Flying Goals: Mid-year Eval

Back in February I set out some goals to strive toward. About 6 months later here is my self-assessed report card:

  • Fly more sites

Success. Though I have not added a lot, I did fly in Americus, Georgia and recently Garlock, California on the southern edge of the Owens Valley. Americus was my first real experience in the flat lands and more towing for me than ever before. Skeptical about how I’d do in the unfamiliar landscape with no hills or mountains to rely on as thermal triggers, I could not have been more happy with my intro to flat lands taking home 3rd place in the sport class. Woohoo!

  • First flight(s) in the Owens Valley.

Nope. Not yet but possibly later this season. Garlock is close, and we hoped to fly over the back into the Owens, but that did not happen.

  • Fly more without my vario.

Half Success. I’ve found it tough to force myself to forgo the vario when flying challenging cross-country flights. I never fly Torrey Pines with a vario, but I hardly feel that counts. On a few flights I turned off the sound and rotated the display away for a while. As the season winds down I’ll focus on returning to my non-beeping roots.

  • Fly my first competition (and maybe more).

Success! Third place at my first competition, the Flytec Americus Cup. Racing some very good sport class pilots I am super ecstatic with how the comp went. Comp #2 coming up soon in September with the Santa Cruz Flats Race. Will I fly sport class or open class? That’s the big question, though it’s looking very likely I’ll get one more sport class comp under my belt (wing?).

  • Learn to think ahead on an XC.

Fully mastered. I’m an XC queen. Kidding! Definitely kidding. If I ever master this I’ll be surprised. So far this year I’ve experienced much trial and error. There’s a point in every flight requiring a critical decision, and often it’s a difficult decision. Figuring out which way the convergences meander around has proven challenging, especially on the days with fewer clouds or less defined markers. I feel like I’ve learned a lot, but I’ve also both had a lot of luck, a lot of failure, and some limited success. I can only keep improving from here. I can tell I am getting better and I’m happy with that. Now I’d like to get to a point where I can “read” the land better so when I fly new territory I can know where lift will be.

  • Push a little harder to stretch my distances, but not so hard to stretch my luck.

Success. First 50 mile flight this year! That’s my big accomplishment so far. It was not an easy flight by any means, including a low save about 300 feet off the deck, but except for a few critical points the miles came easily. The real lessons I’ve learned were from the flights where eking out only 10 to 20 miles was difficult. I have found myself down and out with no good place to land within gliding distance, and pushed myself to climb out of the hole I dug.

  • Graduate from my Sport 2.

Success. I had my doubts about jumping, or is it giant leaping, to a topless glider, but found it much easier than many made it out to seem. Of course I cautiously approached the new gliders, first flying in smooth evening air, and then on later flights making sure I stayed aloft beyond the roughest times of the day to land. As of now I have time on the Moyes Litespeed RX 3 and the Wills Wing T2C 136. I can’t wait to get my very own.

  • Get instructor rated.

Success. Sooner than expected, I passed the tests and got my rating from Rob McKenzie. I am still collecting gear to teach with so have not yet began to teach much, but soon. Next year the plan will be to get tandem instructor rated.

  • Concentrate on refining my techniques.

This is more difficult than it seems. With at most two or three launches and landings a week, most of my effort has been focused on cross country flying. I need to make more use of Torrey Pines to get touch-and-goes in, though the launch there is primarily one variety of the many types we see flying the many sites we have. Palomar always challenges with a low-wind, shallow slope launch. I’ve noticed that at sites I rarely fly, my launch techniques are less than ideal. Recognizing more closely the differences and adjusting is my goal moving forward.

  • The cop-out to make it an even 10 goals…have fun, be safe.

Success. I have definitely had fun and flown within my safe envelope. At the same time I’ve kept moving toward the stretch envelope to improve my flying.

It’s been a wonderful year so far. I’ve flown 80 hours, should top 100 by the end. August has been a light-flying month after the marathon of flying in July. September will again be a flying-filled-fest. Bring it on!

Goodbye July: Flying high on new gliders, landing short on old ones

July started with a bang, and ended with a whimper. All said and done I flew over 15 hours, had quality time on both the Moyes Litespeed RX 3 and the Wills Wing T2C 136, enjoyed a few cross country flights, and flew a new site. But my last flight of the month fizzled out and sank me back to terra firma for a big fat reality check. I’ve been flying so well lately I nearly forgot that gravity still applied to me.

All setup on Garlock. Bruce would ultimately fly back to Andy Jackson Airpark. I landed after two and a half hours of yo-yo up and down flying. Should have followed Bruce!

