by “THE RAINMAN”
I have always been fascinated watching the birds, and wishing I could join them in there freedom of flight.
Standing on a hill or mountain watching the birds gracefully circle, I would day dream trying to visualize the view from their eyes, as they soared over the mountains, lakes, and trees. I would look at the clouds, and see myself flying around and through them, looking down seeing streams and lakes and trees far below. I could see deer grazing in meadows, and the birds showing me how to swoop and dive.
When I was a youngster in my bed I would dream of flying around my room, or fly out the window and soar above the garden and trees, everyone would point and watch in awe. I always knew it was a dream, but I was not alone, people everywhere wanted to build machines to fly.
It seemed, the only way to fly, was with a motor. Most of the early inventors of flight started with gliders, but most sooner or later added a motor.
I had hope that technology would help me soar someday.
When I saw NASA fly the personal Jet pack, my dreams of flying took another jump start, but the Jet pack could only fly for about a minute, and it was very expensive.
There were options of course, you could jump out of an airplane, and fly like a rock for thirty seconds and than hope your parachute will open. You could be towed by a boat, while hanging from a parachute, but there is certainly no freedom being tied to the back of a boat. I wanted to be free of ties to the ground and fly free with the birds. Helicopters are intriguing because they can go any direction but again they have a motor and are very expensive.
My friends and I would build parachutes from bed sheets and jump off the roof; this only created sore feet and a fear of falling.
Years later, when I had the chance to fly in a real airplane, I found my view of the world, was just like the one in my flying dreams. Learning to fly was a real challenge, taking off was not bad if you kept the wheels on the runway, you see steering the old style airplanes is done with rudder peddles, not a steering wheel. Steering with your feet can be a real challenge in coordination, but landing was an adventure in frustration.
The wheels would touch the runway, (or close to it because it was a narrow runway) than bounce back up and down like a ball until enough speed was lost to stay on the ground. Traveling across the ground on two wheels, at a high speed on a runway just wide enough for the wheels, made for exciting times, and usually ended up in a cloud of dust off the runway.
Once I learned how to take off and land, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to do it better and better. I wanted to fly and look out the window at the ground, but keeping the plane flying straight and level while sightseeing really does not work very well.
I found flying from point to point was boring, and had little challenge to it.
I was lucky enough to have access to several different types of aircraft thanks to my Father and Uncle. They owned a business of painting airplanes to support their flying habits. They owned several different aircraft, some they fixed up and sold. I loved airplanes, but the freedom I was looking for was not there.
The plane was noisy, expensive, and except for landings boring. One day my Father and I went for a flight in a plane he had just purchased, it was certified to do aerobatics, and after doing a loop the engine quit. Luckily the landing field was within easy glide, but that ended my aerobatic interest, not that it scared me, everything was fine after a change of underwear.
In the early seventy’s, my wife and I were on a vacation trip to Washington state, and happen to see a giant kite sitting beside the road, a lot of people were standing around watching, so we pulled over to see what was happening.
There in the crowd, were people wearing a sort of harness, with helmets and gloves. They hooked themselves to the kite than picked it up and carried it to the edge of a cliff, after a short wait they would run and leap of the edge.
The cliff was about a thousand feet high, and they did not appear to be flying they just made steep spiraling dives. They seemed to be landing somewhere next to a freeway below. I thought they were crazy, even a parachute seemed safer looking than this flimsy contraption. Several bystanders also made comments about their mental stability.
I tried to visualize what it would feel like to jump off a cliff and hope this thing would be controllable enough to keep me from becoming a speed bump on the freeway below. My fear of falling came back to me in a rush than having a truck run over me in the middle of the freeway, yikes’s!
That was my first, and last look at hang gliding for many years, I saw pictures here and there over the years of hang gliders, but that first experience proved too scary to interest me, I wanted to be in control, and most of all have fun.
When I was in my thirty’s, a hang-gliding instructor stopped by the place I worked to ask if we thought someone would let him teach hang gliding at the local parks. He asked my coworker and me to come and watch him fly and maybe take a lesson, he gave us directions and the following weekend we met him at a small hill about an hour south. As we watched he took this long cigar shaped bag off his car. It was a little disturbing to see he was using a crutch on the front of his car to hold up one end of the glider.
He opened it up and put it together to form this giant wing with bright rainbow colors; it was much more modern looking than the one I had seen years before, more streamline and stronger looking.
After putting the glider together he put on a harness, it had lots of ropes and straps to support him in a laying down position.
He hooked the harness to the glider with a carabiner. This is a device rock climber’s use to support them while climbing on a rock face. He than picked up the glider, aiming the nose down the hill, he waited for just the right wind and ran off the hill. We ran to the edge to watch him fly down and land, but instead he flew straight out from the hill and started to gain altitude. To our surprise he was in total control of this hang glider. He soared back and forth along the ridge letting go with his hands to wave and show the glider was easy to control.
With only the wind to hold this wing up, it looked as if my dream could finally come true.
There was no noisy motor, or messy fuel. You just throw this long cigar shaped bundle on the top a car, drive to a hill or mountain, and in a few minutes unfold, put together, than hook in and fly with the birds.
I was hooked, this was easy, I already knew how to fly, a few lessons and, “VOLLA” Birds, Here I come!
Ha, ha, little did I know the frustrations of learning to balance, run, and land a sixty pound aluminum, and Dacron machine, with a mind of its own.
Standing on flat ground I first tried to pick up the glider and balance it on my shoulders. This was not as easy as it looked, the wind was light but it caused the wing to move around while I was trying to keep it level. Than the instructor told me to run while keeping the wing level, Ya Right!
After some of this we started to take the glider up a small slope and do the same thing, and I found it easier having a slope to run down because the extra speed made the glider want to fly.
This continued higher and higher up the hill, I would carry it up the hill, huffing and puffing. Hook in, point it down the hill, and wait for the wind and adrenaline to balance. Picking up the glider, ready, aim, balance, deep breath, run run run, hope, pray! As my feet came off the ground the excitement was overwhelming. The ground is coming up fast, my instructor screaming flair. The adrenaline overload blocked out everything the instructor was saying, than the glider, wheels, and harness slide across the ground in a cloud of dust, me grinning ear to ear, I flew really flew.
Now the slow process of learning to land on my feet began, very slowly, moving up the training hill as I learned. During my training we would sometimes visit different training hills to experience different wind directions and obstacles.
A friend came along to help carry the glider up the hill and than run down the hill to videotape each lesson, at times other students would take turns filming and flying.
After each day on the hill we would go to the instructor's home and watch the video to see what we learned at the hill. Flying different training sites helped me learn better because each site had different types of slopes, hazards, and wind directions.
I spent countless hours running down hills with his training glider, sometimes stopping to replace broken tubing after a bad landing. I remember some of my first flights; they were not what you would call long flights.
I started my run down the hill running faster and faster, than let the nose up a little and fly for about ten feet and flair real hard sometimes stopping, sometimes falling flat face first. My body could not hit the ground hard because I was hooked to the glider, but I did eat some dust. Having accomplished a good run and flair, I received my hang 1 rating. There are five ratings in hang gliding; each step is a test in ability, skill, and maturity, and of course a written test for each step.
After what seemed like thousands of those short flights we went to a little bigger hill, and repeated the same run, run, run, flair, over and over.
I finally made it to the forty-foot hill, where I could glide for one or two hundred feet before flaring.
When I got to the hundred-foot hill, I had to learn to start turning back and forth, because the landing field was not long enough to fly straight out and land. This got me ready to soar the ridge because I had to stay close to the hill and turn one hundred and eighty degree turn’s to stay in lift. This is when I learned how wind and terrain affect the glider in flight.
If you watch birds flying in front of a hill, you will notice they don’t have to flap their wings, they just float on a cushion of air.
The air in front of a hill is going up and behind the hill it goes down, so if you fly in front of a hill you can stay up like the birds in a strong enough wind but behind the hill you will sink down, or if you are close to the ground, you crash. That is called a wind shadow, than there is the rotor, this is caused by stronger wind that comes over the hill and pushes you down. To see an example watch water in a stream going over rocks, you see the water swirl behind the rock, this is what the air is doing behind a hill. Then there is turbulence, this is caused by something in the path of the wind, fence post, tree, bushes, car, people, you get the idea. This turbulence makes for a very rough ride depending on how strong the wind is, and how big the tree or bush is. Again you can see all of this by watching water move around objects like rocks, air currents act very much the same way.
Next we get to the gradient, this is caused by friction, as the air passes over the earth, there is resistant, and the higher you go the less resistance there is. So as you fly closer to the ground the less wind you will encounter. Next we have ground effect. When a wing is flying over the ground, it compresses the air between the wing and the ground.
This ground effect takes place at about the same height as the length of the wing, or if your wing is thirty feet long, you will find ground affect about thirty feet above the ground.
People often ask me why it takes so long to learn how to fly. Understanding the effects nature has on flying machines takes time and lots of practice.
My instructor had me try different gliders, some were easer to land, and some just flew better. We even did some tandem flights together, but we were just ground skimming.
I was now ready to try a mountain. I could land! Well sort of, some times I landed on my feet. I had a good launch technique; which means I managed to leave the ground and fly. Having soared the training hill, for one whole minute, on several flights, I was ready for some real airtime.
We went to a five hundred foot hill, after flying a one hundred and forty foot hill, my first impression was, this was not a hill, This!! Is a mountain!
I could barely see the landing field; it was about one half mile away. Up close this landing field looked huge, but now it looked like a postage stamp. After setting up the glider, we rigged CB radios for in flight instruction.
I hook into the glider, walked to the edge, fought back an adrenaline attack, took a deep breath, did a radio check, yelled clear! That means everyone stand clear of the glider because I’m launching. Run run run lift off.
This was awesome; I was flying, higher than I had ever been, at least without a motor. I was grinning ear to ear; the radio was sputtering and spitting with static. I began to fly back and forth on the ridge. When I looked over at my instructor, he was having a conniption fit. He was waving and yelling, but the radio was just static, so I thought he was pointing for me to go around to the side of the hill. I assumed he was trying to tell me to go find the lift to the right. I was loosing altitude fast, and when I got around the hill, I had lost too much altitude to make it to the planned landing area. Below me was a cul-de-sac, surrounded by oak trees but it looked big enough so I thought no problem; this should be easy if I don’t panic. As I set up my approach over the road, I noticed the glider was in lift. A black surface in the sunlight produces rising hot air! The glider kept flying, and flying.
