Friday, July 31, 2009

Day five and six, 2 flights, first to goal

Yesterday was a windy day. We took off from Chabre and landed half an hour later. Too turbulent. Jean-Claude broke an upright on landing. I landed at the camp site and instead of doing it in style, I pushed out too late and landed on my chest. Not the way to do it in front of public.
Today nobody knew where to take off and we decided to go to Aspres. Strong winds on launch but the sailplanes which were towed up in front of us gave us an indication that conditions probably were better in the air. Indeed, after a take-off in 30 km/h winds, there was only a moderate drift while themalling. The wind was SE to SW, so I wasn't sure whether I was going to make it to the camping 30 km's further. I failed eralier this week in similar conditions. This time I went to Aiguille instead of Aujour and headed for Serres afterwards. Serres rewarded me with a 6 m/s climb to 3000 m, from where I could glide to the camp site. First time on goal!

Landed on goalJean-Claude coming in for landing

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day three, second flight, new personal records

Yesterday turned out to be a really good day for flying. We had ceilings of 3600 m and I had a 6 m/s thermal. Both more than I have ever experienced before. Some even reported 8-9 m/s thermals. No lack of instability...
I flew with Jan Haagdorens and we decided to go south, heading for Dignes. Take off from Chabre, first climb to 2400 m, waiting for Jan to take off. A second thermal took me to 2700 m, which was enough to cross the valley to La Platte. There I climbed to 3400 m and headed for Roc d'Aigle. Couldn't find anything decent there and searched for half an hour together with Jan. Finally we headed back to the La Platte area and found a solid 5 m/s thermal which rocketed us up to nearly 3600 m. Definitely high enough to head for La Lure. At La Lure, Jan pointed me out that some small cu's were forming to our right hand side and they rewarded us with a 3 m/s climb to 3400 m. So we headed for Les Mees. A 20 km glide. The longest I've ever done and I arrived at 1900 m. High enough to start searching above the plateau.
Things were completely different over there. Only 1 m/s thermal and a 2000 m ceiling. After searching for a while in the direction of Dignes, I headed back to the Durance valley and landed near Chateau Arnoux. A 3 hour flight was finished, 61 km were flown (3 turnpoints). New PB for total distance, furthest glide, strongest thermal and highest ceiling. What a day!

The forecasts for today look even better...

First two days, one flight

The predictions have clearly been better than the real conditions and we were able to do one flight on sunday. I managed a 30 km flight against the wind in turbulent conditions, so I should not be unhappy about that.
Flying here is definitely completely different than in Belgium. The thermals are so much stronger, but also further apart. I had 2700 m at Aspres when I headed towards Aujour with Jean-Claude and I was very much confronted with his better glide angle. He made to Aujour (20 km/h headwind) while I had to survive in the valley.

I did do so for a while and eventually was able to climb up Aiguille. I then glided towards Beaumont, but found nothing decent there and landed at Montrond.

Good to get going and hoping for more.
Today looks flyable but not great. Top of usable lift predicted at 2200 m, so we'll see.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Just arrived in Laragne

The weather is beautiful and we have a light mistral blowing. No flying today due to the strong winds. The weather forecast for tomorrow looks great, so I'm really looking forward to it!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

2 Years of flying

It's now 2 years since my first flight in Thorame, Southern France. And from the moment I started it, this sport fascinated me more than anything else. Since then, I've spent almost every single holiday on hang gliding, only 3 days were sacrificed to skiing ;-). So what happened in these 2 years?

It started with the course I took with Tom Haagdorens in july 2007. During a week in Thorame, I did my first 10 flights, including a first thermal flight which took me 1000 meters above the St. Andre launch. The evening view was magnificent from up there and this was of course my personal highlight of that week. It couldn't have started any better!

After that week, there was a long 6-week wait, before Tom was back and I could do a few more short flights in Belgium. I did my 20th flight during the Coupe d'Icare in september and progressed from the skyfloater to the Laminar Easy which I bought at the festival.

From september until april, I flew as much as I could. It was however mostly limited to dune soaring. It was fun to practice the first wingovers, but I was really hoping for some thermal action. When spring arrived, I was very comfortable with the way I handled the Easy, but I had not encountered a single thermal with it...

The weather never cooperated during the weekends and in april I only had a 20 minute flight at the 7-Meuses site. But, I had turned for 5 or 6 circles in my first thermal with the Easy. And I was ofcourse hoping for more soon.

In may, I set off for 10 days flying, starting with a weekend in the Vosges mountains and spending the week in Laragne. I had two fantastic flights from the Treh. The first one was an evening flight, with nice smooth wide thermals taking me to cloudbase for the first time. The second one was during the early afternoon and was very turbulent. But it also was the first time I crossed a valley, the first time I flew with gliders, the first time I vomited whilst flying (hope that was the last time too) and the first time I bent an upright on landing.

With these flights I felt ready to go to Laragne and hoped to fly some serious distances. Well, that didn't really happen. The first day we drove to Aspres due to pretty strong SW winds. I was happy to be at cloudbase soon, tried to cross the valley against the wind, but that did not work out and I had to land. At least I tried... The second day was the first day in Laragne. I got to cloudbase faster than I could have hoped for, climbed 300 meters in front of the cloud (what a sight!), dove back under it because I planned to wait for Jan and decided that it was way too black to stay there. Raced to the camping site and landed. Jan did the same. We got lightning 20 minutes later...

