Sunday, September 6, 2015

Big Spring, TX

I had ordered a new sail for my Sport 2 back in April at Quest, but it hadn’t come in by the time I left and so it had been sitting around Quest for a month and a half.  Spinner and I decided that Big Spring was the best option for getting it installed, and I got in touch with Zac Majors, who said he thought he could do it before flying on Saturday, the practice day. 

I pulled into the Texas RV Park of Big Spring around 5 in the afternoon on Friday and got hooked up in one of the biggest campsites I’ve had.  It had to be over 100 feet long and 20 feet wide…wasn’t particularly level, though, so I spent a bit of time leveling out the trailer since I was going to be there for 9 days.  Then I went to find Russell so we could agree on the final price. Luckily it was a fairly easy conversation and we were able to meet in the middle and shake on it.  Now to find Zac. We messaged a bit that night, but I knew I’d see him the next day so I didn’t stress about it. I told him exactly where in the hangar my glider and all the parts were and went to bed.  Well, little did I know that my phone had somehow turned off the automatic updating of the date & time, so I was still on Mountain time, while Big Spring is on Central time.  I strolled into registration at 11:15am, or so I thought, only to find out it was actually 12:15pm and registration was closed till the afternoon.  Ugh.  Thankfully, Belinda took pity on me and got me registered.  I figured at this point the sail installation was just not going to happen and I’d fly the comp with my old sail unless we got a rest day.  Zac, on the other hand, thought it would be no problem to knock it out before the launch window from 1 – 2pm, especially since Wolfi had volunteered to help him.  They got right to work and occasionally some of the peanut gallery stopped by to help hold the glider up, etc.  It soon became apparent that the job was not going to be finished in time for the launch window, though.  One thing I learned is that, when you order a new sail, it doesn’t come with all of the cords and bungees you’ll need in order to actually use that sail.  So we spent some time foraging for parts on the old sail and around the hangar.  We were done around 3:15 and there was supposed to have been a later launch window, but the weather changed and there were thunderstorms all around us, so none of us got to fly on the practice day.  I was disappointed about that because I really wasn’t current and I’d been looking forward to a practice flight or two.  And my glider still had to be test flown before I could fly it at all.  There was some discussion about the best person to test fly my glider, since both Zac and Wolfi are much heavier than I am and they’d be less likely to feel any issues.

I talked to Wolfi about test flying the glider in the morning, and he figured he could do it right after the task committee meeting, either before or during the main pilots’ meeting. But the task committee meeting went long for the first day, and lasted almost halfway through the pilots’ meeting.  I made a beeline for Wolfi after the meeting, after getting stopped by one of the locals who asked me if the guys ever told me this wasn’t a woman’s sport.  I told him they didn’t dare, and he shouldn’t either.  

Wolfi told me that Zac was going to do the test flight, so I waited for Zac.  Several people came up to Zac after the meeting asking dumb questions, and I waited and stared Zac down while he answered them. Finally, the crowd dispersed and I asked Zac what his deal was.  He thought about it, and slowly said, “Um…I guess…I’ll just do it…right now.” I said, “Yes, please! Because I’d love to get a flight in myself.”  I ran outside to make sure we had a tug pilot and saw Armand already flying the tug pulling up a tandem, so I figured we’d have no problem.  Wolfi and I got the glider ready, found Cory’s harness, put it back because it was too heavy, got Wolfi’s harness, found a golf cart so we didn’t have to carry all that stuff to the launch line, and then looked around for Zac.  Zac finally materialized, quickly went up and looped my glider just to “set the sail”, came down and adjusted a slight right turn before I went up.  The only issue was that Zac had pro-towed, and I use a 3-point bridle.  I quickly found out that the tow point was way too far forward.  Bobby Bailey was towing me and, although I had absolutely no bar pressure (meaning I was neither pulling in nor pushing out), I was extremely low.  Since my glider had always towed beautifully with no pressure, I never considered pushing out to gain altitude – all the instruction we receive tells us never to push out on tow.  I ended up in the prop wash, just getting hammered by all the turbulence, and I released.  I don’t think we made it to 1,000 feet.  Bobby later told me we were doing about 43mph at that time – normal towing speed for my glider should be in the low 30s.  So I adjusted the tow point and got another test flight right before the launch window opened.  Better this time, but still not perfect, so I adjusted it again before I flew my official competition flight of the day.  The third tow of the day was pretty close to perfect, and although I spent a bit of time searching around after I released, I soon found a booming thermal that got me pretty high and I set out on course.  I decided to stay close to main roads, and ended up west of course line, eventually just searching all the way to the ground.  I didn’t get very far that day, but since there were thunderstorms on course line, the task ended up being cancelled.  That and the fact that one of my competitors had technical issues and was unable to submit a tracklog allowed me to make second place for the day. 

