March has, true to form, come in like a lamb. We've had a couple of weeks of clear blue skies and high temps in the 80s. While some of those clear skies and warmer days will tempt pilots to the cliff after a winter hiatus, they're not necessarily the best days for getting high and going far. The same high pressure that keeps the haze out of the air and makes it crystal clear also suppresses thermal development and convection. So while it's an especially beautiful view on these days, you may not get long to look at it. Fortunately for pilots in The Hang Gliding Capital of the East, if there's any wind on these days it's likely blowing northwest and that's straight into the mountain at Henson's Gap. The resulting ridge lift offers an extended view, if not great altitudes or long distances.
Rick Jacob, Mike Lindquist, and Mike Eberhardt enjoyed such a day Thursday. Mike Lindquist needs to contact the TTT BOD regarding his flight clearance. I could see them in the air from Dunlap by 2:40 and watched the last of them go out to land around 4:30. They appeared to be getting 300 or 400 feet over. With binoculars and our neighbor Josh's telescope, we could also make out much tinier wings soaring the ridge. Clark Harlow and John Lawton were flying their Zaggies, remote control gliders with an approximately three foot wingspan, and displaying some impressive aerobatic and close quarter flying.
Saturday dawned cold and gray with rain. The forecast was classic postfrontal winter, overcast and blown out. We ultimately decided most pilots must have decided to bag it early, preferring to invest in domestic tranquility on a bad hang gliding day. Don Murdoch kept his eyes open though, calling early from Birmingham to check on developing conditions as the sky began to clear. By the time I got to the top of the mountain, Don was already there. The wind was pretty strong at first, but not terribly gusty. There were even occasional light cycles. Mark Furst and Rob got some time in this air, finding thermals to 2500 over, the best max altitude gain for the day. As we set up, the velocity dropped quickly. In fact, by the time we were ready we were worrying it would shut down. Don picked a good cycle to launch tandem with his lady Stacy, but it was so light by this time they were struggling to stay on the ridge. Jim Hicks and I launched shortly after and joined the struggle. I found lift on the north face and worked it in slowly ascending figure eights. Jim went south and seemed to be doing better on the west face. Dennis Felts was scratching on the trees for a long time. Don and Stacy eventually went to the field in one of the light cycles, but Dennis, Jim, and I were able to hang out until it turned on and wondered.
Sunday was a high pressure day with a still blue sky. Such a beautiful weekend day begs for outdoor activity, and hang gliding's better than most even if it's a sled run. I saw three gliders in the field from the 111 overlook and, while without details, am guessing their flights were rather direct.
The forecast calls for southerly winds Wednesday and Thursday with lows in the 50s and highs in the 70s. Increasing cloudiness with lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s and a chance of rain Friday and Saturday. There's likely a northerly breeze behind those cooling temps, so just wait for the clouds to clear and we'll... See you in the sky!
Hey, this is what I get for guessing without going! Katie Dunn sends this correction:
On Sunday, quite a few people flew, and only a few made sled rides. Many got 4,000 and stayed up for hours. I got about 40 minutes and only got 1500 over launch, after scratching up from about 500 below launch. Of the people that flew I remember Greg Wojnowski, Tom Prouhet, Mark Dunn, Rob, Mark Furst, Chris Fields, Chris Starbuck and a few others. For a high pressure day, it was pretty darn good. Oh, one other was Fred Parsons, who, when landing, nearly landed right on a skunk up by the hay bales!