Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

It’s the New Year in Australia, and New Year’s Eve in the States. It’s the traditional time to reflect on the previous year and set goals for the next. Naturally, my reflections and goals revolve around my flying.

The Statistics: In 2006 I had one hundred and thirty-six flights with a total time in the air of one hundred and sixty-three hours. During those flights I had a cumulative altitude gain of one million one hundred and seventeen thousand feet, or just over two hundred and eleven miles. I flew a total of over two thousand miles, with four XC flights of over one hundred miles. I made goal one day during the Flytec Competition – an 80 mile return task with three turnpoints. I flew my personal best distance flight of 116 miles and my longest out and return task of 112 miles. I had my highest altitude flight of over 17000ft in the White Mountains on the California Nevada border. My personal best altitude gain of over 9000ft occurred on that same flight, and my highest altitude over terrain of 10,000 feet occurred last week. I came in second in both the spot landing contest and the “Sugar Dash” race at Lakeview. I was able to fly in several of my favorite or “dream” locations, including Chelan, Lakeview, the Owens Valley, and; of course; Australia. There were also some frustrating times. Most notable was landing inside the start circle on the first three days of the Flytec Competition in Florida. Overall my performance at that comp was mediocre at best, especially considering it occurred on my “home turf”. This sort of inconsistency was slightly endemic last year, and on several occasions I found myself flying far below my potential. Nevertheless I felt my overall flying improved dramatically last year, and I feel I am still on a fairly steep portion of the learning curve.

Reflecting on last year and reciting the statistics is easy. It’s much harder to set goals for the upcoming year. My primary goals are of course to have fun and be safe. Beyond that I want to accumulate time in the air and distance; not for its own sake, but because it is a fun and exciting way to explore. Finally, I want to continue to improve my flying. My specific goals for improvement this year are:

  1. When flying competition, begin to achieve some consistency at making goal. An aggressive but realistic goal would be to make goal twice during each of these three Australian comps.
  2. At all times try to fly more efficiently. This means making efficient use of lift, gliding efficiently, and eliminating waste motion. I want to achieve more balance at turning left and right, become efficient at using practical speed to fly theory, and become more decisive in my course selection strategy.
  3. Start flying faster. My goal is to improve my average speed over a course from its current value of around 20mph to 25mph. This is aggressive, but still less than the top pilots and realistically achievable.

Oh, yeah and I want to go to the gym four times a week and lose 50lbs.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


A note on word construction: Nicknames and abbreviations often end in “o” and the “o” is pronounced “oh”, regardless of how it combines with the earlier letters. Therefore your car registration is the “rego” (pronounced “redge-o”, not “re-go”), Bill is Billo, John Blaine is Blaineo, and afternoon is arvo – don’t ask me, I still haven’t figured that one out!

There seem to be a few other local idiosyncrasies. I was given directions to get here via a scenic route on un-sealed roads. I was assured that it was OK unless it rained, and of course it never rains. Naturally it poured. It was OK anyway. I am amazed at the number of times I have been assured that it never rains – on more than one occasion during an actual rain shower. In any case it was a beautiful drive with several storms and a full complement of wind, rain, and lightning. It was definitely not a day to fly.

On a more serious note, however, there is a very serious drought going on right now. Forbes gets an average of 600mm of rain a year, and this year they got 180mm. In the first pictures you see the Lachlan River right behind my campsite, certainly an idyllic setting. There is also, however, a picture of “Lake” Forbes – just dry caked mud. Today is overcast and spitting rain, but I think the locals are so hardened to the lack of normal rainfall that they refuse to even hope it will amount to much.

Hang glider pilots are starting to show up, and the sight of a ute or a van with 2 or 3 gliders on top is becoming commonplace. It's quite a picturesque town and the locals are very welcoming to the hang gliding crowd. Lodging at the caravan park is half price for pilots, and the Vandenberg Hotel has been completely taken over. All rooms are full and it's all hang glider pilots. The "Van" is the comp headquarters, and they have wireless internet here. They are providing it to me for free, since I am a pilot - even though I am not staying here. Grant, the proprietor, reasoned (correctly) that I would be paying for the internet access with my beer tab. It's definitely fun to be in a hang glider freindly town with a bunch of hang glider pilots.

Manilla to Forbes

Today I moved from Manilla to Forbes. It’s a little early, since it’s only Saturday and the first official practice day isn’t until Tuesday. Still I would like to get settled in early and maybe sneak in some flying. The word on the street from those who have been tracking the mysterious movements of Bill Moyes (Moyes Delta Gliders founder, patriarch, and living legend) believe he will be here doing some towing in the next day or two. The last we heard he was in Rylstone teaching some Japanese pilots to tow. That probably would have been great fun as a spectator sport since Bill’s “teaching” methods are legendary, and the enthusiasm of the Japanese pilots almost always far exceeds their skill. I’ve already been to the airport here to check things out, and the word there is that there are already three tugs in the hanger and they are expecting Bill tomorrow.

