Friday, 20 July 2012

Gransden Club Class Nationals 21 - 29 July 2012

Gransden Club Class Nationals – 21 – 29 July 2012
Steve came out to Gransden Lodge Airfield early with Michael and his girlfriend Natalie in order to place the caravan and pitch the tent and the plan was for me to go to work, leave in the evening and bring the glider trailer.
When Steve arrived at Gransden however, the grass in the camping area and across the airfield generally was flooded, and it was still raining.  I arrived at 23:15 that evening and promptly got the car and trailer stuck in the normal parking area.  I had to ring Steve and ask him to rescue me with the Land Rover.   In the morning I could see just how bad the grass surfaces were …. Really bad!

I later found out that Steve had managed to puncture a long, wiggly hole in the caravan side.  He’d been instructed to put the caravan in a small area between too old, ramshackle farm buildings, and as he drove through the narrow entrance, the caravan wheel had dropped into a hole, tipping the caravan to one side directly onto the corrugated iron.

Steve has also managed to rip the rear step off the back of the Land Rover because of the acute angle he was forced to back the caravan in at.  He also poked a tent pole through the large tent!  We also discovered that the large gas fridge that we use in the tent was not working properly AND the new airbed we bought in France had a leak….All of this and the competition hasn’t even started yet!!!

The Club Class Nationals runs until Sunday 29 July and it is just myself flying in an attempt to achieve a good position for the British Team.  However, the entry list reads like a ‘Who’s who’ in gliding and I don’t hold out much hope.

On the weather front, we are being promised better, warmer weather, but the evening closed overcast and pretty cool.  I’m not even sure if the weather does improve, whether the Club will allow us to fly because of the poor state of the airfield; that would be such a shame if the weather at last becomes soarable or even raceable, and we can’t even launch because of the water-logged grass. 

Issoudun Friday 13 July and Saturday 14 July 2012

It was overcast and drizzly this morning when I climbed out of bed and very much colder than in previous days; it certainly didn’t look very good for flying.  This was confirmed at briefing when the Director declared the day to be ‘cancelled’ for all classes.
We had received an offer from Brian and Gill Spreckley to visit their home and small holding so that Michael could take a look at their sheep, which we eagerly took up.  After lunch we set off to their home which is about one hour’s drive South of Issoudun Airfield.  It’s a wonderful place that they’ve spent the last few years on building, extending and improving.  They have a fair amount of land on which they have in previous years had pigs, and this year they now have sheep.  Gill also has a reasonably sized vegetable patch and a polly-tunnel under which she is growing tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins (accidently as she thought they were melons!).
We took a tour around the various fields to see how they were reclaiming them from the wild and it was surprising just how hilly and UK-like it was compared to Issoudun which is very flat with extensive arable farming.  The weather just rained and rained and rained and everyone kept telling us ‘it’s not normally like this…should have been here last year’..
In the evening we went out for an evening meal with the whole British feminine (and crew) contingent, which was very pleasant.
Saturday 14 July
My goodness me, another torrid night with storm-force winds that rattled and shook the whole tent.  There are poplar trees on the South West side of the camp site and the wind howled through them all night keeping us all awake.  At one point, it went deadly calm as if it was the centre of the storm and then shortly afterwards, the wind and gust let rip once more.  It was so severe that Steve got up at 03:00 to check on the glider that was rigged next to the trailer as we were concerned that either the glider or the trailer would move and cause damage; he was not alone, there were several cars driving up and down the glider parking area checking out the situation.
At briefing, yet another Area Assigned task was set.   This was duly drawn on the map and programmed into the glider.  We then proceeded to grid squat with the 18m class in front of us on the grid.  Yet again, because we didn’t fly yesterday, I was on the front of the Feminin Class.  This is a nerve racking time because you are never quite sure when the launch is going to take place and you are forced into hanging around the glider, and as a female, it isn’t always easy to make a last trip to the toilets either…
So there I was sitting in the cockpit at the suggested time of first launch.  The Director said the magic words for launch and the 18m were hurled into the ever darkening sky upon which is was possible to see heavy rain heading in the airfield’s direction. 

As I sat there thinking, he can’t be serious, surely the Director won’t send us too, the rain began to fall.  In this photo you can see the situation from my perspective.  I tightened my straps and prepared, just as the Director scrubbed the day for us. 
So that was it, the end of the competition in France; no further chances to improve my position.  Overall result for the British ladies was:-
1-      Liz Sparrow
5 – Gill Spreckley
7 – Helen Hingley
25 – Kay Draper
26 – Claudia Hill
28 – Jane Nash
31 – Ayala Liran
In the evening there was a huge Closing Ceremony and party with food, wine and prizes awarded to everyone.  It was a great experience to fly in France; I wish the weather had been better for gliding so we could really ‘get our hand in’.  Maybe next year…..?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Issoudun Thursday 12 July 2012

I really didn’t want to get up this morning when the Boulanger van horn sounded, I was so tired.  I had in fact slept very well (other than dreaming of a mid-air collision that I apparently witnessed during the competition..), but still felt so tired.  But the bread is so good…so had to drag myself out of bed.

