Thursday, December 23, 2010

Round Top Recon

Since the President was arriving in the evening, we knew that Wednesday would be our last chance to fly anywhere on the island we wanted. The question was, where on the island did we want to fly? Or perhaps more important, where would it even be working? The forecast was a mess, and the sensors were showing very little wind anywhere. So we sent our faithful scouts out to every corner of the island to gather intelligence.

Harvey and Beeman marched out to Dillingham to scope out conditions at the playground we'll be enjoying over the next 11 days. But our trusty agents reported that the wind was very light and the area was shaded by clouds. They opted to wait it out and see how the day cooked up.

Even though he was convinced Round Top would be the best call, I implored Mad Dog to venture out to Makapuu to see if it might be working out there. My loyal wind spy reported that the wind was blowing over the back there, so he headed back to town and up to Round Top. I sped out to join him. Allan also made his way up there, as did Jorge. Thom and Frank showed up there as well. The wind was light on top, and we waited a while to see if it might turn on.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Ray were looking at the west side, and thinking it looked promising, despite a low and thick bank of clouds developing over the ridge. Maui Doug and X-patriate Doug joined them to mount a recon mission out west, and Allan and Thom left Round Top to chase the west side action as well. Mad Dog was almost tempted to jump in with Thom, and the truth is, we were all tempted to run out there, but Jorge seemed convinced it would work at Round Top, so we stuck around.

By this time, the chatterbox had logged sixty messages. That's a lot of chatter for one morning!

Jorge launched in what I thought was a pretty light cycle, but he wasn't sinking out, and he began to scratch around the ridge just above launch. He sure wasn't making it look easy. Finally he flew over launch and yelled down that it was starting to get better. Funny how he prefers to yell down to us rather than using the radio.

Mad Dog and I set up to launch next, and we both flew up to join Jorge. It was turning on all right - the air was full of nice thermals we could really turn in, circling up all the way to cloudbase. Well, that wasn't very high today, only around 2,500 feet, but the clouds were sparse enough that it didn't feel like a problem.

Mad Dog was determined to continue his ongoing mission to find a route to Koko Crater. He headed across Manoa Valley and pulled into the airspace above St. Louis Heights. But he was a bit too low to catch anything over there, and ended up getting flushed back down to land at the district park. He was lucky to catch a ride back up with a former hang glider pilot from the seventies, a guy named Reid.

I enjoyed myself cruising back into the valley and then across to the front of St. Louis Heights, but I wasn't interested in going further, because I really couldn't see any decent places to land down there.

Frank finally launched after waiting out a shady period, while a cloud formed overhead and blocked the sun, and he began to work his way up above the ridge.

Soon after that, Jorge and I both headed towards launch to try for a top landing. As we approached the ridge, the lift over the valley intensified in a big way. We realized that getting down would not be an easy task. We tried numerous spirals and wingovers, but we kept getting blasted back up into the air. Finally I got low enough to try for the first approach, and I was pretty sure I was coming in at just the right height, skimming over the launch about 2 feet over, which was certainly a height you could safely jump down from. But the only problem was that I had misjudged the wind direction, and I saw that I was screaming over the ground at about 30 mph. As the bushes at the bottom end of the launch rushed towards me, I managed to bank around just a bit, and finally I just spun the wing, plunging myself into the wall of soft bushes back-first. My wing somehow just fluttered down onto the grass. Wow - that was a lucky save. Wouldn't want to count on making that work a second time.

Jorge had seen my fast landing, and he figured out that he should approach the landing from the other direction, which he did, and he made it look easy. Then Frank came in from the same direction, and he didn't exactly make it look easy, but instead he showed us exactly how much force it takes to plow through a solid treetop to reach the grassy landing spot. An entertaining lesson from our top field operative.

We took a break to see if conditions might mellow out a bit. After relaxing in the shade and enjoying some cold refreshments, it seemed like things were mellowing out just right, so we all set up to relaunch. As we were laid out up there, a guy at the lookout asked us if we ever have trouble with the cops up there. Of course not, we replied. Good, he said, because there are a couple of them headed out here right now.

Sure enough, a couple of our boys in blue came out to see what was going on. They said they'd got some calls - not from the usual sources, but from Homeland Security. Yikes! I explained about our situation with the TFR, and about how we'd been in talks with the Secret Service, and how this was our last day before being booted out to Dillingham. They were very nice and understanding, and they left us to our farewell flights. Wasn't that friendly?

Jorge launched, and Mad Dog and I quickly followed. But apparently conditions had mellowed more than we'd realized. I started to sink out, and I headed deeper into the valley to make sure I could reach the field in back. I sank below the road, and I headed way back alongside the ridge, intending to veer out to the field just in time, but something made me start to turn in the light choppy bumps I was feeling next to the densely forested ridge.

I turned tight flat circles right in front of those trees, for a very long time, and slowly, I mean really slowly, I started to climb out of there. I could hear Frank on the radio cheering me on. Mad Dog chimed in too. I wasn't sure if I could really get back in the game but it seemed worth a try. After turning what seemed like a million circles, I finally looked around to see that I'd risen above the ridge, and I was able to jet back out front to set up for a textbook top landing. Nice - that made up for my horrible landing earlier. And that may have been my craziest low save ever.

It was definitely getting lighter by this time. Mad Dog made it in for a perfect top landing in the lightening cycles, but poor Jorge got flushed down to the road. Frank drove down to retrieve him, just as Pete and Bonnie showed up. Pete was determined to throw Bonnie off under a demo wing for her first flight there, despite the weak conditions, and her limited thermaling experience. He's a talented radio controller and she's fearless enough to try anything once … but that's another story (recounted by Bonnie below)!

So, to recap: nine pilots showed up at Round Top over the course of the day. The result? Five pilots flew nine flights, four making it to cloudbase, with the flights ending in one park landing, one road landing, six top landings (two of them less than graceful), and finally, one tree crash.

Quite an exciting way to say farewell to our customary freedom to fly wherever we choose for the next eleven days. During that time, we'll be confined to the distant dales of Dillingham and Makua, doing our special little part to keep the island safe for Very Important People on their well deserved vacations here. Welcome home, Mr. President! Enjoy your time back on the island with your family, and we'll do our best not to stress out any of the people who are working hard to protect you.

1 comment:

Thom said...

I guess Allan & I made the wrong move to the West Side, well at least I did. He headed straight up to high launch with Maui Doug and both launched and had low thermalling flights below cloud base. XCDoug of course was at and in the clouds and still tried to make a go of it. he went across to the other ridge sank and landed at the ball fields. JeffMC hiked down I went up to high launch with B-Ray to huck him off after several failed attempts at Mid. he got a sledder and I hiked down. I needed the exercise any way.

Hoping the Dill works in the next few days. Glad you guys had fun at TAN and thanks for the story.