Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tandem Fund Raising Weekend

Some English teachers from around the Kumamoto Prefecture gathered in Amakusa this weekend in part to try tandem paragliding and to support me in my X-Alps effort.  Thanks a lot guys!  It was really fun meeting all of you, talking, hanging out, and flying together.

Here Comes Full Stall Practice!

I believe it was Cody Mittanck on Gavin McClurg's Cloudbase Mayhem who said a full stall has to be done at least 300 times to have any usefulness in acro or XC emergency situations.  He convincingly explained why doing it 20 or 30 times in SIV class is not enough; in fact, SIV can lead to more trepidation as it exposes the pilot to the reality of things that can go wrong without the opportunity to master these skills.  Well, I already thought all these things before, but now I've become reluctantly convinced that it's time for serious practice.  So, as of today, 5 down, 295 to go!  Note I am doing these on the Delta 2 so far, not the M6.  The full stall on the Delta is very easy to handle. I'll progress onto the M6 when I get a bit more control and can do smooth deep stalls.

Full Stall Video <= click here to watch video, can't seem to make a proper video link.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Christmas Eve Rodeo

The day before we left Japan for New Zealand, I was treated to this flight in full leeside condition at Kuratake.  I stuck it out for a while assuming that NZ would treat me similarly.  I was not to be disappointed!  Anyhow, this short video illustrates why Kuratake is such an amazing practice area for XC flying.  This kind of air is fairly normal here throughout the winter season!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Heavy Leeside Today

The wind is from the left (north) in this Google Earth view of today's track.

Flying at Kuratake today was like drafting a motorbike behind a transport truck on the highway.  The north wind was stronger than predicted, making for only scant, rough thermals on the leeside.  The couple of times I topped out, I went to search for lift on the windward side, only to find none.  I kept it up for an hour before finally getting flushed down toward one last weak thermal over the village.

I don't seem to get tired of sketchy leeside flying, because it's such good practice for real XC conditions.  It's never the same.  Today, periods of relative calm alternated with powerful flushes coming from the north, so that merely going back to where I found lift before wouldn't work.  I had to guess, visualize, and anticipate what was going to happen next.  An imperfect science at best.  But unlike in some unknown place in the high mountains, here at my home area I can read the conditions well and know more or less what to expect even before I leave the ground.  If it proves too rough in the air, which actually isn't that often, there are also plenty of places to land safely.  There is simply no excuse not to practice flying leeside here anytime there is a chance to do so.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Shishi-jima Circuit Run

Last Sunday, on the way to Miyazaki, we spent most of the day running around Shishi-jima, a small island in the north of Kagoshima Prefecture, right next to our home islands of Amakusa.  This out-of-the-way, seldom visited island has its own particular kind of charm, and offers some great walking, cycling, and running opportunities to those seeking hilly, twisty, and virtually deserted roads.  Several courses are possible; the one I chose included a circuit around the island's perimeter capped by a punishingly steep ascent of the tallest hill, Shichiro-zan (392m).  The course is 33km and sport 950m of elevation gain.

Shishijima can only be reached by ferry both from Amakusa and Kagoshima's Shoura island, which is bridged over to mainland Kyushu via Nagashima Island.  It's a scenic (if somewhat overpriced) cruise of about 30 minutes either way.

The island is quite mountainous, with steep hills descending into the sea in rocky capes.  There are two small villages and a scattering of other houses all in the coves where a minimal amount of flat land exists (total population is 1050 people).  Thus, the circuit road is quite hilly, climbing over spurs and descending into small valleys.

Some of the spurs have newly constructed viewpoints reached by short trails from the road - an effort to attract tourists?  The views are great.

On the eastern side, the road finally descends to the coastline for stretches, with very scenic views of Amakusa and mainland Kyushu beyond the Yatsushiro Sound.

Laver-like seaweed is farmed along the seashore using net-like structures placed so that they are alternately covered and uncovered by the tide, for optimum growth of the algae.

Someone made a playful swing hanging from the branches of a banyan tree along the seashore.

Overall, a romantic outing combined with a great workout!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Ass on a Plate

In one of my first chances to fly in 'benign' Kyushu after successfully negotiating the topographical and aerial wilds of full-on New Zealand, I got my ass handed to me on a plate at the Kanemi-dake flight area in southern Kyushu.  Mind you, the terrain around Kanemi is not the easiest place to do XC, which is part of the reason I like it.  First of all, the altitude difference between the launch and LZ is only 290m in a distance of 1.5 km, making for a minimum glide-slope of 5.2, giving one no second-chances: if you can't catch a thermal where you are, you simply must move forward or you won't make the LZ.  A sprawling range extends eastward from the launch, but consists of a maze of similar low-angle ridges spreading spider-like out from a series of indistinct summits.  In between these are steep-sided, narrow, unlandable valleys so that there is not only no place to catch ridge lift, but in fact, the whole zone is a zoo of rotors.  Woe will befall the pilot who descends to ridge height anywhere but well upwind where the ridges meet the Miyakonojo plain, where he may at least land out.  Yet, to fly XC, one must stay well inside this mess where there is higher ground and a chance of reliable thermals.  With only a few pilots challenging this landscape, the area's potential remains largely unexplored.