We put the glider on the grid, row 8 was now the 4th row from the front, so I knew that once the launching started, I would be off in the first wave of take offs.  However, as you can see from this photo, the weather didn’t look particularly promising.  The Met Man at briefing had described a short gap between fronts early in the day that we might be able to complete a task in, before heavy rain in the evening.
I haven’t mentioned the ‘tugs’ yet.  There is an impressive 13 tow planes, or tugs as we call them.  Most are Rallyes and I’ve had a couple of tows behind Rallyes at 85+ knots, when the maximum specified aerowtow speed is 81kts, it leads to an interesting and extremely rough tow.  The Cirrus does not take water ballast and therefore I’m extremely light; too light in fact for some of the conditions we’ve been having.
At briefing we were set a 1:30 hour Assigned Area Task, basically around the Chateroux prohibited airspace, which would be physically impossible to do in the set time, because we’d actually have to fly further than the task lines in order to fly around the airspace.  The Director realised this at the briefing when Dave Draper commented on it to him, and he agreed to set a Task C on the grid, if he needed to ‘fall back’ the task distance.
In the photo below, I wasn’t praying, Michael caught me programming the instruments and it’s easier to do kneeling beside the cockpit.

The Director cancelled the Open Class group who were on the back of the grid, and then shortly afterwards, he cancelled the Libelle Class who were on the grid in front of us.  This then put me in number one position on the grid! I’m never too happy when at the very front of the grid, because there always is a bit of a panic when they start launching and you end up rushing. The Director then set a new task, another Assigned Area Task which you can see drawn on my map in the photo below; it all looks rather complicated and that’s because it is.  You can also see that I’m wearing gloves; it was really cold today.
The Director delayed the launch two or three more times and then eventually scrubbed the day for everyone that was left on the grid.  So it was back to the parking area once more and on with the covers.
This gave me the chance to go for a run.  After a quick visit to the shops and a drive around Issoudun to look at the old centre, I quickly changed into my running gear and went for a run around the perimeter of the airfield, which turned out to be 5.3km.  So at least I was able to get some kilometres in for the day!  Thankfully, there’s no photo of me running (not that I’m aware of anyway).


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Issoudun Wednesday 11 July 2012

Bread purchased, breakfast eaten, glider on the grid, work emails started, second ‘petite dejeuner’ eaten, then it was briefing time!
Today the Director admitted his error at yesterday’s briefing, and duly declared today to be the ‘second best day of the week’!  The task set for today was another Assigned Area Task of 1:30 hours and a take-off time of 13:00.  The Met Man declared that there would be no rain, at which point the heavens opened and the rain hammered the tin roof!  We’d left the tent open and the chairs outside, so several items were sopping wet.
Map marked, lunch made, glider programmed, route planned, we were back to grid squatting as the sky was still overcast and dark.
Launching was delayed through 13:30, 14:00 and finally started at 14:15 as the weather brightened up, with the Standard Class and we were stream launched directly afterwards. 

I was able to stay airborne without too much difficulty, in fact the main problem was the sheer number of gliders milling around the start line waiting for it to open, and at times, there were gliders far too close for comfort.  I started at 15:42 with Liz and Ayala starting shortly after me, but they decided to return back to the start and re-start again.
I had no problem flying to the first sector and even managed to fly further into the sector than I’d originally planned, mainly to take advantage of a cloud street.  The potential problem area would be the second sector, but in fact I managed to find suitable thermals, but this is where Claudia and Ayala ended up landing out. 
I flew out of the second sector into a problem area; Liz and Helen ad caught up with me and I followed them out of the sector, but as I was already lower than them, I found myself in an area of poor lift and really struggled just to stay airborne.  The others continued on their way as I drifted inexorably towards the final sector.  Eventually I was able to make my way under a decent looking cloud, and I was able to enter the sector and climb up to 3500ft which gave me more than enough height to return to the airfield and complete the task in 2:21 hours.  At least I’d managed to get back home, but it wasn't a particularly fast time.
I need to keep working on my speed between thermals, because what I’m finding is that the Cirrus is much noisier than the Mosquito and I tend to fly far too slowly.  I guess I need many more hours in the Cirrus before I’ll finally feel completely at home in it.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Issoudun Tuesday 10 July 2012

