A Tale Of Two Fly-Ins

by Mark Cavanaugh

    Our 2002 Hang Gliding Festival at the Pulpit was a "twin anniversary": we were celebrating the 10th anniversary of our Fly-In, as well as the 20th anniversary of the purchase of the Pulpit launch site by the CHGPA and MHGA clubs. And if that wasn't enough, Joe Gregor, our tireless champion in the effort to get High Rock re-opened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, had succeeded in obtaining a waiver allowing hang gliding operations for the same weekend as HGFest'2002. Visions of cross-country flights from the Pulpit to High Rock danced in many a pilot's head, and anticipation was running high for a weekend of flying and fun!

    Unfortunately, as Friday approached, the weather forecasts made it seem like a time-warp had sent us back to 2001. An intense cold front was predicted to come charging out of Canada, with very strong northwest winds behind it. The maps looked nearly identical to those we had seen the year before, when Saturday was completely blown-out.

    But the near-certainty of strong conditions didn't hold many pilots back! By 9:00am on Saturday, October 5th, the familiar hub-bub of crunching gravel, doors slamming, and glider bags un-zipping began to fill the setup area.

    One pilot, anticipating strong conditions all day and eager to be up and away, launched sometime around 9:00. Those who had arrived the night before, and perhaps imbibed a wee bit too much, vaguely heard the sounds of a wire crew's calls, before turning over for a few more Z's.

Bacil D. begins his charge down the old ramp
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 70398 bytes

And has the first flight of HGFest'2002!
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 54851 bytes

    Within an hour or so, registration was underway, the prizes provided by our many raffle donors were on display, and a flock of brightly colored birds had spread their wings.

Matthew G. and Craig S. helping with registration.
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 137684 bytes

Gliders begin to fill the Pulpit set-up area.
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 128434 bytes

    And then... the hang-waiting began. The steady-state winds hit 20mph by 10:00, then 25mph by 11:00. And then it began gusting: 25G30... 25G35! You know it's bad when the gusts can rock you off your feet.

Chris M. : "No, this can't be happening!"
Photo: S. Beste
Size: 81812 bytes

Joe B. and Paul T. : "Was that a lull ya think?"
Photo: S. Beste
Size: 112077 bytes

    The winds were howling even down in the set-up area, where they played havoc with all the printed materials, signs, and displays at the registration table. After one too many times chasing after things, we started piling rocks in various creative ways to keep the HQ from blowing away.

    By noon, a large contingent of pilots voiced their desire to head over to High Rock, where they hoped for lighter winds. For many, a flight from the Rock would be their first in over a year. But the logistics of getting everyone relocated, and then trying to call tasks in such sensitive airspace, were of concern to XC-Competition Flight Director Marc F. Gambling that conditions would be flyable at the Pulpit at *some* point, Marc let it be known that flights from High Rock would not count for the Comp.

    About 20 pilots decided to wait it out at the Pulpit, where even a late-day task might allow them bag a few miles. And about 20 pilots decided to hit the road for High Rock, where conditions might allow for more airtime. Hence...

    A Tale of Two Fly-Ins!

Saturday Afternoon At High Rock

    So, how did the High Rock crew fare after bailing to High Rock? At least initially, the winds were strong and there was more socializing than flying. Some future pilots got to check out launch for the first time, and were briefed on wire-crew techniques that they'll soon need.

All set up but
too strong to fly
Photo: H. Wagner
Size: 149588 bytes

Sheila and the newest
FiFi, Bridget
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 74105 bytes

Ambassador of the sport!
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 111728 bytes

Rick N. and son
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 62621 bytes

    Although conditions at the Rock were rockin', the winds were a bit less gusty than at the Pulpit and showed signs of being 'doable'. A few of the "big guns" began to assess conditions with a speculative eye, and soon the first wave of pilots dove off the cliff and rocketed into the skies!

