It’s been a month and a bit since I collected my Omega X-Alps in Thun at the Advance XC Serial Team Weekend, and since then I’ve only had two opportunities for XC flights, and on the first of those a couple of weeks ago (Sat 23rd April) I made a bad decision leaving the hill when I did and ended up doing a 10km flop over the back of the Mendips. (Fortunately I got a second bite of the cherry later that afternoon at Westbury and had a nice hour boating around at up to 5,000′ in front of the hill in quite windy choppy conditions).
Anyway, back to my next flight on Saturday 30th April… I didn’t have any great expectations of the day – the forecast was for towering cumulus, showers, and isolated thunderstorms, although in between that lot the conditions would likely be good. I reckoned Liddington offered the best chance of success given that the showers would be coming in from the NW, so that meant that conditions at Selsley would likely deteriorate earlier. When we arrived at about 10 o’clock the hill was already busy with lots of gliders spread out and a few people doing some short hops in the lightish breeze.
It didn’t take long for the breeze to pick up enough to encourage more people into the air, but it took quite a while before the first gaggle left the hill. I wasn’t in it, but with maybe half dozen fewer people on the hill it did make a difference! Another gaggle got away maybe half an hour later, and then finally, at 1230, I managed to climb out with Jim Mallinson, Ian Conway, Nick Smith and a few others. Jim clearly connected with something that none of us found and I last saw him heading SE at speed 🙂
Ian lost the climb and headed back to the hill, and Nick and a couple of others were looking like they were going to be on the ground before too long. Meanwhile I was climbing, but not strongly, but I was keeping my eyes on Nick who was working something low down. Sure enough he reappeared after some great work and I headed back upwind to join him… Nice one!
However our partnership didn’t last long and sadly Nick ended up on the deck leaving me on my own. After this I got low over Hurstborne Tarrant (1200′ asl) but found a nice climb off the hill just to the east of the village, then approaching Popham (which was very busy with the Bank Holiday fly-in) I got low again (1400’asl) but a strong climb to the west of the airstrip got me up to maximum height of the flight, 4900′.
I had briefly crossed paths with Ian Hobbis a few kms earlier, but after Popham I made the conscious decision to try to fly together as I was having problems with my phone, which I run Flyskyhy on, so wanted to stick together to help navigate the airspace beyond New Alresford. (I later discovered what the problem was – I had bought a new shorter cable to plug my phone into the external battery, and this cable prevented my phone from charging at the full 2A, so it eventually shut down at approx 63kms). Fortunately I’ve flown this route quite a few times but even so I wasn’t exactly sure where the airspace stepped down from 5500′ to 4500′, and given my declared goal at Littlehampton, I’d also have to steer well clear of Chichester airfield (Goodwood).
Despite the forecast for towering clouds and showers, the sky during our flight so far hadn’t been threatening at all, and any showers had been quite a distance away to the west, east and south of us. However we were now catching up the showers and poor sky in front of us so I was trying to slow down and waft along, however we were getting low to the NW of Petersfield and needed a climb to get high and loiter. Sadly though, despite there being a nice cloud downwind of Petersfield neither of us connected with it and Ian went down near South Harting for 84kms, and I scraped a few more kms by flying along the South Downs landing by the 13th century church just to the south of Didling for 91kms.
I landed, then shared my location on XC Retrieve (xcrt.aero) and shortly after I’d finished packing up and started walking I received a message from Steve Newcombe asking if I’d like a lift to Petersfield railway station as he was only a few miles away having got home earlier after his flight from Liddington. Needless to say I accepted gratefully! This is exactly how I anticipated XC Retrieve working when I came up with the idea last year – it’s nice to know it works!
It was great to finally get some kms under my belt on my new glider, and whilst it’s early days to get a real feel for its strengths and weaknesses (if any 🙂 ) it really did seem to sniff out the thermals well, climb efficiently, and have good gliding performance. Compared to my Sigma 9 I’d say it really lets you feel what the air around you is doing without being demanding at all. In addition, on the ground, I just love how light the OXA + Lightness 2 (+ Companion reserve) package is – my whole kit including instruments, cameras and a litre of water is 14kg, compared to 22+kgs with my Sigma 9 and Impress 3 (and heavier reserve) – what a revelation! So, sadly no ice cream on the beach at my declared goal this time, but I was pretty satisfied with my flight being the farthest from the hill that day 🙂
Edit. Since writing this I’ve had another great flight – a 114km flight to declared goal from Golden Ball… Story in due course!