieved.

More cool stuff:
Windmills in Motion.  

Tearing it up on Peters Mtn., Northbound.

How sweet it is.  A half hour segment showing Tussey, Raystown,
Jacks Mtn ridges in (relatively) smooth late afternoon conditions.

OLC Flight Log

Even longer flights by others:

Brian Milner,  2100 km

Helmut Bauer, 1800 km

Dale Kramer, 1600 km

Adam Zieba, 1600 km

Brian Collins, 1600 km

And of course, there are the guys who figured it out first:

O&Rographic (1972)

(Check back later -- I'll add more refs as I dig them out)

-Evan Ludeman

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Long day in the cockpit

Congratulations to Evan on an outstanding 1500 kilometer flight!

He took off from Mifflin County Airport in central Pennsylvania at 9:58 am yesterday and landed back there over ten hours later.

In the meantime, he'd been to Tazewell, Virginia, 340 miles from home.  The flight was huge:

The winds that day were slightly south of the ideal direction, which allowed him to make the return trip at an average speed of just over a hundred miles per hour.  He spent just 6% of his time circling.

It was the longest glider flight in the world yesterday.

We hope he's spending today resting up and writing the story for us.