Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On the road to Turkey

Tomorrow we (Primoz, Suan, Noel and I) will take the car train from Villach to Turkey. From the Turkish border, it still will be a 1000 km drive to Kayseri. Let the adventure start :-)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cloud Suck

I don't know who this is and I don't know why he threw the chute while he still was flying (panic?), but it really doesn't look like a joy ride. Stay away from the clouds!

Friday, August 26, 2011

British and French Open - Results, 6th overall

These are the results after 6 days and 3 tasks. Since tomorrow is going to be canned as well (very high winds predicted), they're probably not going to change anymore... Look here for task scores and the rigids.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

British and French Open, Day 5, Task 3

Today I was flying slow and impressed by the flying conditions. I had two scary moments and I guess that didn't help my confidence to go for it in the end. 9th in goal, I will lose a few places in the overall standings... Pilot party now, a more serious report is for later.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

British and French Open, Day 1 & 2, 3rd overall :-)

We've had fantastic flying weather the past two days here. The first day, we had a 138 km task. One pilot decided "not to waste the day on such a short task" and went free flying instead. I agree that we could have flown a 200 km task that day, but isn't it bad sportsmanship to show your personal opinion in this way? The organization is trying to have a good comp for all. Give them a break...
So, we flew from St. Andre to Lac de Serre Ponson, then back to Pic de Chamatte and landed in Thorame Basse. The task was fast and pretty easy, with lots of ridge soaring and strong thermals. But, it was not uneventful. We had a tumble over Dormillouse, the pilot being pretty much OK, but the glider is still up on the mountain. There was hail on course line and we had lightning over the landing field, when the cloud above us didn't even look that bad. It was a big surprise!
I finished the task in 4th and was pretty happy with that result. Here's the flight.
Yesterday we were plagued by SE winds while we were on the W launch. A 113 km task to Laragne was set, but it was shortened to a 89 km task because of the late start. It was a fast task again (won by Laurent with a 60 km/h average). Same story as the day before for me. A mistake early in the task, then being rather cautious over unlandable terrain, but with a strong finish (ignore missing the turnpoint by 10 m and having to make an extra 360). I was 9th for the task. Here's the flight on Leonardo. It was fun flying from one famous flying site to the other. And you do appreciate the change terrain. Mountains with rather narrow valleys in St. Andre and then the wide open valley of Laragne, with many different routes towards the last turnpoint. Although the task was short, you still had to make your choice in the end.
The Combat does speed up nicely on final. I was taking 2 extra circles in 4 m/s up in an attempt to beat Carl and Jonas into goal and I would have done so if I hadn't missed the turnpoint. Now I was 30s slower...
I'm now in 3rd overall. That's not bad at all :-)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Flying in St. Andre

I'm in St. Andre for the British & French Open. St. Andre is a place with many stories and a place which is "not for boys". There are a number of areas without landings and the valley winds are strong. So are the thermals and the turbulences.
Yesterday I had my first XC flight here. Discovering the area from high above. But there's still a lot to discover and tomorrow is the first task. It looks to be a place where local knowledge is very important. Flying low across a ridge is not something you can do when you don't know what's behind it. Definitely not here.
And racing is something else than free flying. I guess I'll have to do a lot of risk assessment in the next few days...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Flying the Dolomites - Incredible!

Carl, Jamie, Jem and I had 2 days flying in the Dolomites, launching from Col Rodella. Sadly, I lost my GoPro, so I have no footage of the most amazing flight I've ever done. I put it some pics I grabbed from the net. Here's the launch site:

Carl and I set up the plan to try to fly to the 3 Zinnen. After a dusty on take-off, we all were a bit impressed with the launch conditions and were expecting turbulent thermals. Indeed, my first thermal was quite rough, but once I got higher, things became nicer. Jem, Jamie and Carl launched as well and Carl got up from pretty low on Sella. I was a bit further and decided to join him there. That was our first real Dolomites experience. The question really is how close you dare to turn next to the rock face. The first time you fly towards it, it really scares you. But the thermals are glued to the rock face, so you go for it a bit more every time. What an impressive view! Here's a pic of the south face of Sella. We were right next to it:

