Well, that turned out alright!

•May 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Thursday 5th May. It had been a funny old week – the week before I had been thinking that a last minute trip to Chamonix and Annecy might be on the cards, but that was before my flight from Liddington on Saturday (30th April), and as a consequence of that plan I had rearranged a conference call from Wednesday to Tuesday, just in case. Then come the weekend I had told the client, thinking that Tuesday looked like quite a good day, that I could make the original date for the call. Of course Tuesday then didn’t turn out to be anything special, and despite Wednesday now looking good, I couldn’t get out! Agh! Thursday was looking like the only chance of a decent flight for quite a few days, so I decided to go for it despite some reservations – on the breezy side, blue etc.

Pete Douglas and Mike Humphries were both up for it, however the general lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the Avon XC crew spoke volumes… (it turned out that some of them were SIVing in Annecy with the BPRA (British Paragliding Racing Academy), but that didn’t explain everyone.

The day didn’t start brilliantly with Pete unable to find my house, then we had to wait a further ten minutes in Bradford-on-Avon for Mike to get to the RV, then we got snarled up in a road closure so our 1030 ETA at Golden Ball car park turned into about 1115. Oh well, at least we could see someone flying when we rolled up.

Fifteen minutes later we were at takeoff and the one person flying had landed, and it was breezy… Still, there was nothing to be gained by not getting ready and waiting for a lull, so that’s what we duly did. Marek (Mogielnicki) and I discussed various goals – Shrewsbury (160kms approx, probably a bit optimistic), Bromyard (105kms approx, not far enough) before finally settling on Kidderminster (115kms). I switched Flyskyhy’s display to aerial view and created a waypoint near a golf course just to the SW of the town.

I’m loving my new Omega X-Alps, but there’s one thing I still need to get sussed with it, and that’s stopping it wrapping itself up on the ground if the wind gets into it when you’re not controlling it. I spent at least ten minutes having fun and games with it on the ground in the brisk wind! I think in future I’ll leave it bunched up from the concertina bag and build a wall straight from that position.

Finally at 1230 I took off, followed a few minutes later by Marek, Pawel, and Mariusz (Grupa 303 were out in force :-)). It didn’t take long to find a climb and after 15 minutes I was up at 2,600′ and on my way. Unfortunately ten minutes later I was down to 1,500′ over Avebury (1,000′ agl) and I was seriously thinking I’d be on the deck soon.

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Too low! Silbury Hill bottom left, Avebury mid right

2kms later I was down to 1,200′ (500′ agl) over Windmill Hill, but then my luck changed – a weak climb saw me slowly climb up to 2,500′ by the time I reached the the Notam activated Lyneham CTA (not today though) 15kms from takeoff. By the time I reached Lyneham village itself I was down to 1,400′ (1,000′ agl approx) again before I found another climb which finally got me up to almost 4,000′ just north of the M4.Wow, what a struggle those 22kms had been – never once above 3,000′!

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Passing Lynham, still below 3000′

Grupa 303 were hot on my tail during this time, but sadly Marek and Pawel arrived too low at the edge of the Marlborough Downs to connect with my weak climb, and they landed near Lyneham. I hadn’t spotted Mariusz yet, but I later saw him land just to the east of Malmesbury as I circled lazily in a nice thermal coming off the town.

The day was blue with a strong inversion and without clouds to aim for the tactic is to fly over obvious trigger points – towns, villages and into wind and sun hills during the first part of the flight, then later big brown fields and rising ground. This worked well as I made good progress over Malmesbury, Tetbury, Nailsworth, Stroud, then the hill to the north of Stroud with the antenna on top which worked for me on a similar flight last year.

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Passing to the south of Gloucester

From there I wafted over Gloucester getting down to 1500′ before finding a nice climb which took me to 5200′, the highest I’d been so far. I was now 70kms from takeoff, the sky was still blue but there were occasional clouds around, and after a difficult start I suddenly felt that my first 100kms of the year might finally be on.

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Looking SW along the River Severn

I wasn’t particularly thinking of my goal at Kidderminster at this stage (it was still 45kms away after all) although I was aware that it was now slightly to the east of North, and with the wind still from the SSE there was gong to be some cross-winding involved at some point.

