Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cheval Blanc Weekend

Saturday was clearly non flyable and I went a long hike up Cheval Blanc (2300m, 7500 ft). Wonderful mistral weather - cool, windy, sunny - in fact, it was almost too cold. The only things flying wore feathers, and it was impressive watching them; the vultures were still able to make progress to the North (from their colony near Rougon). 

Sunday was flyable, but the skies were curiously empty. A HG competition has just finished and pilots are arriving for a PG competition, so I expected lots of pilots in the air. But no - I saw many more sailplanes than PG or HG in the air. 

Forecasts indicated a strong inversion and that's how it seemed. I flew onto Cheval Blanc hoping to head further N but struggled to get high enough to warrant continuing. I spent around an hour on the peak, going backwards and forwards looking for good lift. The most I got was 100m over the summit - with views very similar to when I was walking - before calling it a day.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back Home...

I got back from Portland and Brussels on Saturday evening to find "le village en fête". There are all sorts of things going on, including the circus, a kiddies fair, a pétanque competition, music and fireworks. 

The music went on until 2 am but no-one told the church bells - they started as usual at 7 am. I managed to get back to sleep but couldn't ignore the the 9 am bells. Over a bleary eyed breakfast I saw that the forecast was good for flying but very hot (34C or 93F). Late start, really hot - obviously a day to ride the shuttle to launch. I also took the opportunity to borrow a small Mentor 2 wing from the local school, Aerogliss.

Up on launch, another surprise - loads of hang-gliders taking part in a comp. HGs and PGs use different launches at St Andre, so this wasn't a problem but it was nice to see so many darts in one place.

I tried to fly the Montagne de Coupe (a classic, though seldom flown, triangle) but didn't follow all of the route. The wind was from an unusual direction (SSE) and got stronger and stronger, making the return to St Andre problematic. In the end, I bailed and landed N of Digne. A lift back to Digne from a local, rehydration via a couple of beers and then back to St Andre by the tourist train. A very satisfying day…

The Mentor 2 was as well behaved as expected. Apart from launch (trickier - for me, anyway - because it's a 3 liner) and brake pressure (much harder than my wing), it seemed at least as good as my Factor (an older, higher rated, bigger wing). At the train station I found some scales and confirmed I'm inside the weight range of the small wing. But I didn't like the color…

The fireworks are just starting - I wonder when I'll get to sleep tonight...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Old Friends

Back in Portland for a business trip, Saturday was flyable. I hadn't taken any flying gear for my trip, but I had 'cached' an old wing and harness in Portland for occasions like this.  So I joined Dan, Mark and Mary Beth for a day's flying - just like the old days.

Summer is a tricky time to fly in Oregon. The 'chosen' site for the day was (unusually) one I hadn't flown before - Hoover Ridge. And a pretty intimidating one it was too. From launch, you can only see trees or water and the trees seem especially close. 

Since I was flying gear that had been sitting unused in a garage for 3 years, I graciously let the other launch first. I considered my old wing a faithful companion, but it was horribly difficult to inflate in light conditions - no doubt it was badly out of trim. I struggled into the air and had an entertaining - but not terribly enjoyable - short flight, landing with Dan after about 30 minutes. You might expect a lower graded wing to feel reassuring to fly, but that wasn't the case at all. I never really felt 'in contact' with the wing - I seemed to be reacting to the wing, rather than controlling it.

Everyone landed at the same time and we all went back up to launch. The others flew, but I wasn't terribly keen - I really hadn't enjoying flying my old wing and I didn't trust it on such a technical launch. The little enthusiasm I had evaporated when another pilot launched into a tree.

We had a nice evening meal before the long drive home; typical Oregon flying, with a more driving than flying. I enjoyed my day out with my friends, but was disappointed by my old wing. I expected to find an old friend and instead found something unfamiliar and a little spooky.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Updating My Gear

I'm going through a bit of a flying gear overhaul. It's been more prolonged and involved than I expected (and I still haven't got to the wing).
It started with a lightweight pod harness. But things spread from there. The harness has a really small primitive cockpit. So my clunky GPS and vario got replaced with a single, sophisticated GPS-vario. But that wasn't the end of things; my lightweight reserve was too big for the harness reserve container; so an even smaller reserve was needed. 

There is a lot to like with these changes; lighter gear and better in-flight performance. But it isn't all positive. The gear is more fragile and needs a lot more attention - I still haven't worked out where to put a hook knife. And a bad landing is never a good idea, but (with the lack of back protection) it wouldn't be good for me or (with the lightweight materials) my gear.

Flying a pod - the Advanced Lightness - has pluses and minuses. Most of them are expected - e.g. weightshift is reduced, it's warmer, I'm sure it glides better. But some weren't. For example, my pod starts shaking as I approach a strong thermal from upwind long before my wing or my GPS have told me it's there. Or I get a blast of warm air up my leg when I enter a thermal. Nothing bad, just a little surprising...

My GPS is the Flymaster B1-Nav and it is specially designed for flying. It has a whole set of interesting features - a widget to show you the 'best lift' in your current thermal, something to tell you the wind direction and strength, funky sounds when you get near a thermal. I hope to be convinced of all their benefits soon, but I'm not quite there yet. 

But my biggest complaint with the GPS is a little embarrassing. I think the manufacturer should have done a little more analysis of their client-base. Paraglider pilots tend to be, you know, a little older than snowboarders. I can display 6 'custom' fields, but that doesn't mean I can read them. I'd prefer to display 2 or 4 fields that I can easily read.

Trip Stateside

I will be heading over to the States tomorrow for a trip that will keep me away for a couple of weeks. As I type this, the sun has just disappeared over Chalvet and I'm sitting out on the terrace, enjoying the evening cool, a local wine and watching the swallows swoop over the village. At this time of day, there is often a stream of wings heading to the LZ, after their gentle evening 'restitution' (glass-off) flights. But not today - it was a little windy, so I squeezed in a bike ride, not a flight.

I'm looking forward to my trip, but I'm also regretting leaving here and looking forward to getting back. It's hard to leave the S of France in summer. I wandered about the village this morning, just drinking in the atmosphere and snapping some photos.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lunch Time Hike and Fly

I had time for a short flight on Monday around lunch time. Saturday and Sunday afternoon had both ended in storms, and this left a lot of moisture on the ground, resulting in a sweaty hike up. I got up to launch before noon; big clouds were forming, but it was a S day, and it's much harder to climb out from the S launch than the normal W launch. Lots of people on launch, lots in the air, either maintaining or sinking out.

I launched and struggled in traffic. You know it's a difficult day at St Andre when you have to worry about ridge rules and you're looking at trees for signs of movement. But after 10 minutes struggling I caught a nice thermal and got almost 1000m over launch. No-one seemed to want to join my thermal so I enjoyed watching the other wings getting smaller below.

I really couldn't fly for very long, so I just had a nice little ride around St Andre and the Lac de Castellane before landing and getting back to work. A pity, because as the day evolved it seemed to get better and better - a much better flying day than Saturday or Sunday.