Once we got cloud base, we flew on to Piz Boe, the highest point of Sella, which was a very busy place. Loads of tourists there. The valley leading to Col di Lana wasn't inviting (no nice landing places), but we went anyway. The climbs were strong and we headed in the direction of Cortina d'Ampezzo. But, when it was clear that Drei Zinnen was a bad choice, nothing but forest leading there, we turned around. The view there was incredible (Tofana, Drei Zinnen, Civetta). We headed for Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Dolomites, which still has a little glacier. Cloud base was just high enough to reach the top of it, so we played around a little, reaching cloud base, going for the top with the glacier, going back to the climb and going over the top again. What an experience!
After that, we flew over Langkofel and Rosengarten. Langkofel was special as well, climbing next to it and then we you reach the ridge height and start to soar it, you only see rock pinacles pointing right at you. No point in having a reserve chute there...
I will return to the Dolomites. This was my biggest flying experience until now!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Test flying the Wills Wing T2C 154

I also had the opportunity to test the T2C. When rigging it, it was obvious that the demo glider had high sprog settings. And it was also obvious that this was the glider that was on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to the Combat 13.5. The lowest aspect ratio in the field and the sail tension also seemed to be lower with full VG on. This had to be a handling machine.
I had 2 flights with it. One sled ride down from Kobala and an hour of light thermals on Lijak. Both launches were super easy. It is amazing how soon it starts flying.
On the sled ride I tried flying it as slow as possible. And it feels as if it can fly considerably slower than the Combat. The stall (VG off or 1/3) was very smooth, so gentle that it reminded me of my training glider. The handling with full VG is a lot lighter than it is on the Combat.
These characteristics helped me a lot on the flight on Lijak. The thermals were light and very close to the ridge and the WW gave me a lot of confidence to go for them, very slow and pretty close to the trees. And all this with a serious amount of high-siding. It remembered me of flying the Spyder. Except that the Spyder was tougher.
I played a little with the VG setting while thermalling. And I think it did well until 2/3 VG (in the light thermals). Above that the glider wanted to dive too much for my comfort. I lose feeling if I have to push it out too much.
The glide was very stable, but that surely was linked to the high sprog settings. I have no clue how it feels when you set them to 'Worlds settings'.
Pulling the VG was extremely light. No effort required there at all. Very, very comfortable.
On both flights I had some altitude to burn off and I did so with some wingovers. What a difference to the Combat! The WW (with high sprog settings) is a true acro machine. It was a joy!
Of course I had to land it. And here again, the easy handling comes into play. The approach was very precise and the handling in ground effect was very nice and swift, also at low speeds. I never felt any risk of dropping a wing. Now I understand why I see other pilots execute slow and low landing approaches which I normally wouldn't do with the Combat. The flare was easy and the flare window probably is quite big. Easy landing!
It was very nice to have the opportunity to fly a Wills. Now I can't wait to fly one in race trim...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Test flying the Aeros Combat 13.5 GT

The report below was written in August 2011. Here's a more recent report.