Blaineo (John Blaine) just showed up here at the caravan park. That’s a good sign on two counts. First, he’s one of the tug pilots; and second, it means I chose the right caravan park, so I won’t have to move tomorrow. Anyhow, I should have a couple days to get organized, find my retrieve teammates, figure out if we have a driver, and generally get settled in. If you are reading this it means I have found a way to get on the internet, which will be one of the priority tasks for tomorrow.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

100 miles Down Under

The forecast was for a front to push in from the northeast today. We could see the high cloud to the east early in the morning, and when we got to launch at around 11:00 there were already cumulus dotting the frontal boundary. No one was too keen to launch as it was very cross from the south, and thermal cycles were weak and far between. Everyone was still on launch by the time we had set up our hang gliders, and none of us were too excited to risk sinking out on what might turn into a good day. Eventually we ran out of delaying tactics and Helmut decided to launch. After nearly landing in the bomb-out he hooked a Hail-Mary thermal that soon had him above launch. As I went to get in my glider, paragliders started piling off launch. I waited for a clear spot in the laundry basket, launched and turned onto the south spine where I was immediately rewarded with a nice climb. Helmut had already gone on course to the north. Today we were more organized and had decided on a rough outline of a task, and had radio contact for in-air changes. I climbed out and headed after Helmut, and Peter launched soon after me. We maintained that order on course and I didn’t see either of them again all day.

Helmut radioed from Bingara saying that he was going turn around and fly back. I was a little disappointed. An out and return flight is no small feat, so making it would be a great accomplishment, but I had noticed that the nice line of clouds we had been following were drying out behind us. The chances of making it all the way back were slim. I had secretly been holding out hope for getting a 100 mile flight in Australia before the New Year. I had my first 100 miler this year, and so far I had managed to get three. To add a fourth in Australia at the end of the year would be fantastic. The problem was that Bingara is about 55 miles from launch, so if we made it back it would be a 110 mile flight. More than ten miles short of getting back and I wouldn’t make 100. On top of that, the weather for the next two days looks questionable, so if it was going to happen this year it had to be today. I briefly considered continuing on to the north, but finally decided that I would stick to the task Helmut declared and make the best of it. 100 miles soon left my thoughts as I found myself groveling on the deck at Bingara. It was quite a shock after spending most of the flight north between 8 and 10 thousand feet. I made a desperate dive for a sunny hilltop with a radio tower on it, and was rewarded with a broken weak climb that soon turned into 800fpm. I took it to within a few hundred feet of cloudbase then went on a long fast glide, climbing under the cloudstreet the whole way. Now I had a clear view of what was ahead. The streets headed to the southeast, and indeed seemed to be drying to the south. I would have to work my way across one or two streets to get home, and I would be in deteriorating conditions late in the day. Sure enough, by the time I got to Baraba I was out of clouds and it was another 25 miles home. Fortunately I had just topped out at over 10000 feet, so I had some room to maneuver, but my experience so far today was that the sink was brutal. Things were not looking good. As expected, as soon as I left the clouds I started getting drilled. I made the best of it, then diverted to a thin wisp of cloud I saw to the west. I was rewarded with a weak but usable climb. Just as that was petering out I saw another wisp to the south. I managed to hobble along between weak climbs until I got within sight of Split Rock dam. I still had 15 miles to go. Now I was low and looking for ground triggers. The wind was from the southwest, and there was a low west facing ridge along the highway. I headed for that, and was rewarded with some buoyant air that extended my glide. Now I was 10 miles from home. I had the hundred, but now I wanted goal. My flight computer said I needed another 2000 feet to make it, but with the headwind I was facing, the 100 foot per minute climbs I was finding were losing me ground faster than I was climbing. Finally, 7 miles out I got a 400 foot per minute climb that my flight computer told me would get me to goal with 1400 feet. That’s not a lot of margin from 7 miles out, but it was all I had, so I went on final glide. As it turned out the last 7 miles were very buoyant, and I arrived with 1500 feet, even though I had poured on the speed for the “dive into goal”.

Just as I reached the field, Peter called on the radio to say he had landed 11 miles from goal. A short time later Helmut landed in the same field with Peter.

It was sure nice to get that 100 miles, but it was even nicer to make goal and land next to my van. The final statistic was 112.5 miles and 5 hours and 34 minutes in the air.