Urrrgh!  Another night without much sleep… apparently, Ella, the Black Labrador owned by Dave and Kay woke up in the night and had a coughing fit; I actually thought it was one of the blokes being sick.  Whatever, it woke me up in the early dark hours of the morning and I never returned back to sleep, but gradually became colder and colder until the sound of the Boulanger van horn at 06:50 made me get up to buy the fresh bread.
We removed the soaking wet covers off the glider and laid them out in the oil seed rape field to dry whilst we placed the glider in row 8 as per the gridding instructions and then  went to briefing.  The Director announced that today was expected to be the best gliding day of the week, and they duly lengthened all the tasks accordingly.  So, for the ‘Feminin’ Class, they set a 311km fixed task, with a first launched planned for 12:15.
Time was tight, so I quickly made a sandwich for lunch and went out to the glider to programme the instruments.  I have to say that the weather didn’t look particularly hopeful considering the Director’s predictions.  In fact, the Brits all went back to the camp site to make tea….what else would we do?  We pondered the day and Steve stated that he didn’t think we’d be flying at all today, at which everyone called him anything that they could to do with being pessimistic!
First launch was delayed, and then delayed again and again, until at 14:30 the Director scrubbed two of the classes, just leaving us and another class on the grid.  He then finally scrubbed us at 15:00.  So much for the Director’s assumption that this would be the best day of the week!!!  Steve was right after all!!  So, back off the grid again and back to the glider parking area.
We tentatively decided to go back to the Super Market to buy some provisions.  First I tried to use my debit card in a cashpoint machine but it wouldn’t work/be accepted, just as I suspected from my attempt yesterday.  We therefore managed to get some cash using my credit card, and then pay for the shopping using the same card.  Back at the camp site, I phoned the Bank again and had them telling me that there was nothing wrong with my card, and that I’d successfully spent £35 at 12:40 today.  We’d not been anywhere, had not used the card because I was not able to, and were by now getting extremely frustrated with them because they were insisting that the card had not been stopped.  As a precaution, as I couldn’t use my card anyway, they have now put a stop on that one too.  We are down to the one card which, as Steve was now on the phone talking to a manager, I heard him repeatedly say that they must NOT stop this last card that we are currently using.  Watch this space…My normal response is not to tell someone not to do something if you don’t want them to do it!
I have to say that not all the bad luck is just going our way; Ayala broke her front tooth on the crusty French bread, and Ella the Black Labrador has picked up several ticks, and became so unusually unwell that Dave and Kay took her to the vet.
We can only wait and see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Issoudun Monday 9 July 2012

Today was overcast when I woke up, and worse than that, the Boulanger did not come this morning!  Michael was so disappointed.
We had breakfast and then decided to rig the Cirrus in preparation for gridding ahead of briefing.  Once at the trailer, it dawned on me that we only had one wing trestle, the second one was not in the trailer, nor inside the car.  We must have left it in the field the night before….This was not a complete disaster, but it would be a loss of a very good trestle that we had only just had professionally made for us in Germany.  So we decided to put the wings and tail on the glider, then Steve would drive back the 65 kilometres back to the field with Michael to search for the trestle.  Whilst they did this, I prepared the glider and Liz very kindly helped me put it in position on the grid with her car.
Back at the camp site, we were all discussing the previous day, and my phone rang, it was Steve, he had been rushing back to the airfield and in the process was caught speeding by the Gendarme and was therefore now following the police vehicle to the nearest cashpoint so he could withdraw 90 Euros to pay the speeding fine.  More haste less speed sprang to mind. 
It was almost briefing time and Steve called me again; he had tried to withdraw cash from 3 cash machines and his card had been refused at all three; great.  We had already had one experience of the card not working, had already phoned the Bank who had sworn that Steve’s Mastercard had not been affected or stopped.  He couldn’t talk anymore and hung up on me.
At briefing an Assigned Area Task of 2:30 hours was set.  Still no sign of Steve.  It was now 11:45 and first launch was due at 13:00.  I had programmed the instruments in the glider and got as much ready as I could, but I would still prefer to know that he was OK before I took off.
A short while later, Steve and Michael arrived at the airfield.  He’d been able to leave his Driver’s Licence with the Policeman and had some strict instructions to meet him again on the A20 near McDonalds where he would be holding the next speed trap.
Steve did make it to the Police Officer and duly paid his fine…  He also called the Bank, who apologised profusely, as they had cancelled the incorrect bank card.  That certainly wasn’t helpful with the predicament that Steve was in at the time!
First launch was delayed as the weather was not very good. 

It was delayed a couple more times before I was launched at 14:45.  At least today, I was able to stay airborne even if the weather was not brilliant.  I climbed to 3500ft, was rained on, but still managed to start at 15:57, just before the rest of the British contingent.  I never quite managed to catch up with them though; they were always just that bit higher than me and further in front.  Today though, I did manage to fly round the whole task; I didn’t complete quite as much distance as the other Brits, mainly because when I got to Area 2, the weather didn’t look that good ahead and I decided to just pop into the sector and turn for the third area.
 I was pleased that I’d made it back, but knew that my speed wouldn’t be particularly fast, probably more average than anything.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t was to overdo it and end up in a field again.
We parked up the glider, scrubbed it down and put on the covers.  I then went into Issoudun town in order to fetch a McDonalds (at Michael’s request) and to purchase fuel.  We first stopped for fuel and we daringly tried out my credit card (same account as Steve’s), which thankfully worked fine.  We then stopped at McDonalds to purchase a meal, however my debit card would not be accepted.  The Bank had already admitted to stopping Steve’s credit card instead of his debit card in error, could they have stopped my debit card as well in error – perhaps cancelling mine instead of the one Steve lost?  (Hope you’re keeping up this this saga).
The end (hopefully) to this case, is that Michael found Steve’s ‘lost’ debit card in the car beneath the passenger seat…
Go on then, hazard a guess, what else could go wrong?  I bet you couldn’t even make up a better story than this.