Richard scopes out
launch conditions for Tom M.
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 73764 bytes

Tom M. dives off the Rock
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 77606 bytes

The streamer and Tom agree
It's soarable!
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 37509 bytes

    Once Tom McG, Pete S, and Dave P were in the air, conditions began to pick up. 'Sparks got up on the cube, but eventually backed off in the face of unpredictable gusts. At one point Tom decided to land, but he changed his mind after hitting some strong turbulence near the LZ. After a hiatus of a few hours, Steve K decided to give things a try, and this led to a second wave of launches.

Launch photos for Steve K and Terry S:

Steve eyes conditions....
Photo: H. Wagner
Size: 75606 bytes

And makes the leap!
Photo: H. Wagner
Size: 62398 bytes

Terry S. steps off....
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 52568 bytes

And heads for the clouds.
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 74408 bytes

Launch photos for Kelvin P:

Waiting for a cycle...
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 80614 bytes

Launch run...
Photo: H. Wagner
Size: 72395 bytes

And into the sky!
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 52233 bytes

Launch photos for 'Spark and John M:

'Spark charges off...
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 62170 bytes

And takes flight.
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 37082 bytes

John M. watches for a lull...
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 79097 bytes

And swoops away.
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 43851 bytes

Launch photos for Joe G.:

Requisite butt-shot
Photo: H. Wagner
Size: 52230 bytes

Look at that textbook form!
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 39435 bytes

Meanwhile, Back At The Pulpit

    The run across the valley paid off for the High Rock contingent, so how were conditions back at the Fly-In? Well, let's just say that the winds weren't exactly being cooperative. In fact, they started gusting into the upper 30s!

Mark C, Allan H, and Marlin S
"Is this thing broken?!"
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 68185 bytes

Matthew G. tries staring
the wind down
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 94886 bytes

    So, what to do while hang-waiting? Fortunately pilots have come up with all kinds of strategies to alleviate the boredom:

Mike C. likes to go Zagi-huntin'
with his 'tater-gun
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 42599 bytes

Good thing Mike isn't
over at High Rock huh?
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 63255 bytes

Paul T. and Craig S. comparing
the size of their... GPSes.
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 141979 bytes

Photo: S. Beste
Size: 134286 bytes

And the crowd favorite:
Moping About
Photo: E. Kim
Size: 42599 bytes

Sunset Flights At High Rock

    The frustrations of the pilots at The Pulpit were not mirrored by the High Rock contingent. The winds backed down even further, allowing a third wave of launches, many of which were made magical by the copper and gold hues of sunset. Note: some of the thumbnails don't do justice to the larger images, it's worth checking them out!

Launch photos for Danny B and Kurtis K:

Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 60550 bytes

Kurtis 1
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 49445 bytes

Kurtis 2
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 41217 bytes

Launch photos for Eddie M and Brian V-H

Eddie launches into
seemingly clear skies
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 41829 bytes

And is abducted by
aliens in a beam of light!
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 26797 bytes

Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 46573 bytes

Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 43099 bytes

Launch photos for Craig S:

Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 61104 bytes

Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 37495 bytes

Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 9387 bytes

Launch photos for two unidentified pilots:

Email me if you
know who this is.
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 72783 bytes

Email me if you
know who this is.
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 74798 bytes

Launch photos for Richard H:

Richard 1
Photo: H. Wagner
Size: 75914 bytes

Richard 2
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 49734 bytes

Richard 3
Photo: R. Sickinger
Size: 14335 bytes

The Waiting Finally Pays Off At The Pulpit

    Of the stalwart pilots who remained at The Pulpit, those who refused to break down were finally rewarded with lighter conditions about 30 minutes before sunset. Given the time constraints, the best option for garnering some miles was to head south on a ridge-run. You can't go much more than 7 miles because the ridge makes a huge U-turn, which can put a pilot into rotor from the upwind portion of the U as the base is approached. But still, better than nothing!

First-off (or nearly first-off) were Ken B and Mitch S:

Ken B.
Photo: C. McKee
Size: 336384 bytes

Mitch S.
Photo: C. McKee
Size: 249140 bytes

    All told, I think that about 8 pilots were able to launch from The Pulpit on Saturday. We couldn't match the numbers at High Rock, but at least we were able to best the result for HGFest'2001 (when only 2 pilots launched). Here are a launch photos of two unidentified pilots; email me if you know who they are!

