Thursday, May 20, 2010

Second day of towing practice and as I get early to the ranch, I could see that the wind was stronger than yesterday.

Using the very same equipment, I get in line for towing, once again adjusting to the fact that barely after I wake-up and I´m already strapping myself to an airplane and telling it to go!!

This tow goes very much like the reasonably succesfull tows of yesterday, but maybe I was a little better at keeping level with the tug. There was some shear action by the tree level altitude also. This is good to make me prepare for the rougher tows ahead of me, during the afternoons.

My problem seems to be still pulling in too much. Everytime I look the Dragonfly is already getting higher than me and I see the pilot signaling for me to climb.

One more time I am enjoying the feeling of throwing my glider around while I descend in the silky smooth air. This time though, the wind is so strong at altitude that I can park my glider at anypoint over the ground and even fly backwards if I slow down enough. I play this game for a while, trying to absorb the sensation of the wind drift as I maneuver over the ground features below.

After I land, Malcolm cancels the morning operations because the wind has increased too much.

Once again talking to the pilots they tell me I´m still fighting the tug way too much. I tell them that I don´t like it when I go faster than the tug and it seems that the rope gets loose, and I´m afraid I´m gonna stall. Finally Paul, one of the pilots, tells me "Dude, there´s no way you´re going to stall, I´m right there with this engine ready to pull you out, there´s no way you can catch me with your wing and let the line go loose. Just keep seeing the Dragonfly pilot´s face in the Dragonfly mirror and you´ll be ok!".

And the thing is, right there, as he said that, it simply dawned on me what I was doing wrong! It was weird to have to convince my mind of something in order to make my body automatically respond to the situation correctly, but that´s how it went with me.

I mean, hang-gliding is something that once you learn, you don´t think about the theory very much or at all, your body just reacts, you want to go left you go left, you want to go right you go right. While you´re towing that´s pretty much all you have to do, go left or go right, go up or go down. It´s just reactions. But my mind wasn´t letting my body react correctly. After I finally pictured my mistakes, thinking and rationalizing them, my body learned the lesson.

I guess some people are more like this, like having to rationalize in order to make it become automatic. Others seem to get the hang of things just by doing it. Some pilots are more rational, some are more instinctive.

On the afternoon Mike Barber was going to work with a student from Arizona, and I wanted to try my first tow on thermally conditions.

Having a better capacity of a

April 24th - Back to towing

Ok, so today I woke up early had a very good breakfast and arrived at Wallaby at 7:30 to go for the early flights, before the afternoon turbulence and wind could spoil my re-entry into towed take-offs.

I was given a Will Wing Sport 2, a really easy glider, that should be very stable and easy to tow as well. Since my bolt-in harness won´t fit any glider that is not a Litespeed, I was also given a beaten stirrup harness, the kind I haven´t used for the last 20 years!!

Of course as we graduate from lower performance gliders to higher performance, we also get the benefit of looking very cool, so at first I looked at that ugly set of hang-gliding equipment with disdain, but gradually I accepted the idea that this was a basic training day and it required a basic level of equipment. Truth is, after the first flight I was already finding a certain charm in such draggy and out-fashioned equipment, but that responded so easily and readily, to my commands!

As I set up for the first tow, I tried to remember the sensation of taking-off from the cart, of holding the cart in the air with me for just a second before releasing. I thought I would do ok. As the Dragonfly accelerated I easily took-off from the cart. The air was silky smooth but it was a little windy, maybe some 7 mph, as I tried to follow the Dragonfly and, once again, started getting used to the weird feeling of chasing that little airplane with my wing. I cannot say I was enjoying this first ride, but I was hanging on and happy, thinking that I was doing ok.

In fact I was not doing so well... I was letting the Dragonfly get higher than me all the time, and the reason I was doing that was my inherent tendency to avoid a stall by pulling in. Since the angle of attack is so pronounced while you´re being towed upwards, my mind kept telling me to push to keep from stalling, I couldn´t notice it while I was doing it, but I was.

After pinning off I had a lot of fun just flying down and doing maneuvers, happy to be able to fly without the constant struggle to chase thermalls! I really thought it was such a great way to take-off, you could take multiple tows and have a good time just flying those 10 minutes from the 2500 feet where you are left.

