When Jen and I strapped into the Grob, we were looking forward to a short enjoyable soaring flight, like the ones we had last autumn. The most memorable of those was where we flew with a bald eagle. Jen loves eagles; the eagle has been her favorite animal since she was four. As a soaring pilot, it naturally makes it my mission to find eagles whenever I take her flying.
Yesterday we had pleasant soaring conditions at Blairstown Airport. We took off a little after 12:30pm, when the soaring conditions peaked. The lift and streeting were wonderful, folks easily got up to 6000ft before the wind shifted around to the southwest and the cirrus moved in later in the afternoon. I climbed up from 1900-3400ft MSL and than ran a street for about six miles from Blairstown Airport to a little beyond the Tocks Island Golf Course to find a solid 10 knotter. Jen noted that the glee in my voice seemed to match the ecstatic tone of the variometer.
As we headed back, Jen spotted two bald eagles below us. Naturally we needed to swoop by them for a closer inspection.
Up until this point, I had been flying very smoothly, completely attentive to making the ride as pleasant as possible.
Seeing the eagles, I got a little… target fixated.
I banked firmly and pushed the nose over. Jen hadn’t experienced partial weightlessness in a glider before and quickly became as white as the bald eagle’s head. The clean Grob accelerated rapidly, the airspeed needle ticking through 60, 70, 80, up to 85 knots. The wind noise got louder and louder and the little speck of bird in the canopy getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger! We swept in several feet above the eagle, who did a hasty split-S and dove away. I proceeded with a climbing turn, converting the airspeed back into altitude.
I anticipated that this maneuver probably scared the bejeezus out of the bird, but I didn’t expect the level of adrenaline I put through my poor girlfriend.
After a couple moments to regain her breath, she clearly conveyed to me her preference to experience eagle watching using more gentle maneuvers.
I spotted the pair of eagles again, and this time I slowed the glider down and pulled out the boards. I slowly tucked Greta into formation with one of them, as close as he would let me go. Jen caught this one on an amazing video. It felt like you could reach your arm out of the canopy and touch his feathers.
After we landed, Jen said that I must be careful with all these eagle soaring flights she has been experiencing, for it may set expectations that every flight results in an eagle encounter. I told her that is true for in the summer time we don’t see them as often as in the spring and fall.
She also said that the poor eagle I dove on will probably be forever traumatized by the vision of an enormous, bone-white pterodactyl that almost turned it into a feathery lunch. His confidence as the master of the skies will be forever questioned by the presence of such monstrous predatory creatures in his midst.
Sunday seemed an unspectacular day to go soaring. Strong westerly winds, low boundary layer, maybe even overcast clouds. No ridge, no thermals. Evidently no one was excited to come out until it became labelled a “training day”, with instruction flights offered to complete Bronze Badges and check-flights.
Allen, Guido, and Tommy arrived at 10am, ready to get the gliders ready and go fly. Instead, the airport was draped with a heavy fog. The soup was so thick that from the Cow you couldn’t see 508, several glider tiedowns away! Nonetheless, Guido had the Cow perfectly prepared, ready to be brought out to the line to go fly.
The fog refused to lift for awhile, so I gave Allen and Guido some things to work on. Guido completed his Bronze Badge written test while Allen worked on his long awaited Pilatus B-4 check-out.
Closer to 11, Guido comes back smiling with his test complete and I ran out things to say to Allen with respect to the Pilatus. However, looking up we saw patches of blue. And with Allen sitting in the Pilatus and Guido standing nearby, I asked the guys what they thought about the soaring weather. While they scoffed at the thermals conditions and the wind angle for ridge soaring, I noted what about wave? With the low boundary layer and smooth, stable winds, there’s got to be wave around somewhere today.
Only moments later, we felt the sun starting to bake our shoulders and saw the Pawnee and 182 trotting over to the runway to take quick flights. Allen brought the Pilatus over to the runway, strapped in and ready to go fly while the wind was still manageable in the morning. Shortly after 11, he did a beautiful takeoff and tow, his first in this ship. Guido and I strapped in to give it a go in the Cow.
By now, the wind was rip roaring down the runway. Once over the treeline, Guido was working hard to keep the 2-33 under control. Perhaps a more apt name for the glider would have been Raging Bull rather than Mad Cow! I sat in the back, enjoying the show, noting that the air was considerably more turbulent that would be expected with stable, SW winds.
This is probably rotor!
We released at 2,900ft MSL in lift over the powerlines, halfway to the power grid by the Lower Reservoir. I promptly took control, turned into the wind and raised the nose as high as I could. We hovered at 40mph, climbing at 3-4 knots in the rotor. At about 3,500ft, we transitioned into smooth air.
We found wave!
Guido was ecstatic. I gave him the controls and coached him through the adjustments to make to stay in the lift. With no GPS, it was tricky to remain perfectly positioned in the lift. Instead, we used a known error method, slowly walking forward in the wave until it weakened, and then transitioning back. Similar deal with lateral position; slowly moving right until it weakened and then adjusting back left. We did this for almost an hour, climbing up to 4,500ft on a day that seemed the antithesis of “soarable”.
Meanwhile, Allen took a second tow in the Pilatus and also found the wave. He climbed up to 5,600ft, spending 1.2 hours in the wave until the conditions cycled out and the wave petered out.
While there were wave clouds later in the day and some rotor around, folks couldn’t connect with any more wave. My guess is that the short-lived wave Allen, Guido, and I found was created by our ridge. Despite the terrible wind angle, the air still dropped behind the mountain and bounced accordingly. With the fog in the morning, fully stable airmass, and strong wind conditions, we found as close to classic mountain wave conditions as could exist on the East Coast.
Later in the day, ACA members completed a total of 14 tows; a very successful December day indeed! I did five instructional flights, with Guido, Joe Fenske, Allen, and Oleg. There was a gorgeous sunset, highlighting some wave clouds hovering off in the distance.
Sometimes adventures in soaring take an unexpected turn. Considering that the last time I landed out from Blairstown was around two years ago, the concept of visiting a farm felt like a vague possibility; something that happens to other glider pilots, but not me. And driving out to the airport with Jen, my thoughts were more centered around flying with her and two other pilots in the club two-seaters on this gentle, autumn soaring day rather than heavy duty soaring exploits. A good day for many folks to come out, do some training, stay current and maybe soar on a couple afternoon thermals.
My morning started early, first flying with Anthony in the club Grob. We took a tow to the ridge, discussed situational awareness, ridge testing, and the arrival path back to the airport. Even this early in the morning there were some workable thermals near the airport and we extended our flight accordingly. Anthony did a great job, followed by another very nice landing! Afterward, Guido had the 2-33 all ready to go for my next flight and I took up a prospective member in the 2-33. And after this quick flight, Jen was up next for her introduction to the 2-33, having previously had three luxurious flights in the Grob Twin Astir.
She had considerably more trepidation getting into this old tin can wrapped in fabric nicknamed the Mad Cow. Or maybe it was that a couple weeks ago I was the one who pointed out a rusted rib on the horizontal stabilizer and grounded the glider. In any case, when the rope hooked on and we went on our way to the turbulent tow, she was content to simply hang on and watch. After we released, the wind noise died down and the glider settled into the gentle breeze. Jen took a couple deep breaths and took the controls, getting a feel for the attitude and turning characteristics of the Cow. As we headed over the town, she found a strong thermal and I prompted her to turn, turn, turn! Jen wrapped the glider into a nice, stable turn, climbing up and up at a steady 2-4 knots. Topping out at 4,500ft, she headed to another cloud and found another nice climb, and with the same great piloting climbed 600ft higher. Figuring that would do after 40 minutes of great soaring, we headed back to the airport and landed.
Seeing that the soaring conditions were solid, I decided to take the Duckhawk on an afternoon romp. However, by the time I released over the ridge, it was clear that the conditions were softening up. Nonetheless, I connected with a reasonable blue thermal by the campground and climbed up to 4000ft. Looking ahead, there were clouds in Pennsylvania and I headed over to find turbulent, but reasonably organized lift. These clouds were nicely lined up in a street over to the Pocono plateau, my perennial playground. Finding consistent lift between 4-5000ft, I was doing better going straight and dolphining than trying to circle in this narrow, tricky lift.
Going 40 miles upwind worked great and it was not even that much after 2pm! I always enjoy trips into the wind as they are great practice and make it easy to get back. All you need to do is find a weak thermal, work your way up as you drift downwind and you’re quickly back in glide of your starting location. However, to use a Fernando Silva expression, I got a little “frisky” and was tempted to keep going a little farther before turning around. There was a nice street heading off the Berwick nuclear powerplant, my favorite thermal, and I was tempted to cut across and pick it up.
It turned out I chose to go a thermal too far.
Making the transition over, I found the expected strong sink. However, once under the clouds, I did not find the expected lift! And at this stage, I was surprised to find myself seriously contemplating that this might not work after all. I had an airport in glide downwind of me, but this would near certainly result in a landout. Looking ahead, I could escape into the valley toward a beautiful hay field. Moreover, there were clouds nicely lined up along the way, suggesting that this might work to get me out of trouble.
