Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wet, soggy, and even foggy cloud street to Olomana

Yesterday at Makapu'u could not be described as anything but wet, soggy, and even 'foggy'. The air hung heavy with humidity, and it was as if I could feel its tremendous weight pushing down on me from above, but also lifting me from below, as I explored the 'twilight delight' over the flatlands of Waimanalo, with visions of landing in Kailua or Lanikai. Oh, and by the way, I started my flight at 6:00 pm, so I kind of had to hurry things along …

Conditions read 10 mph from the NE at Bellows, with sensors further north reading 4 mph and 5 mph respectively at Kaneohe and Kahuku. The conditions on the ground indicated a lightening trend, as well as some serious cloud development and the possibility of evening magic air, or what I like to call the 'twilight delight'. Frank had top landed Manics, and Mike was in the air when I pulled up at 6:00 pm, after working until 4:30 am that very same morning. Mike called on the radio, asking, 'Do you have your ears on?' To which I replied, 'Heading down range.' He asked, 'Where to?' and I replied, 'As far as the clouds will take me.'

Had an uneventful launch, and caught a few nice thermals over Sea Life Park. (Strange since it was now 6:15 pm). It just seemed like everything was going up, and at the same time the wind at 2,000 feet was quite light. Flew around for a few minutes to get a chance to feel the air and make sure that penetration at altitude was well within the capabilities of my skills and glider. Check. Headed on a very lofty line to Ironwoods where I was established at 2,300 feet within 5 minutes, in a dense fog layer that reminded me of flying in San Francisco, a few feet above the cliffs at 'The Dumps', blocked in by a thick layer of fog just overhead. The strange thing about the fog here was that it seemed to be forming at around 2,200 feet, and really reminded me of Pea Soup. After a few minutes of reflection at Ironwoods, I felt the lifting air in the dense clouds and calculated my optimum trajectory for the ultimate goal of landing somewhere in Kailua or Lanikai, since I knew I could get a ride from there.

As I sat at cloud base over Ironwoods, the wind seemed to have some additional easterly component, so I figured it would be a safe bet to head for Pu'u O Kona, taking the wide route over the valley to avoid sinking air near the ridge, and using the thick lifting humid air mass to arrive with plenty of altitude. On my glide I did manage to stay quite high over the valley, and had a speed of 25-30 mph, not leaving cloud base until I got most of the way there. To my surprise, when I got to Pu'u O Kona, there was very limited lift, and I had to scratch very close to the sharp ridge to get up, as the wind was splitting this ridge, and seemed to be getting lighter as I pushed further into the valley. After taking successively closer passes to scout out any potential rotor, and to feel out the new wind direction, I found that it had lightened to the point where I had to pull right into the ridge to get up. Scratched my way back up to the dense fog layer and quickly headed out over the valley.

On my glide from Pu'u O Kona it was obvious that the air was quite unstable, and the clouds were really providing a tremendous amount of lift. As I flew on a heading directly north towards Olomana Golf Course, the cloud suck really started working, so I went on full speed bar to use the rare advantage of my dhv 1-2 glider, the sink rate at full bar. However, it soon became apparent that this was not enough to stay within sight of the ground, as I was climbing at 2,400 feet at this point, so I decided to stay on my northerly course over the flat lands and descend slowly. When I started getting wet and finally had some rain drops falling on me, it was time to get back down to the base of the clouds. Decided between a b-line, spiral, and big ears with bar, and went with big ears with speed bar because I wanted to maintain my course and push as far north as I could. NOTE - SHOULD HAVE CORRECTED MY ALTITUDE PRIOR TO GONG INTO THE CLOUD AS REFLECTED IN LESSONS LEARNED.

When I regained sight of the ground I was really cold and kind of wet, but most of the way to Olomana Golf Course, with 2,400 feet of altitude and another lofty line. Continued to push into the light north wind until I passed over the lower ridge of Olomana near the rodeo, with about 1,200 feet. Really wanted to continue to push into Kailua, or commit to trying to get up at Olomana, but decided that I did not have a suitable landing zone within easy reach and it was getting dark. Thought about trying to fly the small ridge dividing Enchanted Lakes from Olomana Golf Course, and land either at Olomana or Midpac Golf Course, but did not know if they would appreciate that. Instead I took a tour of the ridge lines at the base of Olomana, and then flew out over Olomana Golf Course, and then back to the rodeo to land in their 'Bull Free' field, since the trees and power lines at the golf course looked like they could create some rotor.

Upon landing I was quite cold, but happy to have decided to take a chance on a late adventure. The sun was setting and a really nice woman from the rodeo grounds opened the gate for me and let me hang out with her huge dogs until I could arrange a ride. She said I should be happy the bulls were not in the fence when I landed. The first call I made was to Thom, who was heading back from a job, and was en route to Kailua from Hawaii Kai. Perfect timing. 'I will meet you at Olomana Golf Course.' To which Thom replied, 'Those damn non-jobbers, you little focker, where did you land this time?' My day was complete, and I was on the ground to watch a huge harvest moon rise over the shores of Kailua.