Issoudun Sunday 8 July 2012

Today dawned cloudy and very windy after an incredible night of thunderstorms with lightening that lit up the whole sky, thunder that rumbled through the airbed, and rain and wind that tilted the tent over sideways.
As usual, we were woken by the horn from the Boulanger Van which drives around the campsite every morning at 06:50 and rather rudely wakes us all up.  I do however get up each morning at this time in order to buy my bread, just like a true Parisian!  Michael has taken a particular liking to the Pain au chocolate and croissants that are made fresh daily.
We decided to rig the Cirrus just ahead of the rain and then went along to the 10:30 briefing.  A triangular task of 209 km was set.  We waited for the last of the incoming togs to land and then placed the Cirrus on the grid – we were the first out on the grid today, not surprising really looking at the windy and overcast skies.  Today I was on the second row at the back of the grid, behind the 18m Class and the open Class, then at the back of the Feminine Nationals, so I knew it would be a while before I was launched even once they started.
Eventually the call came over the airband radio that one of the classes was scrubbed (Open Class) and that they’d be re-briefing the task for the 18m Class.  A short while later, they re-briefed us on the front of the grid; this time we received an Assigned Area Task with a minimum time of 1:30 hours.

It was a late start and I was launched at 15:30, but I had great difficulty in getting sufficient height in order to be able to go through the start line, and frustratingly, I could hear all the other GB ladies starting.  Eventually, 45 minutes later, I gave up and landed for a re-light.  The sky looked better and this time I was able to climb and to make a start at 16:45. 
I headed up a cloud street behind a couple of other gliders and had what I thought was a reasonable run, until I turned in lift and then saw Issoudun airfield not that far away – the wind was so strong I was struggling into wind to gain any distance at all.  I continued on and on, had a couple of low spots and eventually found myself working carefully along a cloud street towards the Western area,  I only needed to clip inside the area, then I could turn downwind and rapidly make it to the second area, then home.  But no matter how hard I tried, maybe I chose the wrong route, maybe I’m not used to the performance of the Cirrus, but I couldn’t get myself into the zone.  I lost more height and along with a Libelle nearby, found myself in a small thermal, struggling at 1000ft as I watched the Libelle land in a field.  I had already picked my field but I was determined to get away if at all possible.  I was so low, I was literally flying around some kind of mast or aerial.  Eventually the lift picked up and I climbed to 1500ft and headed into wind.  Down at 800ft now, I found another area of lift and started to climb, but the drift across the ground was ridiculous and I decided I was being stupid to continue to try and decided to land instead. 
The field was a stubble field and I flew over wires and standing crop in order to get low enough to touch down early in the field as there were telegraph poles across the field.  I touched down and rolled to a stop – it was a little bumpy and stoney, but it wasn’t a problem.  I was however bitterly disappointed as I’d heard the rest of the GB women getting home.
I walked around the field to try and find the entrance and after a short while, a white van stopped and a Frenchman asked me if everything was OK.  I tried in my school-girl French to explain that I’d landed my glider in a field, that I was OK and that my crew was on its way, however, gliding, planes, landouts in fields etc. were words that were not a part of the teaching I received at school and I resorted to good old fashioned pen and paper in the end to explain my predicament.  Eventually, as I continued my walk around the field, I came across two entrances over the ditch that surrounded the whole field, made a note of them and returned to the glider.  I gave Jennifer a call on the way back to talk about my situation and she informed me that Andy Murray was in the process of being beaten by Federa at Wimbledon.  Two minutes later and she texted me to say that Murray had lost. 
After an hour and a half had past, Steve and Michael arrived with the trailer and we de-rigged and finally arrived back at Issoudun at 21:30. I learnt on the way that one of the female Libelle pilots had crashed her glider on the edge of the airfield in an attempt to get back to site, and she had been rushed by ambulance to hospital.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Issoudun Saturday 7 July 2012