I’ve dug myself out of worse.
And so I headed over toward the hay field, trying one wisp, and another, and another. Nada. The wind lined up straight up the valley. Down to 1000ft abeam of the field and I felt a little bit of lift. Working this thermal only served to slow down my descent. I stared intently at the field, trying to judge its slope; better not screw that up with such a slippery glider!
Down to 600ft and the thermal picked up. But by this time, I was positioned downwind of the field, and I was drifting faster in the 12 knot wind than I was climbing. Time to knock it off.
Gear lever extended, button depressed, and the electric gear whirring down. Flaps switched into manual, extended to 20 degrees. Airbrakes all the way open; time to get on glide slope. Don’t mess this up, the Duckhawk will easily overshoot the field if you turn too soon. Extending the glide on base leg, followed by a steep turn, yawstring perfectly straight. Now set up with half spoiler on short final. Airspeed right on 50 knots, aimed square at the high treeline short of the field. Tuck it in as close as you can, as close as you can, full airbrakes! Nose over the trees and a hard flare over the field. In ground effect now, time to dump the flaps! Holding if off, holding it off, touch down! Hard on the wheelbrake, stopping as fast as I can without nosing over.
After the glider stopped, the variometer whirred a flat tone. I shut it off, and everything was silent. This is always the most magical moment, for after some of the most exciting flying you can do in a sailplane, you find yourself in a new place and time abruptly stops. I got out of the glider and took stock of my new surroundings. Looking ahead there was a deserted farmhouse and the cut hay gently bent over in the mild breeze.
I was very pleased with my field and my landing. For the past several months I’ve prepared myself for the possibility of landing in a field requiring clearing an obstacle. The Duckhawk is very unforgiving of extra energy on approach thanks to its only adequate airbrakes, which is a big issue when clearing a treeline. I consulted Bill Thar on the technique, practiced it in the simulator, and finally did such a landing at Blairstown airport. I calculated that I should be able to land the glider in a 1300ft long field, figuring I could get it stopped in 1000ft without resorting to ground looping or nosing over. I used up 950ft of the field, with about 300ft of that being ground roll. It was good to see that my preparation worked out flawlessly.
I called back to Blairstown for a retrieve crew. Since Jen had not driven my truck before, let alone with a trailer, I requested that someone else join her on the adventure. Bill Thar managed to convince Steve Beer to go, although Jonathan cajoled Jen to do the driving. She overcame her second bout of trepidation and hit the road behind the wheel of the truck!
In the meantime, I prepped the glider for disassembly and went for a hike to try to find the landowners. I must have been a sight to behold, dressed in my winter coveralls, wires hanging out all over the place, with my 10 liter Camelbak swinging over my shoulder. As I walked up the lane, I noticed that each dense tree had a “No Trespassing” sign stapled to it. And then I found a chain link fence with locks blocking the road.
Upon closer inspection, I found that the chain was mounted to the tree with open nails. With little effort I managed to take it down, eliminating this possible obstacle for my ground crew. I promptly put it back up, in case anyone went up the road before me. However, I got the message; I was going to endeavor to find the landowners before heading back up this road.
Another half mile later and I reach an intersection to find some houses and civilization. Seeing a gal on a tractor working her lawn, I waved my hand to flag her down. Despite my garb making me look something between an astronaut and a bum, I succeeded in encouraging her to approach me. I explained my predicament as a downed glider pilot and asked for her assistance to find the landowners of the field. Her husband quickly showed up and also took great interest to this unusual situation. They invited me into their house for a cup of coffee, taking great pleasure in sharing stories of this sleepy town, inquiring about my soaring exploits, and my work as a PhD student studying neuroscience. The time waiting for my crew passed by quickly.
Her husband made some calls, but had no luck finding the landowner. When Steve and Jen arrived, I invited my new friends to come and see the glider come apart. We went up the driveway, took down the chain link fence and promptly arrived at the Duckhawk. This retrieve was going so well, there was even enough sun on this short November day to take the glider apart with some daylight to spare!
At this point, I was a little surprised to note that my friends did not come to the glider. As it turned out, the caretaker of the land was taking his dog out for a walk and saw the wayward vehicles turning into his field. He intercepted his neighbors, who apparently were doing their darnedest to express the good and friendly character of us glider pilots and our friends. Nonetheless, with the glider packed up, sun setting to the west, and us heading toward the exit of the field, we were met with the irate caretaker and sensed there was going to be some trouble after all.
Further, as I walked out to meet him and his wife, I saw a state trooper driving up the driveway. Goodness gracious, here we go.
The field’s caretaker seemed most perturbed by the fact that his chain link fence proved not to be a barrier at all. I expressed my deep condolences for all the fuss, my yeomen’s effort at trying to find him or the landowners and how the field, glider, and my personal body were perfectly fine. A little while later he seemed to calm down, happier that “everyone and everything is safe”, leaving me to deal with the state trooper, firefighters, and ambulance who all showed up at the scene of the “plane crash”.
I refer to such occurrences as the circus showing up. Everyone comes to gawk at the glider, happy to have experienced the most exciting thing to happen at this town in the last decade. The state trooper had to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, insisting that he had to get a hold of the FAA. I told him go for it, my pleasure! And we sat around for ages, waiting for him to be satisfied.
An hour and a half later, I finally had enough and started calling up my friends, instructors, and DPE to see if anyone can get a hold of a person at the Allentown FSDO so the state trooper would finally let us be free. Right as Randy Rickert was dialing up his FAA contacts, the trooper informed me that I would receive a call from the FAA soon and let us be on our way. Steve, Jen, and I bolted out of the field.
After eating dinner at a local diner, we headed back to Blairstown, arriving a little after 8pm. Steve was in great spirits, thanking me for the opportunity to get to go on a retrieve! We dropped off the trailer, took a moment to look up at the beautiful stars. And then Jen and I headed back to Philadelphia.
There were many surprises on my Saturday adventure. But perhaps the most surprising thing was that Jen did not express an immediate urge to dump me after subjecting her to a) Getting up early in the morning, b) Flying an aircraft that seems destined to fall apart, c) On the drop of a hat, driving a scary vehicle with a 25 ft long trailer, and d) Arriving back home at an ungodly hour.
Instead, she said how exciting it was to a) Spend a day at a beautiful place, b) Get to fly a freakin’ glider, c) Challenge herself to do new things, and d) Have the excitement of going on an adventure, seeing a glider retrieve and having the amusement of watching me deftly deal with law enforcement. And how she’d love to do it again next time!
She’s a keeper!
Thanks a million Steve Beer, Jen, Jonathan, and Bill Thar for helping me out on this retrieve. Thanks Rick, Randy, and Erik for assisting me with the authorities. Thanks Tommy and Andrzej for towing! You guys are the best!
On this frigid Halloween, many youngsters were getting their costumes ready for a Saturday extravaganza. Houses were decorated with scary dragons, ghosts, and rotting pumpkins carved into contorted visages. In this odd American tradition, it becomes socially acceptable for children to take candy from strange people in the dark. And if you were to chart average blood sugar levels among most kids, they would look like a stock that suddenly rises, crashes, and results in wailing tantrums on the floor.
I never understood this tradition. Perhaps it never rubbed off on me because I was the one tasked with giving out the candy rather than the one dressing up and soliciting it. Or perhaps it was that time I was coerced to wear a crocodile onesie to take part in a Peter Pan themed Halloween party. No good things ever occurred to me on October 31st.
So on this Halloween, I was more than happy to be on the road to Blairstown Airport. My thoughts were not on the prospect of satisfying sugar cravings, but looking up at the sky and daydreaming about flying. Besides, I had enough to be scared about this Halloween. Skyvector indicated a complex set of restricted airspaces (TFRs) between Trenton, NJ and Reading, PA due to Trump furiously campaigning in the final days before the election. And there would be no worse Halloween trick than for me to be on the receiving end of a United States F-16 screaming across my nose, with nasty words to say to me on 121.5.
No, it would be much better if it were for me to play the tricks, leaving some poor and confused radar operator wondering as to how a glider squawking 1202 was staying airborne for hours, patrolling the outskirts of the restricted airspace. With the intention to fly as far as possible given the weather and airspace constraints, I planned to fly on the north edge of the Reading TFR and then maybe into the valley south once the Trenton TFR expired at 2:30pm local time. To cover my bases, I called WX-BRIEF to receive the most up to date information. I could sense the fellow raising his eyebrow upon hearing my plan to fly a glider to Beltzville Airport.
My day started early as Guido and Anthony Erlinger asked to receive some morning instruction in the club Grob, nicknamed Greta. Having completed my Flight Instructor rating the previous week, I was happy to oblige. Guido arrived early and got the battery and golf cart ready while I took a trip to the hangar to bring out the Duckhawk trailer.
