Sunday, December 30, 2012

2 Days of local flying

Yesterday I had quite a lot of work on the glider and in particularly getting the old harness attached correctly to the glider. My fingers are not made for hard-to-reach safety rings... So it was quite late until I launched. Being pretty windy, I flew for an hour and had my first taste of Australian air after a three month non-flying break.

Today was less windy and Trent, Blenkie and others decided on a 180 km triangle. I launched with them and soon after we had a group of 7 or 8 at start height. I noticed that my elbow was rubbing the handle of the reserve chute and had a quick look to check it. One pin was almost loose! Trying to put it back in place, I almost unlocked the second pin. No way I was going to continue flying with the risk that the parachute would fall out. So I landed and went to the supermarket for a quick solution to the problem: rubber bands.

Did a second launch around 2:30 PM and flew for 90 minutes. Felt like 1) there were quite some turbulences and 2) the glider was quite sensitive to them. Sprog measuring tomorrow...

And to top it off, I blew an upright on landing. First one on the 13.5. Didn't plan on using half of my reserve upright on the 2nd flying day in Australia!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Arriving in Australia

Just a few interesting days. Upon arrival I headed for Glen and Jamie's place and where we celebrated christmas with Heather and Mart and I was able to shake off most of the jetlag. Some walking, slacklining and Xboxing filled those 2 coastal days. Can you think of a better setting for a slackline?

Yesterday was quite an international make-it-all-come-together day. It started by driving the Kiwi-car to the Sydney airport to pick up Canadians Rob and Leif and hand the Kiwi-car over to them. From there, we picked up my glider from the shipping company and the headed to the Moyes factory, because Michelle was going to take my glider to Forbes and I was asked to drive Vicky's car there. At the factory, I met Polona. Polona was supposed to stay the night at Vicky's and I was going to stay at Kath's place. Since that was quite an organizational overhead, we decided not to stay in Sydney any longer and head for Forbes immediately. And yes, we did do the tourist thing and stopped at the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains:

All in all, it was dark when we drove the last 150 km and yes, you do have to watch out for wildlife. After cruising around for a while, I had to hit the brakes quite hard when a Wallaby suddenly showed up in the middle of the road. We were warned for the rest of the trip.

Arriving late in Forbes, where the Australian Jazz convention is going on, meant that we didn't find a place to sleep, so Forbes airfield was the place to go. And this was sunrise:

My glider should be here tonight. Let the games begin!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Received the Adidas Evil Eyes

I've been flying with the Evil Eyes for 3 years now and they've been the best corrective sunglasses I could find. They've proven strong, provided good vision and have swappable glasses for varying conditions.

So I'm very happy to announce that Adidas provided me with the newest model of the Evil Eye. Many thanks to Optiek Vandeweghe for helping me out in finding the right glasses, 3 years ago and now:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Damaged landing gear

Slipped on the stairs yesterday. Hope the damage is only aesthetic, but I'm not sure about that.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Major distances in South Africa

Reinhard Pöppl is flying major distances in South Africa on his Atos. Check this out. 500 km and thermals up to 6000 m!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Enroute

Our gliders are on the move. On this vessel:

And the ship is currently not far from Gibraltar, on its way to "down under". Did I already mention that I can't wait?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Excellent vision by Adidas

Excellent news yesterday: Adidas is going to sponsor me with a new pair of Adidas Evil Eyes!

The sunglasses are very important for me, because being a little near-sighted, I need them to have correction as well. The swappable contrast-enhancing lenses already provided me very good vision with the previous model, so I'm looking forward to flying the new model. The new quick-change lens system will also help keeping the lenses clean while swapping them. Looks great!

Ook een dikke merci aan Toon en Nele van Optiek Vandeweghe om samen naar de beste oplossing te zoeken!

Gliders ready for ship(ment)

Thursday was shipment day. Having wrapped the glider in shrink wrap to keep it dry, I set of the work and brought the glider to my Dutch neighbours in the evening.

7 Gliders in a box with some spare parts. Let the sea gods have mercy ;-)

And indeed, the box was only just long enough for the Combat...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 Season is over, prepping for the 2013 Worlds

Rain and wind seem to have signaled the definitive return of the fall season. No more thermal flights this year. 2012 was a year which has been exceptionally bad for flying in Belgium. Although I was ready to fly almost every weekend, a combination of bad weather during weekends or the lack of towing pilots when we did have good weather, resulted in a pathetic season with only 3 XC flights in Belgium. I got a total of 60 hours airtime this year (incl the holiday flying!) and that's the worst in 3 years. So, let's quickly forget about that.