I got up to 5200′ again just behind the Malvern Hills, and carried on, only a few kms off 100kms now, and where I landed last year. At the 100km mark I was up at 5300′ and with my goal now 25kms away I thought it was worth a crack at it, even though it was 30 deg off my track. A glide and a climb later I was back to 5000′ again and with 15kms to go it was definitely game on (10:1 glide to goal approx).

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Stourport-on-Severn

I enjoyed a lifty glide towards Kidderminster and with the glide angle to goal consistently less than my current glide angle I was getting more and more confident with every passing km.

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Approaching goal at Kidderminster (square white building)

Sure enough, Flyskyhy sounded its waypoint bagged sound so I turned round and landed near near the 18th hole at Burlish Park Golf Club where I was made very welcome! It was great to enjoy a pint whilst packing up 🙂

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Goalfield pint 🙂

Getting home was easy enough – a taxi to the station, then rather a convoluted series of trains back to Bath, during which I bumped into Simon Twiss (who’d flown 160kms from Martinsell) who was on his way back to Cheltenham where he’d bribed his retrieve crew (wife and daughter) with the promise of a slap-up dinner!

So, after a hesitant start to the day, it eventually turned out really well – and it was great to get that first 100kms under my belt this year!

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22kms of bottom-feeding!

Tracklog here.

Finally some kms on the Omega X-Alps!

•May 1, 2016 • 2 Comments

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).

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The first of four or five launches at Liddington

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.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen Liddington as busy as this before

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 🙂

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Finally climbing out with Jim and Ian

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!

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Oh yes!

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′.

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Big clouds off to the west

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).

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Showers ahead

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.

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My landing field to the left of Didling Church

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!

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A really sweet machine!

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 🙂

Tracklog here.

Edit. Since writing this I’ve had another great flight – a 114km flight to declared goal from Golden Ball… Story in due course!

Flyskyhy video walkthrough

•April 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Back in 2013 I wrote a review of the great iOS paragliding app, Flyskyhy. Obviously the developer, René Dekker, has added many new features since then, so a couple of weeks ago I recorded a video walkthrough of the main features of the app as it stands at the moment. I hope you find it useful…

Spring has sprung!

•April 8, 2016 • 1 Comment

Well, there’s no doubt about it, after what has seemed like a long and barren winter flying-wise, the xc season has started in earnest. Good Friday provided my first opportunity for an xc flight but a slightly tricky forecast made for a difficult site call… I reckoned Combe Gibbet was probably the best option and managed to get a car load together. We arrived at 1015 and as per the forecast it was breezy, but it was due to drop and go round to the west as the day progressed.

It was busy on the hill and in the air, but despite the long winter layoff everyone played nicely and we enjoyed climbs to 2000′ – nice, but not nice enough to leave the hill in… It took a further hour before the first gaggle got up to 3000′, and despite one of my guidelines this season being “think very carefully before leaving in the first gaggle” I decided, given the backing forecast and relatively short day, to go for it.

The first half hour of the flight consisted of the climb up to about 3300′ followed by a glide down to 750′ at Andover. Hmmm, this wasn’t going to be a great start to the season unless I got lucky! I drifted low (300-400′) over an industrial estate before spotting some circling gulls, so I stopped my mincing and headed straight for them, and sure enough, ten minutes later I was enjoying stunning views from base at 3500′.

The sky was looking better now as well, so from here down to the South Downs it was was straigtforward climbing and gliding. I had been on my own since leaving the original gaggle before Andover, but I joined three hangies above Harting, but never quite made it to base, and unfortunately the lure of my goal some 20 odd kms away at Devil’s Dyke made me forego the obvious flight down to the coast at Littlehampton, and fly into an area of shade over the Downs from which I couldn’t recover. Still, I’d had a lovely four hour flight and had covered 85kms so I wasn’t too upset at having missed out on an ice cream by the sea 🙂

The retrieve was pretty easy – about a one mile walk, a five minute wait before a kind Polish lady stopped and gave me a lift to Barnham Station, where I had a three minute wait for the next train… Home in time for supper – perfect!

