This story sent by Ed Reno to the CHGPA listserv on 01/02/99.

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HOW did I get myself into this?

   25 mph winds were predicted all across the north half of PA and the system was supposed to move toward us. My weather prediction said that the wind would pick up as the day went on. I wanted to get home by 6:30 so I got to the Rock early, about 10:30, and put up a couple of streamers. They went from a good strong wave to occasionally stretched upward at 45 degrees for short blasts. I guessed 10-18 mph. Somewhere between 3000 and 4000 ft above, the clouds buzzed by at about 25 mph. It didn't look like Falcon friendly territory to me. I was in no hurry to go.

   There was plenty of opportunity to discuss conditions as people trickled in. Everybody else was of the opinion that the wind was supposed to back off as the day progressed.

   About 1:30 Brian Hardwick decided that conditions had mellowed enough that he could launch. I helped wire him off and he had a good launch that took him out and up at about a 15 degree angle. He stayed close to launch and I watched him for about 5 minutes. I saw him penetrating without difficulty, occasionally with the bar to his shoulders, occasionally pushed out. Comments were that the air seemed to be compressing against the rock and it was ok further out. Great! I thought. I'm going!

   I jumped into my harness and launched. It was an odd feeling: going straight up with the bar stuffed, right off of launch. 30 feet out things returned to normal and my initial trepedation disappeared. Mark Fink launched shortly afterward. There was lots of lift so after a little while I put the bar at trim and saw that I was penetrating at a slow walk without losing altitude. Now comfortable I started to play around. I penetrated out to the railroad and joined Mark and Brian in a boomer that quickly took me to 2100 over and directly above the tracks. Brian was above me and was making quick progress back to and beyond launch. Hitting some turbulance I noticed that I too was going backward. I decided that there must be shear so I stuffed the bar and headed for the slower friendlier air.

   I decided that I would be happier boating around at 1000' over. I had fun doing that for about 10 minutes but couldn't help noticing that no one else had launched. (Things that make you go: Hmmmmmm) Gradually I realised that I was having more and more difficulty penetrating.

   Brian in his XC and Mark in his Laminar were flying out and back at will. I experimented. I parked. I pushed out: up and backward. I pulled in: down without going forward. Not good.

   Flying became very 'not fun'. I decided I had to land at the first opportunity. It got to the point where I had to be less than 300 over to maintain my position. It turned out that I got plenty of time to weigh quite a few other unpleasant options.

   After about 20 minutes I saw that I could penetrate again and eased back up to 1000' over. I saw Brian and Mark heading for the LZ and carefully oozed after them, always ready to make a break for the safety of the ridge lift if I got hammered.

   It was a long 10 minute flight back to the LZ. Finally I was over the near end at about 800 over. I saw Mark land in Mong's field and Brian do a near super-sonic downwind. I was basically parachuting STRAIGHT down (at some points straight back up again). "Hmmm" I thought "What would be the safest Falcon style approach?" It was a real chin scratcher.

   I decided to stick with what was working. At about 4 tree heights I started getting into the ground gradient and progressed to mid field. I did a quick 360, a hard Falcon dive in front of the tree line and ended up in the middle of the field.

   That was 45 minutes of flying comprised of 10 minutes of fun and 35 minutes of angst.

   Back up at launch I found the rest of the crew was still waiting it out. They confirmed that it had picked back up again after I had launched.

   By 4:00 they all decided that it was mellow enough to fly. It was too late for me so I helped wire them off and watched them all have a very pleasant 45 minutes of sunset flying.

   Thinking back, I am chagrined to realize that I should never have gotten into that situation. It had been discussed a couple of times in the past. I can remember John Middleton saying that even after conditions have changed it's best to wait at least a half an hour to make sure that they remain changed in my favor. Even though it had backed off for awhile before Brian launched, I didn't take into consideration the disparity in level of appropriateness of conditions between a double surface and single surface glider: It was on the strong side for a double surface glider but on the wrong side of the strong side for a single surface glider.

   In the future I will remember to take one step back for safety and an extra step back for my Falcon before I launch.