On the other side of the spectrum, I'm really looking forward to the 2013 World Championships, now 3 months ahead of us. The Worlds will be held in Forbes, 400 km from Sydney, Australia. The place is known for epic flying with strong thermals and long flying days. I really hope the weather delivers there! Let there be 300 km tasks :-)

But yes, going down under requires a number of preparations. I've teamed up with the Dutch National team to organize the logistics. These include transporting the gliders there and organizing the retrieve team. The gliders will be shipped (literally). They're going to leave the harbour in 2 weeks time and should arrive in Australia early December. Insured and nicely wrapped in a wooden box, that's a much better solution than risking them by taking them on the plane.

So, logistics are going nicely. And physical preparations are going well too. I'm running 3 times a week and I've started taking up swimming again as well, to give the shoulders some work to do. I'm still doubting whether I should start going to the gym. I don't like those cramped, sweaty places and would rather do my sports outdoors, but hey, the gym might be way more efficient...

This is Jonny Durand showing us what kind of flying we can expect down under:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

Belgian Nationals - Floating Trophy

I've always heard that you could keep the Belgian Nationals' floating trophy after three consecutive wins (I started hang gliding when Francis had won the Nationals twice in succession). But now, after I've won it three times in a row, that suddenly doesn't seem to be true... Urban legend among Belgian pilots? Strange.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

UK Nationals - Task 5 - Do your checks

The last day of UK nationals started with some rain and a clouded sky, but the forecast promised better conditions, so we headed for the Chabre launch. Condition improved indeed, but still looked pretty light while the launch window was open.

I had been rigging a bit on the side and when the sun appeared I didn't want to wait too long with taking off. I prepared myself and moved to launch. A helpful pilot offered me to do a hang check and we did the regular checks (hang strap, leg loops, helmet). I launched and immediately felt something was wrong. The harness zipper had not been closed at all, nor was the chest clip. I flew towards landing and, to my surprise, managed to close the harness. I spent an hour trying to get back on the ridge, but that didn't work out anymore. Second lost day (after being air-sick), so the UK nationals really had highs and lows for me...

Of course I am responsible myself for preparing correctly for flight (all the important security checks have been done), but it is remarkable that nobody spotted that my harness was completely open while I was on launch. Not even when I did the hang check with the other pilot. Competition flying, or any hurry or distraction from normal procedures can definitely make you forget things. So, make sure you always do you checks. For me, it is checking the glider and from now on 4 checks instead of 3 for the rest of it: hang strap, leg loops, zipper/chest buckle and helmet.

It cost me a very nice flight. Many congratulations to Gordon Rigg, who won the UK nationals a 9th time and to Luis Rizo Salom, who won the Open championship. Great flying by both of them!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

UK Nationals - Task 4

A short 70 km task was set because there was a risk of overdevelopment. We started with a ridge run which was easy due to the moderate south wind. After that, we had a valley crossing pretty early in the day and I took the gamble to leave the lead gaggle and take the straight line across the valley, instead of going to the mountains downwind. It worked out and I was a few km ahead at the second turnpoint.

Then it was onto Aujour to take the thermal which would bring me to goal. It was a detour, but the day was very unstable and Aujour was in the sun, so I expected it to work. When I arrived on Aujour, I could barely ridge-soar it. It took a few minutes to find the first decent thermal and be the time I did my first circle, the others arrived at full speed. I was a bit unlucky, because the whole mountain started to produce strong 5 m/s thermals, I arrived just a few minutes too early...

I had had warnings over the radio, informing me of strong south winds on the camp site and I didn't trust the 1:9 glide we were on, so I did a few turns in a strong thermal on our way to St.-Genis. Andreas and Luis continued and arrived a minute ahead in goal. I was 4th and a bit disappointed, but had enjoyed the flying very much.

It was indeed very windy on landing and it was pretty scary to see that the majority of pilots (free flyers and also competitors) were burning off excess altitude downwind instead of upwind of the landing field. In many cases they were flying slowly towards the landing field, sometimes doing some extra turns. Just one bad turbulence could get those pilots into serious trouble...

I decided to write something about this, because I got into trouble myself last week. I was doing a standard U-circuit approach on a field I absolutely didn't want to overshoot (the bombout/emergency landing with the angry farmer in St.-Vincent-les-Forts). Because I didn't want to overshoot, I was doing my downwind slower than I used to. The moment I decided to turn in, a turbulence hit me and I couldn't turn in for a while. I barely made it over the electrical wires next to the field... There is only one safe way to do approaches: fast U-circuits. They allow you to react to changing situations.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Beautiful 140 km triangle

Yesterday's weather was perfect for flying. 3000 m cloud base and weak winds. We launched from Chabre and had a 140 km task over Aspres (Aiguille) and then to Batie Neuve near Lac de Serre Ponson, and then going South to Volonne (South of Sisteron).