See the flight in the HOLC here

Download the Google Earth file of the flight here

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Identity Crisis

Today started much like yesterday. Early yesterday evening the sky cleared, allowing temperatures to plummet overnight, but by morning there was a solid cloud deck in place. Like yesterday we could see a line of blue in the distance, holding the promise of clearing later on. Unlike yesterday, however, the winds were very light. The clouds were drifting from the north, and the wind talker on the mountain was reporting light northwest winds. No one was very anxious to rush up the mountain, since unlike yesterday it wouldn’t be ridge soarable. The blue line to the south started advancing northward in spite of the north wind, and by mid-morning it was right on top of us. This was enough to generate motivation to go up the hill. In a few minutes we had the basher loaded with 4 hang gliders, 14 pilots and a trailer full of gear.

Today I was the first hang glider to launch. Two or three paragliders had launched ahead of me, with disappointing results. Often when the lift is small and broken paragliders have the advantage, but today the lift was unreliable, and you had to be ready to move as soon as you lost it. The wind was cross and stronger than expected, and that added to the challenge. The better glide and penetration of my hang glider gave me enough extra search space to be a distinct advantage, and I was able to stay above the paragliders. Even at that, I got low a couple of times chasing the finicky lift around the low hills in front. Finally I got one solid reliable climb that took me to over 5000ft. Meanwhile I watched many gliders launch and bomb out. Peter launched his hang glider and made a bee-line for the bomb-out, never turning once. Another hang glider launched and spent some time exploring in the low hills and didn’t even make it to the main bomb-out. Several paragliders were quickly on the ground. From my vantage point high above launch it almost seemed surreal.

There were many more pilots here today, since most people are on vacation the week between Christmas and New Years. As I flew over the northeast launch I could see several high performance hang gliders set up, so I was hoping for some more company to fly with. My general plan was to try and fly upwind to the north, and return downwind for an out-and-back flight. I decided to go ahead and start north to explore the lift and wait for the others to get in the air. Soon I saw Helmut launch and start working lift in the gap to the south of launch. Before long he was joined by another glider. I should have returned to join them, but I felt I was in a great position, and pressed on further north. The further north I got the weaker it got, and rather than landing after a short flight I decided to turn around. I almost didn’t make it back to Godfrey’s, but I got a light climb about 300ft off the deck that soon had me back above 5000ft. I continued south to Manilla, then turned around and headed back upwind to Godfrey’s. By this time I had decided I wasn’t going to go anywhere, so I just played around losing altitude before landing. I felt it was a nice flight – 2 hours in the air and a 20 mile triangle on what appeared to be a marginal day.

Later in the evening I learned that several of the pilots had flown a downwind dog leg task. Further south the lift got better and better, and a couple of pilots made it over 100 miles. Helmut completed two legs of a triangle for 60 miles. I felt like an idiot for wasting a good cross country day. I could come up with a thousand excuses for why I flew the flight I did, but the truth is I blew it. I was quite happy with my ability to get in the air and stay in the air, but my strategic decision making is not up to par. It’s something I have struggled with for the last year or so as I have seen my flying skills take me beyond the casual pilot level, yet my overall performance still fall short of the “big boys” league. This is probably the main reason I have chosen to compete. Organized cross country competition eliminates many of the challenging distractions like choosing a task or worrying about retrieve. In addition there are many other very good pilots trying to fly the exact same task. While the top pilots will be flying the comps as a race, I will be focused on trying to complete the tasks, but I will have many other pilots to measure my performance against and to learn from. So rather than beating myself up for not flying the best flight I could have yesterday, I am going to try and focus on honing the skills that will help me get the most out of the upcoming competitions.

Get the Google Earth file here

See the flight in the HOLC here

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Fine Art of Delay

It’s now the day after Christmas. Lee and David, the owners of the caravan park, treated the half a dozen foreign pilots staying here to a Christmas Eve barbeque. Then on Christmas day it rained all day – a nice Christmas present for the local farmers who have been suffering through a record drought. I went for a drive hoping to spy a platypus along the Namoi River. No luck finding the duck billed mammal, but it was a beautiful drive. The parched hills east of town thirstily absorbed the rain and the vegetation greened - literally in front of my eyes.

The forecast for today was for light southerly winds, cooler temperatures, and clear skies. A welcome break from the hot north winds of last week. The temperature did indeed plummet over night, and the wind was light south this morning, but the sky was a flat steel gray overcast. I gave Fred and Anna a ride out to Godfrey’s. When we arrived, there were a dozen or so pilots milling about. Helmut and Peter were there, back from their trip north. I loaded my glider along side theirs on the “Borah Basher”, and soon there were fourteen of us heading up the hill in the truck with 3 hang gliders on the roof and a trailer full of paragliders and harnesses behind.

