Wow, what an August!

•September 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

After a very mediocre June and July we were owed some good flying weather, and I think it’s fair to say it came good! I’d had some fun flights in July, including three flights from Selsley, however with two at 83kms and one 68kms, and without a 100km+ flight since my flight from the Malverns to St Clears on 24th May, I was feeling bereft of a really good flight. Fortunately all that was to change in August with three 100+km flights.

#1 – Tuesday 9th, 168kms from Selsley to Worthing

First up was on Tuesday 9th when the all the usual suspects descended on Selsley (yet again!) on a great looking day. For the fifth time this year I declared Arundel as my goal – would this be the day I finally made it?

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Looking back towards the River Severn shortly after climbing out

To cut a long story short, I made it, but not without more than my fair share of low saves! The first time was near Wooton Bassett where I got down to maybe 700′ above the ground, then a few kms later I got low near Barbury Castle on the Marlborough Downs. I think quite a few of the usual suspects landed near here, but after a bit of a climb I hooked up with Joe Dart and we found a great climb up to base. The final low save was when I ended up soaring Combe Gibbet when it was off to the west and a bit strong and gusty. Fortunately I was only there for a few minutes before I climbed out in a gnarly thermal.I’m not sure I inspired anyone else to launch though🙂

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The first half of the flight wasn’t easy…!

After this the flight was pretty straightforward, and after bagging my goal at Arundel I had enough height to carry on to the coast at Worthing, which I’d never made before!

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Arundel

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Worthing Pier

I had seen another glider land on the beach a few minutes ahead of me – it turned out to be Al Wilson who’d flown from Combe…

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A swim followed by an ice cream just had to be done🙂

Have a look of the video of the flight here:

Flight details, photos

#2 – Friday 26th August, 101kms from Worcester Beacon

Ok, so this was almost three weeks later, but it was a new site for me, and a challenging flight to boot. The thermals were very broken for some reason and I think we all found them difficult to core, at least initially, and it was slooow, but it was great fun, especially in the “super-gaggle” that we all left the hill in…

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Wahooo!

It was a sparkling day, and the colours seemed especially vibrant.

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Ken on his Iota crossing the M5

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Dave Thomas under a cracking sky (it went fully blue later though)

Sadly all good things come to an end and I touched down to the east of Towcester for 101kms after 4hrs 17mins, with Steve Watts and Graham Richards close by.

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Me, Steve and Graham enjoying a spot of tapas (and a beer) at Birmingham New Street station

Have a look at the video of the flight below…

Flight details, photos

#3 – Bank Holiday Monday 29th August, 147kms from Selsley to not quite Arundel

It was back to Selsley three days later for another attempt at getting enough points from this flight to put me over 1000 points in my top six flights this year, and Arundel seemed like a good choice again.

It took a while for the first thermals to appear, but once they did we had a nice climbout and the first half of the flight as far as Hungerford, which I flew fast with Kirsty, was pretty easy.

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Cruising past Swindon with Kirsty

However we both found ourselves very low as we approached Combe Gibbet and we were down to 500′ AGL before we found a sniff of a climb after a 10km glide! We worked it and worked it with Kirsty gradually outclimbing me (grrrrr!), but I eventually lost it, fortunately I now had enough height to make it to Combe where it was light and off to the W. No one else was flying and I found myself below the top of the hill at times, but after about 10 minutes of scratching I found a climb and went with it. It was slow and took ages to properly ping off during which time I had drifted about 3kms at only about 1000′ AGL, but I finally got up to base fifty minutes after our first low save. Meanwhile Kirsty was about 10kms ahead having not wasted time on the hill.

Have a look at my video of the low save below…

After this it was plain sailing, as you can see from the graph below:

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Easy – difficult – easy!

Unfortunately though, despite overhauling a few pilots who’d overtaken me when I was struggling, that wasted time meant I was too late getting to the South Downs and I was too late to utilise the sea-breeze front to work my way east to Arundel. Only Kirsty and Hugh Miller made their goal near Arundel, with everyone else landing just a few kms short…

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Trying to stay under the 4500′ airspace, and then connect with the SB front proved too difficult

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Hmmm, now I know why Remi and I struggled to get a lift to Chichester station🙂 *

* Actually, that’s not strictly true, Mariusz Kozlowski very kindly offered his car (his wife was following him in their car with another pilot, Rafal), and Rafal drove Remi and me to the station whilst his wife, son and him had a picnic where the three of us landed (if that makes sense!)