I had expected that to be my last flight on my Sigma 9 before I got my new glider, but less than a week later the forecast was looking great for a flight from Leckhampton to the coast at Weymouth, and judging by the assembled throng on the hill I wasn’t alone in thinking that!

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A busy takeoff at Leckhampton

I declared a 130km goal in Dorchester, and because RASP was predicting a 4-4.5 hour usable window I was keen to get going early. However when we got to base at just under 3000′ I began to question the wisdom of that decision. In fact thinking about it now, I really don’t know why I had been so keen to get off with base obviously so low… Oh well, it was was it was, and as I was with some good pilots I thought we’d be ok.

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Approaching the Cotswold Water Park 

And so we were for 40kms or so despite the conditions being surprisingly mincy given the good sky. But approaching Lyneham and with the climb we were in seeming to be petering out before we reached base, we decided to push on just as the sky in front opened up into a blue hole with nothing obvious to aim for. Remi, RichO and I pushed slightly crosswind hoping to get something off the gently sloping ground to the south of Lyneham, whilst the others went more directly downwind. Rich somehow managed to scrape up from super-low down, but Remi and I didn’t find it and went down. I think the others found something but by the time the climb really took off they were very close to the Salisbury Plain Danger Area and didn’t have enough height to play with to make it round the corner at Westbury.

After pacifying the somewhat irate farmer whose field we had landed in, Remi and I walked to Calne then caught a bus to Chippenham. I opted to hop on a train straight for Bath, whilst Remi waited for a lift from Pete Douglas back to Bristol.

So it was a funny day really – lots went down before 50km with a few making goal at Dorchester or Weymouth. I guess it’s fair to say the day got better later on and that we might have had better luck if we’d delayed taking off my half an hour, however it’s easy to say that with hindsight!

So, that really was my final flight on my Sigma 9 – I’ve now picked up my Omega X-Alps whilst at the Advance XC Serial Team weekend in Switzerland and I’m now waiting for a decent day to fly it! What a great glider the Sigma 9 has been – I hope its new owner, Darren, has as many adventures with it as I have had in the last two years!

Oh, St-André…

•January 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

… I miss you…!

It’s only taken me about four months to finish editing a couple of short videos of my eight or nine days in St-André-les-Alps for the British Open back in August, but doing so brought back such great memories – the start gaggles, the booming climbs, the low saves, the scratching low over trees and gullies, those rough lee-side thermals, the camaraderie, the views, getting to goal – that it just makes me want to go back there again!

The first video is from the day before the comp when a group of us set out to fly up to St Vincent and back. Things didn’t quite work out as planned and we all got separated, but I still managed a really nice 90km FAI triangle – a perfect warm-up for the comp proper…

Then came the four comp tasks – the first and second tasks were difficult for Sports class gliders due to the stronger than expected southerly wind, but the third and fourth tasks let us all get to goal – wahoo!!

Ah well, until next time…

Last Hurrah?

•October 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The previous couple of days had seen me frustrated at work – Thursday and Friday had been good flying days – and come Saturday (25th September) I was keen not to miss out on another good day, especially as I hadn’t been out since returning from Saint-André-Les-Alps almost four weeks earlier. RASP was forecasting light ENEs with a bit more wind and higher cloudbase the further south you went. I’d arranged to call Rich and Annee in the morning (who’d camped in their campervan near Frocester), and I persuaded them to come down to Bath for breakfast before heading down to Hambledon Hill in Dorset.

We hit the road at about 1100 and arrived and hour or so later. It’s about a 15 minute walk up, and it felt good to be out in the glorious autumn sunshine. There were a couple of pilots already there when we made it to the top and they had a couple of short flights while we got ourselves ready. Rich and I optimistically set a 115km goal to Chulmleigh – no harm in thinking big 🙂

Looking nice!

By the time we were all sorted the gentle breeze had dropped a bit which meant that we had to pick our moments to launch. The sky was looking epic, and birds were climbing out in front, however for at least an hour, despite weak cycles coming through, there was absolutely nothing to climb out in.

