Friday, August 05, 2016

The High Road To Buffalo

In August, I usually head to Big Spring, TX to fly in some of the best conditions in the world. The west Texas high desert is ideal for flying big miles in smooth strong lift. The predominately southerly winds bode well for pushing us deep into the panhandle. However this isn’t about Big Spring. Last year I spoke with Greg Fergus who tows hang gliders in the Dallas area. He told me about the flying there in August and asked me to stop on my way west to fly with him. It turns out that Finney airfield was only 20 minutes from my son’s house so I took him up on it. Greg Chastain and I attempted the local challenge flight to Buffalo Mtn in Talihina, OK but were stopped by unusually wet conditions in the Red River valley. Later in the week I attempted a 100 mile triangle in much better conditions to the northwest but a persistent 10 mph SE wind stopped me 20 miles short. The two flights were enough to get me excited about the potential of the area and I vowed to return next year to give it another shot to be the first into the Kiamichi Valley.
Greg moved his operations to Caddo Mills northeast of Dallas this year and mentioned that the airport was home to a sailplane club at one time so the soaring conditions there were conducive to hang gliding as well. I studied the route from Caddo up through Antlers and on to Buffalo Mtn (133 miles) and concluded that the route was very doable with one challenging area between Antlers and Clayton, OK. This 45km leg was over the start of the Kiamichi Mountains leading to Buffalo. The mountains run to the northeast from Antlers and there are two valleys that parallel them; the Kiamichi River valley on the northwest and the Big Cedar Creek valley on the southeast. In my planning I concluded that the Big Cedar route would be best with an 8km hop over the end of the valley to Clayton, OK. I looked hard at the Kiamichi route with its’ wider open valley but concluded that it would be safer to stay to the southeast.
On my drive down to Dallas, I decided to take a route through Talihina, spend the night there and then scout the Kiamichi River valley on my way to Caddo Mills in the morning. Unfortunately my plans to stay there didn’t work out and I drove through the valley in the dark to stay in Antlers. It was a short drive to Caddo Mills and I met Greg there at 10:30. I had been checking Thursday’s weather for three days using my familiar tools (XC Skies and Skew T diagrams). It was looking like an epic day with decent southwest winds, lift in the 800fpm range and later in the day top of the lift greater than 8000’. By 11:00 the clouds were popping and already lined up in streets to the northeast.  James Race was going to be there at noon and the plan was to do an abbreviated talk on flying xc and weather predictions but alas work delayed him until after I launched at 1:15.
I pinned off at 700’ (gotta stay on a little longer) and climbed out in good lift at up to 500fpm to cloudbase at 5800’. Heading downwind the clouds were lined up right on courseline, the lift was consistent in the 400-500fpm range and every cloud was reliable all the way up to Antlers (145km). I couldn’t believe my good fortune, it was hugely gratifying to fly deep under each cloud and feel the surge of lift increase 200, 300, 400, 500fpm then bank hard and climb rapidly to base. The frequency of the clouds was short (3 to 8km) and each climb to base was higher than the last.  By 3:00 base was over 7000’. At Honey Grove (~20 miles south of the Red River) the conditions really improved as I didn’t dip below 5000’ for the next 57 miles (took 90 minutes).  The best climb of the day was at Soper peaking at over 800fpm. This really was an epic day!
Heading into the mountains northeast of Antlers I was concerned about the route through Big Cedar. What looks so good on Google Earth from a 20 mile high view takes on a whole new perspective when you’re at 5000’. The crossing from the end of the valley over the Kiamichi’s to Clayton now looked daunting. I flew under three clouds and stopped to climb in a couple but wasn’t hitting the solid stuff like before. I figured I was now in the mountains where the lift would get stronger but it wasn’t happening. I was down to 4000’ before I recognized my error and put the brakes on to grovel on the edge of a thermal. I was hesitant to go into the mountains to the north but eventually climbed up to 6000’. From there my confidence returned and I headed north across the mountains to a nice that took me too cloudbase at 7800’. I was now over plentiful landable fields on the edge of the Kiamichi River valley. A nice cloud south of Clayton rewarded me with a smooth 300 fpm climb to base at 8552’ my high for the day. Off to the northeast, Buffalo Mtn looked like a small ridge only a 7:1 glide away. I yelled a big “wahoo!” it was now in the bag. The glide across the valley was under a nice cloud street welcoming me to the Buffalo LZ. I checked the wind direction down below and didn’t like the westerly flow. From 4500’ the wooded area on the northeast corner seemed to cut off the approach for that direction, so I got a brilliant idea that I’d just fly to Heavener where there would be a better LZ right into the wind. Hah! The only problem was that I didn’t put Heavener into my gps and had no clue where it was. I climbed out over Buffalo to 7600’ with a spectacular view of the mountains to the east northeast including Mt Magazine way in the distance! I spied a southwest facing mountain due north and thought for sure it must be Heavener so burned off my altitude passing up lift along the way only to find that this mountain wasn’t it. I spiraled down anyway next to a town and landed at the big ranch on the west end after 5:12 in the air. I met the rancher, 80 year old Don Lessel (sp?) who just so happened to own the club’s north training hill in Red Oak, OK. Total distance just over 250km (~155 miles).
Now for the retrieve. The area north into southeastern OK doesn’t have very good cell service. I was able to talk with Greg via radio all the way to Antlers. Greg had a glider set up in the hangar for James to fly.  I saw his truck down below as I climbed out in the first thermal. He got up off of tow and I talked to him on occasion but his radio kept cutting out frequently clipping his communications. I was able to discern that he was doing quite well however heard that he had no waypoints so was flying by intuition. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but he ended up thinking he needed to cross a blue hole to get back on course line and it ended up putting him on the ground near the Red River. Greg ended up driving back south to pick him up so it was going to be a long retrieve.  On my drive down that morning, I had no cell service during halfway to Caddo Mills and had zero bars in the field I landed in. Thankfully, Don loaned me his phone (US Cellular vs my AT&T) and I made a quick call to Sue and my daughter Vanessa to let them know I was down safe and that it would be a long retrieve. I left a message with Greg to give my location and began tearing my glider down.  I knew that Kelly Merkle and Bruno Schnedl were flying at Heavener that day but had neither of their numbers. Luckily, Greg did and was able to get them to pick me up in their motorhome. Wow! That was cool as they were almost to Antlers when they got the call. Tom from Buffalo also called and said he’d come and pick me up too. Kelly and Bruno picked me up just as finished packing up. Kelly and Bruno were good sports and listened to my recapitulation of the flight all the way back to Caddo Mills so thanks guys for putting up with it. As it turns out, Kelly was high over Buffalo in his paraglider as I was climbing out over launch. Sure wish I had spotted him.
It was truly a magnificent day. There is a resounding peace that overwhelms my normal senses when I fly. Today I got to spend 5+ hours reveling in the billowing cumulus filled skies above juxtaposed with the panorama of the ever changing countryside rolling below. I am a lucky man.
 Greg Fergus has a nice operation at Caddo Mills. He has a big hangar to store the Dragonfly with room for many gliders. The towing is conveniently done on the paved taxi-way right next to the hangars.  The area around Caddo Mills is flat wide open country with innumerable places to land and the conditions in this area compare well to those I fly in west Texas. I look forward to coming back to explore the possibilities in the area even more. I can't thank Greg enough for giving me the opportunity to fly in north Texas. I am especially grateful for the tow into a nice fat thermal and then him volunteering to chasing James and I to the north. Can't wait to fly with others there the next time.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Quest to the North