Unknown pilot 1
Photo: C. McKee
Size: 312711 bytes

Unknown pilot 2, #1
Photo: S. Beste
Size: 97523 bytes

Unknown pilot 2, #2
Photo: C. McKee
Size: 326446 bytes

    One of the frustrated Pulpit pilots was myself. So I was very happy to finally take to the skies, following my team-mate Matthew. We planned to take advantage of one of the provisions of the competition: members of the same team who landed in the same field received a 'retrieval bonus'. The idea was to provide an incentive for easy retrieves, which would make it easier for everyone to be back for the Saturday night party. So, if we landed out rather than return to the LZ, we would get points for more than just the (roughly) seven miles that everyone else would get.

Matthew G.
Photo: C. McKee
Size: 308727 bytes

Mark C.
Photo: C. McKee
Size: 291655 bytes

    As these images atest, the opportunities for dramatic photography at The Pulpit equalled those at High Rock. Here, several unidentified pilots soar against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset:

Soar 1. Email me
if you know who this is.
Photo: S. Beste
Size: 80286 bytes

Mitch S. is.... Batman!
Photo: C. McKee
Size: 306456 bytes

Soar 3. Email me
if you know who this is.
Photo: S. Beste
Size: 56654 bytes

    So, how did the strategy which Matthew and I used pay off? The pilots on topless gliders zoomed back to the main LZ, using our point of furthest progress as their turn-point. Matthew and I landed in the last possible field down the ridge. So, with the LZ bonus our team captured the lead! To be honest, given the gliders we were on and the fast-fading sunset, we would have had to land out anyway...

    Since I was a bit lower, and the winds were still fairly strong, I chose a field that was fairly close to the ridge, rather than heading for a larger one near the main road. And wow, did that cause problems! The route to get to the field was completely non-obvious, and it took repeated, valiant efforts by Doug H. to find the gravel road leading to the farm where we had landed. It must have been at least two hours later that we finally dragged back to the cook-out and party. Needless to say, our fellow pilots were much amused about a retrieval that took four times longer than our whopping 7 mile flights.

    But! We were in first place, and that somehow made all the inconvenience worthwhile (big thanks to Doug, we owe you!).

    The pilots who had flown at High Rock also slowly trickled back for the party: soon the grills were cooking, the bonfire was leaping, guitars were playing, and fireworks were crackling!

    Unfortunately I haven't been able to track down any photos from Saturday night. If you have any that can be added to this account, please email me.

    One high note of the evening was Kenny B's (of Moyes) "I'm a f**ckin' good pilot" tale, as accompanied by Dennis P. on guitar. Those who turned in early missed out on a wild story involving a hang glider, a balloon, and a sky-diver!

    As the Saturday night festivities wound down, our two Fly-Ins had been re-united; the next day would see us all flying together at nearby Bill's Hill.

Sunday : Migration To Bill's Hill

    What a beautiful day Sunday turned out to be, especially after the strong winds and unseasonably cool temps of the day before! After checking the weather, Marc F decided that the best bet for flying would be nearby Bill's Hill. A huge caravan of vehicles was soon headed west on Route 30.

    On arrival, we quickly filled the central parking/setup area, and then had to squeeze in along the road on both sides. I have never seen Bill's that crowded in all the year's I've been flying. At a guess, I'd say there were at least 40 pilots present, plus numerous friends and family.

Suzanne E's friend
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 73510 bytes

A Gaggle of Gardinators
and their friends
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 75639 bytes

    Marc F called an Open-Distance task for the day. Mitch S and Pete L shared some of their XC experiences from Bill's with the gathered pilots, and everyone began to sketch out their plans for hopping over the back and flying far.

    But conditions were trickier than they appeared. The stronger cross-left cycles at launch were actually crossing from the south and bouncing off the other side of the slot. Many of the first pilots off who took such a cycle went down with a sled. It soon became apparent that much lighter cross-right cycles were a better bet, with much less turbulence in the slot. Enthusiasm rose as pilots began to stay up!