Then just before 2 o’clock Rich managed to climb out – I raced to get into it too, but by the time I reached the spot I was too low and too late, and had to pop it down on the slope and do yet another short walk up… Rich’s climb was slow to start with but before too long he was up at base, and I was still on the deck 😦

A tricky climbout

Determined not to give up I had another slopie before finally finding something strong enough to climb in. Trouble was I lost it after 400′ so pushed out in front to try to find something else. Fortunately my luck was in and I connected with something stronger and enjoyed a nice climb up to about 2,500′ before either I lost it or it fizzled out… Hmmm, this wasn’t proving easy! I decided to head downwind and keep my fingers crossed. Five minutes later I found a climb, and after quite a bit of searching I finally found the core and a nice 2-3m/s climb saw me at bars at 4,700′ in just a few minutes. This was more like it – I hadn’t been as high as this in the UK for two and a half months!

Far too low! I found the climb above the two small woods at the top centre of the photo

I cruised along under a cloud street for the next twenty minutes, but by the time I crossed the A37 I was down to 2,200′ and in need of a climb. Rich had come on the radio and said that he was down at 27kms, and I replied saying that I would come and land by him, but I heard him say “no, carry on, you might find something”. I duly carried on, pinning my hopes that I would make the gently rising ground a few kms ahead and get lucky there. I was down to 1,200′ (500′ above the ground) over two small woods, and sure enough there it was! Fifteen minutes later I was up at 4,700′ again and on my way! Thank you Rich for telling me to carry on! (What on earth was I thinking?!!!)

Fifteen minutes later 🙂

It was clear by this stage that my goal at Chumleigh was out of the question, so the next best thing was to aim for the coast, possibly West Bay, possibly Charmouth, or maybe even Lyme Regis…

As I passed a few kms north of Bridport it was clear I was on a nice lifty line so I pressed on towards Charmouth, averaging just 1m/s down. I had covered13kms since the last climb and was now at 2,300′, still some 8kms from my new goal at Charmouth, when I found a weak climb which I took for 350′ or so before pressing on.

Approaching Charmouth

I was down to 1,100′ as I flew over Charmouth – should I spiral down here, or try and reach Lyme Regis across the bay? Time for some mental arithmetic – 1,100′ = approx 300m, distance maybe 3kms max, so that’s 10:1 needed… Hmmm, at least there are landing options all the way along the beach… Go for it!

Overhead Charmouth, Lyme Regis at top of photo, 3.5kms away

It felt a bit touch and go at first, but with half bar to maximise my glide I reckoned I’d make it ok. I was at 300′ as I went “feet dry”, which gave me time to yell “wahoo!”, wave to people beneath me, shout “Happy Wedding!” to the couple having their photos taken on the beach, and throw in a quick beat before landing to quite a bit of applause farther up the beach!

I spent a few minutes chatting to a man and his young daughter about where I’d flown from and where to find more information about paragliding, before a lady came up and showed me the video she’d taken of me landing – how cool is that? 🙂

How’s that for a glide? (approx 23kms!)

Check out my glide in and landing in the video below then decide whether you’d have gone for it too…


PS. Lyme Regis definitely has the best ice cream on the south coast!

It just has to be done 🙂

Perfectly judged!

Tracklog here

XC-Tracer Bluetooth GPS/Vario + Flyskyhy iPhone app – is it time to ditch my Flymaster?

•September 15, 2015 • 10 Comments

Edited 15/06/2016 to take into account new developments since I originally wrote this article

I’ve been flying with Flyskyhy for 2.5 years now and love it, especially when running on the iPhone 6 with its barometric sensor, but when I heard about a new Indiegogo funded “lag-free” Bluetooth GPS/vario called XC-Tracer, which works with Flyskyhy, I was keen to give it a go, particularly as some big names are flying with it already! So I duly got in touch with the designer, Swiss pilot Koni Schafroth, and asked if he would send me a unit to review, hoping that it would arrive in time for the British Open in Saint-André-les-Alps.

If it’s good enough for Chrigel it’s good enough for me 🙂

Koni who?

