Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rob Kells Memorial about to start

Tomorrow, the Rob Kells Memorial will start. It's my first comp in the US and it is quite an international pilot list. Of course, the US hot shots are here, but there's also a large Latin-American delegation.
Many pilots arrived today at the Florida Ridge. A lot of them were assembling their short-packed gliders (made smaller for air transport). Among them where Kathryn and Dave who flew in from Sydney. They started to unpack their gliders only to find out that Kathryn's glider is completely wrecked - every major tube is broken - and that Dave's glider has a broken leading edge. You feel very sorry for them when you see that. And I can only hope that my glider will survive the flight back to Europe. On May 25th by the way, Miami - Duesseldorf.
So, keep your fingers crossed, 'cause tomorrow, it's race day, it's for real.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Many thanks to Mitsubishi and Terremark

Mitsubishi Motors Belgium and Terremark are supporting me for the 2011 season. Many thanks to them! So this is how the glider now looks like:

Arrived at the Florida Ridge

Yesterday, we drove south to the Florida Ridge Air Sports Park. I guess it is the hottest place I ever visited. Luckily there's a swimming pool, but I don't want to think to much about waiting in the start line, in the hang gliding harness, in those temperatures...
It's 9 A.M. and the first - be it small - cumulus clouds are drifting by.
We're surrounded by the everglades, so you really have to watch out where you land. But I haven't yet seen an alligator. It's nice to walk in the grass here. You don't have to worry about fire ants. But they do have loads of tiny flies here that seem to be willing to eat your skin. I'll try to keep those out of my tent.
They're currently having a paragliding comp here and the scorekeeper left his laptop on the car when he drove off to the shop... Hope they have a backup of the scores somewhere.

Missed opportunities?

We had some great weather conditions the past few days. Davis and I tried to launch early (10:30) and succeeded, which was a first for me. But, one day I made a mistake after an hour, when the flying already was a lot easier and the other day Davis' radio wasn't working and he lost me out of sight, so we landed. We should have gone far, really far, but I guess we missed the opportunities...
It was a fun game though, to try to launch early. Cloudbases are low (700 m), but thermals are closer to each other as well. They're still weak, so it's not easy to stay up there, but when you succeed, the day gets better and you are rewarded with the prospect of a long flight. You have to finish the job however.
The saying here is that "you won't hit a home run when you swing for singles".

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Belgian record flight: 255 km from Quest to Madison

On Sunday, the winds were pretty east and I was the only one who wanted to launch pretty early for a long flight. The day did not start as early as other days did, but I could launch around noon. The first hour I was just drifting with the wind and surviving. I got pretty low, but from then on, the thermal became better and I could start heading north. I also needed that by that time, because I needed to avoid the forest I was heading for. Click the tracklog image for more details:

From then on I was flying from one beautiful cloud street to the other, but I could not take advantage of them, since they were east-west aligned and I needed to go north. But the thermals were there and the lift was decent.
Once past Gainsville, I finally had a cloud street lined up in a direction I could follow and I could start making some real distance. Here I'm crossing 200 km (never done that before):

The terrain I flew over changed and so did the light. It was a majestic sight. The lift was wide but still good and flying was easier than ever before. When I had 250 km and I saw the highway, I thought it was time to land. The flight deserved a better landing than I did. Somehow, the landings are not as consistent as they used to be. Most of them are good, but this one wasn't nice.

I derigged the glider and went to the restaurant next to the highway. Thanks a lot to John Theoret for picking me up and bringing me back to Quest. We arrived there at 2 A.M. with a very good weather forecast for the day after :-) Here's the video, the first half may be a bit boring, but the second half has some really nice footage:

Now I need to get the papers done, to get the Belgian record ratified. Cross your fingers!

Interaction with US law enforcement

On Saturday, I landed short. It was a beautiful day, but I "felt the hand of god" flying north out of Quest. For non-hangies: it means you only find sink and get pushed towards the ground pretty fast...
Anyway, I had to get back to Quest since we all started flying without retrieve drivers. And since I landed first, I could do that if I got back to Quest somehow. I packed the glider and started hitch-hiking. The 4th car driving by was a police car. "Hey, what are you doing here?". I explained the hang gliding situation and the officer promptly emptied his passenger seat and gave me a ride back all the way to Quest. Thanks a lot!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Venice Beach Attempt video

Look at the weather. What a day...