Frustrated pilots in sled-city!
Photo: Stephane
Size: 35220 bytes

An unidentified pilot is up!
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 76224 bytes

Unidentified pilot's launch run
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 78509 bytes

Marc F. showing off
above the crowd
Photo: Stephane
Size: 6269 bytes

    We have a slew of launch photos, but I've been unable to figure out who's who. If you know any of the pilots below, please contact me.

Unidentified pilot's launch:

Running hard...
Photo: Stephane
Size: 54334 bytes

Into the air...
Photo: Stephane
Size: 56071 bytes

Dealing with the
cross conditions
Photo: Stephane
Size: 45132 bytes

Howard W on his Falcon
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 78896 bytes

Pilot 2
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 80589 bytes

Pilot 3
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 81815 bytes

Tom McG?
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 79080 bytes

Steve K?
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 75910 bytes

Christy H on her LiteSpeed
Photo: S. Evancho
Size: 79697 bytes

    I launched somewhere around the middle of the pack, turned right, and found the conditions quite challenging. Below launch for several passes, I slowly clawed my way back to the ridgetop, barely escaping a sledride of my own. Figuring that I might have an easier time near the gap, where the ridge turned into the wind a bit, I headed south. Although my vario insisted that there was lift out there, I couldn't hook a thermal to save my life! I tried tracking them in every direction imaginable, but all I could manage was a few hundred over (when I wasn't below, that is).

    I finally reached the gap, but conditions were no better. Based on radio reports it was clear that pilots who had headed north were having much better luck than I. But every time I tried heading their way I'd lose precious altitude. So there I was, pinned on the ridge, argh!

    Eventually I just decided to go for it, and headed back toward launch. In hindsight, I probably should have pulled full-VG and zoomed down there as quickly as possible. But no! I continued to try to work the spotty lift on my way, with no better luck than before. One or two misjudgements later, I was well below the ridge, and then had to land out a couple miles from launch.

    So all I could contribute to my team on Sunday was a handful of miles. I was sore and tired, but it was satisfying to have survived some of the flush cycles.

    Back at launch, Pulpit Fly-In history was being made as paraglider pilots also took to the air! As far as I know, the skies have never before been shared by both hangies and baggies at our big event. Let's hope this becomes a trend!

A pilot awaits a good cycle
Photo: Stephane
Size: 51887 bytes

A pilot floating
out of the slot
Photo: Stephane
Size: 39920 bytes

A pilot soars above
Photo: Stephane
Size: 22209 bytes

A pilot landing
in the primary
Photo: Stephane
Size: 30110 bytes

If you can help identify any of the above pilots, please contact me.

Competition Results

    After a day of flying, many shuttles to the LZ, and a handful of XC retrievals, our 2002 Fly-In began to wind down. The launch window closed at 5:00, and pilots began to pack up their gear. Earlier, Marc F had called for a rendezvous and dinner at Pizza Hut in Breezewood, where the results of the XC Comp would be announced. Those who didn't have to hit the road ASAP began to congregate there around sunset.

    "Team Brick" (Mitch S, Ken B, and ???) swept all the first-place awards, including team, individual XC, and individual duration, based mainly on a great 36 mile effort by Mitch.

    "Reno's Roughnecks" (Marc F, myself, Matthew G, 'Spark, and Dan T) took the second-place team award, having been just barely edged out of a first-place performance by the Bricks. Marc F also took the second place individual XC award (15.15 miles), and my scratch-and-claw effort at Bill's was enough for the second place duration award.

    The third place individual XC award went to Pete L for a 12 mile flight on a Falcon, on which he reported 4000' gains. He and his teammates of the "Falconeros" (Ralph S, Brian V-H, Richard H, and Hugh M) captured the third-place team award. The Hang-II duration award was won by Carlos W.

    Photos of the awards ceremony still lie on one of my undeveloped rolls of film; I'll add them to this report as soon as they're available.

    The flying, party, fireworks, raffle, and camaraderie of our 2002 McConnellsburg Hang Gliding Festival certainly lived up to the expectations for a twin anniversary! Let's hope next year is even more memorable!