The third day looked extremely good and I broke a wing tip while assembling the wing. That ruined the day and resulted in driving to Grenoble and back to get a new one. The fourth day I bombed out. I really wanted to do a nice XC flight and it never worked out. High winds were predicted for the next few days, so I returned home, because the forecast was better over there. 24 hours later, the weather was epic in Laragne (Jan told me on the phone) and I couldn't fly at home. I felt gutted.

I was however happy with the way I could handle the Easy and decided I wanted more performance. In june, I bought the Spyder I'm currently flying. But I hadn't had any practice in XC flying and I wanted to participate in the Belgian Open during the third week of july.

So I left for Laragne to do a XC course during the second week of july. My first flight during that week was a evening soaring flight on the north face of the Chabre. My landing was the worst ever. 30 km/h wind from the north and completely misjudged the performance of the Spyder. I was frightened that I would have too much ground effect and in reality I didn't even make the landing field because I flew out too far downwind... One broken upright on top of that.

How did the XC course go? Complete disaster. Only 3 flyable days. Bombed out twice. The day I did get up, I flew with Tom, who landed just a few minutes after crossing the camp field. I followed him after a misunderstanding. This concluded the second week trying to do my first XC flights and I still hadn't done a real one. And the Belgian Open was about to begin.

The competition started with a windy and very turbulent day in St. Andre. I didn't have a lot of confidence in gaggle flying in these conditions and as a result I did not get away from the starting ridge. The conditions did not seem to improve and after 1,5 hour trying I landed at La Mure. Still no XC flight... but I kept it safe, while 3 out of the 30 competitors suffered some kind of injury during landing (2 broken wrists).

The second day was a lot better. Not an easy day and a 66 km task was set. 9 people in goal and I managed 18 kms, with a detour ;-) My first XC flight, at last!

The third day had the best conditions, but by no means really good. A 95 km task was set, 3 in goal, I managed 22 cross-wind kms. Had a low save and scratched quite a long time under a cirrus cover. Hey, definitely an improvement again!

The fourth day started with a 20 km leg against a 20 km/h wind. That didn't look good... 85 km task, 6 in goal. I managed the headwind leg, but was too impatient at the turnpoint. Landed and was frustrated to see the 2 pilots I had just joined get high and start the 40 km tailwind leg. Missed the potential for a 60+ km flight. Half an hour later I my mood had settled down and I was just happy about the progress I had made during the competition. I had flown with the purpose of getting somewhere instead of just flying around. It felt good.

After these two weeks, it was back to Belgium, only to return 14 days later for a week in St. Andre. High hopes for my first 50+ km flight! However, the first day, I bombed out at the antenna's. Felt stupid. The second day, I scratched for 40 minutes at the west start in very turbulent air. I was giving up because it really wasn't fun anymore and headed for La Mure to land. Only to find out that there was actually a south wind blowing, resulting in strong 4 m/s thermals on the south side of the mountain. What a lesson! The others had already derigged their gliders, because they had seen how turbulent it was for me. I flew to Thorame, but did not use the potential of the day because I was all alone up there and did not know how or when I would get picked up. Being at 3500 m for the first time was memorable.

The weather did not cooperate during the next few days and I only managed one other nice late afternoon flight which took me to Pic de Chamatte. But I couldn't really get high from there and landed after 2 hours flying. I didn't reach my 50 km milestone and was a little disappointed about that. On the other hand, I had done my first XC flights during that summer, so there definitely was progress and I hoped for more in Belgium.

Belgian weather was however not giving me what I hoped for at all. The next few months I was rewarded with nothing more than just a few light thermals and it soon was winter.

Winter and early spring were spent winch towing. That meant a lot of landing practice and that was good. And I had the outlook of taking part in the Montegrappa trophy in april, flying among Europe's finest.

The trophy had beautiful weather in store and I did my best flight until now (56 km). The last day I was too impatient again and after having flown the first 30 km in an hour, I did not use some light lift I encountered, expecting better lift 3 km's further, only to have to land there. Missed potential again. But, I had been in the middle of the gaggle at the starting time and flew with 30 or 40 gliders for the first few minutes, all racing in the same direction. Quite a squadron. What a sight!

After the trophy I was looking forward to a 10-day flying trip in may. I was going to fly in the Bavarian/Austrian alps for the first time and I was all excited about it. May has the highest chances for really, really thermal conditions and if I wanted to do my first 100 km flight, this was the time and place to be. I thought, I hoped. It turned out completely different. Not one decent day resulted in frustrations. Not the way holiday should be. The best memory is Hans Kiefinger being a really nice host, inviting me to fly the Bavarian flatlands on a windy day.

Back in Belgium. Beautiful cumulus cloud at work. Not one decent XC flight during weekends. May and june have passed by.

Why did I write all this? Because 2 years have gone by since I did my first flight. And I wanted to sum up for myself what had happened in that time.

And because I'm looking forward to this year's final flying trip. On friday, I'm off to Laragne for two weeks. Hoping to fly the longest distances I've ever flown. The weather looks really good, let's see if the predictions stay that way.

Keep you fingers crossed for good weather, will you? Thanks :-)