As I followed the road as it curved around to meet the main road. I thought (I hoped) there was plenty of room left to slow the glider, because at the main road, my road ended and I was looking at a hill with big oak trees. As I followed the road it curve so now instead of flying into the wind, I was flying crosswind and this pushed me off to the side of the road.
Suddenly I was over a deep ditch, and to close to the ground to turn the glider.
I twisted the control bar in panic, pushing out for all I was worth. My body landed on the edge of the road. My chest was just short of the asphalt on the dirt edge, and the rest of me was hanging over a six-foot drainage pipe running under the road, it was about six feet in diameter; I survived, because I hadn’t panicked! I quickly got up, dusted off, and tried to act like I had planned the whole flight. (I think the violent shaking gave me away).
My instructor, roared up in the car and screamed every French word he knew, than, wanted to know why I ignored his instructions over the radio.
I explained the radio was nothing but static and I didn’t know what he was saying, of course he didn’t believe me, so we tested the radio again and it worked perfectly. We, err that is, he decided I would try again, this time I would only fly straight out for the landing area and land as planned.
As I flew out I hit lift, and just like the first flight the radio began to squeal and sputter with static again. I assumed he was saying turn in the lift, so I did my first three hundred and sixty degree turn.
I lost the lift but I felt great, and than continued to the landing field. I was too high when I got there, so I did another three sixty, than a couple of S turns. I landed a little short of the place I was aiming for, but it was a safe landing.
Again the French lesson for ignoring the radio commands, but I did get praised for doing a good three sixty and an ok landing, even if it was a little short.
Again we drove to the top, but this time it was his turn to fly. We set up the glider and he launched, his experience allowed him to work the lift, and he was having a longer flight than me. I decided to ask how he was doing, hoping the radio would not work, of course he answered back he was having lots of fun! Darn! After a few minutes, he went to land and I praised him on his landing, he asked me to repeat, I did and he said all he could here was static, yes! He still thinks I ignored him but I know better.
Our never ending search for a better and closer hill to train on brought us to a nice hill with lots of room and facing the wind. My instructor insisted we setup the glider and try it.
One of the other students asked about the landowner, and if he would mind us just using his property without asking. The instructor said not to worry this was government land, so we setup and started to fly.
After about an hour this guy showed up and walked out to talk to the instructor, myself and other students were up the hill and couldn’t here the conversation, but by the body language they were displaying we knew we were in trouble. Trying to act innocent, we walked down the hill to see how long before the cops would arrive.
Our instructor was in the middle of a story about how some other guy had told him he was the landowner and gave us permission to use this hill. This guy wasn’t buying the lie and ordered us off his land NOW! We wasted no time taking the glider apart and getting over the fence, but the instructor was still trying to convince the owner we were completely innocent of wrong doing, and tried to get him to let us stay.
Another flying site we used, the landowner let us use his hill as long as we did not drive on the hill. This was a good hill because it faced different wind directions and had a good slope. Pilots from another area started to flood the hill with students, and before long they were out of control and started to drive on the hill. The owner just put up barricades and stopped all trespassing on his property. This also happened to the very first training hill I learned to fly, the landowner got tired of two many people and not following the rules. He had two rules: no driving on the hill, and no fires. I don’t think anyone started any fires but they did drive on the hill. I really miss that hill, because it is close to home and good for after work flying.
Now it was the time for my very own glider and harness.
My instructor wanted to sell me a glider I had trained on but I did not like the way it flew, not to mention it was real old and rated for an advanced pilot. I talked to other instructors about used gliders, and I received a call from a guy who had a good training glider for sale. The instructor that gave him my name told me it was a good glider and he thought the price was about fifteen hundred dollars. The seller told me he would only deal with my instructor, because he thought it only fair to the instructor to make a little money after all the work he had done to train me, plus the glider would be safety checked. He called my instructor and set up a time to go see and fly the glider. That day as we drove to the hill I asked about the glider, and what the price would be.
My instructor had no idea I knew how much the seller was asking for the glider, and he told me it was somewhere round two thousand dollars but that was negotiable. I did not say a word; I would wait and see where the price would end up, because it was possible the other instructor had given me the wrong price.
What worried me the most was my instructor said the seller would only talk to him, and insisted that I stay away. I said this did not make any sense to me because I wanted to know the history of the glider and ask questions about how it flew; after all I was buying the glider not him. He said the seller would not talk to me and that was final.
This was supposed to be a training day as usual until the glider for sale showed up, but I was upset and didn’t feel like flying.
When the seller finely showed up I met him before my instructor could walk over and he said my instructor insisted over the phone he was not to talk to anyone but him. I tried to reason with him that I was buying the glider not my instructor and I wanted to know all about the gliders handling and history.
When I asked the price, he told me he could only tell the instructor, I said the other instructor said it was fifteen hundred, but my instructor told me two thousand.
The seller cringed enough for me to know the answer, and than my instructor showed up and took him away to talk business. A few minutes later they started to set up the glider and wanted me to test fly it. My stomach was in a big knot and I wanted nothing to do with that glider. I told my instructor to go ahead and fly if he wanted. The conditions weren’t good enough to for him to soar so he flew straight out to land, and than had a bad landing.
My instructor told me the glider flew real nice, than asked me what I thought about the glider, and I said it looked ok, but what was the final price?
My instructor told me the seller was firm on his price of two thousand dollars, but the glider was worth it. How did he know? All he did was take it for a short flight, had a bad landing, and never inspected the frame for damage! I told him I could not spend that much money for a glider and went to the car to pout. My instructor wrote a check for the glider and loaded it on his car.
On the way home he said I had to buy the glider because he did not have enough money to back up the check he had just written.
I could not take any more lies, and told him I knew the real price of the glider, his face got real pale.
After a while he said the seller had no right talking to me about the glider because it was his business to negotiate price for me. I had him cold! I than explained the seller did not break his promise because he had not told me the price. I knew the price long before he new the glider was for sale.
Suddenly I was the bad guy for keeping secrets from him, he tried to turn the whole issue around and make me feel bad. I told him he was a liar, and did not deserve to make a penny on the sale because I had found the glider, and was only allowing him to make the deal because he had taught me to fly.
His job as a dealer was to inspect the glider for wear and tear and make sure it was air worthy. Not only did he not inspect it, he new nothing of the glider’s history. It could have been damaged and I would never know because I hadn’t learned how to inspect for damage, his only concern was his profit.
After a long talk about trust I felt pity for him and agreed to pay him seventeen hundred dollars for the glider but he was never to lie to me again.
Having been burned trying to buy a glider from my instructor I decided to go shopping for a harness on my own, besides he was not a dealer of harness.
I knew little about looking for a harness, but I was able to try a few on at a shop over by the ocean, and got friendly help from the staff.
I was a little afraid to tell my instructor I had bought a new harness without his input, knowing he would be angry.
I avoided talking to him for a while and decided to go flying at the training hill alone, my plan was just to practice landings. In hang gliding there are ratings from beginner to advanced, or one through four, there is a five but it takes years to achieve a master rating.
When a student thinks he is ready for anything, and knows more than anyone, this is called, “hang three syndrome." Safety rules in hang gliding are learned by watching someone else make a mistake, or surviving a mistake you made. Instructors can only tell you how to avoid mistakes, but most people learn by their own mistakes and never think anything bad will happen to them. I learned many lessons the hard way (sort of a crash course); one of the first was "Never fly alone, sort of like “Never go swimming alone.”
You should never fly with more than one new change at a time. For instance; a new harness, a new glider, or any adjustments to either.
Well there I was with a new glider, a new harness, and all alone except for my ten year old daughter and her friend playing down below. The nearest phone was about five miles away, and the nearest house with no phone was one mile away surrounded by big dogs that barked at everything.
I was only there to practice takeoffs and landings, from a forty-foot hill; I couldn’t get hurt just doing that, at least nothing more than a scratch or two.
I launched in light wind, and found myself in lift, so much for landing practice. I gained about fifty feet above the hill. I was having a great flight going back and forth along the ridge.
I could see my daughter and her friend playing and waving at me. You could not have slapped the smile off my face; this was fantastic just floating in the air just like my dreams.
As I was flying around having fun, I decided to zip up my new harness. The training harness I was used to just held my body like a vest, and my legs would hang free. This harness was like a sleeping bag; you put your feet up inside than pulled a zipper to enclose your legs. This help’s to keep you warm and supports your legs on long flights.
Until now the only time I had zipped up my harness, was while hanging in my garage at home. It was easy! Reaching down finding the pull string attached to the zipper and pull. The zipper moved about half way and was stuck, looking down to try and fix it, I found the upper part of the harness was folded under, so I tried to straighten it this is where I remembered one of the rules. “Watch where you are going." When I looked up, I had drifted behind the hill, I remembered some French I had learned. Trying to make it back out in front of the hill, I was loosing altitude fast, and was too low to make it over the ridge.
I tried to land on top of the ridge, but when I flared the glider was in the rotor and I was slammed to the ground. I was on top of the hill, with the broken control bar under me, and the glider lying flat on top of me. Luckily I was not hurt, than my daughter and her friend showed up laughing and said things like “Did you crash on purpose dad? Is that pipe supposed to be broken like that? Are you going to do that again so we can watch? Aren’t ten year olds cute? I was mad at myself, but for the wrong reason. I had no spare parts to fix my glider so I could fly again! Than it hit me! I could have been hurt, or even killed, and my daughter and her friend would be left alone to find help. Way to go stupid! I learned at least one valuable lesson that day, well maybe more than one, but I have never flown alone since.
I had learned a couple of big lessons, and I managed to live through the hang three syndrome so far.
Now I had to deal with my instructor and tell him about my new harness.
I called him up and broke the news to him. To my surprise he did not seam to be mad, and asked me to come over and show him my prize.
When I got over there I found out why he was so calm on the phone, he had another pilot friend waiting to give me grief for having bought an advanced harness I was not ready for. I had not even taken the harness out of the bag, so when I did his friend changed his mind, and said this harness was just fine for me, he thought it was one of the more advanced designs.
My instructor was furious with his friend for taking my side, than his friend told him he was wrong in the handling of the glider sale, and should have gotten more information about the glider, and than inspected it for damage.
The previous owner of the glider felt bad and later called me to see how everything worked out.
Than I told my instructor about my crash at the training hill, and got the expected lecture I deserved. Not long after this my instructor gave me my hang 2 and I was free at last.
I was a survivor and now I really new more than anybody. I had my glider, harness, and my hang 2, all I needed was a real mountain to fly from.
I had heard about a mountain that was easy to fly, launch was at nine thousand feet, with a three thousand foot drop to the valley below.