Upon arriving on the airfield, I was surprised to see all of the grass covered in a white, crusty frost. Guido is a true Italian and evidently not well adapted to the cold. When we started taking the covers off of Greta, he yelped in pain as the frost bit into his bare hands! Unfortunately, our efforts to start early this morning were for naught. With the air so moist, a layer of frost started covering the whole glider. We promptly moved Greta into the sun for deicing while Tommy the towpilot went to the airport cafe to get himself a warm cup of coffee.
At 10am, we were just about ready to start towing and we needed a wingrunner. Anthony arrived as though right on cue and with him on the scene, the show began. With the magnetos clicked on, starter whirring, and the propeller making several jagged jumps, the engine turned over and the Cessna 182 towplane was ready to fly. With the rope hooked up, wings leveled, the slack in the rope taken out, Guido keyed the mic and in a delightful and melodic Italian accent said, “ACA tow-ah-plane, glider is-ah ready to-ah take-ah-off-ah!”
Guido did a wonderful job. We reviewed all of the peculiarities of the club Grob, especially its insatiable hunger for rudder. He flew great, did a bunch of turns, some stalls, and most importantly, had a great landing at the end. Anthony was next and had the good fortune of launching as the soaring day began. We practiced flying the ship, along with some thermalling techniques. After Anthony came back, Guido took the third and final instructional flight of the day, with a quick tow to 1500ft followed by a prompt approach and landing. For this one, I sat in the back and whistled, pretending to be a passenger and letting Guido do all the work. Predictably he did well and ended the short flight with another nice landing. Just before noon, I was released from my instructional duties and was eager to go fly the Duckhawk.
Around this time, Ron Schwartz showed up to say hello. Seeing that he was willing to stick around for extended socializing, I asked whether he would be willing to help me assemble my ship, to which he eagerly agreed. This was probably a mistake on his part as the process was a bit more tortuous than usual. It’s like the Duckhawk wanted to make a point that I don’t fly her often enough by making it that much harder to put her wings on. And then making a fool of me when something wasn’t quite right and I was forced to take one wing off to fix it. With enough consoling and finagling, the bird was assembled and my preflight checklist was complete.
Looking up at the sky, I was surprised to see that the cumulus clouds did not wither away as expected. Instead, the cotton balls were nicely arrayed as far as the eye could see. This was going to be a better day than anticipated!
Launching at 1pm, I released in solid, nicely organized lift. The ship reminded me that it’s been over a month and a half since my last flight, with a couple instances when the wing wanted to drop after pulling a bit too hard in the lift. Backing off a skosh and working up to a little over 4000ft, I felt great and back in business. With honest and reliable lift all around me, it was time to do some exploring.
As I turned southwest bound, I was delighted to see that the clouds were nicely aligned in streets heading right up the valley. Normally the lift is much better over the higher and drier mountains, but today I accepted the usually risky proposition of flying in the lee of the ridge. With the lift so nicely organized and closely spaced, the Duckhawk made easy work of the energy along the way.
It felt like I was flying a 1-26 again. The 1-26 demands your attention as the last five percent of performance are the difference between flying well and ending in a field. With the Duckhawk, you don’t have the same prospect of landing out, but when you work that much harder you feel how much better you are doing. And in this case, the game was staying connected with the thin lift band under the clouds.
What worked well was to drop the nose and consistently fly at 60 knots. And when I’d find a nice bit of lift, to yank hard and dynamic soar the gusts. In the less lifty sections, to cruise at around 70 knots, with 80 knots reserved for sinking air.
The best moments were when the lift was off to one side and I could bank, yank, and pull hard. It felt like I was dropping my talons, gripping the air, and then ripping it out of the sky. The variometer would wail and the altimeter would wind up and up and up. This kind of dynamic soaring probably worked best because in a turn it was possible to maintain 1.5-2 Gs for a longer time, generating that much more momentary thrust.
In what seemed like no time at all, I arrived at Beltzville Airport. My eyes gazed around for other gliders and to my joy, I saw a 2-33 just below and heading away from me. Being too good of an opportunity to pass up, I dropped the nose, sped up to a leisurely 140 knots and said hello the white and red whale of the skies. After turning back, I saw a vintage yellow Ka-4 release in a thermal and gave him a similar greeting. With that, I climbed back up to cloudbase and started my journey back to Blairstown.
The sky just seemed like it was getting better and better, with the clouds aligned in a perfect row. The challenge now was to soar the 32 miles back home without turning at all. My eyes focused on the dark spots in the clouds and I keyed up my body to feel every bit of the air. The flaps clicked and clacked away as I’d make the glider jink, zig, and zag, flowing up and down the swells and rapids in the sky. Only minutes later, I arrived back at Blairstown Airport having hardly lost any altitude at all. And upon seeing Anthony flying in the club 1-26, I used this extra energy to give him a friendly Duckhawk greeting.
Being just after 2:30pm, this was a good moment to take stock of the sky and assess where to go next. Looking to the northeast, the clouds were withering away. Instead, I was eager to follow the nicer clouds nearby on another adventure to the south. Remembering that the Trenton TFR was to expire around that time, it felt that everything was lining up perfectly to head this way. But to be absolutely sure, I decided to contact Allentown Approach on 124.45 and check. And to my horror, Trump was evidently running late and the TFR was still active! Thoroughly annoyed, I doubled back from Hackettstown to wait a little while.
Half an hour later and somewhat listless, I called up Allentown again and requested an update to the airspace situation. And the controller responded, “The TFR has now been terminated.”
I responded, “Did you say that the TFR has not been terminated or has now been terminated?”
With a satisfactory response that the TFR was now no longer a factor, I got excited again, climbed up to cloudbase, and set my sights on Vansant Airport around 30 miles away.
At this point, the thermals were starting to get farther apart, resulting in a more traditional climb and glide style of soaring. Upon entering the thermals, I practiced making better entry turns, finding success entering the lift at 60 knots and making a very steep turn. And after starting the turn, to initiate a stepwise slowdown to 55, 50, and 45 knots, using my speed to adjust my position in the thermal. The tricky bit was making a solid pull to initiate this process, but not pulling so sharply that it would cause the air flow to separate on the wing and make a lot of drag. You need to be really on top of this glider for it to fly most efficiently.
As I crossed the Delaware River, I had Vansant Airport in view, but unfortunately no friends in the sky to fly with. The air was also devoid of any movement and the altimeter unwound enough to cause a bit of concern. Looking ahead, I could see Philadelphia’s skyscrapers beckoning in the distance and sunnier skies above. Several miles beyond Vansant, I dug out from a little above 2000ft above the ground and figured it was high time to make the journey back home.
Being a little after 4pm on a late autumn day, I resolved to be patient and get nice and high before heading back. To my mild frustration, the thermals were poorly organized and kept me struggling along a little while until a solid three knotter got me comfortably up to cloudbase.
The glide computer indicated I only needed another 2000ft to gain to get home, a little over 30 miles away. It was hard for me to believe that the glider could actually make that work. My mental calculations suggested that this was around 7-8 miles per thousand feet and it just felt that this was too good to be true. So after I tanked up with a little extra altitude in the final thermal, the glider surprised me yet again when it sailed on home, perfectly making the glide.
The best part of the day is when the sun starts to set over your shoulder and the valley lights up in a brilliant glow. Looking over toward Bethlehem and Allentown, the landscape looked like a canvas brushed on with warm oranges, reds, and yellows, occasional glittering blue lakes, punctuated by the gentle steam of distant powerplants, and a misty mountain snaking as far as the eye can see. Autumn is a joyous time to fly in the northeast.
With the additional altitude at my disposal, I flew over to my ridge to see if the wind had picked up enough for the ridge lift to work. Upon dropping down to 1700ft MSL, I found that the wind was at 195 degrees and 12 knots. Surprisingly the lift was fairly solid! This enthused me enough to make two shorts laps up and down the local ridge, getting a close up view of the leaves on the trees and the hikers at Mt. Minsi. As much as I enjoyed flying the ridge again, I was also nearly continuously shivering having under-dressed for the cold, having anticipated lower, warmer, and blue conditions. With the temperatures at ridge top not being high enough to warm me up, I called it in after a delightful three and a half hours in the air.
After landing and spending a good thirty minutes thawing my feet and warming up my body, I was ready to take the aircraft apart. Since there were no club members around, I wandered over to the flight school to see if I could find a hapless victim to help me disassemble. First, I set my sights on the younger Kevin who was tying down his 1-26, but then my gaze later to the young kid nearby. He introduced himself as Andreas, turned out to be thirteen years old, and about 18 lessons into his flight training. Bingo!
I brought him over to the Duckhawk and invited him to sit in the cockpit. Comfortably seated, he started asking all sorts of questions about all the instruments, knobs, and dials. Do you really need all this stuff to fly? I chuckled and replied absolutely not! He asked me about the glider’s performance and handling characteristics, how the gear, and flaps work and why everything is the way it is. Twenty minutes later, it became apparent that I was the hapless victim in this bargain! Only when his dad wandered over to let his son know it was time to go home, he hopped out and eagerly gave me a hand taking the wings off.