LESSONS LEARNED: Is there anything I would have done differently? Maybe pull a few smaller b-line stalls to make sure I did not lose sight of the ground while I was out over the valley. Seems like a few 'checks' of altitude might have not been as stressful as getting a little too high and descending slowly on big ears and speed bar. The end.

P.S I did not take any pictures, so I have included one from 1,500 feet up the ridge line dividing Waianae Valley from Makaha Valley, where I plan to fly one day. Alex conquered this ridge line last time we flew out there together, and I hope to some day follow in his footsteps.


Alex said...

Thanks for the report, Allan! Sounds like a soggy ride indeed.

Remember, when we say we are flying at cloud base, we are actually staying clear of the clouds as required by FAR 103. The base of the clouds is where we find the lift, so we ride there below them, and sometimes we can ride up alongside them or between them, but we don't go up inside them.

Also, I changed your references to 'Pine Trees' to 'Ironwoods' which is what everyone else calls them.

'Twilight Delight' sounds like a euphemism for something else. Even more reason to like that phrase!

Keep up the great flying and reporting. Hope to see you out there soon! And by the way, there is a new member of the Niviuk team in town: Bonnie just got a Hook 2. We're going to have to show those SOL and Ozone groupies how it's done around here.

Thom said...

Great write AllanC, you little focker.
We are expecting great flights from you and stories to go with them.

Just remember our clouds are much more friendly, than those on the mainland. But I pretty sure you have a handle on it.

DaveZ said...

Nice write-up Allan, thank you.
Funny you should mention the fog at the dumps, I got skunked there yesterday due to heavy damp fog that just wouldn't lift. On the way home I txt'd my wife "I wanna go back to Makapuu!"

allanc said...

@DaveZ - it is great you are following the stories here in Hawaii and thank you for dealing with that low hanging fog for all of us. Will be great to fly with you again when you make it back out to Hawaii and will give you a call shall I find myself in San Francisco anytime soon. Aloha

allanc said...

@Alex - I hear your comment about sensitivity towards clouds and our FAR 103 regulations and take these very seriously. Weighed this against posting my true account of the day as something that others and myself could reflect on and learn from. In my lessons learned, stated that my future approach will be a series of smaller corrective b-line stalls to stay just below cloud base and meet the FAR 103 regulations for distance from clouds. I have seen Mad Dog do this as he has crossed out towards Olomana a few different times and it seems to work well. Thanks for the comment and for your insights.

allanc said...

@Thom - Again thanks so much for your assist with the ride after I landed out and you are correct that we need to have a tremendous respect for clouds and what they can potentially do to us here in Hawaii and else were. Am always reading and learning but there is so much more to know and to experience, but just one step at a time. As for the stories I need to get a new battery for my GoPro camera as it exploded the other day but then will start documenting flights again. It feels as if each new flight teaches me a new lesson on how to approach a certain type of day or certain line towards the different goals we have around the island. Very grateful to have you as a flying comrade and friend.

Alex said...

Allan, don't get me wrong: we have all made the mistake of getting a little too close to cloudbase and crossing that line to lose ground reference. And we'll probably all make it again. It's part of the game of using the clouds as indicators of the best lift. We just try to avoid crossing that line as best we can. Everyone needs to remember that it's super important to have some way to maintain your heading if you're going to play that game: a good compass that you know how to use, or a GPS with a map page you are very familiar with.

I agree about watching Mad Dog. He is my mentor for that flat land flying. I've only recently started trying it myself and it's Mad Dog that tempts me out there every time.

allanc said...

@Alex2 - I really appreciate you comments and fully agree about the need for solid navigation if you get anywhere near the clouds. Doug Hoffman gave me the advice to never rely on a GPS for heading as sometimes there may be so much moisture above you that the GPS cannot catch a signal, what a bad time for this to happen, or more commonly the GPS could run out of batteries or get wet and stop working. According to Hoffman a compass or two are a must, but having a compass is not enough. You really need to know how to use it well and to be able to rely on your abilities to navigate without seeing any references. This still makes me nervous, however, I am still able to function under this added pressure and trust myself. Also, being over the flat valley with no mountains and 2400-ft of altitude is much better than doing that same thing anywhere near the ridge or power lines.

Hope I can become more like Mad Dog in this respect and be in control of my elevation more precisely vs. going for a ride and having to correct my altitude.

JK said...

We've all visited the white room. It's not the place to be, but simply planning to avoid it is not the answer. A $20 Compass is a part of my harness these days. I use three heavy-duty rubber bands (mountain bike inner tube sections, actually) to hold it on the chest strap; one on each side of the compass and one around the base. Then I give the chest strap a half twist to hold it at the right angle. I practice using it in the clear in case it's ever needed. I replaced the compass fluid with Balvenie for when I land out and need a drink. What's YOUR set up?

Duck said...

Glad to see you're getting a chance to chase it!!! Work has been killing you.

Hope to see you in the sky soon!

Congrats on a great flight!