Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dog Days of Summer

I haven't posted in a while, but here is what has been happening - Sunday we went to a site called "The Pines" which is this monster bowl that faces southish, a few gliders flew, but they made it look sketchy, it was way to cross out front, so we didn't jump. The site takes a bit of driving and you need a 4 wheel to get there.

Monday I flew Mystic, at least 10 gliders flew midday. My ride was good for about 2 hours, strong climbs (above 1000 ft/min) but in what is becoming classic spring style, it blew out around 2pm so we landed. We were doing Route 1, and when the wind turned on, I struggled to make it back to the LZ (landing paddock in Oz speak) and lots of bar was needed, and I had one big asym while on full bar, but the Lambada always opens without a fuss.

Mystic was closed by fire ban today, so we went up to Mt Buffalo, which is a big granite mountain just to the west. We got there a bit late and one really nice up the face cycle came in, and then it came over the back. And it blew out again in the valley... The word from the locals is the wind will back down after Christmas (Christmas in the summer is weird), but this being another drought year of many in a row is what people blame for causing the strong wind and strong air.

If you look closely at the sign, you will see that someone drew some big teeth on the Lyre Bird, and made the kangaroo into a dinosaur, I guess to make fun of the "Beware" part of the sign. The animal in the middle is a wombat.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Are Wombats for Real?

I've been in Australia for over a month now, and I haven't seen the slightest sign of a wombat - not even a dead one - and after all the stories I've heard of how much damage plowing into an 80lb wombat going 100 km/hr can cause to your car, you'd think I would have seen at least one wombat roadkill carcass by now...

Despite the name, wombats aren't bats at all, they are this cuddly little bear creature that supposedly comes out only at night - I was starting to think they were a marketing gimmick, a creature dreampt up by the Ministry of Tourism, maybe the koala bear wasn't attracting enough tourist and they needed a new mascot?

Well, the other day I was out for a walk and took a detour through the bush, and I stumbled across a GIANT hole in the ground, several actually - wombats supposedly sleep under ground during the day and this looked like the central command bunker for the entire WOMBAT NATION or something.

So I take a picture of the hole but realize I needed to include something in the picture that would show how big the hole actually was, so I take off my shoe and set it in the mouth of the hole and snap some more shots, and then I put the camera down level with the hole and take another picture....

And when I preview the last picture, there are two eyes looking at me from the back of the hole.... It's the bloody commander of the WOMBAT Nation...!

So I am sqwatting in front of this big ass wombat hole with only one shoe on, and I'm wondering how much damage an 80 lb wombat could do to me if it got pissed off enough from the camera flash repeatedly going off in its face, humm... I guess I'm going to have to find out...

I can't look into the hole because its at the bottom of a depression so I put my shoe on and I make some plans to defend myself from the wombat's fangs and claws, because anything that can dig tunnels like these could easily rip your face off with its claws. I inch closer to the mouth of the hole, stick my arm in, and snap another shot...

The hole curves slightly and I can't get the entire wombat in the picture because its pitch black and you can't see anything to aim at, so I had to repeatedly stick my arm in and shoot, then look at the pic, each time I'm noting the adjustment I need to make, then stick my arm in again and shoot... The whole time I am listening for the faintest sounds of the beginning of a wombat charge... It took 55 shots to get most of the wombat into the frame, damn hard work, but well worth the effort.

So wombat's are real and they are pretty damn cute too...

Flight report:

Not as good as the wombat adventure, but it was good for an hour plus, but the west wind was strong and pinned every one down into one valley or another, except Karl Texler who got to 2600 and made it back to Mystic. Tommorrow looks lighter, stay tuned!


Thursday, November 23, 2006

How Ya Going?

Australian to Yank translator:

Australian's Say: "How ya going?"

Translated for Yanks: "How ya doing?"

When I first heard someone say "How ya going?", I was wondering when we were leaving...

