Monday, July 17, 2017

Empty back seat

It was a beautiful day on Sunday. We had a very efficient operation, due in large part to the hard work of Dakai Zhu who kept us organized on the launch line, ran ropes, kept the golf cart moving, and made sure that every takeoff and landing was logged.

Finally, at the end of the day, he took a couple of short review flights in the 2-33, and on the very last flight of the day, made his first solo.  The photo above shows him about to touch down.

Congratulations, Dakai!

The event was well documented by a couple of serious photographers, and the celebration featured an unusual double-dousing ceremony.

Thursday, July 13, 2017


I'm not certain who started it.

A few years ago, the Post Mills XC milk run to Mt Washington started getting stretched routinely to Old Speck Mountain, the highest point in the Mahoosuc Range.  Subsequent trips to the Mahoosucs have shown that they can produce good soaring, albeit a long ways off from Post Mills and surrounded by a whole lot of... not very much.  To the West is a lot of water and trees and bears.  To the East is, well, even further away from Post Mills.

After a particularly lousy, rainy stretch of weather in a persistently wet and rainy Spring, Wed June 7 was mostly dry and Thurs June 8 finally offered the prospect of decent soaring.  Club enthusiasm was high. Spring loaded.  Turn out was probably a PM weekday record.

Grid Time!  First Cu peaking over the hills.  What's all that uninvited cirrus doing there?

Clouds just beyond the copper mine -- time to go!

Wind Dummy on tow.

Nine pilots, mostly shirking work.  Nine sailplanes.  Hopes for an extra early launch were dashed by slow starting convection.  This wasn't too surprising given 3" of  recent rainfall.  Finally, about 1130, the launch begins.  I'm the wind dummy. The ride is pretty smooth so I hang on for 3000.  Good thing too -- I had to glide about 5 miles West of PM airport to connect.  A slow climb of a few hundred feet gave enough extra margin to move a little further West under some early clouds.  I soon got up to 6000.

While climbing, I watched clouds form like stepping stones to the North, ending around Spruce Mtn. I'd checked the accumulated precip maps, and straight North was a good (well, less soaking wet) direction.  I thought the Connecticut river valley would start slower and although Cu were forming on the high ground East of the River, the quick start was to take this line North.  I expected most of the fleet to head towards the Presidential range and the more ambitious guys to head on up the Mahoosucs.  I resolved to meet them after going the long way around via the Canadian border.  By the time I got to the high ground near Spruce Mtn, my stepping stones had extended Northward and conditions were strengthening.

Moving along well and about 20 miles short of Newport, VT, I reach the edge of the field of Cu and start bearing right.  I end up right on the border skirting large areas of  overdevelopment(OD) and then over the boonies between Colebrook and Rangely.  I fly extra conservative through here, and it goes well.

I get on the Mahoosuc range at Saddleback Mtn and call EA and JD.  They are just a couple of miles behind, also Northbound.  We don't make visual contact until somewhere NE of Sugarloaf airport. Sugarloaf is about 130 straight line miles from Post Mills and about as far as I ever dreamed I might go today.  Now, the real silliness begins,  it becomes apparent (we hadn't discussed plans before flying) that EA and JD are on an out and return record attempt.  Today!?!  Ugh.  I know better.  My gut told me this morning that this day was apt to shut off early.  No sign of that right now though.

Conditions are fantastic.  Bases are 10 grand, the OD has simply vanished (when does that ever happen?). Visibility at cloudbase is limited, which conveniently hides the cirrus that must still be lurking overhead to the South.  Out of sight... out of our minds!  Dan and Greg have water ballast on board.  I'm dry, and I have to scramble.  Greenville comes and goes... we should really turn around!  I'm unwilling to do so on my own.  If I bail early, these two loons actually make it around, I'll kick myself for a month.  So I continue to scramble, Northeast.

Greenville, ME.  Not too many glider pilots have seen this place!

Moosehead Lake.  WTH are we doing here...?

About the time we get to Moosehead Lake, Dan asks if I know the VT state free O&R record.

"It's about 500K."

"We've got it then."

