The Secret Life of a Glider Pilot

Adventures of a female glider pilot in Yorkshire

Leave a comment

2018 – one amazing year!

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!

8.8 knots average (9.7 knots netto)

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).

Change of direction near Harrogate

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.

Purple heather on the Moors, with Teesside, Redcar and the Cleveland coast in the background

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!”


Leave a comment

And the last bit

Day 5 04/08/18 240.9Km

HB2 – Stony Stratford – Leicester South – Rushden – Melton Mowbray – HB5 – HB4

The Met. Man began the task briefing by apologising for putting us all into fields, and attempted to explain what had gone wrong with the forecast. Apparently the approaching front had spawned another front at a much higher level, which had caused a lot of cloud to form, and cut off the sun from the ground several hours earlier than expected. Obviously with no sun on the ground, the thermals stopped being generated, and that was that.

However, today was another day, and the forecast completely different! The Met. Man forecast it to be blue, or nearly blue for most of the flight, and he was absolutely right. He set a slightly cautious task of 240Km which yo-yo’d up and down the country between Milton Keynes and Melton Mowbray.

In the start sector, the pundits described the conditions as ‘soft’, meaning that the thermals weren’t very strong, and they weren’t going particularly high. I only got to just over 3,200 feet in the start sector, so like many others, I made an early start to see if it was better down track towards Stony Stratford. Luckily it was, but surprisingly there weren’t many gliders ahead of me. Our CFI Andy Parish, caught up with me in his Discus, and we climbed together for a while. I flew towards the turn point in the blue, and saw a Spitfire flying about half a mile away, climbing up past me. It made a lovely noise!

I turned Stony Stratford and started making my way towards Leicester, still in the blue. The countryside underneath me was undulating and I started to need a climb. I saw Towcester not far away so I headed toward it hoping for a thermal. I found a 2-knot thermal and climbed in it until I was back above 3000 feet.

The clouds began to develop more, and the rest of the flight was relatively easy, except for one point where I began to get low in an area with few clouds. I was looking at the ground for inspiration, instead of the sky! I spotted a small town a few Kms away, with a wooded area on one side and a reservoir on the other (Ravensthorpe Reservoir, I think it was) and I flew towards that. A small search slightly downwind of the town produced what I was looking for – a weak climb. It started at 1.5 knots on the averager, but as I got higher built to 5 knots. I was joined by another couple of gliders, and I’d got myself right into the core where the lift was smooth and strong. I tipped the Kestrel in at 60 degrees and hung on – it was magic!

I’ve realised that when I’m excited and enjoying a strong thermal, I hold my breath! I have to remind myself to breathe and so it comes in gasps. I was doing a lot of that during my week in the South!

By this time I was half-way to Melton Mowbray, and the rest of the flight was conducted with other gliders around. We went from town to town in the blue and nearly-blue conditions.Just after turning Melton Mowbray I took a high climb, and the Oudie beeped to tell me I was on ‘task glide’. No! I just couldn’t believe it. I still had 44km to go. I took another few turns in the climb to just over 5,000 feet to be sure (on Hus Bos QNE) and set off towards the control point at HB5.

I’d had the MacCready set on 2 knots for most of the time since leaving Rushden, and I turned it up to 4 knots to check whether I was actually on glide if I flew fast. A 4-knot MacReady setting in the Kestrel gives a speed-to-fly of 82 knots, and turning it up that high showed that I would be below glide. So I turned it back down to 2 knots and continued the glide. I was in good air all the way back to the control point, and I realised that I would arrive much too high, so I began to put on some speed. 75…80…85…90 knots. At 10 km out I called the tower, and again at 3km, this time telling them that I’d be going around as I’d still got a lot of energy. Pulling up over the finish line and going around is one of the best feelings! The speed, the increased G-force and the rapidly building height as you pull up just combine to make you feel wonderful! But there were others coming in to land straight ahead, and I was third in line to land so I had to concentrate and prepare for landing, fast.