All setup on Garlock. Bruce would ultimately fly back to Andy Jackson Airpark. I landed after two and a half hours of yo-yo up and down flying. Should have followed Bruce!

The month left me with an appreciation for where I need to go to grow as a pilot. Weekend warrior is great, but not enough to take my flying to the next level. August will be a month of decisions: decisions on my next glider, decisions on training, decisions on life. What I love about the hang gliding community is so many have reached out to me to help me learn and grow, and still more form a foundation of support.

Starting tomorrow is the Big Spring Nationals race. I’m wishing I was there flying, hanging out with friends, learning, racing. Maybe I should have just said screw work and headed out there. Next year I’ll be there. The Santa Cruz Flats Race in Casa Grande, AZ in September will be my next big race and I can’t wait. Just a month and a week to go. After that it’ll be fly fly fly until the season starts up next year…hopefully on a slick new ride.

Beyond flying, I’m happy to report that I biked 300 miles in July. I find cycling an excellent complement to flying for whole body fitness. Mostly I bike to work 16 miles each way, though in August I’m going to add a few longer rides.

Follow my rides on Strava.

Good luck to all my friends at Big Spring. See you in Casa Grande!

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


The Sport 2 Wins the Day

My ego received a healthy boost of confidence last Sunday (and maybe even my id and superego). No need to name names, but let’s just say it was me on my Sport 2 versus three guys, one a former world competitor, on their topless gliders. Now I typically am not one to brag, especially concerning myself, but this post will be an exception as I savor this rare moment.

The wind was easterly, meaning Laguna was our only option short of the longer trip to Elsinore, but conditions looked great for early season cross-country flights. I was super excited to finally get another flight in March. So far this month we’ve had a rained out weekend and a blown out weekend, and my only other flight between the rain and the wind was a short lunch break flight at Torrey Pines.

Launching first, I easily soon found myself a few hundred feet above waiting for the others to join me. Lured into the ease of altitude I dropped my guard and flew the ridge without a care, enjoying the view, giving up altitude for fun. …never take altitude for granted.

Within 20 minutes of launching, my altitude—and attitude—rapidly changed. Gazing up at launch, and my friends just launching, the day suddenly called out with a challenge. With a 4 mile glide out to the LZ I was tasked with a fight just to make it to our primary LZ. Without a few thermals, I’d be buzzard food in the land of cacti. Luckily this time of year it’s still only about 80 degrees down in the valley.

Working every little ridge and finger, I chose areas that seemed both more in the sun and facing the wind. I sought thermal trigger points, which everyone seems to have a different opinion of where they are. I tried many points on the ridge that seemed like good triggers, and usually I found light bumps and small thermals good enough for a turn or two, but no elevator to the sky.

The landing area lies at about 2,200 feet MSL, and I had sunk to close to 3,000′. With only 800′ feet remaining in my altitude account, my opportunities were diminishing. Altitude bankruptcy seemed likely. Damn you greedy gravity!!!

And then, finally, at one of the last potential trigger points before heading out for the LZ, after a few bumps and half turns in lift, a strong push from below hit me. Banking hard into a turn I determined myself not to fall out of this elevator. …and that I did.

Soon I was back to launch altitude and still climbing. After ascending more than 3,500′ in that one, beautiful thermal the prospects for a decent cross-country flight were good again. Peering down on everyone with a Cheshire grin, I was happy. The drift of the thermal carried me north toward the next large lift generator, Granite Mountain. Just minutes later I was there. Calling out to the other pilots, “I’m over Granite heading for Banner!”

Apparently though, one of my fellow fliers, knowing that the last time he saw me I was close to landing piped up, “I don’t hear any wind noise in the background,” implying that I was full of something other than air, unless it was hot.

But for once, the joke was on him. Soon, after an attempt to keep going my wing and I softly touched down about 12 miles from launch. My ride met me there before even fully breaking down…what perfect timing. As we pulled away heading to the LZ below launch to retrieve two others, the radio crackled, “What are the winds in the LZ?” My friend finally made it over Granite. 45 minutes or so after I landed, he and his higher performance topless glider appeared. Knowing I needed to make the most of this rare occurrence I hollered back, “I beat you to goal!”

That day my confidence grew in knowing that when I get low I can work my way back up. That the saying is true that there are more thermals than LZs–or at least I believe it more than I did before. And though I’ve made low saves before, this time I had to work every puff and think through to my next source all while under pressure to get to a landing area.

What a great training day!

I regret there are no photos to post, but a video is forthcoming.