To date, my highest flight, was from a mild sloping hill, I thought was a cliff! It was only five hundred feet high, but this was a mountain, three thousand feet straight down to the bottom, it was almost a cliff, if you dropped a rock, it would bounce all the way to the bottom, and what a view.
My wife and I had driven to the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to a ski resort. The resort is closed in the summer but the road leading to it works well as a launch. Other hang glider pilots were setting up their wings and getting ready to fly.
I came to this site not knowing if I would be able to fly, but I wanted to learn the rules and make some friends. I was only a hang two and asked for help to learn the site conditions, what to avoid, and how to launch and where to land.
My questions got few answers and were almost know help. I felt like I was not welcome at their flying site, they were a family and I was not one of them.
I found out later, that new students or outsiders were not welcome because they said new students were losing landing areas, by landing in places they were not supposed to, this made the landowners upset. I thought; what do they expect, when they don’t talk to new pilots, and tell them where to land. I also found out much later, it was not the new pilots but a few of the old bold pilots that pissed off the landowners, and every one else with their attitudes.
As always it only takes a few to ruin it for everyone.
Having received little or no information from the local pilots, I decided I would do a short flight for the practice. I setup and watched a few prow launches.
While watching a pilot get ready to launch, I noticed a bystander under his wing taking pictures. He was holding on to the glider, and as the pilot started to run, the bystander was not paying attention and was still holding on to the wing.
The glider did a wobbly launch and came close to crashing, but the pilot managed to pull out of the turn just in time. Having almost caused a crash, other pilots rushed over and yelled at this guy for getting in the way.
I thought; what a sad way to promote our sport to the general public. If they would have calmly explaining to him and other bystanders what had just happened, so they could help promote safety in the sport, these people would say nice things about us. Instead, they think were a bunch of jerks!
I learned another lesson that day; “never let inexperienced people help you launch.”
I had hoped to see some landings, and get an idea how to approach the landing area, but lift was good so no one landed. I was told, to land on the edge of a small lake, across the valley. I was not sure but it looked to me like it would be to far away. I picked out an alternate field closer just in case I could not make the lake and pointed it out to my wife. I instructed her to look for the cross road at the end of some trees. After turning on to the cross road, she could look for me in that field, or go on to the lake. From where we were the trees looked like a small clump of bushes, and I told her that from the road would be very big and look nothing like they did from the mountain.
Having said that I hoped she would not get lost, than leave me and go home like she joked about doing. She didn’t get lost but she did take a few wrong turns along the way.
I setup and did a preflight of my glider, hooked in my harness, and stepped up to a guardrail, carefully stepping over the rail I was now on the edge of the cliff, (steep slope).
I thought I would be uncomfortable with the altitude, but to my surprise, I felt very confident and relaxed. (hang 3 syndrome ?)
I lifted the glider and ran down the slope about three steps than flew; more than three steps would be hard to do because of the steepness.
Flying straight out from the hill toward the landing area, I was stunned by the beauty of the view. This was a view only the birds can see, three hundred and sixty degrees in all directions, no noise, just the wind in my face.
I had made it; I was free to fly like a bird. I had nothing blocking my view of the world around me, my wing was above me but lying on my stomach I had to strain to look up to see it. This was beyond words, this was unreal, and yet very real, I was here, in control wanting to scream with joy. I had no radio so I couldn’t share my feelings with anyone, but it didn’t matter I was a heavenly body in flight. I could see I wasn’t going to make the lake and happy I planned for another landing area.
I flew straight for the area I wanted to land, and planned it just right, I only had to make one turn and land, it was perfect, flying into the wind and over a nice flat field what more could I ask for? Well! How about experience in mountain flying to name just one! Ever hear of density altitude? It was one of those forgotten lessons from my airplane days. As you get higher, the air gets thinner, than as it gets warmer the air gets even thinner, so flying things go faster, and tend to fall out of the air sooner. This brings us to my landing.
I was flying too slow, than I flaring to late, than I ran real hard, finely slamming the nose of the glider into the ground, thinking what happened? This flight was only about ten minutes long but felt like an hour and a crash.
When my wife finely found me, one of the friendly landowners came over to warn me, I had landed in the wrong field, and to hurry and get out. She was very nice, and listened while I explained it was my first time flying here and I could not make the lake shore where I was told to land.
Later I asked a fellow pilot I had taken lessons with, if he would like to go to this mountain site. Of course he wanted to go! He had to test his hang three syndrome too. He had been a better student and a fast learner than me, so I figured he could handle this mountain experience just fine.
He was very eager to fly a real mountain. We loaded my small car with our gliders and harnesses, my son also came along to take pictures, and a friend volunteered to drive for us.
When we arrived at launch, several pilots were already setting up their gliders. We started setting up, and with a driver I said we might be able to get in too flights if we hurry. Knowing the wind would change, in the early after noon as it always did, we would have to hurry.
I showed my friend what I had learned on my first flight, and instructed him on what I had done, and where to land.
This time I knew where to land, because I had watched the other pilots on my first trip, they were not landing at the lake they told me to land at. I guess it’s too far for them also.
Having my equipment ready, I asked the local pilots if I could launch first. You would think I was Moses. The way the gliders and people parted so I could get to launch was a little unnerving.
At first it felt like I had some kind of power, but it’s very common for pilots to let someone be first off the hill, because the first person to launch is called the wind dummy. That means if that person can stay up than everyone will launch, if not they watch a landing, and wait for another dummy.
I was not planning to stay up, only launch and land, than come back for another flight.
I launched and flew along the side of the mountain until it was time to turn and go land, than I hit some lift. It felt pretty strong so I turned and it was getting stronger so I continued to turn. This was the first time I gain altitude in a thermal, even though I didn’t know it was a thermal, it felt like ridge lift to me. I kept turning, and turning. Than I realized I had climbed even with the top of the mountain, and was about three thousand feet higher than launch. I was still going up and knew my friend would be waiting for me in the landing area to go back for another flight.
I headed for the landing field, but I was still climbing. I tried everything I knew, to lose altitude, the only thing I knew was pull in and try steep turns. Every thing I tried was not working because I was still gaining altitude.
This was scary, no one including my instructor ever told me it would be hard to get down, up yes! But not down!
Finally after a great struggle I lost altitude, and set up for a landing.
My friend had found no lift and flew straight out and landed. My son was already down with the car, and helped me fold my glider.
Several of the other pilots were in the landing area also, and they were not very happy.
My son told us that when I found lift, they looked like lemmings, trying to get off launch, but they could not find lift and had to land. Hurrying back to launch, we were all alone, everyone else had launched, and several were high above circling.
We put our gliders together again, and I explained to my friend, how I had trouble getting down. He laughed, and said he wished he had that kind of luck. I told him it scared me and warned him to be careful. I told him to just do the same as he had done the first flight and fly straight to the landing area and land. I helped him to launch, and while my son and friend helped him I got ready myself.
When I looked for my friend he was nowhere to be seen, even my son lost track of him.
After I launched I found out why he had disappeared, the lift was incredible, I was going up like a rocket. I was not doing any turn’s just flying straight, and gaining altitude fast.
Again I struggled to lose lift, and again I was not having much luck. Finely I just headed for the landing area, and found as I left the mountain the lift got lighter. I managed to get down to about one hundred feet, when I finely relaxed and turned in light lift to rest before landing.
When I looked back at the mountain I realized I had again gained back to launch altitude. I thought not again and flew down to land.
There were several pilots, watching my landing, and of course, I did a mild crash to entertain them, when I crawled out from under the wreckage they applauded. I asked about my friend, but know one knew where he was.
As the other pilots landed one by one, a huge thundercloud developed above the mountain. Now ether all pilots had landed or gone cross-country, except one.
This had to be my friend, and he was in trouble with that cloud getting bigger and bigger.
I had heard stories about pilots and airplanes being sucked up into clouds, and search party’s finding there bodies hundreds of miles away.
This was my friend’s first high altitude flight; he had to be scared to death!
He had no experience to help him, and no radio to ask for help.
After more than an hour he finely flew out over the landing area and spiraled down to land. As he got close to the ground, he got into the upright landing position, than skimmed over the ground for a long way in ground effect; I had never seen a glider cover that much ground before. When he finely did land he got on his knees and looked real sick. When I arrived he told me he thought he was going to die. He said he tried everything to lose altitude, but nothing worked. He was even thinking of throwing his parachute, but when he arrived over the landing area, the lift went away and he finely lost altitude.
This experience was so bad he never got over the fear and a short time later he gave up hang gliding.
I have gone back to fly this amazing site several times, and now when I get high over the mountain, I can look down at Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen.
It was time to find a flying site closer to home and meet other pilots we could fly with.
Another flying friend and I called a member of a local club, and he agreed to watch us fly at the training hill and than sponsor us at his club site. This guy has been a great inspiration to many hang glider pilots. A few years before I started to fly he had been in an accident, while flying tandem; he had a bad landing and broke his neck. The long-term affect has kept him from hang gliding, but not from going to the hill, and enjoying friends and flying. He is about to fly again in a ridged wing hang glider, specially modified for him.
This flying site is in the foothills on the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
This site has a lake at the base of the hill for the families to enjoy while we fly.
We launched from this two thousand foot mountain and flew straight out to the lakeshore, about a mile away and twelve hundred feet below launch. Because the turn around time back to launch was so long, about thirty minutes, we only had time for two to four launches a day.
As I slowly learned too thermal and gain altitude, I could fly above the lake with other pilots and the birds. While learning how to use thermals I watched the birds, I could see how they turned in lift, and tried to copy them.
I also watched other gliders, and learned from other pilot’s experiences.
On one nice flying day, the day before Thanksgiving, the wind was a little cross in the landing area.
This landing area has two approaches, one for a west wind, “preferred," and one into the Northwest. The northwest approach is a little tricky because the ground slopes sideways as well as down hill and gets worse if you over shoot. Well I over shot by a lot, and than I panicked. I aimed for some bushes hoping for something soft to crash into. Just before I reached the bushes I flared, hard! I had too much speed and climbed up to twenty feet, than again panicked and pulled in the control bar, at the same time, saying “O shhhh”! This was a mistake, (not the word) because the nose of the glider pointed straight at the ground and darted in. (put more French words in here).
My right shoulder, and nose of the glider, hit at the same time, at first I felt embarrassed, because I had panicked. I was having trouble moving, and felt pain somewhere around my arm.
My flying friends came running to help me, and after getting on my feet, I saw a rock the size of a basketball, inches from ware I hit. I than noticed I missed the soft bushes I had hoped to land in, good aim dork!
