Monday, September 26, 2011

Our encounter with the harrier jets

Brett has some footage of the Harrier jets passing through our gaggle (see post on day 6). Closest encounter I've ever had with jets and I don't think they've seen us...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Closing the circle

It started 6 months ago at Quest and this morning, while I realize that the trip is coming to an end, David Glover showed me this clip:

I guess that really closes the circle. The video might not be that funny to you, but if you know the people in there, it's major fun :-) Let's turn the clock back six months and start it all over again!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Santa Cruz Flats, day 5 & 6

Day 5 took us east again. Towards Newman's Peak. The first leg was a very slow flight for me. Very low and in weak broken thermals. I had made the mistake of going to early and had to work hard due to that. Those that left half an hour later climbed to 3000 m in the start circle and glided the whole first leg. It took me 1,5 hours below 1000 m AGL... Once I got to Newman's peak I finally hit some nicer lift, but I also rushed it because the day was going to come to an end and landed out. I seem to make one bad decision after the other.

By the way, the optimized route feature of the Compeo+ can play tricks on you. I wanted to take the 10 km cylinder and climb out on the peak again. You can see in the track log that I wasted altitude by not heading to the closest point on the cylinder, but by going to the optimized point for the route. Which wasn't my optimal tactical point at all.

Yesterday, we had a 125 km task to the north east. It was super slow in the flats again. But this time, I stayed with the gaggle and we slowly did make progress. We headed to the mountain south west of Phoenix, where beautiful, high clouds were waiting for us. While we were climbing in the first good thermal of the day there, I saw two fighter jets approach us from the west. And they were exactly at our altitude, heading straight for us and dumping fuel. I left the thermal to get out of their path, but immediately regretted that, because I was on my own now and surely they were going to make a move to divert the gaggle. But they didn't, they continued dead ahead and I think Larry Bunner saw them from very, very close. The thermal had an intense jet fuel smell after their pass.

I climbed to 3500 m, followed the ridge and went for the turnpoint in the flats. Again, a 30 km cylinder and it seems to be very hard to fly the shortest distance to the cylinder and back, when your desired out direction is different from the route to the next turnpoint. Back on the ridge I set a new personal height record of 4500 m. The instrument indicated I had final glide to goal (50 km!), but I knew it was going to be hard. Dustin and I left the same thermal at the same height, but chose a slightly different path. I glided only 40 km (only 10,6:1) and landed 13 km short. Dustin made it to goal. I seem to be really bad at picking lines this comp...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Santa Cruz Flats, days 2, 3 and 4

Well, I guess day 2 and 3 were so demotivating for me, that I didn't bother to write anything about them yet. On day 2, I took the start thermal and 2 minor thermals before gliding to landing. I was very disappointed not to make it to goal 2 days in a row. Not even close by the way.

The result was that by day 3 I was low down in the ranking and as a result had no priority to speak of in the launch lane. Having only 3 tugs working, I knew I had to launch early to have any chance. I prepared early, get in line 10th, but saw everybody else use their priority to launch before me. I was on the same spot for 45 mins and was in line for 1h20. By the time I launched, the first start gate had already gone by. But what was worse, was that the air in the start area had become very inactive. I took a very slow climb to 1500 m, but still had to land after that. The second tow resulted in a very slow climb to 2000 m, which also was the last climb of the day for me. Three miserable days in a row...

Yesterday I launched early again and got in the start gaggle, making slow progress to 2000 m. I launched very early to avoid being stuck again and flew for 1h15 before the start. We had overdevelopment with virga and a visible gust front to the south of us and heading our way. The first thermal after the start was strong and very wide and must have been gust front triggered. It felt good to be flying with the lead gaggle at last, but when they decided to ride the gust front, I didn't feel comfortable doing that and headed out towards the sun. It was clear that the task was going to be canceled and I wanted to be able to pack up the glider before the gust front would hit me. I had an interesting time on the ground, being bitten by ants, watching the gust front get closer and seeing 3 microbursts very close to me. They were small, but they had some power.