Flight details, photos

So there we have it, that was August, what will September deliver?!

 

 

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat!

•August 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Saturday 30th July was a busy day on Selsley what with Avon hosting a round of the Advance BCC there,  and lots of other pilots descending on the hill on the promise of a good NW’ly day.

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Lots of parawaiting in the light wind

I arrived with Rich Osborne and Annee Brekenridge at about 1045 just as the first gliders got airborne in the light breeze, but those first flights were short-lived. We found a spot to get ready (not so easy given the number of people on the hill), and declared the usual goal of Arundel, and then sat around for ages waiting for the chance to take off. There were quite a few false starts but we were encouraged when Lawrie Noctor, Wayne Seeley and Helen Gant ever-so-slowly climbed out.

Eventually a couple of hours after we arrived I climbed out with a few others and climbed to about 2000′ before I noticed that I hadn’t tagged my start turnpoint which was just a few tens of meters in front of takeoff. I’m really not sure how I managed to avoid it, but there you go…

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Climbing out under a lovely sky

Anyway, no problem I thought, I’d nip forward, bag it, then rejoin the climb. Needless-to-say it didn’t work out like that, and I landed back on take off a short while later, DOH! Lesson learnt – don’t be dumb with waypoints for the sake of a hundred meters!

There were still lots of us on the hill, but with the sky spreading out I thought I had blown the day. Indeed, a number of people packed up between 1300-1400, and possibly I might have joined them had I had my own car there. Fortunately I didn’t/couldn’t though, because just after 1400 a good sustained breeze sprung up and allowed some of us to get in the air, and not long after a gaggle of eleven of us started climbing out under 8/8 skies.

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Looking back to takeoff (with Theo Warden)

Ok, so it was slow, but it was steady – so slow and steady in fact that we all circled to the right pretty much non-stop, apart for a couple of short glides, until we were past WOMAD just to the NE of Malmesbury, some 23kms downwind!

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Just keep on going round and round (for 23kms!)

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Wings over WOMAD!

I think Theo and I had a bit more height as we finally topped up and headed off on a glide towards Swindon, and it’s here that we lost the others – they all landed between Malmesbury and Swindon. We faffed around in weak lift to the  west of Swindon before finding a much stronger climb (2+m/s) to the south of Swindon.

From our high point of 4,600′ at the top of this climb we glided towards Aldbourne and were very low when we arrived, but we sniffed something out and slowly climbed out, Theo finding slightly better lift than me and heading off towards Hungerford on his own. I minced over Bear Grylls’ house (where I had landed after a short flight from Liddington last year) at barely 2000′, and was contemplating dropping in again but spotted a combine downwind and headed for it and was rewarded with a slow climb to about 2,000′.

From here it was basically a case of extending my glide as I cruised over Hungerford before landing in Inkpen for 68kms. I packed up and the kind gent who owned the field gave me a lift all 400yds to the road where I was met by Rich and Annee in the Magic XC Bus🙂

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Well, it would have been rude not to accept the offer of a lift🙂

And seeing as The Swan Inn was just up the road it felt rude not to grab a quick cider to celebrate what turned out to be a really fun flight!

Here’s the short video I made of the flight…

 

XC Tracer

•June 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have recently become the UK supplier for the XC Tracer and XC Tracer Mini lag-free varios.

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XC Tracer

Both varios share the same barometer and 9 DOF (degrees of freedom) sensor, however the XC Tracer has a GPS chip and Bluetooth LE to allow it to connect to smartphones and Kobos, whilst the XC Tracer Mini is just the vario and is solar powered.

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XC Tracer Mini

Here are two videos demonstrating the lag-free nature of the varios:

Please visit my Facebook page here, or www.xctracer.com, for more info and to order.

What a line!