2-16-15 Quest
Greg, Mitch and I debated about going to The Florida Ridge on Monday as the conditions down there looked ripe for a long XC.  I looked at the weather late Sunday night and it looked good at Quest too so decided that I was out and would stay “local”.  Of course, Monday morning the conditions looked much more favorable down there. The forecast here was good enough with cloudbase expected around 6000’ and strong winds from the south at 10-15mph on the surface and twice that at base. The only detriment was a 20 mile lobe of overdevelopment that would form in the afternoon east of Gainesville. The lift there would be suppressed. North of there however it looked really good again so Greg and I set a task to Keystone Airport just south of Starke, FL (~90 miles north) with hopes of continuing on to GA. 
I towed up around 12:30 at least an hour after the cu’s started forming and pinned off at 2400’ under a good cloud.  The lift wasn’t so good and it was 10 miles before I got above 4000’ just south of Lake Harris.  I headed NW from there to avoid the lake and the Ocala National Forest to the north. The lift was elusive and it was difficult finding solid climbs. I kept pushing to the NW far left of course line where the better landing fields run north along Rte 301. I was down to 2000’ right over The Villages looking for a suitable landing area when the strongest thermal of the day took me to 4800’ at over 500fpm. Climbs so far were to the north which continued to push me toward the forest east of Ocala.  I was averaging 25mph even though I was pushing cross wind to get in better position. A nice thermal at Leeward Air Ranch to me above 5000’ for the first time and I used this altitude to continue my push to the NW. I was on the east edge of Ocala 12km west of course line and now had multiple landing options as I continued north. The clouds were thickening and less sun was hitting the ground. My next thermal averaged 200fpm but there weren’t any better options ahead so I stuck with it all the way to cloudbase at 5900’. The wind shifted toward the SW which ate up most of my course line advantage and I drifted into the overcast on a long 25km glide. 33km out I hit a smooth 200fpm and slowly climbed out from 2200’ under a nice looking cloud. I was drifting east of course line and the landable fields were looking sparse again. I was worried about my next glide toward goal and made the wrong decision to leave the thermal at 5200’ to head back NW.  I had several fields in view and headed for one along a major highway to my NW. I was now 20km from goal and only needed a short climb to get me to the airport.  The shading and lower angle of the sun made it difficult to see landable fields to the north so I continued to the highway. It wasn’t until I was 2km away that I saw young trees all over my LZ. I had no fields to the north so had to push into the 23mph wind back south to another big field only to see a power line crossing from east west right in the middle.  Luckily I had enough altitude to push even further south over a wooded area to a big ranch with a wide open approach to the SW.  My landing was super smooth as I lightly touched down in a 12 mph wind.
I quickly phoned Sue to let her know I was down safely and to warn her that it would be a difficult retrieve so to have patience while I figured out the best way to get out of the field. She stated that she was 20 minutes away.   I was in a huge ranch quite a bit south from the nearest road.  For some reason Google maps showed that I landed on a peninsula on Levy’s Prairie Lake only there was no water anywhere around. Soon, Keith the ranch foreman pulled up on his 4 wheeler.  He said I was on a 1700 acre cattle ranch and agreed to meet Sue at the highway to the west a couple miles and would lead her back to me. I started tearing the glider down and another 4 wheeler showed up driving like a bat out of hell. He skidded to a stop on the opposite side of a fence. Darcy Sanders and I talked for quite a bit about the local area, his ranch and air strip that I almost landed on.  He seemed like a reasonable man. A few minutes later, Keith and Sue showed up however she didn’t drive the SUV all the way back to me.  Keith picked me up on his 4 wheeler and we took my harness back to her. I said let’s take the vehicle to my glider and she went ballistic, stating we weren’t going anywhere near my glider!! I couldn’t believe it, it didn’t take her that long to get to me so I told her to chill out and drove the vehicle as close to the glider as I could. I said my goodbyes to Darcy then Keith and I walked the glider back and loaded up.  While drinking celebratory beers, Keith explained that many years ago the lake had drained. He has walked the entire lake bottom and discovered the sandstone hole where all the water drained out.  Nearby he found 7 indian dugout canoes.  A few years ago there was a huge fire on the lake bottom that burned out the bog. Keith believes this plugged the drain and the lake is slowly filling back up.  Unfortunately we couldn’t go check out the canoes as they are again at the bottom of the lake. On the drive out of the ranch Sue told why she was so upset.  Keith told Sue to hold back because Darcy was a notorious ex-con who was imprisoned for hiring a hit man to kill his wife and that it was rumored that there were others. Needless to say she got a tad bit emotional about the whole thing and was not, repeat not going to go anywhere near the guy! I told her there wasn’t anyone near him that he could hire but she was not impressed!