I had been waiting for this for almost 6 months. And thanks to Matjaz, I finally had the opportunity to fly the Combat 13.5. The 13.5 is special because it has an extreme aspect ratio of 8.5. This means the wing is 8.5 times as wide as it is long. And aerodynamics tell you that wings with higher aspect ratios fly more efficiently. That's why sailplanes have such high aspect ratios (long, thin wings). But for us, hang gliders, it is not as easy as for sailplanes to have high aspect ratios, because we lose maneuverability and pitch stability. Aeros claims that the 13.5 is as maneuverable as their other glider and has high pitch stability as well. So, with the promised extra performance and the glider being more appropriate for my weight than my current 14.2 (aspect ratio 8), I had to try it :-)
I launched into very calm air and the glider immediately felt comfortable and at least as responsive as my 14.2. It was gliding dead straight and did 3 km with a 15.7 glide ratio at 54 km/h. Hard to say how accurate this is, but it felt good.
The first thermal I hit, was a very light one. It was a struggle to stay in the air, but I immediately was sure that the glider was going to do it for me. The handling was very, very similar to my 14.2, with the exception of a much sharper stall when I was pushing too much to fly as slow as possible. I also had to push it a little all the time as the glider was trimmed a little too fast for me.
After about an hour, the day turned on and Carl and I had a 3 hour flight with amazing views over the Tolmin area. It was the first time I got into the higher mountains and you saw the remains of WWI everywhere. Trenches, bunkers, gun platforms, … We visited the war museum a few days before and now I saw it all flying just above it.
We had a few rough thermals as well and I had a tough time in those. But, I'm all over the place in rough thermals with the 14.2. I think the 13.5 was more maneuverable.
The 13.5 remains a Combat though. It is not allowing me to fly as close to the terrain as I see other gliders do. The handling with full VG is very stiff, so you have to be careful flying close to the mountains in turbulent air. But, it must be said, it is definitely not worse than the 14.2. And achieving that with a higher aspect ratio is a great job.
The effect of the higher aspect ratio was demonstrated when I had a glide next to Carl on his Moyes Litespeed RS 3.5. There was a clear gliding advantage for the 13.5. Sadly my harness rocked up a little when we went full speed, which wasn't ideal for the glide. Still, I had the same glide as Carl then, but the Combat could definitely do better.
Of course I wanted to land it nicely (Matjaz was watching in the landing field) and the landing felt easier than with my 14.2. I think it was a textbook landing with a very nice flare. The higher wing loading helps a lot to achieve this flare as I'm a bit light on my 14.2 and it is definitely harder to make that one flare nicely. Last year, I had one landing on the smaller 13.2 and that flared very nicely as well.
So, the handling of the 13.5 was at least as good as on my 14.2 (I'm light on that one!) and the glide was probably better. I liked flying it very much.
Major kudos to Matjaz for letting me fly his glider!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dutch Open wrap up

We had 4 tasks in the Dutch Open. None of the tasks had easy flying conditions, you always had to work to get somewhere. Elio Cataldi did a remarkable job, taking the lead in most of the tasks and going fast when he was out in front. But it was Paolo Rosichetti who won the meet, being very consistent. I have not been consistent at all and am flying with highs and lows. 4th on day 2 and day 3, but only short distances on the first and fourth day. See the results.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dutch Logic

The Dutch Nationals in Tolmin, Slovenia, have started. We had a special day today. In the morning it looked like it was going to be a true racing day, but at 11 o'clock it already was obvious that there was not much lift on our task area. I missed the first start gate and was low on the second as well. I landed at the first turn point, only 16 km out. But it seems that a lot of people, including very good pilots, landed out today…
Anyway, my car was on the landing place and I decided to try to hitchhike back to it, because nobody of our team was in goal (and because I deserved the punishment). I left the glider in the field, took my harness and started walking. After 20 minutes, the official retrieve van passed me, empty and driving in the direction I needed to go to. Ideal! Ok, I did not pay for retrieve, but I said they could throw me out any time they wanted to. Any distance I could make towards Tolmin was just nice.
International experience tells you this:
  • the Mexicans would drive by with a van that's going to break down in a few km, with 14 gliders on the roof and 10 pilots in the completely filled van. And they'd be insulted if you turned down their offer.
  • the Japanese immediately call the team leader who gives you within a few seconds a clear answer on whether you can drive along a bit or not
  • the Austrians would already be drunk and wouldn't even notice that you're not an Austrian
  • the Belgians would take you as far as they could. If the bus would really fill up, they'd say "sorry dude, but we'll have to drop you off here. Here's a few beers, do we need to call anyone for you?"
Dutch logic works differently. There seem to be fundamental cultural and behavioral differences. For the Dutchies, organization is important. Rules are clear rules. Nobody on the retrieve van. Not even without a glider and if you're saying yourself that they're free to throw you off at any time. I could only stand there flabbergasted and had to laugh about it :-)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Belgian Champion :-)