On the way back to the parking lot, I briefly opened up the club LS-4 trailer and told him that if he kept working hard that someday he would be flying that beautiful ship. And you could see the gears turning in his head as I closed the trailer lid and he raced on home.
Turns out that this Halloween was a treat after all!
Thanks a million Schwartz and Tommy for helping me fly today, you guys are the best!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was soarable in Pennsylvania, it was miserable in New Jersey, there were cloudstreets, there were 40 mile blue holes, an airmass with strong and high thermals, and another that produced a thunderstorm that nearly wiped out the airport; in short, a memorable day!
I arrived at the airport with no expectations. It was August; hot and humid with a southwesterly wind pumping in air expended from the swelled up swamps of South Carolina. My sweat accumulated after assembling the glider, completely soaking my clothes, and refused to evaporate. The few clouds triggering over the ridge were hardly much above ridge top. Having not flown the DuckHawk in a little over a month, I was content to simply get airborne and do a couple takeoffs and landings. And if I managed a short soaring flight, heck that would be an accomplishment.
Glancing at the forecast, the Poconos looked promising. Perhaps it would be good enough to poke around in that wonderful high ground? I set a short task up to Lake Wallenpaupack to do a little bit of sightseeing.
Taking off a little after noon, there were still low, scrawny clouds over the ridge. The first climb off tow was a struggle; 10 minutes in a half knot thermal to claw my way up to cloudbase at 3200ft. A short thermal street lined up into the wind, along the ridge. The DuckHawk was much more content flying straight than circling in these weak bubbles.
The line promptly ended at the hang glider launch, hardly ten miles away from the airport. A slow climb took me up to 3800ft and I looked over at the high ground to the northwest. The clouds were slightly higher over East Stroudsburg and the lift was fairly reliable. And heck, with a 50-1 glider, the odds are good that I’ll find something.
Sure enough, there were a couple bubbles along the way to keep inching upwards. Off my right, there was a rain shower; the sucker looked like an enormous billowing cauliflower, with a dark ominous bottom, slowly moving toward the airport. I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Looking dead ahead toward the Poconos plateau though, the sky totally transformed. The clouds formed little cottonball puffs at 6500ft and you could see miles and miles away. Once over the edge of the plateau, I found solid lift and climbed right alongside the clouds!
My flight computer read out that the wind was 300 degree or so; quite different than the 220-250 degree wind in the valley. I discovered that this was a new airmass, bordered by a trough parked right at the very edge of the Poconos. Coupled with the heating of the high ground earlier in the day, it created a steep boundary where the clouds rose thousands of feet. This was going to be cool to explore!
Along the edge of the line, the lift was not all that continuous, although it worked nicely where the clouds hung down like a curtain. And there it was really fun climbing up on the edge of the wispies!
Abeam of Beltzville, the line made a hard left and seemed to lose definition. I suppose it would be fun to poke deeper into PA. Who knows, maybe I could even make it to the Susquehanna River?
Picking up the pace, I found reliable 2-3 knot thermals under honest clouds. Going toward Hazleton, the cloud base dropped off, but no worries; my nose was aimed squared at the Berwick Nuclear Powerplant.
My name for the thermal that comes off the plant is Ol’ Faithful. The steam plumes are often visible from Blairstown, beckoning the wayward glider pilot like a siren to come over and harness its energy. Positioned in the middle of a valley, right by a river, it’s often the only lift within a considerable distance. The resulting thermal is nearly always marked by a cumulus cloud hanging a little lower than the rest; laden with the moisture coming from the stacks, the thermal is always in a hurry to condense into a cloud. And sure enough, there was a solid 3-4 knotter that picked up to a turbulent 5-6 knots near the top. The thermal was so gusty that at one point it nearly spun me out! After a fun rodeo ride, I was back in business at cloudbase.
Heading across Scranton, the Alleghany plateau invited me with beautiful clouds ahead. While I had flown up before, I’ve never directly flown across these imposing mountains. The wind is often times a bit too strong and the thermals are disorganized for many miles. Going into unlandable terrain, higher terrain, and a headwind is a dubious proposition. Most of the time the edge of this plateau acts like a brick wall.
This time, I cleaved into the higher ground without any difficulty, climbing right up to 7000ft. Out yonder, it looked even better!
But as I drove along, I ended down at 4500ft and felt low. There was an airport in comfortable gliding distance ahead, but that piece of property was situated at a daunting 2000ft MSL. Best to tread carefully.
After slowly climbing up and another tricky glide, I finally connected with a solid 2.5 knotter. A little stumbling around here and recentering there wound the averager up to eight knots. Woohoo!
I kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing. At 6000ft, the cloud above me didn’t feel any closer. Neither at 7000ft! Man, what’s going on here? At 8000ft, the thermal was still going and going, just like the energizer bunny.
That sucker topped out at 9,500ft! No wonder the sink was strong before; there were monster thermals around!
My watch inched toward 3:20pm. A pang of doubt crossed my mind; I better start thinking about heading home.
Around that time, the airport was experiencing an epic deluge. The shower I skirted earlier in the day turned into a massive, slow moving thunderstorm. The radar map showed all sorts of pretty colors and orange/red polygons. And then as you gaze at the legend, your eyes widen as you see a tornado warning in effect.
As the billowing cloud crept toward the airport, all the gliders airborne bolted toward the field. The pilots quickly landed, tied down and ran for cover. Those unlucky enough to be still outside when the rain swept in were caught in a torrential downpour. The wind was so strong that the rain came in sideways. This is the kind of the day when rusty stakes, frayed ropes, and creative knots are put to the test.
Meanwhile, I was oblivious to the mayhem back home. My thoughts drifted toward the ease and relaxation of being in the cool, dry air at 9500ft. My cloud was part of a cloudstreet extending ahead of me and it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up. I nosed over and flew up to the Buttonwood Ridge, 20 miles northwest of Williamsport, a good 108 miles from home. Figuring this would do for the day, I turned for home. It was 3:40pm.
Picking up the pace to 90 knots, it now was time to put the pedal to the metal. Better to run back home while the conditions were still working well! Sure enough, the lift remained totally solid over the plateau. Consistent 3-5 knot thermals to 9,000ft, good air in between and a tailwind for good measure too. This was glider pilot heaven!
Abeam of Scranton, 70 miles from home, the clouds ahead lost some of their definition. Off my left, the cloudbase dropped off precipitously. I tanked up as high as I could; better to be thermalling up here, than down there! This climb took me to within 1000ft of a MC 3 final glide. This would comfortably get me across the whole Pocono plateau and might even do for squeaking it home in a pinch.
Over the next 45 miles, the air flattened out. The day was softening up; boy was I glad to have tanked up! I slowed up and floated in the good air, but there were no solid thermals for a long way.
Looking ahead, I could see Mount Pocono Airport beckoning in the distance, with many clouds still formed along a parallel line to the plateau. Sure enough, the trough line was still working! Beyond these clouds, the air was a hazy blue, devoid of all clouds. It looked like the streets at the edge of the Poconos were pushed into this invisible barrier, with the resultant cloud spewing in all directions; upwards, downwards, and sideways. The tendrils hanging down indicated solid lift was working ahead. I relaxed, knowing that I had it made.
Sure enough, approaching the line there was a good thermal and I easily climbed up for final glide with plenty of height to spare. But these peculiar clouds alongside me were just too tempting to simply bypass. Instead, I turned toward Lake Wallenpaupack and played with the line.
It was so much fun! When the glider sank a bit lower, I’d park my wing in the tendrils and thermalled right up the edge of the cloud. In between the streets, there was some mildly good air serving to extend the glides. This worked very nicely for a lap up and down the line, which was slowly inching its way northwestward. With my watch showing a little past 6pm, it was time to call it a day. After rounding the last cloud, the flight computer showing a MC-3 glide, I turned toward Blairstown Airport, heading into the blue, dead void.
Slowing down to best-glide speed, the air was dead smooth. I let go of the stick, turned the variometer down, and just watched the mass of trees under me, gliding toward the ridge off of my nose, the glider contentedly humming along. The upper reservoir was way off in the distance, slowly inching downwards in my canopy.
I looked down at the twists and turns of the terrain below, the setting sun off my right shoulder, and the clouds dissipating behind me. It was just so peaceful, so much so that it felt odd that the flight should ever end. It seemed like the sailplane will silently sail on forever.
Coming over the airport, the wind sock was dead limp. There was some mist forming off the runway and I lined up to land on 7. Since the original objective of the flight was to perfect my landings in this glider, it felt appropriate to oblige. I lined up over the trees, pushed over and landed short of the mid-field taxiway; a challenge completed!
Getting out of the glider, I was surprised to find the grass to be wet and squishy. Everything was soaked and the airport was totally deserted.
When young Kevin emerged out of the shack, it seemed like he was the sole survivor of an apocalypse. He greeted me with the harrowing tales of the afternoon and later helped me disassemble the glider. Later, a couple stragglers banded together to spend the rest of the evening trading tall tales of exploits in days and years past.
All in the adventure that we call a day at the airport!