I dropped the flaps, opened the airbrakes and made probably the smoothest landing ever in the Kestrel. As I taxied to a stop, Chris was waiting for me with the car… perfect.

I was relatively slow again today at 68.5Kph – inexperience in the blue and allowing myself to get low a couple of times had cost me in terms of speed. But once again I really enjoyed it!


Day 6 05/08/18 322.9Km

Naseby West – Bleheim North – Elkstone South – Northampton South – Melton Mowbray – Corby – HB4

I was near the back of the grid today, so launching for me was relatively easy. It was delayed slightly by one of the competitors having an ‘incident’ with being hit by flying debris in the air, which delayed the opening of the start line by 20 minutes. We were all milling around in ‘soft’ thermals again up to about 3,500 feet. That start line opened but I was nowhere near cloudbase, so I spent some time climbing as close to cloudbase as possible before setting off. Several other gliders had started ahead and so there was a trail to follow, and the first leg down to Blenheim seemed to go quickly. Winston Churchill’s family home of Blenheim Palace is an impressive sight from the air! I didn’t have long to look at it though, as I and the other gliders made our way towards Elkstone in the Cotswolds. There were several of us flying together, and we all went to the north of track as that’s where the better looking clouds were. To the south, there was airspace around Oxford and Brize Norton.

The climbs were reasonably strong and, feeling confident, I pressed on at 75-80 knots between climbs.

It all seemed to slow down a bit on the 90Km leg between Elkstone and Northampton South. Perhaps it was just the length of the leg – there were some good climbs on the way but the clouds didn’t look that inspiring as they weren’t very tall. However they worked, and a big fire near Stow-on-the-Wold created a fantastic thermal.

The rest of the flight was easy – strangely I don’t remember it in great detail – but I remember that the climbs were strong and so I kept flying onwards at between 75 and 80 knots. There were Ventuses (Venti?) with me, including Paul Crabb so I felt in good company for a while. However these fast boys eventually got away from me, and I was left in the company of gliders with similar performance – mainly Duo Discuses (Disci?).

I turned Melton Mowbray (you could almost smell the pies), and took a climb to 5,500 feet, and once again the Oudie beeped to indicated that I was on task glide (still around 50km to go). This time I had more trust in the Oudie, and do I glid towards Corby without turning. A Duo Discus was ahead at around the same height as me, and another behind me, so the 3 of us glid in the line, without turning, towards Corby. The Duo in front turned Corby and set off towards Hus Bos. I turned it a minute or so later, and the Duo behind me another minute or so after that. We all glid, without turning, straight towards Hus Bos (24Km away).

The air on the way back wasn’t quite as favourable as the day before, but the Oudie was still indicating that I was on glide, but not with a great margin so I flew slightly cautiously until I was 10Km out. 10Km turned into 3Km and I called Hus Bos to tell them I’d be landing straight ahead. Wheel down, flaps down, airspeed 50 knots, holding the airbrakes shut. Mustn’t mess this up. With full landing flap down (35 degrees), the Kestrel comes down quickly even without the airbrakes. I resisted the temptation to open the airbrakes until I’d crossed the line, knowing that I’d be on the ground almost as soon as I did. I completed another perfect flare and rolled to a stop next to my waiting car, with my hubby all smiles. Home again!

I was quite ‘ballsy’ for me today, in that I flew faster than I had at any other time during the week. But still, my handicapped speed for the day was 83.3 Kph (91 Kph un-handicapped) which still only got me 28th place. The winner (Paul Crabb of course) got round at a handicapped speed of 105.5 Kph. I should have stuck with him for longer!

Lessons learned for the week

I had a totally brilliant week, I really did. I went to Hus Bos to do several things: to fly at a new club, and in a new area of the country, to fly around airspace (which I’m not used to), and to fly at a higher competitive level than ever before. I achieved all of those things and had a great time doing it.

