It was the first day of December and the usual suspects came out to fly. It was an unremarkable day. No records were broken; no new methods were explored. No one will remember 12/01/17 for anything in particular; everything about this day was about as typical as typical gets. But that is exactly what made it special.
The morning weather was a little bit disconcerting. Thanks to the early operations, my morning began at 5:30AM and I got to watch twilight over NYC while driving on the NJ turnpike. The whole city was enveloped in a haze due to the strong inversion that set up during the night. Not something you normally want to (or expect to) see on a Northwest ridge day! After picking up Bobby, we arrived at the airport to find frost on the grass and the gliders. The sun was just starting to come over the hill and I hustled to get the 2-33 ready. I needed to get the glider defrosted and I had to get it out on the sun as quickly as I could.
At 9am, my first victim jumped in the Cow to take the first flight of the day. After his six months in Brazil, Claudio, our reverse-migrating bird came back to fly with us. We took a quick flight to knock the rust off before he flew his own ship. Our tow took us over to the ridge which revealed an awe-inspiring sight. The whole Delaware River valley was blanketed by radiation fog! Even the river banks and their fields were in the white, misty air. Nonetheless, the upper reservoir’s water surface streaked with perfectly perpendicular waves. I had no interest in testing the ridge on this quick check-flight, but I pondered the interesting conundrum of testing a ridge without the ability to land in the valley below!
During this flight, the rest of the grid started to launch. 508 flown by Steve Beer, 428, 1K, and the FWI Grob flown by Bill Thar. Following our short and successful flight, Claudio marched off to fly his bird and Michael Russo joined me to do his first local ridge flight. Mike is an interesting character; a new club member but a professional 777 driver by trade. I was looking forward to flying with someone who actually knows how to fly!
We took the last launch at 10am and found everyone soaring the local ridge. What a sight! The radiation fog had finally burned off, but the air was almost perfectly smooth. I remarked that this looked like a weaker ridge day, but I was comfortable that the ridge would work for us. The weaker ridge actually had a lot of training value as all of the ridge flying skills were to be used today. We went through all the testing procedures, discussed the relevant landmarks, return procedure and much more. 30 minutes of extensive testing and we were finally driving the Cow on the trees at maybe 55-60 mph.
Later we mustered the courage to fly up to the Millbrook power line, to then find that we got stuck at 1650ft on the Catfish ridge. Doubling back, we found a good thermal and beautiful streets marching NW. The thermal conditions getting better and the ridge feeling a bit soft, we decided to explore the streets instead. After a slow climb, we poked around and found nice thermals all the way beyond East Stroudsburg. I remarked that “ridge days” are exciting not only because of the ridge, but because they have a lot of cool soaring potential. It was pretty extraordinary to make the 2-33 float into the wind without turning!
After dropping back to the ridge, we found that the wind had actually picked up. Despite the forecasts suggesting that the wind would be trending weaker, thanks to the deeper than expected boundary layer, the higher winds aloft got pulled down onto the ridge. We dropped back down and did some more local ridge soaring. Mike practiced recovery from below ridge crest, S-turns, full circles; just about anything I could think of I threw it at him. He did great!
After 3.3 hours in the iron maiden, we figured we had enough and headed back.
Having gotten back at 1pm, I was lost as to what we were going to do for the remainder of the day. I haven’t been at the airport this early in years! But soon enough, our intrepid aviators were slowly streaming. Only Schwartz was left flying, who eventually came back a little after 3pm.
But later, after everyone landed and everything got put away, we decided to move our BSing to the shop. Ron got the beer (good Black-and-Tan Yuengling thank you very much) and the six of us cozied up in the club’s small heated office. The stories and reminiscing began. First, we traded musings about the day. Most of the guys flew cross country, with Claudio flying to Palmerton, Bill and Bobby to Snyders. Schwartz steered his 1-26 to Hawk much to everyone’s surprise. “Was it weak there?” Schwartz replied, “Sure was!” And then the “There I was” stories began, with Schwartz describing the field he should have landed in when he found himself level or slightly below crest at Hawk.