•May 26, 2016 • 1 Comment

Edit 13/6/2016 – scroll down to watch the video of the flight…

Tuesday 24th May. I really shouldn’t take the day off work what with me heading out to Gemona on Friday for the British Open but I just can’t stop myself particularly as RASP was bright orange! I hitched an early-doors ride with Nev Almond and was at take off at Kettle Sings (Malverns) getting ready at about 0930. The forecast was for the wind to pick up so my plan was to take off early and hang around until the thermals started kicking off.

The usual suspects started turning up about half an hour later, and I was first off at 1030 having declared a 150km goal at St Clears. I went for a cruise to the north end of the hills and back whilst waiting for the others to take off. Richard Osborne was off next and joined me pushing out front over the town in the improving thermals and by 1150 we were up high and joined a gaggle with Ant Moore, Simon Green, Ken Wilkinson and Graham Richards and committed to going over the back at about 3800′.

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Setting off…

The clouds downwind were forming nicely and we made good progress in the 20+km/h wind cruising to the south Hereford then threading between the two danger areas to the west, never really getting much below 4000′. I was in a four ship formation with Simon, Rich and Ant by this time, with Graham and Ken on slower gliders falling back a bit, but as is the way with XC flying, just when you think it’s all going really well it gets difficult! First Rich found himself very low, so Ant and I pressed on (Si having remained high and slightly to the south of us) towards the Black Mountains.Then I pushed on to the Cat’s Back, got a small climb which didn’t really work and flopped over the back onto the main ridge which was a tad interesting in the rotor!

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I learnt a thing or two about my wing (in a good way🙂 )

My glider flexed and bent but didn’t collapse as I made my way south into the clean air. Meanwhile Rich and Si are cruising overhead at height and Ant is sensibly playing it safe by keeping well in front of the Cat’s Back.

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Not ideal🙂

A few minutes later I catch a 4m/s express elevator out of there and once up a base I established that I was only a couple of kms behind Rich and Si. I last saw Ant low in front of the main Pandy ridge but I later heard he got up again and went on to fly 110kms approx.

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Just as well I didn’t take off from here!

I topped up over Mynnd Troed to the East of Llangorse, and although I was catching Rich and Si up I ended up 1000′ lower than them as we cruised past the northern flanks of the Brecon Beacons. By the time we had crossed the A470 I was down to ridge height and had to watch them sail past nice and high whilst I tried to find a climb out from a windy bowl. I remembered reading something in Berkhard Martens’ “Thermal Flying” that gullies collect wind, and spurs collect thermals, so I pushed out of the bowl to my left along the spur. I had to use full bar to make progress, and I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to hang around here for too long.

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Looking east towards Pen-y-Fan before I pushed NE along the spur

I needn’t have worried because no sooner had I reached the end I flew into a lovely 2m/s climb that took me back to base – game on!

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They don’t come much better than this!

From here it was great to glide over my old stamping grounds of Heol Senni and Fan Gyhiryrch (where I did my first 4km flop over the back in 1991 I think it was), then over the Crai Reservoir and high over the majestic Fan Hir ridge.

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Fan Hir

Rich and Si were still a few kms ahead of me, but I caught occasional glimpses of them as I chased them down for the second time!

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Yay, I’ve got company!

This had been an easy 20kms, most of it at base, however at the end of the high ground was a big blue hole all the way to goal which was still some 35kms away. I could see that Rich and Si had gone off track to the SW to try and connect with the convergence line closer to the sea, and seeing no better option I followed suit.

Rich had pushed on ahead and by the time I caught up with Si he was in a nice climb. However Si and I were very low and in need of a save otherwise our dreams would be over. We minced around in zeros for the best part of 10kms before we  finally found a lifesaving 3 up over shady ground that got us back in the game again!

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Wonderful views across to the Gower and farther west to Pembrokeshire

This climb topped out at 5700′ and with 20kms to goal it was definitely doable even though we’d have to glide into the blue again to avoid the danger area. Flyskyhy was reporting about a 11.5 glide angle to goal, and as I set off on glide it was good to see it slowly reducing.

