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!

La Meuse does it gain

Last Thursday, I had high hopes because of the forecasts, but when I woke up, cirrus filled the sky. Nevertheless, I set of early and had my glider rigged in Maillen by 10 AM. Maillen, our towing site, was on the edge of the cirrus field:

Little cumi's this early. Definitely a good sign. Sadly the cirrus drifted our way and covered the sky. Many people needed more than one tow to get a first thermal. Except for Rudy, he started second and immediately climbed to cloud base and was gone. I was already back on the ground at that time and waited for the next tow. A good hour later, I was towed up in smooth air and glided away from the field because there was nothing there. I was awarded with a surprising 3 m/s thermal. I headed for the river (named La Meuse in french) and cruised around there for an hour, meeting up with Rudy and Jean. Thermals where plentiful along the river and it got pretty cold at 1700 m. After an hour of playing around, the cirrus had thickened and the thermals got less powerful and broken up. I decided to head against the wind and away from the river. This resulted in drifting twice in zero lift and having to land soon after. Anyway, it was good to have this flight, because the season has been very poor until now...

While rigging, Tom spotted a pretty large wasp. Or is it something else? We're not used to this size in Belgium...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Busy weekend

Finally, we had the possibility of XC weather this weekend. On Saturday, Rudy and I left early for Beauraing and launched around 11h30. I had some light thermals (Rudy got them better), but never got really high, while the sky was turning completely overcast. After an hour of trying, most of it scratching low, I was tempted into the valley (everything is relative on a 80m high ridge) by three birds and had to land soon after. Rudy also had to land a bit later.

I was pretty annoyed with the behavior of some of the paraglider pilots. Some of them had no respect for the priority rules at all and close to the terrain that's even more dangerous than up high.

But, the sky was predicted to clear up in the afternoon, so we decided to go for a second flight. Soaring was easy now, because the wind had increased, but again, it was not easy to get any altitude. I was constantly looking for thermals and whenever I started to turn, I was immediately engulfed in paragliders. Usually, that's not a problem, but just like a few hours before, quite a few of the pilots did not bother about anything else than their own flight. People were switching turn directions without looking around them at all or decided to soar right through a circling gaggle. People did not give way to pilots who were climbing faster and the result was two near misses for Kurt and one for me. I guess I've never been that angry in the air before. A loud shout in French was the result. I left the thermal and decided to look elsewhere on the ridge. I really hope people were not paying enough attention because they were doing their first flights of the year (not an excuse though!) and not because they don't realize what annoyance and danger they are to others.

On the west end of the ridge I finally climbed after searching a while in cooperation with two other paraglider pilots. Not wanting to need a retrieve, I decided to try to go upwind, but it was a bit early to do that. I hit some very light lift a few km's out, but it wasn't enough and I was on the ground. A bit of a shame, as the conditions were improving. I should have been a bit more patient I guess.

The weather predictions were a lot nicer for Sunday. A cold night and day promised some serious thermals although the air pressure was very high. The sky was active very early on, but the clouds were low and pretty flat. A 90 km triangle was set. Tom launched behind the trike for a tandem flight and I planned to launch immediately after. Planned, because the trike's engine stalled on take-off. Tom turned around and landed on his wheels, the trike landed in the field behind the runway. That didn't look good!

You have to know that a Belgian guy ordered a Dragonfly in January and that the German Dragonfly dealer promised us to deliver it early March. The container arrived in Germany in February, but the fully paid aircraft is still in his workshop 3 months later. This now resulted in us maybe losing this nice day of flying and that did not make me happy. It's not the way things should be.

Anyway, after retrieving the trike, some mechanical checks and a static test run on the ground, everything seemed OK. William had the courage to do a test flight (he had bent the steering bar with his belly on landing!) and around 2 PM we were ready for towing again. The tow was nice, with a few bumps due to the active sky. I released and had good thermals, but with an initial working altitude of 800 m, I was quite careful. I flew 30 kms south to Beauraing and spotted a lot of paragliders on launch. Two were soaring low on the ridge a one was maybe 300 m above the ridge. Cloudbase had improved and I reached 1200 m AGL above Beauraing. However, everybody else was low there and the sky was absolutely blue south and east of Beauraing. Not good. Again, I wanted to avoid retrieve so I headed back north, against the 15-20 km/h wind. After two blue thermals, I flew straight into a known sink hole, as I was told later. That was a pity. On the ground at 3.30 PM, while the day was flyable until 7 PM...

But, it was good to finally have done a XC flight in Belgium again. And the colors were sublime. Green grass, yellow flowers and a blue sky with white fluffy clouds. I enjoyed it very much. This was true free flying :-) Sorry I've got no pictures for you.

Thanks for the tow, William!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Poor weather continues

I should have gone for a weekend in the UK. It's the 4th consecutive bad weather weekend in Belgium. And, oh yes, just like the other weekends, the weather is going to be much better on Monday... When is this season ever going to start?

Just checked it: my last flight with any distance in Belgium was in June 2010. That's almost 2 years ago. ****!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Special Falcon Footage

Davide Carraro posted this video on Facebook. I just saw this video after having drunk two Tripel Karmeliet during a late evening talk in a bar (at least something which is really good about Belgium). Anyway, I think many people will be surprised by the footage: