Monday, 28 June 2010

80km Declared Goal flight to Home

Approaching a lovely cloud
Light southwest winds were forecast yesterday with some good thermals predicted, so Julian Sears and myself shared a lift with Bob Johnson and his family down to Wiltshire. We went to the Pewsey Vale area just south of Marlborough, specifically to a little 60m bump of a hill called Rybury. I decided to declare a goal flight back home to my house in Princes-Risborough in Buckinghamshire, about 80km to the northeast.

But when we arrived it didn't look too promising as the sky was empty with everybody sitting around waiting for things to improve. But by midday people were able to scratch and just about stay airborne. A little later we noticed a couple of gliders climbing out and going cross country from Milk which is another little hill next to ours. I wondered if we had chosen the wrong hill again. But an hour later Bob managed to be the first to get away from Rybury soon followed by Simon Twiss. I was determined and finally managed to climb out in a very weak thermal. After a short glide towards the golf courses in Marlborough I was rewarded with my second climb. The crux of the flight was definitely at a village called Lambourn. Here I got very low, about 300m (~1000ft) above the ground; I aimed for a small 30m wooded ridge downwind of the village hoping that it might be releasing a thermal. Luckily it worked for me and I climbed out to 1729m (5669ft) back up to cloudbase in a few minutes. Drifting with the thermal I realized I was about to enter a boundary of some 5500ft (actually FL55) airspace. So I did a quick 180 degree about-turn and flew a few minutes to get some distance from it and then did a spiral dive to get me down to 5000ft so that I could safely glide on to my next destination. I flew to the west of the Harwell nuclear facility (P106 prohibited airspace) and the ring of the brand new Diamond Syncrotron and I remembered visiting the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory there back in the late 1980's whilst still at university. I flew on to Didcot Power Station where I out-climbed a couple of sailplanes to get back to cloudbase. I had a good look at Oxford and thought how nice it looks from above with the river Thames glistening in the sunshine. I carried on to the south of the Abingdon parachute drop zone and north of RAF Benson and RAF Chalgrove (where the Martin-Baker company tests ejector seats). Finally, and with all the difficult airspace out of the way, I aimed for the Chiltern Hills and home. I landed in Princes-Risborough exactly as planned, i.e. near the Bird in Hand pub for a pint, only a 5 minute walk from my front door. No car retrieve necessary, how refreshing!
Didcot Power Station

I found out later that the two pilots I saw climb out from Milk Hill were Emile Vanwyk and Richard Bungay and both were flying Boomerang GTOs like mine; they landed in Cambridgeshire for an amazing 154km. I'm sure I could have flown further but probably not as far as that though. They are both outstanding pilots; Emile & Richard took first and second place in the Serial class of the British open in Slovenia, whereas I placed in at 31 ... There is something special about flying home though. My flight can be seen here or here. Thanks for the lift Bob & Julian.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

British Open. Slovenia June 2010

The all important task board
One of my goals for 2010 was to enter some competitions and I specifically wanted to enter the British Championships. This is a high level competition and as I essentially have no real competition experience I thought It would be a great learning experience for me. I was also keen to see if this would add a new dimension to my flying.

First I must explain how this competition is set up. The 2010 championships are made up of two separate competitions in Europe; one in Kobarid in Slovenia and the other in
Saint André-les-Alpes in France. These individual competitions are known as the British Opens and have up to 150 suitably qualified pilots of any nationality participating. They each last a week with as many daily tasks set as the weather allows. The British Championships are then just the combined results of the British pilots who do both of these open competitions. There used to be a UK round as well but this year it was dropped as historically the weather has been too unreliable to make it justifiable. So this year it started with Slovenia and it turned out to be a wonderful venue. It is a 70% tree covered and sparsely populated country with very little heavy industry and lots of mountains to fly over and fields to land in; perfect for free flying.

Green and not so rolling hills
Together with friends Tom Kane and Hugh Ginty we rented a lovely apartment just a short walk from the competition headquarters, it was the perfect place to relax after a hard days flying. We arrived a week early to get some practice in with local guides Brett Janaway of XTC Paragliding and Toby Colombé of Passion Paragliding. Although the week didn't start off great weather wise we did eventually manage some reasonable cross country flights and get a few lectures on competition flying from Toby. Importantly, it also allowed me to familiarize myself with my brand new glider, the new Gin Boomerang GTO. This is Gin gliders latest
high performance EN-D serial class wing, a real hot ship ...

Doesn't she look nice!
The competition went really well. We had great weather and managed to get in 6 cats cradle tasks in the area. High level winds meant our arena was somewhat restricted to a couple of valley systems but the tasks were of reasonable lengths (69km, 57km, 59km, 62km, 73km and 64km).

Some big clouds brewing
As I'm a competition novice my strategy was to keep it simple, not to race but just try to get to goal everyday. After two days of doing this and finding that 100+ pilots were getting to goal I decided to start racing; besides it's just so much more fun.

So in task three I went around the course at speed trying to race, amazingly I was in the first handful of serial class gliders to make goal. But as it turned out I missed the last turnpoint by a couple of hundred meters, I had inadvertently pressed the 'next waypoint' button on my GPS when trying to go to my final glide page. I got a good amount of distance and leading-out points, so I actually got the same score as if I had bimbled around the course; what a plonker!

Task four saw me get to goal pretty quickly in 37th place. Considering there were 20+ seasoned competition pilots above me mostly flying those ridiculous Ozone R10.2's I was very pleased with myself.

Task 5 was frustrating, I was racing too much, got low and ended up getting stuck for half an hour kicking trees finally making it in 60th position. Task 6 was slightly different, I had made a conservative decision to top up height between turnpoints and avoid getting low and possibly getting stuck like the day before. But it evidently wasn't needed as others jumped in front and pushed me down to 62nd place.

So some mistakes were made and only the experience of lots more competitions can help improve my performance. I certainly can't blame the glider, it's a great wing and has heaps of performance and provides a lot of feedback about the air I'm flying in - it honestly felt a bit of a handful at first but I've nicely settled in to flying it. In fact pilots who got first and second place in the serial category were flying the same wing. The overall results can be seen here and the serial class results here. I got 69th place and considering I'm new at racing paragliders I'm reasonably pleased with myself. Roll on Saint André!