I lost some time early on, but had a great flight over new territory, enjoying the scenery very much. No more nausea, the pills seem to work. Some lost time was recovered by taking a detour at La Batie to avoid weaker thermals in the valley and the second half of the task I flew quite a lot with Malcolm. Things got very weak South of Sisteron and we left the Sisteron ridge with 11:1 to goal. The glide started very bad and I decided to try to pick up something near the glider port. Bad idea, it didn't work out and I landed 6 km short. Malcolm did make it to goal.

Christian Voiblet let me try the winglets again (the one's the glider was actually delivered with) and I must say they improved the handling quite a lot in my opinion. I wouldn't say that the glider became any stiffer or slower to react, but it definitely had more stability while thermaling. Christian said he tried them on the smoke sail and that it made no difference to his glider. Seems to work with the Technora sail however...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Damn. Air-sick.

The first task of the UK nationals was stopped due to strong East winds in the Veynes valley. I was lucky it was stopped because I had already landed because I was air-sick. I've had the problem two years ago when I got worse flight after flight after flight. Some simple car-sickness medication solved the problem and I didn't have any issues after. I thought it had something to do with having to wait for almost an hour in freezing conditions at 3000 m. I was cold and maybe the sickness had something to do with that.

Yesterday's second task was flown in excellent weather conditions. I got my timing wrong with the first start gate and took the second one with Gordon. But after twenty minutes racing, I got sick again. Landed very early. It's a shame.

I'm going to buy some medication now and I hope it works again.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

2012 Belgian Open - 3rd consecutive title :-)

The Belgian Nationals are over with three nice tasks. We launched from Chabre once and twice from Aspres. The first task was a 105 km task and we had 33 out of 68 pilots in goal. Lots of happy faces and everybody was talking about 4 to 5 m/s thermals, 3400 m ceilings and amazing glides. I wasn't very happy at all, since I had been flying around alone, at max 2700 m, with slow climbs and bad glides. Almost an hour slower than Joost, who won the task, I could only conclude that for some reason I got it all wrong that day.

The second task was flown from Aspres and took us over Pic de Bure to Les Barrets near Gap, south from there to St.-Genis and Gache and then into goal (Laragne). Climbs were strong again and cloud base was high. But, with the West wind, you had to make the right choices to get to St.-Genis from Gap. Rich made the best decisions and arrived at Gache before cirrus started to cover the sky. He got a climb out of there and glided straight to goal. Many others, including me, had a hard time on Gache and had to be very conservative over Hongrie on the hills East of the glider port in order to make goal. Rich took 25 minutes on us and I was second for the day. A good comeback after day 1 :-)

Predictions for the third day were for more wind (still West) and blue skies. We went to Aspres again and set a more conservative 70 km task because of the winds. It immediately was clear that the weather forecast was not accurate at all. As you can see, an unstable upper layer was going to make sure that this wasn't a blue day at all:

The valley in front of launch was quickly covered in shade and nobody was keen to take-off. A brief moment of sun allowed us to launch and be on top right at the first start gate. In terms of tactics, I had two options for the day. Either race the course and try to make the podium in the overall ranking, or watch Tom and make sure I wasn't going to do worse than him to secure the Belgian title. Since I was in a good position at the start gate, I went for the first option and glided out with Andreas, Gordon and Grant. We got lower than intended, north of Serres and I took it more conservatively than the other 3, because I really wanted to avoid to be on the ground. After a bit of work, I found a 5 m/s screamer which Nils and I took to cloud base at 2500 m. From there on, it was a cloud race with 4 m/s thermals to Oule and back on Aujour, meeting up with Gordon and Grant again. Gordon and Grant stopped at Aujour's summit while I continued on to reach the clouds. At first, that didn't seem to work, but after a while it got me into a 3 m/s which ensured goal. I could relax, the 3rd Belgian title was in the bag :-) A big thank you to Terremark for their ongoing suppport!

The 70 km was definitely undercalled, because the winds were way lower than predicted, at least in the Laragne valley. But, the flying was beautiful. It's a shame the conditions were weak and low in Aspres, because that meant that many were on the ground before the first turnpoint, were the better conditions started. Malcolm Brown once more showed that he understands this area extremely well and had the fastest run of all. The day was won by Andreas Olson who led us all the way. I got 4th for the day and 4th overall, way better than expected after day 1.

