Wednesday, April 29, 2009

U.S. Nationals - Dunlap, CA - Day Two - Task Two

We woke to stratus obscuring the launch and very heavy dew at the HQ. We headed to launch around 10:30 and waited for the stuff to break. A 50 Km task was called - Start at Hill 49917 then out to Squaw Valley, then down the range to Antelope Valley (near Woodlake).

My start was perfect and we made it to Bald & climbed to 6000' cloudbase. The lift looked dependable so things were happening fast & the gaggles pushed out on course at a good pace. I had a good run and finished in just less than 1:57 while Brad G. and Keith Mac placed 1/2 in around 1:42.

I placed 14th for the day and am now in 20th overall.

Cumulative ranking (if memory serves)

1. Brad Gunniccio
2. Jack Brown
3. Keith McCullough
4. Josh Cohn
5. Hayden Glatte

There is almost NO internet access at the ranch so I'm sitting in front of a gas station to update -

It looks like today (Wednesday) is going to be good flying, more to come -


U.S. Nationals - Dunlap, CA - Day One - Task One

Today the cu's were popping early so a 72K out and back task was called to Sandy Crk. then to Tivy Mtn. then out to Kaktus in the flats and, finally, back to Sampson Mtn. behind launch.

I had a good start and was firmly in the second gaggle for the first couple of turnpoints but found a bit od a hole near Tivy Mtn. I landed with Babush, Keith Mac, and Bill Hughes. I placed 20th for the day. I'm typing this on the fly so I'll make it short.

More to come -


US Nat'ls - Dunlap CA - Practice Days

I arrived in Dunlap at 1PM on Saturday hoping for a couple practice flights before the comp begins on Monday morning. The weather, when I arrived at launch, was spectacular. Cloudbase was around 6500’ and there were cloudstreets that begged to be followed. I said my hellos to some of the regulars and suited up to fly. Launch was a bit windy at times but lift was abundant and strong. At times I saw 800’/min. on my averager. One other adjective that describes the flying on Saturday is ‘COLD’. It was finger numbingly cold at altitude. I had worn my winter gloves and still was cold.
Some of the early launchers had headed out to the flats and points South but I really didn’t feel comfortable creating a situation that demanded an epic retrieve, so I did a large tour of the area that allowed me to drop into a field in town so I could easily negotiate a ride to launch and the comfort of my trailer. It was a good day with roughly 30km covered in 2:00.
Josh Cohn was one of the early launchers and he made a great flight to a small spot near Fountain Springs. This little spot is South of Porterville and is easily a new site record at around 105km. Nice!

Sunday was a warmer day and mostly a blue day. Climbs were topping out at 6000’. An informal task was called with an exit cylinder at Dunlap Launch then down to Cutler, then back to a landing at the ranger station. I really worked on this task and made some good decisions, but found myself flying alone for the majority of the day. It was particularly lonely on the leg to Cutler and I was fortunate to get back out of the valley after tagging the waypoint. I was definitely ‘tail-end-charley’ today but it was great fun. Many of the guys turned back before reaching the turnpoint but I really pushed to make the full task.
Today I ran into some massive areas of lift that carried, with them, debris and bugs from the orchards and fields below. In these areas of lift (and often flagging the lift for me) were what I call “thermal birds.” These birds are swifts or swallows that dart about catching bugs. It’s not uncommon to find them snacking at 4000 to 5000’ and they are a great help in finding lift.
We all moved into our lodgings at the St. Nicholas Ranch tonight (Sunday Night) and had a great meal before retiring for the night. Unfortunately there seems to be a bit of an issue with the amount of internet use that is available vs. the amount this crew is using, so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to get the word out.

That's it for now -

Monday, April 20, 2009

BAPACompetition - Dunlap, Part Deux

Saturday the task was from Hill 49917 to Last Chance to Bald Mtn. to GOAL at ROC124 (Rocky Hill - East of Visalia)total dist.73km. My flight is HERE.

I felt like things were ready to go today, in spite of the fact that I have flown almost no XC flights this season. This was the first successful gathering for a BAPA comp. so I had concentrated on my gear and proper preparations for the day.

I launched early and found some weak lift. Within 25 min. the rest of the field was filing into the sky and filling the weak thermals. The start was a 1.5km ENTRY cylinder around Hill 49917 - then run in to tag the 400meter cylinder around 49917 for the first turnpoint. Today I seemed to do everything the hard way. The things that worked out well, I managed to screw up with bad decisions. I am very happy that I got this stuff out of my system during today's task. . .

Anyway the start was at 1pm and by then I'd been working high point - just surfing around on top of the various thermals. With 7 minutes to the start, and about 4 minutes to beginning my run at the cylinder, I got flushed badly and watched as my high aspect ratio buddies (high above me) made their run at the start. I climbed up a bit and decided that there would be lift on the hill, so I made the start cylinder only to be skunked on Hill 49917. I retreated all the way back to 1000' below the launch before I regained some lift and got back into the race. At this point I accepted that I was at least 20 minutes behind the leaders (35 minutes into the race) and that the pace of the day was going to be slow anyway - so I plodded along using all the traffic ahead of me as aid.