Day 2 I decided not to fly because I was pretty beat from my 3 flights the previous day.  I was out of shape and not current, and it’s pretty freaking stinking hot in Texas.  And humid. And quite windy.  And we had to walk our gliders a fair distance to get to the launch line.  By the time I made it out to the launch line, most days I didn’t care if I flew or not.  Apparently there were some sketchy launches that 2nd day, so that on the morning of the 3rd day I got the “safety prize” for not flying the previous day.  I did fly the next two days, but didn’t immediately get high and sort of gave up.  Again, I was apathetic to whether I flew the course or not, and my dear friend Tracy was in town so not flying just meant more quality time hanging out with her.  Not flying did also mean that I was faced with constant questions from pilots, drivers, girlfriends, etc. regarding why I wasn’t flying, and a great deal of concern for my happiness when I didn’t fly.  I got the nickname “Honey Badger” because I’m “pretty bad ass” and I “don’t give a shit” (watch the video here if you’re not getting the jokes: and because I flew my ass off that winter I lived at Quest. I tend to associate the name, and I think others do as well, with doing badass stuff…like selling all my stuff to go live in a trailer and travel.  But sometimes I think it’s more honey badger-like to just do what feels right to me, even though it may be the opposite of what people expect me to do or think I should do or just plain want me to do.  I know there are those who are just so excited to see a woman competing that they have big dreams for me, but I have realized that those aren’t my dreams.  I find competitions to be stressful and highly regimented, and they require me to live on someone else’s schedule.  It just so happens that one of the things I LOVE about my life right now is that I’m not on anyone else’s schedule, and I can do what feels right to me at all times.  So I’m done with competing.  I’d much rather just fly for fun and when I feel like it, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Even though I ended up not flying the tasks most days, I still had a great time in Big Spring.  I got to hang out with Tracy and Jonny Thompson every day, and that alone was worth the trip.  But I also got the offer of a lifetime from Bobby Bailey, co-inventor of the Dragonfly ultralight aircraft, which is the plane we use to aerotow our hang gliders.  The afternoon of the fourth day, Bobby called me over and said he’d heard I’d been looking for time in the Dragonfly.  I had just asked Jonny for a ride the other day but he wasn’t able to do it at the time. Well, Bobby wanted to know if I wanted to learn to fly it.  I said YES, but I didn’t know when I would ever pursue it.  Well, Bobby was planning to offer me a deal on lessons.  Oh, wow, well I’ll be out west for at least the next few months.  Well, this deal lasts for as long as it takes for us to get to 10 hours of instruction. 

Well, when the legend who invented the aircraft you’ve been thinking about learning to fly offers you lessons at a great price out of the blue, you take that deal.  So I got in two and a half hours of instruction over two days in Big Spring.  After the first hour Bobby commented that I was doing better than average, as he usually stops after half an hour with new students, and we went on to do a full hour & a half on the first lesson.  It was awesome!  He made me fly along real close to the ground, kind of fast, and it was so much fun.  I had a little trouble learning to slip, but after Bobby explained it in a different way it clicked and I couldn’t get enough of slipping along.  On the 2nd day I handled most of the takeoffs after the first one, where I let the nose get way too high.  By the second takeoff Bobby was hands off and I was in control the entire time.  What a feeling.  He still handled most of the landings, but that was fine with me just getting to observe. There’s a LOT to think about on landing and I admit to being a bit intimidated by landings. 

Bobby also made a point to talk to me about the possibility of becoming a tug pilot, and how that would allow me to get more into the lifestyle and potentially avoid getting a real job again.  Those wheels were already turning in my head.  In order to tow hang gliders for a living I’ll need to get my private pilot’s license, which is a big outlay of cash…so I’m not pulling the trigger on that one just yet.  I am leaning heavily towards doing it though :)

Bobby & me - what you can't see are the 2 pillows + pedal extensions I had to use in order to fly the plane :)

Everybody gets a prize!

Got to hang with two of my favorite people for a week

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