Then we argued about what creates “Evening Magic”. I theorized that it was a sort of wave-over-ridge lift; a sort of bow wave. Jonathan retorted that he figured it was the result of latent heat released by all the trees in the valley. Then everyone had a back and forth, with Steve Beer explaining the difference between convection and radiation. We described stories of different experiences and how the air set up and how this either reinforced or negated our various theories.
We erupted in laughter over Benson’s landout when he landed on some poor fellow’s lawn, rang the doorbell and asked, “Would you be interested in purchasing a bible today?” We traded stories over nasty farmers and we all had a laugh over the junior team’s when field landout in Lithuania. Ten minutes of consoling and a bottle of Vodka solved that problem!
Steve reminded us about Jack Green’s landout and how he scared the daylights out of the poor farmer with his Martian-looking flights suit with batteries and wires sticking out all over the place.
Bobby Templin complained about traffic and transponders. “Why don’t the mother****ers just look out the goddamn window!” Schwartz discussed low notches and Jack Green’s ill-fated attempt.
Jonathan described Chip’s multiple encounters with trees. Schwartz told us about when he dinged 434 following a touch and go on Sunfish pond. Bill Thar explained the intricacies of different grades of oxygen.
Michael told us about flying in airlines nowadays. About ADS-b and how approach control can see everything that the pilots are doing. He told us about his love of Airbus (not) and how scary and glitchy their computers are. We discussed accidents, like the 767 that had its vertical stabilizer torn off and the Airbus that stalled over the Atlantic
We talked about age (and death). I told the story of my father’s exploits as a researcher in the old country. How he met a fellow who claimed he once was on his death-bed at 90, but didn’t die. Got up, and lived for another 40 years! When my dad met him (aged ~128), he was blind as a bat, but could still wield an ax and cut firewood
The folks discussed Flarm. We talked about new fields near Tremont. Bobby described flying into the sun at the end of the day and one day getting lost, four miles downwind of the ridge over unlandable terrain.
We discussed the demise of 434 on the day that the Blairstown pilots attempted ground-launching. Bobby told us about the Petersburg wave camps. How when he was caravaning with another club member, he watched the lead trailer spinning in circles down a hill on an icy highway. How he bent a vertical stabilizer by driving through a drive-through. How he destroyed a horizontal stabilizer following landing in a postage stamp field that was so sloped he rolled backwards! And after saying “Thanks God, I’m alive”, hobbled out with his leg in a cast to meet the folks nearby.
He told us about the joy of getting his third diamond in the 1-26 when Kevin Ford offered to fly 125, his long-time love.
We talked about exciting flights, like 500km thermal flights done on thermals by Steve Lenter and Benson. Then we argued about how to pronounce last names. Is it Lenter or Lentner? Seigfried or Sigh Freed? Folks complained with the increasing diversity of clubmembers now, the last names are getting harder and harder to pronounce. How the heck do you say “DuPlessis” anyway?
Mike told us about his crazy Polish former girlfriend.
Schwartz and I mused about how we flew into freezing rain on the SE side. Bill Thar talked about Gregg’s wonderful wave flights from Wurtsboro. Schwartz told us about nasty Randolph paint.
We looked at pictures of flying 20 years ago. I couldn’t recognize Jonathan. Leslie, Cookie, Bobby and Jimmy looked so much younger! We shared the photos, looking at the barebones hangar, the similar paint jobs of the Cow and Pilatus. There was a picture of Bobby’s glider when it actually looked beautiful!
And all of this is just a snippet of the whirlwind of laughter and musings that lasted over five hours. We thought about getting dinner, but the fun inhibited any desire to eat. We stayed through 9pm.
Reflecting on the day, I thought about what a wonderful thing we have going. How it is so unremarkable for us to fly for hours on end on the first day of December. How on this humdrum day that no one will remember, we perpetuated this sublime sport and kept the stories alive. How there were all the folks on the local ridge, what an accomplishment it was for our guys to go cross country and all making it home was exactly the sort of experience that has been part of club lore forever. How “Hawk Mountain” is a special and exciting place for us. And that with the oldtimers and new guys all in the same air and later in the same room, that at least for one more day, the show goes on.