Diary 2016

Welcome to the diary page. If you want to see what I have been up to lately with my gliding then this is the place to look at. Every time I go gliding I will add an entry to this page. Note that Lasham is about 600 feet above sea level, so for example 2000 feet QNH / ASL is 1400 feet above Lasham.

2015 <- | 2016 | -> 2017 | -> Current

2016 Gliding Pictures

Sunday 4th December 2016
Winter Practice. Fun and challenging wind gradient.

After 2 months away due to illness I was glad to be back. I was targeting a check flight and a couple of solos in a Grob 102. It was a frosty and quiet start but things soon livened up. A leisurely breakfast was followed by short briefing at 9AM and then an unpack of the hangar. I had agreed to share SH8 with another pilot. He would have an aerotow first while I had a check flight and proceeded to DI SH8. I was teamed up with Ed who was DI'ing D and I helped him out there before driving the fire truck to the launch point. Before long we were assigned B which was 2nd in the queue so we were off fairly quickly. The first glider of the day, a K21, broke the weak link high up in the launch curiously.

My first launch in B started off smoothly enough, but at 900-1000 feet the speed shot up considerably and despite a too fast signal the speed went up to 70 knots and Ed pulled the release. I recovered from the unplanned release no problem though and topped out at 1400 feet. From that height we played about briefly, slowing down to the stall and noting that we were almost at a hover. So the wind was atleast 30 knots up here. We had only got as far as the medium cross runway, and never got as far West as the winch. When we dropped back through the inversion our ground speed suddenly increased again as we entered the bumpier lower air. A normal circuit was completed, with Ed ensuring I didn't go too far downwind as there was a strong wind gradient, and a nice smooth landing after 5 minutes. It appeared that at that height, which was the inversion, there was an abrupt increase in wind by 15-20 knots. That was what caught the first glider out. We went straight back into line and this time the winch driver was more aware of conditions aloft, as were we. The winch almost cut power when we got through the inversion and we kept things sensible all the way to the top. After releasing we topped out at an amazing 2500 feet. From this height we were able to do some spin practice. Moving to the North and doing a HASSLL check I then did a thermalling turn, and applied a boot of too much rudder which made the glider spin. Recovery was straight forward after holding it a few turns. We also did a couple of simulated winch launch failures where after diving to 70 knots I pulled up to 45 degrees, pretended a cable had just broken and then levelled out without putting speed on. On trying to turn like that the glider spun. Recovery was straight forward. Back down to 1000 feet close to the airfield a straight forward circuit and landing ensued after 7 minutes airborne. That was good fun that and a good use of a winter's flying day.

Soon after I landed the other pilot launched in SH8. But he was soon back and I took over the glider. The first winch launch I pulled up a little too steeply and as I approached the inversion the blue link broke. I topped out at 1200 feet so was able to do a normal circuit and landing after 4 minutes. I tried again, and this time got it right and topped out at 1900 feet. That was better. On the way up someone was reporting weak wave North of the airfield. However I did not find anything useable and most of the time it was a fair bit of sink. So I landed at 12:25PM after 7 minutes.

However I now felt current so mission accomplished. I parked the glider in the aerotow queue and handed it back to the other pilot who wanted a second aerotow. That suited me as I was free to go back to the clubhouse for lunch. I was pretty tired so had a leasurely lunch while warming up. I then set off back home at 1:40PM to rest for the rest of the day.

Friday 30th September 2016
Local soaring. Long street running.

I had booked glider SH4 on Monday as the long range weather forecast looked interesting with potentially nice conditions afer a cold front. I hadn't flown for a month due to illness so was keen to catch any soaring before the season came to an end. The cold front went through on Thursday as expected. Today was looking maybe a bit showery and breezy but still OK for fun local soaring. I had been switched to SH2 as SH4 was off to Aboyne and SH3 was to be displayed at Surrey university's fresher's week.

