Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ultra Low Level Flying

Today was a hard choice; it looked as though several places could work but, equally, they could all be too wet or too weak. In the end Dan and I headed to the north Oregon coast, partly because the forecast looked best there but also because Brad and Maren (local instructors) are based there. It was time for the spring-time reserve repacking ritual! My hope is that this is a bit like carrying an umbrella; by having a well packed reserve and practicing throwing it, you’ll avoid having to use it.

Reserves suitably repacked, we all headed to Area B to fly. This is a 30-40 ft high sand dune ridge at the mouth of the Columbia that can be soared when conditions are right. It’s a pretty specialized place to fly - strong winds and low altitudes are the order of the day. I’d never flown there, but there are pilots that do almost all their flying there.

We got there just as some precipitation was moving on. Launching from the top of the dune normally doesn’t work - you get dragged back before you know it. So the general approach is to inflate the wing from the beach or low on the dune and kite it up before launching. Needless to say, this all puts a premium on ground handling in strong winds. I’d like to say I passed this with flying colors, but that would be an overstatement.

The wind was quite cross from the North. The slow leg felt pretty relaxing but zipping along at 30+ mph on the fast leg, just 5 feet from the ground, felt a little spooky. Passing another wing was a little tricky; if the ridge is to your left, you needed to fly ‘around’ the other wing. If the ridge is to your right, things are easier - except (due to the very close wing tips) you got strongly waked by the other wing.

The flying looks pretty constant - just fly along the perfectly straight ridge. But you need to make lots of little adjustments - things change a lot with the height or steepness of the ridge. You want one foot on the speedbar but also to be ready to land at a moments notice. Turning on the downwind leg feels spooky compared with the upwind leg.

Later in the day more pilots arrived and it really became too busy to be fun. The flying feels non-serious, but it’s still easy to get hurt. Dan and I packed it in around 6 pm and headed home.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cliffside Weekend

Spring is slowly arriving in the Pacific NW; the last few days have been cold but clear, warm during the day but cold at night. The flying forecasts have been ‘suspiciously good’ as well. Best of all, it was all predicted to last through the weekend.

Cliffside was the obvious place for these conditions but it‘s a long drive. I seldom fly it both days of a weekend, but I couldn‘t persuade anyone to try the closer but more fickle sites.

Saturday turned out to be slightly disappointing. It was weak and everyone struggled. I had a number of small flights, getting above launch in wimpy thermals several times before top-landing. I couldn't put together a sustained flight until the winds picked up late in the day and several pilots enjoyed soaring flights.

Sunday looked very like Saturday. The wind was much more from the S than on Saturday but still seemed weak. I went up with Jim Baldo and Jan Kubic to the E (or N) launch - it looked a better bet in the conditions, with the possibility of hiking higher if things were light. There were other pilots over on the ‘standard’ launch, including Noah and KC.
When we arrived, conditions seemed promising and we didn't hike up higher. But as soon as we get our gear out conditions weakened. We didn't want to sink out and waited for promising conditions before committing to the air.

Jim started the vigil but gave up after maybe 20 minutes. I took over, tried a cycle but side-hilled when it didn't deliver. Jim took over and did the same thing. I launched and struggled but got just enough with weak thermals to stay up and had a nice flight, getting maybe 350 ft over launch before top-landing after a 30 minutes flight. The others weren't so lucky and ended up sinking out.

As almost everyone headed home, conditions improved slightly and I had almost an hour of soaring in light conditions, interrupted by a top landing to warm my fingers. KC, who was over on the other launch, joined me for part of the flight.

Maybe not the greatest of flying but it was really nice working weak thermals both days. I'd forgotten how much fun it is!

Some photos ->