All in all it was a very good day. Linda picked up Greg who went down about 40 miles out and we picked Greg up at Mitch and Linda’s house. Linda made us a fine dinner and we made it back to Quest about 11:30 pm. My totals for the day were 81 miles and 4 ½ hours. Sweet!

Monday, May 06, 2013

100 Mile Ridge Run

Ridge Run At Jack’s

I went to Jack’s for the second day in a row.  On Thursday I showed up late and launched around 2:30.  Some nice climbs in the 600fpm range and top of lift was over 5000’msl.  I cruised around for a couple hours and then landed at the Mifflin County Airport after Shawn offered to pick me up.  That night, I checked the weather for Friday and plotted out a long flight over the back to Casement Airport on Lake Erie (dream big!).  It looked like there would be clouds and top of the lift was predicted to be over 6000’.  I resolved to get to the site early and be ready to fly by 12:00 as it would take a long time to go that far. I couldn’t sleep that night thinking about putting in some big miles. Friday dawned with a slightly different forecast, no clouds but winds straight in at 10-15mph, lift to 6000’, climbs around 700fpm and a solid boundary shear ratio of 7.  I really wanted clouds if I was going downwind so… OK change of plans, it looks like a ridge run day. I was the only pilot at launch at 11:00 and was ready to go shortly after noon.  Conditions were straight in at a steady 10mph.  Unfortunately, no other pilots were there yet.  Bob and Cookie arrived, followed by Joe and Karen.  They threw me off just after 1:00 and I climbed out above launch in 600fpm.  I headed NE and hit a nice smooth 800fpm thermal with bits of 900 to 4200’. Climbs never got quite that good the rest of the day.  I continued NE and the top of the lift progressively improved as the day heated up. An hour into it I hit a nice climb over the gap at Lewistown and topped out above 5000’ for the first time.   The going was slow as there was a tad of east in the wind.  The thermals were spaced every 2-3 miles but I just wasn’t comfortable enough to really put the hammer down; not having a driver put me in conservative mode as I really didn’t want to land out and have to beg for a ride. A couple climbs took me well over the back to my top altitude for the day at 5700’.  Jack’s is unique; the ridge is so abrupt that thermaling over the back is easy, there are open fields everywhere and even if at ridge height you can dive over and get out of any rotor to safe landable fields.  At one point I was over 1 ½ miles back working lift even with winds aloft at 17mph.  It took me 1:40 to get from Lewistown to the end of the ridge. At this point the ridge drops back to the north and then continues on for another 10 miles.  I chose not to go for it as it looked too difficult to punch back upwind on the return leg. At the end of the ridge I topped out again and headed back on a long 6 mile glide.  I was down to 1000’ over the ridge scouting potential landing fields (at this time of year they are everywhere!) when I hit steady 700fpm up to 5000’ again. It was another 6 mile glide to the next thermal and even though I was getting down to 1000’ over, my confidence was going up as the sink wasn’t near as strong as earlier in the day. I crossed the gap again (the return leg took less than an hour) at 4000’ to the next thermal.  The climbs were becoming softer and the edges weren’t as defined.  I stopped topping out when the lift lessened and pushed back toward launch. Two sailplanes (Rick and George) passed underneath and out front. I saw Joe thermaling and joined him for some turns and then kept pushing to the SW. A couple more good climbs and I was at the SW end where the Juniata river runs through the gap at Mt Union. The ridge continues on another 13 miles to Three Springs but it was just too late in the day for me to try it.  I met up with a Sport 2 (Andy?) on the way back and we thermaled together for a bit before I pushed on to the NE.  Doug called from the LZ to report on conditions there however I was intent on making it back to Lewistown to land at the Mifflin County Airport again.  At the power lines I turned in my last thermal realizing that the valley was lifting off and there was no need to circle anymore. I flew the last 6 miles with VG full tight and the bar pushed out boating along at 3200’ (1400’ over) before diving over the back to the airport.  I landed at 7:42 25 minutes before sunset, totally exhausted but elated to no end.  Two sailplane pilots, Rick and George offered to take me to my car so I quickly packed up as the sun was setting.  What an awesome day, 6 hours 34 minutes, 102 miles and a lot of smiles!!! 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011 US Nationals - Big Spring, Texas
After an abominable world championships in Italy, I was excited to be heading to the US Nats in Big Spring, TX. This area offers the most consistent conditions in the country. I have flown there for at least 5 years now and cannot recall more than a day or two that was cancelled during the entire period. Interestingly, it rained from Dallas to Big Spring on the morning of the practice day. This was the first rain received in over 6 months. The area is very dry which is very good for us hang glider pilots.