The ranges east of Kanemi-dake, from an earlier flight...
On takeoff at Kanemi, the first challenge is just not to do a sledder.  It took me about half-a-dozen trips here to figure out how to do that:  one must feel out and hover in pockets of ephemeral, weak lift, waiting for the occasional proper thermal.  This day, a local pilot pointed out the thermal for me and soon we were both at 1500m, well clear and above the low hills.  Time to make a move.

Topping out and eyeing the XC route to the east.

There was some amount of wind expected, and indeed felt, but the forecast said it should weaken as one goes east (deeper into the range).  Most local pilots avoid the range and just head downwind (roughly south) into some friendly flats but unfortunately this route is one-way only and dead-ends after about 25 km.  I wanted a little more adventure, and it did not seem unreasonable.

GFS forecast clearly shows wind weaker on the east side (Kanemi is circled; for scale, the arrows are about 25km apart, and wind speed is in m/s for this forecast for winds at 1000m height).
Looking at my track in retrospect too, nothing too unusual can be seen.  I am moving across the wind, finding lift, maintaining height, and the thermaling slinkies do not indicate the wind getting stronger.  The terrain gradually rises ahead and no obvious venturis or such are expected; on the contrary I was only expecting things to improve.  I am making about 15 km/h into the wind on trim and  should I need to get out, I have enough height to make it to the plains if I push a little bar.

And then suddenly, I find myself in severe sink, and so much wind that I am making very little forward progress even on full bar.  Convinced it's a local thing, I press on, and a few minutes later I'm hitting roughage and still not making progress.  Another minute and I'm having trouble keeping the glider open over my head.  Obviously no more bar!  But I still think I might make it out if I follow the ridge slope.  Another minute and a cravat later, that's out of the question.  I spy a tiny clearing in the slope, turn tail and actually nail it - a minor miracle and dangerous too in that washing-machine air.  I land on an old forest road, a space just beg enough to lay out a wing.  But the wing keeps going and gets caught in a scrubby mess of vines overhead.  Happy to be alive, I'm not too upset to call it a day and spend the next three hours cutting down small trees and branches with a handsaw, then picking a mess of twisted vines out of my lines.  Too bad I was not in a mood to take some pictures, though, to give an idea of what a mess it really was. At least it was a good upper-body workout!

Crash and burn in the wilds of Miyazaki.  You can see my struggles in the rotor zone, including getting blown backwards while sorting out the cravat.  The clearing is too small to be clearly seen on the imagery.  The puzzling thing is seeing the comfortable thermals less than a kilometer away, and no obvious cause for the sink or venturi I experienced!
.  I am still puzzled about how this debacle could have been expected and/or avoided.  Every time I fail at something, particularly when it's dangerous, I spend hours analyzing what I might have done better.  This is perhaps the first time where such analysis has not revealed anything besides 20/20 hindsight and some local knowledge gained.  Flying XC, I regularly take much greater calculated risks than this one.  This line is committing but does not seem suicidal.  Besides, I've flown it before.  The topography seems benign compared to, say, New Zealand.  Unless someone can convince me otherwise, I am left thinking this is just one of those things that shows us we can't have complete control of nature, even if we don't make any mistakes.  There is always an inherent risk in this sport, which we cannot control, and this time it just caught up to me.  Luckily, this time my gear and I both escaped unharmed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grand View

Hi, I'm back!  Sorry for not posting for a while, but the New Zealand trip, X-Alps training, research, fund-raising, and other preparations have me almost too busy.  I will try to catch up over the next few weeks with reports from NZ, my training, new sponsors, and notable flying days in Kuratake, of which yesterday was definitely one!

On Jan. 17th, leeside conditions prevailed at Kuratake, and as sometimes happens with a north-east wind, the air was exceptionally clear.  The inversion was at 1600m for the first time since the fall, indicating the humble beginnings of the spring XC season that will be upon us in March and April, with ceilings of over 2000m and great opportunities to set new records! From inversion height, virtually all the mountains of Kyushu were visible. Here is the view east.  As it was bitterly cold I could only operate my Gopro camera, and the wide angle does not do justice to the scene.  However, if you look carefully, on the left you can see the spreading ash-cloud of perpetually erupting Mt. Aso.  In the center horizon is the Kyushu Sekiryo range (the spine of Kyushu) with its highest peak Mt. Kunimi at 1738m.

 Here is a map of Kyushu, showing some of what I could see.  Some of these points are over 120 km away!  In New Zealand, such air clarity is perhaps normal, but here in Kyushu it is exceptional.

The view north showing Mt. Unzen across the Shimabara sound.

Looking south over the Yatsushiro Sound and the Goshoura Islands far below.

(Almost) Nepal-style terraced fields in the village of Ura.

I did a couple of laps to the north side to look for the XC route to Oidake Mtn, but the lift out there was weak.  The sun is still too low.  But the leeside slopes of Kuratake worked well with some rowdy thermals up to 4.5m.  I'm looking forward to things warming up more as the XC season opens!

Today's flight took me into Hondo, just in time for work.


What is in this blog?

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