One of my friends is a doctor and he checked my arm, he said it did not look broken but I might have cracked the rotator cuff. My friends bagged my glider, and with the help of a pain pill I drove home using my shirt for a sling. When I got home I called my wife at her mothers and said I think you better come and take me to emergency, I hurt my arm, I think?
Waiting for the doctor in the emergency room is always an adventure, (yes, I’ve been there before) the people look at you like they know you did something stupid to be there, and I felt stupid to be there.
I was getting tired, and it hurt to bend over, so I tried to pull a chair closer to me with my foot. The chair started to tip, and without thinking, I grabbed for the chair, oh ya! You guessed it, with my hurt arm, pain, dizziness.
I almost passed out, I tried to lean on my wife for support, but she was afraid to touch me, and not to sure what I was doing, so she moved away, and again I almost went down.
After some x-rays, and a lot of waiting, we went home and waiting for the painkiller to kick in. I wanted to sleep real bad but could not lay down, so I tried to get comfortable in a recliner.
The doctor confirmed that I had cracked my rotator cuff, but I did not need surgery because it had not moved.
I didn’t tell him that my doctor friend at the hill tried pulling on my arm to see if it was just dislocated or broken, and the episode with the chair was just to embarrassing.
I was not given a cast, but I was supposed to wear a sling, my arm got so raw from the sling I chose not to use it. I just rested my arm on my chest and was very careful not to move it around. Over the next four weeks, I got in a lot of reading. I was confined to a recliner day and night, but I did take a shower, against doctor's orders, but the worst thing was, my insurance would only pay for copycat pain relievers, and they didn’t work, after about two weeks I bought some real pain pills. O! What a relief. After some painful therapy my arm was fine. I went back to flying with still another lesson learned, “Don’t panic!" I had time to study what went wrong with my landing, and figured out several ways to change the outcome, than filed them in my memory banks, reserved for future stupid mistakes.
Eventually I even started to go cross-country, and land in fields I had never seen before, what a challenge, and a thrill. I also started to go on flying trips to other flying sites. It seemed the rain gods did not like me to travel, and almost every trip produced rain. I do not mean a little rain, it usually pored. My friends started calling me the “RAINMAN” and usually kid me any time it looked like rain.
Many pilots have nick names, and most are related to flying experiences, some are funny like mine: COCKROACH, BIRD MAN, GEEZE, KID, UPCHUCK, CAPTAIN, GREEN LEADER, than there are the names that were acquired from near tragedy: DOCTOR CRASH, TRIPOD, CLIFF, LUKE SAIL WALKER, ROTOR, CAPTAIN CRUNCH, THUD.
Some pilots have several nick names, because @#$!$ happens, and than some things happen out of our control, like it rains all spring and some one changes Rainman, to EL NINEO. I didn’t doo it! Why me???
Some nick names would be hard to explain like Cockroach, it’s the look of the harness in the air, but names like Doctor Crash, for seeing a lot of doctors, and Rotor, for crashing behind the hill in a rotor, (numerous times) they explain themselves.
Every time we fly, people stop what they are doing to watch us, circling with the birds.
At our flying site we have a lake, and campgrounds. We always have people watching us fly, even tourists driving by on the highway stop to watch and take pictures. From a distance we look just like the birds, and sometimes people wonder how we stay up because they can’t here a motor.
The people that live in the area have come to view us as friends, and an asset to the area, because we bring business to the town and lake, we have raised money for charity, and we have spotted and reported forest fires in the area.
People ask never ending questions like: how it feels, what we see, how high can we go, do the birds fly with us, and do we ever crash?
Its fun sharing the experience with these onlookers and watching their excitement grow as I explain my flights.
In the words of a fellow pilot, How amazing this sport is, take this seventy five pound package off your car, open it up to form a wing, run off a hill and fly like a bird for hours, land, roll it back up, put it on your car and go home, what a concept.
I have flown in other states, and have seen beautiful country. From the ground, some land looks barren dry and lifeless. From the air this same land is colorful, with interesting shapes, most of them defying description. I can only say it's beautiful, from the eyes of a birdman.
Friend Kevin and I were over on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and went flying together. We set up our gliders, watched the wind and than flew. The thermals were very light, and because the landing area is a long way out from the hill, we had to leave early to have enough altitude to reach it.
We did not have a driver, so we left my truck at the bottom of the mountain so we could retrieve his truck later.
We loaded the gliders for the return trip up the mountain to retrieve his truck. When we arrived back on top of the mountain, we were surprised to see the wind direction had not changed. Kevin said he would be happy to drive if I wanted to fly again. I was happy to have another chance to fly, and setup my glider again.
Once again the thermals were too light to stay up in, and so I landed again.
I had flown for about ten minutes, but it took Kevin about twenty to drive down. This time I offered to drive for Kevin if the wind had not changed when we got back to launch. On his first flight he had a bad landing and bent a down tube so he could not fly his glider. I said no problem, he could use my glider, and we headed back up the mountain. It is very unusual to have the wind blowing towards the west all day long on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But when we arrived back to launch the wind had not changed, so we set up my glider again. This time there was good lift and he gained several thousand feet, and flew all over the valley, taking pictures with my camera, and having fun on my glider. When he finally landed, he said it was the best flight of his life, and he got great pictures. When I checked the camera for film, I found it was not working, and it had ruined the whole roll of film. Kevin was very disappointed, but not half as disappointed as me.
On one nice flying day, several pilots had good flights including me. After I landed I started taking pictures with my video camera, landings are the best part of watching hang gliding because they turn into gooney birds close to the ground.
Kevin’s brother the Kid was coming out to land with plenty of altitude. I turned the camera on him as he started to do lazy turns and dives to lose altitude. Someone had music playing on their car stereo, and the gentle turns and wingovers the Kid was doing were in time to the music, it looked and sounded great.
Story update by Kevin:
Once upon a time in a land far, far, away (Texas) lived a young man with testicles much larger than his brain. He was known as L- Dog, Crouch, four eyes, Butt Lips, and or Lawwey. He latter evolved into what we know today as "The Kid".
The Kid, being a descendant of the Wright brothers and sharing there love of flight and the building of flying machines decided it was high time to build a glider of his own, that he could proudly fly and smoke any other lowly bird in the sky.
The Kid set about his project much like Einstein must have done when he wrote the theory of relativity, if you are not familiar with this theory you can contact The Kid for an in depth explanation. If he can't explain that I'm sure he could at least explain relative humidity for you!!!!
As I said The Kid was very professional in his glider smithing and insisted on using only the finest of materials imported into the great state of
Texas from as far away as Colorado and California!
The Kid truly burned the midnight oil, along with some brain cells in his attempt to create the perfect flying machine. The year was around 1977 or 78 the hot gliders of the day were, Olympus (pronounced by The Kid as Ol' limp pus), the Pliable Moose Elite (which was The Kid's glider of choice), Wills Wing had the SST and maybe the Cross Country (that was the first time they used the name), UP had the Spyder, and a company named Manta had the Fledge and the Mirage, we had a stuttering friend who flew the Mirage and called it the Mamama Manta MIrrrrrrage.
The Mirage was one of the first gliders The Kid had ever seen with aluminum airfoil shaped battens and The Kid was rightly impressed and decided his new creation was a goin' to have bunch of them things!!!!
As any good engineer knows the first thing you have to do is come up with a good set of scale drawings for your creation to succeed. Unfortunately The Kid was not an engineer (good or otherwise) in fact he hadn't even played one on TV!
This did not stop The Kid!!! Can I have an amen? The Kid amasses his highly detailed plans in his head where they would be safe from prying eyes that might want to copy The Wing, and quickly set about his work of building the finest bird on the face of the earth.
The Kid took his cash of materials and flopped em down on the sail loft floor (Mom and Dad's living room floor) and got right down to work. He spent hours sewing the sail on mom's old Singer sewing machine. The bird was truly a work of art with a 142-degree nose angle and cross bars swept forward from a junction box near the trailing edge of the sail, this bird was BAD. It had the look and feel of a true racing bird, years ahead of its time that would easily land The Kid a spot in the Hang Gliding hall of fame (if not the local hospital).
The Kid did much research on the airfoil he would use to squeeze the last drop of performance out of his glistening flying machine. He finally settled for airfoil profile of a VW tire and perfectly bent each rib over his beloved VW's tire (inflated to 40lbs. I believe). He was nearly ready to blow some doors, to kick a little ass and take a few names. He had dreams of king posting Larry Tudor and gliding with Jim Lee (and nobody glides with Jim Lee!)
He dreamed of the day that Pete Brock would call up and beg to produce The Wing, a national championship couldn't be far behind, he could feel I,t he could taste it, he wanted it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But first he figured he should test fly that machine a get familiar with
its flying tendencies. He started like any good designer would on flat
ground, it did seem to fly but you had to run real hard or have some wind.
To The Kid this only proved how fast this bird was going to be and how it would blow the doors off of everything in the sky!!!!!!!!!
After some tweaking the bird and The Kid were ready for the training hill. The Kid picked a overcast day with a good Texas panhandle wind a blowing and by god The Wing and The Kid flew!!!!!!!!! I swear 'cause I saw it with my own two eyes!
As you might imagine The Kid was overjoyed, and now very confident in his new invention he was ready for the "Big Hill", coincidentally we called this hill Kittyhawk in honor of the Wright Brothers (the other ones) and what better a place to twirl your racing bird for the first time?
Since the trip to the training hill The Kid had got wind of a new safety device called luff lines, and naturally he had to have him some of them too!!
He figure that thermostat wire was just the right stuff for the wing so he quickly fashioned a set to his exacting specifications right there on top of Kitttyhawk as our friend Carl Wiseman and I watched mesmerized.
I think it was about this time that Carl and I began to feel uneasy, this wasn't the little training hill the wing had ground skimmed on this was the mighty Kittyhawk, all 175 feet of it. With a 20-foot cliff on top, a road at the base and a sea of mesquite trees at the bottom.
We approached The Kid, he beamed with self-confidence and determination, he was egronk to fly!!!
We asked about the light winds and the small area of the wing, No problem was the response. What about the finely crafted but newly installed and untested luff lines? No problem was the reply. What about death or serious injury? NO PROBLEM!!!!!!
The Kid was going to commit aviation unless we hog tied him or cut his wires. We had lots of faith in The Kid, he was the best pilot in our group with dozens of hours of air time and by god if The Kid sez he is going to fly you better give him a hang check and get the hell out of the way!!!
And that is exactly what me and my good friend Carl did. The Kid stood at launch with a look of confidence and pride brighter than the noonday sun.