Koni Schafroth is a Swiss paraglider pilot and designer who’s been flying for 25 years. He’s currently working on a project for the European Space Agency, whilst also consulting for the Swiss watch industry, and he somehow finds time to work for Gin Gliders too, where he came up with Gin’s Equalized Pressure Technology (EPT). If anyone’s qualified to shake up vario technology, it has to be him!

First impressions

The Swiss-made unit arrived about a week after I ordered it and all I had to do before I could fly with it was attach the provided sticky-back velcro and charge it up fully. Of course I also installed the latest firmware and took a look at the config settings file on the provided micro-SD card, but it was pretty much ready to go. (One thing you might want to change straight away is the sinkThreshold – it was set to -5.0 on my device). There’s not much to be said about the external appearance of the device – it’s got a solid case and all fits together nicely. The only control is the red button which turns the device on and off. Two LEDs display the charging status (red = charging, green = charged), whilst a yellow LED displays the GPS status (or USB Mass Storage Device status when connected to your PC). Battery status is indicated by a series of up to five beeps just after the unit is turned on: 5 >= 95%, 4 >= 75%, 3 >= 55%, 2 >= 35%, 1 >= 15%. All units are put through an exhaustive battery test before shipping and any that fail to run for 15 hours in a simulated flight (in indoor use the GPS uses 5mA more current as it is constantly searching for satellites) have their battery replaced with a new one before going through the test again. I got the feeling that the vario settings have a slight effect on battery life (eg. setting your sinkThreshold to -1m/s rather than -3m/s say will mean the device is beeping more and thus will consume more power, though I don’t have any hard data to confirm this, and in any case, there was still plenty of battery left after some of the longer tasks at Saint-André.

Just how responsive is it?

Of course the next thing I did was take it outside to see just how responsive it actually was. You are advised to put it on a stationary flat surface to let it initialise the gyros and GPS after you’ve turned it on, but it can be turned on in flight if you forget to do that (assuming you’ve previously initialised it whilst stationary). This process takes up to a minute before it gives the all-clear with a series of beeps. Now for the fun…! Just lifting it a few cms shows you how well the sensors work – the beeps start as soon as vertical motion is detected, and stop as soon as the movement stops. Very impressive indeed! Have a look at the video below which compares the XC-Tracer with my Renschler Solario and my Flymaster B1 Nav:

You might think that if it’s as sensitive as this then it’ll be too talkative in flight, but this isn’t the case at all – it’s lovely to fly with. For the first time I have a vario which beeps as soon as I hit lift, rather than a second afterwards, and perhaps more importantly, it stops beeping the moment you leave the lift. I’ve flown with it for 21 hours now, with the majority in nice strong Saint-André-les-Alps conditions during the British Open at the end of August, and it certainly helped in finding the core. I also found it useful on glide by helping you to find those lifty lines, and it signals you to tweak the speedbar earlier than conventional varios allow.

At the end of a lovely 90km FAI triangle around St Andre

I also spent about half an hour flying in very weak conditions in the UK and I’m convinced it allowed me to stay up longer than I would have done otherwise, although I admit that is rather a subjective conclusion to draw!

The question you’re probably asking is how does it achieve this remarkable sensitivity? By using a 9 Degrees of Freedom Inertial Measurement Unit (3 axis gyro, 3 axis accelerometer, 3 axis magnetometer) in addition to the usual highly sensitive pressure sensor… Clever stuff indeed!

Tweaking the acoustics (edited 15/06/2016)

 

When I first received my XC Tracer in Aug 2015 you could choose between three preset vario sounds, and tweak various settings, however that’s been changed in recent firmware updates.You can either simply use the default acoustic settings that the device ships with, or you can use the online tone simulator here to create your perfect acoustic profile. (Hint: click the black cloud with white arrow button in top right corner to try some ready made profiles). There are five basic settings – volume, climb on, climb off, sink on, sink off – followed by twelve lift or sink data points where you can adjust pitch, cycle, and duty %

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My acoustic profile: blue line = pitch, green line = cycle, blue shading = duty %

It took me quite a while to get it to something that worked well, but it gives me lots of info at different lift / sink rates:

-10 to -2 m/s: typical vario tone here, impossible to ignore – get out of this sink fast!
-2 to -1 m/s: air gently sinking, there might be lift around somewhere
-1 to 0 m/s: air rising gently but you’re still sinking – pay close attention
0 to +1 m/s: max sensitivity in this region for those mincing UK days
+1 to +10 m/s: fairly standard vario sounds here

Tracklogs and USB support

Because it has a built-in GPS, the XC Tracer can record your flight either as a signed IGC file at 1Hz, or else as a 5Hz Google Earth kml file, which are saved onto the supplied micro-SD card.

smooooth!

