Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Family Vacation

We got an unexpected visit from my father for the holidays so we packed everyone up and headed over to the Grand Canyon for few days. But first a couple of Christmas shots:

I had no problem getting reservation so I didn't think there would be much of a crowd but the place was packed. Luckily we got an early start on Saturday and were able to gain access to most of the vistas before the crowds took over. They had a nice dumping of snow during the preceding week so the views were even more spectacular.

In case you hadn't already guessed that is my 85 year old father on the left. It was -4 degrees F on Saturday morning when we headed up to the park. My father lives in Florida now; a bit of a change I would say.

I believe this shot was from Mather Point. All the vistas were awe inspiring, but if I had to choose the best spots I would say that Yavapai and Lipan Points offered the most spectacular views.

"The oldest building in the park?" "That's nice." "I want one of those icicles!" Forget the Grand Canyon; the kids would have been just as satisfied just playing in the snow the whole weekend. Dad did plan ahead though and packed the sleds. There was a nice hill across the street from the hotel to be put to use -- and use they did.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So Cal XC League Meet (Called)

Dean Stratton has been running a contest modeled after the Northern California XC League Meet called, well, the Southern California XC League Meet. Once a month, during a weekend, an XC contest is held at designated site in Southern California. The first two contests were held at Marshall and the last two in Santa Barbara. I didn’t attend the Marshall events but I had planned to participate in Santa Barbara during at least one of the weekends. I hadn’t flown since Blackhawk, so I had a couple of extra kitchen passes in the bank. However, in the morning of the first event in November I awoke to high clouds, a lousy 6k 7 degrees Celsius lapse rate and a splitting headache; I opted to crawl back in bed with Lauren instead of making the trek. But, despite the conditions they managed to get in a half-way decent task. I regret not going – although that Sunday’s task was cancelled.

The forecast for the December event wasn’t much better than November’s, but I decided that I would go no matter what, if for no other reason than to show some support. Anyway, RUC was actually showing the possibility of a pretty good day, albeit a bit breezy out of the east at the top of the lift band. Good, that is, if the predicted high clouds held off until everyone was on the ground. They didn’t.

One of the problems with a somewhat loose contest like this is getting everyone herded to together to get the ball rolling. Normally, during this time of year, Tony and I would be on our way to launch by 9:00 so that we would be set up ready to go by 10:00 at the latest. Well, the pilot meeting wasn’t scheduled to start until nine; in reality things didn’t start clicking until sometime near ten. The delay caused us to miss an opportunity to take advantage of the mid-morning clear skies before the high clouds rolled in – for the HGs anyway; the PGs got skunked outright.

It was decided at the pilots’ meeting that the PGs would use the Altinator launch and the HGs would take off from the Eliminator. Both groups were greeted with east winds. Despite the iffy launch conditions at the Eliminator a task was called: RR to the VOR then east to Romero and then out to the beach (I was hoping for at least a 35 miles task to put me over 500 miles for the year). But with the east wind a few of us were clamoring to head up to the Back of the Rack launch - named, btw, by yours truly. Some pilots, however, wanted to stay where they were to wait out the conditions. I argued that since the RR was going to be used as the start it didn’t matter where we launched from; those that wanted to stay, could. After some hemming and hawing my argument won out. Only when we got up to the backrange it wasn’t exactly the same launch that Tom Truax and I discovered many moons ago. We had taken off from a turn-out just east of where we would launch, but that area was now blocked with vegetation. At the original spot there are a number of places to set up, but at the new launch we were required to set up in the middle of the road. It ended up not being a problem as only 2-3 cars had to maneuver around us.

The Back of the Rack is located on the back ridgeline directly behind the Thermal Factory. It’s only used in an east wind and the flying is mostly ridge soaring, that is, until you get out to the normal trigger spots on the front range. When we first arrived it was still sunny but the high clouds were closing in fast. By the time the first pilot (John Greynald) got in the air, they were pretty much on top of us – although it was still sunny west of the RR. Meanwhile, the PGs had thrown in the towel after giving up on the Altinator and later the Skyport, because of the east wind. And not long after that, the day was called for the HGs too. John had gotten on course, but the day was deteriorating and he soon found himself low over the Holy Hills. As part of the task committee, I’m not sure if it was he or Dean who called it, but it was called none the less. Since there was no task everyone decided to play around a bit and then cop a glide out to the beach.

However, I wanted to see if I could still do the task (plus our truck was parked at the T LZ) so after a few runs back and forth near launch – I’m still kicking myself for not taking pictures of launch and the back country behind it – I headed out on course.

High clouds rolling in.

Normally I would cut straight over to the RR but I noticed Aaron LaPlante climbing out above the Thermal Factory so I headed there instead. I didn’t get the best glide and didn’t find the same cohesive lift. After turning a few circles I decided to give up the high ground and try my luck out front. I found something just over the road behind the power lines.

As you can see by my track there was definitely some east influence. I thought the drift would take me right over the RR, but the lift gave out about half-way there. No worries, because I had plenty of altitude to reach the RR comfortably. Unfortunately, the RR wasn't working. Not one beep. Discouraged, I basically gave up on the day and decided to head out to the T LZ to retreive our truck. If I had to do it all over I would have at least tried flying directly over the Tit to see if I might have found some lift there. As it was I angled too far west to give it the proper shot. Anyway, after a long glide I made it to the T pretty easily.

If you look at my track you'll see a not so straight line where the green turns into yellow. Since buying the LightSpeed I've never really tried to air the thing out to see how fast it can go. The air was pretty calm and I had some altitude to play with so I thought what the heck let's give it a go. I pulled the VG full on and stuff the bar. Only as soon as I did it my left wing dropped which led to some PIO. At full VG I was experiencing negative bar pressure making it hard to slow the glider down to correct the situation -- of course I should have just popped the VG. After getting the glider to fly straight I made a second attempt with the exact same results. Either I have to work on my racing skills or perhaps make some adjustments to the dive sticks. I say perhaps because I had Kraig Coomber test fly the glider when I first bought it and according to him it flies fast and straight.