Today is the first official day of the Issoudun ‘Feminine Nationals’ and it opened with an early briefing at 10:00 after we had placed the glider on the grid.
It’s a strange business because today Issoudun have a couple of competitions finishing and a couple more starting, so it’s all rather complicated.  We had a better introduction to the airfield and the procedures today, but it was still very much ‘Frenglish’.
The weather certainly appeared to be better than yesterday however with a predicted cloudbase of 1500m and tops at 3000m (I have to mentally recalculate these figures into feet as this is how the cockpit is instrumented).
A triangular task of 178km was set which I marked onto the maps and programmed into the LX7007F in the cockpit and also in the IPAQ. 
This is a picture of the Cirrus on the front of the grid – you can see the grid stretching out way to the far end of the runway.  You can also see the blue tow rope that we had to make up and bring with us because at these International competitions apparently, you have to use your own tow rope and the tow pilot drops it on approach (I’ve never had to do it before).  It’s supposed to make for a quicker turnaround, but I’m not convinced and Steve was not impressed at having to retrieve it from thistles today!
We were launched at 12:45 after a delay of 20 minutes whilst they decided to compress the grid because the organisers were not sure that there was sufficient runway ahead, especially with a tailwind…  This I think was to be a factor because we lost 20 minutes of what was a good early start to the day.  As I started the task, I was only able to find useful clouds for about 20 kilometres, because the sky became over cast and then eventually turned blue.  The conditions became extremely difficult, but I did manage to turn the first turning point, but it was a case of grovelling along at 1500ft from landable field to hopefully landable field.  I turned the turning point on my own and went back down track to some gliders in the hope of staying airborne and I continued this way for some time.  Eventually I realised that with the increasing wind, I was almost back to the gliding club at Issoudun; I couldn’t believe it!  I knew I was off track and all I’d tried to do was stay with other gliders in an attempt to find my way to the second turning point.  I was very hot and absolutely shattered; I’d been airborne several hours and I did something I’ve never done before, I made the decision to land back at Issoudun airfield because I was so far off track.  Needless to say, Steve was not impressed, and I felt awful about it.  However, it turned out that I was not alone; several pilots had done the same thing.

However, unfortunately for me, two of the other UK pilots managed to fly around the whole task and another came close to doing so; this will give them a good score to start with.  A further check on the score appears to place me in around 14 position/or 6th position, depending on how you interpret it due to the fact that non-French fly as ‘Hors Concors’.
They have forecast a huge storm overnight, so it’s back to making sure everything is secure on the campsite; we had already de-rigged the glider in anticipation. 

Issoudun Friday 6 July 2012

We went to bed early last night because we were all so tired.  However it was with a sickening heart as the airbed gradually deflated.  We were so exhausted however, that we just slept though it and cursed the airbed in the morning.

Today was classed as a ‘Training Day’, so with glider rigged and everything ready to go, we went to the briefing at 10:30 with all the other competitors.  The briefing is a strange affair, because although English is the world-wide language for flying purposes, of course the French have to do it in French, they then had someone translate the sections they thought important into ‘Frenglish’.  So in the end, I came away from the briefing without actually knowing what height we’d be towed to on launch, or whether they operate a maximum start height, and I certainly didn’t understand fully, exactly which bits of the airspace were prohibited for this particular day.

We received a briefing sheet with a 107km racing triangle, but Dave, Kay’s husband thought that it would be far better to have a go at an Assigned Area Task that one of the other competition classes had been set, that we switched over to that instead (Issoudun – Aignant – Orcay – Issoudun, with 30km sectors at the two points, and a set maximum time of 1:30). 

The weather forecast was for a suitable slot of weather between 12:00 and 17:00, but that there would be some showers and it would all stop by 16:30 due to heavier showers.

So with Steve fussing that we needed a new airbed urgently, we pulled onto the gird and grid squat for a while whilst several showers went through and the organisers launched the Libelle class and the Open class gliders.  As showers were going through, we dashed to the village of Issoudun to purchase a new airbed, and whilst there Steve realised that he’d mislaid his debit card.  So at least we now had the makings for a comfortable layer between us and terra firma, the worry was now the possibility of fraud….  What else was going to happen?

We eventually launched after the Open class between heavy showers.  This was the view to the East of Issoudun Airfield:-

However, this was the view to the North West, which was the direction of the task:-

All we could do was stay airborne – the lift was surprisingly good – I’m climbed to over 4000ft and had to open the airbrakes to descend beneath the cloud and to land.

Issoudun is a very large airfield and reminds me a lot of Gransden Lodge, both the airfield shape as well as the surrounding farmland.  The fields are huge; they appear to be much bigger than those in the UK.  The bonus is that there are very few hedges and many more fields have already been harvested, therefore providing suitable landing out options along the way.  The locals have stated though, that the weather has also been very poor in France this year and that normally by now, all the fields would usually have been fully harvested.

I floated around the local area taking in the airfield and surrounding area, before being forced to land in the pouring rain.  When I say ‘forced’ this was nothing in comparison to the Mosquito which I flew in last year that would literally fall out of the sky in rain; this Cirrus appears to be much better.  I did however over cook it, in that I decided to go out to 3km which is the boundary of the finish ring to check out what it looked like, only to suddenly find that I wasn’t going to make it back to the airfield!.. Luck was on my side however and I managed to scrape onto runway 18.

As we towed back to the parking area, there was a judder and the tail wheel collapsed because the piano hinge had snapped.  Great. 

