24 May 2013

What does an XC sky really look like?

Thursday dawned cold, cloudy and windy. It would have been easy to write the day off but despite a lot of "weather" in the area, there was sufficient instability to have a nice task 2 at the Gin Wide Open.
An unpromising sky, but still we had nice thermal XC flying

Top left of the photo you can see a cumulus forming: there were certainly thermals forming despite the extensive top cover. Shortly after this the sun appeared as well. As you might guess, the conditions were not 100% reliable, but many pilots sensed the fluctuations and took time to gain height in weak climbs or to wait before tackling difficult sections. A few certainly pushed too hard and a few were just plane unlucky. I was well placed for much of the race although I got stuck for a few minutes at one point. Paradoxically that may have helped because it made me approach the last section with caution. A new mass of dead looking cloud was encroaching on the course so I decided to take time to try to get enough height to do the last 2 turn points and goal in one glide. I hadn't anticipated the buoyant glide and regular thermals on route so despite requiring a bit under 8:1 to make goal I arrived almost in orbit.Its a funny game!
We were treated to a great talk by one the new Gin development pilots Torsten Siegel, more of which in a day or so.

22 May 2013

Happy Wednesday at the Gin Wide Open and flat land cycles

The excellent Wide Open sponsored by Gin has been cursed by a low pressure system, but finally we had a task today.
Using a mixture of the main Meduno ridge and the flat lands, there were easy sections and less easy as well. The lead gaggle all got really low whilst trying to reach the last turn point into wind. It was a case of bad timing, because the flat lands shut off for a while. Most of the gaggle landed but a few of us backed right off a few hundred meters from the turn point and had to painfully drift in zeros the wrong way, undoing all the progress made! Eventually the climb got going but not before we had drifted several km away. The next group of pilots over took us at cloud base whist we struggled back into the race. The flat lands had switched on again and once up we were treated to a buoyant glide and regular climbs all the way to goal.
The Meduno Ridge and nice building cumulus
Days often cycle and sometimes it is just a matter of hanging on until switches on again. Petra Slivova (multiple comp winner) showed her class by reading the changes best and was first into goal on her EN B Gin Atlas.
Happy faces in goal!

09 May 2013

Joint Services Paragliding Personal Bests

More congratulations, slightly belatedly and reflections on some great achievements last week. I had the privilege of doing some XC development work with the Army Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club who hosted the event.
The obvious cloud to head for.  Photo: Colin Hawke

Well done to Andy Claxton, Martin Baxter for their PBs and Pete Gallagher for a wonderful ton from Corndon down to south Wales. The weather came just right, so as well as doing lots of the ground work which goes towards successful XC flying we were able to find some nice conditions for putting the skills into practice.
The cloud in the picture worked well as you would hope from the solid appearance and dark base. However many on the day were much shallower and less distinct. Even though their shadows looked solid on the ground, the actual appearance gave away the fact that there was much less lift. Reading the ground sources was just as important on this day and the big groups of dark fields were the reliable options.

The best week ever in the UK?

Multiple 200km flights; 2 new flight to goal UK records; multiple PBs; 6493km flown on the best day. Simply staggering!
It is no coincidence that the North South Cup, was on during this period. The event is basically an excuse to get as many of the top XC pilots as possible together, with a bit of friendly rivalry thrown in for good measure. The power of setting ambitious goals and good pilots spurring each other on is there for all to see!
It was pretty good for the Dower household too. A couple of ton+ flights for me on the less spectacular days and a new PB for Ruth of over 140km in a flight of over 7hrs.
Congratulations to all!

A 200km sky. Photo Barney Woodhead.