Flight Report:

Yesterday we flew for an hour, the wind cut the day short. Today I flew for over 3 hours, and Heike flew for 4 hours. We heavily modified Mystic Route 1, chopped off the upwind turnpoint and tacked a few turnpoints on the end and landed when we were tired. The air was a little rough, but you could definitely go places without getting low very often. I had a 7 m/s climb under a totally blue sky, topping out at 2045m.

Lots of pilots showed up today, some really nice acro moves over Mystic.

For my mates stuck in the rain back in Portland, you can see the track here, and on that page click on "google earth" if you want it in 3D.

Beepin' our way to Base..


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Yackandandah or Tangambalanga?

Australian Lore for the Day:
Australia has some interesting town names - to a tourist like me, they are interesting enough that when I see the road signs, I say "STOP THE CAR!" and I jump out with my camera and take a picture. I must admit, I feel pretty stupid being seen taking a picture of a road sign - as if my accent doesn't make me stick out enough - I might as well wear a T-shirt that says TOURIST on it.

I am staying in a town called Wandiligong. Yackandandah, Tangambalanga and Talangatta are not far away...

Paragliding is hazardous to your health:
Yesterday was a very strange day for weather here in the state of Victoria, Australia. A trough was parked over us and the sky was very overcast and it was the hottest day this summer - 37 celsius or 98 Fahrenheit for the yanks. The wind was very gusty, which kept us out of the sky.

Thunderstorms were in the forecast, and lightning has set off many fires, the big ones are far away, but some smaller fires nearby are making the air hazy. The flying conditions are set to improve, and we should be beepin' our way to base soon!


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tawonga Gap

Heike and I flew Tawonga gap today. The site is on the west side of the Kiewa Valley and once you are airborne the town of Mt Beauty is just to the right. Launch is a skinny slot carved out of the trees and makes you want a good straight cycle to pull up in. On the right day, it would be easy to fly to Mt Bogong from there.

The thermals were light but we turned some circles and enjoyed the view. The sky clouded over and we went and landed.

Heike wanted to see if the both of us could hitch hike back to the top, but I said two people with wings was to much for most people to deal with. So, after no one stopped, I took the wings and hid in the bushes and told her to put on some lipstick, and bingo, the next car stopped...

The weather looks a bit funky with a trough moving in, but later this week we should be beepin' our way to base!


Mystic Cup - Game On

Ahh yes... The Mystic Cup has begun. Today's task was excellent - Mystic route 4 was chosen. Route 4 zig zags slowly east and ends in Harrietville for a 36k task.

The thermals were tracking over the back fast and hitting an inversion layer about 1200 meters, but above 1200 the climbs cleaned up and I was able to get away from launch with two other gliders. The first turnpoint was just across the valley, but the next turnpoint was a little grim - several gliders dirted. A big thanks to the pilot on the green and white glider climbing out alone there - that climb saved me!

On the way to the Smoko turnpoint I found a nice climb that got me into a huge convergence line. I flew a straight line and just kept climbing, topping out at 2690m - this is the highest I've been during my month stay here. After hitting Smoko turnpoint, it was back to the convergence line to tank up on altitude.

I got to Little Pyramid high but got low coming into Harrietville, the ridge to the East wasn't working (but it was working my glider...) and I landed 5k short of goal.

Thirty pilots flew and 4 made goal. Five bucks per day gets you into this B grade comp which counts towards the Australian National ladder. We have 6 more weekends left in the Mystic Cup. My hat is off the organizers: Barb Scott, Hamish Barker, and Karl Texler, a job well done.

I just heard that Mystic is closed tomorrow (Monday) due to fire danger, so we are thinking about flying Tawonga Gap.

Stay Tuned!


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mystic Cup - Day One

A sizable crew of competitors showed up for the first day of the Mistic Cup. The Cup is a low key comp designed for pilots newer to racing. The valley flow was stronger than optimal, and this was noted in the strength of the wind on launch. A few pilots flew and stayed up, but the increasing wind made a task look pretty tough, so after a couple hours of waiting it was decided to do a radio briefing in the afternoon in case it backed off. It didn't and the first day of the Cup saw little action.