It looked like there might be enough wind to soar the ridge, but with the solid overcast the chances of finding any thermals or flying XC were slim to none. It would be nice to get in the air, nevertheless. It would also be good to have a couple other hang gliders to play with. We slowly started setting up, letting a few paragliders test the air. Conditions seemed a bit marginal, and none of us really wanted to end up in the west “bomb out”. Helmut commented on our lethargy and delaying tactics, and I observed that it was a classic case of what my buddy Bill Cummings calls “The Fine Art of Delay”. The basic premise is that you want to get into the air as soon as possible, but you don’t want to be the first and risk being too early and sinking out. If no one makes a move, then pilots have been known to sit through an entire flyable day waiting for someone else to go first. The winning strategy is to appear to be getting ready to go, but always reserving some task for the end that will cause your buddy (who has been watching and matching your progress) to be ready first. Helmut seemed to be winning the game since I was stuffing battens and he hadn’t even unzipped his glider bag. Peter was ahead of me, but I could tell he was an expert in the Art, so I could be sure he had some tricks up his sleeve. I had a card up my sleeve as well, and when I was all ready to go I pulled out my lunch and retired to a bench under a shade tree to eat. Helmut came by and made a comment about lunch time. I could see he knew he’d been had. Sure enough, he was first on launch, and I was right behind him. Helmut launched and spent a bit of time scratching and getting below launch. It didn’t look too encouraging. Soon the lift cycled on again and he started to climb. I launched and was quickly 500 ft above the ridge. Peter joined us and before long we had 3 blue black and white LiteSpeeds in the air. Ridge soaring can be fun, but I can only do so much of it. About the time I was getting bored I noticed Helmut doing some loops and wingovers. I guess he was getting bored too. I decided that I would see if I could make my way upwind to the next ridge to the south. It was slow going into the wind, and about half way there it became obvious that I would either get up on the ridge or end up going down on the west side well out of range of easy retrieve. I opted for the convenient retrieve and headed back to Godfrey’s to land next to may van. I got there at the same time as Fred in his paraglider. He had taken a more direct line from the mountain. I decided to surf the slightly buoyant air and give him room to land before I made my approach. While I watched him the lift I was in started to feel more organized, and soon I was climbing at 400ft per minute. I topped out at 4000ft under the grey overcast sky. From this altitude I knew that I could almost make it back to town, so I set a waypoint to the caravan park. I just needed one more thermal, and it would be easy. Well, I pushed it a bit too hard, and didn’t stop for some light lift that I probably should have, but with the fairly stiff headwind I probably would have drifted back faster than I climbed anyway. I ended up just under 2 miles short, but right next to the road in a nice big field. I made a radio call to Mary-Eve in the “Basher”, and asked her to ask Fred and Anna to drive my van back to town. Between the radio and the language barrier, it was a bit difficult, but I think I got the message through. I broke the glider down and got my gear over the fence, then settled in to wait. Not sure if my message got through I was debating whether I should hitch-hike the rest of the way into town, wait here, or hitch-hike back to Godfrey’s. About then I saw a car coming down the road. It was Fred and Anna in my van. Perfect!

All in all it was a nice day of flying. Not an epic day, but it had just enough challenge to keep it interesting and hone the skills. I was quite happy that I had decided to attempt the small XC. It was good practice that I could use for the upcoming competitions.

See the Google Earth file here.

See the flight in the HOLC here

Friday, December 22, 2006

More Flying....

Yesterday I awoke to overcast skies and a less than promising forecast. It seemed a good day to catch up on the grocery shopping and do a little exploring. I had heard that Lukas Badaker, Attilla Bertok, and Gerolf Henrichs were at the Sky Ranch towing their hang gliders and trying to make some long distance flights. I thought I might go check it out and see what they were up to. It also happened to be on the way to Gunnedah, which proclaims itself the “Koala Capital of the World”.

When I got to the Sky Ranch, it seemed deserted. In the hanger there was a pair of brand new Litespeeds with the smoke inlay sails. Uh-oh, I was having glider envy. I wandered over to a couple of trailers and found Lukas. We chatted for a while before Willi (the Sky Ranch owner) showed up. While we were talking a butcher bird came by for a handout of cheese, and Willi started to sing to it. The bird started singing back, and before long it was creating the most amazing symphony of bird sounds one could imagine. It really doesn’t take much to entertain grounded hang glider pilots. Anyhow, it turns out that Willi hadn’t renewed his commercial towing permit, so he was only towing for a few friends, and it didn’t look like there was going to be any action anyhow, so I moved on.

I started my Koala hunt at the Gunnedah visitor center. The lady behind the desk was very helpful; however, she told me that my chances of finding a Koala were not good. The best time to see them is in the early morning and evening, and even then she hadn’t heard of any sightings recently. It was now the heat of the day. She suggested a wildlife park a few kilometers down the road. It sounded interesting, but I really wanted to see one “in the wild”. She got out a map and pointed out a few possible spots and sent me on my way. Well, within ten minutes, I had my quarry – a nice big Koala having a snooze in a eucalyptus tree. I guess I made enough of a ruckus to disturb him, since he opened his eyes and ever so slowly turned to gaze my way. These are definitely not excitable critters. Pleased with my find, I continued on my way.

