Hanging Around at Sylmar

As you can tell by my lack of posts, it’s been a slow season for flying since the Santa Cruz Flats Race. Between unusually poor soaring weather here, a vacation, car shopping, and kitten rescuing, I’ve missed out on way too much flying for my liking. At least I have a more hang gliding friendly vehicle to show for it, good memories with family, and those kittens successfully found a great home together. Meow.

All set up on Kagel Mountain

All set up on Kagel Mountain. No, neither of those topless gliders are mine.

Up until Thanksgiving weekend, between October and November I only found time for two–yes, you read that right–only two flights.

After one of them at Palomar Mountain we came across three malnourished kittens. After catching them, and then recatching them in the car to put them in a box, we spent a few weeks getting our kitten fix and found a wonderful home for all three of them. A happy ending for all.

An (even more) hang gliding friendly brewery

An (even more) hang gliding friendly brewery

Over Thanksgiving weekend, which I like to dub Hangsgiving, I finally made the trip to fly with the Sylmar Hang Gliding Association at their historic site. Thanks to Janyce I had a place to stay, and to the local pilots for showing me around the range. Though we never journeyed too far, I realized that I’ve been missing out on this fun site. A wonderful LZ, a great atmosphere, and many budding pilots including a sizable population of women pilots. What a great club they have! Also finally, Joe Greblo graced my presence, imparting to me a few crumbs of his encyclopedic knowledge. Coincidentally my visit came on the same weekend as their holiday party where I met many more of their members, including the amazing Katherine Yardley who once held the world straight distance record for women. The event was held at Golden Road Brewery where they even have hang gliders on the beer cans!  I cannot wait to return to fly there. Between Sylmar and Crestline, we Southern California folk live in a paradise for hang gliding.

And of course, how can I mention kittens without at least having one pic? Sky, Taj, and Jasper!
The Three Musketeers found at Palomar Mountain

The Three Musketeers found at Palomar Mountain

An Rx for an RX: My First Flight on a Topless

A week ago I was given the unbelievable opportunity of Jonny Durand Jr. driving pour moi as I fly a topless glider for the first time, a Moyes Litespeed RX 3. It just so happened that Jonny was in town and Kraig Coomber, our Moyes USA representative who I’ve been in contact with about flying the demo (Thanks Butch for connecting us!), set Jonny up to show me the wing.

Post-RX Flight

Post-RX Flight

I’ve had my Sport 2 for a year and have about 100 hours on it, but I’ve been hesitant to make the jump straight to the topless wing. Despite some very trustworthy pilots and mentors reassuring me that I have the skills, the opinions I’ve received from a larger sample pool are all over the board (as one can imagine). Moreover, access to a more advanced intermediate glider for my weight has proved difficult. That opportunity will come, but this one was here and now.

When Kraig contacted me the day before to see if I could fly, and that Jonny would be there, seriously, how could I pass up on that opportunity? Sure he’s a legend, but more importantly if you could choose anyone to coach you on your first high performance glider flight, he’d be a top choice.

We arrive at launch and the wind is blowing in smoothly about 15-18 mph. A little strong Jonny thought, but the forecast was for the wind to back off, which it seemed to as we took our time evaluating the conditions. Also with us was my instructor, and another legend of the sport, John Heiney. I think I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Standing at launch I’m nervous. Not only am I making the leap to a much higher performance wing, but I’m also flying Crestline which can prove challenging on approach—at least I’ve heard and read about enough topless gliders overflying the field. Crestline (i.e. Andy Jackson Airpark) requires a low turn to final and I knew I’d likely have little to no wind at the LZ, a combination setting people up for failure. I’ve flown there a lot, but I’m stepping into the unknown. I knew all this though and prepared mentally. Still, I’m nervous. Did I mention that I had two legends watching me?

Finally, after what seemed like 30 minutes, I took the leap. In a few seconds I am in the air, the smooth, dreamlike air. No turning back. I make my first turn. I do not feel much lift, likely because I’m giving the mountain a wide berth in case the glider chooses to surprise me. I love how smooth the glider seems to turn. Yes, it takes more control bar movement to bank the glider, but it feels effortless. A few passes later I’m a few hundred feet below launch and ready to head across the gap toward the landing field. Time to feel what the glider can do with full VG. Pull, pull, pull, pull….pull. I think it’s all on. Never before have I felt more comfortable gliding over the gap. I’m really going somewhere.

Out in front of the Marshall launch I cruise back and forth on the ridge hoping to find something going up. But it’s 7:30pm and only very light puffs could be felt. I circle in whatever I think might help me resist gravity. Being a test flight, I took time to simulate approaches on the down tubes, and also pull full VG on and try adding speed. In all the aspects of flight I felt comfortable. Before too long I’m ready to set up my approach—forced may be a more appropriate word than ready.

Circling over the field to lose altitude, I enjoy the sunset and take a moment to soak in what I am doing. Never can I forget what it is just to fly, whatever the glider. A higher performance glider is just icing on the cake.

My approach went well. Although at one point on my base leg I felt a little high, I pulled in and cautiously checked my glidepath as I descended toward the field. I could have circled again, but found that unnecessary. With a smooth turn onto final I was setup to nearly hit the cone. “Focus on the flare timing” I thought to myself. I chose wrong. Just a hair late in the light wind conditions I tried to run it out. The glider charged ahead of me leading to a light whack (but oh so close to the cone). Oh well. Good launch, good flight, good approach. I’m happy with that.

I can’t wait to get time in soarable conditions.

Setting up amongst two legends

Setting up amongst two legends