Here's the route we followed that day:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fire ants

I've got itching feet...

Landing at Venice Beach?

We had a hard time deciding on Wednesday's task. There was predicted overdevelopment north of us, the winds were SE, but would shift to NE and Quest was going to be overcast by late afternoon. After a while, we decided to head SSW, to Venice beach. A 188 km task and we were not going to start before 1 PM, so we had to go for it, once we were airborne.
I was towed up and soon after Davis was towed up and joined me in my thermal. I wasn't a very nice one, so we decided to head south asap. We had a really nice flight, with beautiful clouds and some nice climbs. I'll make a video when I have some time for that.

But, I didn't make it to Venice Beach. The sea breeze front was aligned over a large swamp. I couldn't see any landing possibilities there, so I didn't dare to cross it, since I had no clue how big the swamp was. My instrument showed me I would have 200 m in spare above Venice Beach, but I knew I wasn't going to make that in the sea breeze. And since I was trapped due to the swamp, I landed 20 km short.
We had a nice meal at the beach and were back at Quest just after midnight. It's 10 A.M. now and the sky is already filled with cumi's... Have to go and set up my glider!

Going north

Tuesday's forecast was really good for a long flight to the north. We had set our expectations on a 300 km flight. I launched as early as possible, but later than I hoped for. It was 12h15. I had a hard time staying in the air, but after 30 minutes, the conditions improved and I was heading north. Little cumi's formed over my head, but out in front, it remained blue and lift was hard to find.
After 2h30 flight, Davis came on the radio and suggested to try again the day after, since we were not racing ahead. I agreed, but later, on the ground, when I saw the conditions, I regretted it. We wouldn't have done 300 km, but it is very likely that it would have been 200 or maybe 250 km... Anyway, I landed after 70 km.
And I'm getting used to airport/airstrip landings:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quest - DS - Wallaby - Quest and VG failure

Today was quite an interesting day. It started when I thought the weaklink broke on tow. I was low and had almost 10 minutes of flying between 100 and 150 m off the ground. But I couldn't really get the thermal and had to land. On the ground I found out that the weaklink hadn't broken, but the release was open. It might have touched the base bar and released. I'll check whether that is possible.
So, I had to get in line again and relaunch a little later. The plan was to do Quest - Dean Stills - Wallaby - Quest. And I set up a comp route in the Compeo with an extra turnpoint (off route, huge radius) to test the optimized route feature. I got a really nice flight, which had a scare when I wanted to start final glide. The VG suddenly released, see the bolt below:

The bolt has no locking mechanism at all, so you might want to check yours before you launch next time ;-)
The release was sudden and I was weightless for a split second while I felt a big bang in the glider. I thought something went wrong with my primary hang strap or with the hang point. I thought I had so much bar pressure because I was now hanging on the backup strap which must have slid backwards on the keel. Not a nice feeling and quite an adrenaline rush. I took me some time to realize that it was just the VG... This is how it looked like:

So, the rest of the flight, I had to take it really easy, there was no point in pulling in the bar. I completed the flight and was happy about the little triangle. Here's the tracklog. We could have done more today, but tomorrow seems to be the big day. I'm curious...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Battling headwing and going north

