22/09/02 - Rich Harding, 43.4km from Westbury
I do *love* going out flying on the bike, and one day I will finally get around to doing the t-shirt with the "The Ultimate Fly-Drive" slogan that I've been threatening since I started this lark! Okay, it pulls on my shoulders a tad, and I can feel that this morning, but being quite light myself, it weights the bike down a treat :-) although above about 95 it does rather mess with the airflow!
Anyway, after getting my tyres seriously warm a couple of times on the Usk road on Saturday <large grin>, but having to make do with pretty scratchy conditions on Hay Bluff as far as the flying was concerned, Sunday dawned and screamed 'Westbury!'. I primed the inbuilt GPS in my head with the locations of speed cameras and police hidey-holes and arrived about a quarter to twelve, had a chat with Geoff and Colin, and wandered over to the Bratton Camp side, where the wind was just picking back up again after a lull, got the wing out and committed aviation :-)
The wind was off slightly to the right, probably being NNE at this point in time, and I spent almost an hour boating around, with no difficulty but not too much thermal activity, although things got progressively better and eventually I did have a few hundred feet and tried the ridge to the left of the White Horse take off, being forced to land at the trig point after getting drilled in the bowl in rotor/*huge* sink.
For about an hour it was then blown out for floppies (where were all the stiffies yesterday?? Blorenge??), as the main cloud development of the day happened, and we sat and waited for the inevitable spreadout to calm things down some. Just before the predicted time of 2pm, it became vaguely realistic again and, after one aborted attempt (note to Low Airtimers: when it goes tits up, don't panic or feel stupid; just laugh!) and several minor collapses on the way down the field, I made it over the edge and into smooth lift (with quarter bar on to get me out from the hill) almost all the way to the road. Tim Pentreath soon followed me off and Mike Andrews joined us after a while, and we spent what must have been the best part of an hour working the ridge. The wind was now more NE, and we spent a large amount of time at the modellers' end and beyond, almost making it to Bratton a couple of times.
Gradually the spreadout decayed and with the re-emerging sun came some more interesting air and a couple of reasonable climbs that we took back towards the car park (although we lost most of the height getting back forward (!), on full bar at one point, which I haven't often used on the Magic). Colin (I think it was) had come over on his hangy to join us by now, and Tim and I found a rough but strong core and took it back again, a bit further than before, to over 1000ft above take off. We pulled out and came forward when the Imber Ranges meant we had to and were flying in formation when I had a *huge* collapse which Tim, being behind, would be able to tell you more about than me! The Magic is a 2/3; its two 2/3s are for the asymmetric tests; it *does* these things; it took, what, less than two seconds to control, Tim, despite being massively thrown to the collapsed side? (er yes, it was a biggy - 60%-70% I'd estimate! I immediately backed off the speedbar expecting a thrashing but it must have been very localised as I didn't experience so much as a ruffle... I do think your glider is prone to collapses Rich, but it does recover quickly too! - Tim)
Now, don't read into that that I'm blase about rough air - quite the opposite! And I'd been taking these thermals with a view to trying to push off in the Warminster direction anyway, so, rather than drill myself down through a sink (should that be spin?!?!) cycle to the landing field, I worked my way along and just in front of the ridge to the W of the trig point, figuring I could bottom land in one of the fields next to the road up if it was necessary.
Just before the trees at the end of the ridge, I found some gnarly lift, which seemed to be a thermal that was refusing to drift, as Colin and I had to push miles back forward on each upwind leg, but we did gain some height and eventually, when level with the W end of the quarry, I decided to take a punt on a tractor ploughing a field, in sun, just before the Westbury-Warminster road (and only half a mile behind the edge of Westbury town - think triggers!), which I could now reach with several hundred feet to spare.
Good call, Richie :-))
As I was a couple of hundred yards away, a flock of birds took off; I wasn't sure if this was because of the tractor itself or air it was disturbing but I headed over them and found some dribbles of lift, which I worked with a buzzard, who wasn't keen on sharing 360s but didn't mind being relatively close. This was weak stuff that didn't work all the way around but I was gaining height, hoping I wasn't in the bottom of something that would leave me.
Oh, ye of little faith :-)) 2-up (ft/min) went to 4-up, went to 6-up and we're cooking with gas :-)) Still quietly ('cos otherwise I can't hear the vario) singing to myself various songs from Coldplay's most excellent second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, which had been accompanying me all day, I cranked it up in that wonderful knowledge that you ain't stopping 'til you get to cloudbase! In fact I had trouble stopping when I got there, as the averager was now consistently above 800ft/min (not a hugely vertical cloud by any means - just a great thermal) as I reached base above Warminster, and I had to core sink quite tightly with big ears in to avoid the white room! (Big advantage of responsive gliders - highly effective weight-shift makes flying with big ears in very controllable.)