Day 1 I am on the task committee. Davis is doing the weather. It looks pretty weak for today with quite a bit of wind. We call a 110km task northwest to Ackerly, then northeast to Gail and west to Lamesa. Unfortunately, we never got very high and no one made goal. Joe Bostik flew over my head high just past the first turnpoint and almost made it to goal. I landed in the same field as Davis Straub but squeaked past him to take second. With nobody at goal, the point values were very low. I am happy with second though.

Day 2 The good conditions return and we call a 164km slight dog leg to the north. The dog leg will keep lesser experienced pilots away from unlandable terrain before going the last leg over wide open farm fields. It has been so dry here that ½ the fields are barren. If you don’t irrigate you don’t have a crop. I took the second start at 1400 and had two nice climbs to 9000’msl on course. I left the group I was with and headed to an excellent cumulus cloud. I flew right under it but found no lift. I saw smaller cu’s on courseline to the north and headed to their way only to see them dry up just as I arrived. I now was down low in rough terrain (how ironic) and lost a turbulent climb down low finally putting the glider down in one of the few open fields in the area. Years ago, I would have been very upset with such a bad flight but my attitude has changed somewhat. I came to this competition with the objective to win it. I flew hard on this day and perhaps just a tad too fast as I never was in synch with the thermals. Of course as I was packing the glider, I looked up to see a number of gliders fly over my head thousands of feet higher! My nephew Zack is driving for me, Tom McGowan and Dave Proctor. He picked me up before I was finished packing (Excellent job!). Both Tom and Dave made goal. I couldn’t have been happier for them with just a few remorseful pangs for my pitiful performance. I finished 29th today and am in 24th overall. Davis won the day flying very fast.

Day 3 The task committee calls a record 380km (236mi) task to Parma and a backup task to Muleshoe (yes we are in Texas) of 242km (150mi). The reason for two tasks is that the weather models aren’t consistent. They all predict good strong winds but are not in agreement about the cumulus clouds. Some pilots are grumbling about calling such a big task because we won’t get back until very late. The committee changed the task to Muleshoe when the expected clouds didn’t materialize. I takeoff around 1300 and leave on the third start clock at 1400 in a good climb to 8700’. I hold the hammer back a little after landing early yesterday and find myself struggling again in the same area. I finally claw my way back up to 9000’ and connect with three good strong thermals at 700fpm as I follow the courseline north. There are no clouds to mark the lift but there are huge dust devils in the barren fields below that show where the good climbs are. Just past Lamesa I catch a group of gliders from an earlier start. They are flying around a huge dust devil but I don’t find the strong climb and decide to leave. A couple km’s later I hit a strong thermal over 800fpm at one point and top out the lift at 9500’. After a long glide, I spot Davis circling down low to my left and fly to him. I eventually catch 600fpm and get to 9700’. There are cumulus clouds to our north marking the way and I fly to them. The climb rates stay the same but it is obvious cloudbase is much higher. I take three climbs to 11000’ and one last climb to 13000’ before going on final glide to Muleshoe. I arrive at the airport to find no one there! Woohoo, I win the day! When asked to describe my flight at the pilots meeting the next morning, I tell the group that I flew the same as I did the previous day (when I finished 29th) only this time I made it to goal. I move up to 9th overall today.

Day 4 The winds are much lighter today so the committee calls a 143km task to the northwest to Patricia then due east to 11T and finally south back to the airport. Gary Osaba reports from his sailplane that the conditions are the best yet. I launch and get to 10000’ just before the 1320 start. This was the highest I had been this early. I thought I needed to leave early today to get around the course before the conditions started to wane. This was a miscalculation on my part as conditions stayed strong late into the evening. I flew with Mitch around the first turnpoint where I got low and had to dig out above a football field. The lift turned on to the best climb of the day at over 1000fpm to 10500’. Two more excellent climbs put me under a building cloud street. I was flying east to the next turnpoint into a south crosswind. Although the clouds looked better to the north, I was worried about drifting too far north and then having to struggle upwind to get the 2nd turnpoint. I elected to fly to the southeast where there were fewer clouds. This was my mistake for the day as I struggled in two climbs before finally getting up high again. I made the last turnpoint and headed on to goal. Two more good climbs put me on final glide to the airport. I finished 11th for the day and maintained 9th overall. Dave Proctor also made goal today climbing in one last thermal at over 700fpm at 1900 in the evening. Unbelievable!

