Sunday, December 28, 2014

Terpsichorean Flight Research

On the eighth day of the TFR, nine pilots hiked, and six flew, marking our fifth challenging and rewarding flying day at Dillingham during this restricted period. We are learning a lot about the weather conditions and about the launch options out there. I'm looking forward to more educational days out there soon! Although please note that on TUESDAY the area will be closed.

Drew and George were up on launch when I arrived. There was plenty of air flow down below as suggested by the sensor, pretty much straight on shore, so we were expecting easy lift. But we were surprised to find that there was no wind up top, except for the lightest of teasing cycles alternately wafting up the east and west faces.

We must have waited for at least an hour, hoping for better flow up there, until finally Drew just took one of those light teasers and jumped off the west side.

Jorge showed up and after waiting a bit decided he liked the east cycles, and he was able to make one of those squirrely things work for him. George followed him off, and then I was on my own. Of course now there were no cycles at all, for what seemed like a half hour. But eventually I got out of there, in a swirling eddy of a cycle, and as I climbed out I could see that Thom was making his way up the hill.

Meanwhile, in some kind of alternate universe, Harvey and Jeff were blazing a trail to a new launch area they'd been dreaming about. It's the little sloping knoblet to the east of our usual knob, where Steve has toplanded a few times. But there is no existing trail, and there are steep cliffs below the area, so it took those guys quite a while to get up there and then to catch their breath.

Drew led the first shift on a charge out past the drop zone, and we were able to catch some nice thermals over the ridges, in addition to some interesting convergence lines farther out from the hill. In fact it soon became clear that the best lift was out away from the hill everywhere, especially out over the shoreline.

Meanwhile Thom launched with Andrew's help, and then Andrew launched with Sandy's help. Sandy had hiked up without her gear just to be helpful. I know Andrew is glad she did.

Thom and Andrew joined us for a run out to the west to watch the sunset above the point. On a day this strong, it's always interesting to see how bad the rotor looks on the west coast. It was heinous.

Right about this time, Fireman Dave called me and asked if everyone was okay, because he had heard about a 911 call for a skydiver on the hill needing rescue. I said we are all okay, and he said he would call off the rescue. But someone didn't get the memo, because right after that, the rescue chopper zoomed into view, and headed right towards Jeff and Harvey. A fire truck pulled up on the road below.

The chopper set one skid down on the hill and let a couple guys out to check on Jeff and Harvey, who of course didn't think they needed a rescue, not yet anyway. So the two guys waved the chopper back in, jumped in, and flew right back out of there.

By this time the wind was picking up pretty strong, and there was more texture closing in. Plus the 5 o'clock TFR window was almost shut. We all landed without a problem, after about two hours in the air, and then we started to worry in earnest about Jeff and Harvey.

But first a friendly neighborhood policeman stopped by and asked us about our permit situation. He was concerned about the trouble we were causing for fire rescue. He didn't like the tone of Thom's answers so I stepped in and assured him we were on the line with ATC and were operating in full compliance with regulations. Which was certainly true. Right after he left, two DLNR enforcement vehicles pulled up and hung out for the rest of the evening. They didn't seem interested in us, thankfully.

I called ATC and told them we were all done, except for two guys stuck on the hill who were still trying to launch to save themselves a dangerous hike down in the dark. At first they said, no way, the window is closed. But the guy checked with his supervisor, and then said, okay, but call as soon as they're down. Our pilots tried to launch a few more times, but apparently it was just too challenging, between the lack of air flow and the snags and the poor footing. I called ATC to let them know the flying was really done.

But those poor guys had to hike themselves down, just as it was beginning to get seriously dark. Thom and Sandy and I waited for them, and eventually they made it out around 7 o'clock. Harvey was pretty badly dehydrated so we gave him some water.

Just another exciting day at TFR central. Stay tuned for more adventures...


Thom said...

Thanks for the write up. JJJ said better late than never, so he had a good wine read.

Alex said...

Sorry for the typos. I dictated this story on my phone today and I will fix them. I neglected to mention that the guys at ATC called me on my drive home to make sure the guys had hiked down safely. How awesome is that.