St. John fly-in, 2011

It has taken me a week to get enough time to write this report, lots of stuff going on.  I decided I would go the the St. John fly-in this year and fly both days.  The fly-in is sponsored by the Sonoma Wings hang gliding club.  The meet organizer this year was Leo Jones.  Leo did quite a lot of work this year in a very short time to put together this fly-in.  He managed to get a lot of sponsors to donate may prizes.

My plan was to stop by Greg's house on Friday and pick him up.  We would car pool to the top of St. John and camp there Friday and Saturday night.  We did not have a driver.  I never like to go hang gliding without a driver pre-arranged.  Greg said he would drive Sunday, but that still left Saturday.  Any time I go hang gliding I always plan it as a camping trip.  If I get to go hang gliding, it is icing on the cake.  If not, I still have a great time camping and I am not disappointed.  That was my plan this weekend.

Greg and I set up our gliders Saturday morning just in case we could work out a retrieve.  At 11:00 Ernie's truck pulled up with Leo and and another pilot along with Mary and her nephew.  Mary owns the property were we land in the town of Stonyford and where the awards and BBQ will take place on Sunday.  Her nephew said he would drive my truck down to Mary's so at least I could launch and get some kind of flight as long as I landed there (about 8.5) miles.  This years fly-in was open distance with every mile flown counting as one point.  You could use two turn points anywhere in your flight, plus your landing so you could do out and returns and triangles or any other geometric shape that could be defined by launch, two turn points and landing.  Greg and I were given a 20% penalty because we fly rigid wings.  I see it as the Vince penalty as it usually applies to me.  There were no penalties or adders for topless or king posted gliders.  This gives me more push to try and fly my best.

About and hour before I was going to launch, Linda showed up and said she would drive for Greg and I.  Wow, what a treat, now we could fly wherever we wanted, thank you Linda!!!!.  Usually when I fly St. John I go so far that I don't get back until after midnight so today I decided to do an out and return so I could get back to camp at a decent hours. By the time it was good enough to launch, there were 20+ gliders set up.  Most pilots don't like to launch first because if the lift has not turned on, you just get a 30 minute sled ride to town.  I am comfortable enough with St. John that I don't mind launching first, in fact I prefer it.  The weather was not predicted to be a great day, just a good day so I launched later than I usually would, around 1:00.  The lift just to the left of launch was working and I was able to easily climb to 8,000' (2,000' agl) right over launch.   It took Greg about 15 minutes after me to get a decent cycle to launch.  Chris Ari launch soon after Greg.  I waited around for the both of them.  When we topped out at 9,300' (800' higher than the weather model predicted) the three of us headed north toward Felkner ridge.

I had given the weather at the pilots meeting and one thing I said was beware of "false lift" as you glide north.  There is a lot of wind shear on the glide north and it can make your vario think you are hitting lift when in reality you are just hitting a gust.  Another thing I forgot to mention is that as you glide north, you are usually above the lift until you get down to 5,000' or so.  I have seen many pilot try and work lift at 7,000' and end up loosing 400' before moving on.  After three or four of these attempts, they have lost so much altitude they have to fly out to the valley and land.  Today was one of those days.

Video of SeeYou play back.

If you click the link above you can see a play back of my flight in SeeYou.  It has various flight information fields at the bottom of the screen.  You can see that my first glide after leaving St. John was 16.8 miles!!  That was how far and long it took before I got down to the lift.  This was just before Grindstone canyon.  I climbed just enough here to get me over the canyon safely.  Greg missed this climb and had to head out to the knees.  I had not seen Chris since I saw him trying to climb at Felkner.  I flew the rest of the flight on my own and only saw one other hang glider in the air the remainder of the time. 

After crossing Grindstone I did not find any lift and was also forced out to the knees to look for lift.  Luckily they were working and I got high enough to work my way back on course and fly over Red.  From here it is just a straight shot to Lowery, my turn around point. 

