Monday, September 03, 2007

Air Raid Recap: Mission Accomplished!

Twenty local pilots (and another dozen family members, friends and visiting pilots) took time from their busy holiday schedules to fly together and celebrate our shared passion at Kahana yesterday. And though the turnout may have been a bit lower than in past years, and the events a bit more haphazard, the good spirits and camaraderie made our fourth annual fly-in event a great success.

We must have kept this event secret enough to avoid the attention of the weather gods this time around, because we were very lucky to have flyable conditions for the entire day. The sunny sky was interrupted only once by a tiny squall passing outside the bay, and we enjoyed light tradewinds sparsely peppered with high pressure thermals. The conditions of the day rewarded hard work and patience, not to mention light wing-loading.

Many pilots struggled heroically just to rise above launch, and lots of folks got an earlier chance at the spot-landing event than they had intended. The spot landing safety cone was a big hit, and a variety of highly entertaining approach patterns were demonstrated throughout the day. Near the end of the flying circus, one clown in particular missed the spot and landed on his keister, after an unorthodox and desperate series of last minute oscillations -- but then he proceeded to bulldoze the cone as his wing dragged him across it. Um, okay, that was me. My worst spot landing approach ever, but hopefully it was worth a laugh.

Despite the light conditions, more than half of us managed to soar for many cumulative hours over the course of the day, and a handful of us got high enough to strike out and seek our fortunes up and down the range. Some flights were more epic than others. In an early misstep, Eric fell prey to the venturi that often sucks unwary low pilots around into Punaluu on easterly days, but in a display of fierce determination, he patiently milked the tiny turbulent bubbles of lift in the strong sideways airflow, and slowly battled his way back around front and up again. Dave tried the first bay crossing, and sacrificed his first flight to show us that it wasn't really working, squeaking out an impossibly low save at the Crouching Lion and burning straight back to the LZ.

Four of us left Kahana to try our luck downrange, and we found the thermals to be rough and punchy. They were workable, but too narrow and fast for us to make many full turns. I puckered up and toughed out a flight to Pounders with Berndt for his first time landing there - he was thrilled to have gone that far. Scot got off the snot rocket express one stop earlier, in Hauula, and Russell brought up the caboose and rode it all the way to a dizzying 1,800 feet over the Punaluu ridge, before heading in for a landing at the beach there. It turns out he believed he needed two grand before he could leave that ridge to follow us, not realizing the rest of us had left with only about 1,500 feet. As Dave reminded us, flying downrange from Kahana is like sliding downstream, with progressively less height needed to make each transition. (Minimum departure heights on most days are 1,800 feet at Kahana, 1,400 feet at Punaluu, the same again at Sacred Falls, and finally about a grand at Hauula to make Pounders.)

Many tandem pilots gave their time and energy to share the air with family and friends, but the conditions were generally too light and challenging for them to stay up under those sluggish ships. Peter and Hillary proved that it was possible though, and eventually reported the highest altitude of the day above Kahana, reaching 2,450 feet and the thin air at cloudbase. One of the tandem pilots was Nalu, who had shown up out of the blue to see some old friends, and he kindly gave Kenny a brief tandem flight on Dave's small tandem wing. For the rest of the day, Kenny worked on learning to ground handle from the guru himself, Suicide Pete, with help from Brazilian Ray and others. Kenny quickly mastered the basics of kiting and was making it look easy by the end of the day.

Visitor Steve Stackable from Torrey Pines showed up to demonstrate his laid back prowess once again, showing us that it was possible to cross the bay by making it over on his first attempt, and he soon disappeared around the corner above Kaaawa. A bit later on, I managed to follow him over there, but I couldn't find him anywhere, so I assumed he'd flown uprange towards Makapuu. I think it would definitely have been a good day to make the big trip, but as usual I wasn't willing to fly off alone on that scary mission, and instead I consoled myself with an easy tour to Kualoa and back in the last light of the day. Turns out Steve had bombed out at Kaaawa school!

Thanks to everyone who came out to fly and party with us. Thanks to Rich for the tent, Ray and Peter (and others?) for the barbecues, and everyone for bringing food and beverages to share. I was so buzzed on ginger beer by the end of the day I don't know how I got home.

I know some folks shot some great pictures and video -- please share them online or e-mail them if you can, and I'll be happy to link them into this report.

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