Day 5 We call a bigger triangle task of 202.6km. The committee discusses the current world record speed for the course. The conditions are going to be so good that we think the record could fall. It is held by Attila Bertok from Hungary at 42km/hr. Gary reports from the air that the conditions are better than yesterday. Wow, how can it get better? This time we fly northeast 66km, west to Lamesa 65km and southeast to Big Spring 70km. I’m in good position to start at 1340 but Zippy signals me to hold back for a later clock. The start clocks are 20 minutes apart. At 1400 we start right at cloudbase at 10500’ which is the best start of the week for me. The course is long, I expect it to take about 5 hours so I pull the bar in and fly fast from thermal to thermal to the first turnpoint. Zippy gets out ahead of me but on the second leg to Lamesa I hit 5 climbs around 1000 fpm and catch him and many others at the 2nd turnpoint. I hit 800fpm at Lamesa and top out 2000’ above ten other gliders. I continue on as I’ve had excellent luck on my own this flight. The headwind is significant, up to 15mph as I glide toward goal. I climb up in three more good thermals and have the numbers (10:1) to get into goal. I pick up the speed but end up plummeting in strong sink and have to slow down to find another climb. Eight km from the airport, I’m down to 1500’ searching and hearing David Glover in my head saying “It’s better to come in a few minutes late than it is to land short”. I finally find a climb that eventually turns on to 700fpm. I take it up until my instrument shows that I have a 7:1 glide into goal. I turn on the afterburners crossing the finish line at 600’. I am the first into goal by 10 minutes; only five pilots make it. My task time is 4:20 which equates to 46.6km/hr possibly a new world record! I now move up to 5th with two days to go.

Nearing cloudbase over west Texas

Day 6 We poll the pilots this morning to see whether they want a short (2hr), medium (3hr) or long (4hr) task. The group is split so we opt for a short to medium task north to TBar and then northwest to Levelland airport. It takes me awhile to get in good position before I start on the 5th clock at 1440. Zippy and Davis take the same start and we are off to the races. Zippy gets a good line and leaves the rest of us behind. I miss a climb and end up behind the rest but continue to push north. There are no clouds to mark the skies but there are many dust devils in the fields. Half way to TBar I hit 1100fpm and take it to 11000’ and catch Davis and Bill S. I am now catching pilots who took an earlier start. I glide toward the turnpoint and just before it hit another 1100fpm climb. There are a number of gliders below. The final glide is off to the northwest and I have a tailwind. Two more solid climbs and I have the numbers to make goal. I race in as fast as 88mph and finish 2nd for the day four minutes behind Zippy. What a fun day. I made good decisions and pushed myself to fly fast. I moved up to 4th overall.

Day 7 Windy, windy windy this morning. I saw one of the planes that tows us up get a wing lifted and it took three guys to pull it down. The spot landing contest was to take place at 0900 and many of the locals were out to watch. The winds were just too strong so it was delayed to 1200. The task committee picked a couple reasonable tasks but the winds continued to blow hard. At 1300, the Safety committee decides to cancel the day. The conditions were just too strong to guarantee that the 30+ pilots could safely launch and land. An hour later the winds did die down some but they were predicted to ramp back up in the evening. I was charged up to fly as I was climbing up the rankings very steeply after my day two fiasco but alas it wasn’t to be. You can’t be a national champion by blowing a day. All was not a loss however as my poor start motivated me to push harder than I ever have before. I now know that I can compete with the best in the world whereas in the past I only believed that I could.

Recap for the week: I finished 1st twice and 2nd twice, accumulated over 21 ½ hours and 930km (575mi) in the six days of flying. Big Spring is the best hang gliding site in the US and possibly the world.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Prepping for the World Championships

Over the winter I modified my 4 Fight full face helmet by removing the existing finish (and scratches), filling in cracks and dents with bondo and adding new paint. 

How about that Killa Bee!

When I debuted it at the Rob Kells Memorial in May, one of the pilots stated that the mod probably negated the EN966 certification and that I would need a new helmet to fly in the worlds.  Rather than go through the hassle of having to buy a new helmet in Italy and then haul both of them home, I bought a new 4Fight LT Jet (half face) from Highland Aerosports.  The problem with a chinless helmet however is that the radio headset must have a flexible mic boom that is secured to the helmet and can be moved into position close to one's mouth.  I contacted Steve Prater (PTT) who builds all of my headsets hoping he had a flex boom however, his mics are only built for full face helmets.  He did mention that Ricker Goldsborough uses his equipment and had made a boom for his Jet helmet.  Ricker was very helpful and stepped me through what he did to make a reliable boom. I went to the hardware store, Staples and Walmart looking for a gooseneck tube similar to what is used on a flexible lamp that I could use as a boom.  I bought a lamp at Staples ($17), copper wire at the hardware store ($2) and found a flexible Onn mic stand at walmart ($8) that is used for a desk PC.  I ended up making two booms in case I needed a spare in Italy.  The first one uses copper wire, heat shrink and foam.

I ran a length of copper along the mic wire and covered both with two different sizes of heat shrink to keep the two firmly bonded together. I also cut a small piece of heat shrink that would just fit over the microphone and cut a hole in it to expose the mic then heated it until it was tightly bound.  Finally, I cut a piece of foam and attached it to the mic with a tywrap. Although functional and no doubt strong enough to withstand the normal abuse from a hang glider pilot, it is not as clean as the mic system I found at Walmart (I'm taking the lamp back to Staples).

