Flying at Pete Ford's Farm
My neighbor purchased this glider and let me fly it. It climbs fast and is light enough to catch uplifts almost as good as a built up balsa kit. Highly recommended.
A little over a dozen years or so ago; seems longer, my friends and I spent our afternoons flying R/C gliders at Pete Ford’s farm. Not far off the Blue Ridge Parkway and partially visible from Thunder Hill, Mr. Ford’s farm was down a long dirt road. Without stopping at his house you would continue up his driveway to a metal cattle gate; open it and drive through then close it behind. After driving a short piece through a wooded area and past a saw mill you’d exit the woods and be on a plateau that overlooked his farmland and the homes of his sons and daughters.
Navigating around cow patties which if not cleaned immediately can stain expensive tires we’d park near the tree line. Mostly men from teens to the elderly would already be there working the ridge lift or the great updrafts that brought us to this great flying site. Usually someone would have a high start stretched out for launching gliders into the gentle breeze that remained a constant.
At the time I would have described myself as an intermediate flyer however my peers were anywhere from the novice to advanced pilots. Everyone helped everyone. There may have been a few ARFs (almost ready to fly) but all of ours were either scratch built or kit built planes. I mostly flew the Gentle Lady and both the 2M and 3M Spirits.
Pete Ford’s Farm was such a great and beautiful flying site that all you had to do was walk to the ridge sloping down to Blueberry Lane and just lightly toss the glider into the air. Sometimes currents were so favorable you simply could hold the plane overhead and let go. It would leap into the air as the invisible updrafts grabbed it and sucked it into the bright blue sky spotted with huge white puffy clouds. And if there were no updrafts, there was almost always ridge lift if the wind blew in our direction. Working the planes back and forth along the ridge would result in some decent altitudes until you did find an updraft. As the plane began to sink you would fly it back toward the tree line over the parked cars and bring it back for a little higher altitude launch over the ridge line and try again.
We had visitors once in a while. One day when I was there alone a big red ATV bore down on me. The rider was a large man in his mid-thirties. He had a shotgun across his lap. I didn’t know him and obviously he didn’t know me. Once he saw the gliders he relaxed realizing his father; Pete, had given us permission to fly. He took great interest and I would let him take the controls once I put the glider up to a safe altitude.
There was another day when only a handful of us were flying. I had just arrived and was unloading my planes from the back of the SUV. I was busy readying a plane for flight and not paying much attention to the sounds behind me. Here’s where that word assume came into play (“Assume makes an ass out of u and me”). I assumed it was a friend coming to see what I had brought with me to fly. When I turned to see who it was I discovered two bull calves with their snouts in the back of my vehicle. They apparently were enjoying snacking on my other planes that now were in pieces on the ground around them with sticks of balsa and colorful remnants of Monokote dangling from their mouths.
One of my most memorable flights was with the 3M Spirit. I had specked out (flying so high the plane looked like a speck) and was in the air a good fifteen minutes when a sudden rainstorm came up. Everyone else brought their planes in and put their expensive radio equipment in their vehicles. I probably looked like an idiot out there flying in the pouring down rain but I didn’t want to cut my great flight short. I kept flying until the rain let up and the sun came back out warming and drying my damp clothing. It was an amazing flight however as I neared the thirty minute mark I knew the batteries would be getting low and brought the plane close.
It was just over the saw mill that I lost control. The glider caught an updraft and began to rise in long, lazy circles slowly heading out of sight. There was nothing I could do but watch. I lowered the antenna on the radio and slumped to the ground as my friends came over to watch. I had flown too long and the onboard batteries had died. It wasn’t too long though before one man yelled out, “It’s getting bigger!”
The only way it could be getting bigger was if it was coming back towards us and that was practically impossible. But there it was still making large circles coming back our way. When the batteries had lost their power, the rudder was offset enough to keep the plane circling and the winds had changed as they often do in the mountains. Still a good hike away, the plane lost its lift about half way down the slope and nosed into the rocky terrain. The fuselage was shattered and the wings had suffered heavy damage. No problem. I had built it once, I could rebuild it.
I don’t know if Pete Ford is still alive or not. Generations of his family lived on the farm and there is no doubt in my mind that sheep and cattle still graze on that rocky land while future Ford generations are brought up there. My guess there are also new generations of R/C glider pilots coaxing their planes along the ridgeline and soaring with hawks and buzzards high above the mountains near the Blue Ridge Parkway. For me, it was indeed a memorable time.