Thursday looked very much like Wednesday. Blue skies and a moderate south wind. So I wanted to take revenge on our missed task of Wednesday. Davis didn't bother about flying in those conditions.
I launched and had a moderate climb at first, but it improved and started drifting towards a lake. Then suddenly it really turned on and became a 600 fpm climb (starting to think in these numbers already, 3 m/s that is). But, much more impressive was the shape drawn by the winds on the lake. It's a shame I don't have a picture of it. The lake is perfectly circular and the thermal was visible as a large twisting wind, perfectly centered in the lake. In the middle, there was a calm center, with 2 smaller twisters running around that center. I never saw anything like that. Dave, who launched after me and already flies for 30 years, was impressed by it as well.
Back to the flight. I battled against the wind for 2 hours and reached Dean Stills, where I was supposed to go crosswind to Wallaby and then fly back to Quest. I think I started to get a feeling for lift lines, but probably also got overconfident and had to land a few kms away from Dean Stills. Damn, the hard part was done, but I wasn't making it back home... Anyway, much better than the day before and I had been on my own in the blue. It was a good training.
On Friday, the forecast looked good for a long distance flight. Davis and I launched early, but couldn't get high under an almost overcast sky and had to land again. 2 Hours later, the hopes for 200 miles were gone and we agreed on a goal in Williston, 109 km north. You can read a detailed report of the flight on the OzReport. We had a really nice flight, flying together almost the complete distance. Mike Barber - a living legend - flew along with us and landed in the same field. Here's the video:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Complete failure

... to cover any distance today. The plan was to fly to Wallaby and back. I towed up first and was released right in the middle of a 3 m/s thermal which took me to 1500 m. It was a blue day and Greg and Davis were also preparing to fly, so I waited for them. Once together, we headed for Wallaby, found only one crappy bit of thermal out there and had to land only 15 km away from Quest. Miserable failure...
Others flew better today and covered some distance.
Anyway, as written before, the towing here goes quick and efficiently. Here's a video of today's tow. I got released at 2500 ft (750 m) within 2 minutes after take-off. The video also show the thermalling up to 1500 m. Ground to 1500 in 6 minutes. Not bad :-)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

147 km from Quest to Keystone Heights, now on Vimeo

Some people can't view the video on Youtube, so here's the same one on Vimeo:

Sharing Hang Gliding

It's always nice to share your passions. 3 Weeks ago, I did a tandem flight with Hilde over Maillen, near Namur. The evening light was very beautiful and, apart from take-off, the air was completely still. Hilde said she very much enjoyed the experience.

Video - 147 km from Quest to Keystone Heights

Today was a windy day, so I enjoyed yesterday's footage and made a little video about the flight:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Quest to Keystone Heights

Had a nice flight today with Jamie and Davis. We got towed at Quest and flew to Keystone Heights, almost 150 km to the north. An important thing for me was to regain my landing confidence and I today's landing definitely helped with that. 2 More of those in succession and I'll feel confident again.

We landed on an airport and I'm not used to share my landing place with private jets...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

No flying today

Swollen elbow from yesterday's landing. Can't flex it completely. No point in risking anything, I need to be able to fly in the coming months...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

2nd Bad Landing

Just over a month ago, I broke my carbon speed bar in what probably was the worst 'landing' since I started hang gliding. It looked like this:

Today, I did pretty much the same thing and the pilots on the ground confirmed I made the same mistake as I did then. I was way to high before I started flaring (about 3m off the ground). Worst thing is that I didn't realize I was high. Last time, I thought the misjudgment was caused by the visor, but that doesn't seem to be the case. And I couldn't get it to flare either. Pushing as hard as I could, but the nose went down and I had a major nose-in. So, I'm not at all happy about this and I hope I can regain my landing confidence soon. I always had that, but this way, you loose your confidence quickly.

Beautiful morning at Quest

I'm currently checking my mails in the morning sun in Quest. It's a beautiful morning and the temperatures are really nice. And they're playing 'Have a cigar' by Pink Floyd on the radio.

Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar.
You're gonna go far,
You're gonna fly high,
You're never gonna die

Life's good :-)

First day in Florida, fun flight

Woke up this morning at 4 A.M. Stayed in bed until 7 and then started to assemble the glider. Brought the rental car to the airport and prepared for a flight a 2.30 P.M. It was very hot on the ground. Hot and humid.

Towing goes quick here. Good preparation, good cooperation and a fast climb rate. I was in the air very fast after I decided to start. Finally flying again. I should at least have put on a smile for the pic ;-)

The flying was really like Jamie told me she liked it. Big and fat thermals, almost no turbulence. Lots of vultures in the air. And as you can see, Florida has water everywhere:

Looking at Quest Air, my home base for the coming three weeks. Try to find Quest, its just left of the little lake :-)

I flew a nice thermal with Tom Lanning (I only know his glider from Facebook...) Tom is leaving me here because we reached cloudbase and is probably heading back to Wallaby:

Tomorrow's a new day, and I sure hope the flying will be as good as it was today.