It was a cold motorbike ride at dawn to the airfield. 10C was around the lower limit for my summer jacket (which I used as it was expected to be too warm for the winter jacket going home). I arrived at 7:40AM without any dramas and soon had all my gear sorted out. It was a clear sky albeit with showers running along the South coast. It was a quiet start with nobody at the ballot but despite that I managed to find help rigging after breakfast. That was done by 8:40AM, and the glider was ready soon after 9AM.

In the briefing it appeared windier than I expected with 20kts from the Southwest. The launch point had been set up on runway 23. It may well be showery but was hard to tell how showery, with Topmeteo and the BBC disagreeing. Perhaps it would get less showery as the day progressed. 4000 foot cloudbase might happen. There were no notams expected but two ATC movements were expected at 10AM and 11AM. Lasham - Wantage - Pewsey - Lasham for 142km was set but I was happy with local soaring today as I didn't think it would be good enough for me and I still wasn't 100% so wanted to take it easy.

I pushed the glider half way to the launch point before parking it and getting a buggy to help me the rest of the way, parking up soon after 10AM. Then it was a long wait for it to get soarable. Upwind a trough was evident especially along the coast. But it was clearing through without too much happening at Lasham. But the fresh breeze made for a lot of wind chill. At first I was just T-shirt in the sunshine after working out pushing the glider out. But soon the layers came out followed by a retreat to the launch point van. I decided to go to the clubhouse and have an early lunch there at 11:25AM for half an hour as the first movement was late and taking ages due to an engine fault. I was back at the glider at midday as the second movement finally occurred. I joined the winch queue at 12:15PM as the jet finally took off. I was 6th in line and a big long street was forming upwind and getting close to us. As I got in the glider at the front a shower hit and wet the glider. But it was brief and did not affect my launch.

I winch launched at 12:49PM to 1300 feet above Lasham. Ahead of me I could see gliders soaring under the big cloud street and I made a beeline for them. I found some weak lift at about 1000 feet and steadily got away, getting stronger as I got higher. Soon enough I was at cloudbase at about 3000 feet and I set off upwind along the street, towards the West-Southwest. There were light showers embedded in the street but flying through them wasn't a problem with strong lift found under dark clouds on the other side. Soon I jumped North over Popham Airfield to another long street that wasn't showery and going from horizon to horizon. I went for miles without turning and soon passed Popham, Bullington and Chilbolton. I turned Stockbridge in the end, nipping out into the gap to turn it then returning to the street. Cloudbase was slowly rising to 3500 feet with lower bits in places that I had fun skirting around. Others did carry on as far as Salisbury I heard but I was happy to now return along the street, again with little or no turning, all the way to Basingstoke. I turned BAS and then went back upwind again. This time I turned at Bullington as beyond there was a gap in the street. A huge gap to the North prevented me from going that way. So I retreated back to Basingstoke again. Then I jumped South to a huge cloud close to Lasham. That was fun with strong lift too. I followed this street back upwind. By now the streets were not so clear and it was cycling down a bit. I went as far as Micheldever. Then after backtracking a bit a nice street formed to the South of me which I joined and then followed most of the way to the Southampton Airspace. It carried on towards Stockbridge but I turned back as I had been up for over 2 hours and I felt it was enough for today. So I had a good blast back to Lasham. Then after losing height to the West of the airfield I had an uneventful circuit and approach to the East of runway 23. All was fine until my ground run. Instead of staying straight I ruddered right a bit and the crosswind caught me out. A wing touched the ground and I continued to loop round to the right a bit, getting a bit too close to another glider and ending up facing the trailer. Thankfully it was gentle and all was fine. But it was a lesson to me to stay straight and into wind and only manouvre as I am coming close to a halt in those conditions. I landed at 3:40PM, 2 hours 51 minutes after launch. Perhaps I should have returned a bit sooner as I was pretty drained. But never mind it was a lovely flight.