Whilst doing it I had to learn to use a new Vario (I hadn’t flown with the S100 before the comp started), and to remember how to fly the Kestrel fast. By the end of the week I was doing a lot better than at the start, but I’ve a lot further to go. Someone once told me that 85-90 Kph was about the maximum speed I could expect to get out of the Kestrel, and that was a guy who’d flown one for years. I was quite proud that I’d managed to fly it at 91 Kph on the last day (un-handicapped).

I’ll definitely be going back, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Leave a comment

More flying…

Day 3 02/08/18 196.7Km

HB2 – Ely – St Neots South – Corby – HB4

Day 3 looked a little dubious. We had an overcast sky, but with signs of convection underneath. We squatted on the grid for the best part of 2 hours before launching, during which time the sky began to clear!

There was still a lot of cloud around so I set off towards Ely tentatively. The cloud base down the first leg (88.5km) was only just over 3000 feet AMSL, but I weaved along under likely-looking bits of cloud, finding lift where I needed it and not really needing to stop to turn very often. I set a minimum height of 2000 feet. If I reached that, I’d stop and find a thermal as soon as possible. I only had to do that once on the entire leg!

I went to the north of track, where I thought it looked better and made my way in towards the turn point. All of this time, I hadn’t seen a single other glider. This was either a very good, or a very bad sign!

As I went around the turn point, the track out was at 45 degrees to the track in. Other gliders had gone to the south of the track towards Ely, and were only just coming in, opposite my own track. I was ahead!

Not for long though. The faster gliders caught me up on the second leg towards St. Neots South (45.5km), and we glid and thermalled along together, leap-frogging each other occasionally, then stopping to turn in a gaggle.

Rounding the turn at St. Neots, we had all got down to around 2000 feet, and started to search for a decent climb. I lot time there, messing around in a weak climb near Bedford, until another glider (one of the faster gliders) managed to hook a decent thermal. I joined them and we climbed away.

The third leg to the control point at Corby (42.5km) was very exciting. There were 8 or so gliders, including myself, all climbing in gaggles, then gliding. Cloudbase had gone up to around 4000 feet AMSL and the thermals were averaging 4 knots, so I turned up the MacReady setting on my vario and flew faster! Racing along, I was overtaken by LS8 8T, ASG29 S9 and the DG800 345, but several other gliders stayed with me. We glid around the control point at Corby and were on final glider with 20km to go. I could see from the Oudie that I was at the head of the queue – with at least 5 gliders behind me. I trimmed the glider out to fly at 70 knots and just sat it out, with all of those other gliders queued up to do the same.

I made it down the final glide easily and had plenty of height for a fast-finish and go-around.

Home three days in a row – Woohoo!!

I came 21st for the day, at a handicapped speed of 81.1kph – not bad for an old Kestrel! However the winner, LS8 ‘8T’ got around at 108kph.

Day 4 03/08/18 332.5km

HB2 – Potton – Whittington – Olney – Norman’s Cross – HB4

Day 4 started off OK, though the cloudbase in the start sector was only around 3000 feet. There was talk of wave upwind of Hus Bos, and I wa right at the front of the launch queue, so I spent some time before the startline opened trying to find the wave. I was hopeful a couple of times, but it wasn’t the Yorkshire wave I was used to, and I didn’t manage to make anything of it. But neither did anyone else!

The start line opened and I made an early start, like a lot of others. We had a big distance to cover, and the met. had mentioned the possibility of high cover or overcast later in the day. The first leg to Potton (66.7km) went fairly well, as did the second leg to Whittington (71.34km), with good climbs and regular battles with the gaggle on the second leg.

The third leg, to Olney (95.5km) was another matter. It started off well enough, but then I began to notice that the high cover was coming in earlier than expected. It quickly got thick enough that it began to cut off the sun from the ground, and climbs became noticeably weaker. I heard other pilots who were further down track talking on the radio, saying it wasn’t looking good. I took a weak climb with the other Kestrel CZR but neither of us made much of it. He set off back towards Hus Bos to try and scrape home. I looked at the distance to be covered and discounted that as an option as it was too far with the height I had. I couldn’t see anything in that direction which might provide lift. I was near Bedford however, and there was still sun on the ground there, as the overcast hadn’t reached there yet.