What a wonderful day! A day that started with no expectations, yet ended in a 270 mile flight! Blairstown offers such dynamic and wonderful soaring; no matter how long you fly here, there will always be new challenges. Thanks Tommy for towing and Bill Thar for crewing in the morning!
It’s wonderful when holidays align with ridge conditions. Ron Schwartz, Steve Beer, Claudio Abreu, Khanh Nguyen, and I, ACA’s hardiest ridge rats, came out on a frigid Monday to soar. The high for the day was around 25 degrees Fahrenheit, with a temperature aloft of around 17 degrees or so. We looked like abominable snowmen, with layers upon layers of wool, cotton, and polyester. On my account, I had on three layers of thermal shirts and pants, fleece, heavy fleece and my winter flight suit. Electric socks, with the cord snaking to a battery in my breast pocket so I could control the temperature. A ski mask covered my whole head, plus a wool hat and gloves.
Not a single square inch of my body was exposed. NASA probably has less difficulty fitting their astronauts to launch into space. But it worked; I was reasonably cozy the entire day!
I arrived early in the morning to help Steve assemble ACA, the club’s LS4. It was to be his second flight in the glider and he was eager to take it up on the ridge to get a taste of high performance soaring. I scrutinized the wind sock after taking the trailer out of the hangar; the wind slightly favored launching on 7. Steve and I bantered back and forth on the merits of either runway and Steve noted that the sock went limp. Expecting to depart from 25, we brought the trailer to the very end of the runway.
Halfway into assembling the glider, the wind sock turned around and we now felt a stiff tailwind. Tommy the tow pilot arrived and we agreed that it would be much safer to launch into the wind on the other end. Poor Steve, he’d have to haul the glider across the whole runway!
Khanh was the other unfortunate fellow for the day. We planned to do a short ridge flight in the club 2-33 (affectionately nicknamed the Mad Cow), but the ship was hopelessly frozen. There was no prospect of removing the thick layer of ice on the wings, so we had to postpone our effort for another time. Khanh was a great sport and took the unwelcome news in stride, helping us stage and launch. We really appreciated his help!
I hustled to the hangars again to bring out the Duckhawk. Since becoming airworthy, it’s been an ongoing process of fiddling and tweaking to get the ship tiptop for the upcoming spring. After assembling it and completing a thorough preflight, I helped Claudio put together his ASW24.
Rather than launching off the snow, we took advantage of the quiet airport to launch on the blacktop. We gridded on the taxiway and positioned the rope at the edge of the runway. Tommy and I worked out the sequence of operations; the glider pilots would push the glider over to the pavement, hook up and go. When the towplane would return, he would drop the rope to avoid dragging it on the asphalt. At the subsequent launch, the ground crew would hook up both the glider and towplane and promptly send them on their way.
Schwartz launched first. Tommy made an airshow quality performance when he came back to land. You could see him fighting the crosswind and the turbulence on short final. Dropping the rope was like an accuracy contest. He pulled the release as he approached the threshold.
The rope fell square between the 20ft gap in the middle lights, with the glider end of the rope perfectly positioned, right at the threshold. Damn Tommy, that was cool!
Steve was up next in the club LS4. I gave him a short takeoff briefing and then we hauled him out onto the runway. He bravely fought the crosswind and stayed in position with the towplane, eagerly departing toward the ridge.
I was up next in the Duckhawk. Launching on the pavement was fantastic. The hardtop made for a fast acceleration and the towplane climbed like a banshee thanks to the -2000ft density altitude. Tommy was on his game. The Cessna 182 at his controls was totally steady; it looked like the gusts and turbulence didn’t affect it at all. He made an absolutely perfect turn toward the ridge. I couldn’t have done it better if I simply willed the towplane around as it flew. He was just great!
Upon release, I was greeted with a call from Steve. I *love* this glider! It’s amazing! I hope that 508 isn’t listening! I replied not to worry, that 508 (one of the club’s 1-26s) didn’t have its battery on! It certainly is a magical experience taking up a high-performance ship on a ridge for the first time.
The lift band was totally solid. The cold, dense air worked especially well; the hang-glider pilots call it “fat” air. I charged down the ridge, heading southwest-bound at the speed of heat.
The run down to Hawk Mountain went quickly and I contemplated going farther. However, the thermals weren’t working well and the wind sharply slackened off from 20 knots down to 15. It looked like Hawk was as far as I’d get today. Back to doing laps, I suppose and I turned around, 100km from my starting point.
I spotted a bald eagle and swung the glider around to fly with him. This guy was moving along at a pretty decent clip, at least 40 mph! It was difficult to stay with him, even with the spoilers fully extended and the flaps down to 20 degrees. To remain in position, I resorted to S-turning, setting myself up for a “bomber run” and then passing near him.
This guy wasn’t as thrilled about my presence as the eagle I flew with a month ago. Steve later noted, he was probably confused whether I was a duck or a hawk!
Nonetheless, he indulged and played with me for a little while.
It was really fun watching the changing landscape. When you do laps, the light directs your attention on various features. With different shadows, you will see distinct rock outcroppings, fields, houses that you haven’t noticed before. The valley was beautiful, with a hard white crust on top of the snow covered fields that glistened at low sun angles. Unlike other winter days, the snow was so thin that it looked more like frosting on top of a cake. The snow didn’t completely overwhelm the region, which often makes the land look sad and monochrome.
The visibility was unbelievable, genuinely unlimited. At a couple hundred feet above ridge top, you could just make out the tops of the New York City skyscrapers poking above the hills. It was easy to spot the airliners from the Flarm. They looked like big insects that you could just reach out and pick up as they passed over the canopy.
Bobby Templin likes to say that the second lap is the least appealing. This is when you notice you’re getting a little tired, cold and some parts of your body start to hurt. The first lap is always exciting since you’re trying to make miles. The last lap is fantastic because the valley gets lit up in a gorgeous glow. The second lap can feel like a drag.
I call it the second lap blues. Coming back from Hawk Mountain, my legs couldn’t find a comfortable position and I was getting hungry. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was 2:40pm. It struck me that Runway Cafe closes at 3:30pm and that I could get a great cup of coffee and a prime rib sandwich if I hustle back home.
The prospect of rich, dark, black coffee overwhelmed my senses and I pushed the nose over.
The trees were flashing off my right wing. The ship settled in at 110 knots, 100 ft above the ridge. The air was choppy, but established a steady rhythm. There was a cadence to the gusts, like the reassurance of riding waves up and down on a sea. The lift band just felt *so solid*, as though it was reaching out and gripping the glider.
Approaching the Delaware Water Gap, the sun was coming around to the west and lit up the mountain in a gorgeous glow. And there was Schwartz, driving along in his 1-26! That old dog lined up for the foreboding upwind jump only several hundred feet above ridge top. He knows the ridge like an old school London cabby driver knows his city’s streets. He feels the air as a bird, gently swaying to and fro and following the air’s natural ripples, eddies and snaking currents. It was beautiful watching him float across, hardly losing any altitude at all.
Now on the local ridge, I got a second wind and regained the motivation to do another lap. And as far as my hunger, I ate a rock solid Cliff Bar. It was so frozen that it felt like I could break a tooth on it! Hot coffee was merely six minutes away, but the temptation was averted. Time to head southwest-bound once more.
We sometimes call this the “victory lap”. At the end of a long flight, it’s amazing to watch the ridge light up in the oranges and reds of the setting sun. The trees let go of their latent heat and the lift band becomes smooth. There is a cinematic quality as you soar effortlessly in the beautiful glow.
On the way back, I stumbled across another eagle. This one was not like the others; he was a bit bigger and golden colored. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and swung the ship around to meet him.
To stay with him, I slowed down and started S-turning. As I would come close to him, he would turn toward me and slide in behind me. We were “scissoring”, a well-known air combat maneuver. We did this for a half dozen cycles for almost ten minutes, at times less than a wingspan away!
Later, he turned into a nice thermal. I joined him and got to my highest point of the day, less than an hour before sunset!
There’s nothing like flying with these amazing birds. When you soar with them, you forget about the glider, about the here and now. As they look square into your eyes, they communicate something that words cannot convey.
Thanks a million Tommy and Khanh for towing and running the operations! You guys are the best!
After six months of body-filling, sanding, sanding, sanding, gear door fixing, parts ordering, FAA registering, lubricating, cleaning, and inspecting, the Duckhawk was ready to fly. Bill Thar donated his magnificent flying machine to me. I was awestruck, even dumbfounded when he offered me the ship. I even thought he briefly went crazy and made sure to point out that he could take a week or two to rethink the whole affair. Nope, he had thought it all through; I would take care of the bird and use it to promote research in soaring and junior flying. The aircraft is the perfect vehicle to explore weather, dynamic soaring, optimizing the use of autoflaps and more. I wholeheartedly agreed to take the project on.