I used the boom and the grooved disc that holds the boom in place. I cut the wires on the boom and hooked them up to my existing headset to ensure the mic would work with my system. It did so I cut off my old mic and soldered on the new one.  The disc has sticky tape on the back side so I stuck it into the back end compartment of the helmet.  I compressed the boom onto the disc and routed it between the shell and the compression foam then through a slit in the ear pad out to the front of the helmet.

I needed to test this configuration so I stuck it on my noggin and had Sue drive me down the highway at 25 mph (more like 40) while I stood through the sunroof keying the mike to check for wind noise. The tip of the mic has holes in it and is removable so to make sure there would be no problems when I was blasting toward goal, I added a small layer of foam over the mic and then snapped the cap back in place. I am now race ready!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Covert Boot Modification

I now have over 80 hours in my new Covert harness. I love the streamlined profile and compact fit; I feel like I’m gliding much better as a result. My longest flight in it to date is 7:01 which wasn’t tough at all. Oh sure, there was some neck pain involved but at this stage of my life (57) I have come to accept the fact that every day there will be pain. My philosophy is to accept the pain and get over it. I put it out of my mind as it is only a distraction that could impact my flying.

I adjusted the harness to make it more comfortable by letting the shoulder straps out all the way as it was a tad too short for my height. This allowed me to relax my legs however the rake on the boot was creating some discomfort in my ankles. My feet were falling asleep on long flights so I would have to tap them frequently especially just before landing to get the feeling back. On my last flight at the Flytec Race and Rally, my feet were still numb on landing and it felt like I had two sprained ankles when I landed. I talked to Jeff shortly after and he sent me instructions on how to modify the boot to change the rake of the foot box and also to allow the shoulder straps to be tightened to a normal position.

I modified the boot before the East Coast Championships and am pleased with the result. Here are the steps for modifying the boot:

1. Remove the retaining screw from the end of the harness and take the boot out of the harness.

2. Untie the bungee cord and remove the door from the boot.

3. Tape a black sharpie flat on the table and spin the boot (pointy side up) flat on the table so that you draw a black line approx. the height of the marker tip (about 1/8" off the table).

4. Mark 1.5" back from that black line, in the center seam behind your heels and mark on the toe seam at about .5" back from the black mark. Connect the two marks around the circumferance of the boot so that you have a clean taper from the heel side mark to the toe side.

5. Use a composite wheel on a Dremel tool and cut off the "ring" (1/8th” line) that your door rests against.

6. Cut off the wedge (2nd line) to take off the length and change the angle.

Ring and wedge removed: Note how the ring is larger than the new circumference of the boot.

7. Tape the "ring" to the boot so that it's centered and the grommets for the door bungy are still clear.

8. Apply 5 minute epoxy (from a 2 barreled syringe) to the seam on the outside of the ring boot interface using a popsicle stick and let it dry.

9. Apply a strip of painters tape on the inside of the boot ½” above the new joint to mask off the area.

10. Mix epoxy resin (30 minute) with micro balloons so that it is the consistency of peanut butter and apply it to the inside of the boot around the seam so that it squeezes through any gaps left from the glue.

11. Use a gloved finger to make a smooth radius or this "peanut butter mix" around the inside edge of your new seam and let it dry.

12. Use the Dremel to trim off the excess from the ring and sand the outer edge smooth.

13. Sand the inside fillet to make sure there aren't any sharp edges to catch your bags.

14. Replace the door and make a mark around the door to cut off the excess. Use the Dremel to cut off the extra (should be about 3/16-1/4") and sand the new edge smooth.

Finished boot sans final sanding.

15. Replace the door and install it back in the harness.

The boot is stronger than the original and is the perfect length and rake for my stature. I have over 20 hours in the new configuration and love the increased comfort! Thanks Jeff for your support!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Santa Cruz Flats 2010

The awesome set up area at the hotel

Day 1: Francisco Grande Resort – I8Stan – LaPalma – Grogan – Meyer – Francisco Grande 96 KM

The task committee picked a long task on a tough day. The whole gang spent over an hour inside the start circle rarely getting over 4000’ msl (3000’). Finally we all started after the last clock and headed SW to the first turnpoint. Caught a nice thermal at the turnpoint and left with Yocom. Connected with Ricker and Robin east of CG mountain. Had to dig out from down low east of the mountain, rounded the turnpoint and caught up with Jonny. Gaggled with 5 other gliders to the 2nd and 3rd turnpoints and headed back to CG mountain hoping to get a good climb that would take us into goal. I was the low guy and had to linger on the mountain a little longer. I finally headed out on course to Francisco Grande and saw 3 gliders heading directly over I8 and dry ground to the west looking for lift. I saw Jonny turning over the quarry northwest of the mountain and connected with him in 200 up. He left on glide and Yocom left soon after. I did a couple more turns and left as well needing 16:1 with 500’ above best glide to goal. I remember Davis stating at the pilot meeting that the 400 meter goal arc was on the south side of the highway. I could see Jonny and Jim getting really solid glides in front of me so I just took my time pushing out in the lift and slowly improving my numbers to 14:1. About 4 miles out I hit some good lift over 200 fpm and pushed out for about 200 meters and gained 80’. I continued on instead of turning because I thought the line I was in would get me to goal. The last ½ mile I sank out fairly rapidly and finally landed in a mesquite bush just short of the highway 20 meters from goal. Jonny was the only flexi to get in and I finished 2nd for the day! Lesson learned for the day: 1) I let the emotion of trying to beat the others on final glide into goal get to me and did not top out in the last thermal with Jonny to get better numbers into goal. 2) I should have stopped and turned in the lift on final glide to get better numbers. Taking either climb would have given me enough altitude to make goal. At breakfast the next morning David “Yoda” Glover and I discussed this decision and he shared that regardless how close I was, the risk to reward ratio is high when trying to stretch it on final glide. It is always better to make goal than to come up short as the point differential is too great even if it will take more time to climb out to get there. 96 KM 4:39 hrs