So, the last task was canceled. The weather didn't look good and only about 15 people were on launch the last day, so what choice did we have... We decided to do a little spot landing contest and Spanish Marti won it:

I'm very happy that I managed to remain the Belgian champion, because it was not looking that way after the first few tasks. In the end, Carl, Mart and I both won 2 tasks, but Carl had a serious lead in the general classification (see results below). We had 6 tasks and 7 out of 7 days of flying, resulting in a lot of happy faces.
Here's the Belgian podium, with Jean-Claude Bodart (r) in second and Michel Bodart (l) in third:

And this is the podium in the Open comp: Carl 1st, Mart 2nd and I was 3rd:

Friday, August 5, 2011

2011 Belgian Nationals, Day 6, Task 6, task win :-)

Today we woke up with a nice sky and a forecast for possible overdevelopment during the day. We decided to launch from Aspres and take Pic de Bure as a first turnpoint. That's the mountain in the next picture. It's always a thrill to climb up next to the rock faces and it was a first for quite a few competitors today. Everyone loved it:-)

From there, we had to go to Hongrie, then back to Savournon (between St. Genis and Aujour) and then back to the camping. A 90 km task. Here's Carl's launch:

And this is me:

I was a bit lower than many others in the start gate, but decided to take the first after all, because of the risk of overdevelopment. The thermals were booming everywhere and soon we were at Hongrie. There we got stuck for a while and I decided to drift downwind in a weak thermal. It took me in the direction of the edge of the valley and that's where I got a decent thermal again. It allowed me to attach to Aujour and from there it was an easy and fast run in. I was in goal 20 mins ahead of Carl and 25 ahead of Mart (2nd start gate), so I won the day :-) Here's Mart, happy to be in goal:

I will have a big lead in the Belgian Championship now and will be in 3rd overall. Never thought that would still be possible after my bad start to the comp.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

2011 Belgian Nationals, Day 5, Task 5

5 Tasks in 5 days, who thought that this was going to happen in a European comp in 2011? Well, it's happening at the Belgian Nationals. And, if we're lucky, we're going to get 7 out of 7 :-)
There was some concern that we were driving up the wrong launch today. We rigged on the lower north launch on Chabre with light north winds and a serious chance for west winds in the early afternoon. Were we going to lose the day with the best forecast of the week?
We set a 104 km task over Aiguille, Gap, Montagne d'Oule, Sigoyer and return to the camping.
We launched as early as we dared to make sure we wouldn't be stuck on the mountain due to increasing west winds. It took me some time to find the first thermal. But the west winds didn't turn on and everybody was able to have a nice and safe launch.
It turned out to be a very interesting task with W to NW winds and a moderate cloud base (2200 m, max 2500 m). I made a first mistake when I crossed the valley near Veynes in an attempt to attach to Pic de Bure. I was to low for that and ended up in light lee conditions. I lost half an hour there. By the time I took the turnpoint near Gap, Mart, who started 20 mins later, had already overtaken me and Malcolm (also 2nd start) was right below me. I returned over Ceuse and had an easy glide to Montagne d'Oule. Had I only taken this route the first time as well... d'Oule wasn't active and I found a weak thermal on the foothills west of it. Only just enough to attach to Aujour where I couldn't find the expected strong thermal. I got low a second time, between Aujour and St. Genis and lost another 20 mins. A climb above the camping allowed me to go on glide to the last turnpoint. I enjoyed the final glide very much and flew into goal in ground effect :-)
Mart Bosman flew the task an hour faster, but after the difficulties along the route, I was happy to be in goal. 3rd for the task, 1st Belgian and 4th overall. On track for the Belgian title and the podium in the general classification is now a close battle between Malcolm and me.