There was a BBQ in the evening at the Outdoor Inn which used to be a kids summer camp that is now a pilots camp. The camp is conveniently located at the base of Mystic Mountain. We enjoyed an evening of conversation and watched Jocky Sanderson's new video, "Performance Flying".

Tommorrow the forecast is calling for light winds, but we will just have to play the waiting game again.

Stayed Tuned, I have yet to see a live wombat, but I have located a large complex of wombat bunkers in the nearby hills...


Friday, November 17, 2006

Blue Skies

The rain has stopped, the wind is gone, the sun is out, and we flew. It was cold on launch and it looked like we would get very high and could finish a task, so we chose Mystic Route 6, a 42km up-valley out and return.

Just as Brian Webb and I were about to launch, a pilot thermalled too close to the trees and hit a tree - we unclipped and gave assistance. The pilot had fallen quite a ways and hit some very hard ground but amazingly walked away from it. I don't know for sure, but I think he will be alright. I rode up in his car and we talked, and he is a really good chap. We need to keep a good distance between us and mother earth when we defy the laws of gravity!

Another reflection for this day - when you try something new, sometimes good or bad may come of it. The last time I packed my glider, I kept the wing clipped into the harness. I have tried this a couple times before but didn't like it because it is easy to launch with riser twists, which is what happened today. Just before launching I fixed one of the twists, but I should have suspected the other would be twisted too. The worst thing about launching with riser twists is it can really mess with your head, but gladly, it doesn't mess with your glider. And so off I went.

After about a half an hour, we decided route 6 wasn't going to work - the lift wasn't quite enough to make it that far upwind so instead of sinking out, we decided to leave Blackfellows and head toward Gold mine ridge. Two gliders were high and climbing and I search and scratched and grovelled but couldn't get back up. My flight ended near the Wandi Pub (beer suck?).

Tomorrow is the first day of the Mystic cup - I hope the wind stays light!

Ciao, Brett

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Re-Live that Wonderous Flight

If you fly with a Garmin 76S or any GPS unit that can capture elevation, it is quite easy to view your flight in 3D on Google Earth. Google Earth is free, and is really worth a try. Google Earth uses very detailed satellite photos (you can see individual people in the Seahawks stadium) combined with elevation data obtained using a radar system on board the February 2000 space shuttle mission to create a realistic 3D view of our world.

Google Earth is like a video game in which you fly a helicopter over the earth's real landscape, zooming down into canyons and over mountain tops. Go to your favorite launch and don't be surprised if you see gliders in the air or laid out on launch! The satellite photos are better in some areas than others, and it helps to have a fast internet connection, but I get by with a measley 128 kbps.

Back to the purpose of this post - which is to overlay your flight on top of the 3D terrain over which you flew. When you set your GPS to record, I suggest you setup the unit to record a point every 2 or 3 seconds, it will make your turns nice and round. When you look at your flight on Google Earth it is as if you left a red line through the sky everywhere you flew, but it gets better - you can look at your corkscrew thermal climbs from any angle - even from slightly below. This is a great learning tool - find out which side of the ridge you found the boomer, or if you fell out the back of the thermal, etc.

To get started, you need a program to download your GPS tracklog, and MaxPunkte is a free one I have used and can be downloaded here. Another nice feature in MaxPunkte is that it will convert your downloaded track (igc file) into a kml file which can then be played in Google Earth. If you already have a program that you use to download your GPS track, but don't want to bother with MaxPunkte, you can upload your track to Leonardo which will automatically convert and store your track so you and your friends can view it in later in Google Earth. By doing that, you also participate in the worldwide Online competition (OLC).

One other tip: You can also analyze the real sky gods flights in Google Earth using Leonardo - just find a flight you are interested in and click on the Google Earth Icon which then shows you things like every thermal they used to go the miles.

Meanwhile, here in Bright, Australia, we are seeing a 3 day cold front leave the area, good flights should be happening soon....

Brett Hardin

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Too Windy? No Worries!

The wind is back, but that doesn't mean you can't get airtime. Rod Harris took Barbara Scott and I for a ride in an IS-28 sailplane yesterday at the Mt Beauty Gliding Club.