The only shade at launch in the 105F heat
Day 2: Francisco Grande – Cornman –Antlen – Francisco Grande 116 KM
Davis predicted the conditions would be better today with 700-800fpm thermals, 8-9K’ top of the lift and light winds. The task committee chooses to call another big day. I took the third start with many others and was not in the best position at only 5800’. Others were much higher however it was time to go. I caught a thermal east of I10 just before the small mountains but only managed to get to 4800’. Two more small thermals short of the turnpoint met similar results however I could see gliders turning over the turnpoint. I took off for them and connected with a strong thermal just before them and climbed out to 5300’ with Jonny. We flew toward the mountain north of Picachu peak expecting to find better lift there. The main gaggle was just ahead of us but not very high. We both scraped into the mountain at the base worried about landable fields as this was Saguaro cactus country. Jonny and Derreck caught a bit of a thermal that I missed so I headed north over the last bumps of the mountain spotting a cleared field at the base of the mountain. Luckily I hit a gnarly thermal that I resolved to stick with no matter what and slowly started climbing as I was tossed in and out of the lift. I could see a rigid wing shadow below me and I just hung on gripping the bar tightly trying to stick with it. I stayed close to the mountain as I climbed and spotted Joe Bostik higher on the mountain climbing in the same thermal. We met up and climbed together getting dumped on the edge of this booger but averaging 400fpm. Joe left a little over 6000’ but I was still climbing good so I stuck with it (good decision). I pulled out of 350fpm at 7300’ (bad decision) and decided to head over the back to the turnpoint as the line that Joe took over the mountain resulted in a tremendous amount of sink and the other gliders down the range were not climbing very well. I was down to 4300’ when I hit a lee side boomer that averaged over 600fpm. Again I left the lift at 7600’ before completely topping out and glided to the turnpoint over the lead gaggle and on to Picachu Peak. On the south end, I caught a nice thermal that averaged 400fpm and took it to 7000’ leaving the lift early again. There was a direct head wind on course. The wind between the mountain to the north and Picachu peak accelerated through the valley and put all of the other gliders on the deck. I was now in this wind as I headed over the flats and landed soon thereafter in Eloy almost 30KM from goal. I ended up first for the day and maintained my 2nd place position overall. Lessons learned: 1) I was not patient and left the three biggest thermals in the mountains too early. I could have topped out higher and possibly made it to CG mountain on glide to Francisco Grande. 88KM 3:55 hrs.

and then I blundered into a lucky thermal…….
Day 3: Francisco Grande – Picachu – RC Airfield

Conditions were expected to be about the same today with a little more wind out of the northwest so the committee chose a 90KM task to the southeast. I got a good start with the main gaggle although we were only 2000’AGL. We all headed to CG mountain and caught a nice thermal off the south end that went to 5900’. We caught two more thermals over the irrigated fields that both topped out at less than 5000’. Ten KM before the turnpoint over the desert again, we climbed out in 500+fpm to 7200’. Jonny and Shapiro led out to the turnpoint and over the “forest” on course line to goal. Carl, Jeff, Zac and I shaded to the left on the edge of these badlands and eventually caught a nice thermal that started out at 600fpm. I elongated one turn and the lift decreased to 380fpm. Zac was out ahead of us so I flew to him and finished the climb in 450fpm to 6500’. Others were a bit higher but I took off with Carl flying along the edge of the badlands on course to goal. Jonny meanwhile had to fly back to us and was over 1000’ below trying to climb out. Jeff, Kraig and Zac headed out on a course line to the east over the valley. Kraig spotted a dust devil on course and they climbed out behind Carl and I in 500fpm. We could not go back to them as we would have been 500’ below so continued on course and eventually connected with 350fpm. We gained about 600’ to 5000’ and headed into goal 2 minutes behind Kraig, Jeff and Zac. I was 5th for the day 3 minutes ahead of Jonny which moved me into 1st overall! Lessons learned: 1) Should have tightened up in the stronger 600fpm lift instead of continuing on to Zac’s thermal. This would have given me enough altitude to make goal and possibly win the day. Top out in the good lift! 2:13hrs
Day 4: Francisco Grande – Bon – Estrella – I34784 – Francisco Grande
Took the 1400 start at 7300’ with a number of other pilots. Flew to the 1st turnpoint and got stuck down low in patchy lift for 30 minutes. The main gaggle was ahead of me and a group of the leaders that took the last clock caught us. There were cumulus clouds to the west over the mountains and the Estrella turnpoint. We finally pushed west and climbed in progressively better lift first to the east and then west of Maricopa where we climbed to over 5000’ again. On the glide to Estrella I could see a number of dust devils and a cloud forming to the southeast of the airport. The first thermal was at 750 fpm and took me to 7800’, the 2nd under the cloud averaged 650fpm and I exited toward the turnpoint at 9900’. In both thermals, I elongated my turn into lesser lift and decided to leave. I got the turnpoint at 7900’ and headed on course to a series of cumuli to the south. Lift under the first cloud was at 650fpm but I could see gliders climbing faster just to the south of me. This second thermal was a screamer at over 900fpm and I took it to 10300’ before exiting with the numbers to reach goal through the last turnpoint. Again I elongated a turn into lesser lift that convinced me to head out. I was looking at the altitude above waypoint and confused this with altitude above goal. I turned on the afterburners flying over 65mph ground speed thinking I had goal with ease. I realized then my error and slowed down through the turnpoint and on to goal. The numbers were iffy the whole way and I managed to squeak into goal with just enough altitude. 9th place 3rd overall. 2:59hrs 86KM

