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...