The wind was brisk and it was pushing the slow Sport 2 very quickly downwind, therefore it was a good idea to pay attention and not let the wing wander too much downwind, because there´s a reasonably big area of very big trees all around the area of the Ranch, and you should never let yourself be out of a safe glide back.

The Sport 2 is so easy to land, I think I could land it one-handed, what a nice entry level double surface glider!

As I got ready for the 2nd tow, waiting in line for the tandems and the other pilots to take-off, I felt my heart beating a little faster than in the first tow. Waiting in line watching other pilots go kinda make you anxious, because as you watch from behind it always seems that the glider is wiggling a little strongly as soon as it gets off the cart. Of course that´s normal, but the whole experience was just starting to sink-in and there I was, only 8 in the morning, barely arrived in the US, strapping myself to an airplane, lying down a few inches off the ground, and telling the airplane to go!! So I guess my heart was beating a little faster just before the second tow.

This might have had something to do with the fact that I wasn´t feeling so in control during my second tow, because as soon as I took off, I wasn´t really working well in staying behind the tug, in fact I was much lower and my mind kept telling me to pull in for safety. I guess I was giving a hard job to the Dragonfly pilot to tow me up at all! Then suddenly I watched the tug get into what seemed too tight a turn for me to follow, and sure enough as I couldn´t make my glider turn as tight as the Dragonfly, I was pointing the wrong way, flying to the right as the plane went left. Result: lock-out...

It was my first-ever lock-out, and I didn´t like the experience at all. Ok, I released almost immediately, but even so, my glider was in a bad attitude and I was glad I had plenty of altitude because I had to dive to the right to recover, almost completing a half-wang after the lock-out.

Ok, I landed I little ashamed, but on the other hand I was happy I had experienced a lock-out in order to be able to recognize it and it was good to know that I took action and recovered.

I immediately got in line again to go for another tow, before I got even more anxious!

As I took-off for the third time, I was determined to not lock-out and to make a good tow, and I did manage not to lock-out, but again I cannot say it was a good tow. I kept fighting the Dragonfly instead of flying with it. Later the Dragonfly pilots would tell me that they were thinking like "I´m gonna take that mother-f#c@ up no matter how much he tries to pull in!"

This time I managed to hang-on until the end of the tow, and one more time I enjoyed gliding back to the ground doing a few maneuvers for the pure and free pleasure of flight!

I was eager for more work and getting happier by the minute, just from thinking I still had 14 days left on my trip and that I was surely going to live some great moments during these days!

As I got in line for the fourth tow I was much more relaxed and sure enough the rolling and taking-off part was getting better on each try, but once again I ran into trouble when the Drangonfly went for a left turn... It was the replay of my first lock-out. Exactly the same attitude, exactly the same height and exactly the same mistake.

After my landing Malcolm, who is always there, checking the towing operations came to me and asked what was going on. I told him that I thought that the Drangonflies were turning too tight, but he said no, I was doing something wrong, and that I should NEVER lock-out.

This got me thinking...

I went in line for a final 5th tow which was just like tows 1 and 3. That meant that it wasn´t a very good tow, but I was able to hang-on and I paid all the attention in the world not to let the Dragonfly get away from me on the turns. Truth is I was hating the turns, and not liking the towing part anymore.

After the breakfast break at Wallaby I went to put the rental equipment back on the hangar and I had a few talks with the Dragonfly pilots. That´s when they commented on how hard it was for them to pull me up and I began to realize what I had realized 3 years ago while towing on Lookout Mountain, that you should not be afraid of stalling, that I could push out way more than it felt like I could. The pilots called my attention to the fact that while towing we were going at some 30 mph, and of course it is hard to stall when you´re going that fast!!

I decided to wait for the next day to tow again, since it was windy and thermally in the afternoon and I didn´t feel ready for a turbulent tow just yet.

At night everybody had a wonderful time at the new Wallaby Pizza Oven, a really well built pizza oven that was only recently inaugurated! As many furniture pieces at Wallaby, this oven was decorated by artist Lori Sanchez, who has a distinctive style and makes the most beautiful hang-gliding art I´ve seen! We had a pizza-party that started early and went through the night. In the pciture you can see Malcolm hands-on preparing a pizza, with the oven in the background. The picture was taken on my iPhone and doesn´t make justice to the paintings in the oven. By the way, the pizza was truly excellent!