Although the day was canceled, it felt good to be competing again. Bring on day 5! We have predictions for lift up to 3700 m...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Santa Cruz Flats Race, Day 1

Yesterday we had the first task of the Santa Cruz Flats Race. A 110 km triangle was set. The thermals were weak immediately after tow, but conditions improved soon after and after 20 mins I was floating around at 2800 m. I was convinced it was going to be a true racing day and I headed out in the blue, towards the start circle edge.

Things changed from then on. No more strong climbs and I had a bad position for the 2nd start, so I waited for the 3rd. After the start, I headed for a little mountain, which was a bit off course line and nobody followed me. I was on my own in the blue, not the situation I wanted to have. I got lower and lower and never had nice climbs, but just before the first turnpoint, I joined a gaggle. Immediately after the turnpoint, I wanted to make a detour over the mountains again and the gaggle decided to do otherwise again. I spotted a bird and a dust devil and went for it. But, it didn't work out. I got very low and it took me a long while to get up again. And, it was my last climb.

I flew towards the foothills of the mountains, didn't find any lift and had to fly out of there, because there was no way to land there. It was a cactus forest. Doesn't look inviting at all!

So I landed at the 2nd turnpoint, 40 km short of goal. Only to see the gaggle I was with drift over me low and climb out slowly. Dustin and Davis flew over as well, on their way to goal. 8 Guys made it in. Here you can see a few pics of the world I landed in, it's a different world :-)

Carl's Dolomites video

Carl, Jamie, Jem and I had two magnificent flights in the dolomites, in August. And Carl produced a great video on those flights. If you don't have a lot of time, have a quick look at 2:00, where Carl and I fly on the south wall and over Marmolada. The view was exceptional!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pierro's Dolomites Video

In August, I had a dream flight with Carl Wallbank over many of the famous Dolomites peaks. Apparently, Gianpietro Zin had such a majestic flight as well. Enjoy Pierro's video, it's hang gliding at it's best!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Last big trip

I'm going to use every single day of my 6 month sabbatical. The Santa Cruz flats race is waiting in Arizona, but it's going to be quite a trip to get there from Kayseri. First we drive to Edirne, then the car train to Villach, then driving to Munich again, before I get onto the plane to Phoenix. Arizona, I can't wait to get there!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kayseri - Pre Europeans - Day 5 - Task 5

Yesterday we set a 97 km task to the east. Some big valley crossings, some mountains, a lake in the middle, quite a changing terrain to fly over. I few the first 50 km parallel to Primoz (a few kms apart). We both found good lift and made good progress. After 55 km, I dug myself into a mountain because I didn't have enough height to cross the lee side. The turnpoint was on the lee side and I kept searching for lift on the wind blown north-west side. When I finally got up and jumped over it, I had an even worse than expected glide and landed soon after. There almost was enough lift to get up from the landing field again. I did 6 very low turns, but it couldn't save me. So close :-(

Primoz never tried the wind blown side of the mountain, flew into the lee immediately, unzipped for landing, but got a thermal to 3200 m and won the day... He was the only one in goal and now is far ahead in the overall standings. Pedro is second overall, he was 11 km short of goal while I was 34 km short. Suan was 38 km short.

Primoz also said that yesterday was a weaker than the day before. That was a surprise for me, because yesterday I got 2 to 4 m/s thermals, while it had been very weak the day before. I really must have flown a bad route that day...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Kayseri - Pre Europeans - Day 4 - Task 4

Dusties and smoke everywhere, but I was unable to find good lift. That's the story of the day. Alone, low, slow and on the ground after 2/3 of the course. Riding out of there with the Mitsubishi was the best part of the day. Jamie does know how to capture the moment:

Financial support needed for Urkainian pilot

Elena Filippova wrote this on a dedicated Facebook group:

"We urgently need financial help for the surgical operation and after-operational treatment for Voron'kov Alex! He got traumas as a result of falling on hanggliding competitions on August 20 at Kobala Open 2011 (Slovenia, Tolmin). Voron'kov Alex caught a tree at the landing field and fell down from the height about 20 metres. Pilot has serious injury- broken spine (pectoral and lumbar department), break of spinal cord, both shoulders are broken, a kidney and spleen were damaged (his spleen had been removed). A diagnosis is a partial paralysis."