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Soaking up the views

Rich was still a few kms ahead, and Si had shot off towards his goal at Carmarthen, so I was on my own soaking up the views in between checking my current glide angle vs glide angle to goal. It was all looking good but there was no point taking any chances to I topped up in weak lift for a couple of minutes at one point. I contacted Rich to find out how he was getting on, only to hear “Busy, standby” as his reply. It turned out he was low and battling to stay up just a few kms from goal. His next transmission was “Windy landing, take care” and unfortunately he didn’t quite make goal.

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GOAL at 150kms!!!

As it turned out I arrived over goal with plenty of height and had time for a few wingovers and a gentle spiral before touching down with a huge grin on my face at the into-wind end of a large field🙂

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Happy chappie!

I made contact with Rich (who was still untangling lines after a dragging) to let him know I had landed safely, then packed up and headed into St Clears to suss out the retrieve options. As I was walking I had a call from Graham Steel who I’d not seen fly overhead, but he’d set more or less the same goal (1km farther actually, damn him!) We met up at the local Spa shop, stocked up on ciders for the journey home, and indulged in a non-beach ice-cream (I did feel I deserved it🙂 )

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The “saviour” and final glide

We ended up getting a taxi to Carmarthen and picked Rich up en-route to save him the walk into St Clears. The trains were easy, and with a small-group booking as far as Cardiff it wasn’t too expensive (£34) all the way back to Bath, where Mike Coupe met me at 2140 and took me home (thanks Mike!). What a brilliant day, made all the more special by the awesome line we took over the high ground!

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Another brilliant adventure with some great mates!

You can see my flight in the XC League here, and a 3D Doarama visualisation of all of us here.

Edit 13/6/2016 – here’s the video I made of the flight, hope you enjoy it!

Well, that turned out alright!

•May 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Thursday 5th May. It had been a funny old week – the week before I had been thinking that a last minute trip to Chamonix and Annecy might be on the cards, but that was before my flight from Liddington on Saturday (30th April), and as a consequence of that plan I had rearranged a conference call from Wednesday to Tuesday, just in case. Then come the weekend I had told the client, thinking that Tuesday looked like quite a good day, that I could make the original date for the call. Of course Tuesday then didn’t turn out to be anything special, and despite Wednesday now looking good, I couldn’t get out! Agh! Thursday was looking like the only chance of a decent flight for quite a few days, so I decided to go for it despite some reservations – on the breezy side, blue etc.

Pete Douglas and Mike Humphries were both up for it, however the general lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the Avon XC crew spoke volumes… (it turned out that some of them were SIVing in Annecy with the BPRA (British Paragliding Racing Academy), but that didn’t explain everyone.

The day didn’t start brilliantly with Pete unable to find my house, then we had to wait a further ten minutes in Bradford-on-Avon for Mike to get to the RV, then we got snarled up in a road closure so our 1030 ETA at Golden Ball car park turned into about 1115. Oh well, at least we could see someone flying when we rolled up.

Fifteen minutes later we were at takeoff and the one person flying had landed, and it was breezy… Still, there was nothing to be gained by not getting ready and waiting for a lull, so that’s what we duly did. Marek (Mogielnicki) and I discussed various goals – Shrewsbury (160kms approx, probably a bit optimistic), Bromyard (105kms approx, not far enough) before finally settling on Kidderminster (115kms). I switched Flyskyhy’s display to aerial view and created a waypoint near a golf course just to the SW of the town.

I’m loving my new Omega X-Alps, but there’s one thing I still need to get sussed with it, and that’s stopping it wrapping itself up on the ground if the wind gets into it when you’re not controlling it. I spent at least ten minutes having fun and games with it on the ground in the brisk wind! I think in future I’ll leave it bunched up from the concertina bag and build a wall straight from that position.

Finally at 1230 I took off, followed a few minutes later by Marek, Pawel, and Mariusz (Grupa 303 were out in force :-)). It didn’t take long to find a climb and after 15 minutes I was up at 2,600′ and on my way. Unfortunately ten minutes later I was down to 1,500′ over Avebury (1,000′ agl) and I was seriously thinking I’d be on the deck soon.