On the ground I did as much as I could on my own. As I went to the hangar to put the batteries and parachute away I found help to derig the glider. Soon the wings were away and I finished putting the glider away at 4:25PM. Then I went to retrieve my motorbike gear and have a tea. I rode off at 5PM. The traffic going home was terrible. I am so glad I was on the motorbike. The M25 was a car park and the M40 was very slow too. 90 minutes to get home instead of probably more than 2 hours by car. This is why I prefer the motorbike on weekdays.

Monday 29th August 2016
Best flight of the year. 300km at last.

I had been unable to book a Discus as one was still allocated to the Junior comp at Tibenham. It looked foggy on the Lasham webcam at 6AM when I woke up but I knew it would lift and I was soon on my way by motorbike. By the time I arrived at 7:40AM the fog had indeed already lifted and it was warming up, but still 7-8/8 low cloud. I sorted my gear out before the ballot at 8AM. I made up for being bottom of the ballot last time by winning it this time. So I chose Discus SH4 and then had the usual nice breakfast. It was getting busy as it was a bank holiday with a good forecast after a grey start. SH4 was rigged and ready by 9AM with plenty of people around to help getting the toys out quickly and efficiently. I gave the glider a clean and then went to the briefing for 9:30AM. It was packed to the rafters in there!

Rain was clearing the Hus Bos area. Wind was NW 5kts on the ground here, with cloud burning off and clearing. Salisbury was already clear and nice on the webcams. We were expecting 22-23C maximum temperature and dew point down to 10C or lower, so a good split would give us a high cloudbase - 4000 feet (6000 foot cloud tops) by early pm and should go above 5000 feet. Perhaps go West first then East later. The best conditions were expected within 50km of Lasham and might go blue elsewhere. A lateish finish was expected. Airspace was quiet with the usual parachute zones (Chiltern park, Redlands, Old Sarum) active the only things we needed to worry about. Tasks were set Southwest then Northwest then North. I planned with the 300 and 380km tasks in mind, heading Southwest to Bishop's Caundle first and then see what happens when I go North. Birdlip and back for 300, or on to Bidford and Bicester for 380km. Silver distance was to Lyneham and back for 150km.

The sun was shining at 9:40AM after the briefing. I marked up my map with the tasks in restaurant area before heading back out to the glider. I pushed it to near the main hangar to find a buggy not being used and two Grobs and their pilots almost ready to head out. So we all clubbed together and towed all three gliders to the launch point and grid for one of the Grobs. Back at the launch point I decided to join the winch queue around 11:30AM as it was looking almost good to go with nice cumulus popping aloft as conditions continued to improve.

I winch launched at 12:01PM to only 1100 feet as the local clouds started to look rather scrappy. I headed to the upwind clouds but was stuck at 900 feet just North of the airfield for ages trying not to fall down, in weak lift. Eventually though it improved and I got away, drifting past just downwind of the winch on the way. Cloudbase initially was only 2700 feet (3300 feet QNH). But soon I decided to start exploring, tiptoing outwards and coming back waiting for cloudbase to go up a bit. I started properly at 12:27PM as I got a climb to 3500 feet QNH close to the airfield and ther start line. I plodded West carefully and was finding it easy going despite the low cloudbase. So I carried on heading out hoping for better conditions where the sun had been shining for longer. After crossing several streets I found a 'magic' street somewhere West of Popham. I had a fantastic run Southwestwards all the way to Salisbury, with a significant portion of it flown without turning or losing height. Beyond Salisbury the street had ended and it was a straight forward, albeit tiptoey, cloud hop further Southwest. I stayed high as there were gaps to cross and thermals were weaker and clouds smaller here. But I was getting up to 4000 feet QNH now. Eventually I turned Bishop's Caundle (BCA) OK and then thermalled weakly to the Northwest of it before moving on Northwards to better clouds.

