Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Dillayed Birthday, Andrew!

Andrew met me, Thom and Harvey for his very first flight at Dillingham yesterday, the day after his birthday, with his new wing. It was an easterly trade wind day, so I wasn't expecting it to be working out there, but Brian had called me earlier to let me know the wind was wrapping around onshore. I knew Kahana was working fine, but I am always a sucker for the Dill. And I was excited for Andrew to get a taste of it, and for Thom to finally have a good flight out there. Oh well, one out of two isn't bad!

We arrived just in time to see Brian get a quick flight down from the Kealia launch in his speed wing. As we watched Brian fly, we spoke to one of the sailplane pilots at the glider concession. He asked me how our fragile fabric wings deal with the massive downdrafts they get out there, the ones that come hammering down from 1,000 to 1,500 fpm. I explained how our wings are designed to collapse and recover, but I also pointed out that paraglider pilots have to be very careful in choosing our conditions. Our parameters for a safe flight are very different from the ones that are good for a sailplane. Our best days flying out there are the light and thermic days when those guys are doing sled rides from a high tow release.

We drove over and hiked up to the climbing wall launch. Compared to the hour slog up the interminable switchbacks to the Kealia launch where Brian had hucked off, the climbing wall launch is a straight up cakewalk. I mean, it's really straight up. But at least it's short. We timed it this time, and it was twenty minutes. Okay, for Thom it was thirty.

With assistance from Andrew and Thom, I got off first, and then Thom helped Andrew get launched. It was quite cross, and the airfield sensor was reading 8 mph at 59 degrees, probably the most easterly direction I've seen while launching from that location. But we were able to punch around to fly above the Kealia launch without any trouble. We're finding we can use that launch to get up in a huge range of wind direction and strength, almost a 90 degree arc, from light and thermic to downright howling. More on the howling part below.

Once I was up over the airfield, I had a nice view of the entire north shore from Kahuku to Kaena. The surface of the ocean told an interesting story about the air we were flying in. The wind lines were quite well defined, and clearly arcing around from the east to the northeast, but there was also a huge glassy patch where the wind wasn't flowing at all, extending out to sea from the drop zone to Haleiwa, and it had dark cats' paws scattered across it. That certainly didn't make a cross country run to Waialua look too appetizing. And perhaps that wind pattern helps explain the dust devil I saw rising from a field I drove past, just before the drop zone, churning red dirt up into the sky.

After Andrew and I launched, Thom was left by himself up there, since Harvey was still down at his truck getting his gear together. The thing about that launch is it receives practically no airflow. No matter how much air might be flowing onshore, it just doesn't flow against that part of the hill, so we find we really have to firmly bring our wings up all the way overhead without assistance from the wind. And frankly, we're not very good at it. Thom was having a lot of trouble getting his wing overhead, but finally Harvey arrived up there to help him out.

By this time Andrew and I had been up for an hour or so, and the conditions seemed to be deteriorating, becoming stronger and more easterly. Thom got himself launched, and he was surprised to get yanked straight up as soon as he was airborne. The air wasn't flowing on launch, but it sure was flowing everywhere else. But somehow that violent start to his flight had resulted in a harness malfunction. Then when he realized how strong it had become, and he saw Andrew and I practically parked over the shoreline, he joined us for a slow elevator down to the beach. At about this time the sensor was showing 29 degrees at 14 miles per hour, gusting to 20. It was incredibly strong down at the beach, probably approaching 20 mph. A good opportunity for all of us to practice disabling our wings in high wind.

Now poor Harvey was left on launch by himself; the last man standing. He laid out his wing, but he also knew that he couldn't tell what the wind was doing from how it felt on launch, so he was keeping close track of the texture on the water. We were down on the beach sharing our cold beverages with a super nice family from Wahiawa. Suddenly my radio crackled to life, and a strangely familiar voice reached my ears, asking for a sensor reading. Then I realized it was Harvey! The dude actually has a radio now! How cool is that. But I had bad news for him: the sensor was now reading 70 degrees at 15 miles per hour. He said that's what he figured from looking at the wind lines. So he made the always excellent decision to pack up and hike down, and he joined us for some beverages at the beach.

Happy Dillayed Birthday, Andrew! I look forward to many more flights with you at one of our most fickle and mysterious sites. Nice job getting a good soaring flight your first time out there. Typically it takes a few visits before most pilots get that lucky. Just ask Thom! And Harvey has had his share of disappointment out there too, on the lighter days. But all it takes is one good flight to get hooked. I've had a few now myself, and it must be pretty obvious that I'm utterly enthralled.

1 comment:

Thom said...

The Dill has been kicking my but I have 2 sledders for for 6 hikes up!!!

I guess I will have to wait until my birthday!

Congrats Andrew. From now on I vote that Alex is the last one off!!