Day 5: Francisco Grande – Sarita – AZ Farms – Francisco Grande
I launched at 1:17 and thermaled to 6700’ with Kraig. Flew north to the highway and entered lift at 5500’, climbed out to 6000’ and left for a dust devil to my southeast that never panned out (bad decision). I lost over 1000’ and totally missed the climbs as others were thermalling upwards of 9000’ just north of me. I was in communication with Greg and Ricker who were both getting high but for some reason I just didn’t fly to them. I ended up dribbling through the last start at 4000’ in a small thermal. I continued to dribble along to I10 where I was down to 2700’ before I hit a thermal that eventually turned on to over 800fpm. Again I elongated my turns and left the lift at 10500 when I could have taken it higher. This thermal allowed me to catch up with the last gaggle just after the turnpoint. I ended up turning to the south toward a climbing glider thinking this was on course line before realizing I needed to go north (awareness). We caught three thermals on route to the 2nd turnpoint that took us over 6500’ and then headed on the long leg back to Francisco Grande. Stinnett had an excellent climb just to the north of me at the 2nd turnpoint that took him over 9000’. I saw them climbing fast but elected to stick with my climb less than 1KM away (bad decision). I was with Derreck and we got a small climb over some dust devils to 5500’ and headed to the small mountains just east of Casa Grande where we hit solid 750fpm. I elongated a turn again and left the lift on glide at 8000’. Interesting to note is that Kraig flew through the same area 40 minutes earlier and topped out at 9900’ before going on a 20 minute final glide to goal. I could easily have flown back into the strong lift to take it higher however I had Stinnett and Derreck above me and thought I needed to get going for some perverted reason. I didn’t have the numbers and had to climb another 1400’ to get in. It ended up taking me 14 minutes longer than Kraig to get into goal from the same distance. Lessons learned: 1) Top out in the lift 2) Fly to the others to get a better start. 14th 4th overall 3:42 100km

Day 6 Francisco Grande – Sarita – Bon – I8Chui – Francisco Grande 104km

Dustin wanted to call a task to the ENE over some beautiful mountainous country however the pilots voted to fly a task that brought us back to Francisco Grande. In the three years I have been here we haven’t made it back very often so I opted for the return flight. I got an excellent start at 9200’ with other gliders higher. A nice climb over I10 took me over 9000’ again. On route to the turnpoint I could see a number of gliders turning to the south of the turnpoint. I tagged it and headed to them. Got down quite low before slowly digging out. Finally left the poor lift and pushed back west toward a dust devil over an electric substation. I connected at 3200’ with Bolt and Durand Sr in one nasty thermal. All three of us were getting tossed around pretty aggressively to the point that first Bolt and then Jon left the close in stuff to let me battle with the beast. Again, I slowly drifted out of the strong lift to the downwind side going from over 1000 to 400fpm before leaving at 8800’. This is now a bad habit that I need to break. Davis and I connected east of the CG airport and climbed to 7200’ and then hit a nice thermal between the airport and the big quarry that took us to 1000’ at 650 fpm. I again left good lift to go on glide to catch the lead gaggle just after the Bon turnpoint. The lift was significantly less and the day was waning. We left the thermal after the turnpoint at 5000’ and headed on glide to Francisco Grande which was on course line to the last turnpoint. We hit a thermal over the golf course and took it to 6200’ when Shapiro left on glide thinking he would hit more lift. We all followed to the turnpoint with Kraig and Robin on my left getting a much better line than I. I should have headed their direction but elected to follow Jeff’s line instead. We made the turnpoint and headed back to Francisco Grande 12 miles away. Jeff, Volk and I landed 4 km short while Kraig and Robin made it into goal. 1) Didn’t top out in the strong lift. 2) Lingered too long in the poor lift at the first and third turnpoints before heading out. 3) Didn’t head to the gliders with the better line on the final glide. 11th 3:54 106 km

Jonny coming in hot over the hotel roof on the last day

Day 7 Francisco Grande – Bon – Mobile – Estrella – Francisco Grande

Soft conditions at the start had everyone holding back as the first pilots up were barely able to maintain. I launched about 1:30 and slowly climbed up with Kraig and Robin. Unfortunately the lift petered out and I made a poor decision to slowly migrate toward the start gate rather than fly back to the gaggle closer to Francisco Grande. I barely made it out of the start circle and ended up landing just short of the Bon turnpoint. A real downer on a great competition for me but just goes to show there is always something to learn. 33rd for the day 9th overall 48 min 6 miles

Totals for the comp: 21 hrs 10 min 576km 345 miles