At this point I had 13km to go to get to the Olney turn point, but I couldn’t see anything which might provide lift in that direction. Looking at the fields over there, all I could see was crop. Should I risk a glide out there, knowing there was no lift and no certainty over where to land out, just for a few more points? No. I made the safe decision and turned 90 degrees to track to fly towards Bedford where I knew there were good landing options – Bedford airfield itself, Old Warden and Sackville Farm.

Several other pilots made the same decision.

As I flew around Bedford’s ATZ towards Sackville Farm, I saw a couple of gliders start their turbos and climb away. I noticed that one glider has already landed at Sackville Farm, and as I flew around it gauging the size, slope, wind etc., another landed. It was my turn next so I put the wheel down, and deployed the landing flaps. There were high trees on the approach, so I’d need to approach steeply. 52 knots and full landing flap, with full airbrake produced a nice steep approach and a short ground run.

As I got out, the pilots of the other two gliders (Mike in Libelle 466 and Richard in DG200 EDM) helped me to move the Kestrel off the runway, as another 3 gliders joined us in quick succession. It was a landout party!

We were all fine with no damage, so we called up our crews to come and retrieve us. It took some time, but we got back to the airfield with the Kestrel at 9.45pm.

We learned later that not a single competitor had finished the task. Those with turbos had flown back to Hus Bos, but the majority of us ended up in fields across Bedfordshire! I came 29th of the day, having flown 201km.


Stay tuned for days 5 and 6, coming soon!


1 Comment

On with the competition

Well, the wind did calm down and the heatwave gradually returned. Our first day of competition flying was on the 31st of July, and the team at Hus Bos set the bar high with a 375km task. We never again got a task that big during the week, but the smallest task we did was 200Km, so I can’t complain!

Day 1 31/07/18: 375Km
HB2 – Belvoir – Mundeford – Silverstone – Oundle – HB4

Never having flown from Hus Bos before, I’ll admit to being a bit nervous before the take-off. There were many new things going on: a new airfield, a new area to fly in (I’ve not flown in this area at all before), new instruments in the glider, and LOTS of gliders.

The 37 gliders were launched in under an hour, and the start sector became a manic place to be. The thermals weren’t very strong, and everyone was champing at the bit to go, and jockeying for position. The new FLARM unit gave an alarm every few seconds, warning of one glider or another, and their closeness took quite some getting used to! I was very glad when the start gate opened! I heard a few gliders start, and I was in a good position, so I started too.

It seemed like no time at all before we’d covered the 48Km between Hus Bos and Belvoir. The second leg, down into East Anglia to Mundeford, took a while longer, and I spent what seemed like ages staring down at the Wash, and then the Great Drain, which I’ve never seen before. But I was still going well, at nearly 100kph and the thermals had become good.

The third leg is where it started to go wrong. It was a 123Km leg, directly into at 16 knot wind. My hubby, watching my progress using Glidenet, said it appeared that I’d put the brakes on! My XC speed dropped from 100kph down to around 50kph. Half-way down the leg, the cumulus began to overdevelop and merge together, cutting off the sun from the ground. Climbs became a lot weaker and harder to centre. I met fellow Yorkshireman Mike in the DG800 at around the half-way point, and we took a thermal together. He went one-way, and I ended up going the other. I should have stayed with him!

It got hard after that, for a long while. Progress was slow, and I found myself concentrating on getting enough height to do 10km glides. I finally turned Silverstone racecourse, and headed towards the last TP, Oundle, which was 60Km distant. I’d been flying for a long time at this point, and I was getting tired. I allowed the glider to get low, and resorted to taking slow climbs to try and creep back. But I had the wind behind me so that helped a little. I started searching for another climb at around 5km from Oundle, overhead Lyveden GC’s airfield and Bakersfield airfield. My thoughts were that if I couldn’t make something of the climb, then I’d land at one of those airfields. Fortunately, the half-knot bubble that I began to turn in, turned into a 3-knot bubble, and the day was saved! I climbed as high as I could, until the Oudie told me that I had enough height to make it on the final glide. The final glide itself was just under 40km, and I wasn’t sure the Oudie was telling the truth! The new S100, which wasn’t quite set up properly, disagreed with the Oudie! But the discrepancy was around 200 feet, so I decided to give it a go.