When I got back to camp, the skies were darkening and the wind was picking up. It looked like we might get a thunderstorm. There is a huge drought going on right now, and any rain would be welcome. Sure enough we did get rain, along with the full sound and light show including thunder, lightning, and a double rainbow.

This morning brought clear skies and fresh crisp air. I had that feeling I get when I know it’s going to be a good flying day. I headed out to Godfrey’s to hook up with the other pilots and ride up the hill in the “Borah Basher”. When I got there, I discovered that Peter and Helmut had given up on the flying and had already left. It looked like I would be the only hang glider pilot flying. The paraglider pilots were all discussing the wind. It was blowing about 20km/h at the top – just fine for a hang glider, but a bit strong for paragliders. Also, the direction was due north – not the greatest, since the ridge of hills that includes the launch runs basically north – south. I was still convinced it would be a good day – now I just needed to convince some other pilots to go up or else I’d be flying by myself. A few pilots drifted off to run errands or pursue other distractions. As our numbers dwindled I could see cumulus clouds popping up over the hills to the east. Finally, the wind backed off a bit as a pearl-like string of cumulus started to form above launch. I could hardly stand it. Two of the remaining pilots decided they wanted to go up - alright! Lets go!

I set up as fast as safely possible under rapidly building cloud streets. The wind was light on launch, and a couple of paraglider pilots who had come up separately launched with mixed results. As I was finishing setting up, a hang glider passed overhead heading north at cloudbase. That would be Lukas coming from the Sky Ranch. He had probably already been in the air an hour.

The north-east launch on Mt. Borah is even lower than the west launch where we flew the other day. This and the cross wind conditions would definitely make it a challenge to avoid ending up in the bail-out LZ. The two paraglider pilots I had ridden up with were both waiting on launch. A nice cycle came in, and James inflated his wing, and then put it back down. “Do you want to go ahead?” He asked. I did. That cycle had ended, and I had to wait a couple of minutes for the next one, but as soon as it started to come in I went. Soon it was deja-vu all over again as I found myself desperately scratching in the low hills just above the bail-out. After about 3 weeks (so it seems) of that I finally ended up with a smooth consistent climb that took me over the top of the mountain.

My main goal for this flight was to check the adjustments I had made to my harness. On my last flight (the first long one in the harness), I had found it very difficult to tilt the harness to the efficient slightly head down position. I spent most of that flight tiring myself out trying to remain streamlined.

Unfortunately I quickly realized that my adjustments were incomplete. As recommended in the manual, I had removed the spacer that limits the travel of the slider along the back-plate. I had not, however, shortened the pull-back cord the corresponding amount. Now the slider *could* move back to where it needed to be, but there was nothing pulling it there. I hadn’t noticed it when I hung in the harness this morning, since I just put one foot on the ground to give me the leverage to tilt the harness. From 5000ft I found it quite impossible to get a foot on the ground. Any concerns I had about squandering a good portion of a good day vanished since I still needed to make more adjustments before the harness was ready for a long flight. I had a very enjoyable flight nonetheless. I practiced making turns in my non-preferred direction (right), and experimented with retrieving my camera from my harness and taking pictures without doing un-intentional loops or wing-overs. After flying around the valley for an hour and a half or so, I headed back to Godfrey’s place to land next to my van where there was a nice grassy area to break down in, and a nice tree to hang my harness in to finish the incomplete adjustments.

Find Google Earth file of the flight here.

See the flight in the HOLC here.

More Animals.....

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Today was the first "real" day of flying - inland XC; the flying I came to Australia to do. There were three hang gliders and half a dozen or so paragliders.

Mt Borah is the flying site at Manilla. It's a low bench, and has has launches in just about every direction. Here you see a picture of the west launch. The wind light from the southwest, so this was the launch of choice today.

I've been told that Manilla can be a heartbreaker. Mainly because there is not much vertical (around 1400ft) you don't have much time to scratch around and find a thermal before going down. Today the thermal cycles coming up the hill were strong, but well spaced. If you didn't have your launch timing just right, The bail out LZ was in your future!

By the time I was set up and ready to go the other two hang gliders were already on launch, and one paraglider was in the bail out. Helmut was first to launch, and we watched him make a valiant effort before sinking out - not a good sign. Another couple of paragliders launched and sunk out, then Peter launched his hang glider into a nicely building cycle. I moved up behind him and was going to go as soon as he cleared the launch area, but to my right another paraglider inflated his wing to go. I set my glider back down to wait for the other pilot, but then he put his wing back down. I waited for him to re-inflate, but now he was hesitating, watching conditions. Well, now it was getting late in the cycle, but I decided to go anyway. I soon regretted it. Peter had hooked the thermal and was already high above launch, and I was soon scratching in the low hills where Helmut had made his fruitless effort earlier. About ten minutes of that, and finally it turned on and I started to beam out. Peter came in above me and we were climbing nicely. Another pilot entered below, turning the opposite direction, and stupidly I allowed him to climb through me. Now I had to turn around, and in a heartbeat Peter was far above me again. We played hapscotch like that for another 15 minutes or so, until we were both high and went on course.