He hooked in checked the wind and ran with long strong strides to the edge of the cliff and promptly disappeared!!! Carl and I ran to the edge and caught a glimpse of the plummeting Wing as it fell towards the boulders below. Shortly before we turned away so we wouldn't have to see the impact a remarkable thing happened. The wing began to fly. Maybe fly is too strong of a word, inch forward is a better description. What ever you would call it looked like The Wing and The Kid would clear the hill and make it out into the air where all racing birds belong.
I would estimate The Wing was "flying" about 35 to 40 MPH and was coping a respectable 2.5 to 1 glide, I would estimate the sink rate at some where in the neighborhood of 500 ft a minute. I don't recall the sail flapping and I would like to think with all those battens and the meticulous sail work that there wasn't a wrinkle in the sail.
But it all happened so fast, it was over before you knew it.
The Kid and The Wing cleared a particularly ugly mesquite tree, got into ground effect where the gliding abilities really showed them self as the L/D improved to what I would estimate at 3 to 3.25 to 1. The Wing screamed across the LZ. Carl and I held our collective breath and The Kid flared The Wing into a perfect no step landing.
The Kid was very quiet when we returned to the lz he only mumbled something about a beer, Carl and I were mad at our selfs for letting The Kid hurl himself off a cliff tied to the unproven wing.
The Wing, one of man's noblest attempt at flight never flew again, the
tubing became rack to carry more proven gliders on, and the sail rest in the birdbox (that is another story for another time), Carl doesn't fly anymore after an unfortunate motorcycle accident, The Kid doesn't fly anymore either rather he sits on his hill overlooking Lake McClure and ponders what might have been.
I have often been amazed by the variety of people drawn to this sport. Few of these people have anything in common, they are single, or have a family, are husband, or wife. They have jobs like carpenter, mechanic, doctor, musician, teacher; you can find almost any trade you can name. There are those who battle some sort of a handicap, to fulfill a dream to fly.
I even know a rocket scientist, (sorry not me) and an airline pilot that love to spend their weekends chasing the birds.
Of course there is always that one person in the group, with an IQ of a cabbage patch doll, (don’t ask) which some instructor gave up on and sent him out into the world to fly.
The one common bond is the love of flying, and a willingness to put up with bad weather, and Mother Nature’s bags of tricks. O yea, it also takes lots of patience, and maturity. (I read that some ware)
I have seen many new, or young pilots make dumb mistakes (like me) because they don’t know what they’re doing, or they just don’t listen. (Like me)
Flying out of control close to the ground is dangerous, but can be very funny for the onlooker, if know one is injured.
Watching Bad Bob flying real fast close to the ground was no big deal, than he let go of the control bar to prepare for a landing. He was going so fast that this slight movement caused the glider to climb and turn, so now he was headed straight for a large tree. At this point all Bad Bob had to do was not panic, and continue the turn. This would have brought him around for a down wind landing, but much safer than hitting a tree head on.
Instead he panicked, and hit the tree about half way up head on. The glider started to slide backwards towards the ground and took Bad Bob with it.
Bad Bob was unhurt, but not so for the glider it had a few broken bones.
It might seem cruel but watching the video is lots of fun, and it also teaches all of us a lesson, about being aware of our speed, and how to prepare for surprises during our flights.
Talk about exciting video, Rotor was getting into being dropped in his hang glider, from a hot air balloon, not uncommon, and a great view besides.
I don’t know the whole story, but for some reason Rotor loaned his harness, and glider to a pilot he didn’t even know, and the guy was only visiting from the east coast. Remember the rule about not flying with more than one change at a time? Rotor had also arranged for him to do a balloon drop for the first time in his life on strange equipment!
Rotors wife, was to chase in the car with a video camera, and Rotor along with the pilots girl friend, would ride in the balloon’s basket with another video camera.
The launch point was at a small lake in the central California valley, with many miles of open country and farmland.
The balloon was heated and started to rise, attached to the balloon was about twenty-five feet of rope, which was attached to the top of the hang glider.
The balloon started to drift because of a slight breeze, moving towards a tree and a barbed wire fence.
The hang glider was just leaving the ground when it was dragged through the tree, and it just barley missed the fence, as it dragged the ground crew almost into the barbed fence.
What an exciting way to start a once in a lifetime flight. (It gets better)
After reaching ten thousand feet, their plan was to start a slow decent in the balloon so the release would not deform the balloon, this is because the sudden loss of weight, of the glider could cause the balloon to break.
Having started their descent, the pilot of the glider was given the command to put the glider into a diving to gain enough speed for control after release.
The glider pilot had to pull the control bar with both hands for the dive, so he had a rope in his mouth, attached to the rope from the balloon as a release. All the pilot had to do was twist his head and release the glider from the balloon, but the pilot said he couldn’t pull the release rope, it was stuck.
(Or he was scared to death)
While Rotor, and the pilot were trying to release the glider from the balloon no one noticed the glider was starting to fly, because the balloon was dropping faster and faster.
So now the glider was trying to fly and it was pulling the balloon into a flat spin, and was almost on its side.
When Rotor finally noticed the horizon was up instead of sideways he told the balloon pilot to give it gas.
Realizing they were about to die, the pilot of the balloon fired up the gas and got it rising again before it deflated. Rotor kept filming, the girl friend was stuck to the bottom of the balloon basket praying, (I’m sure).
Having recovered from a near death experience, they decided this time when they dropped for speed they would cut the rope and release the glider.
They told the glider pilot they were going to start dropping again, and when they gave him the word, he was to put the glider into a dive, than they would cut the rope.
When the word was given to dive, they counted to three real loud than cut the rope.
The glider fell free than almost went upside down because the pilot had not put the glider into enough of a dive to gain airspeed.
Having recovered from near death a few times, things were finely looking good, the glider was making circles around the balloon as it was descending, and everyone was having a good time. (At least they were breathing again, and the girl friend was off the floor of the basket).
They were getting some good videos from the basket, and from the ground Rotor’s wife was also getting good videos, as well as some interesting antidotes like; what are they doing, my god don’t they see the balloon is going to tip over.
Now it was time for the glider to leave the balloon and find a field to land in.
There were miles of open fields to pick from with few obstacles, so naturally he picked one with a road, for easy retrieval by the chase car. It so happens there was also a barbed wire fence, and power lines.
Normally this would not have been all that bad, if you are high enough above the wires on your approach.
The only problem was the glider now had twenty feet of towrope hanging below it. (Can you guess what happens next)?
The rope wrapped itself around the barbed wire fence, than pulled the hang glider down into the electric wires, cutting both leading edges of the glider, also breaking the high voltage wire. The glider now fell to the ground in a limp jumble of loose fabric and aluminum.
From the balloon video, taken at least a half-mile away, you could see and hear the flash of light when the leading edge broke the electric wire.
The electric wire dropped on to the barbed wire fence, and from the balloon video, you could see a light show of sparks flying down the fence.
Rotors wife was sure from her vantage the pilot must be dead, if not from electrocution, than from the fall to the ground. When she arrived the pilot was just climbing out from under the wreckage, and was unhurt.
The pilot was walking over to the fence to greet the chase car, Rotor’s wife screamed for him not to touch the fence, because there were still sparks flying from the wire, the pilot was unaware it was now an electric fence.
Some one called the electric company to come and fix the wire.
Mean time back at the balloon, the pilot was trying to land, but the wind had come up and now they were ground skimming over fences, and cows.
They had received no word on the pilot and were sure he was dead, or seriously injured.
They eventually crashed unhurt in a field, than walked the still flying balloon closer to a road.
Rotors wife left the pilot to wait for help and than went looking for the balloon.
After recovering the balloon they drove back to the glider, to find an angry rancher waiting.
It seems the glider flew low over a field with ostriches, and if you scare an ostrich they tend to get scared and run into things, and sometimes killing themselves, or they won’t lay eggs for a long time. The rancher took names and said if anything happened to his birds, he would be in touch, it seams these birds and eggs are worth a lot of money (he never called).
Fortunately the electric company worker took pity on them and didn’t report what really happened to the wire. (Finally some luck)
This group of people had enough excitement to last a lifetime, and I’m sure some will never forget, including the ostrich.
They did get some cool video but as luck would have it, they don’t dare show it to anyone, for fear of lawsuit for a whole list of reasons, not to mention it was a little embarrassing. (OK a lot of embarrassment)
I’m not picking on Rotor, (ok I am) but one of the reasons for his nickname happened at the mountain flying site with the ski resort.
It seems he ignored the warnings of launching in winds coming over the back of the mountain, called a rotor.
I only have some of the story but let’s just say he didn’t get off the ground, slid a long ways down the mountain, grabbed onto a small bush or tree, and hung there until help from the local fire department could repel down to free him.
He said his arm went numb and was bleeding before they got to him. Beginners are not the only ones to have bad days; experts get overly confident and make mistakes too.
My instructor made several attempts to kill himself over the years.
On a dangerous launch made from big rocks overlooking a creator lake, he crashed and fell down a cliff.
He carries a plate in his head as a reminder of that bad experience.
He was trying to land back on top of a training hill and got slammed into the backside of the hill in a rotor, and had his jaw wired shut for a while.
He has since quit flying, and teaching. He is now a successful mushroom grower.
Captain, (dubbed Captain Crunch), had a huge gust of wind blow up the face of a hill he was going to launch from, it flipped the glider up into a loop ten feet off the ground and crashed on brush and rocks.
He had two people trying to hold the glider, but it was too strong and they had to let go or be taken for a ride. A mild concussion, some cracked ribs, and a broken helmet, were the final result.
On another flight the Captain was flying too close to a rock face, he was forced into the hill, too low to recover; he slammed into a rotten log with his chest. The log was so rotten it disintegrated into dust.
Just missing huge rocks everywhere the glider crashed about twenty feet below on a ledge, and the Captain landed on top of a poison oak bush.
With only the wind knocked out of him from the log, he was ok by the time we arrived to help carry the wreckage out.
He also made an emergency landing on a narrow bridge high above a river. The wing tips hung over the railings on both sides, not wanting to take the chance of getting blown over the edge he belly flopped onto the pavement, and again saw stars.
Story update by the Captain:
Actually not a landing, but a hard nose slam, exactly on the centerline. And now the rest of the story: Andy and I reached cloud base together and decided to head south up the canyon toward Mt Bullion.