First things first.  Steve still hadn’t found his debit card, so we cancelled that with the Bank.  We then rushed back to the ‘BricoMarket’ (a type of B&Q) where we purchased a piano hinge, hacksaw, screws and nuts and glue.  Or we would have with Steve’s other bank card, only to find that the transaction was refused – had the bank stopped the wrong card?  Back at site, Steve found a vice in the workshop and very successfully managed to repair the tailwheel – without this, we would have had great difficulty in towing the glider to the required places.   

I wiped the rain off the glider (third time) put on the covers and packed everything up for the day.

I think that both Michael and I are missing Django tremendously, so we found a surrogate dog (Maisie 6 months old) and took her for a walk around the airfield.

Tomorrow is the first day of the competition; let’s see what the weather brings this time….

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Issoudun, Thursday 5 July 2012

It’s been in the planning since Q3 2011, and here we finally are on our way to Issoudun, France for the Pre-Worlds feminine competition in order to practice at the site at which the World Championships will be held next year.

We (Steve, Michael and myself) are starting out with a 00:30 ferry journey from Dover to Calais, and this for me is after a full day at work…

I try and dose in the car as Steve drives the first 2:30 hours to Dover so that I can drive on the other side of the channel.  In the end, I only do a small proportion of the driving as I’m so exhausted.
Worryingly, as dawn breaks and as we approach Issoudun, the weather is complete cloud cover, just like the UK…. The journey is pretty straight forward, although the SatNav took us way too close to Paris and the traffic was dreadful even at 06:00 in the morning and the going was very slow indeed.  It would have to be me driving at the point!  I wouldn’t recommend driving through Paris to anyone, but towing a 20m trailer, no way!

We arrived at Issoudun at 11:30 local time, so the journey had taken us about 8:30 hours which included a few stops along the way for stretch breaks as well as time out to phone our Bank as we had a problem with Steve’s debit card at a fuel station…what a pain.
We met up with our gliding friends and then pitched our large tent and a small one for Michael, as it happens, just in time, because we were just loading the final few items from the car when the heavens opened and it rained and rained.

When the rain finally stopped, we rigged the Cirrus in preparation for ‘Scrutineering’ which is where the glider is examined for the disablement of the blind flying instruments and weighed to check that it is within limits when everything is onboard (so I was weighed too).

All the checks went well, so we towed it out to park it up.  When we arrived at the parking area, I was so disappointed to find that the wing dolly had worn too rather deep holes in the top surface of the Starboard wing.  We’ve had and used the same wing dolly for many years and have never had a problem before…why now?  It’s even more frustrating when you consider that we paid to have the top surface of the wings refinished only a couple of months ago…  We rubbed down the holes as best we could, attached a large lump of protective foam to the wing dolly and then put on the wing covers to protect the glider overnight.
We went back to the Club Bar to pick up our pre-paid ‘plated food’; we were not sure what to expect here, and it wasn’t particularly appetising as it was rather like airline food.  We’ll give it one more try and if no good, see if we can get our money back. 
Talking of money, we were also required to pay a EUR90 charge for camping – all UK competitions include the camping in with the competition entry fee, but not here.  On top of all of this, it appears that the so-called Pre-World Club Class Gliding Competition turns out not to be that at all, but other gliders outside of the Club Class have now been included, so that probably puts me at the bottom of the handicap stack with the Cirrus.  I’m not very happy at all.
All I can do now is see what the weather brings for tomorrow and set about studying the airmaps.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Shenington Regionals Sunday 1 July 2012

Last night’s 1940s Hangar Party was a great success!  Many people had taken the opportunity to dress appropriately, there was a 6-piece band as well as male and female dance instructors who bravely attempted to teach us steps of the time.  Some succeeded more than others in achieving this!

Steve took Michael to Badminton training in Thatcham today, so it was up especially early for me today and out for a walk with Django.  The sky was amazing – it was crystal clear and very blue; even the strange orb known as the sun put in an appearance and I managed to capture it on the camera behind a tree.

Worryingly, the wind was still pretty strong, I estimated it to be about 20 knots from the South West and not easing as stated in the BBC weather forecast.  Additionally, wisps of scudding cloud were already beginning to form at 06:30…not a good sign.
Briefing was held at 10:30 and everyone was requested to grid beforehand.  Two tasks were set: Task A was a 113.1km Shenington – Worcester – Cherington – Banbury West – Shenington (EDG-WOR-CGT-BA1-EDG).  First launch was set for 12:30.
Steve and I went back to packing up the tent and caravan in preparation for departure form Shenington whilst we waited for first launch.
The sky darkened as the clouds over-developed, spread-out and whizzed past the airfield.  Rain could be seen at various points on the horizon, yet the Director held on and delayed the first launch time several times.  The wind was relentless – cold and very tiring and it was best to be indoors somewhere out of it; this was concurred by Django who snuggled up inside the caravan.

