The Benefits of Practice

I had the best flight of my flying career so far last Sunday at Tiger Mountain .  The skies were clear, winds were light, and the lift was abundant.  I had three flights that day.  The first was a launch off of North Tiger which lasted 24 minutes, top elevation maybe 300’ above launch.  There was concern that the wind was going to pick up way too much and that everything might get blown out, so I launched early. 

However, the winds stayed constant at about 5-10 MPH, and I had time to get back up to the launch again for a second flight.  This one was just fantastic.  I managed to experience a number of “firsts” for me.  In particular, I was able to find and circle multiple lift cores, rising well over 1,000’ in each one, topping out at just below 5,000’ MSL.  (Launch is 1,830’ MSL).  At one point I got sucked into a lift band close to rising at about 800 fpm.  I had never heard my variometer make that kind of noise before.  It was literally screaming at me, but they were screams of joy because it meant going up!

Also, while I have had brief partial collapses in the past, I had one of the largest I have ever experienced, complete with that terrible sinking sensation from loosing altitude.  It might have been only 20’ that I lost, but my heart and bowels told a story more like dropping a hundred feet or more.  As scary as it was, I managed to regain my composure and thought “OK.  That was not so bad.  Now go do it again so that I’m more prepared and controlled for when it happens by surprise.”  I did that a few times, hating it every time, but managing to regain control a little quicker each time, and then I left that area to fly somewhere else.

In this same flight, I also managed to do a little bit of cross-country flying, traveling about 7 miles from launch towards one of the “tiger tag” waypoints.  I was concerned going that far away from my home base for the first time — what if I couldn’t make it back?  However, I knew that the same region of travel which took me to altitude would probably be there on the return trip, so I actually did a few laps.  Around this time, I looked at my timer to see that I had been up for 50 minutes.  It had long been a goal to stay up for more than an hour, and this one clearly looked like it would do it.

I started playing with some much tighter spirals, and switching the direction of my spin from one way to the other.  I’m sure it looked rather tame from below, but for me it was quite a thrill.  I came back down towards the launch and had planned to try my first top-landing.  Unfortunately, I was way too high, but not high enough to go around a second time.  I was also more than a little nervous.  But rather than continuing to sink out and go to the landing zone, I managed to catch more lift again.  I thought about trying another top-landing but got so
caught up in the fun and lift that I took it back up to 4,000 again and just flew all over the place.

Eventually I had finished my water, I was getting thirsty, and I had to use the restroom.  So I went back towards launch for another shot at a top-landing.  This time, I was too low, and had to veer off.  That was fine, since the landing zone below was only another 8 minutes away. Yet the lift was still there and remarkably I got a third shot at my goal.  This time, there was another tandem wing in front of me
trying to land on top at the launch, so I could watch his approach and then repeat it.  I was following about 20 seconds behind him, and saw that he actually landed a bit low of the launch, hitting the side of the hill.  I was able to correct a little bit, but still landed on the same hill above him, but below the launch.  Regardless, it was a successful top landing, and I was just beaming!

I put my wing into a rosette, walked the 30 feet to the top of the hill and unclipped my gear, then raced for the restroom.  I had been airborne for 2 hours 10 minutes – clearly my longest flight ever, and far exceeding my own expectations.  Afterwards, conditions were dying down, and most other pilots had already sunk out by now.  It was getting late, I was thirsty and hungry, and it was time to go back down.  The air was calm with nearly no wind.  I set up for a running-reverse which I executed nearly flawlessly, and took a deliberate sled-ride to the landing zone, joining up with another group of pilots who had just completed an awesome set of flights as well.

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