We scratched around Bagby getting lower and Andy set up to land at the hwy turnout north of the bridge and I watched from a few hundred feet higher as a car pulled into the turnout, foiling Andy’s plan. Well, he kept his cool and made a perfect landing in the chemise just outside the guardrail. I was still on the grade at the other end of the bridge as Andy reported he would have the tourist move his car for me. I began what looked to be an easy glide right down the bridge when about half way I could feel the headwind and Andy said "Its picking up down here Ken." So anyway, Andy comes running up and asks if my
head is alright as he saw the nose plate nail my helmet. I didn't feel it at the time. I did the next day. But....... ...before all this, another
'Incident’ had occurred and these are the soft, warm facts: I started
walking my HPAT the 30-50 feet I was short (historical correction: the tips fit 'between' the guard rails by mere millimeters) when Andy, reassured that I was alright, confided a dark brown secret, "Ken, I shit my pants. I don't know what to do." The left over adrenalin from the landing had stimulated my emergency decision making faculties and I advised him to go down to the river and tidy up. He returned smiling and smelling ' fresh' hanging his shorts in the bushes to dry just as I finished breaking down. I was sworn to secrecy just as the Green Leader showed up. We stood around having a beer and re-retelling our adventures when Andy noticed Green Leader notice the shorts for the first time. He stepped forward pointing his finger at Shannon and declared, "I want you to know that didn't happen because of the landing. It happened back there when we were in the cloud." Green Leader also had to promise not to tell and indeed we didn't for a long time, till one night, well into a 12 pack, Andy told the story on himself.
Than theirs the Birdman, tall and lanky, a storyteller, and a good old boy.
His gliders were the Magic Magic, the Tragic Magic, and the Blitz.
Birdman and the Captain were flying in some of the best air ever, so the Birdman decided to go for the biggest cross-country flight ever.
We have all dreamed of flying over the Sierras, and this was his chance.
They were getting some pretty high altitudes flying together and headed cross-country.
The Captain went the usual route knowing where the landing areas were, but the Birdman headed into the most desolate wilderness, looking for a way to take him over the summit.
He lost lift over canyons and dense trees, than he found,”the prettiest little rock shelf you’ve ever seen”.
He crashed or landed, depending upon the version you herd, than hiked with his harness and glider for a day and a half.
After realizing he couldn’t hike his glider out alone he hid his glider, I guess from Big Foot, who else would be out there?
He walked another day to a remote lake, where he found a ranger going by in a boat. (What luck)
The ranger I’m sure thought he was Big Foot, and gave him a ride across the lake, than gave him a lift in his truck to town.
He had been missing for about two and a half days, his fellow pilot’s and friends told him they were starting to get worried, and considered telling someone he was missing. Nice to know you have friends that worry about you.
The Birdman asked for help to retrieve his glider, no way, forget it, and I’m not walking that far, were some responses. Finding no help, he went back to retrieve the glider alone, and I think it flew again.
The Tragic Magic glider just ran out of lift, (his words, in a rotor my word) about one hundred feet above the hill and looked like a lawn dart slamming into the hill feet from a solid rock outcropping. His only injury seamed to be from a twig pushed through the mussel in his calf.
As blood was filling up his boot, he managed to say he was ok except for some blood when his radio died.
Than other pilots flying over him started dropping water bottles like exploding bombs all around him, I think to help him?
This time he managed to find someone to help him get his glider off the mountain, but the brush was so dense they had to slide the glider on the ground part of the way; the glider was ruined by the time he got it back down.
With a brand new glider, only one week old called the Airborne Blitz the Birdman went to the famous Owens valley.
The Owens has a reputation for being hard on gliders, but than so does the Birdman!
He has developed what is known as the hammerhead stall approach to centering a thermal, when he feels lift, he pushes out to a full stall and lets the glider fall into the center of the thermal. During this flight he put this new style to the test. Of course he denies he used the technique but whiteness say otherwise.
Any way as he entered a big thermal that was surrounded by rough air, he was pushed out and turned upside down, this violent tumbling action broke the leading edge, sort of like flying in a washing machine.
As he was getting thrown about he tried to throw his parachute, but it got tangled in the mess and as more parts broke the glider went into a spin.
He pulled the parachute in and threw it again, and again it got tangled.
This time he could not pull it back in, and was so sick and disoriented, he just wanted it to be over.
The glider hit a tree, stripped some branches, than crashed to the ground. The Birdman, unhurt was so dizzy he didn’t know he was on the ground.
When the spinning finely stopped, and he could stand up, he could see there was not a piece of glider left intact bigger than a couple of feet long, be it fabric or metal.
It took rescuers about thirty minutes to reach him, and they were stunned to find him unhurt. They were amazed how the glider was in little pieces, but its pilot was not hurt. Only the Birdman survived.
Another pilot named Mike was always losing things, everywhere he went he left a trail of parts behind.
He would leave parts of his glider at launch, in the landing area, or in other pilot’s trucks. He even lost other pilots!
Mike would agree to chase for another pilot, and than lose him, or drive the wrong direction to look for him.
One pilot he was chasing landed about five miles from launch, along a road that ran north and south for hundreds of miles with few cross roads, Mike went looking for him on that road, and spent all day and part of the evening looking for him. He put over three hundred miles on his truck. At least he didn’t quit looking, but this was not the first time or the last.
Mike started flying ultralights, and of course the jokes started about what part he would he forget to put on it.
Well! Funny you should ask, because he invited another pilot to go flying with him. They flew over a lake and ran out of gas; would you believe he forgot to fill the tank? They made an emergency landing in thick brush on a remote shore of the lake. The other pilot felt sorry for him and offered to help him recover the plane.
After a week of dismantling, and walking the parts out, it would take another week to re-assemble the plane. By the way the other pilot was Rotor, and Mike sold the ultralight soon after. He now races cars.
Some pilots have earned more than one nickname, like Rotor. He loved to do aerobatics, and show off to crowds. Well he had a habit of doing slow loops, and stalling his glider at the top of the loop. This is not good, since a hang glider is not stressed to fly upside down.
Rotor went to a meet they call a fly in, because people come from all over to fly or watch others fly.
Rotor asked if he could do aerobatics during his flight and the officials running the meet said it would be ok, than they changed their minds and said no. They never gave Rotor a good reason, at least he didn’t think there was a good enough of a reason to stop him from doing his tricks.
Rotor decided he would do a loop anyway, “what could they do to stop him”?
There was not a lot of lift on that day, so Rotor could not get as high as he would have liked to do his stunt.
After launching from I think about twelve hundred feet above the landing area, Rotor started to loose lift, when he reached an altitude of about four or five hundred feet above the ground, he started his dive for a loop.
Rotor pulled in on the bar for a steep dive to gain enough speed.
At about two hundred feet, which is too close to the ground for aerobatics, he than pushed out for the loop. As he reached the top of the loop the glider stalled because he didn’t have enough speed. This was real bad, but it gets worse because he was falling towards the mountain.
This is where the term “Luke Sail Walker” comes in because while upside down the pilot has only his hands to keep him from falling onto the sail. Rotor was trying to keep his weight off of the sail because the glider is not stressed for negative loads, and will break having all that weight on the wrong side of the sail.
As everyone on the ground held their breath, the glider nosed over just feet from the mountain and dove towards the ground, the glider recovered and Rotor had just enough time to pull off a good flair.
When the officials had time to catch their breath, they ran over to “Luke” and gave him the third degree.
Although Rotor had made a bad decision to do tricks too close to the ground,
and scared the crowd half to death, even though they did not know if it was part of the show or not.
The officials were justified in giving Luke Hell, but they should have taken him to where the crowd could not here the yelling and screaming.
The sport needs the public to be supportive, unlike the old days when pilots were thought of as thrill seekers, willing to take chances just for the excitement, without public support the sport of hang gliding will not continue to grow.
Ah yes, than there’s Doctor Crash. The Bird Man and the Captain decided to give lessons to their friend. They went to a training hill and showed Doc how to balance and run with the glider. Than they went up the hill a little ways and let him run down the hill, he did great, so they went higher and higher, and was soon at the top of the hill.
So far Doc was doing great, so they decided to go to a little bigger hill.
Now Doc was standing on top of a five hundred foot hill, of course the Bird Man and the Captain had both flown there many times before, but had never seen the performance of this new training glider.
They told Doc to just fly straight out as far as he could without turning, and so he did.
He launched and flew straight for a long, long ways, so far in fact it took the Bird and Cap thirty minutes to reach the Doc, because there were no roads just pasture.
This was too much work for the instructors, so they decided since Doc was doing so well, why not just go to the regular flying site, and make it easier on everyone.
Now the Doc was standing at launch twelve hundred feet above the ground, the Cap and Bird told Doc to just fly straight for the lake, do a turn and land on the shore.
The lake was low at the time so there was lots of shore, Doc did as he was told, but had too much altitude so he did his first three sixty turn, and landed. Finely that was the end of the accelerated hang gliding lesson for the day. Day two, again Doc flew from the two thousand foot hill and did just fine, but on the next flight they went to another site even higher, this time a bad landing gave the Doc his first visit to the real Doctor with a broken arm. After recovery from the arm, the Doc was again in the air, and back to the Doctor with a broken leg.
After a couple more visits to the emergency room he finely learned how to fly, and the accelerated school of hang gliding closed its doors forever.
Not all nick names come from bad flying experiences, take the Captain, the Crunch was added later. The Captain got his name for being the captain of the air, he could stay in the air when know one else could stay up, and fly for hours in little or no lift.
The Green Leader was named because his glider was green and he was always in the lead to go cross-country. Like the Captain he was able to stay up and go places when everyone else was on the ground. Green Leader also entered a lot of competitions and won several trophies.
Wilber, another good pilot, pronounced Willllllber like the horse, was from the East Coast, and it took some time for him to adapt to the West Coast more relaxed way of doing things.
He was also good at going cross-country, but he landed in Yosemite Park, which is illegal, and lost his glider to the rangers for a few months.
The Magistrate (Judge) wanted to make an example of him so other pilots would not land in the park. There were rumors of possible fines and jail time, so Wilber had to hire a lawyer. Every court date was postponed, causing more pain and suffering.
When the court date was finely made, all they did was dismiss the charges, and returned his hang glider. He now carries a piece of paper that states; “Any aircraft can land on any property in an emergency”.
Of course the FAA never included Hang Gliding in this rule, but it looks good as long as no one reads the fine print.
At every flying site I have visited, there are nicknames for the local pilots.
One of our own pilots named Keester has been flying almost from the beginning of hang gliding. Keester even built and sold his own version of the delta wing glider. The delta wing refers to the original design used by NASA as a capsule recovery system. The space shuttle made the system obsolete, even before testing was complete.