This is the town of Paskenta about 33 miles from launch.  I try not and fly out that far into the valley at this point on my route.

The route I fly is to the very left of the picture, over the small hills.  These usually work pretty well all the way to Lowery.  Once I was back on route the lift was just good enugh, about 4,500' and every 4 or 5 miles.  When I got to Lowery the lift started getting lower.  Once I turned around at the 42 mile point I was lucky to get back to 3,500'.  I was fighting a quartering head wind with crappy lift.  When I was back to Paskenta I was down to 400' agl.  I headed for an LZ west of town that I knew was good and also usually had a thermal nearby.  It was working again today and I climbed back to 3,500'.  The drift in the thermals was taking me backwards and it was strong enough that I was getting much of a net gain.  From here to my landing 8 miles further south I was just putting off the inevitable.

This is when I heard Leo on the radio and saw another glider for the first time since leaving Greg.  He was heading north toward Paskenta.  He had just passed over where Chris had landed and got a climb back to cruising altitude.  Linda had picked up Greg and was picking up Chris when I passed them on my way south.  I landed about 3 miles sought of Chrome for a total of about 64 miles.

Linda and Greg picked me up and we headed to Stonyford for a hot meal at the Timberline.  After dinner we headed back up to the top of St. John to camp and get away from the heat of the valley.

Sunday the task was the same as Saturday's except you had to land at Mary's before 5:00 or you scored a zero for the day.  This was to get everybody back to Mary's in time to do the scoring, have the BBQ and award the prizes.  By 12:00 most pilots were set up on launch and waiting for things to happen.  A sailplane flew by launch and climbed over the switchbacks.  By 1:00 Leo was getting nervous that launch conditions were deteriorating and we would not get everyone launched before things shut down, as had happened many times in the past.  Even though I knew that the lift was not yet working in the valley I elected to launch first to get things going. 

After launching the sailplane came back and I managed to stay about 500' above him during my climb.  He was orbiting around me until I topped out at 8,000'.  I was still over the switchbacks when I headed toward Gilmore peak.

If I flew to Gilmore then past the dam at East Park reservoir I could get about 15 miles from this flight.  I was ahead in miles at this point even with my penalty and I figured this was the best I could do at this time of the day.  I never hit any lift all the way to Gilmore.  On the way from Gilmore to the dam I circled in zero sink and had a net loss of 36'.  All the way to Mary's I never hit lift.

As I flew over Mary's I noticed the wind was about 10 to 12 mph out of the east/southeast, a nice direction for landing.  I also noticed that there was an umbrella and a chair in the field that blocked the most direct landing.  As I was turning final the wind shifted to directly North.  I would heading into a quartering tail wind.  Ernie was walking to remove the chair and umbrella, but I had to stay high enough so as not to hit him.  As I flew over his head I was trying to make a very gentle turn to the north.  I managed to get into a quartering headwind, but was now tool low to avoid a ditch directly ahead.  Luckily the ditch had very tall and soft weeds in it and I had a very gentle touchdown except that my base tube caught the tall weeds and my nice clean nose cone got some new green stains on it.  It took a little bit of work to get my glider out of the ditch, but nothing was damaged except for my pride.

I was the first to land.  The rest of the day we had very nice landing by just about everyone.  Mary's field is not the easiest places to land and I was quite please by the job well done by everyone.  All pilots made it to Mary's by 5:00 and Ernie's brother and son had the BBQ in full swing soon after.  When all attending had stuffed their faces Leo started the awards presentations.  Mary was given a very nice picture of her taken when she was installing the gate that lets us into her property.  I managed to take 1st place by just .8 miles over Chris.  Ben Dunn was just 3 miles back.  Leo had managed 4th place while also having to put everything together.  It was a very casual and fun fly-in.  Several pilots got their first XC flights from St. John.  It was nice to see so many pilots on XC from the mountain.

The results. 

Ben's Blog.

Saturday's EGC fileSunday's IGC file.

Enjoy all your flights.

Vince