TBT: South Side Skyout

I recently came across this footage, filmed with the original GoPro Hero (the first one, before they were HD).  I’m flying my aluminum Wills Wing T2, which makes this sometime in the spring or summer of 2009.

A great day at the South Side, thermalling up above the “Blue Balls” radio antennas, and drifting way back almost to the North Side bench!  Looks like I wasn’t flying with a vario… and I only vaguely remember the day… no idea how high I was actually getting, but it looks pretty stinkin’ high from a little 300′ gravel pile!

I have mixed feelings watching this video… Having moved back to NY, I miss the hot summer days of hanging at the South Side and soaring the “training hill” playground all day.  Looking at the video I see how the mountain looked then, and knowing what it looks like now- how much of it has been destroyed- makes me very sad.  I also see some great cu’s popping over the mountains, and can’t help but wonder… on a day where we were thermalling this high at the South Side… did I miss a 17,999 ft day in the mountains?  Or could this have been a State-record beating XC day (220 miles)?  Whatever it could have been doesn’t really matter… watching this video brings back warm memories of a fun day with great people at one of the best sites in the world.

Got my feet off the ground!

Monday will make it 3-weeks since my shoulder surgery, and I’m already getting pretty tired of being one-armed, and not being able to do much “fun” stuff… like fly.

My friend Jimmy made a generous offer to take me up in his plane, to which I eagerly accepted!  It was a fantastic morning of driving around the sky; I am supremely grateful!


Definitely, definitely a good drrrriver…


Jimmy and the Tappan Zee Bridge off the left wing


A look at the construction of a NEW Tappan Zee Bridge… and they’ll tear down the current one when they’re done!


Looking North up the Hudson at the Bear Mountain Bridge


Can you name that runway?


Hint: C-130’s and C-5A’s live here.  Usually a couple C-17’s, too… but I didn’t see them this time


I finally got to fly the Gunks! :-)


And a scenic view of Lake Minnewaska as we crossed back over toward Ellenville

Thank you again Jimmy D!!!

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Blind Squirrel Finds a Nut!

With a forecast for light wind but decent lift I had high hopes of Saturday being a great day to fly Ellenville… despite the North/North-East forecast.  I got up to launch around 11 and Jay-Bird was already set up.  Griffin and Scotty T arrived about the same time, and Griff and I decided to set up.

At this point there were nice cu’s popping, everywhere but near launch.  My suspicion is the cu’s behind launch were coming from the sun hitting Pine Bush, Walker Valley, and the back side of the ridge all morning, while launch and the Ellenville valley remained shaded.  There were also nice cu’s across the valley, and again my theory was that the sun had been hitting over there for longer, causing convection.

Being a North-West facing site, Ellenville is best suited as an evening site because that’s when the sun hits the valley and ridge the best.  But for getting off, up and away on a light-and-variable day we wanted to hit the peak of the day to have the best chance of getting up.  We knew if we DIDN’T get up that meant landing mid-day, not a risk I accept lightly… but that was our plan.

We waited a few hours until clouds were starting to pop over launch, filling in the blue hole.  The general winds seemed to be North/North-West at launch, but North-East (as advertised) in the LZ.  Thermal cycles were coming through and would influence the wind speed/direction.  About 1:00 I was liking what I was seeing and started getting dressed… and talked Griffin into doing the same.  He got ready quicker and was on launch ahead of me.  We were talking strategy and I was sharing what I was looking for in a good cycle to launch.  I feel it’s important to be at-the-ready to take what might be the only great cycle on a day like this, but also to be patient when waiting there.  That’s really hard when you’re hooked in, standing on launch, and it’s blowing in.  Wearing layers and jackets doesn’t help either.

Griff got a decent cycle and took it.  His two-step launch was lame (sorry dude!) but I think he did a great job of scratching and working the light and broken lift he was presented.  He had one bit right in front of launch that he got a few 360’s in, not really gaining or losing much.  That seemed to fizzle out and he headed out into the valley toward the Kelly’s farm hoping to catch “the big valley thermal”- not at all a bad strategy given the general NE wind direction and that we saw clouds signifying lift out there.  He found another something and got a 360 or two but made a smart/safe decision to head toward the LZ and get there high enough to check the streamers and set up a proper approach.  Again, landing mid-day at Ellenville is to be much respected.

I waited on launch for what seemed like forever, and just wasn’t getting the cycle I wanted to see… so I moved away from launch and took my harness and jackets off for a bit.  Greg Lindy was behind me, and he waited on launch a while until it started to blow down, and he too backed off.