"You get it when you get home..."

We press Eastward over Yogi and Booboo country.  You can't really fly here except on an amazing 10,000 foot day because there is nowhere to land except widely spaced airports.  Mt Katahdin is about 25 miles ahead now, easily visible, massive even at this distance.  It's 3pm.

Greg: "Hey Tango, I thought you were going to turn at 3."

Me: "I'm waiting on Echo!"

We're over 180 miles out of Post Mills!  Finally we all turn together.  My guess is that we might get back to Franconia, unless it's really good, or all goes to hell.

Thermaling up somewhere East of Moosehead Lake.  That's T8 at left.
Cruising at cloudbase.  Good for the moment.

EA off my right wing near Indian Pond, Westbound, 159 miles out of Post Mills.
View from 8700'.
The first 40 or so miles on the return go well.  Fast & efficient, we're really enjoying this ride.  Past Greenville, it starts to look like trouble.  Sugarloaf Mtn is 100% shaded in OD.  Worse, the only sun on the ground leads off into Canada.  We can't see much further down the Mahoosucs, maybe it's localized.  Later: nope.  We get right down on the rocks at Bigelow Mtn, crawl around on Sugarloaf until we all climb out when the sun peeks through, a little.  But we're slow and the OD is solid to the Presidentials.  The wind shifts from SW to South, and that's even worse news.  That's marine air coming in now and it not only kills convection, it's creating the convergence that sustains the OD, even in the absence of convection.  Somewhere up on top of the OD is the cirrus deck we ignored earlier.  That's three strikes.

Now the real fun begins... where did the sun go?

We struggle to get decent final glides to Bethel.  I get a marginal glide, and lose it.  Dan gets a marginal glide and squeaks it in, Greg fell off on the first attempt, got what must have been the last thermal of the day to make it. I end up ridge soaring some little spurs, waiting on a miracle or a final decision on where to land.  I've been eyeballing a private strip in Roxbury that looks like a great little place, nice house right on the runway.  "I bet I'll get a great reception there".  Lacking a better idea, I give up and land, roll up into the driveway of the house on the runway.  Good call.  Minutes later I have a cold beer in hand and some new friends: Douten and Donna Thomas.  They'd never had a glider drop in before and thought it was pretty neat.

Once on the ground, it's time to start sorting out this mess we've made -- and it's a pretty big mess by Post Mills standards!  I'm 98 air miles from Post Mills, but for a whole bunch of reasons, this retrieve has to be by ground.  I guesstimate a 3 hour drive one way, which turns out to be unfortunately accurate.  Bethel is about 2.5.  It gets crazier: it turns out we've put 6 gliders on the ground away from Post Mills today. DC and NT ended up at Dean, DG in a good field near Bradford in the CT river valley.  So some of our ground crew are pressed into service for the second time today.  Thanks Pete, Tim, Mark & Sonny.  Tim,  Mark and Karl (no flight log) are the heros who got home so they could start tidying up

Long way from home...
Tim and I had T8 in the box and on the road at 10pm.  We got home... when we got home (it wasn't quite light yet...).

Thursday, July 6, 2017


July 5 was a good day for FAI triangles**.  Thanks for towing, Rick!

Dan & Greg join the New England 500K FAI triangle club, which I reckon numbers about 8 pilots and fewer than 20 such flights.  These guys have it figured out.  Superb flying.  Well done!

Evan had a good day, as well.  Most of the flight was too involved for sight seeing, but the Green Mtns offered "hero conditions" that allowed a moment of relaxation and a few quick photos.

T8 Northbound on the Green Mtns.  Mt Snow at center.

Same location as photo above, looking NE.

Same location, looking East.

EA approaching NH's lakes region.

Lake Winnipesaukee as seen from EA.

**For courses under 750km, the definition of an FAI triangle is a course defined by three waypoints, with the shortest of three legs being at least 28% of the total distance.  The start & finish points must be co-located, and may be either on one leg or at a vertex.  If more than 750K, the definition isn't quite that restrictive, but nothing we've needed to worry about in New England.  Yet.