In the UK, we’ve just had one of the best soaring seasons in 40 years. There was a slow start to the season, especially in the North of the UK, but once it got going we had some fantastic conditions.
Mid-summer saw some spectacularly good soaring days up and down the country. And we had a mix of conditions – some weeks biased toward wave, other weeks thermals with unusually high cloud-bases. In July and August, cloud-bases of 6000 – 6500 feet AMSL were common, with average climb rates of up to 6 knots. And in the North at least, that really is unusual.
For my part, somehow I seemed to miss most of the good days, which as luck would have it, happened to be mid-week. But I did experience some, most notably whilst flying the Challenge Cup competition down at Husbands Bosworth.
While I was there, I did over 25 hours of flying and 1600kms in 6 days. Returning home and to work after that seemed completely unreal.
Most of August was a wash-out in the North, with grey skies and rain taking charge at weekends. But September has been the month for Wave – my favourite kind of lift!
I love Wave flying because it is often challenging, but the reward is achieving great heights. There’s something utterly satisfying about taking a winch launch to circa 450 feet above your airfield, then soaring away on the ridge, and getting hoovered up into Wave! That’s just what happened to me last weekend.
Launching onto the ridge, I found only one side of it was really working in the SW wind, so since I was the only glider on the ridge, I spent a few minutes s-turning in the best lift. Gradually I got to about 1000 feet QFE, and the lift began to smooth out. There was a big bank of suspiciously wavy-looking cloud over the club, so I ventured toward it, still climbing as I did so. But at that point I was still too low and all I got was sink. Returning to the side of the ridge nearest Gormire Lake, I found more lift, and climbed up to 1700 feet QFE. I went back around to the edge of the cloud, and found I was climbing at 2 knots. Bingo!
The climb rate got better and better, until I was climbing at almost 6 knots – and I was still only at 2,500 feet QFE. The force was unusually strong with this one!
I hung on, and the climb rate kept getting better. It topped out at 8.8 knots, at just under 4,000 feet QFE. I hadn’t even gone 2 km from the airfield!
That happened a total of 3 times during my flight.
I climbed to around 6,000 feet AMSL very near to the airfield, then decided I really ought to do something with the height! I wanted to climb higher, so I ventured out towards Thirsk, the Dishforth, then the wave hot-spot near Ripon. I climbed a little higher on the way – topping out at 7,300AMSL. The clouds out near Ripon weren’t as solid as those nearer the airfield, but they still appeared to be giving lift, so I carried on south-west towards Harrogate.
I could see that the alignment of the clouds near Harrogate changed direction quite dramatically. Whereas the cloud ‘bars’ had been oriented roughly NE-SW, these were more E-W. A couple of gliders flew towards me, but they were both 800-900 feet higher than I was. They soared the ‘bars’ I was on, then carried on out to the West. (I found out later that they’d climbed to nearly 12,000 feet).
I looked West and thought that the clouds didn’t look good that way – in fact, the whole sky was beginning to blue out. I had over 6,500 feet, with 35 km to go, so I decided to glide back towards SUT and see how much height I lost on the way, in a straight glide. The air on the way back was mostly positive so I didn’t lose too much height. I’d expected to lose 3,500 feet (working on 10km per thousand feet), but I actually only lost 2,000 feet.
Back in the vicinity of SUT, I soared over the moors for a little while. It was a glorious day with very clean, crisp air, and the view was stunning. The moors were tinged purple due to the flowering heather, and you could see well beyond that out to the North sea at Teesside and Redcar.
Back over the ridge, I encountered another surprisingly strong climb from an an insignificant-looking cloud. This was the third time in the flight where I’d had a climb of greater than 8 knots. I started the climb at 4,500 AMSL, and topped out at 7,500 AMSL, with most of the climb achieving greater than 8 knots. I was stunned.
I decided to fly out towards the Tontine Inn near Stokesley, a famous local turnpoint. From there I was intending to fly further West, where some more wavy-looking clouds were appearing. Tontine really isn’t far away – less than 15km (and I had 5000 feet over glide for SUT), but it’s along the ridge and the route there normally passes through some local wave hot-spots.
I got the cold bits!
Flying to the Tontine, the sink got worse, and worse. There were some small patches of lift along the hill so I wasn’t too discouraged. I pressed on…. and it just got worse. 6 knots down, 8 knots down, and finally almost 10 knots down! I was now around 0.7 km from the Tontine TP. I was so close, I thought, so I kept on going. I clipped the edge of the turnpoint barrel and turned for home. I now had less than 1000 feet over glide for SUT, but I had the wind behind me (a cross-tailwind) and the hill to soar if it got that bad.
To make things worse, losing height so quickly had given me a sharply-painful headache. I had to equalise the pressure in my ears several times before it disappeared.
I edged in toward the hill. The sink reduced markedly, but I was still losing height. My glide to SUT had decayed to less than 300 feet. Looking down at the familiar fields below me, I began sizing them up in case I needed to land in one!
I reached the sharply-defined part of the ridge known as Cowesby bowl and luckily, it gave me some lift. I s-turned in it one or twice until I had 500 feet over glide, then headed back across the saddle of the hill onto the home ridge. Phew!
I’d had a lovely flight and had become complacent in the Wave, and it very nearly caught me out! But this is another reason that I love wave-flying. To paraphrase Forrest Gump: “Wave is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna get!”