Normally blowing down is not something to celebrate… but I was wishfully thinking it was being caused by a giant thermal out in front of launch that was sucking air in to replace the lifting air.  After a while I noticed it was blowing in towards the mountain in the LZ, so I started getting dressed despite blowing down on launch.  Again I was hopeful it was a sign there was a thermal in the vicinity.  I was standing on launch when it started to blow in again very lightly.  I picked the glider up a few times but something just didn’t feel real promising so I put it back down.  It started to blow in a little better, and the trees and bushes below launch were showing some action.  I checked the LZ windsocks and they were still blowing straight at the hill.  This time when I picked the glider up the air felt much liftier, and off I went!

I floundered a little in broken lift in front of the North launch.  It was strong enough to turn tightly in, but I couldn’t get a full 360 without falling out of it.  And it felt like it kept shifting around and wouldn’t stay in one place.  After maybe 4 360’s I lost track of it and opted to head for the trailer thermal.  I pulled VG and tried to find the liftiest line to get me there the highest.  Greg’s big windsock in the LZ was still blowing straight toward the mountain, which is basically pointing at the trailer in the woods.  I had high hopes but low expectations of finding something worthwhile.

But I did!  It had to be about 300 fpm, and just barely big enough to turn in.  I had to bank pretty steeply, and fly as slow as I could without stalling or losing the ability to steer and stay centered.  I latch on to that little thermal and clung to it as it tried to lose me, shifting around or lifting a wing and trying to push me out.  It felt not unlike convergence lift.  As I got higher and higher it got wider, smoother, and faster.  I was reading 7-800 fpm on the averaged for a while, and I climbed to about 6500 ft before the lift lightened up.

The clouds were stellar; perfect flat-bottomed puffies with 5/8ths coverage (right Shaddo?!)

I jumped one cloud over because I could see that one was still building, and it was in the direction I wanted to go (I wanted to fly Greg’s Up the Valley challenge).  That cloud was even better taking me to my highest alt for the day of 7660… and the lift kept going, I could have easily gone higher but then I would have been IN the cloud!

The journey up the valley was an exciting one, pushing upwind with several low saves (two so low that I was preparing to land)… But this is already a long post so I’ll leave the rest of the story to be told over beers at the campfire or something.

Mohonk Mountain House, as seen from the Ellenville end of the ridge

Mohonk Mountain House, as seen from the Kingston end of the ridge

The story ended when I got to Kingston, still a little over 1500 ft, but that wasn’t high enough for me to comfortably make the next LZ I liked… so I decided not to press on.  I happened to be right over the NY State Trooper barracks, which had nice manicured grass and flags to show the direction of what little wind there was.  Plus I just thought it’d be fun to land there.

Google Earth says it’s a total straight-line distance of 26.13 miles from takeoff to touchdown.  I think that might be the farthest Up the Valley Run this year… but I’m not very confident it’ll hold, either.  I’m super happy with the result considering I was pushing upwind (NE) the whole flight… but on the right day I could totally see someone smashing that distance, too.  It’s a great route with LZ’s aplenty!

This is what the valley looks like once you get past Mohonk.  That’s 209 to the right of all these fields.  Each brown field had it’s own little thermal that kept me going, and the Trooper barracks is just to the right of the last brown field.  It gets pretty suburban after that…

And a major THANK YOU to Flyin’ Bryon who came to pick me up, in my own truck no less!  What a guy he is!

Comments to FAA re: UAS Prohibition

This is a follow up to my post earlier today, detailing the FAA’s proposed prohibition on flying RC aircraft via “first person view” (FPV) as well as operating commercially.  If you missed that post you can get caught up HERE.

For those willing to comment on the FAA’s memo of interpretation, I wanted to share what I had written to help and perhaps inspire others to take the time to write a comment, however brief.  Every comment counts!

YOU CAN (and I encourage you to) SUBMIT YOUR OWN COMMENT HERE:

Here’s what I said:


FAA aims to outlaw RC “drones”

I’ve been doing some research into the laws pertaining to flying my quadcopter with a camera attached.  I’m contemplating pursuing it commercially, since it’s a rare occasion where I have a skill-set that could potentially be used to make income for my family (most of my skill-sets are next to worthless in terms of supporting a family).