A static winch is used to tow the glider up to about 1200 ft, which is usually enough altitude to find a solid thermal. From there it is just a few miles to Mt Bogong which is the highest point in the Victorian Alps.

We didn't get launched until 5pm, but there was enough thermal activity to scratch up to about the top of Mt Bogong. I think I might have found a new hobby...

The picture below is of Brian Webb, Barb Scott, and pilot Rod Harris. Barb flew before I did and got the bigger thermals.

Today a trough has parked over us bringing some much needed rain, so it looks like we have a couple of days to do other stuff...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Diving into the Black Hole

Today's Australian Observation:

Trolley vs the Shopping Cart

I get a lot of enjoyment from the small language differences between the USA and Australia. In Australia, the shopping cart is called a "trolley".

All the wheels on a trolley turn independently, which comes in handy when you are in a hurry - you can push a trolley down the isle with one hand while deftly passing shoppers and their stalled trollies. Meanwhile, you can use the other hand to load up on jars of vegemite, cans of dog food, or baked beans.

You have to be a weight lifter to keep an American shopping cart going in a straight line - this is because at least one wheel on every shopping cart in the US is frozen up. Sometimes it is easier to drag the shopping cart down the isle rather than push it.

Trollies are silent as they roll down the isles of the market. If you can get a US shopping cart to roll, it makes a really loud metalic clanking noise which pulses in time with the flat spots on the wheels.

Finally, the Australian trolley is 3/4 the size of the American shopping cart - Americans eat more I guess.

Lets get back to Paragliding:

To my mates back home, every flight report so far has been picture perfect - straight to base right off launch, 1000+ up over every spine, etc. But Aussie pilots reading my posts are probably yawning because the flying here hasn't even been good yet ...

So in my quest to be "fair and balanced", I feel obligated to tell the truth, good or bad, and the truth is that I SUNK OUT YESTERDAY. But not just an ordinary sink out, this was a spectacular gravity enhanced dive-bomb straight down to the LZ. Here are some theories about what happened:

First, it was too windy. Just as we rounded the last corner while driving to launch, a vehicle loaded with hang gliders was driving Down, so we stopped and chatted with them and they said it was too windy/gusty for them. See, now I have established that it really was too windy for paragliders after all.

Second, Brian Webb took the last thermal of the day straight to base just 5 minutes before I launched.

Third, the wind was playing tricks on my glider. While I was kicking tree tops in the bowl, my glider would go from fully inflated to about 5 psi in half a second, dangling floppily out in front of me. Then a micro second later, it was very inflated, but quite a bit behind me... I also noticed the glider refused to go forward, but instead wanted to do a side-slipping "yo yo" type manuever.

I managed to lurch my way out of the bowl and on to what is known as the "Emily" spine. Way below launch by now, and wondering if I was going to make the LZ, suddenly my glider felt like it was made out of steel and the LZ was a large super-magnet. The vario was making a moaning, barfing sound as my steel glider was being sucked straight down into some black hole....

Meanwhile, Brian was just a white speck in the sky on his comp glider, and already a good way around a nice triangle task he was flying... maybe my problem is that I need a wing like this one?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mystic Route 1

Australian Slang word for the Day:
"Dinkie Die" which means "The truth"

Mystic Flight Report:

Yesterday's post said we were grounded for the last two days because of strong south wind - today I heard people flew both days at a nearby south facing site called "The Pines".... You just need 4 wheel drive to get to launch.

Today we chose Mystic Route 1 as our task, which is a 5 leg 45km task. We chose a 1pm start, and the house thermal was cooking off as usual giving us a fast trip to 2100m. I don't know the valley systems here yet, so I got lost and bombed out just before the last turnpoint. Today was unusual in that there were no clouds.

At Little Pyramid I had a really strong climb that peaked at 1600 ft/min (8m/s), I topped out at 2550m, and my hands were freezing. I risked letting go of the brakes to put the fat gloves on, and the wing stayed open..... A few minutes later I heard someone on the radio say they also got an 8m/s climb. The valley systems here are pretty complex and the wind directions can be hard to figure out, maybe I will have the basics by the time the regional weekend comps start in two weeks.