The second leg was the hardest leg for me. Clouds were fairly small and thermals often not that strong with sizeable gaps between them. But it was a nice plod Northwards, sightseeing on the way as I passed The Park gliding club and Jenson Button's home town of Frome while looking East to Salisbury Plain off to my right. After Trowbridge I diverted East of track a bit as on track was a big blue hole. After soaring over Chippenham I struggled a bit near Lyneham before routing my way between Kemble and Aston Down. 5-10km South of Birdlip was the trickiest part of the flight for me. Here clouds were bigger and with a lower cloudbase (4000 feet as opposed to 4500+ feet beforehand) and spread out. I struggled to climb in weak patchy lift and was getting below 3000 feet before I finally climbed enough to have the confidence to fly over and turn Birdlip and carry on a bit further North to a nice cloud street closer to Cheltenham. Here after working some weakish lift I got away and into better lift and was able to head back Southeastwards.

I had a good run Southeastwards to South Cerney and Fairford. Here the clouds were getting small and a blue hole loomed ahead. So I tiptoed through the gap between the two areas of restricted airspace and found a good climb just East of South Cerney in the gap under the best cloud in the area. Then after some more cloud hopping I found myself at the last cloud for a while over Swindon. Having topped up as much as I could I set off into the blue. A long slow glide ensued until the nerves twitched near Ramsbury and I diverted right under some cloud wisps. After some time spent thermalling weak lift I climbed enough to have the confidence to reach better cumulus just past Membury. Then one more climb between Hungerford and Newbury got me to my best height of 5300 feet (4700 feet above Lasham) which got me onto final glide which I commenced. However South of Kingsclere heavy sink was making my glide marginal. To my right was a nice looking cloud street which I diverted under. Bam! 8kts of lift soon catapulted me more than 1000 feet above glide. I sped up to 110kts and was still climbing. So as I got closer to Lasham I eased off left back into the sink to keep things sensible. I had fun with a nice competition finish before landing uneventfully at 4:49PM, 4 hours 48 minutes after launch.

On the ground SH3 landed soon after me and many others soon after that as well as some before me. Between us all we had the gliders away efficiently by 6PM. Atfer putting batteries and parachute away I went to the bar to collect my gear which was left there by the office when they closed. After chatting to people about the day and preparing my gear I left at about 6:20PM for a quick ride home in lighter than expected traffic. It was my best flight of the year, completing LAS-BCA-BIR-LAS at 71kph (in 4 hours 27 minutes) which I was happy with. I was so relieved to have a good flight after a pretty rubbish summer, and I only need one more decent flight to break even on the unlimited scheme.

Wednesday 17th August 2016
Yet more local soaring. Pea souper. Large fire to the West.

I had turned up on Sunday 14th August but there were 8 people in ballot and only 2 Discuses available and no Grobs as one was on hire and the other two were unserviceable. Unfortunately I came out 7th so I did not fly. I had a plan B though which was to leave Lasham and drive further West to Shipton Bellinger to see the Brown Hairstreak butterfly before going home in afternoon. That was a successful trip and the pictures can be seen in my Butterflies 2016 gallery. The next day I managed to book Discus SH4 for today. So I biked it in to arrived at 7:45AM in foggy conditions. After breakfast I had help at 8:30PM to rig the Discus. At 9AM the fog cleared and the sun started to shine as the glider was ready. Back in the clubhouse I got the office to store my gear in a cupboard for me again.

At the briefing, it was noted that the pressure was dropping and we were hoping for destabilising aloft. It was 5-10kts Easterly wind on ground, Southeasterly aloft. It was due to get up to 26-27C with an 11-12C dew point. Small cu were possible at 4500 feet or more. It was due to be slightly better to the Northeast and Southeast. No top cover issues from an incoming front were expected until late. The Bicester regionals would mean lots of gliders to the North. The Microlight & Paramoter world championships practice day at Popham were happening at low level but shouldn't be an issue. It was OK to land there if using a radio. Tasks were set to the Northwest and North.