From that point on the flying was easy. Top of the climbs improved from around 5000ft when we launched to 6000, 7000, 8000, 9000, and finally 10,000 at the peak of the day. The going was a bit slow at first, since we wanted to stick together as we hadn't gotten our retieve details fully worked out. It was a good flight to test out the harness, and after 3 hours I was definitely ready to land. The harness was just a touch short, and was difficult to achieve and maintain a level to head down position. I made for a bit of discomfort. Then I ran out of water right around Bingara, and decided it was time to land. Once I got low, I realized it was still mid-day and everything was going off. In those thermaly condintions a landing was more likely to be a crash, so I reluctantly thermaled back up and continued on. My heart wasn't really in it, though, and I kept turning around, longingly looking at the town where I knew there would be a nice cool pub to have a beer and wait for my ride. I ended up landing another 10 miles down the road in decidedly nicer landing condition after flying 67 miles and 3hrs and 45 minutes. All in all a good first flight and a good test of the harness. I've made a few small adjustments, so I need another flight to check it out.

Now take a look at the picture of my landing spot. Can you see the wires? They are directly overhead, and the pole is behind me in this shot. The next pole is almost invisible 1/4 mile in the distance. I saw the pole when I was setting up, but I could not see the wires no matter how hard I looked. Fortunately I knew enough to assume they were there. If I hadn't scanned the perimeter of the field and seen the poles, I would have never known. Just one small but important way that things are different here, with possible large consequences!

There's a ink to google earth file of the flight here

See the flight on the HOLC here


Just a couple more wildlife photos......

Monday, December 18, 2006


…in more ways than one.

Part of the reason I was in Newcastle was because Billo had invited me to the Club Christmas party which was supposed to include a weekend of aerotowing and camping in the countryside west of Newcastle, as well as the party on Saturday night.

The rain nixed the towing on Saturday, but it was blowing in nicely at the coast in town, and pilots started to come out of the woodwork. I met Tony Barton at Merriweather, and Billo soon showed up, and before long there were a dozen pilots. I launched into nicely soarable, though slightly north cross conditions. Soon I was 300ft over launch soaring the cliffs in front. I saw another pilot lower than me make a run to the next low hills to the south, so I decided to follow. I lost hardly any altitude getting there, and arrived just as the other pilot was heading back north. Suddenly I started to get drilled – it takes no time at all to lose 300ft, and I quickly found myself back at launch level but far down the beach. I started to make my way back into the wind, but it soon became clear I was not going to make it back to the cliffs in front of launch. My only hope was to soar the low dunes in front of the bottom landing area and try to eke my way back up. When I got there I was too low to land in the bottom landing area, and I was looking at landing on the beach. Having little confidence that I could work my way up the low dunes, I decided on a beach landing. Never having flown at the coast, I was paranoid about ending up in the water, so I made my approach cross wind along the beach, planning to turn into the wind at the last moment. Well my timing was off and the brisk onshore breeze lifted my oceanward wing and turned me inland and downwind. I “wuffed” into the sand and the wind caught the trailing edge of the wing and flipped it over; trapping me in my harness on top of the inverted wing. It was the first flight on this harness, and it took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to extract myself. Nothing was damaged but my pride – but what a great way to make an impression on the locals! I carried my harness and glider up onto the bench above the beach and prepared to breakdown and make the long trudge up the cliff back to launch with my gear – there’s no road access to the beach here. In the meantime, Billo had landed in the bottom landing area, and came over. “Don’t breakdown here” he says, “just walk your glider up the hill a bit and re-launch and scratch your way up” Ughh. It sounded like a good idea in principle, but I wasn’t sure my confidence was up to it. I suppose it’s worth a try. Definitely better than carrying the glider back to the top of the hill.

Well, I did launch and sure enough slowly scratched my way back up to 300ft over the hill. This time I decided not to try any fancy stuff – I made a few passes and then headed north to the landing area at Dixon Beach. It’s a fairly tight spot with power poles on one side, a paved parking lot on the other, and a few play structures scattered in between. I was determined to have a good landing this time, so I carefully judged my altitude and started my downwind, base, final. I thought I might be a touch high, but it was good reserve to make sure I cleared the power poles. The downwind leg was fast, and my downwind to base turn had me drifting back further than I wanted to. Thank god for that reserve altitude! I skimmed across the road at about 20 ft with lots of airspeed, headed up the slight incline into the wind, let the nose up and touched down for a perfect no-stepper.