Have you ever seen a track as smooth as this before?

Of course the benefit of saving it as an IGC file are that you’ll have a backup tracklog in case of any problems with your main instrument, however having a beautifully smooth Google Earth file is tempting 🙂

Edited 15/06/2016 XC Tracer acts as a USB Mass Storage Device when connected to a PC or Mac with a USB cable, so getting copying your tracklogs off the device is super-easy, although you can of course remove the micro-SD card and import it that way. Firmware updates are done by dragging the new file onto the micro-SD card and rebooting the device – very straightforward. (NB. If you have an older device without USB MSD support you’ll need to get in touch with Koni to get instructions on how to install the USB MSD firmware)

Flyskyhy

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been using the iOS app Flyskyhy for over two years now, and Flyskyhy’s developer, René, has done a great job getting XC Tracer to work with Flyskyhy. It really is as simple as turning Bluetooth on on your phone, and setting the external vario to XC Tracer. There is also the option to use XC Tracer’s GPS data rather than the iPhone’s GPS and I’m told this increases the iPhone’s battery life, although I haven’t tested to what extent it improves it. I guess the one disadvantage of using XC Tracer’s GPS data rather than the iPhone’s, is that both devices’ IGC files will contain the same positional data, so that in effect you don’t now have a backup tracklog. Hmmm, maybe I should turn that option off given that the iPhone 6 has a pretty good GPS and barometer…

The bottom line

I’ve flown over 20 hours with the XC Tracer and I love its responsiveness – hearing the beep at the same time as you feel the pull from the wing is really great, and conversely, knowing immediately when you’ve left the lift is equally important. I think it really comes into its own in weaker conditions, and now that I’ve bought the unit I can’t wait to try it on a tricky UK XC day. Apart from the “Flymaster growl”, I haven’t missed my B1 Nav’s vario at all, and I have no plans to turn the audio back on again. In fact, I might just try leaving the Flymaster turned off altogether!

As to whether I can get rid of my Flymaster just yet, if I only flew XC and not competitions, then yes, you could do, though personally I would be hesitant to do so just yet, primarily because of the Flymaster’s thermal position indicator which definitely does help you find the thermal again should you lose it. I know René has a thermalling assistant screen on the drawing board, so hopefully this feature will be along soon. If you’re a comp pilot then once René adds route optimisation (which he is working on) and a speed to start instrument, then there would be absolutely no need to spend £400+ on a comp capable GPS/vario. Welcome to the brave new world!

With Christmas just around the corner, perhaps now’s the time to start dropping hints to your loved one to head over to xctracer.com 🙂 (NB. At current exchange rates the price of 345 Swiss Francs equates to approx £230).

Edit 15/06/2016 I am now the UK importer for XC Tracer and the new solar powered XC Tracer Mini – please see my Facebook page for more info and to order.

“TimWings” :-)

•August 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

A double-bill in SkyWings this month… Joe must be desperate 🙂

Joining the 200 Club!

•July 7, 2015 • 1 Comment

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 🙂

The launchpad for our flights – Milk Hill White Horse

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 milestone – getting past Marlborough!

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 turn at leading out with Ali and Neil following

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 with the Harwell Accelerator in the background

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.

Passing the first of two famous university cities

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…

Too low for comfort as I approach Milton Keynes

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.

It’s always fun to (hopefully) out-climb our rather sleeker brethren

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.

Safely past Milton Keynes with Ali (and Simon down there somewhere) following me

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.

Sneaking past Cranfield

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 🙂

Simon on his Omega 8 – old but still good looking 🙂

Top cover all around now

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.