The glider was towed out by 10:15AM. It was lovely out here, albeit pretty hazy. It felt thermic with gusts, and the top cover burning off. Or was it cumulus? I wasn't sure. At 11:20AM I put the glider 8th into the winch queue, aiming for a midday launch as cumulus were definitely popping and it was getting better up there.

I launched at 1156 to 1300 feet. I did struggle at first though, getting down to 1000 feet several times. I couldn't get past 1800 feet for a while. But I stuck with a promising thermal. At 1800 feet it dropped to half a knot average. But persistence paid off as above 2000 feet it picked up again. Perhaps a stable layer at that height? Then above 2000 feet I had no problem getting to cloudbase which was around 3000 feet above Lasham / 3600 feet QNH. There was much more cumulus than expected but it was low to the North and for the last 500 feet below cloudbase the visibility was awful. I couldn't see the next cloud and couldn't easily see Lasham from Basingstoke. So I wasn't happy going far. In the end it turned into a fun local soaring flight. After returning to Lasham to restart, I pushed out as far as Kingsclere. Cloudbase was not rising to comfortable heights until well after 2PM. I was feeling very tired so had bailed from going very far. I then went West to just south of Popham to investigate a large fire in field. It was a large smoke cloud and I could smell it at 3000 feet up. It wasn't really soarable though. Looking through the cloud the sun turned orange. Once I'd had my fun there I went back towards Lasham. After one more explore to north as it started to blue out from South, I got to my best height of 4500 feet above Lasham / 5100 feet QNH somewhere North of Basingstoke. Then I returning to Lasham at 100kts as I had ample height before an uneventful circuit and landing at 3:35PM, 3 hours 39 minutes after launch. There was no wind on the ground so I had a long ground run despite approaching at only 50 knots.

I left at 5:15PM after getting help derigging. I was home in 1 hour 20 minutes despite horrendous traffic. And _that_ is why I like to bike it to Lasham midweek!

Saturday 30th July 2016
More local soaring.
I arrived at 7:30AM by car and had breakfast before the ballot as the restaurant was open early for the Lasham Regionals competition. I got Discus SH4 in the ballot. It was filthy though which was disappointing. However a cleanup, rig and DI was completed by briefing. It was still grey at briefing as an early front was clearing slower than forecast. It was looking as if I had probably picked the wrong day. The cleareance was still Aston Down to Hus Bos at briefing. Tasks to the Northwest and North were set. Because of the comp there would be no winch available before they launched, so aerotows to 1500 feet were available for 10 which was excellent value. In the comp briefing the met man confirmed at 11:25AM that it was looking worse than expected, with a 1-2pm clearance. So I had lunch in the clubhouse with the glider in the 7th or 8th row of a club grid on the North side grass. Sunshine at last started to break through at 1pm. Then the grid started to launch at 1:35PM. I was glad to be 7 or 8 rows back as it still didn't look that good.

I was launched from the grid at 1:58PM to 1500 feet and I got away. It was perfectly timed as I got the last tug before the competition grid started to launch. Cloudbase was 2700 feet above Lasham to start with. Looking inland there were bigger clouds and severe spreadout. Cloudbase was only 3500 feet above Lasham / 4100 feet QNH and there were big gaps between them. I elected not to go much further than Greenham Common at furthest, so it was another day of local soaring. The second half of the flight was spend under 7/8's cloud cover and it was tricky just to stay up. The other Discus SH3 fell down. Cloudbase eventually crept up to 4900 feet / 5500 feet QNH, and I managed to touch 5000 feet / 5600 feet QNH up the side of a cloud. At this point my camera had a memory failure and stopped working. Although I had my iPhone's camera as backup. I also squashed a migraine that wasbrewing in the air as I had tablets with me. I had enough of floating about eventually as I was tired from the migraine and it was a chilly 4C up at height, especially as I was almost always in cloud shadow. So I raced back to Lasham (I was 1500 feet above glide so why not) and landed uneventfully and as normal at 4:44PM, 2 hours 46 minutes after launch.