Following the speed-to-fly figure, I held the glider at 63 knots all of the way back from Corby towards Hus Bos. It was into-wind again, and I didn’t want to risk landing out. I gained small amounts of height all of the way down the final leg, which put me onto a very comfortable final glide at 10Km out. Joy! OMG I was going to make it! I called Hus Bos at 10Km and 3Km as they’d asked us all to, and announced that I’d land straight ahead onto runway 27. On my way in, I saw a glider in a field, 2km short of Hus Bos. Oh dear! (On landing, I was told it was my dear CFI). Double joy (Sorry Andy)!

The flight was *very* slow compared to everyone else, at only 68Kph, but I’d made it back! And that for me, is the biggest part of the battle.

Day 2 01/08/18: 204.5Km
HB3 – Grafham Water – Finmere – Thrapston – HB4

At briefing we were told that the day would be blue, but there would be good climbs. This information worried me slightly, as I’m not used to flying in the blue, but I thought with 36 other gliders around, there’d be bound to be people marking thermals for me.

I waited until other people had started, then glid out after them. There were some small clouds, but they were very thin and scruffy-looking, with little height. However there were climbs under them, so I made my way towards Grafham Water. It was easy to see the other gliders turning in the blue (or nearly blue) thermals ahead of me, so I pressed on with confidence that I could afford to burn off some height, as there was a definite climb ahead of me. Other gliders were doing the same, meaning that we ended up soaring in large gaggles.

Approaching a large gaggle of competitive gliders is quite something. From a km or two away, the gaggle looks like a giant DNA double-helix. There are gliders at various levels, all turning tightly, trying to make the best of the climb. You as the joining glider, have to insert yourself into that hornet’s nest, whilst not causing anyone else to have to take evasive action, and start to climb with the others. It’s very daunting when you’re not used to it!

I got gradually more used to it during the week. I had no choice!

The flight proceeded like that really – climb in the gaggle, glide, turn the TP, repeat.

At times there were no clouds, so instead of looking at the sky for an indication of where to go, we all began to look at the ground instead. We headed for towns, where we’d be likely to find lift, and made or way around the task like that.

On the last leg, many of the other gliders had got away from me, and were starting to call the finish line. I got relatively low again very near the last turn, and since the last turn was a town, decided to search around for one last climb to get me low. I spent a few minutes messing around in a weak bubble and got a bit annoyed with myself. I set off on the final glide even though I was still too low, and almost immediately found a strong climb! Why couldn’t I have found that 5 minutes earlier?! I took it until the Oudie and S100 agreed that I was on final glide, and set off back towards Hus Bos. Like yesterday, I did another straight glide down the 35Km final leg to Hus Bos. Again, I gained energy all of the way in, resulting in me doing 100 knots from 15 Km out, and still having enough height to do a fast finish and go-around! That got me 28th place for the day, at a speed of 76.5kph, much faster than yesterday!

Post-flight analysis suggested that my thermal centring had improved, and I’d increased my speed between thermals. But I’d also spent a good few minutes faffing – making turns in which I’d intended to gain height, but actually lost more than I gained, thereby wasting time.

Hubby was pleased that I’d made it back again, and so was I!


More later…

Leave a comment

Day 1 disasters

We decided to travel to Hus Bos a day early (Thursday) as the weather forecast for Friday was horrendous. The journey down was relatively uneventful, despite KESY’s trailer being a handful to tow. But we got to Hus Bos in one piece and put the tent up. The weather was really hot – hotter than I’ve ever known in the UK. Putting the tent up was hard, hot work! We were finished by dinner time, and treated ourselves to a hard-earned Chinese from the takeaway in the village.