She created a Paypal account for donations:

I wish Alex the best recovery possible. Let's hope he will be able to walk again in the future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kayseri - Pre Europeans - Day 3 - Task 3

Today started with the news by the weather man that today was even more stable than yesterday. That seemed to be confirmed by the thick inversion layer we saw on launch. Yet, while we were rigging it was soon clear that it was different than the day before. We had some dusties in the valley (there is very light dust there) around midday and we set a 63 km task.

We (Primoz, Suan, Pedro and me) agreed to launch together to improve our chances of not bombing out, because there were not many cycles coming through on launch. And I think it was a nice show to see us launch in quick succession and thermal up and away.

The flying was great. Although we didn't get very high (2500 m, valley at 1500 m), we got nice 2 to 3 m/s climbs and we made good progress. Here a some pictures of the first half of the task, crossing the valley east of Kayseri:

During the second glide, I skipped a light thermal, while the others turned for a while. This gave me a slight lead, but also the risk of being out alone in the blue. It worked out nicely as I was able to stay ahead and, after being a bit to conservative to make sure I made goal, I crossed goal 20 seconds ahead of Primoz. Suan arrived one minute later and we now have a very tight race with Suan leading me by 15 points in the overall standings. Everything is still wide open of course, since Pimoz and Pedro are not far behind at all.

I flew without ballast today because I expected lighter conditions. I'm now doubting whether I need any ballast at all...

The fields at goal were lifting everywhere, so we all thermalled up and explored the high mountains east of our goal. Spectacular views again, but sadly no pictures, the SD card filled up. Primoz (who I had lost sight of after goal) attacked the 25 km/h headwind and almost flew back to Kayseri. Sure, the day was undercalled, but we also had a very, very happy Turkish pilot in goal :-)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Primoz wins task 2

Some more news on task 2. Primoz launched first and got very low. He hit a thermal when he aimed for a landing field. He drifted a while before it turned on to a 5 to 7 m/s one taking him to 3200 m. Nobody expected that. It basically was the only thermal he took to glide to goal. To his surprise, the goal line was laid out in the middle of a lava field...

Suan was the only one to climb a little on launch. Just 100 m, then he headed out in the valley to climb slowly but steadily. Suan arrived in goal an hour later than Primoz. Suan and Primoz probably are the only ones having more than minimum distance.

Kayseri - Pre Europeans - Day 2 - Task 2

Yesterday was a difficult day and the meteo guy promised us a more stable day today. We set a very, very short 32 km downwind task with pretty late starts (14.45 - 15.30). Until 15.00 I only once saw a thermal dome in the inversion layer and I decided to launch around 14.45. When I was ready for launch, Primoz was ready as well. Thinking too much about tactics, I decided to let him launch first and I got behind Suan and Pedro in the launch line. Primoz launched and had a difficult time, but was not losing height. Suan was reluctant to launch and when I finally was able to launch right after Pedro, I noticed that the winds were a lot stronger than usual. A clear indication that the thermal on launch had passed us and we had missed the cycle. For some reason I did not have the patience to wait and launched. I bombed out in a pretty spectacular fashion, that is without a single 360. Very stupid.

Primoz and Suan made goal. No more news yet.

Oh, the wind!

Forgot to tell you about the wind. Both on the practice day and on the first task, we had strong winds. On the practice day, we had something like a jet layer at 2200 m. Primoz got through it earlier in the day, but I never managed to punch through. Yesterday, we had strong winds all the way from the ground (Suan landed with his hands on the speedbar). Primoz recorded a 45 km/h drift near the second turnpoint and it was at least 30 km/h for me. You can see how hard I had to work for that one once I got on the downwind side:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kayseri - Pre Europeans - Day 1 - Task 1

When we asked the locals about the typical flying here, they said 4000 m cloud base (up to 5000 m) and 6 m/s thermals. The comp organizer even added that he didn't start a XC flight unless cloudbase was at 4000 m. But, he soon added that this year seemed to be special, because he didn't even get to 3500 m this year...