The pilot of SH3 helped me to derig. The toys were away by 5:15PM. I then left at 5:30PM. It was nice to have light traffic for a change, having been used to very heavy weekday traffic lately.

Thursday 14th July 2016
Spreadout and big cloud climb.

I couldn't book a glider as two other pilots had beaten me to the Discuses. Once again it didn't look epic but it was the best day of the week. The short range forecast did look nice though. So I was in the ballot. I arrived by motorbike at 7:45AM after quite a cold ride for the time of year! In the end I lucked out and got Discus SH3 in the ballot. Then ensued a mad dash to get the glider ready by 9:15AM along with the other two Discuses. The previous pilot had left batteries, rubbish and a parachute bag in the glider so I was rather unamused with that. They were tidied away acoordingly.

In the briefing the weather was looking OK. It was looking a bit spreadout now. We were expecting cloudbases of 3000 feet by 11AM and 4500 feet early afternoon. Spreadout was possible in places, especially to the North. A long soaring day was expected. The Farnborough Airshow was still going on. That was the only airspace issue we had to worry about however. Tasks were generally set along the South Coast. I pencilled in Arundel / Worthing then maybe Hungerford and then Southwest to Crewkerne for a 300 if conditions were good enough.

I launched at 10:50AM to about 1200 feet in the nearly 90 degree crosswind as majestic looking cloud streets passed overhead. I soon found a thermal as one street went over the winch. I climbed away to find cloudbase was only 2700 feet above Lasham. I local soared for a little while waiting for cloudbase to rise. Soon after 11AM it was 2900 feet, or 3500 feet above sea level, and I was able to scrape 3000 feet above Lasham. So I followed a nice street Southwards with Arundel in mind. Cloudbase stayed stubbornly low and I tiptoed as far as Harting. Across to the East was a big gap to the next cloud street, with a long gap in the street to the South. So I turned Harting and headed back up the street towards Lasham. I was eyeing Hungerford next. But as I got close to the Lasham area the clouds were starting to spreadout quite badly. Big gaps were forming in the direction I wanted to go and cloudbase was staying stubbornly at 3000 feet above Lasham (3600 feet QNH). I wasn't confident of crossing the gaps without getting too low on the other side for comfort. So at Basingstoke West I bailed and reverted to local soaring. For quite some time I was struggling in weak lift near Basingstoke. At one point I was just Southwest of Basingstoke soaring with Colin Simpson in the Bocian. Eventually I returned to Lasham where a better thermal took me up to cloudbase which was creeping up towards 3500 feet (4100 feet QNH). I then headed Westwards towards the Popham and Overton areas. After more playing about I found a big cloud with good lift and not too much spreadout just North of Popham. I climbed to cloudbase with a couple of other gliders nearby. One was way below me. The other was close but then departed. So I decided to go cloud climbing. I called in at 4100 feet QNH (3500 feet) and despite almost losing the thermal early on (I soon regained strong lift) I had fun climbing 2000 feet up into the cloud until I was close to the FL65 airspace ceiling. On the way up condensation played games with the vario but it was OK. I peaked at 5800 feet above Lasham, 6400 feet QNH. I levelled off and headed North until I cleared the cloud. I called clear of cloud at 6200 feet, roughly level with the spreadout layer. I then had fun flying North across a big gap to the next cloud, exploring the side of it for a while before turning back South to see the cloud I climbed inside. Then I started to head back across a large gap towards Lasham. I had had enough today and was happy to land uneventfully at 2PM on the dot, 3 hours 10 minutes after launch.

After getting all my gear out I grabbed a tea at 2:20PM and walked towards launch point with it. I found a private Discus pilot looking for help to derig his Discus. We agreed to mutually derig. I also nipped to the launch point to log my down time. I found Colin Simpson there who said it was he in the Bocian that I was filming near Basingstoke. I said I'd get him the photos and video. Meanwhile, both Discuses were put away by 3:10PM. After eating a late lunch I felt better and was riding off home by 3:45PM. It suited me to get away early anyway today as I was due to meet friends at 6:30PM in town. Meanwhile it was a fun day with the cloud climb being the main highlight. Videos of the cloud climb and of the Bocian were later put up onto YouTube.