After many months of work, I was eager to fly the bird. So after my classes and research work at Temple went into winter break, I took the very first chance to go soaring. The forecast called for a light northwesterly breeze, just enough for the ridge to work. This was a good opportunity to do a little bit of soaring and a systems check. Thanks to Bill’s continued sponsorship, I had flown the Duckhawk maybe 250 hours or so; I wasn’t worried about flying the ship. But that said, I find that soaring for a couple hours on a low-key local flight is the best way for me to get acquainted with a glider. My landings are a lot better this way than when I go up for 10 minutes and come straight back down.
In any case, it looked like I was going to be the only person to enjoy this day. Tommy came out to tow regardless. What a sport! I actually appreciated that there were few people around as I assembled the glider, looked it over and got it ready. Cookie and Andrzej were very helpful in assembling the ship and launching me; thanks guys!
We took off at 12:30pm and took a quick tow over to the ridge. Testing the ridge revealed that it was fairly weak, so I was much keener to stay in the higher lift band. As I headed toward Millbrook, I fiddled with some of the systems, working the electric flaps and adjusting some of the settings on the ClearNav. As I rounded the bend on the Catfish Ridge, I looked up and saw three bald eagles spiraling in a thermal.
I have never been so eager to forget everything and just throw the glider into a turn.
Having picked out the highest eagle, I stuck with him in the thermal. My eyes were glued on to him and we stayed on opposing sides of the circle. I completely forgot about the glider; I was just flying. When he leveled out and headed northwest, I chased after him and took some great photos. There were several times he was closer to me than the end of my wingtip.
We soared together for about ten minutes. I stayed with him until I approached the limit of gliding back to the ridge behind me.
Afterward, I headed up to Millbrook. Upon turning around and heading southwest-bound toward the sun, I was awestruck by the sight of the whole forest glistening in the sunlight. There was an ice storm several days ago and the whole land was coated with a layer of clear ice; the whole landscape sparkled like a million diamonds. Through all my years of soaring, I had never seen anything like it. It felt like I entered a winter wonderland. Not a single soul was there to enjoy it; no hikers, no bird watchers. It was just me and this wonderful sailplane, gently floating along in the breeze. This was one of the most peaceful flying experiences I ever had.
As I soared up to the Delaware Water Gap, I looked down at the icy black river. Ice floes gently floated down, marking the snaking path of the current. The water was absolutely crystal clear; you could see all the way to the bottom of the river bed in many places.
It was a real joy to fly this wonderful machine. The conditions were weak, with an inversion at around 2500ft MSL and the wind at ridge top perhaps around 12 knots or so. I was not eager to go anywhere in particular, so I was perfectly content to mosey around. I took turns here and there and practiced thermal entries. It was really fascinating just watching the ship fly. There are so many different ways to thermal it; slow and flat, fast and steep and all sorts of nuances in between. Many different ways to center it; bank and yank or mosey around at 50 knots and nibble at the lift in a flat turn. The ship has a lot of character and feel. Most gliders have a certain way they want to be thermalled and you adapt each thermal to its “style”. The Duckhawk can be flown in many different ways and you can feel the difference when you do it right. I felt like it will take 500-1000 hours of consistent flying to really figure out how to get everything out of it in the climb.
I spent most of the time floating around at 60 knots. On one instance, I nosed over to 85 knots. The deck angle changed, but the glide angle didn’t. As I let it go, it felt like the ship was a racehorse, relieved that this incompetent fool finally cut it loose. Boy was this ship happy to fly fast!
It’s a crime to fly the Duckhawk slow, but I wasn’t keen on working hard today. You have to be sharp flying this fast, ready to fling the ship into a turn in an instant. I pulled the glider back from its canter to a trot, patted it on the side and said in due course we will let ‘er rip.
After two hours I was ready to call it a day. Everything was working and the ridge was softening up. After a nice landing, I pulled the ship off the runway. There was not a soul around, so I was now stuck with a beautiful machine with no way to get into its box. A quick call to Gus and he was willing to help disassemble the ship on his ride back from work. In the meantime, I went over to get the trailer to bring it to the glider. It’s much easier to move the car and the trailer than it is to move the glider across the whole runway! Along the way, I marveled at the beautiful ice coating all the gliders and the airport.
Thanks a million to Cookie, Andrzej, Gus, and Tommy for helping me fly today. Thanks to Bill Thar for giving me the opportunity to fly this magnificent sailplane; in the past, present and future. I hope to not disappoint.
Normally winter is a quieter time for glider operations. Not so for Aero Club Albatross! We just wear the appropriate cold weather gear when it gets chilly. As Philip DuPlessis, our resident expert sailor says, there is no bad weather, just poor choice in clothing. And this year, we came up with a very enjoyable way to spend an early December day; learning to launch using a winch!
Beltzville Soaring Club has a winch, but few opportunities to use it. So when I contacted David Bradley to express that several ACAers were interested in learning how to ground launch, he was very eager to help! Dave suggested that we fly from Grimes Airport, a wonderful little grass strip at the base of the ridge about 70 miles from Blairstown. The airport management at Grimes is very familiar with glider flying and has hosted quite a few events and fly-ins. They don’t operate much this time of year and were eager to host us. Gerry Wild was our local airport contact and all-around great glider guy. He volunteered to help instruct, run the operations and drive the winch!
Aero Club Albatross, in turn, voted in David Bradley and Gerry Wild as honorary members and the club volunteered to handle a considerable portion of the logistics. We brought our venerable 2-33, nicknamed the Mad Cow to the event. To our knowledge, no one has ever ground-launched the Cow before. We were really excited!
The event was a massive undertaking, involving a large and motivated crew. On Friday, Pete Ayers and Tommy came out to prepare the towplane and the Cow for its long aerotow to Grimes. They cleaned off all the snow and ice on the 2-33 so it didn’t have to thaw in the morning before its journey. On Saturday morning, Philip and Luke DuPlessis volunteered to do the long cross-country tow. To deal with the frigid temperatures and drafty cockpit, they were instructed to wear clothing fit for an arctic expedition! Tommy and Sebastian towed in the club’s Cessna 182 towplane. Jonathan and Gus picked up the canopy covers and tiedown kit and followed the Cow to Grimes in their Aeronca Champ.
Steve Beer picked up Bobby and membership documents for Dave and Gerry. Rob Dunning brought lawn chairs, coffee, bagels, and donuts. Bob Graf brought two cases of water and more chairs. Cookie and Joe (Dave’s son) also came to help out and crew.
My job was to haul the winch from Dave’s shop to Grimes.
The winch was a freakin’ monster! It weighed 6-7000 pounds, with 600lbs on the tongue. Only a large vehicle like a pickup truck could move it safely (and legally). It was an ordeal getting it on the hitch and we had to position the truck perfectly. Then we found we couldn’t get it on the hitch because the tail end of the trailer would hit the ground. Through a combination of gingerly pulling it with a chain, a 12-foot pole as a lever to lift it, concrete blocks and huffing and puffing, we finagled the trailer onto the hitch. We were finally ready to hit the road!
Joe joined me for the drive as the navigator. The winch was a real monster to drive; unlike glider trailers, you *feel* this thing behind you. So did my gas mileage; I was getting 8.5 MPG thanks to the weight and the flat plate dragging through the breeze. But we arrived safely at 9:20 am, right as Phillip and Luke lined up on short final. Everything was coming together!
Gerry and Dave started the morning ground school and briefing at 10am. Gerry introduced the museum and noted that it’s a volunteer, non-profit organization. Gerry’s wife, Kristin also introduced herself as a contributor and made us feel very welcome. She was so kind as to cook hotdogs for us and provide a variety of snacks! They offered membership forms and five of us joined to support the organization.
Dave discussed the mechanics and safety of winch launching, emphasizing the decision-making at different points of the launch. When launching, first establish a 10-degree climb until reaching a safe altitude around 100-150ft or so. Then rotate into a 30-degree climb, while maintaining adequate airspeed. Flying too fast is bad; you don’t get as high and you can over stress the glider. If you have a rope break, you have to shove the nose forward and visually verify that you’ve got airspeed. Dave’s mantra was, think with the stick forward and emphasized that experienced pilots training to winch tend to think faster than their airplane can fly. After releasing, consider your options. If you are within a 5-1 glide, land straight ahead. If you’re above 250ft or so, consider tear-dropping back. Use judgment, maintain airspeed and be coordinated in the turns.
We really liked Dave’s approach to safety. He clearly conveyed, here is how winching can kill you. The winch driver can accelerate the glider too quickly and flip it over. Once you’re in the air, the glider can over-rotate, break the rope and hit the ground before getting flying speed. During the tow, you can have a rope-break, fail to achieve flying speed, and subsequently stall/spin. And for the folks on the ground, the rope is moving at 50-60 mph and can unpredictably go in different directions. Stay clear, behind the glider or on the safe side of the winch while the operation is in motion.
Then there was the fateful moment when Dave asked,
“So who’s going first?”
Everyone looked at each other, offering the opportunity to someone else. Finally, I volunteered to be the guinea pig.
Next, we hustled over to the winch. After some fiddling and adjustments, it roared into action. While Gerry and the onlookers were figuring it out, I walked on over to the Cow, patiently waiting on the side of the runway.
