Saturday morning on the 10th June this year and I’m stuck at work. The car, with the glider on is parked outside the office in Walsall and I’m trying to make the right decision as to where to go flying.
The forecast is for the SW breeze to pick up as the day goes on and I start the torturous process of deciding where to go flying. I’m almost smack in the middle between the Long Mynd and Swinford. I’m even contemplating Meon!! As I don’t fancy sharing the SW bowl at the Mynd with dozens of other pilots I decide on Swinford, hoping that we will fly at Saddington. As I arrive I see that no gliders are rigged……..great, off to Saddington then. However the grass there is too long ……bugger! Too late now to go to Meon we start to get ready. The sky is looking good and the sky Gods set some impossible goal. Since I hadn’t gone XC for a while (not ever from aero tow!) I decide on the disused airfield at Melton Mowbray as my goal.
That morning I had already psyched myself into going for it as long as I was in a thermal. Map on and camera ready I was ready. Unusually for Simon he wasn’t keen to be first. Was it because of the wind over the trees££ I placed myself in the position of being chief crash test dummy for the day. The wind was off to the right on the SW runway and slightly over the trees. As it wasn’t too strong I opted for a foot launch so that I could keep the glider pointed into wind and be airborne ASAP. As per usual Norman did a superb job of getting me off in a smooth take off. It didn’t stay smooth for long before we started to bounce around in the lift. Heading towards the house thermal quarry works by Shawell village the vario is showing zero climb rate!! I thought the battery had gone on the vario so switched to back up. Later I learned that that was just big sink we had been flying through. Now over the quarry works at about 1700’ ato and I release early into a corker. After a couple of 360’s I’m on my way to 4200’ asl. Cloudbase seems to elude me and I drift in the zero’s. In the distance I can see Bruntingthorpe and Leicester. The cloud shadows are evenly placed and I know that if I don’t go for it today then I might as well take up crown green bowling and have "sad loser" tattooed on my forehead. I continue to wait for Simon to join me so that I have someone to follow, but alas line problems on the ground hold up the launches.
The manual said "VB on and glide" so off I went, I was finally going to escape!! I pass Bruntingthorpe on the West side and notice that the cloud over the runway is bigger than the one I’m heading for. I turn 90 degrees and head cross wind for it. Soon I’m rewarded with a 2 up climb for about 700’. Wow, this is a first for me, linking 2 thermals together in an XC!! Its amazing the confidence boost this gives me and I start looking for my next thermal. Expecting the third thermal to be as easy to find as the last one I head for my next cloud shadow. This time there’s only zero’s and 1&Mac218;2 ups. This was where I felt I blew it. You see, I had deceived myself into believing I was now the new Sky God on the block (Paul Bennett, Simon, Philippa etc watch out!). Being in a hurry to get to goal I push on instead of staying with the weak lift and waiting for conditions to improve. Now below 3000, I realized that I had to fly over ground sources and started to zigzag over small hamlets and villages.
Great Glen was the last village on my glide path and I searched in vain for lift. Circling 400‘ above a cricket match I can see all these faces looking up and contemplate landing there. Imagining how it will look screwing up my first XC by crashing in front of so many witnesses, I opt instead for the open field next door and float in with a perfect stand up landing. No applause or howzat but I was down. A retired couple were enjoying tea on their patio as they watched me pack away. As I approached their garden gate with my packed glider, The gentleman kindly opened it for me and we started chatting. I was then invited into their back garden for a cuppa. After a friendly 1&Mac218;2 hour chat, they offered me a lift back to Swinford once they realized they didn’t have to take the glider! Does the phrase "jammy git" come to mind££ For my retrieve, many thanks to Trevor and Joy Hawes for making a perfect end to a perfect day!!!!! I’ve since sent them a thank you card.
In light of Simon Todds 50 miler on the same day, I knew I should have done better. The sky still looked active hours after I landed. Ah well, there’s always next time.
So how far did I get you ask££ Well I know 20.7 Km and 55 mins airtime may not sound much, but when I look in my log book I can see its my longest XC in over 10 years. Sad isn’t it. But it’s the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for . In the past I’ve spent too long worrying about how to get back from XC’s. Instead of following the track of the clouds, I’ve often followed A and B roads for an easier retrieve. Does this sound like you££ With an attitude like this is it any wonder I never went anywhere or improved my skills. So long as you have some change for the phone and good boots you’ll always get home.
Back at work on Monday I was intolerable. I told everyone about it till they threatened to kill me. A week later I’m confirmed 19th in the National aerotow league and my work colleagues groan anew as I reel off my rankings from the League web site. So next time you see me 360’ing off the tow don’t expect me back in a hurry!!!!
This has been my first XC from the aerotow since becoming aero tow rated back in May ’95. Its been a long time coming and I can now appreciate that this is the way forward for pilots in the flat lands.
I’ve discovered the hard way that aero-towing needs lots of practice. One shouldn’t expect to use it just as a back up for hill flying on light wind days. To hack tows on thermic days and release at the correct time straight into a thermal takes practice!! Finally, 20 Km and 55 minutes soaring beats 3 hours ridge soaring any day!!!!!!!!!!! So keep the faith and for those pilots still waiting for that 1st XC…..get practicing-get aerotowing!!!!!!
Happy landings from
Kevin (Lowly Apprentice Sky God)