So, on yesterday's practice day, we woke up with a beautiful sky and had cumi's early on. We drove up to launch on mount Ali. Launch is at 1700 m, the valley is at 1100 m, but the landing field is at 1400 m. And yes, my first flight I bombed out before I realized it. Luckily, Suan landed next to me just a few minutes after me. He must have known that that was good for my confidence ;-)

So, Suan and I quickly derigged and went for a second flight. We launched under a beautiful sky and got a nice 4 m/s thermal, which, for some reason, we couldn't take to cloud base. Winds were 30 km/h from the north and we dove in a blue hole (on our course line) which had nothing but slow 1 m/s thermals. They didn't even bring us close to cloud base and made the struggle against the wind a difficult one. We both landed out after 1,5 hour flight. We were warned for the first task.

So, today was the first hang gliding competition day on Mount Ali. The meteo guy promised us lighter winds and nicer thermals. We set an 80 km task with an entry circle and first turnpoint right above the grandstands on launch. We wanted to give the 200 spectators something to look at. The day looked way more stable than the meteo guy suggested us and we had a late race start at 3 o'clock. I launched at 2 and initially feared the same scenario as yesterday. I had already lost 150 m, when I got a very tight 3 to 4 m/s thermal. I never before climbed a thermal which remained that tight. And it reminded me of what the locals said. The thermals sometimes are strong, but too small for 2 paragliders. That seemed to be true.

Although the thermal was strong, it also stopped abruptly at 2000 m. That was an indication of what was to come. The rest of the flight was a struggle in weak, unorganized thermals. I flew for more than an hour not getting more than 600 m above ground. In a place which is known for 4000 m cloud bases...

The landscape is intriguing. The flats are separated by long hills, remains of lava flows. Some of it is very wild and desolate.

After landing, I was greeted by the local kids. They swarmed around the glider and of course were very curious.

I flew about 35 km and was 2nd for the day with that. Congrats to Suan who won the day with 48 km. No one made goal, only Suan reached nominal distance, the points were very low. Predictions are for better slightly better conditions for the next days. So I guess it will still be a lot of hard work, no easy flying.

Check Jamie's pics. She's got some really nice ones on the take-off and surroundings and you can appreciate the hard work the organizers have done to make this a very spectator-friendly place for next year's comp! Jamie also blogs about what's going on here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Getting to Kayseri

Primoz, Suan, Noel and I drove to Villach on Wednesday morning to take the car train. And I must say, it is a different way of traveling. The train took 36 hours to get from Villach, Austria to Edirne, just across the Turkish border. It changes your mindset. You have a lot of time and there's no stress at all. You're just a passenger on the train, leaning out the window and enjoying the different landscapes zooming by. At times, when I was confronted with a lot of different smells in a short time, it remembered me of riding a motorbike. And I had the time to re-read the 'Secrets of Champions'. I will fly like crap now, due to an information overload...

In Edirne, we hopped off the train and got the car back. Make sure you have a written permission that you are allowed to drive the car if the car is not yours. Customs might give you some troubles otherwise. According to the train personnel, I was the first one to enter Turkey without such a permission :-)

We left Edirne at 12.30 AM and headed for Kayseri. The GPS gave us a strange route, so we decided to follow the signs on the road. Those were a very good help and we had good roads all the way to Kayseri and arrived there around noon, after an 11 hour drive. Luckily we were able to split up the driving last night! In total we traveled just over 2 days from Villach. Slow, but we have a car and the gliders here.

The accommodation is very nice. We have good beds and free internet and apparently a kitchen we can use as well.

The team ready for departure in Villach. Notice the basket of fresh fruits and vegetables brought by Primoz. We all lived off of it :-)

Second time in Dimitrovgrad? Strange!

Trying to absorb champ knowledge...