The Cow looked like it was nervously grazing on the beautifully manicured grass runway. She was probably thinking, “What are we doing here, so far from home? I can see it their eyes, these guys are up to no good!“
I walked around the glider and it looked in ship shape. A whole entourage of glider pilots rode over in the golf cart, eager to see Dave and me off. They brought the rope and we strapped in.
The experience of winch-launching is on the edge between being excitement and terror. Steve hooked us up and was our wingrunner. Once on the tip, he waggled the wings up and down, up and down, indicating to the driver to take up slack. Once he stopped, the winch driver “hit the goose” and we rocketed up. We were airborne in less than three seconds, screaming along at the speed of heat.
It was quickly apparent that we were going too fast, approaching 80 mph on the dial. Dave kept the angle flat rather than rotating to minimize the load on the wings. After getting to only 250ft, Dave released and said, here you go! I did a quick 180 and landed back where we took off.
After landing, Dave called up Gerry to ease off the throttle and turned us around. He said that I would have the controls on the next launch.
It was amazing how quickly we were airborne! I kept too much forward pressure and Dave eased us back. At 100ft or so I rotated into a climb. We were still too fast and climbed to little more than 250ft.
I made a dumb decision after releasing the rope. Figuring we were a bit more upwind than we were, it felt that we lacked the room to maneuver to turn upwind (we had a slight NWerly crosswind). I did my 180 to the left, downwind and this did not work out well at all. I drifted in the turn much more than I expected and button hooked the final turn. I was not happy with that approach.
The third flight was better. This time we got to 450ft, enough to do an abbreviated pattern for a downwind landing. I was not eager to do a “full” pattern from this height.
The fourth flight was better yet and we got to around 550ft on this launch. I still had to work on rotating more deliberately, but I got the mechanics of the launch figured out. We were high enough to do a full pattern and had an uneventful landing.
Dave asked me if I wanted to do the next one on my own.
Sure deal and better now than later; I want to do it while the training is fresh!
Dave hopped out, buckled up the belts around the cushion and cut me loose. After hooking up, I rocketed up. Man, the Cow climbs so much better solo! Climbing up to 750ft, I saw the airspeed bleeding off and firmly pulled the release twice. I was free!
A left 90 degree turn and I stumbled into a thermal. How convenient! I started circling, happily gaining height every turn. A raptor even joined me!
I looked down and watched the action on the ground. People looking up at me from the winch. The golf cart traversing along the runway. The cars buzzing along I-78. The beautiful and familiar ridge a little over a mile away. What a gorgeous place!
When I saw the golf cart making its journey back to the launching area, I cut my flight short and headed back. I felt like a king entering the pattern at 900ft. Compared to all the unusual attitudes and altitudes, I felt high. I even got to make my base leg at 500ft and turn final around 300ft or so. What a blessing!
After landing, everyone was smiling. Dave asked me if I wanted to throw his CG hook equipped 1-26 (020) together and try to soar in the afternoon. I eagerly agreed!
Dave’s son, Joe and I went on over to assemble the ship. We got halfway, but couldn’t find the fourth main pin to finish the job. We looked everywhere but to no effect! We relayed this to Dave, who arrived 45 minutes later after being relieved of his instructor duties by Gerry.
He found the pin stuck in a deep socket in his toolkit. We were all relieved that the pin wasn’t missing and Dave laughed his butt off and singing, “Victory!”
By now, Gus had taken several instruction flights and completed a solo flight. Jonathan was on his third flight. But then, the Cow decided it had enough winching for the day. On Jonathan’s last landing, the tire went flat. This unfortunately grounded the ship for the rest of the day.
Since the 1-26 was nearly ready to go, I quickly sealed it up and got it out on the line. Best to use the winch while we still had the chance to fly!
Launching the 1-26 was really fun! It got airborne really quickly and settled into a very natural climb. The CG hook definitely makes it climb better! I firmly pulled the release at a comfortable 800ft. 020 is a simple ship, with basic instruments, but man it flies great. 1-26s are just a total blast!
The glider quietly sailed through the sky. There was little lift left this late in the day, so I quickly fell out and entered into the pattern. After landing, a whole bunch of folks eagerly took up the 1-26. Dave went up first and had a grand old time. He entertained the crowd with mild aerobatics and screaming along the runway at 100mph. 020 was surprisingly quiet at such a high speed! Dave was all smiles, waving as he passed us at the winch.
Gerry and Adam then took their turns in the 1-26, getting as high as 1100ft off the tow!
As our friends were flying, we surveyed the Cow situation. We really wanted to get the wheel fixed, both so Steve B. had a wheel to fly on the following day back to Blairstown and so that the ship was airworthy when it returned. The mechanic at the shop found an old 600X6 tire, which fit the Cow’s wheel. A whole crew of us got to work. Bob Templin, Bob Graf, and Bob Cook all played key roles in this project, helping to get the glider jacked up and the wheel off. Walter, a local Grimes member helped coordinate different parts and materials and helped us a whole bunch. The rest of us Beltzville and ACA members lent our brains and brawn while these guys labored away.
The job took us several hours. The wheel hadn’t been taken apart in many years and the Cow resisted getting its appendages operated on. The axle had to be banged out. The backseat, torsion bar, and wheelbrake had to be taken apart to get to the wheel off.
Taking the wheel itself apart was a nightmare. The axle was deformed and the hub wouldn’t separate. Mike the airport volunteer mechanic spent a good hour and a half, sanding off the burrs on the edge of the axle and hammering the unit apart. As the sun went down at 4:30pm, we managed to get the new tube in, the wheel together and reassembled back on the glider.
Steve B, Bob Graf and I tied down the 2-33 in the darkness, all ready to fly the following day while Dave and Joe hooked up the winch to my truck. We all had dinner at the local Midway Diner, only four minutes from the airport.
After trading stories and having a great time, we parted ways. I went back with Dave and Joe to drop off the winch at Beltzville airport. I hit the road back to Brooklyn at 8:30pm, thoroughly satisfied after an awesome day of flying.
The next day, Steve and Tommy safely aerotowed the Cow back to Blairstown. The ship is now happily back in its tiedown, ready to fly.
The winching day was a real blast! Everyone had a great time and contributed to make this event a blast. We learned a lot about winching thanks to Dave and Gerry’s wonderful instruction. Thanks a million to Aero Club Albatross, Dave Bradley and the Beltzville folks and Grimes airport for making this happen for us. We are all eager to do it again, get more people endorsed and promote winch flying!
The towplane arrived at 11am and the wave campers were eager to fly. I took the first tow and boy was it fun to fly a 1-26 again! It just flies so wonderfully, feels so right. The moment we broke ground, the controls responded perfectly and I settled in for the long tow. The vario hummed along a happy tone and the valley gently fell below.
By now the clouds started to thin, but still covered about 6/8 of the area. It looked like there was an opening near Mt.Washington, but we felt better about towing above the overcast than below. We did a big arcing circle above Gorham to 4,500ft and then headed along the lee side of the Presidential Range.
We quickly climbed up to 6000ft and yet we still had a long ways to go. The wave did not look spectacular ahead; the wind was just not all that strong today. It did look like there may have been a bit of a foehn gap, but I was not at all inclined to get there low. Besides, I am the one who insists that when towing to wave, that you should release in wave. But we kept climbing up and up and figuring that the L-19 is no Egret, I finally released at 7,500ft, above the clouds and well short of the auto-road.
The view was absolutely breathtaking with Mt.Washington commanding the land. Even though I was slightly above the peak, my eyes felt like they leveled with this imposing hunk of granite. The mountains were skirted by a gentle thin sheet of white clouds. The air was mostly smooth, albeit with bits of lift and sink along the way. I pushed the nose down to 60 mph and hunted around for wave.
Once I made it over to the clear air, there was no joy finding any lift. Looking over toward Wildcat mountain, the clouds looked like they were working. They were stationary and the tops were curling over. This profile was suggestive of rotor, along with little wisps that continually puffed a little ahead of the cloud. This looks promising.
But man, the clouds were far away. This would put me on the edge of a reasonable glide to Gorham. But it does look promising. Looking below my right wing, I saw the field at the base of the auto-road. Having walked it before and flying a glider that can land in half of a postage stamp, I was confident in my alternative option. It looked good enough ahead to give it a go.
Slowly bleeding away altitude, I got to the nice looking clouds at Wildcat.
Absolutely… nothing. Nada. Zip. A sweeping turn and not a shred of lift.
I turned around. Now I was below the peaks of the mountains and the Gorham valley was well off my nose.
A shred of doubt entered my mind whether the ship could make the glide back to the airport from here. It looked okay, but I wasn’t going to just drive back on a hope and a prayer. But at the same time I wasn’t eager about landing at the base of the mountain and having to undo the wonderful taping job that Steve slaved away on the previous day.
I kept a close eye on Pine Mountain and the valley ahead, watching how my glide angle was changing. And I whipped out my trusty Garmin to get a solid read on the distance ahead to check my work.