A Snifter was launched and reported back on reasonable thermal climbs but a cloudbase of 2200; this combined with a wind speed of 27 knots at 2000ft makes for difficult, if not impossible cross countries, especially in the smaller gliders.

Eventually, after much hesitation, the Director decided to scrub the day at 15:30. 
So that was it – one competition day…just like Lasham…
What’s next?  Well it’s back to work for a few days, then re-pack everything again and shoe-horn it into the car with a big tent for a trip to Issoudun in France to fly as a part of the British Team Squad in the Women’s Nationals competition.
Watch this space!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Shenington Regionals Saturday 30 June 2012

I took this photograph last night, looking towards the West at about 19:00.  You can clearly see the formation of the lenticular wave bars due to the strength of the wind.

Early this morning there was a tremendous, heavy downpour of rain that bounced off the aluminium roof of the caravan and woke us up.  As I walked Django, the sky was around 6/8ths cloud and through the gaps you could again see the wave bars.  I judged the wind to be South West 20-25kts (hence you can see the glider tied down and ballasted).

Briefing was held at 11:00 at which the Met Man gave an interesting overview of Thursday’s weather in that there had been 13 fronts (warm/cold/occluded/trough) across the country during the one day…most unusual.  The cause of all of this appears to be the Jet Stream which is much further South than normal and which is causing many more Lows to be sweeping across the country, bringing the wet and windy weather.
The weather for today was forecast to be very windy, at times sunshine and at other times showery.  A task of 81.2km was set – Edgehill – Watford Gap – Northampton West – Edgehill (EDG-WAT-NOW-EDG).
We were to be gridded in the 8 acre field, but then pulled out onto the short hard runway to be launched.  This was an attempt to launch further into wind and to avoid the curl over problems associated with the previous day, but there’s not enough room for all 30 gliders to be pre-gridded on the short runway.

I elected to go to the back of the grid, and here you can see JEV beneath the rather turbulent looking sky.
First launch was delayed and a Snifter was launched.  The snifter managed to stay airborne, but rapidly drifted away and found it difficult in the gusty conditions.  The launch was delayed and delayed further until a re-brief was called at the front of the grid.  The Director had been informed by the Met Man that there were two troughs approaching us, one just to the South of us and one in Wales heading in our direction.  The plan was to re-task and hopefully launch us after the first and before the second trough.  The new task was now 83.3km Edgehill – Bidford – Deddingtopn – Banbury West – Edgehill (EDG-BID-DED-BA1-EDG).  Launch was duly delayed for 30 minutes, but the Director didn’t take into account the timing for the approaching trough which hit us and dumped a load of rain across the airfield which then created much dead air. 
The launch was delayed, delayed again and again, until eventually the day was scrubbed at 16:00.  A few pilots elected to fly anyway.

Tonight is the Shenington Gliding Club 1940s Hangar Dance.  I’m not much of a dancer at all, but I’m really looking forward to it!  I will report on how it all went tomorrow….
As regards the weather for tomorrow, well we are all hoping the wind will reduce in speed and that it will dry out a little.  Only time will tell…

Friday, 29 June 2012

Shenington Regionals June 27-28-29 2012

Wednesday 27 June 2012
Well apparently, it’s the second wettest June on records, and we are not at the end of June yet – it therefore could be the wettest ever recorded!

Wednesday dawned dreadfully gloomy as I walked Django.

We were told to rig and grid in the ‘8 acre’ field which we all did, but the weather was not to materialise and eventually after many delays, the day was scrubbed.

The best I could make of it was a run that I did around the village and the airfield, so at least I managed to complete 5kms!

Thursday 28 June 2012
It was really, very hot and humid all day today.  A formal briefing was held at 11:00 today.  The Met Man gave his best performance, but the material he had to present was poor from a gliding perspective.  As soon as he’d finished, an inflatable shark emerged from behind the screen and motored its way around the hangar – what a sight!  Highlight of the day as it was scrubbed.  Sadly, the day improved dramatically during the afternoon and it was probably suitable for a short task. 

Friday 29 June 2012
The briefing today was progressively put back one hour after the other.  At 15:00, there was a sudden flurry of activity and a briefing was hurriedly held at 15:10.  You could tell it was hurried as they re-used  the previous day’s task of 84km from Shenington to Wescott and return (EDG-WEC-EDG).  The wind was howling from a South-West direction and we were required to grid at the Northern end of the field.  This would put us in a position whereby the take-off run would be behind the ‘bund’ around the Karting track.

I had already commented to one of the organisers that I thought that the curl-over from the bank and the cross wind would be too near the limits for some of the tugs.

The view on the grid at 16:00 looked terrific – however, what you don’t get the impression from the image above is the wind strength.

A Snifter was launched and he and the tug pilot reported back that the launch was extremely rough due to the curl-over from the bank.  Shortly after that, the Director scrubbed the day.

So all in all, a pretty awful three days. 

