Tuesday, 19 March 2013

An Early Start to the Season

It was on Monday March 11th when pilots started spreading the word that Thursday March 14th was possibly going to be a great day.  Our main prediction tool called "Regional Atmospheric Soaring Prediction" or RASP for short was predicting a great cross country day with strong thermals, a 6000ft cloudbase and light post-frontal northerly winds. The new somewhat controversial 'star rating' was even showing five out of five stars. Pilots that had some flexibility in their work schedule were taking heed and booking days off from work or pulling sickies, as the Aussies would say. This was all quite unusual as it was still very early in the season and only a few days after the South Eastern counties were still buried in snow. I might add that predictions for the temperature at cloudbase were in the negative double-figures so it was a day to wrap up warm.
The RASP 'Star Rating' Parameter
I had arranged to fly with Jim Mallinson who lives in the same Wiltshire village as myself, so early in the morning we were looking at the wind 'actuals' and thought that they looked a lot more west than predicted. The prediction was for the day to back more west in the afternoon, but it was looking like it was doing this earlier than predicted, so we chose Westbury White Horse as our XC launchpad rather than Combe Gibbet where the hoards were all going. Westbury is a rather unusual option for paragliding cross country flights, as you cannot fly over the back with the thermals and drift with the wind as you normally would. There is the Salisbury Plain danger area to avoid so a lot of crosswind flying is necessary to successfully fly around the restricted airspace, and this significantly adds to the difficulties.
Flying towards our village and Milk Hill

We launched and easily climbed out to just under 3000ft and started heading off along the edge of the danger area also trying to miss RAF Keevil parachute drop zone. We had to take lots of small climbs and then bail out of them as they drifted very close to the boundary of the danger area. With the airspace issues out of the way it was 'situation normal' and we headed more downwind towards Combe Gibbet and ultimately the coast. However my day came to an abrupt halt when my speed bar broke in a sinky hole and I went down. I watched Jim squeak back up with some difficulty to eventually make the coast for an amazing flight of 132km (147 with turn points) where as I made only 59km (67 with turn points). But what a great start to the UK cross country season and the earliest 100km flights in the season recorded from paragliders (made by Jim, Wayne Seeley and Alex Coltman).
Leaving cloudbase over Andover

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