Getting into Florida

... still had some surprises on the way. As written in the last post, Air Berlin was really helpful with the glider. We took off from Koln Airport and I was happy that everything ran smoothly. I had to make the connection to Miami and needed to pass the 'flight-to-the-US' security check. The officer looked at me and said "didn't they tell you in Koln"? I had to say "no".
The problem was that I booked a one way ticket to the US and so I needed a visum. The ESTA waiver was not enough. And that meant that I needed to book a return flight, or else I wouldn't be able to board the plane to Miami. I tried to book online, but the redirect for the payment didn't work, so I eventually went to the Air Berlin counter and booked a flex ticket out of the US. Much more expensive than I would have liked, but I had no option anymore, time was ticking.
I was boarding the plane from the tarmac as the last passenger and someone from the ground crew told me they had taken good care of my glider. It was on the plane.
After a 10 hour flight we landed in Miami. 1,5 hour wait at the immigration service. Picking up everything at the baggage claim. That's one piece of 'normal' baggage, my harness and the glider. Quite a lot to handle when you have to walk through customs on your own. On to the exit to pick up the rental car. I was looking for the signs and noticed the "rental car shuttle" sign. O-oh, I couldn't take my glider on that one! And of course, I couldn't just leave it unattended, I asked security staff what to do and they confirmed my problem. You can't leave it here and you can't take it with you on the shuttle. I had to take the glider to storage room on another floor, pick up the car, retrieve the glider from the storage and than drive on to Orlando. That is, if they would accept my glider at the storage. Which needed some convincing...
Landed at 4 PM and finally left the airport on 7.30 PM. The slow, sleep-inducing cruise (fastest sections at 70 mph) to Orlando ended a long day. The handirack worked well. It kept the glider on the roof during the obligatory "left-foot-on-the-brake" mistake.

I received a very warm welcome at Quest. And Timothy had a beer in the fridge :-)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The adventure starts

Sitting at the gate. Still an hour until boarding. Ok, there were strange faces at check-in, but the Air Berlin and Koeln Airport staff where really, really helpful. No problems at all handing them the glider over. I didn't even have to ask them to be very careful with it. They said to me themselves they would handle it with care. Let's hope the guys in Berlin and Miami treat it the same way.
The security check did have a good look at my lead ballast. 8 kgs of that stuff, what do you want to do with that? "Hang gliding" was the answer. They didn't immediately see the link, so I had to explain that we can use it for extra speed. The officers rubbed some brushes and paper strips over it and asked me not to touch anything anymore, I couldn't even put my glasses on. Someone ran off asking us to wait a little and 5 minutes later, everything was ok. Was it drug testing or will they have done some internet research on hang gliding and ballast? I guess they learn a lot in that job :-)

And I can't phone anyone at this time while it's my mum's birthday, so mummy, I sent you an e-mail, happy birthday!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mechanical bird

My dad showed me a video about a mechanical bird. Nice one!

Leaving for Miami

I will be relieved when I can tell you in 48 hours that me and the glider arrived safely at Quest. Keep your fingers crossed. In never tried to board a plane like that...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Almost ready to go

Loads of things needed to be done in the last few days. Cleaning up the mess from moving, looking for insurances, hoping that the speedbar will get in Belgium on time, packing the glider for transport, doing my administration, swimming to get a little bit in shape for the season, ... I didn't realize there was still such a lot to do. Tomorrow I'll pick up a Handirack, so I should be able to transport the glider from Miami to Orlando.
The flight to Florida (over Berlin) leaves Thursday at 9 A.M. Can't wait. Hope the glider will be intact when I re-assemble it at Quest, which will be my home base for 3 training weeks before the Rob Kells Memorial.
Still a long time to go, but if the long-term weather forecasts are right, I'll get a couple of days with great flying conditions immediately after arriving :-)