The short result of my research?  It is LEGAL!  But of course it’s not that simple… (more…)

Lake Minnewaska AP

Huge thanks to my parents, “Mimi and Poppy”, for watching Scarlett this afternoon!  I finally got the lawn mowed, and had just enough time to run up to Lake Minnewaska State Park to catch the ‘golden hour’ of spectacular lighting.  Well, technically I was a little early for golden hour, but that late in the day the shadows of the tall trees can block the light from the cliff faces… anyway, as luck would have it I hit it about right.

Aerial video a really great… but I am absolutely loving this little quadcopter as a photography tool lately!


(click for high res)

Aerial Photography

I’ve been doing a lot of ‘AP’ lately (which is what cool people call Aerial Photography).  I’m really enjoying the aerial perspective and having a new and exciting method of image capture.

Here is my 1-minute demo reel showing my favorite shots so far:


The industry surrounding using these remote control drones- for lack of a better name- is blowing up right now!  And with my experience (growing up within micro-aviation), education (video production), and skill set (only child who’s spent of LOT of hours flying radio control toys already!)… I think this just might be a case of right place at the right time?  Time will tell…

Until then, enjoy some images from aloft! (click to view higher res)


Sky Out Thursday

When my dad offered to babysit Scarlett so I could get some errands done, and maybe even fly… how could I say no?!

The forecast looked ok, not great… but ‘flyable’ to some degree for sure.  I got up to launch and no one was there yet, it was pretty cross from the N or even NE, but with decent thermal cycles coming through.  I flew my RC Zagi a bit to get a feel for the conditions and wait for others to arrive.

As more pilots rolled in, they began setting up their wings.  I didn’t.  I’ve been looking for just the right day to soar my paraglider at Ellenville… and this looked like it could be the day.  The winds weren’t the best direction, especially for making it to the LZ on a slow and performance-challenged aircraft… but the winds were light and it’s not often we get thermic days without much wind around here.  I decided to give it a shot, not so much worried about the conditions or my abilities, but worried about being able to soar since I’m not nearly as skilled in a paraglider.

The launch was uneventful, as was most of the flight.  But on my way to the LZ I was fortunate to stumble into a thermal.  It wasn’t very strong, but it was fairly well formed and big enough to turn in… so I did.  I was able to take that single thermal up to about 3600 msl, for my first climb-out and soaring flight on the paraglider at E!

IMG_5294 IMG_5299

And from 3600 ft… I sunk out.  I was climbing under a nice cloud but was slowly drifting farther and farther back, and I’m not that comfortable being far from the LZ in the paraglider, especially at a site like Ellenville where I know there can be widespread areas of sinking air.  The thought of top-landing crossed my mind, but that seemed like asking for trouble so I let the feeling pass (maybe another time?).

I landed in a pretty active LZ, which required quite a bit of input to keep the wing overhead.  One last thermal at 10 ft and the wing slowed behind me slightly… I knew the following surge would not be kind to me and I’d be looking at swinging onto my butt at best… so I waited for the wing to start it’s move forward and checked it with brake- leaving me almost nothing left to flare with.  A few running steps and it was a safe albeit less than graceful landing.  Will have to work on that!

Shortly after landing, the resident XC god Dave Hopkins launched in his ATOS and was able to get up, so a few of us rushed back up to launch for another flight.  Having scratched the paraglider itch for the day, and with there being a little more wind now, I opted to fly the hang.


There was some ridge lift, but it was still mostly thermals.  After a while of climbing near launch I spotted Hopkins headed up the ridge to the North so I followed.  I “let him” race ahead since he had the performance advantage anyway (not like I had much choice in the matter), while I flew as efficiently as a good and watched for where he found lift and where there was sink to be avoided.  We connected over the doctor’s house and began climbing in a pretty decent thermal for the day.  He was higher than me when we got there, and he opened separation even more as we climbed.  Damn good pilot on a damn fine wing, tough combination to beat!

We climbed to about 5k where the lift seemed to slow and I was able to catch up to him.  There were these really sweet low clouds over the back (over my house!) so I took a few photos of the clouds, the scenery, and of Dave flying next to me.  We hung out of there for a few, long enough that I got a little chilly, before Dave headed further North and I headed back to launch.

IMG_5310 IMG_5322

When I got to launch there were several gliders in the air, but not as high… which seemed like the perfect time to practice some aerobatics to get down and say hi to everyone.  The lift was plentiful over launch, and I was able to do several sets of maneuvers, which was a lot of fun.  It was especially fun flying with my blue-and-yellow brother-from-another-mother Justin (he’s got my pervious T2).


Hopkins and I ended up landing about the same time, around 6:30.  The LZ was still pretty bubbly.

