Sunday, June 03, 2007

Le Weekend Pt II - or Hullo Clouds...Hullo Sky...

As you, dear reader know, I am learning to fly. Or rather - glide.

Gliding is to flying as sailing is to power-boating. Any idiot can (an does) charge about the Solent with a bloody great engine and cause all sorts of mayhem. Sailing involves harnessing nature in a genteel battle of man versus elements to man's advantage - with a fair degree of aplomb and, well, civility. Safe in the knowledge of our credentials as thus - us 'rag and stick' types bimble about at a third of the speed of power boaters but without the smell and diesel fumes.

Such it is with gliding.

Any fool can burn 100 octane (yum) and get from A to B at whim.

But to be pinged up to a scrimby 1100 feet on a giant rubber band and then to harness the nature and her atmosphere to remain aloft without any source of power takes finesse.

As part of having the joy of using a cheap aeroplane from the club I am obliged to do my duty and spend a day per month working airside. This involves standing on a grass runway with a first aid trailer, a 1950's bus and a couple of radios running an airfield for a morning.

As the sun shone bright in Cambridgeshire today and my duty called I spent the morning singeing myself in a field with the world and his wife launching aeroplanes from a double winch and two tug aeroplanes pulling people skyward to slip the surly bonds.

Lots of sunshine.

Atmospherics, though, dictated that despite the sunny weather it was not terribly thermic. I shall not drone on about the intricacies of gliding weather. Suffice to say that the morning was 'blue'. In ground speak - it was sunny, but if there were thermals, they were not being indicated by cumulus. Cloud Spotters check here

So for my shift, all the regular sky-gods launched and came home again shortly afterwards as the lava-lampesque bubbles of lift were not happening.

Therefore my morning was lots of take offs and landings and lots of time talking to tugs, winches, pilots and plenty of tango-alpha-charlie speak.

I clocked off and baton passed to my oppo for the afternoon. Sent a runner to the office for a bottle of juice and a BLT and pondered my fate.

My next grade in this course of events requires minimums.

A minimum 50 solo flights.
A minimum of two flights of at least 30 minutes from a winch launch
A minimum of one one hour flight for my cross country licence.... plus other things.

Chief thing was I need numbers, and I was expecting to do three to five circuits and build them numbers.
Come 14.00, I was off shift and ready to aviate. Cable and winch issues delayed me further.
Twenty minutes sitting and sweltering finally bore fruit and it was my turn to fly.

It was a robust 2 G launch, very nearly overspeeding and she tried to over-rotate (lethal).

A bit of hunting through 800 feet, but by 1100, I had all I was going to get off the launch and ejected the cable and went hunting.
Being fresh and untired, my flying was accurate, and I was able to concentrate of lift hunting. I found it....just over the wood yards at 900'. It was only a knot, but low down - and these things accelerate as the height goes up.

Accurate flying meant that I could centre in the strongest lift - which grew to a full three knots by 2000 feet.

I held it until she became ragged at about 3600' on the upwind edge of a large cumulus. Cloud base was variable - and I had that magic glimpse of a cloud side on as I banked away up wind to enjoy my height and see if there was more lift to be had.

A good twenty minutes pootling around and I needed another climb.

Joined a chum in a club glider who was sniffing around at about 1500 under a flat bottomed cloud. Soon we were circling each other like a pair of vultures over a political career and climbing at a steady 4 knots....only to be joined by another three aircraft - all sharing the same tube of lift - we had our own gaggle.

I stayed up for over a hour in the end - a personal best.

One of the things that keeps me coming back to aviation is that despite the expense, work, and sheer frustration - it vanishes when you behold the sublime beauty of the sky.

Hullo Clouds

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