Thursday, January 15, 2009

Prefrontal Perfection

Out of the ten hopefuls who showed up at Diamond Head yesterday, seven lucky pilots made it into the air, two of them for the first time ever. The winds were forecast to be blowing light to moderate southwest in advance of the approaching cold front, but the flow was closer to south most of the day, perfect for the Crown Jewel. Thanks to first-timer Jim for noticing it and making the early call around lunchtime!

After having chased a skittish little window in vain there the day before, I was really hoping to make it work this time. I convinced Dave to blow off his work to scout it with me. Sure enough, Jim was right! It was fairly cross from the west but it seemed like we would be able to make it work.

The only problem was that because of the amount of west in the direction, we'd have to try the old pathway launch, which we haven't used in years. There are small trees inconveniently growing right behind the launch, and the gap to the ocean out front is now quite tiny and high due to the overgrown keawe. This means if you're not going up right off of launch you need to abort your launch right away (i.e., stall your wing) or you'll be ensnared in the thorny branches reaching up around the edges of the gap. To make things even trickier, the airflow for the earlier flyers was not reaching the ground level, but was only making the tree branches sway above our heads. So we had to rip our wings up into the airflow as we stood in the tall grass on the slope, then kite our wings up in that restricted tree-lined space, turn and wait for a cycle that felt buoyant enough to carry us through the gap.

After a brief flight, Dave had to leave to get back to the job he had blown off, but I stuck around as Jeff and Jim showed up to try for their first flights there. I know both of them have waited for years for a decent chance, and it was exciting for me to think that this would be the day for them.

It is kind of a special day when a local pilot gets to fly Diamond Head for the first time. It takes most of us a few years of waiting and wishing before we feel ready to handle the often sketchy and technical launches and top landings. On top of that, it can take many missed opportunities and goose chases before we get the timing right, to catch one of the rare little windows of prefrontal Kona winds that flit by in the wintertime. I think Jeff and Jim had almost given up hope. But I'm glad they persevered, and that they were willing to tackle the challenging launch conditions yesterday. They both did an awesome job, and later on they both managed to land back on top. Jeff's landing was picture perfect - wish I had thought to take one! Jim's landing was apparently a few feet short of ideal, but after some careful work his wing was cleared from the cactus in the leeside gap without sustaining any damage.

Frank and Joey showed up and launched just before I had to leave, four hours and several launches and toplandings later. I heard they also landed back on top, elevatoring straight down into the hole. Great job! And I heard Jorge showed up a bit later on. By that time it was apparently getting pretty strong and more westerly too. Jorge didn't realize the guys had all been launching from the pathway, and he launched from the garden before anyone got the chance to tell him - I heard he got swept off backwards and rotored down to the beach. Yikes! Maui Doug, Scrappy and Mad Dog showed up at the end there too, but the window of opportunity for good flying had already closed.

Thanks to Frank for remembering to grab the streamer pole! I think Jeff shot some HD video - I can't wait to see how it comes out!

Windward pilots, buckle your seatbelts for this frontal passage, with gusts forecast up to 55 mph tomorrow - I'll see you on the other side. Maybe we'll get some postfrontal flying on the north shore or Dillingham Saturday. And it sounds like light trades might grace Doug's farewell flying festival at Makapuu on Sunday.

I think it's safe to say that our winter flying season has finally arrived. A bit later than normal, but it's finally here. The last few weeks of great winter conditions have allowed first time flights for many pilots at Koko Head, Tantalus and Diamond Head. Now all we need is a good day at Koko Crater, maybe some North Shore or Dillingham action, and an epic Makapuu downrange flight, and we can call it a perfect winter.


Anonymous said...

Great article Alex! This website is an awesome online magazine and instructional guide. I've been reading many of past archived stories from many of the pilots. It's really helping me get my head around how much there is to learn.

I really have enjoyed reading about the past rat race's adventures. It's really a great thing that you all are so eager to share your experiences! It's such a great learning tool. Thanks Alex and everyone for all of your input, it really is AWESOME!

Much Aloha, MauiDoug

JeffMc said...

Companion video to this article: