Tuesday, 20th June 2006 was an interesting day. The forecast was for calm conditions and for a front from the west to shut us down mid afternoon, but instead we had a lot of wind (gusting 7-15 kts on the ground, 25-30 from 220 degrees at flying heights) with good-looking cu at 4200 ft. Thermals below 3000ft were mostly broken with the good ones being very narrow.
I went flying with the expectation of finishing off some pre-solo exercises. I hadn't flown a complete aero tow since August 2004, so Robert Thiele and I aero towed the Puchacz to 3000 ft and went spinning. We still had plenty of height left, so we flew three winch launch failure exercises before landing. Next flight was a winch launch with power cut at 500 feet: I landed ahead into a freshening breeze.
Then, rather to my surprise, I was sent solo in the Puchacz off the winch. The launch got fast on top so I released early at 1100 ft but didn't connect any lift and I was soon down with a slightly bounced landing. However, for my next flight there was a nice line of clouds in reach and, for a bonus, the Faulkes Flying Foundation motor glider was marking a good patch under them. I popped off the cable at 1400 feet after an excellent launch and headed for the clouds. This is where I found the thermals were pretty much broken up by the wind, which was at least 25 kts at flying height, but the strong ones were narrow. To get a good climb it was necessary to be cranked over at 70 degrees bank with the stick back, whizzing round in the core at just under 50 kts. This soon got me to 3500 ft., leaving the motor glider well below. I heard later that those on the ground were watching (of course) and pleased to see I hadn't lost my nerve. Hell, I was just having fun. Above 3000 ft things changed. There was almost no lift that was wide enough to circle in but there was good cloud streeting and nice, though narrow energy lines down the centre of the streets. The Puchacz is a relatively slow glider, so poddling upwind along an energy line at 50 kts was fun but made only slow progress over the ground. Eventually I reached the 800 ft TV tower at Potton (about 8 km upwind) but by now I was at 4200 ft. Here I turned for home and arrived back amazingly quickly and still at 3000 ft, so played with high speed handling a bit and practised slipping, to burn it off. I landed after 47 minutes at around 17:00.
These satellite pictures show the situation at 14:04 and 17:33. Look at all those streets over the Cambridge area. A fantastic sky; you need a lot of wind and strong thermals to produce conditions like that. Click the time or the image for a bigger version.