Hang Gliding Stories

Wallaby Ranch


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"The Skydog Report"


Here we  are sitting in London, Ontario, Canada anxiously waiting for Wednesday morning at  four AM when we will leave our home and make the trek to Wallaby Ranch located near Orlando Florida. This is usually a twenty two hour journey for us but our friend Eric Walne says we should slow down some and save a fair bit of gas so I think we will try it this time and see how it goes.

We will be taking our mountain bikes although there are no mountains in Florida but that is the best we can do for now although Maureen intends to purchase a snazzy new road bike in the near future and hopefully she will be able to keep up with our friends at Wallaby who go for some pretty long trips. Eric and I will also be taking our R/C model planes to fly when I am not Hang Gliding. I still have my forty inch P-51 Mustang electric model which I purchased at Graves model shop in Orlando two years ago and flew after Rick and Chris who live at Wallaby assembled it for me.


OK so here we are at Wallaby Ranch in Florida and Malcolm Jones the owner has made many  fine improvements since we were here two years ago. Wallaby is looking great. We arrived on Thursday afternoon and organized our equipment and our first day (Friday) was a rainy day which gave us time to shop and I worked on our van improvements. We also did some bike riding on the Van Fleet trail in the evenings  with Eric and Mary and then Maureen took Oded for a nineteen miler on Sunday morning. Our friends Gord and Deb from London are here and they went for a 70 mile bike trip with Maureen on our first Monday here.

Saturday was a fine day with lots of lift to almost 6,000 feet and I got up to 4,200 feet and took two tows one for a 28 minute flight and then another one hour and six minutes. I finished with a stiff neck looking up at many pilots getting higher. Our friend from Rochester, Oded Kilar showed up on Friday and enjoyed some good air on Saturday. In the evening I flew my model P-51 Mustang and trimmed it out.

Sunday was another great day in paradise with about fifty pilots enjoying the lift. After not doing as well as I had hoped on Saturday , Sunday was a different story when I did stay way up high and I was loving my Wills Wing T-2. I took one tow and while searching for lift got down to 700 feet and then found a good thermal and finally got up to 4,800 feet and enjoyed one hour and fort six minutes of great thermalling up beside the clouds. Oded had another wonderful day of thermals on the Wills Wing U-2 that he has rented.


Monday: Wow we have been so busy flying that I have not got around to writing so here goes and yes Monday was another fantastic day for Hang Gliding and as I recall most pilots got up to about 5,000 feet. I took Three tows with the first one at 1,600 feet and I just could not stay with it so I tried again and stayed up for fifty three minutes and up to 4,600 feet and then finally a third tow getting off at 1,600 feet and got up to 4,800 feet after almost bombing out down to seven hundred feet so that was an accomplishment for me. We had about ten pilots on Monday including Tom Nejame on his Atos Vx and Tom did a 35 mile out and 35 mile return landing late after his five hour flight so needless to say all the pilots were elated with the great thermals throughout the day.

Tuesday: We are feeling blessed with  this four days in a row of excellent conditions and tomorrow looks like a windy day with forecasts showing 16 mph for Wednesday. Today was absolutely epic for February with the thermals taking me to 5,700 feet. Three of my flying buddies from back home were here to join in the fun, Dave Alford and Steve Djokic from Cloud 9 Michigan and Oded Kilar from Rochester New York all had great flights again today but Oded is flying home on Wednesday and he sure had some great flying on his six days here. I took only one tow Tuesday and Bob McFee dropped me off in a great thermal with three large birds with white heads and white tails so I followed then up to cloud base at just over four thousand feet above the Ranch. While working my way down a few hundred feet I noticed Mick Robson a local Rancher flying upwind of me so I chased him until I was beside him as I knew he was a local expert and sure enough Mick was in some good stuff so we skied out again. An hour later I noticed Steve Prepost working some good thermals upwind and just past the clover leaf at 27 and 4 intersection so I joined him and it sure was kicking off the sand lot next to the highway out there. After 1-1/2 hours I was flying up beside the clouds and finding valleys to fly through and a new thing for me was seeing a cloud coming toward me with a small hole in it and I headed right for the hole and came out in the blue on the upwind side. That was cool. I finally left that area and flew downwind over the warehouses and the lift was still strong and I could stay at around 5,000 feet without effort so I cruised back over the Ranch and winged my way down to a landing right in front of Malcolm's beautiful home. Speaking of cool, it has been mighty warm here for a week now with highs near 85 degrees Fahrenheit. so come on down and get some winter sun at Wallaby Ranch.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were no fly days at the Ranch but I expect that we could have flown all but Wednesday when it was too windy but no one showed much interest so we did lots of biking and some shopping.

