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.