The party that evening was at the home of Matt Clarke, the club president. It is a sprawling place in the mountains west of town. I had directions, but fortunately I also had someone to follow, or I might have never found it. On the drive out I saw my first Australian mammal. I spotted a wallaby along side the road , then soon there was another. Then hopping off into the bush was a kangaroo. Suddenly there were a dozen wallabies hopping this way and that.

It was a fun party and a great group of people. I was still a little embarrassed about my beach “landing”, but Billo brushed it off – “You’re not the first and you won’t be the last” Scott Barret, one of the local hot-shots introduced himself. “Yeah” he said, “I was flying with you today.” “Oh, so you saw my beach landing”, “No,” he replied without missing a beat “I saw a crash”. Ouch. OK, I deserved that. Then Conrad (another of the top local pilots) came by “Nice landing today”. “Oh, so you saw my beach debacle. Scott and I have concluded it was more of a crash.” “No” he said, “I didn’t see that. I saw you land a Dixon Park. You came in right over my car. Most pilots flying there the first time misjudge it and end up overshooting and ending up in the carpark” Well that was a little salve for my injured pride.

There are two major Hang Glider manufacturers in Australia. Moyes is located in Sydney, and Airborne in Newcastle. Moyes gliders are the standard at Stanwell Park and around the Sydney area, but Newcastle is definitely an Airborne town. And thus the pun in the title. My Moyes Litespeed marked me as an outsider as surely as my American accent. All in all I can’t exactly say that I made a good first impression on the locals.

And that was my first flight in Australia.

Friday, December 15, 2006


It's raining here today, and it looks like we might lose the weekend. Meanwhile there are fires inland where the Bogong Cup will be held. See some pictures here. I just heard that there may be some people flying the sea cliffs here in Newcastle today, so I think I'll go check it out.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Today I am in Newcastle, after leaving Bob and Jill Yesterday. We had a bit of rain, thunder and lightning overnight, and I was quite thankful for the van and the dry and comfy sleeping accommodations it provided. I am staying in a "caravan park" on the beach in Stockton which is just a couple of minutes across the Hunter River from downtown Newcastle. For $AU12.50 per night it's hard to beat. For AU$2 there is a passenger ferry accross the river into downtown. Tommorrow looks like there will be some coastal flying and over the weekend the Newcastle club is having their christmas party, with a campout and barbeque as well as towing, mountain, and coastal flying. I'm looking forward to getting into the air now that I have all of the logistics worked out.

I've created a link here to a Google Earth file that will show you some of the places I plan on visiting. If you don't have Google Earth, it's a free download that you can get by clicking "Google Earth" under "A few useful links..." on the right.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I've had acouple of comments that my blog required one to sign up for a membership in order to post comments. I guess that was the default setting, but I have now found where to change that, and now you can post without a membership. In order to reduce spam posts, I have set it as "moderated" which means I have to see the posts before they show up, so it may take a day or two before you see your comments here.

Butcher Bob

I met “Butcher” Bob and Jill in the Owens Valley in September. They were visiting from Australia. I was there to fly with Kari Castle, and they were there with Bri-dog and Cookie, who was also flying with Kari. The group of us ended up meeting up and flying together most days. We hit it off quite well, and parted with the customary mutual invitations to visit. I had known that I wanted to fly in Australia some day, so it was more than just a pleasantry.

As it turns out it couldn’t have been at a better time. After a spectacular time flying in the sweet fall conditions in the Owens, I was looking ahead at a long winter layoff. I had already decided that I wouldn’t make a trip to Florida this year, and so the cross country flying was probably over until Lakeview and Chelan in July. Bob and Jill’s offer planted a seed that quickly sprouted. I had assumed that an Australia trip was at least a year or two in the future, but why not this year? When I got home I started looking into my options.

Things rapidly started falling into place and I contacted Bob and let him know that I was considering the trip. I would need a car, and since I was planning a fairly long trip, renting one was probably going to be my largest expense. I had asked Bob what he thought my best options were. He responded that he “would start looking around”. In no time at all he got back and said he had found a Mitsubishi mini-van for AU$2200. Did I want him to buy it for me? “Do it!” I replied. It was much less than I would spend to rent, and I could re-sell it and re-coup some when I left. Well, I got a message a day or two later that the deal had “fallen down”. He would start looking again. Oh well, it did seem to be too good to be true. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of days later that Bob came back and said he had found another Mitsubishi van. This one was older but “tidy”. He had already bought it for me - AU$750. Sweet! Bob’s quite handy with cars, so I knew if he said it was OK, it was solid. He reported that he would go through it and check brakes, wheel bearings, etc. Well, he did far more than that. I am now completely set up; fully outfitted with wheels, camping gear, and a rack for my glider.

How easy is THAT!