Saturday showed some promise with mostly cloudy skies and the about noon a fair bit of sun came through and about ten pilots set up their gliders and Tom Nejame took off first and searched for lift but after about twenty five minutes landed and all the rest of us took tows to 2,500 feet but no one could stay up so we are looking for a better day on Sunday with the forecast for sunny skies but we will see. Al and Micki Ahl showed up today and Al took two tows in the smooth air. Today I finally bought a new UV resistant glider cover from Malcolm so that I will be able to leave my glider set up and tied down and ready to fly.

Sunday we wake up to sunny skies but oh no, the forecast wind is to strong and it looks like it will be windy for a few days so we plan a sailing day for Monday and we meet our friend from Michigan, Dave Peters who now lives on the intercoastal  waterway near St.Petersberg Florida and what a beautiful home Dave has there along with a 26 foot sailboat and a great runabout. First Dave takes us for a couple of hours on his sailboat and then we come back to his place and Dave gets his kite sailing gear ready and off we go for a remote island where Dave gives us a demonstration with his Kite and he has a great time battling the gusty winds and finally has an hour of wonderful sailing with his Kite as we boat along side and take lots of photos. We arrive back at our cottage at Wallaby Ranch around 12:30 after midnight and then Tuesday is a rainy cloudy day But Maureen, Gord and Debbie decide to do another bike trip and they do get caught in some heavy rain but enjoy the 38 mile trip from Wallaby and past Polk City on a new stretch of Rails to Trails paths. Wednesday is forecast for the same but there is great promise for Thursday so we will hope for some flying again.

Thursday February 14, Valentine's Day and sure enough it was quite flyable and very challenging. Per usual, Tom Nejame took of first with his Atos VX and after getting down to 1,300 feet Tom finally hits a thermal that took him back up to 2,000 feet and Tom continued to find good lift so that he stayed airborne for two hours. There were about ten pilots who flew on Thursday and most of them were not able to sustain flight but I saw maybe three who did get about a half hour of air. I personally took three tows and finally on the last one I caught a thermal just above Tom and stayed with him for a few minutes but finally he got the best of me and climbed out as I slowly  descended to about 700 feet where I played with some light thermals but eventually gave in to a smooth landing in front of Malcolm's home here at Wallaby Ranch. My airtime for that one flight was 35 minutes and then the other two were 16 and 18 minutes. Funny how a short flight can still put a smile on my face after my 36 years of Hang Gliding. we are looking forward to some great flying on Friday February 15, 2008. Just a side note - we are all wondering where Marty Beckenbach was today as it would have been his first day of soaring on this trip to Wallaby so maybe Marty will show up tomorrow and sky out. Todd Sheenan from Rochester wrote to say that he will be here soon so we will look forward to more action here at Wallaby Ranch.

Oh yes and while we have been here flying model airplanes has been an almost daily event with Adrian having a large stock of his own designed Zaggis which fly very nicely and he usually has about six ready to go and Adrian wants to get a flying wing combat group going. Tonight around 5 pm I took my old faithful  P-51 Mustang out and ran out two 2100 batteries and it is still in one piece. Met a 83 year old Dick who was teaching a friend Mario from Montreal PQ to fly his beginner model. I noticed that Dick's AMA number was only 2,059 or thereabouts so he has been flying for a long long time. My MAAC number is 1647 but that is Canadian so of coarse the numbers are much smaller.

Friday February 15, 2008 was a great day for flying and I think we got of the carts around 1 pm and Tom Nejame went first and snagged some thermals, then Nico took off and I was ready to go so Bob McFee towed be into a wonderful thermal at 1,600 feet and gave me the wave and I was of into one of the best thermals of the day and it took me right up to 4,800 feet the highest I would get for the day and after a half a hour I was searching and down to 1,700 feet and found another good one back up to four grand and from then on things only got better and we were able to move from one thermal to another staying high. Allen Ahl was flying with me many times and doing very well on the U-2 that he rented and  Al got two and one half hours and had to work his way down out of the lift. Chef, Paul Moncure flew today along with about 15 others and Rick flew his Ghostbuster for  four and a half hours. My flight lasted 3 hours and fifteen minutes and I could have stayed up another 2 hours but had to pee. Oh No. Actually I thought that I was the last one up but then Rick landed his Ghostbuster about two hours after me. While in a good thermal turning my brains out I noticed a newer pilot heading straight downwind toward me not only once but twice so I was very nervous at those times and had to alter my coarse severely so I spoke to the newbie after I landed and he was happy to get some thermaling advise even though I am not an expert at it. We expect more exciting thermals tomorrow and I will write again and get some new photos up for you all.