Friday was also really hot, but breezier than Thursday. There were showers and thunderstorms up and down the country, but they all seemed to miss Hus Bos!
We rigged KESY and put her covers on in anticipation of flying the next day.

The forecast for Saturday changed later, from dry and cloudy to wet and breezy, but by that point it was too late to de-rig KESY again. Besides, how bad could it be? (Famous last words).

When we awoke on Saturday morning it was relatively calm. However our leisurely breakfast quickly turned into a slight panic as the wind suddenly increased dramatically, and the into-wind side of the tent started to collapse!

Quickly we packed everything inside the tent up into various bags and boxes, ready to pull it out if we needed to. We went off to briefing and were scrubbed for the day, unsurprisingly. The forecast for Sunday also wasn’t good, with more rain showers and wind expected.

We returned to our tent, to find the motorglider that had been parked nearby had escaped its tie-downs, and blown backwards into our car! It had done some minor damage to the car, mainly scuffing here and there, but nothing major. The motor glider itself was undamaged luckily. We pushed it away just as the owner arrived to tie it back down.

Next problem: our tent was being blown flat. We decided that the best thing to do would be to collapse it and then put some weights on top to prevent it from being blown away. Some old friends turned up and helped us to do that!

Next we had to deal with KESY, and the trailer. The trailer had rotated slightly into another, though luckily no damage was done to either. We moved it to a club trailer space with a ball-hitch instead, temporarily, until the windy weather was over.

KESY herself was fine, but we made extra sure by tying her down. It was too windy to risk de-rigging.

Back to accommodation: of course without the tent we were homeless! Our CFI is also flying the comp, and has a house not far away, so he offered us a bed for a night or two. THEN a lovely lady from the club called Lynne spotted what had happened to the tent, and arranged for us to stay in one of the instructors’ caravans whilst he was away. So I’m writing this from the comfort of a static caravan!

So all in all, we had a very stressful few hours! Hopefully the wind will calm down soon, and we can re-pitch the tent. We’ve found a more sheltered spot so hopefully this won’t happen again!

What a day!

Leave a comment

Defective instruments and muppetry

On Friday, I’ll be travelling down to Hus Bos (Husbands Bosworth) in Leicestershire with our glider to fly the Challenge Cup. I haven’t flown a Regional competition away from my home club before, so it’s going to be an exciting experience. I’ve been looking forward to it for months!

In the meantime, we’ve had our usual bunch of misfortunes. We’ve recently started to notice that our Flarm unit was misbehaving, and not giving reliable alert information on other gliders (even at reasonably close range). We couldn’t see anything obviously physically wrong with the unit aside from a bent aerial, and all software settings were as they should be. We bought a new aerial and installed it, and that appeared to cure the problem.

However, a week ago, the LX7007 also started to have problems. It would lose GPS signal halfway through a flight. Because it was linked to the Flarm, that would stop working too. This happened on 3 consecutive flights before we conceeded that the LX7007/Flarm combo was probably knackered. Less than 2 weeks before taking part in a competition was not good timing!

So we got our wallets out and bought a shiny new LX S100 and PowerMouse from the NavBoys. We had a slight delay in getting it, thanks to the Royal Mail, but when it finally arrived we installed it, set up the software and it worked straight away, to our surprise! We connected the S100 to the PowerMouse, and after altering the baud rate, it began passing Flarm Radar data to the Oudie. Sorted! Or so we thought.

Our first real opportunity to fly was Sunday, and I was one of the duty instructors for the day so Chris got the first go. He took off, and I began climbing in to the back of the DG500 with a Trial Lesson pupil. We were at the point of hooking the aerotow rope on to the DG500 when Chris called up on the radio. “983 downwind right-hand for runway 20. No ASI.”


Logically, I know that Chris is a very experienced pilot and landing without an ASI wouldn’t be a problem for him, but of course as his wife, I couldn’t help but worry! Not to mention that finding a defective ASI now would probably end my chances of flying in the competition next week! So I delayed the launch until I knew he’d landed safely.
As soon as I knew he was safe, I closed the canopy and took off.