I flew along with just about everybody today as I worked my way back into the running. Eventually I got to Bald Mtn. and could see Josh, Jug, Tom, Kansas, and Will circling slowly in weak lift on top of Bald. Will & I collaborated for a while and watched as the others all began their glides into the Squaw Valley and down Sand Creak Rd. For a long time Will and I just circled in 1's and zeros waiting for somebody to start circling in lift ahead. Josh was able to find a weak bubble and survive, but the rest all landed in the same area along the road. Will and I slowly advanced towards Josh, who was patiently loitering to let us catch up.

I seemed to be tiring more than I expected and realized that my harness straps had loosened and I was in "full-recline" mode which meant I had been essentially doing sit-ups for the last 2 hours. My patience with the 1-200fpm lift was waning so I headed to a lift trigger for better. Bad idea. I ended up low & alone circling to survive for the last 3 miles or so. Will made it a bit farther and Josh landed just short of Goal - an impressive solo flight.

I landed in a tight field next to Geo. Smith Rd. and was soon joined by a herd of kids. They all wore traditional Amish garb and were both shy and extremely curious. The oldest brought me a cup of Lemonade that really hit the spot.

I made it to the road and put my thumb out for the 10 mile ride to the pizza joint and the first truck that came by stopped. Thank you Naomi for nagging your husband until he reluctantly stopped to keep you quiet ;-)

I placed 3rd for the day. Considering the way it started, it was a good outcome.

Lessons learned (some of them repeat lessons, since I'm slow):

1. Don't get in a hurry and make bad decisions that slow you down ultimately.
2. Stay with your buddies. It is especially important within 10 minutes of the start and when entering an area of weak lift that requires searching.
3. Remember that a race where no one makes goal is a race of survival - the pace you fly can determine your score for the day.

Sunday the task was a few laps of the valley, then out to Dalton Mtn. and back to goal at the Ranger Stn. My flight is HERE. Most hit the first 2 turnpoints but got snookered after Dan's when we went to get up at last chance. At one point there were 7 or 8 of us all ridge soaring this diminutive hill before each of us dropped into the field at the bottom. Josh and Kansas made it farther along the course - not sure where they landed.

Results for the weekend are HERE.
A good warmup for next week's Nats.


BAPA Competition - Dunlap

This weekend we flew 2 XC tasks from the Dunlap launch. I'll write more about the tasks tomorrow when I've had some sleep. But here is a video of some of the first day fun in the gaggles & on the ridge.


Airtime at Dunlap from Tim O'Neill on Vimeo.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Everyone who lives dies, yet not everyone who dies, has lived. We take these risks not to escape life, but to prevent life escaping us.

One of my fellow PG Forumers has this as his tagline. I like it, even if it sounds a bit trite. At the age of 53, I'm probably ripe for a midlife 'crisis' of some kind, but there are no Harleys, affairs with 25-yr-olds, or tattoos in my near future. I imagine that's because I still feel alive and young enough that death is either going to come spectacularly, or much later on. . .

I guess you could call me a flyer - I've flown some form of aircraft since I was 14 yrs old. For the last 35 years I've made my living flying airplanes. Now, as a 747 pilot I'm more of a manager and less of a pilot. I fly 15 hour international flights that guarantee that I will be tired when making the approach and landing. For that reason, I employ automation and procedures to minimize the opportunity for error. I guess that's why I fly these crazy paraglider competitions.

My slick little paraglider is undoubtedly the lowest performance aircraft I've ever flown - although flying one is the closest thing to spreading my wings and just flying. Paragliders are the easiest aircraft to learn to fly but they take quite a while to learn to fly well. And flying cross country flights is very challenging. I think the challenge is where it's at for me. The focusing nature of being no more than 20 minutes from landing, unless you find lift, keeps me consumed in concentration until I cross the goal line. As I've said before, this sport can seem very trivial to those that 'don't get it' - and I understand. It's just like me 'not getting' why somebody would want to collect Beany Babies . . .

But it doesn't make the impact on my life any less that you, or my wife, don't understand why I do it. My wife does understand (from experience) that if I don't get to fly for a week or two, I get edgy and restless. And I think that she intuitively understands that I need to get into the air - as much as I need to breath the stuff.

What's my point? I don't know, really. I just had my 15 yr. old hound-dog put out of his misery this week. . . He lived a full life and crawled into the garden to die under his favorite tree. I think he was satisfied with his life and lived until he was ready to die. I wish the same for us all.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Competitions This Season

Well the season schedule is beginning to solidify for the coming year. I'll be flying in the first round of the U.S. Nationals in Dunlap, CA (April 27th-May 2nd) and then heading North to the West Coast Championships at Woodrat Mtn. (May 31 - June 6th). Finally, I'll be flying the second round of the U.S. Nationals in Utah (Aug.16th - Aug. 22nd).

In between these competitions I'll be flying as many BAPA XC league and SoCal XC league events as I can.

I've been a bit frustrated for the last month because the weather and my UAL schedule have conspired to make it impossible to attend any of the league events, so far. I've been doing some virtual flying (reviewing my past flights at Woodrat and Dunlap) and reviewing my XC Competition Tips from compiled and Lessons Learned from my first few Comps.

I'm looking forward to seeing everybody at the hill. It's always good flying, a good group & good times.