Allen Ahl writes about Friday -





Friday Feb 15 Wallaby Ranch.  I finally got a nice 2.5 hr flight today on a U2 145. I had short flights on a Falcon 170 Saturday and Sport 2 155 on Thursday. Friday was mostly light east winds, 3840'msl for me with a couple low saves off the lz tree lines.  Everyone stayed local and it was a treat to fly with Bob Grant on the snazzy T2, Tommy on the VX, and ranch hands Paul Moncure - U2 and Eric - Talon. Paul is full time chef here and even on his day off he prepared lunch sandwiches before taking off. It's been months since I had a long flight and this one turned my arms to spaghetti by the end. Micki and I have been staying in Steve Arndt's cabin right here at the ranch.

Saturday February 16, 2006 is another great day at the Ranch with lots of pilots flying for 3 hours and gaining up to 4,800 feet. I took two tows the first one dropping off at 1,600 feet again and working my way up to 4,000 feet and this time I had my new digital camera and shooting hand held photos while trying to keep in the thermals which took away from my concentration but I still managed to stay up for one and one half hours and then I took another tow to 2,000 feet and lasted for another half hour. On my first flight my vario batteries went dead so I had everything confused while trying to use the camera. Marty Beckenbach and Tom Nejame were both flying their VX gliders along with another VX pilot who I don't know. Tom landed at Q-ball and Marty landed back at the Ranch All of the pilots I talked to had great flights but near the end of the day John Sumner broke a downtube on his landing and was replacing it while we talked.

Saturday's Report From Allen Ahl

Saturday another fine day of light east wind and some cu's for a while then they dried up. Short U2 flight for me after releasing at 1700, climbing to 2700 and hanging out till a big sink cycle claimed a bunch of us. Fred Permenter is loving Bill Watters' Litespeed which he bought. It's in really clean shape. John Pettinato was here again today flying his Sport 2 -170. Even Marty took his VX up feeling a little better after a cold or something. Tommy pestered him on the radio to go xc but he stayed within several miles. -Al-

 Heather Stoddart Tells us About Her Flight on Saturday







 I had my 228 th flight Saturday on my Sport II - 135 sq. Foot glider and my new Moyes Matrix Race harness. While still getting dialed into my new harness I had to concentrate on not doing push ups on tow. The tow went well and I was soon at three thousand feet and I followed Mike Barber and his student but they were committed to XC and going southwest so  I decided to head back toward the launch area and when I arrived over Wallaby Ranch I was down to 1,400 feet. From there I thermalled back up to 3,800 feet and spent a glorious one hour and fifty minutes above the first inversion and playing in and out of the second inversion. Finally I busted through the second layer and thermalled up to 4,600 feet. It was wonderfully smooth and consistent up there after boating around for a while I decided to land and it was a good one just in time for the tail end of the afternoon meal at Wallaby Ranch. Another day in Paradise and I just love this place. - Heather Stoddard -

Sunday February 17, 2006 A little to windy so we go for a bike ride and take photos of  interesting trees and then later in the day we fly Zaggis and off to the show Fool's Gold we go.

Monday we head off to the Withlacoochee trail near Inverness to meet up with Gord and Deb to do some bike riding for  46.4 miles. Maureen, Deb, and Gord went the whole way and Eric, Mary and I went about 16 miles. Next morning we had to meet a tour operator at 5:30 am for a Manatee tour.

Tuesday morning we swim with the Manatees and this time there are only about five large Manatees in the Homosassa River unlike our trip two years to Crystal River where we swam with about thirty of them. We arrived back at Wallaby at one pm and I took two tows and stayed up 55 minutes and 25 minutes and got to 2,800 feet each time with a save from 1,100 feet up to 2,800 feet one time. Marty and Tom flew their Atos VX rigid wings and Tom had two hours and Marty started a little late and stayed up a little over one hour. It was a challenging day with thermals moving through quickly. We are expecting a stellar day tomorrow (Wednesday)

Wednesday February 20, 2008 started out sunny and went to cloudy by 11 o'clock and as we were thinking of doing something else the sun broke through again and about ten pilots scrambled to get out to the take off point. Three flexies took off first and then it was my turn and I had a good tow to 2,500 feet and played with the thermals for a bit and then after 25 minutes I sunk out and back in line I went and did the same thing again. Al Ahl also did not perform well and had two short flights but Tom and Marty thermalled to staggering heights and stayed up for a couple of hours along with  about five flexies. Marty also had a low save with his Atos VX when he was down to just over 300 feet and caught a small thermal which took him up to 2,800 feet and Marty was so excited about it when he landed that he was bubbling with joy. Steve Arndt flew his Carbon Dragon and stayed up the longest which I expect was about three hours.