Sunday was a beautiful warm sunny day, with a cool onshore breeze. Bob, Jill, and I took a trip into Sydney for a little sightseeing. We took the train into town and went down to the harbor to catch a ferry to see the sites from the water.

Public transportation here is phenomenal by US standards, with a complete network of trains and ferries which were clean, fast, and timely. For just AU$15 I was able to get a day ticket which allowed me to ride any of the public transit anywhere it went. Senior citizens can get a day pass for $2.

There were all manner of watercraft plying the harbor in what seemed to me to be a nautical “free-for-all”. Jill used the word frenetic, which I thought captured the scene in a word. It was great to see so many people out and enjoying themselves. I got the requisite picture of the Sydney Opera House, and we stopped a few times to disembark and do the “tourist thing”.

Like any big city, it was a little overwhelming at first, but I soon started to get my bearings. Given a little time to explore and adjust, I think I could be very comfortable finding my way around here. It’s definitely a world class cosmopolitan city but with a friendly and accessible feel.

On Monday Bob and I visited the Moyes factory to pick up my new harness. It was ready and waiting for me, and in just a few minutes I was hanging in it for the final fine tuning adjustments. The fit was perfect! We chatted with the Moyes crew for bit, and then we were on our way to Bob and Jill’s home in Nowra.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Sometimes things just seem to go too well.....

I hardly slept the night before I left.

The combination of excitement over the trip, worrying about what I might have forgotten, and dread of the long flight ahead had me awake and tossing and turning at 3 am.

My neighbor Charlee had offered to drive me to the airport, and I was meeting her at 5 am. I took care of the last few details to close up the house for 3 months, went over my mental checklist one more time, and went to pick up Charlee.

It was cool and foggy in the valley when I left, but a forecast east wind would mean clear conditions at the airport. I wanted to get to the airport early, since I was taking my hang glider as checked baggage. I had taken the precaution of getting approval from the airline station manager for my glider ahead of time, but I still wanted to make sure I had time to deal with any eventualities. As it turns out, every thing went like clockwork. I checked in, waited for my gear to clear the TSA screening, and headed to the gate.

my connection was tight, but I didn’t think it was that tightThe flight from Portland to Honolulu was on time, which was good, since I knew I had a tight connection in Honolulu. In Honolulu I was hoping to take a stroll and get a few pictures, but when I got off the Portland plane they were already boarding the Sydney flight. Oh-oh. I knew. There was no chance that they would get my glider moved between planes. I had at least thought ahead to bring a change of clothes, a razor, and a toothbrush in my carryon, but it was still going to be a hassle if my bags missed the flight.

The flight to Sydney was long but uneventful. 10 hours seems like forever, especially after just stepping off of a 6 hour flight. I passed the time reading, sleeping and listening to music.

In Sydney the immigration clerk asked where I was staying that night. I realized I had no idea! I was being met by my friend “Butcher” Bob. We were supposed to stay at his sister’s house in Sydney, but I had no idea where that was. Fortunately I had a phone number for Bob, and that satisfied immigration.

When I picked up my bags, there was the glider. Amazing. I balanced my suitcase, carryon, and hang glider on a tiny luggage cart and headed for the serpentine line to clear customs. Since I live in the country, I had checked the box for having visited a rural area recently, which meant I had to go through the “something to declare” line at customs. I passed the 300 people waiting in the “nothing to declare” line and was waved on through.

Bob was waiting at the exit when I came out.
How easy is that?

Sunday, December 3, 2006

So what's this trip all about?

On December 7th I will fly from Portland Oregon to Sydney in New South Wales, Australia via Honolulu, Hawaii. I plan to spend 12 weeks in Australia flying my hang glider as much as possible. I will be competing in three competitions; the Forbes Flatlands, the Bogong Cup, and the New South Wales State Titles.

It’s not just about competition though. It’s about following hang gliding - flying in its purest form - wherever it takes me. In the process I am sure I will meet some wonderful people, have some memorable experiences, and see some incredible scenery.

Entering the blogisphere.....

......with some trepidation.

Today I started to generate the distribution list for e-mail updates about my trip. Many of my friends and flying compatriots had asked to be "kept up to date". As I went through my address book, it occurred to me that I should probably include my family as well. Then there were the friends that I hadn't spoken to in a while who would surely want to know what I was up to. Hmmm, what's the etiquette for blindsiding them with the mass mailed story of my life?

Maybe it's time to try this new, sleeker but decidedly more exhibitionistic communication tool.

Here it is. My blog. I can't say that I'm excited about it. I wish I could promise regular updates, gripping narrative and stunning photos. I do promise to update it at least every...... now and then. I will try not to write griping narrative. And I will make an effort to include photos.

This is a blog of my trip. I hope you enjoy it. Don't get too attached to it though, because after the trip is over it will be gracelessly euthanized lest it suffer the worse fate of languishing in neglect, or worse yet - recording the drone of a mundane life.