Hippies and surfer dudes looking for a cheep way to ground skim and have fun asked the inventor for his ok to use his design.
The delta wing was born, first from bamboo and plastic and duct tape, to today’s aluminum and Dacron.
Keester’s version was called the “Thunder Chicken”, only he knows why. Delta gliders flew ok at low altitudes and down sand dunes, but were very easy to stall and they had spectacular crashes, with few injuries because of the soft sand.
It was when they wanted more air time, and went to mountains with trees, rocks, and hard ground to land on people started to get seriously hurt and killed.
This was a time when pilots were buying plans through the mail and building their own gliders. Some even changed the design for whatever reason, and this was getting real dangerous. They had no instructors to teach them, and since it was a new sport there were not a lot of pilots to exchange ideas with.
It was a cheep way to enjoy the thrill of flying, just order plans or copy a picture from a magazine and build a flying machine, than go to the nearest hill and jump off, and learn to fly or die.
The Federal Aviation Agency, (FAA) decided enough people had been hurt or killed, and started rumors that hang gliding would become self-regulating, or they would shut the sport down.
A group of pilots started the ground skimmer magazine, and printed articles on how to safely build, fly, and get lessons. Eventually this became the United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA).
Well back to Keester, the way you landed a Delta wing was to flair and usually land on your (you guessed it) Keester. For some reason, to this day he still lands on his Keester, in his words; “It works for me, I’ve perfected it”. He always gets applause for his landings. If it weren’t for gooney bird landings, I think hang gliding would be pretty boring to watch.
We had an antique fly in at our club site several years ago, and Keester brought out his Thunder Chicken from the mothballs, just to show it along with other relics of that era.
There were several different types of old gliders, even a beautiful mint condition bamboo and plastic glider. The Kid also had a Mosquito glider that looked just like a mosquito, with a long pointed stick like the needle of a mosquito.
The Keester was determined to revive the Thunder Chicken, against the whishes of most pilots who remembered how they flew, or rather did not fly. Keester launched and instantly stalled, pulling the bar in he managed to keep it flying just inches above the bushes and ground, having reached the bottom he than Keestered into a small clearing grateful to be on the ground safe.
No damage done, (well maybe a bruise or two) but I think he learned a good lesson that day along with the rest of us who watched, in the good old days they were lucky to have survived.
As I said before the Cockroach got his name because of what the harness looked like in the air, but the Cockroach is not a very nice name if you think about what it represents. Suffice it to say its owner was not happy with his nickname ether, and his family thought it rather gross, partly because they did not understand the reason for the name, and mostly because it’s the name of a disgusting bug.
Cockroach insisted not to be called by that name, and in fact got into a fight over it, which made it all the worse. He was pretty mad and said no one respected his wishes not to use the name. Well once a nickname always a nickname, no matter how much you don’t like it or try to change it, it’s yours until you earn a better one.
At one of the club’s yearly Halloween parties, which is held in the park at our flying site, the plan was for everyone to have a T-shirt with a picture of a cockroach on the front, and lettering saying; “Don’t call me Cockroach”, and on the back it said; “No Respect”.
When the Cockroach rode up on a motorcycle everyone had on this shirt, at first he didn’t notice but when he did, he realized the fight was over, and he was the Cockroach. He still doesn’t like the name but he knows the club does respect him.
Several years ago, we started having visits from the Unknown Pilot.
On road trips sometimes out in the middle of know where, the Unknown Pilot would show up and talk about the problems the pilots had encountered during the trip.
The Unknown Pilot was smartly dressed, wearing a bright red pair of long johns, with toilet paper trailing from the button down rear hatch, and a brown paper bag for a head, with eyes and mouth holes cut out.
He would appear out of know where, and talk about why they could not fly, or give excuses for a bad landing, or just a joke or two, than quick as a wink he was gone again.
Some of these rare appearances were captured on video, but you never know when or where he will appear again.
While in Colorado at a popular flying site, I was setting up my glider and heard a noise behind me. About fifty feet above where I was standing I saw the unknown pilot; he just appeared out of know where.
Dressed in his bright red suit and brown paper bag and of course the toilet paper blowing in the wind. I was in shock as he pointed the way for me to fly, but the wind was not in the right direction, I was going to need an excuse for not flying, and he was there to help. Thank you Unknown Pilot where ever you are.
Because of the Unknown Pilot, I had lots of excuses for not flying on that trip, it rained, the wind was the wrong direction, or just two strong, or I was just too scared to fly.
That trip was also kinda bad for the Green Leader, he and I drove many hours to meet with other pilots, at a site in Colorado.
This was the first of many flying sites we would visit on this trip. When we arrived the Captain was in the air and setting up for a landing in this huge field, not far behind him was the Doc.
They no sooner landed when the landowner pulled up and started yelling and screaming he was going to call the police on us. It seams he had told other pilots not to land on his property, but we tried to explain we were new to the area and were told it was ok to land here.
He told us not any more because other pilots were breaking his fences and chasing his cows so he said no more hang gliding on his property.
Lucky for us his brother was there to calm him down and allowed us to leave without any further trouble.
So now we had a flying site with no landing area, so we began our search for friendly landowners of which there were plenty of to let us use their land.
We talked to a lady who lived across the road from the tyrant and she offered her land to use if we wanted. We looked around her property and found a tiny area, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and tall bushes, it was just an old corral, but the Green Leader was sure it would do. I had my mind made up; this was no landing place for me!
The Green Leader and I went up to the launch and I offered to drive for him because there was no place in my mind to land safely.
He set up his glider and I helped him out to the launched, where I helped him do a hang check and watched his takeoff.
The lift was not good and he lost a lot of altitude, but he was also doing weird diving turns, than as he got close to the ground he suddenly spun around and crashed into the bushes, he was just short of the corral landing area he had picked earlier.
When I arrived at the field he was trying to remove the glider from the bushes, and after we got it out he told me that every time he tried to turn the glider it would go into a steep bank and almost stall, when he was ready to land he was a little high so he did a small turn and the glider stalled.
When the glider stalled it dropped one wing and like a pogo stick it bounced on the ground than broke allowing the pilot to land safely onto the bushes, just missing the barbed wire fence.
After further investigation it was discovered that the bottom of the sail, which has a zipper for inspection was not closed. This was the pilot’s fault for not doing a good preflight before launch, but it was also my fault for not seeing it when I helped him at launch.
That was pretty much the end of the Green Leaders flying for that trip, even though we did find a better landing field with a very pretty and friendly landowner who also let us camp out in her yard.
One of my favorite flights, and longest was in Oregon at a yearly fly in, where myself and several other pilots were in the air.
Lift was pretty light, and after about two hours many of the pilots went out to land. When they had landed the lift started to get better and I was gaining enough altitude to drift back to another ridge. At the same time Mike, Harold, and Kevin were trying to go cross-country in a different direction.
With Mike in the lead they were headed for a large green wet field, that normally doesn’t produce very good lift, and Mike got low and had to land. We radioed our driver and told him how to find Mike, and than to follow us.
Harold and Kevin managed to find enough lift to make it back to the same ridge I was on, and we continued to head further down the ridge. Kevin and I stayed together and started heading out over a large valley, gaining altitude as we went.
Kevin and I were fighting a head wind and over the radio discussed which way to go, back to the ridge or continue out into the valley. We decided to turn back and follow the ridge, Harold was still on the ridge and eking out every bit of lift he could find along the way.
The ridge was about two thousand feet high, and curved to the north.
Kevin was out in front and I thought I could cut across one point for a shortcut and catch up. As I crossed the center of the ridge I started to fight a head wind and began losing altitude fast. I thought I was going to have to land on the ridge because I was getting very low, and still fighting a head wind. I managed to squeak over the edge of the ridge by about fifty feet, than I was in ridge lift and gained a thousand feet in minutes.
Kevin was now about a half mile in front of me and Harold was out of site behind me.
As I started down the ridge again I could see Kevin was heading into rain, so I turned out from the hill to try to avoid getting wet. Kevin went through the rain and having been soaked went to land, while I managed to go around the rain.
When I reached the area where Kevin had landed I had lots of altitude but decided to land with Kevin to make retrieval easer for our driver. While on the ground we could here Harold on the radio, he was back at the beginning of the ridge where he wanted to land. He was trying to get the wind conditions from our driver so he could land.
Kevin and I tried to talk him into landing with us, but he wasn’t sure he could make it that far and there were no other landing areas between him and us. We all had good landings and Kevin and I had flown about forty miles, and had a great time thanks to the other pilots who landed early.
On a nice sunny day the Birdman, Captain, Biser, Scruffy, and me loaded up our stuff and headed to Arizona, to a flying site named Yarnell, the Birdman discovered the last time he was there. I rode with Biser in his truck, and the others rode with the Birdman in his van he named the pig. The pig was the Birdman’s home away from home.
It was a green Dodge van outfitted with a wood stove and full size mattress for a bed. When we arrived at the flying site it was after dark so we couldn’t see much, it was also beginning to rain and the road to launch was rough and had deep groves from winter rain and was now wet and slippery.
We stopped to camp about half way to launch, and as I setup my tent, the Birdman fixed his bed in the pig. The Captain found an old water trough used for cows and curled up in it like a baby in a manger. Scruffy just flopped on the ground in his mummy bag and pulled the hood up tight with only his nose showing. Biser had a camper on his truck and he also had a mattress inside. Of course my tent leaked, and at sunrise it was still raining, the Captain was sleeping in several inches of water, scruffy had pulled a tarp over him and was pretty dry, the Birdman and Biser were also dry.
We had breakfast trying our best to stay dry, but according to the weather report it was going to rain all day, so we headed for Phoenix to visit Mike who was trying to qualify for a car race.
It took us a few tries to find where he was, because there are lots of racetracks in the Phoenix area. After our visit with Mike, Biser and I wanted to go look for a place to fly, and the others wanted to go for a drive and do some sightseeing.
Biser and I herd about a flying site on a mountain in town, so we drove to the top and found a good place to launch. We decided Biser would fly and I would drive down and find a place to land than we would go back up and I would fly next. As Biser setup his glider a crowd gathered to watch while I drove to the bottom.
When I arrived at the bottom I found a new housing area, with new houses being built. There were enough empty lots to make a good landing area and I told Biser over the radio where I was. After Biser launched, this guy drove up and asked what I was doing there, I told him and he said he was the security guard for the housing contractor, and they did not allow hang gliders to land here. I explained we were not from the area and did not know the rules of the area.