I’ve spent all the time that we were not rigging/gridding/de-gridding, completing the knitted tank top that will form a part of Steve’s fancy dress for the 1940s Hangar Party that will be held on Saturday evening.  I never want to see a knitting needle again for quite some time…..

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Shenington Regionals – Tuesday 26 June 2012
As I walked Django first thing this morning, the first thing you noticed was the temperature – it was already a very warm 12 degrees Celsius.
The sky however, was already 8/8ths strato-cumulus.

And the view towards the hill to the West of the airfield did not improve matters.

At briefing at 10:00 the Met Man described an oncoming warm front which would only thicken the cloud further and therefore reduce any opportunity for thermals.
The Director therefore scrubbed the day.

Shenington Regionals Sunday 24 & Monday 25 June 2012

Sunday 24 June 2012
Sunday’s weather was declared unsuitable for flying by the Met Man and the day was duly scrubbed.  Other forecasts I had seen all indicated that it would brighten up in the afternoon, and sure enough it did and it was glorious….But once a day has been scrubbed that’s it, there’s no going back.  I’m certain there were several pilots cursing under their breath, but I did speak to one pilot who flew who said that he anyway, was unable to stay airborne without using his engine.  So maybe the Met Man was forgiven after all.
Monday 25 June 2012
It was my turn to fly and we duly placed the Cirrus on the grid as requested by the Director of the competition.
At briefing, the Met Man described a lot of top cover with the possibility of a 3500ft cumulus cloud base and potentially 3 knot thermals.  He stressed that the weather would cut off very early in the day at around 15:00 – 16:00, so it would be important to get started early.
The Task Setter set an Assigned Area Task from Shenington to Tewkesbury, Silverstone and home, with a 20km radius circle around Tewkesbury and a 70km ‘wedge’ at Silverstone.  The time set to complete the task was 2.5 hours.  The idea behind this was that the task would be ‘even’ for the large spread in handicap of the gliders…I was not too sure, because the weather was not all that good, I felt that it would be advantageous to the ‘big ships'.
Maps marked, instruments programmed and I was ready on the grid, but the ‘Snifter’ was not reporting back particularly good thermals at all.  I therefore made the decision with Steve to pull out of the 6th row of the grid and go to the back.  This would hopefully allow more time for the better weather to develop.
I launched behind a powerful Cub tug at midday and released at 2000ft.  It was hard.  The cloud base was 2200ft and thermals very weak.  However, I managed to stay airborne and eventually the cloud base rose to 2800ft and I decided to make a start at 12:55.  I could see other gliders, all be it big ships ahead of me and I took the best route beneath the darker areas of cumulus.  I was getting 1.5 – 2kt thermals and the working band was 2500 – 2000.  I tip-toed my way to the West, over the ridge and out towards Evesham.  I suddenly got my best climb of the day – a 4 knot thermal and took it to 3500ft before heading further West, before finally turning back inside the first sector to head Eastwards just South West of Evesham, in the hope I could pick up the same thermal on the way back; no chance, it had gone.
I continued in straight lines getting lower and lower, only finding small climbs and found myself back at Shenington.  I could have easily landed there, but decided to carry on to the East to try and get into the second zone.  But it didn’t look good ahead at all as it was completely overcast and therefore little heat on the ground.  I flew over Banbury and found a small climb and continued East of Banbury.   I could see a hopeful line of some lift, but it was in the direction of Hinton in the Hedges which was a prohibited zone for the competition.  I pushed on, but realised that there was nothing ahead and that I’d have to turn back to try and get some lift.  I picked out a couple of fields, one of which was next to a road, but had cattle in it, but it still looked the most promising.  The fields at the moment are fully cropped and the only hope is a cut silage field, and with all the wet and windy weather recently, there’s not many of those.  Additionally in this area, there is a huge amount of ridge and furrow fields which are unlandable.
I turned to fly over a small village and was able to find small amounts of lift.  But no matter how hard I tried, it became obvious I was going to have to land out.  I finally chose a field that looked like silage, but with a slightly rougher texture.  On the approach, I’d have to overfly the pylons, descend, fly the approach over a road and roundout slightly uphill.  I touched down, opened the airbrakes fully and rolled to a stop.

The field turned out to be a set-aside field, I think it was last year’s oilseed rape which had grown a huge amount of thistles and when I spoke to the farmer he said that he’d cut the field recently and sprayed it with weedkiller.
I called Steve and he set on his way to retrieve me with the Land Rover and trailer.
As I waited, a large wedge of blue sky arrived, the temperature rose and beautiful cumulus clouds developed…..if only I could have stayed up long enough for that patch to arrive.

There was a very pretty poppy field next to where I landed, from which you can also see the development of the cumulus cloud.  So the Met Man was wrong in his prediction of the day ending early, it did in fact continue well into the evening.

On perusing the day’s results later, it was as I expected; the conditions were better for the big ships and those gliders with flaps able to glide larger distances.  The highest placed ‘small wings’ came in 12th place and I finished in 16th place.