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Too low! Silbury Hill bottom left, Avebury mid right

2kms later I was down to 1,200′ (500′ agl) over Windmill Hill, but then my luck changed – a weak climb saw me slowly climb up to 2,500′ by the time I reached the the Notam activated Lyneham CTA (not today though) 15kms from takeoff. By the time I reached Lyneham village itself I was down to 1,400′ (1,000′ agl approx) again before I found another climb which finally got me up to almost 4,000′ just north of the M4.Wow, what a struggle those 22kms had been – never once above 3,000′!

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Passing Lynham, still below 3000′

Grupa 303 were hot on my tail during this time, but sadly Marek and Pawel arrived too low at the edge of the Marlborough Downs to connect with my weak climb, and they landed near Lyneham. I hadn’t spotted Mariusz yet, but I later saw him land just to the east of Malmesbury as I circled lazily in a nice thermal coming off the town.

The day was blue with a strong inversion and without clouds to aim for the tactic is to fly over obvious trigger points – towns, villages and into wind and sun hills during the first part of the flight, then later big brown fields and rising ground. This worked well as I made good progress over Malmesbury, Tetbury, Nailsworth, Stroud, then the hill to the north of Stroud with the antenna on top which worked for me on a similar flight last year.

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Passing to the south of Gloucester

From there I wafted over Gloucester getting down to 1500′ before finding a nice climb which took me to 5200′, the highest I’d been so far. I was now 70kms from takeoff, the sky was still blue but there were occasional clouds around, and after a difficult start I suddenly felt that my first 100kms of the year might finally be on.

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Looking SW along the River Severn

I wasn’t particularly thinking of my goal at Kidderminster at this stage (it was still 45kms away after all) although I was aware that it was now slightly to the east of North, and with the wind still from the SSE there was gong to be some cross-winding involved at some point.

I got up to 5200′ again just behind the Malvern Hills, and carried on, only a few kms off 100kms now, and where I landed last year. At the 100km mark I was up at 5300′ and with my goal now 25kms away I thought it was worth a crack at it, even though it was 30 deg off my track. A glide and a climb later I was back to 5000′ again and with 15kms to go it was definitely game on (10:1 glide to goal approx).

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Stourport-on-Severn

I enjoyed a lifty glide towards Kidderminster and with the glide angle to goal consistently less than my current glide angle I was getting more and more confident with every passing km.

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Approaching goal at Kidderminster (square white building)

Sure enough, Flyskyhy sounded its waypoint bagged sound so I turned round and landed near near the 18th hole at Burlish Park Golf Club where I was made very welcome! It was great to enjoy a pint whilst packing up🙂

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Goalfield pint🙂

Getting home was easy enough – a taxi to the station, then rather a convoluted series of trains back to Bath, during which I bumped into Simon Twiss (who’d flown 160kms from Martinsell) who was on his way back to Cheltenham where he’d bribed his retrieve crew (wife and daughter) with the promise of a slap-up dinner!

So, after a hesitant start to the day, it eventually turned out really well – and it was great to get that first 100kms under my belt this year!

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22kms of bottom-feeding!

Tracklog here.

Finally some kms on the Omega X-Alps!

•May 1, 2016 • 2 Comments

It’s been a month and a bit since I collected my Omega X-Alps in Thun at the Advance XC Serial Team Weekend, and since then I’ve only had two opportunities for XC flights, and on the first of those a couple of weeks ago (Sat 23rd April) I made a bad decision leaving the hill when I did and ended up doing a 10km flop over the back of the Mendips. (Fortunately I got a second bite of the cherry later that afternoon at Westbury and had a nice hour boating around at up to 5,000′ in front of the hill in quite windy choppy conditions).