When we came home a swallow had gotten blown down the chimney and was stuck in the wood burning stove, so we opened all the windows and let it out, the little bird is skying out somewhere right now....

Monday, November 06, 2006


Australian Lore for the Day:
One day, when the nuclear missles fly in every direction over our planet and the radioactive cloud of destruction settles, there will be two creatures remaining: the cockroach and the Australian Blowfly. Aussies call them Blowies, and one species lays its eggs on the backside of sheep, the resulting maggots actually burrow through the body wall of the sheep, eating them alive and eventually causing death. The cockroaches might have a rough time of this.

Back to Paragliding:
The upcoming Paragliding World Championships happens in February in Manilla, Australia. The number of pilots from each country depends on the country's WPRS rank - Australia is ranked 5th and the USA is ranked 16th. Basically this means Australia will have more pilots present at the Worlds than the Americans.
Bright Flight Report:
Yesterday the wind was a bit strong for midday flying, but a glider or two was seen pitching around off launch. Last weekend we had a fly-in called "Not the Vic Open" here in Bright. Lots of wings in the air, lots of thermal markers to choose from. Today the wind is strong and south, so we are grounded...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Route 7 is busting my balls

Australian Lore for the Day:
More about wombats: If you took a guinea pigs face and stuck it on an 80 pound grizzly bear, you would have an Australian common Wombat, not to be confused with the hairy nosed wombat, as they have a hairy pig's snout stuck on their face. Wombats are elusive little criters, but their poo is not - it's everywhere. Now on to the important stuff.

Flight Report:
To my mates back home - I miss the lot of you, but I can't say I miss the grey piss your sitting in... You shoulda been here!

We tried Route 7 again today, the 60k triangle, and I'm sick of Route 7! The first turn point is a bugger! You have to cross a big valley into the wind from a dying ridge line and you always seem to get there low just short of the bloody turnpoint - I came up 3k short. Heike came up 3k short too, but she, unlike myself, was able to grovel back into the sky and fly all the way back to the LZ, a 50k round trip.

I topped out over Mt Porepunkah at 2400 meters, 1300 ft/min on the averager. Nice Cu's again, especially in the afternoon, but it's drying out a little more each day.

Tomorrow should be another good day - we will pick a different task and see a different part of the valley.

Cheers from the Land Down Under

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Cu's for Everyone!

Australian Lore for the Day:
Wombats have some bizarre habits. They find the biggest thing they can squat over - usually a small rock - and then they deposit a steaming pile of green wombat poop. It's said that wombat crap stinks immensely - but I haven't gotten my nose down close enough to some of it to know if it's true.

Flight Report:

Today was another great day, base was just above 2300 meters, my best climb was at 6 m/s. Bob Saville had a 5+ hour flight, going north for 64km.

We used route 7 for our task - it is a 60k triangle. The house thermal right off launch is so reliable, I launched and climbed at 1000/ft min and set off on the course with Brian and Craig & Viv who were on a tandem.

My speed bar broke about 2 hours into the flight, it is a gloomy feeling when you are plummeting at 1200ft/min and can't use your speedbar. I got lower and hit a headwind, by now my bladder was about to burst, so I decided to land. Gary Clarkson was the only pilot I know that made the triangle.

I hitched back, getting a ride with a chap that put a chevy 357 motor in a older toyota land cruiser, and he converted the motor to run off LPG!. The AC was pumping cool air - it was a pretty sweet ride back to the LZ.

The picture is of Brian Webb, he flies fast so I had to get the shot of him early on!

Tomorrow looks good too, stay tuned, and more on the wombats to come.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Post Frontal Goods, Route 9

Yesterday it rained, which is great because we are in a bad drought. The front passed last night and the flying today was excellent. Brian Webb, Heike and I did a 38k triangle which took us over Mt Buffalo and then doing a big valley crossing to a big peak and then goal at the LZ. The cu's were sweet. I did the triangle in under 2 hours. Finally we get back into the air, tommorrow we will try again!