Having stayed with this cloud for a short while, with a reasonably strong NE wind, track wasn't up for too much debate (!), although I did have a good look at where the lion (etc.) enclosure was in the safari park (!) before going roughly over the lake on the SE edge of CenterParcs. I could see the Deverils gliding club in front of me, and remembered overflying it in a thermal, from The Bash two years ago, the last time I'd got away from Westbury.
As then, I didn't need the gliders - they used me; which is nice :-)) Off the back of the CenterParcs forest, I found a 2-up and worked it (making myself turn right-hand 360s, as I've not got them quite as instinctive as left-handers) as the tug towed a sailplane underneath me; that's okay - when I half-lost the thermal I just flew over his core instead and climbed back away (!), right over the runway at three and a half grand; again!! :-)))))
As this thermal petered out, I could see another glider circling off to the W, somewhere above the flat part of the White Sheet track where the modellers park, but he didn't seem to be gaining on me and I was in mild sink, so I headed behind him, to the E of where we park for The Rifle Range, and was rewarded with another weakish but consistent climb that took me straight over The Rifle Range bowl and then the A303.
I like big roads, particularly when they have bends in them that maximise your chance of finding something in the time you have. The A303 bends S here before turning W towards Wincanton, so I flew pretty much over this bit and was rewarded with another weak climb that took me very gradually almost back to base (within 200ft - base was 4000 dead). By this point, I have one song - Green Eyes (okay, Chris Martin must be colourblind!) - *completely* stuck in my head; in fact it's probably been there since the thermal behind Westbury!
Eventually this cloud gives up the ghost and, although I've flown this way before, I remember that the Yeovilton airspace stub sticks out quite markedly in this direction and wouldn't it be a good idea if my airmap wasn't still showing Wales! :-) Refolding it in the air on a glide was actually surprisingly easy - I've had more problems folding on the ground sometimes! - and I confirm where I am and set off to glide straight over Henstridge, hoping it'll kick something, and because there are some weak but vaguely defined clouds in that direction (the best of a very bad bunch that I'm presented with to the S). There are a few bubbles coming through but nothing decent, as I bob around and about 2500ft asl.
Well, eventually I have to move on and I can see in the distance what I think is a large wood I scraped over two years ago to the SE, next to a village that I reckon is Hazelbury Bryan (which I remember has a nice pub!). As then, I found nothing at all on my glide, overflew Stock Gaylard House and its deer park and turned to land comfortably in a large, mown grass field, right next to a road, and considerably elated!
I phone a few people that might still be on the hill, conscious that I don't want the bike there on its own after dark, with my leathers and helmet locked to it, and that the retrieve may take a while, then stick the old thumb out and get a lift reasonably easily back to Henstridge and the A30. As I'm in the car, Brent phones back to say he'll come to Shaftesbury - you are an absolute star and a gent, mate! :-) As it is he has to come along the A30 for me, after I've had to walk about twenty mins to a place where I can safely hitch, and takes me back to the car park, where we see a red Firebird being blown backwards and the smoke even further off to the E!!
And then the bike wouldn't start! Thanks to Russ and friend in particular (sorry, mate - *big* thanks but don't know your name) for pushing me to the top of the hill down but it still won't start, so I freewheel it down to the Market Square for a burger and a half hour wait for the AA man - basically the battery is completely dead and it won't start without it being a live part of the circuit, even bumping. No matter: we get it started and I make sure I don't stall on the way home :-))
And then I went for a drink with my non-flying mates :-))
Remember this all started with a large, violent collapse. Paragliders are meant to do that - it's a safety feature. It's how you deal with it that matters. Yesterday was a little too strong for most wings but if I have one thing to say to Low Airtime pilots, it's don't be scared. I know, believe me, how easy it is to feel *very* uncomfortable in strong conditions and I'm not in the slightest trying to encourage you to fly in those. But it is very easy to treat any thermic conditions as too strong, and that is a mistake. No wing is bomb-proof but if you are flying most 1/2s, for example, they can deal with an awful lot, even if you don't have the most active of flying styles.
Think carefully every time you take to the air; but don't think yourself out of it; always have a Plan B...
...and take care
"I came here with a load