On landing, I found him eating lunch in the clubhouse as if nothing had happened! Cool as.

We went to check the glider and found that the problem was down to a kinked pipe. In installing the new vario, we’d somehow managed to put a kink in the pneumatic tubing, and air was not getting to the ASI. We simply replaced it with a slightly longer piece of tubing and voila, normality was restored.

Chris flew again to verify that it was all working, and found that it was. So we are going to Hus Bos after all!

I hope to write some updates during the competition, if I get time. You can also watch us on Spot the Gliders (my number is 983) and look at entries, tasks and results on Hus Bos’ website. Wish me luck!

Leave a comment

Long winter

It’s been brought to my attention that I haven’t written anything for a while, so I thought I better had. The reason for radio silence has been that there’s really not been anything exciting to tell!

Winter was long and snowy in the North, meaning that my glider stayed in its winter shed from early November until late April. The snow came late, and it came hard. There was really no point in taking poor KESY up to the gliding club so she could freeze on top of the hill. So in the barn she stayed.

In the meantime it gave us chance to do a number of jobs over the winter, including the panel re-fit I mentioned in my previous post. We decided that spending over £2K on a new vario/flight computer/horizon combo was not a possibility, and to be quite honest the LX7007 is adequate, especially when you’re running it alongside an Oudie. So instead, we decided to solve our cloud-flying problem by buying a Kanardia Horiz. This is a superb-looking instrument which combines an artificial horizon, direction indicator and g-meter in one unit. It erects instantly, and it literally sips a minute amount of power. You can run it all day and it has little impact on the charge level of the battery. We’ve flown with it once or twice but never tested its capabilities fully yet.

So the panel has been re-fitted, the redundant Bohli compass removed, and one or two other improvements made.

Now we’re just waiting for the weather.

As usual, the North lags behind the South in weather-terms, and while many pilots in the South have enjoyed good days, we in the North have had to wait. Except for Scotland that is, where they’ve had some spectacular wave and thermal days. So it’s just the North of England in the doldrums it would seem.

There were a couple of good wave days towards the end of June, and I managed to escape the office one afternoon to take advantage of one of those. I left the office at 12 noon, pulled the covers off the glider, and launched at 2pm. I got straight into the wave from a ridge-assisted thermal which transitioned into the wave, and had a peaceful 2 and a half hours in the sun at around 8,000 feet AMSL. Lovely.

So far I haven’t managed to get to the club on any good thermal days, so I haven’t done any cross-country flying at all this year. This is slightly worrying, as I’m supposed to be flying in the Hus Bos Challenge Cup this year, starting on the 28th of July!

There was a spectacular day (21st June), when there were 4 flights of 1000Km or over, 3 of 800Km and 15 of 750Km +. And what did we do at Sutton Bank? Nothing.

WHHYYY you might ask?


Sutton Bank is on a ridge which is, in most wind directions, bloody brilliant to fly from. But there are 2 notable exceptions. Anything stronger than a 10 knot Easterly is troublesome for launching. And moderate North-Westerlies are a no-no. Curl-over from our ridge piles straight down onto the runway, making launching and landing quite dangerous. One minute you have a headwind, the next a tailwind, and it’s rough.

Thursday the 21st of June was one of those days. We had a moderate North-westerly. So that was that. No-one launched from Sutton Bank on what was the day-of-days.

I stayed in the office and refused to look out of either of my windows. But I watched Glidernet all day, jealously monitoring the heroes doing their amazing flights, and wishing I was with them.

Since then, we’ve had hot, dry Easterlies. There are signs all over the moors warning of fire danger – the entire place is like a tinderbox. And it seems no end is in sight – at least not for the next week or two.

RASP and Skysight are quite optimistic for this Thursday, and also for the weekend at long-range. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll be good enough to go off and do a 300Km flight or similar, so at least I’ll have had some practice ahead of the Competition. I’ll let you know how it goes.