Thursday was another mostly cloudy day and Tom came along around noon and encouraged some of us to get out to the take off and so we did and watched as Tom took off and later reported 14 mph winds and light lift so Patrick from Oregon and I decided not to fly as I expect that I would not be able to stay up very long. It seems to me that if the lift is not substantial that I don't do very well so we will hope for better lift on Friday. Eighty-seven year old Neil Goss showed up today and is hoping to fly with us tomorrow. George Rich is also staying here for the winter and George is eighty-three and flew with us a few days ago and did very well with over one hour of airtime.

Friday-22nd was a windy day with lots of sun and Eric and I went to Graves Hobby store to get a few parts for our R/C planes.

Thinking back of a few days ago Tom Nejame, Allen Ahl and a few other pilots were talking after flying and Tom mentioned how much he missed having Mike and Debbie Oronato here as we did in past years in February and we all agreed that we are all saddened that Mike is no longer with us and that we all think of Mike often and so wish that he had not been taken from us. We sure do miss one of the most wonderful people ever on earth and we all wish Mike's family our sympathy. Let it be known that we all feel your loss. - Bob Grant -

Saturday  A totally awesome day for us as Maureen arranged to rent a deck boat and we used it on the Indian river near Melbourne Florida. There was a fantastic blue sky with beautiful cumulus clouds until 3:30 when a front was moving in so we captured the best part of the day and took the deck boat back at 4:30. On our trip we saw many forms of wildlife including a school of sea rays about thirty of them just on our way out of the harbour and then about five manatees and then we came across a fisherman throwing a net catching many mullets. Later in the day we saw a group of kite boarders and one windsurfer having a great time in the 20 mph plus winds and WOW could they do the tricks flying through the air and flipping around. There was lots more that I may report on later. When we arrived back at the ranch we were told that the whole day was heavy at times with rain and lots of wind so we were very lucky to have had such great weather.

Sunday February 24 another sunny day but still to gusty for hang gliding but we did the model airplane thing most of the day.

Monday starts out foggy but clears by 9 am and the tandems are towed above the clouds for a fantastic view and pioneer David Ledford takes his new motorized sailplane up for his first nice flights. It is a beautiful two seater side by side model and we will have photos uploaded real soon. OK here we go looking back at Monday. In my opinion it was a stellar day even though some pilots did not catch the lift and I did take three tows. Monday was the day that Al and Micki Ahl had their flight back home so Al took an early tow and headed for the airport. On my first flight long time tow pilot Carlo took me to 2,500 feet and put me in a good thermal and I had a great flight thermalling up to 3,200 feet and getting down to 1,100 feet twice and watching others taking off and landing while I lasted for one hour and four minutes and then I found sink to the landing field so I immediately got in line again and I was off being towed up t 1,800 feet into another good one and by this time there were others in the sky so I took advantage of the thermals that they were using and I did best chasing Rick in his Ghostbuster and we got up into the clouds and cloudbase was around four thousand feet and I climbed up the side of a couple to 4,435 feet and that was real nice and the main band of lift was to the west of the Ranch and later Steve Prepost told me that he went about five miles out to the west over Old Grade Road where there was still lots of lift. I tried to go East and over to the warehouses and finally lost the lift again being by myself. Should have stayed in the group I guess. Now I took another tow to 2,500 feet and into another good one over the sand pits and waited while Mike Barber the Ranch advanced instructor towed up after me and when I saw Mike in a thermal I immediately followed him and it was great to be flying with a hang gliding icon like mike. While we were thermalling David Ledford joined us with his new two place sailplane and that was a pretty site although I did not get the picture that I was trying to get but did get one of Mike and David in the same thermal with me and I will try to post it soon. So after the day was done I had two and one half hours airtime and loved playing near the clouds and this will be our last day of flying at Wallaby for this year so I will try to get the photos up soon so keep watching our photo page and I hope that you have enjoyed our Wallaby trip 2008. After returning to our home in Canada I ran my Flytec and see that my total airtime was nineteen hours and twenty minutes and that was very satisfying to me.



Our next adventure will likely be in the Finger Lakes of New York and I will be reporting spring flying in the North.


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