All in all it was a great day in the sky (twice!) and an excellent example of how fun the community and the flying is here at Ellenville.  The site has never looked better, and the community is as active as ever (there were easily 15+ people there on a random Thursday, for example).

Thanks to everyone that made the day possible for me- Especially my dad for babysitting!


Ellenville Aero-Photoshoot

So there’s a photo I’ve been wanting to get for a long, long time… and I decided the clouds and trees and everything looked just right to try for it today.  To get the shot, I’d need to fly with my nose-boom camera mount and my Panasonic GH2 (GoPro image quality doesn’t even come close!).

As with all good plans, things didn’t go quite as I saw then playing out.  First, I forgot the second battery to the GH2 at home- where I had put it on the charger to top it off just to make sure it was absolutely full.  No biggie, I’ll use the battery that’s in there, it’s showing it’s half full still.

Then I put the nose boom mount together, which is two pieces that sleeve together and a pin/safety ring secures the one inside the other.  Well I couldn’t for the life of me get the pin through the hole I usually use, so in my frustration I used a different one (more on this later).

After changing nose-cones on the glider (nose boom requires a hole to exit the sail), installing the nose boom with the safety string that runs through it and secures it to the inside of the keel, I aimed the camera and installed my RF remote shutter.  I go to take a test shot and it doesn’t fire.  Try again.  Oh, I didn’t turn it on!  Turn it on… test shot… nada.  Dead battery in the shutter receiver.  DOH!  No prob, I guess I’ll just shoot video instead.  The GH2 shoots amazing vid, and the lens system is so good even though they’re less megapixels than a GoPro the color and image quality is superb.


I launch and begin climbing my way up.  Now the shot I want is of me, at the top of a loop, with the horizon level and Ellenville launch in the background.  To get this with a nose-boom I’ll need to fly out in front of launch, turn around, and then loop towards the mountain… with enough room to exit the maneuver and not hit the hill of course.  The tricky part… besides looping in active conditions towards a mountain with a camera boom and 5-lb weight on the keel… was that I need to be at roughly launch level in order to get that in the background about at the apex of the maneuver.  Now before everyone flips out about low aerobatics, being in front of launch a ways gets me decent vertical clearance.

Anyway, I go out and do one maneuver.  I don’t say “loop” because I wasn’t quite wings level at the top, which meant my exit heading didn’t match my entry, which means it’s a great climbover but not a loop.  Anyways, I climb back up and do it again, this one I hit some nasty turbulence and bailed on the loop, doing a climbing rollover to expend the built up energy of the dive.  Climb up again.  I go out for round 3 and I’m lined up perfect!  Things feel good, I dive… wind noise building… let the pitch out very slowly and smoothly and as I climb I’m looking up and focusing on keeping it wings-level.  At the apex I can see launch just past my nose-cone and I know I NAILED IT (if I do say so myself).  And as I’m diving through the exit I hit a nasty bump and all I see is my camera coming towards me.  I knew immediately what had happened…

When I used that other hole to assemble the mount, that left the hole(s) I usually use (two holes about 45 degrees off so I can mount it with the bend straight or going off to one side) on the outside of the oversleeved portion.  To keep weight down it’s pretty thin aluminum (not aircraft grade or anything nice READ: expensive).  It broke at those exposed holes.  No biggie, because I always tie a spectra safety line onto the camera, run it through the inside of the boom, and attach it to the glider inside the keel.  So now 1/2 my boom is hanging from that string.  I guess I won’t be doing anymore aerobatics on this flight!

I debate flying around a while more… but I’m envisioning the safety line rubbing against the broken tubing and slowly cutting away.  I’m worried about losing my camera, but more importantly I’m worried about it falling and hitting another pilot, someone on the ground, a car, whatever.  Slim chance?  Not risking it more than I have to… head out to land.

Uneventful landing.  I packed up and and laughed the rest of the daylight away with the great Ellenville pilot community.  When I was done packing up I tried to check out my footage but the camera battery was dead.  I get home and excitedly download the video.  It’s only about 14 mins?!  I guess that 1/2 charged battery wasn’t very “fresh” after all.  DOH!


On the up side, I got some really nice shots of launch and the surrounding area, and I got the first of the three attempts at “the shot”… and I have to say, I’m pretty satisfied.  I may have to revisit this idea when the remote shutter release is working, and grab a 16MP sharp-as-hell image now that I know just where to be on the way over the top… but until then, a great day and “mission accomplished” (mostly).  Never boring!