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


Anonymous said...

All's well that lands well.

Sonny said...

Good job Moshe I have had those lying clouds from time to time also. part of the deal.

Henry Swayze said...

I drove from PM to Burlington shortly after Moshe took off and saw the clouds fill and open up as I traveled. I thought of you Moshe

DG said...

Glad to hear you and glider landed out without any adverse affects. Thanks for the write up. That is how we learn.

Rick said...

Great writeup, Moshe, thank you!