Seven miles to go and I was at 3200ft above the airport. A quartering tailwind. I could go a ways and still remain in solid glide of the field at the base of the auto-road; might as well see how the air will be ahead.
No major sink and the glide angle kept improving. Pine Mountain slowly fell in relation to the canopy and now had a solid glide back home. Along the way I zagged over to the Carters, to see if maybe the wind was strong enough to ridge soar and stay up for longer. Nope, just gentle sink over the mountains.
At this point, I knew that my flight was probably going to end soon. With the airport totally made, I relaxed, opened my eyes and took in the scenery around me. This masterpiece of creation that was below me, above me, and all around me, for all but a few moments, made me feel fully part of this tenuous fabric of space and time. I was one with the air and the land.
The glider silently sailed, down and down. Crossing several hundred feet over the trees below, I was now right by the airport, searching around for maybe a little thermal or rotor. Sure enough there was a little movement of air, good for several turns but no more. 508 gleefully indulged in this play, but alas our time was cut short. I entered downwind and committed to land.
It is so freakin’ fun to land a 1-26! I kept my pattern tight, high, and fast, a good practice for this kind of site. On final, I fully opened the brakes and put the ship into a slip, keeping myself well high of the parked glider at the beginning of the runway, but able to dump the aircraft out of the sky.
Full spoiler, full slip, kick it out in ground effect, hold it off, hold it off, kiss the ground with the main wheel and the tail, right rudder to taxi off to the side, the thud of the skid coming down and gently rocking the ship over small bumps, the slight biting odor of burnt rubber, opening the canopy, and finally the smile that comes from the satisfaction of having flown the most fun glider that exists.
It was a little after noon. I handed the ship over to Steve, who diligently went ahead prepping the glider for his own shakedown flight. I in turn started to pack up my things to go home. My trip was quite short and mostly to help the club get the 1-26 up and set up for the several members who will be working on their badges over the week. After packing up all my cold weather gear, I hit the road at 1:30pm for the long ride back to Philadelphia to be back in time for a Statistics exam the following morning.
Along the way, I saw the mountains, forests, valleys and towns gently fade into a flat, sprawling mass of humanity. Crossing over the George Washington Bridge, seeing the glass, steel, concrete, and brick skyscrapers glittering in the distance, cars honking in bumper-to-bumper traffic leaving the Giants game from MetLife Stadium, it was hard to square away what was actually real. The world from which I came from or the world that I was going to.
It’s that time of the year again! What time??? Wave Camp!
For ten days in mid-October, Gorham Airport becomes one of the most spectacular soaring sites in the world. Gorham is a little town right at the base of the Presidential Range. This set of majestic mountains is located in New Hampshire, not all that far from the border of Canada.
The Presidential Range is a serious set of mountains. Sure, the west coast guys may snicker. But these are not like our normal eastern foothills; the highest one, Mt. Washington towers up to 6,500ft. That still might not sound all that high, but consider that the valleys are down at 850ft above sea level. Given that the mountain sticks what looks like straight up out of the winding valleys, it makes for an impressive sight.
Where there are impressive mountains, there are even more impressive waves. And being that Mt. Washington is the second largest mountain in the east, the waves are often as advertised. I’ve been up to 24,500ft in a 1-26 here, good for a Diamond Climb. Of my seven flights at this site, every single one had wave lift. Last year, a fellow climbed up to 33,000ft for a state altitude record. The soaring conditions here are simply spectacular.
Aside from the high peak, Mt. Washington also has the unique characteristic of being shaped like a venturi. This has the effect of radically funneling in the normally brisk winds at the peak. Scientists have recorded winds of over 200 mph at the weather station on top of the mountain and it’s not hyperbole when the local meteorologists claim that this location occasions the “worst weather on Earth”.
Naturally, all that wind has to go somewhere on the lee of the mountain. And on the east side, the mountain is shaped like a bowl. As a result, the wind spills over and gets focused into a narrower area, creating a monster wave. It works very well with wind directions ranging from southwest to north, thanks to the bowl aligning perpendicularly to many different wind angles. And the wave often times is considerably stronger than one would otherwise expect given a weak wind.
This is perhaps the most important feature of this wave site for it allows the wave to work almost all the time. The air not moving vertically out here is the exception to the rule. And this is also a very important consideration for folks looking for Gold/Diamond climbs in a 1-26; we can’t take these ships up to altitudes with very strong winds aloft! If you have to go much faster than 50-60 mph indicated, the sink-rate becomes excessive and you stop climbing. Here, the wave will work with weaker winds, allowing for much higher climbs for lower performing gliders.
All of these characteristics make Mt. Washington a mecca for wave soaring. And it only lasts for a short time, so folks from the area make the pilgrimage for this special occasion.
The neighboring clubs (GBSC, Franconia and Post Mills) all contribute to hosting the wave camp and invite others to come and join the fun. When it gets really busy, there can be 40-50 gliders all on the airport! It’s a narrow little grass strip, but it handles the carnival of glass very nicely.
I’ve been up here three times before and would come up every year if I could. Columbus Day is no longer considered a holiday in many academic calendars and this has made it a lot harder for me to come; it’s a long drive from New York/Philadelphia for a short weekend.
Aero Club Albatross is participating in this year’s camp, with four pilots flying the club’s 1-26E. Several of the club members are mining for Diamonds and I figured it would be fun to contribute. Steve and I came out to Blairstown on Friday and got 508 on the trailer without much difficulties and headed on our way. It was an eight hour drive through some of the most wonderful country.
I started my day in Philadelphia, ended up driving up to Blue Mountain, through the Delaware Water Gap. Then with the trailer up along the ridge, to the Catskills and across the Hudson not too far from Albany. And then across to Massachusetts via the Berkshires. And then a nice long ride up I-91 into Vermont and then a cut across to New Hampshire.
The drive was absolutely spectacular. The trees, mountains, rivers and towns are in the most glorious period of autumn. The foliage is at peak with all sorts of bright yellows, oranges and reds interspersed with the coniferous dark greens, go as far as your eyes can see. The carpet of color rolls along the land, up over the hills and down into the deep valleys. It feels like a living impressionist painting. The lighting changed as the clouds thickened or thinned. I’ve never appreciated how beautiful the trees are when the lighting is muted; it actually seemed to bring out some of the contrasts even more. For hours and hours, I was totally immersed in the beauty around me.
Since the weather was not promising for flying on Saturday, Steve and I did not bother putting 508 together in the darkness and instead went out to dinner. Not so many folks arrived yet, but the core group of diehard glider pilots was there. Among the most seasoned regulars is Rick Roelke. He’s a large fellow and his persona is certainly larger than life. Catching up with him and hearing all his stories about hang-gliders, racing virtual sailboats, going to art school, and flying magnificent waves made for a wonderful evening.
As advertised, on Saturday we were stuck on the ground due to the low overcast and the lack of a towplane. You can’t blame the towpilots as it is not easy business scud-running through the valleys, snaking your way between the mountains. Steve and I contented ourselves by cleaning up 508 and enjoying the really beautiful landscape around us.
We put in a lot of work into 508. Aside from assembling it and tying it down, we redid all the external seals, cleaned the canopy, lubricated most of the control surfaces, cleaned and waxed the whole ship, and more. The ship looks nicer, but man it was brutal to try to clean it up. To use a club member’s expression, the ship looked like a “science experiment” with all the different colors of mold growing on it. Hard scrubbing succeeded in getting it cleaned up, but it hardly looks that much better. I don’t think I’ve taken off as much dirt and grime off of a glider and yet have so little effect in the end.
At one point Steve asked me if I wanted to try a more powerful product than Meguire’s cleaner wax.
I responded, “paint stripper?”
508 is a tired ship, that’s for sure. And it does look nicer from 20 yards now, so we can feel a little better about flying it.
One of the more interesting mods we did for cold weather flying was sealing in the tow-hook. Normally the tow-hook has a big gaping hole in it, which in turn directs a lot of cold air on your feet. That is inconvenient or unpleasant on a late spring day, but it is brutal up at 20,000ft. To solve this, we took off the nose cone and put in a neoprene seal over the tow-hook flange. Secondly, we put in a little bit of foam in the slit in the neoprene, to fully seal it without interfering with the mechanism. And finally we used a slit rug to put an additional layer between the pilot’s feet and the pedals. This coupled with Steve’s first-class tape sealing job should make the glider considerably more habitable at high altitudes.
One of the nuisances reported in the ship was a consistent squeak in the rudder. Having lubricated the controls, the squeak still persisted. Interestingly the noise seemed to be coming in the aft part of the fuselage. When I opened up the inspection port and reached in, I found a wasp’s nest lodged on the rudder cable! My hand shot out of the glider lickety-split, but luckily there were no angry wasps chasing me! The big glob of mud must have weighed a pound or so and it dragged the cable down enough that it was binding along the metal inside the fuselage. Wasp nest removed, the squeaking went away.
508 is now ready to fly and we’re looking forward to giving it a go tomorrow!