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The first of four or five launches at Liddington

Anyway, back to my next flight on Saturday 30th April… I didn’t have any great expectations of the day – the forecast was for towering cumulus, showers, and isolated thunderstorms, although in between that lot the conditions would likely be good. I reckoned Liddington offered the best chance of success given that the showers would be coming in from the NW, so that meant that conditions at Selsley would likely deteriorate earlier. When we arrived at about 10 o’clock the hill was already busy with lots of gliders spread out and a few people doing some short hops in the lightish breeze.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen Liddington as busy as this before

It didn’t take long for the breeze to pick up enough to encourage more people into the air, but it took quite a while before the first gaggle left the hill. I wasn’t in it, but with maybe half dozen fewer people on the hill it did make a difference! Another gaggle got away maybe half an hour later, and then finally, at 1230, I managed to climb out with Jim Mallinson, Ian Conway, Nick Smith and a few others. Jim clearly connected with something that none of us found and I last saw him heading SE at speed🙂

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Finally climbing out with Jim and Ian

Ian lost the climb and headed back to the hill, and Nick and a couple of others were looking like they were going to be on the ground before too long. Meanwhile I was climbing, but not strongly, but I was keeping my eyes on Nick who was working something low down. Sure enough he reappeared after some great work and I headed back upwind to join him… Nice one!

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Oh yes!

However our partnership didn’t last long and sadly Nick ended up on the deck leaving me on my own. After this I got low over Hurstborne Tarrant (1200′ asl) but found a nice climb off the hill just to the east of the village, then approaching Popham (which was very busy with the Bank Holiday fly-in) I got low again (1400’asl) but a strong climb to the west of the airstrip got me up to maximum height of the flight, 4900′.

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Big clouds off to the west

I had briefly crossed paths with Ian Hobbis a few kms earlier, but after Popham I made the conscious decision to try to fly together as I was having problems with my phone, which I run Flyskyhy on, so wanted to stick together to help navigate the airspace beyond New Alresford. (I later discovered what the problem was – I had bought a new shorter cable to plug my phone into the external battery, and this cable prevented my phone from charging at the full 2A, so it eventually shut down at approx 63kms). Fortunately I’ve flown this route quite a few times but even so I wasn’t exactly sure where the airspace stepped down from 5500′ to 4500′, and given my declared goal at Littlehampton, I’d also have to steer well clear of Chichester airfield (Goodwood).

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Showers ahead

Despite the forecast for towering clouds and showers, the sky during our flight so far hadn’t been threatening at all, and any showers had been quite a distance away to the west, east and south of us. However we were now catching up the showers and poor sky in front of us so I was trying to slow down and waft along, however we were getting low to the NW of Petersfield and needed a climb to get high and loiter. Sadly though, despite there being a nice cloud downwind of Petersfield neither of us connected with it and Ian went down near South Harting for 84kms, and I scraped a few more kms by flying along the South Downs landing by the 13th century church just to the south of Didling for 91kms.

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My landing field to the left of Didling Church

I landed, then shared my location on XC Retrieve (xcrt.aero) and shortly after I’d finished packing up and started walking I received a message from Steve Newcombe asking if I’d like a lift to Petersfield railway station as he was only a few miles away having got home earlier after his flight from Liddington. Needless to say I accepted gratefully! This is exactly how I anticipated XC Retrieve working when I came up with the idea last year – it’s nice to know it works!

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A really sweet machine!

It was great to finally get some kms under my belt on my new glider, and whilst it’s early days to get a real feel for its strengths and weaknesses (if any🙂 ) it really did seem to sniff out the thermals well, climb efficiently, and have good gliding performance. Compared to my Sigma 9 I’d say it really lets you feel what the air around you is doing without being demanding at all. In addition, on the ground, I just love how light the OXA + Lightness 2 (+ Companion reserve) package is – my whole kit including instruments, cameras and a litre of water is 14kg, compared to 22+kgs with my Sigma 9 and Impress 3 (and heavier reserve) – what a revelation! So, sadly no ice cream on the beach at my declared goal this time, but I was pretty satisfied with my flight being the farthest from the hill that day🙂

Tracklog here.

Edit. Since writing this I’ve had another great flight – a 114km flight to declared goal from Golden Ball… Story in due course!

Flyskyhy video walkthrough

•April 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Back in 2013 I wrote a review of the great iOS paragliding app, Flyskyhy. Obviously the developer, René Dekker, has added many new features since then, so a couple of weeks ago I recorded a video walkthrough of the main features of the app as it stands at the moment. I hope you find it useful…