Anyone see any sunny bits?

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).

Passing Cambridge – famous university city #2

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!

Fortunately we were the only aircraft flying as we passed to the south of Mildenhall

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!

Almost at that magic number! It’s got to be in the bag now 🙂

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 🙂

Thetford

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.

Do paraglider pilots only come in two sizes – tall and short? 🙂

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!

200s all round!

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!

Wahoo, we flew the furthest! (just!)

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.

Big Sunday!

•June 19, 2015 • 1 Comment

Sunday 7th June had been looking like a good day from quite a few days out, and for once the actual was every bit as good as the forecast! Most of the SW XC hounds descended on Leckhampton, with the remainder heading for Coombe Gibbet for the Advance British Clubs’ Challenge round being held there.

A busy Leckhampton with the sky looking good already

I took off at 1130 and spent about ten minutes soaring before climbing out with Nick Somerville, Gussay Guscott and Eddie Colfox among others.

Nick leads us off into a great looking sky!

The first decision point when flying from Leckhampton is which side of Kemble to go. As the wind was NNW and forecast to veer to the NNE through the day we opted to go to the east, after all, why make things difficult for yourself early on?

My 142km declared flight

Approaching Cirencester with Kemble ATZ to our right

Now past Kemble it was time to try and head in a more southerly direction in order to give us plenty of time to get to the west of the Salisbury Plain Danger Area.

Nick and Gussay over the Cotswold Water Park

We had to cross quite a wide blue hole 10km either side of the M4, but with three of us our search area was much increased and we made it across without too much trouble, then once past Lyneham the sky improved with nice clouds marking the way.

Bowood House top centre

It had been fairly slow going up so far – 3 hours to fly 60kms straight line – but with our crosswind dogleg I guess this wasn’t all that surprising, but now that we were almost round the Danger Area, and had a good line of clouds marking the climbs, it was pretty much a matter of joining the dots!

Approaching Trowbridge playing join the dots:-)

Unfortunately by this stage Nick had dropped back a bit, so Gussay and I cruised past Westbury at 5000ft and made much faster progress southwards.

Cruising past the masses at Westbury (the ridge in the centre of the picture)

It was pretty much plain sailing from here with Gussay and me working well as a team, and having taken just over three hours to get to Westbury, it only took two hours to fly the remaining 70kms.

Goal at Weymouth in sight!

Just before Dorchester I did a spot of surreptitious cloud flying, topping up to 5,800ft in order to maximise my chances of reaching my goal at Weymouth Golf Course, and from 17kms out I pretty much glided in on a lifty line. I wonder if the sea breeze from the east and west of Weymouth meets and forms a gentle area of convergence between Weymouth and Dorchester?

I had some spare height over the golf course so decided to get a bit closer to the railway station (and more importantly, to an ice cream!) so glided over Radipole Lake and then spent a good five minutes circling the car park at 300ft wondering if I could get enough height to make it onto the beach. In the end I decided discretion was the better part of valour and I opted for the car park.

I couldn’t get down 🙂

Lucky it wasn’t too busy 🙂

I had just enough time for an ice cream on beach before my train, the 1756 para-express to Bath and Bristol! Nick didn’t join the train at a later stop despite landing near Maiden Newton after his first 100km flight (actually 125kms) – he ended up getting a lift most most of the way back to his car in Bath. I had driven my car to Leckhampton, but fortunately for me, my other passenger, Frazer Wilson, had managed to get back to the hill and drive it back to Bath – thanks very much Frazer!

The party train!

I don’t know how many pilots made it to Weymouth in total – it must have been a lot as people were dropping in from Monksdown (50kms), Westbury (75kms), Coombe (109kms), Leckhampton (142kms) and The Lawley (210kms!) until about 7pm! It turned out that Sunday 7th June was the biggest ever day in the history of the UK PG XC League with some almost 12,000kms flown, with 53 flights over 100kms, including eleven over 200kms! (Note to self – must travel farther north on the next Big Sunday!) What a great day!

Watch out for the video will will follow in due course!

Flight details on XC League here.