Having checked the weather forecast the day before it was, as expected, a beautiful sunny morning, though as is the way of such things its beauty was not diminished by the expectation.
I cannot say that I sprang out of bed, I could describe it more poetically as an intentioned rising from my nocturnal abode. The truth is I look forward to a weekend lie-in so it does require some willpower to get going, but once rolling, the stone is happy to go flying.
Having had the “good for me” muesli breakfast I got everything ready, packed the car, and got going. The mist on the way to the gliding club was breathtakingly lovely and I forestalled my enthusiasm to get to the club long enough to stop and take at least one shot of its beauty.
Once at the club I saw an early arrival being towed off the runway as shown in the photo below. I was thankful that it had turned up then rather than interrupting flying by appearing in the middle of the day as has happened many times before.
The keen-ness factor must have been ramped way up since the launchpoint bus was already parked on the runway.
I was surprised to find the club busier than expected, mainly due to the recent start of the university year resulting in the recruitment of a gaggle of new students from the various university gliding clubs. These are usually from Imperial College, Brunel University and Surrey University and always a welcome sight to balance the prevailing old and wrinkly demographic.
A further cause for surprise was the glider booking sheet. All “Baby” Grob 102 gliders were taken. Then John, a companion club member at a similar level to myself, came up to also look at the sheet. We took one look at the sheet, one look at each other and agreed to share one of the Discus gliders for the day. Having two of us would ease the rigging pain, though the Discus is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy to rig.
So – decisions made – it was time for the most important part of the day. A good breakfast. Definitely not in the “good for you” category but this is one of my secret weapons – by having a hearty English breakfast I have enough energy to sustain me right through the day so I can take a midday flight while others retire to the clubhouse to have lunch. On one occasion the reduced lunchtime demand allowed me to continue thermalling over the launchpoint.
On this autumn day I had checked the sunrise(7:24) and sunset(18:08) times before leaving and therefore knew that peak sun would be at 12:36. So adding a bit of time to let the ground heat the air to generate thermals I knew that a good launch window would be around 1pm.
Breakfast finished – it was time to get out a parachute and get over to start rigging the Discus.
It was lovely – a sunny morning – a bunch of flying twits all together – and a hive of purposeful activity with loads of crazy repartee and banter.
I heard a marvelous conversation between a pessimistic Sean and his more optimistic Antipodean friend Nigel – Sean was not expecting good flying, let alone any decent soaring, but Nigel was undeterred mentioning he would rather presume a good soaring day and be wrong than be in a more negative “space”. I love the mix of the physical activity of rigging with such philosophical musings.
It was then that John said he needed to go early in the afternoon and I offered that he go first. Truth to tell, with my guess that the day would not get going properly until lunchtime I was all too happy to let John start the flying. So John, if you are reading this – my apologies – I knew then that I would get the best of it but didn’t realise by how much!
Another reason for feeling happy to let John go first was that, as I have mentioned before, I like to take some time to get my head into the right place for the flying.
John ended up taking 3 winch launches and on the first two returning to earth in short order. It was not looking good. He was reporting the lift as being very sporadic and difficult to hold onto. On his third launch he did better and managed to find some lift to earn a very respectable 21 minute flight.
However he was reporting that the lift was topping out at around 1000ft which is rather low so I was not expecting too much, only hoping to maybe get a 30 minute flight. I was thinking I would try one winch launch and then take an aerotow but such a strategy is no guarantee of success.
So – It was about 12:30. John had just landed. And it was getting to my 1pm preferred launch time. But would I be able to find any lift?
I was sceptical to say the least and was definitely expecting to need a subsequent aerotow.
By now with all the waiting I had got my head into the right “space” and had all my things : camera. water, map, ready for the cockpit. I collected John after he landed and we pushed it onto the back of the winch queue. I got settled in, adjusting everything as required and making sure the cockpit was set as required.
Just before 1 o’clock I was on the front of the queue and ready to go. Checks done – CBSIFTCB + E for Eventualities – then the request for the cable : “Cable on please – Blue link” – and now seeing the cable slack being pulled in prior to the “All out”. Cable tension taken – and we’re off!
The launch was a good one. I had put a fair amount of “right hand down” correction for the crosswind component plus I managed to get 1400ft! 200ft better than my previous best launches for the single seaters – so I was pleased. Having got the glider trimmed, undercarriage raised – I flew straight into some lift. Fantastic! Not much, just a gentle 2 knots up with Charles talking to himself and being careful NOT to lose the thermal.
I managed to take one picture after having gained some height which showed the conditions with a fairly strong inversion at about 2000ft with small undeveloped cumulus clouds just below it.
The first half hour was spent just playing around to find the shape of the day’s conditions, and from then on I became more choosy. I scared myself slightly when I got too far south towards Alton and encountered sinking air, but whenever I turned for home I found the glider was well within its capabilities to get back with height to spare so I managed to calm down.
Just after one of these episodes my spirits lifted on seeing a family of buzzards. As I have said before, I find flying near such birds a sublime experience and this time was no exception with them infallibly marking the best lift. This improved my visualisation of the air currents immeasurably since although the area was busy with gliders there was no discernable pattern to the thermals.
If flying with the buzzards was sublime, flying with seagulls was ridiculous! I had not given enough thought to the fact that they are scavengers of the first water. On finding a flock of them I immediately joined in but found that the air was sinking! When I looked down I could see what had got their attention. A farmer was ploughing a field and they were hanging around above waiting to pick up something to eat from the field. Lesson learnt – choose which feathered friends you can trust.
In the end I managed to stay flying for 1 hour 35 minutes, although not once getting above 2000ft, so another wonderful yet testing flight and in the middle of October too. To fly is a great pleasure, but to also get a chance to develop an artistry in divining the air currents to me makes these flights truly phenomenal experiences.
It is time to take stock of the lessons learnt so far in what are my early soaring flights:
- When adjusting the glider position within a thermal only make small changes of direction and work very hard to make a 3D picture of the air.
- Make planned changes to the circle you are flying, testing out in 4 directions from where your circle is at the moment. This is still a work-in-progress for me as I am still learning how to do it properly.
- If thermalling with other gliders, or birds, watch to see if they are rising or sinking compared to your own flight path and adjust as required, but always stay safe.
- Don’t automatically think that the other glider has found better air.
- I end up talking to myself a lot. I guess hearing my thoughts expressed out loud allows me to double check my assumptions.
- You can trust buzzards to find the rising air.
- You cannot trust seagulls to do the same.
Having returned to earth and checked that no-one else wanted the glider I flew a quick hangar flight and took SH3 back to the trailer for de-rigging. Many thanks to Ed (he of aerobatic instructional tendencies) for helping out.
The launchpoint was kept manned right up until sunset so here are the last shots of the day…
As the sun is now lower in our skies this is likely to be one of the last Glider Chronicles for 2011 although I shall fly whenever weather and money allows. I will continue with my People & Technology posts, plus I have thought up a little scientific project for the winter to aid visualising air currents. Watch this space.
Let me know if you have liked the Chronicles this year and say if there is any other information you would like to see in the format for next year and I shall do my best.
All the best and Safe Flying!