Jamie's pics of the Belgian Nationals

Jamie is making very nice pictures. Many of them of her babe of course, but there too nice not to share ;-)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2011 Belgian Nationals, Day 4, Task 4, task victory :-)

When we got up this morning, we saw thick cirrus, wave clouds and SW winds. Luckily, during breakfast, the sun started to make it's appearance We decided to launch from Aspres. On arrival there, the sky didn't look very promising and we ditched our plan to fly over Pic de Bure.

We instead decided for a task going from Apsres to Hongrie, back to the north ridge of Aujour and then back to the camping. The whole Aspres valley shaded while we were flying in the start gate, so it was going to be an interesting start. I took the first gate and took a different route than Carl and Mart. They went to Aujour, the shortest path, I went over Serres and St. Genis. Mart landed soon, Carl got very low at Aujour and I got very low once I crossed the valley to Hongrie. But after some work there, things turned on and I caught Ron on the Aujour ridge, beating him into goal with a few minutes. Task victory :-) I needed that, the past few days had been pathetic...
Jamie makes really nice pictures, here you see Carl coming into goal. And she's using Carl's glider as a sun shelter for her office...

I'm now in sixth overall, 300 points ahead of Jean-Claude, second Belgian. So I'm not yet handing over the Mitsubishi to someone else ;-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Launch Pics

Sander gave me these pics. They show my launch on the first day of the Belgians. What a nice sky...

2011 Belgian Nationals, Day 1, Task 3, outlanding again...

The day started late today with stable conditions on launch. We had an 80 km task. Everything started out well, being on top of the gaggle with Carl. We were the first ones to take a start (we had many choices, 9 start gates in total), together with Tom and a few other people. The thermals were pretty good and the first three turnpoints were flown over in quick succession. When I flew back to Chabre I almost caught up with Carl again, who had lost a few minutes there. I didn't want to arrive low on Chabre, so I decided to aim for the east side of it, since the hot valley air, pushed by the southeasterly winds, would hit the ridge there first. I was surprised not to find any thermals there and decided to push on for the little hills north of Chabre. They also were in the flow of the valley wind, so I had high hopes for them. But, nothing worked, I had to land there, under a blue sky.
Right after landing, I saw the whole sky west of me fill up with cumi's. Not just one or two, but a whole cloud street from Chabre to Beaumont. It was amazing to see, but it also spelled very bad news, because it now was obvious for everybody in the air how to fly. I think a lot of people who have started a little later will have had a nice run there...
I now really need a few more tasks to have any chance for the title. The worst thing is that I have a really good feeling while flying. I'm going fast, I'm not feeling like I take a lot of risks, but I'm on the ground every time again. And Carl and Mart are in goal. I feel pretty bad about it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

2011 Belgian Nationals, Day 1, Task 2

Two tasks in two days, not usual for the 2011 comps... but good news of course.
We had rapidly rising cloud bases during the launch window, so, when the lead gaggle left on the first start gate, I returned and waited for the second. It was a good choice because I caught up with the lead gaggle (only Carl was still in front) after 40 km. I climbed to 2400 m above Aspres and started gliding towards Montagne d'Oule. I got nothing but sink and was very pissed to find myself on the ground, after such a good first half of the task.
Many landed in that area, but 4 people made goal. Carl was first in, but was followed by Mart just a few minutes later. Since Mart took the second start gate, he won the task. Tanno and Enda Carrigan also made goal. Congrats to the Dutchies, they're currently showing the Belgians how to fly.
In the general classification, I'm now 200 points behind the first Belgian. It's about time I get some better flying in. Luckily we probably will have a few more tasks. No more mistakes allowed.