Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spot Landing Comp at Big Spring

Since I was participating in the spot landing contest, I couldn't get any footage of the action. Ricker, on the other hand, put one camera on the ground and then took still shots with another. He gave me the video clips to put together so here it is - the "cactus cam".

And then, I had a bit of a controversial landing. "was the landing over?" For the landing to count, you have to be on your feet and only the wingtips or keel can touch. Basebar and nose disqualifies you. I felt my landing was over and I was repositioning to get off the field. Anyway, I was 4th so it didn't matter. Spot landing was alot of fun. Check out the footage below.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Day 7 - final and best day

The task for the final day was a 105 mile dogleg to the north and then east. It was difficult to get to base around the airport but clouds were looking good on course so I decided yet again to leave early and by myself. I got to base and left the start circle only 9 minutes before the first start so the penalty wouldn't be too severe, especially for my game.

I caught up to a good street which put me up to over 10,500ft and then raced along just under the base for a while. I found good climbs along the way and stayed high. Around 50 miles out I noticed the lead pack catching up. Jeff O'brien came my way as the others took a line more to the west. I topped out on a climb to 10,800ft and went on glide as OB climb up right behind me. A few minutes later, out of nowhere, he passed just feet over my glider diving in front of me. The bright colors of his glider, just feet in front of me, was really startling and was a lot of fun. It's funny how he can just play with me that way and keep kicking butt. I guess that's why he's on the world team.

So now we were gliding together and storms to our west continued to move in. We got low on that glide, maybe 4,500ft (1,500agl), then found a good climb back up. I was getting nervous about the two storms ahead because the turnpoint was in between them. I used hand gestures to communicate my concerns to OB and he just gave me an A-OK signal and motioned to move on. So we did. At the turnpoint we joined the rest of the lead gaggle in light to maintaining lift. I didn't see any future in this light stuff so I went to tag the turnpoint and glide out for a landing before the storms got worse. I had had a great week and didn't want to push it on the last day.

So it turns out that I flew 71 miles and everyone else kept dropping soon after. Nobody made goal. I came in 8th for the day, my best in this meet. I ended up in 16th overall and am really happy about it. I flew 464 miles out of 651. Not bad for a weeks worth of flying. Texas never dissappoints a hang glider pilot.

Here is a picture of the storms heading to the turnpoint. That's OB in the center.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 6 - I'm famous

Today they called for a 105 mile task with 1 turnpoint at Lamesa. Thick mid-level clouds threatened to shade everything so I decided to launch early and get as far as I could before it did. This meant I was going to ignore the start times and get moving on course. When I launched cu's were forming to the east and I headed that way even though it took me way east of courseline. I made good time all by myself and eventually got near Lamesa but was 10 miles east of it. By now everything was shaded and I stretched my glide towards the town. There was a small spot of sunshine on the ground and I headed for it. 6 miles from the turnpoint and at 600ft I found some lift. I took it up to 6,500ft until it got weak, then headed to the turnpoint. After I got it I turned north towards goal only to glide all the way to the ground. Turns out I should have waited a bit cause the high clouds were clearing and everything started heating up. So, I went 70 miles out of 105.

Here is a picture from the flight. Notice how dark and shaded everything was.
Then, after I landed, notice how sunny it was.I ended up landing on a dirt road that was access to the oil fields. This turned out to be a retrieve nightmare. Not only was it difficult for my driver to find me, a huge storm developed and eventually started dumping hard rain on me. I stood in the pooring rain trying to protect all of my electronic equipment for over 2 hours waiting for them to find me. Here is a little vid of the approaching storm.
Now the cool part. After we got back and I got dry cloths on, we headed to Cowboys restaurant for some grub. When I walked in there was a newspaper dispensor next to the door with a picture of me flying my glider on the front page! I plopped in 50 cents and took one.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 5- from 300ft to goal

At first the task was a 105 miler to the WNW with 3 turnpoints. But before launch they changed it to the exact same task as yesterday, 85 miles with 2 turnpoints. I guess they felt that coming back into the wind over the un-friendly oil fields was a bit too dangerous.

The cu's didn't form until late again but we were all eventually in the air and fighting for a space in the gaggles. There must have been some confusion between pilots as to which direction to turn today in the start circle. It was a right turn day but half the pilots were turning left, and the other going right. This made a huge mess and was quite stressful trying to get up in the cramped lift.

I started following a group of guys to the north of courseline under some clouds but looking ahead I didn't think it was a good call. So, I decided to go solo across a huge blue area towards more clouds south of courseline. This was a big gamble that almost didn't pay off as I had to work hard to get back up over there. But, once at cloudbase again I could play connect the clouds and I was on my way.

I flew most of the flight by myself only getting with some other people near the second turnpoint. The sky by this point was getting blue and we were having to search hard for lift. I tagged the turnpoint and headed north towards goal. This is where things got exciting.

I got down to about 300 feet and was about to land when I saw some birds circling. I went to them and found small, punchy lift. I held on to it for dear flight and did many turns trying to get back up. A Litespeed came in even lower than me and tried to do the same but wasn't making much progress. I was concentrating so hard I could only glance at him occationally. I looked and saw him at 150ft, then again at 100ft, then I looked again just in time to see him crashing hard into a fence and going over. As I circled I watched for movement but nothing happened for a few minutes. I kept trying to decide if I should go land to help or keep climbing. Finally, a car pulled in and I figured they could give assistance. It turns out he knocked himself out for a bit and couldn't remember the last seconds of his landing(crash). He broke the carbon basetube, downtube and put a fencepost through the sail. He was OK except for a few scratches.