The security guard said he would leave and when he came back we had better be gone, I radioed Biser and told him we needed to get out of the area quickly. Biser landed and after tearing down his glider, we left and went back to where we had camped to wait for the others. When the others arrived they told us they went to an airport and talked with an interesting guy about ultra lights. The next morning it still looked like rain but we went to see the launch anyway. The launch was about a thousand feet high and over looked an area that was mostly cactus as far as you could see.
Out from the hill about half a mile out there was a dirt road, we drove down to look for a place to land. There were spaces between the cactus, and none of them big enough to land in, in my opinion. We decided the only place to land safely was on the dirt road. We went back to launch and decided to setup our gliders and see if the weather would let us fly.
While were waiting three of the local pilots showed up to fly, they explained to us how to land between the cactus. Listening to there stories of pulling thorns from their bodies made up my mind that landing anywhere near cactus was not going to happen with me.
The Captain launched and was able to stay above the hill, so I launched next. There was not much lift and afraid of landing in the cactus, I headed for the road and hoped I could make it.
I was getting real low, and worried I wasn’t going to make it, I just cleared the last bush and flared onto the road. The Birdman was there waiting for me when I landed, he had offered to drive.
The Captain was getting low and flew out to the landing area, Biser and Scruffy had launched and were also coming out to land.
Everyone had good landings, and than decided to head for home because it was supposed to start raining again. The locals also had launched and two of them landed short of the road in the cactus, the third managed to gain enough altitude to try and go cross-country, he disappeared over a ridge and the other locals chased him.
This was one of many flying trips that helped me earn my nickname because of all the rain.
Another memorable rain trip was to the California coast, for another yearly fly in. This fly in is held on the first of January, and the weather can get very interesting this time of year.
My wife and daughter joined me on this trip, and we were looking forward to a fun weekend with friends flying and camping.
When we left home the sun was warm and bright and not a cloud in the sky. We arrived in the after noon to the campgrounds, and met the other pilots. As we started to set up our camp the wind was starting to blow, and the clouds were moving in and getting darker.
The weather turned nasty and it started to rain while we were huddled around a campfire. My wife daughter and I decided to turn in, and crawled into our dome tent, with my wife in the middle. During the night the wind got even stronger and blew the tent flat on top of us, splashing my daughter in the face with ice cold wet tent. We did not get a lot of sleep that night, and thought we would be blown out to sea, or at least drowned.
At first light I bailed out of the river our tent was in, and than tried to make a fire from the wet wood to get warm. The wind was still gusting and it was still raining on and off but everything we had was soaked.
Big Jim was also soaked to the bone, but most of the others had campers or RV’s and stayed pretty dry.
By mid-morning the rain had let up a little, and the wind was not as strong, but I had made up my mind, since everything we had was soaked, and because we had not slept all night, we were going home.
My wife knew I wanted to fly this site because I had never been there before, and suggested we go and find a laundry mat, and see how the weather looked that after noon.
I told her I was tired, and the weather did not look good, and besides I wasn’t looking forward to spending another night in the cold and rain, our daughter echoed that thought.
Saying goodbye to everyone we headed for home, only to find the road had washed out during the heavy rain. We went back to the campground to tell the others, than took the long way back home.
Once we left the coast the clouds disappeared and it was sunny and warm, that’s when I kinda wished we had stayed, but I was also glad to get home to a warm and dry bed and a good nights sleep.
Later we learned the clouds went away and they had the best flying ever, thanks to the Rainman.
From time to time we have pilots from other countries come and fly at our site, and on this day Judy from Britain arrived to fly.
Judy was the women’s World hang gliding champion, and stopped at our site on her way to another competition in the Owens valley.
The day looked like a typical summer day, the Captain and Judy were first to launch and found good lift.
As they were crossing over to another hill, the Kid and I launched and followed, as others launched behind us. The Captain and Judy gained lots of altitude and were going even further cross-country, while the Kid and I were trying to gain enough altitude to go also.
I listened to the radio conversation between the Captain and Judy, and could tell she was in the lead with Cap following close behind. The Kid and I finally reached almost eight thousand feet, and because the Kid had no radio I waved for him to fallow me.
As I left the hill I turned to see where the Kid was, I saw him losing lift and going back to the hill, but I was committed and had to continue on.
The direction I was flying followed a river into a dead end canyon that gave me the choice of going over the mountain or landing on the edge of the river.
Normally with eight thousand feet I should have had no trouble getting over the mountain, but I was losing lift and was about half way down the side of the mountain scratching for lift.
I could still here the Captain and Judy ahead of me chasing thermals, but I was doomed if I couldn’t find enough lift to escape this canyon.
I finely found some real light lift I was working it for everything I could and slowly I reached the top of the mountain. What a relief to make it out of that canyon and now having a chance to catch up with the Captain and Judy. From the radio conversation I could tell they were having trouble finding lift, and hoped I could catch up before they left again.
I was now flying along a ridge that went from the canyon south about four miles where it ended with a small airport at its base.
I had driven for the Captain in the past and new where to land if I didn’t find lift past this point. The Captain and Judy were gone by the time I reached the end of the ridge, and I couldn’t find any lift to follow them any further, so I landed at the edge of the airport and waited for a ride.
Listening to the radio I learned from the Captain that Upchuck was on his way to pick me up. I was broken down when Upchuck arrived and than we followed the Captain and Judy.
Having lost radio contact we knew they had landed, we hoped when we got close enough to where they landed we would be able to reach them on the radio again.
Upchuck and I drove and radioed for miles without getting any response, so we assumed they did not land near the road, and would try to find a phone to call Tripod and give him directions. Tripod was the contact person for anyone going cross-country, or any other information about flying trips.
When we found a payphone we called Tripod, he was not home but his mother was and she had received a call from the Captain informing her of their location.
Upchuck and I went to the road and followed it for miles calling on the radio, and still no luck. After several miles we again called Tripod’s mother and the Captain had called again to see if we had called, she confirmed the directions again and Upchuck and I back tracked down the road again. After one more call, and one more trip down the road, we finely found the Captain and Judy. The rancher they barrowed the phone from gave them the wrong information about the road they were on. The road was actually his driveway and not the main road, and thinking we would drive by they turned off the radio.
That was a long day, but I had a great flight and met one of the greatest female pilots of our sport.
On one flying trip I met the Captain, Harold, his girl friend, Green leader, and Dan at a site called Copper. By the time everyone arrived in the LZ the wind was blowing over the back of the hill.
Not able to fly this site we decided to go across the valley to another site called Piute in the White Mountains. This range of mountains has snow almost all year and is an impressive range to look at.
When we arrived in the LZ we loaded into Harold’s Explorer and headed up the road to launch. Harold has had bad luck on this steep trail with tires getting punctured by sharp shale rock and tried to take it easy. No flat tires and a safe trip to launch we began to set up our gliders. A light wind was coming into launch and I was worried we might only get a sled ride.
Dan was the first one finished with setup and moved up to launch. The Captain gave Dan some pointers on the site and than we watched him launch launched. Dan had no trouble gaining altitude and sent us running to finish our gliders. The Captain was next to launch with me following next, Harold waited to make sure his girl friend was safely on her way down the hill to chase us. I found some good lift and soon was above the ridge and headed north. I could see the Captain up ahead of me and gaining altitude well above the top of the ridge. I found the lift to be good so I raced to catch up with the Captain, I soon found myself low in a canyon and no lift. This was not good because it was a long way out to the highway, and I could not go back to find lift because I was deep in a canyon. I decided to head away from the hill before I lost any more altitude and than found a small thermal. It seemed to take forever to gain enough altitude to get over the next ridge and than the lift got better until I was again over the ridge. I decided to gain some extra altitude before continuing down the ridge. The Captain was still high above and ahead of me but I was now gaining on him. As I gained altitude I was getting nervous because I did not have oxygen and I was almost 14,000 feet.
I made the decision to gain to 15,000 because I had never been that high and if I stayed that high only a few minutes it may not do any brain damage (or at least any additional damage) I hope. As I headed north again I was just below and behind the Captain when I noticed a sailplane crossing our path about two hundred feet higher than the Captain, just as the sailplane passed I looked down to see another sailplane coming from behind us and close to the top of the mountain, this was cool, two sailplanes flying around us over a gorgeous mountain top in the middle of a desert on the eastern edge of California.
Up ahead was the end of the range and a jagged mountain peak that was the crown jewel of this flight. As we reached the last peak of the mountain the turbulence was getting worse, up until now there had not been much turbulence but now it was getting pretty strong.
When I finely got past the peak I was over flat ground and happy to be out of the turbulence. Because I had never been here before I was not sure where the LZ was, and asked the Captain. I guess with the wind noise he did not here me and continued to fly for another pass further North East while I had had enough and wanted to land and settle my heart.
I had no clue where the LZ was so I decided to land next to the road for easy pickup. The wind was pretty strong and the landing was a parachute to the ground from about twenty feet up. I unhooked from the glider and turned it away from the wind and tried to contact Harold or his girl friend to let them know my location. I could not raise anyone on the radio but they had to come past me to get to the Captain and maybe Dan, but I did not know if Dan was ahead or behind me. I tried for an hour to get someone on the radio until finely I heard another pilot trying to relay a message from the Captain as to his location. I confirmed receiving the message and noted no one else from our group acknowledged the message.
Several other drivers stopped to ask if I had a ride and I said yes but I did not know when so I waited and waited and waited! Dan finely came by with another group of pilots, and said he was going to get his truck and return for me and the Captain.
Just as the sun was going down the Captain came by in a van loaded to the gills with pilots and gliders and he also promised to return when he got back to his truck.
The sun was gone; it was cold, windy and real lonely, with less and less traffic. So far I had had three different drivers and I was starting to wonder if maybe they were falling of the end of the earth. What happened to Harold and his girl friend was a mystery and disturbing because I could only think something bad had happened to delay them.
I had just had the flight of my life and here I was waiting for hours in the cold wondering if someone was hurt or lost. Finely after about seven hours the Captain arrived to pick me up and take me back to where I left my truck. He had not seen or heard from the others and the only thing we could do was wait for morning to start our search.
In the morning while driving to town the Green leader called me on my cell phone to say he wondered how the flying was, I informed him that Harold and his girl friend were missing and we were looking for them. Green leader confirmed having seen Harold and said he was having car trouble and went home. I signaled for the Captain to pull over and told him the good news, no one was hurt but why Harold never answered the radio calls remained a mystery until the next weekend when I saw Harold he told me the radios had stopped working. O well it was still a great flight and the lesson I learned was to accept the first ride offered, unless I have radio contact with my driver, that way I will at least have my truck to chase with.