I’d had my eyes on Wednesday 24th June for a few days and come the morning it was still looking good. Mike Coupe picked me up shortly after 9am then we went on to collect Mike Humphries and Tom Janikowski before arriving at Milk Hill at 1030. Carlo Borsattino, Graham Steel, Richard Osborne and others were already in the air and didn’t take too long to climb out. Meanwhile we set about getting ready, deciding a frequency for radio comms, setting a goal (104km to Milton Keynes), and emptying bladders for the final time 🙂
As expected, the wind was off the hill (the spur) and barely soarable and I had two short slope-landing flights before taking off again just after midday and climbing out within a couple of minutes with Tom J (Enzo 2), Ben Friedland (Delta 2), Ali Andrews (M6), Neil Hodgkinson (Carrera) and a couple of others. It didn’t take long before we were up at 4,600′ and on our way.
The first part of the flight as far as Oxford was pretty straightforward, and flying on and off with Ali, Ben and Neil, I was able to stay up at about 4,000′ most of the time. The sky was good, the clouds were working well and it was pretty much a question of joining the dots.
My previous flight from Milk Hill a month earlier on 27th May and seen me decked at 42km just past Wantage, so I enjoyed a wry smile as I cruised over my landing field at four grand 🙂 But I was well aware that this is an unforgiving game and you can go from base to the floor in a single glide if you’re unlucky, so I certainly didn’t relax.
Neil and I had been working well as a team from the M4 up to Oxford but passing Oxford we somehow split up so I was on my own for the first time in the flight, with Ali and Ben having taking a slightly more northerly route.
I was down to about 2,500′ after Oxford before I found a good climb which took me up to over 5,000′ for the first time. I’d been going for about two hours now and in need of some sustenance with a banana being my food of choice, however eating it with a full face helmet is always a slightly messy business 🙂 (Note to self: it’s probably time to give the chin guard a bit of a clean).
My 104km goal at Milton Keynes was now visible ahead but just about at the 100km mark I was down to 1,600′ and in desperate need of a climb. To go down so close to my goal would be hugely disappointing…
I needn’t have worried though – I found a lovely climb which took me up to 5,000′ again, so I altered course slightly to bag my goal – wahoo! Looking around I saw a sailplane circling well to my south east so I turned 90deg to my right and joined him in a lovely climb back up to base.
So, at base, three hours into the flight, having bagged my goal – what to do? Carry on obviously 🙂 I was on the radio with Ali and Simon Green (Omega 8) who’d got away with Mike Coupe (M6) 30 mins later than us, and we agreed we’d try to stick together for as long as possible.
Cranfield ATZ is immediately past Milton Keynes and although I had enough height I played it safe and went to the north of it – just as well really as although I never got lower than its upper surface it was quite close. I later heard that Mike had to squeak past it low before he found a climb which got him safely high again.
By the time we got to Bedford (130kms) Ali and Simon had caught me up and it was a bit like playing leapfrog – we seemed to take it in turns to go ahead then lose height, then catch up again… It worked pretty well in fact, and a nice climb just before Bedford (125kms) allowed us to cruise above the town at 5,200′ – the best place to see it from so I’m told 🙂
The forecast had indicated that there was a front coming in from the west, and we were being chased by ever increasing amounts of top cover, which meant that there was very little in the way of direct sunlight hitting the ground, however there were still thermals around, and the clouds were definitely still working.
Approaching St Neots (approx 140kms) I had pushed on a bit and decided to get high under the next cloud then transition south to get into some slightly sunnier sky. Needless to say the cloud didn’t work, so turned 90deg to the right and headed towards Simon who was lower than me and about 2kms away, but climbing nicely. I was at 3,200′ and was down to 1,600′ before I found the climb, but over the next 15 minutes I climbed 4,000′ whilst travelling a further 15kms or so and was now approaching Cambridge and on for beating my previous personal best (167kms, flown in 2013).
The time was now 1715 and having broken my PB I risked tempting fate by thinking for the first time, that if we could just stay in the air for another hour we could crack the magic 200kms… Normally thinking such thoughts is a sure way to end up with an early retrieve, however not on this occasion!
Ali and I had leapfrogged Simon by this point and we had decided to follow the A11 towards Thetford, flying through the Mildenhall and Lakenheath MATZs, fortunately with no sign of any fast jets returning to base!
A short while later my GPS rolled over from 199 to 200kms amid much whooping and wahooing – what a terrific feeling, especially to share it with three friends! Who knows what anyone who might have heard us from the ground thought as we passed above them 🙂
By now Simon and Mike were just a few kms behind Ali and me, and as the sky wasn’t looking that great beyond, we all agreed to find a suitable landing field and land together rather than carry on and risk landing a few kms apart from each other in the middle of nowhere, and further complicate what was already going to be a long retrieve. We chose the sports field in the centre of the photo above and I touched down first at 1822 after a cheeky celebratory SAT, followed shortly by Ali, Simon and then Mike.
We provided some good entertainment for the local running club who’d fortunately just arrived after opening the rather high locked gates – I’m not quite sure what we’d have done had they not turned up…! Funnily enough two local paraglider pilots also turned up – one had seen us land, the other, Adam Ladd, had been following us on livetracking and drove for 15 minutes to see if we needed any help – thanks Adam!
So there it was, 213kms straight line, 220kms with turnpoints, after 6:17hrs in the air, and a big tick for achieving one of my goals for the year (the other being six 100km+ flights). And although the retrieve was long, it was pretty straightforward, mainly thanks to Simon’s dad, who unbeknown to us (well not to Simon of course) was driving retrieve for him. We packed up, had a swift beer in a nearby pub, then hopped on a train to Cambridge once we realised that it would be easier for Simon’s dad to meet us there. We squeezed in the car and he very kindly dropped us off in Oxford where Ali, Mike and I jumped into a taxi to retrieve cars from the hill. Home at 0200, still buzzing after such a fantastic day!
And the next morning, just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, I heard on the grapevine that I’d won one of two Special Prizes from the XC League for being the first person to fly over 200kms straight line on a glider with an aspect ratio of 5.8 max (my Sigma 9 having an aspect ratio of 5.8!). For this achievement I get a trophy and a cheque for £500!! What a fantastic welcome to the 200 Club, thank you XC League!
(And thank you Advance for building such a great “compact” glider!)
Flight details on the XC League here.
More photos on Flickr here.