Anyway, this climb finally became organized enough for me to get back up to 9,000ft although it took over 30 minutes. This allowed me to float the 16 miles into goal. Maybe 10 or 15 pilots made goal today. Fun day with a challenging ending.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 4

Today they decided on a task of about 85 miles with two turnpoints. High cirrus was already overhead in the morning making me wonder how good the day would be. But, early in the afternoon they were spreading apart and a few lone cu's were forming.

I made sure to get a good spot in the staging line since I got burned yesterday by launching late and then the task was called. (I could whine a little here but I'll spare you). So today I launched about tenth in line and found a steady, though not strong climb with all the top guys. I watched them like a hawk and was able to stay with them as we left for a good start. About 8 or 10 of us continued on towards the first turnpoint when the usa team began pulling away. Eventually I was on my own but making good time, staying high.

Soon after the turnpoint, 38 miles into the flight, I caught up to some gliders and realized one was Jeff O'brien. Had I caught up to him?! I was really excited. Talking to him later he said he messed up and got stuck low. So it's not that I was fast, I just didn't make any mistakes. Anyway, I'll take it. At the second turnpoint, I caught up with Davis and Shapiro. We hit the turnpoint and then took a good climb. I soon lost sight of Shapiro but held on to Davis. Now just 15 miles from goal, we took a climb until he left. I was about 500 feet lower than him and should have spun up a little more but decided to go with him. This was my critical error for the day. He arrived at goal with a couple hundred feet and I landed a bit short. Looking at the airport I could see I wasn't going to make it, so I veered east to shoot under a cloudstreet hoping for ONE more climb but I couldn't find it and landed 2 or 3 miles short.

Tough lesson today. I have never been so close to finishing with the top guys before and I blew it because of a few hundred feet. Oh well, tomorrow is another day and I still had a spectacular flight.

Here is a picture I took while on course of the oil fields below.
Here is some video clips that I put together of my flight and my deserted LZ.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Day 3, storms and spiders

As we brought our gliders out to the staging line the clouds were forming quickly to our east. Most of us were worried about over-developement and wanted to get in the air quickly in case the task was called. I was stuck near the back of the line again and waited 30-40 minutes for a tow. Once in the air I found a good climb and was on my way.

While on course I noticed rain showers behind me at the airport and a few scattered east of me. No big deal and I kept pushing on. Then, I started watching a large storm up ahead right on courseline. I decided I could keep going and would just keep an eye on it. Coming up on the town of Lamesa the storm continued to grow and then I noticed a HUGE gust front kicking up thick dust, completely engulfing the town. I was at 8,500ft and could see the dust line for miles to the north and south. Just then I heard over the radio that the task had been called. Having never been in this situation before I got quite nervous and wasn't sure what to do. The only thing I could think of was to run from it. I pointed straight west and pulled the speed on.

I don't think I have ever felt so small before. I ran for 10 or 15 miles looking back at this huge, very defined, wall of wind chasing me. Up ahead I saw the only house around and aimed to land there in case I needed any assistance. I arrived with about 500ft and to my surprise, the trees were calm and not blowing. I circled down and had a nice landing in their crop and carried my glider to the road. Looking east I could see the dust coming. I turned my glider around and un-hooked. 2-3 minutes later the gustfront hit.

Before I got close to the storm I had the camera out. Here is a little clip.

Before the flight I found this "little" dude walking around at the airport. Look, he was waving at me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 2 at Big Spring

Today turned out to be a great flying day with plenty of strong lift making clouds everywhere. The task was an 86 miler with two turnpoints. The wind seemed less than forcasted so staying on or near courseline was no problem. I found some incredible climbs with one of them 1100 on the averager. It took me 2hr and 54min to run the course. I tried not to waste time in weak lift and flew hard between climbs.

The most fun I had was the final leg into goal. We were 16 miles out and headed into a giant blue hole. I found a light climb, maybe 100fpm, in the middle of it. Sunny Venesky, who had been with me most of the flight, joined me here also. This climb finally faded so I headed straight into the wind off course towards a thin, wispy cloud a mile or two away. I found the up and started climbing. Sunny and another glider soon joined me. I was on top of the stack but my GPS wouldn't say the glide ratio to goal. So, I kept looking for the airport wondering if I could leave for it. Finally, one of the gliders pulled away and started for goal. I pulled on full vg and the race was on! With about 6 miles to go and a bit of altitude advantage, I pulled in and put the ground speed at 70+ beating them by about 10 seconds. Nice picture from coudbase, about 9,500ft here

Here is the airport we are flying from. How many runways can you count? Also, if you look real hard, you can see the staging line and a couple of gliders ready to launch. It's a big place.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Big Spring, TX - Day 1

We are here in west Texas again for a week of hang gliding competition. Ricker, James, and I drove out together joining pilots from all over the country to find out who is the best pilot in the USA. You just can't beat the atmosphere around here. The town of Big Spring really goes all out to welcome us and make us feel special. Last night they had a BBQ dinner at the community center complete with a band.

Below is a picture of the centerpiece at our dinner table; colorful isn't it?

Day 1 came with a bit of wind at 15-20 out of the South. The task comittee decided on a task of 102 miles with 1 turnpoint making it a dogleg. Clouds were in the forecast but turned out there were very few. I think about 10 pilots made it into goal. I landed a half mile short of the turnpoint for a flight of 60 miles. I'm not sure where others made it.
The winds should be letting up as the week goes on. We shall see. Here is a picture of my LZ today next to the oil rigs. Notice the lonely cloud behind the glider, that was my last climb.