Day 2 had a scare when Mart's crossbar broke while he was on final glide. We saw the chute deploy from the landing field and Mart spiraled down, landing in the hills East of us. Mart's got a slight concussion and a bruised arm, which is a very good outcome for such an incident. Glad that he's safe. The glider is wrecked and so is his harness and instrument. There is no apparent reason for the failure, so it's a bit strange. Maybe the crossbar got damaged in transport?

That aside, we can look back at a very nice championship. A few more tasks would have been nice, but we got 3 and they had very good flying. The level of the competition was good and the Brits filled the entire podium with a victory for Grant Crossingham. The comp was flown in a relaxed atmosphere and we all had a great time. On to the UK nationals!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Belgian Nationals, days 1-3 canceled due to winds

We're not nearly as lucky with the weather as we were last year. There are Mistral conditions in the Rhone valley and we are getting the side effects of it. Yesterday it allowed some local free flying, but the pilots who flew here were happy not to have had a task.

I've been flying in Mens and St-Vincent les Forts. It was a beautiful day in Mens and because of the small landing field, Tom and I decided to test fly the Seedwings Funky gliders used for Tom's flying school Trike Valley.

It was fun flying the beginner gliders. You can thermal them very nicely, tight and slow. And I can recommend Mens to anyone. It is a beautiful place and the view from above is simply magnificent.

Yesterday we went to St. Vincent les Forts (which we will do today as well). Strong 3 to 4 m/s thermals to 2500 m but I aborted my attempt to fly to Laragne when I felt nothing interesting in the first few km from the ridge. Instead I returned on the ridge and waited for the others to climb out. It was fun flying the Dormillouse ridge with Gerrie and Tom and loads of sailplanes. Ann in her bright orange Funky could be used as Dormillouse turnpoint marker and Klaartje showed how to thermal a small Spyder.

Got a phone call from my brother last night that he did his first longer flight in a sailplane. 5 Hours of airtime in central France. Well done bro!

For us, the weather predictions are finally showing less wind, so let's hope we can still get 4 tasks.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New World Record for Dustin and Jonny

They seem to have done it in style. The first real attempt this year resulted in a +/- 750 km flight. Roughly 50 km more than the previous record. Hats off to you guys! Jonny deserves a few Margaritas and Dustin, next time we meet I'll bring you some Deliriums and maybe some St.-Bernardus as well...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Belgian Championship coming up

Less than two weeks until we will be battling it out above Laragne and its surroundings. The Belgian Championship will again be held at the 2009 Worlds venue and I can't wait to go. At this time, 53 pilots from 10 nations are registered. If you still want to join us, the championship is held from July 14th until July 21st, feel free to register here. And, oh yes, we do have a nice T-shirt waiting for you too :-)

If you're not familiar with hang gliding competitions and would like to find out more, watch this video. For me it's the best video when it comes to describing what competition flying is. It's just a shame I can't find part 2...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The phone rang

Today I was working as usual when the phone rang. A 2 minute call and after that I looked down on my draft paper and saw this:

Strange, what hang gliding does to you...

Long trip to Serrig for a 2 hour flight

Last weekend, it looked like there was not going to be any interesting flying again. We canceled the Benecup (a good decision, it wasn't flyable in the Northern Netherlands). But, on Saturday morning, it looked like Sunday could be very nice just across the German border. I left a birthday party on Saturday night early and woke up at 6:30 on Sunday morning, heading for Serrig, together with Rudy.

We arrived in Serrig and the winds were lower than predicted and the same was true for the clouds. I definitely wasn't going to be a record day, but it looked very good for flying.

Launch and the initial climb-out was easy, but 500m above the ground, it was pretty turbulent. It took me a while to get to cloudbase at 1400m (1000m AGL). I decided to try to fly to Hinterweiler. Cloudbase was rather low, but the wind was helping me.

I soon got low and couldn't leave the spot where I was flying due to a lack of landing options. Lots of pretty steep little valleys and lots of vineyards, not a nice combination with a low cloudbase... And then there were the airspaces. When I decided to follow a gap between the airspaces, I hit sink and wasn't sure how much I could deviate from the route. I landed after a 65 km flight, 30 km short from the goal I had in mind. But I was happy to have been flying again.

