Sun 31st: Day 8

I had our last flight of the Regionals. We thought the day would be similar to Saturday so we put 50 kg of water in FVV's wings. This was my first flight with water ballast. Carrying water ballast doesn't affect the distance a glider can go before it must take another climb but lets it travel faster between thermals. Of course there is a cost: the climb rate in a thermal is reduced. A Pegase 90's best gliding speed rises from 55 kts to 60 kts with 50 kg of water on board and its climb rate is surprisingly unaffected provided that it is flown 5 kts faster that usual when thermalling.

It soon looked as though the day wouldn't be quite as good as anticipated and the tasks were adjusted to suit. Club class was set a 251 km speed task with three turn points: Edgehill, Grafham Water and Lyveden. Lyveden is a gliding club near Corby.

Day 8 map

This is a section of the map I used to fly the task. The task flown is marked in black. The blue lines show an alternative task that was not used. Red circles mark areas, listed as NOTAMS, to be avoided. There was an air show at Little Gransden: the red arrow there shows the route in and out to be taken by the RAF Memorial Flight. We used a remote start on the north side of Papworth Everard, GRP, in order to keep clear of the air show. I highlighted the Daventry Control Area north-east of Edgehill in red as well.

However, the day turned out to be different. We got spreadout that merged into continuous overcast covering with much of the task area. Within it there were widely spaced gaps, each holding an internally illuminated cumulus.

Conditions at the start were excellent. I had good cloud streets past St. Neots and Bedford that led me down to Milton Keynes. From here on spreadout started to appear to the north of my track, while blue sky dotted with large cumulus extended as far as I could see to the south west. From Milton Keynes I followed the edge of the spreadout down to Buckingham because there was a good energy line running along it. Shortly after that I had to divert round Hinton-in-the-Hedges, a parachute dropping zone, and a radar installation and found myself at 2500 ft near Upper Heyford. A good climb in company there put me back to 4700 ft, so I set off under the overcast for Edgehill, some 22 km away. I didn't find any lift until, 4 km short and at only 2300 ft, I met a local Ka-6 out of the Shenington club. I shared his thermal, which gave me a 2 kt climb to 3250 ft. This was enough to get round the turn point, the Shenington club house, and out along the escarpment there to where it meets the M40. This escarpment, which was the site of the first battle of the Civil War, runs roughly north-south past the west side of Shenington's airfield.

By now I was back down to 2250 ft, but there was a gaggle of four gliders working very weak lift. Five very slow climbs saw us all drifting and cloud hopping past the north of Banbury under the overcast. I could see a nice line of clouds off to the north but no obvious way of getting to them. Instead, as I'd got back to 3700 ft, I moved on toward the next cloud on the direct track to Grafham Water and was rewarded on arrival with a climb to 5000 ft (and penalty points for clipping the edge of the Daventry Control Area). My next move was to a cloud some 25 km away on the north-east side of Milton Keynes, where I arrived at 2700 ft. A climb back to 5000 was followed by another 25 km glide past Bedford, where I arrived over St. Neots at 2700 ft and again climbed back to 5200 before setting course for the turn point at the south end of Grafham Water, which was 12 km away. A cloud over Grafham Water looked promising as I set off. However, when I got there all I found was a gaggle of four gliders below me circling in very light lift over the water and dark grey stuff overhead.

I was still at 4000 ft so I pushed on toward the north-west edge of the cloud, heading for Rushden, but glided out from under it into watery sunlight without finding anything. By now I was down to 1700 ft over the aerial farm at Chelveston but the sunshine was getting brighter. Fortunately another, much lower, glider marked some very slight lift which I worked for a while. On getting back to 2000 ft I moved away from the other guy and dumped my water, feeling duly amazed by the lighter feel of the Pegase. Encouraged by this, I pushed on for the south end of a long and useful looking cloud that ended over the west side of Rushden. I got there at 1400 ft, found a thermal that was occupied by a lone Discus, got centered up and settled down to climb in 4 kts. Once I reached 3800 things looked much rosier and I was back on course for a really nice cloud over Kettering. I arrived under the cloud at 2500, located myself under the another glider and settled into a 5 kt climb, heading for cloud base at 5200 ft. The other glider turned out to be Peter O'Donnell in 729. He headed for home and I set off for Lyveden. I didn't spot it until it was abeam: as usual, once spotted it was obvious.

Once past Lyveden, I kept going east toward a really juicy cumulus about 10 km further on. It was the last cloud between me and home: by now there was only blue sky in that direction. This cloud gave me a 5 kt climb from 3000 ft to 5300 ft. The GPS told me I had 40 km to run, so I knew I was in with 1000 ft to spare and started my final glide in glass smooth air at 60 kts. I passed over Huntington at 4000 ft and speeded up to 70. At Papworth Everard I pushed the nose down a bit more and speeded up to 90. Passing Caxton I sped up to 120, called in the 1 minute warning and pushed the speed up to Vne (130 kts, 150 mph) for the last mile. I crossed the finish line at 150 ft and flew across the landing area enjoying the ground rush before pulling up to 600, hanging the wheel out and joining the circuit.

Day 8 trace

It turned out that I was 8th and that half the 28 starters hadn't got back, so I was very pleased with my flight. Mike Roberts finished after me, so couldn't criticise my finish. Both Kevin Maloney, our CFI, and Rod Ward, our deputy CFI, thought I'd done a good job: this was a totally unexpected accolade.