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!
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 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.
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.
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.