My landing had a nasty surprise. There were a lot of cultivated fields where I landed and in the middle was one rather small patch with tall grass. The patch was surrounded with barbed wire. I had noticed that from above, but was confident I could land it in the patch. If necessary, I was going to use the drogue chute. I had the chute ready and decided to come in rather high, also because there was some wind. Everything looked fine, but I quickly noticed to wind was less than expected and I was going to overshoot slightly without the chute. So I threw the chute and expected to land right in the middle of the patch. However, the expected braking effect didn't happen and I was going to land just about right on the barbed wire. A few long seconds passed, not knowing whether the chute was eventually going to deploy or not, but I just managed to clear the fence and landed with the wing tips less than a meter behind it. A big sigh of relief!

I looked a the chute and noticed that the rope on the harness which opens the zipper was entangled in the drogue chute's ropes. I'll remember that one. Next time I have the drogue chute ready, I'll make sure the harness ropes are fixed to the harness!

Rudy and I started the drive back home and stopped at the aerodrome in Spa for dinner. The Eifel area had turned blue 3 hours before, but in Belgium, the sky still showed some activity. The view was nice and some spectacular skydiver landings provided a good show.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Got some nice flying

Last Monday, conditions were nice, with a 30 km/h north wind up high and a 15 km/h NW wind on the ground. That looked like a problem, because it looked marginal for foot launching from our N-faced ridge (80 m) and we had called off the towing the day before, because moderate N winds were predicted.

I picked up Rudy near Brussels and we headed south, towards Beauraing, our N launch site. The light winds made us make some phone calls and drive by the towing site anyway. Conditions were perfect, but, the local towing pilot could only start towing at 2:30... Rudy convinced me that Beauraing would work (I had my doubts), so we made a decision and drove there.

Rudy turned out to be right, but I had to work for it. A 10 minute battle close to the trees was rewarded with a broken climb to 1500 m. Our towing site was 30 km north so, the battle against the 30 km/h north wind started. I took me 3 hours to get there, but I really enjoyed the experience. The tough part was 10 km north of Beauraing, where the terrain rises 200 m. The glides were bad there and the thermals broken, it took me 2 hours to get through those 5 km. The rest was piece of cake with a very nice view. The return only took 30 minutes. The plan was to try it in one glide to test the numbers, but halfway I flew into a solid 3 m/s which I could not ignore. It took me to 2000 m which is not common in Belgium. Loved the view, above the overcrowded Lesse river. Hundreds of kayaks were floating on it. Good flying, my best flight ever in Belgium...

Yesterday, we were in Maillen again, our towing site. The ultra-light field had their annual Fly-in, so I headed there despite the overcast forecast. A lot of funny little ultra-lights were there, but the nicest plane to me was this 1936 glider. It was built in France to take part in the '36 Olympics and will be in the 2012 Olympics as well (exhibition I guess).

A little miracle took place and the sky opened up. Tom, Jean, Kurt, Eric and me launched between 15:00 and 15:30 and we had a really good time flying in gentle, but broken 1 m/s thermals. The people at the Fly-in got a good show as we regularly got low and managed to thermal up again.

It was good fun and I couldn't resist the temptation to dive at Tom's glider on this occasion :-)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Missed opportunity

The forecasts for yesterday showed very good flying conditions for Flanders, my home region. This is not often the case due to being close to the see, but even more of a problem is the lack of launch options.

I live in Gent and the closest launch option is winch towing club Jan van Gent in Nieuwvliet, just 3 km's from the sea. I knew I had to launch early there, because the sea breeze was going to set in, but is was a rare opportunity to fly over my region. So, I arrived there at 10 AM (it's still a 1 hour drive) and was rigged by 10:30. Some paraglider pilots where winching, but the guy who knew how to winch hang gliders hadn't arrived yet. Big, dark cumi's appeared over our heads as the sea breeze started to develop. This was the time to go. By 11 AM the winds abruptly switched from inland winds to the breeze coming from the see. I knew it was too late...

I had one tow in super smooth air and decided to derig after that. By the time I got home, the sky was epic (this picture doesn't even show the best of it).

Does anybody know about any winch or ultralight towing sites in northern France? We often have south-west winds and I'd love to fly over Flanders once...

Tandemflight with Stijn - Sportlife Winner

Stijn has won a hang gliding instruction at Tom's school Trike Valley by winning a Sportlife competition. So, last Thursday he was at Maillen for his first tandem flights.

And I also got to do a flight with him. While in the air, Stijn flew for a while and was doing really well. He clearly enjoyed the experience, so he's a lucky boy getting this instruction for free. And, in my opinion, he couldn't learn it at a better hang gliding school than Trike Valley!