Tuesday 5th July 2016
Local soaring.

The last 6 weeks had been awful. June was a total washout. The first time in 8 years that I have failed to fly in June. Today I thought looked OK but not great after a cloudy start, but beggars can't be choosers so I came along to keep current. I was expecting local soaring today but anything more would be a bonus.

Once again I motorbiked it to the airfield, arriving at 7:50AM. I was in the ballot as I couldn't book a glider as one was on a course and SH4 was U/S. In the ballot it seemed like the other Discus was also hired out. So there were no Discuses available. I put my name down for Grob 102 SH7. It was raining outside as an early front went through. After breakfast CFI Colin told me that SH4 was in its trailer and I should go and talk to engineering. I went over there accordingly and indeed a temporary rudder pedal spring had been fitted to replace one that had snapped and it was OK to fly. So I grabbed it with open arms! Meanwhile another pilot was driving out to the trailers and I joined him on a mad dash to mutually rig two Discuses. SH4 was rigged by briefing. The weather was improving as it dried out and the sun started to break through.

In the briefing cloud amounts were looking on the high side but I was expecting that from the forecast soundings. I was expecting a spreadout day, but OK for local soaring. Tasks were set to the Southwest away from the Farnborough Airshow airspace which I bore in mind for local soaring too. Soon after briefing I finished getting the glider ready and a buggy kindly towed me out to runway 27. I then munched an early lunch and got things ready some more while I waited. I was expecting 12PM to be the time to go, and indeed that was when a layer of cloud started to dissipate and it started to look soarable to more than 2500 feet above the ground. Around 12:15-12:20PM a number of us joined the winch queue as conditions improved.

I launched at 12:42PM. It was only to 1100 feet in a NNW crosswind, but I found weak lift close to the release point to stop me falling down. I drifted away from the release area before the next glider in the queue was ready. It took ages, maybe 20 minutes or more but eventually after creeping up to 1700 or 1800 feet above the airfield I finally found a stronger core to get me away up to a decent height so I could start exploring further upwind. Cloudbase was around 3000 feet above Lasham (3600 feet QNH). I tried pushing upwind but it was heavy going as most of the thermals were quite weak. There were some stronger thermals to be found, up to 5kts average, but they were hard to find and many nice looking clouds appeared not to work. The furthest I got after some backtracking and retrying was half way between Newbury South and Hungerford. I stayed high and was never too far out of range of Lasham. So local soaring it was. I soon headed back towards Lasham as cloudbase slowly rose. Towards the end I saw my best cloudbase of 3900 feet (4500 feet QNH) to the West of Lasham, and after running the cloud and pulling out once clear I scraped 4000 feet before descending to land at 3:47PM, 3 hours 5 minutes after launch.

On the ground another pilot helped me derig and all the toys were put away by about 4:30PM and I rode home by 5PM. Well it wasn't good enough for me to go very far but atleast it blew away the cobwebs of a washout June. Hoping for better to come.

Tuesday 24th May 2016
Local XC and more spreadout.

I arrived 7:55AM. Traffic was heavy but I was on the motorbike, which was handy for filtering past the worst of it. I had a nice breakfast at 8AM as usual. Glider SH4 which I had booked again was rigged and di'ed by briefing. It was looking best to the West and Southwest where the air was drier and a 4000-4500 foot cloudbase expected. The Larkhill sounding looked a bit iffy though. But cold air advection was possible which would improve things. Wales looked the best with 5000-6000 foot cloudbaser after midday but that was too far for me today. It might be a slow start locally but not sure. Apart from Old Sarum and Little Rissington, there weren't many notams to note. Out and return tasks were set to the Southwest. Wellington for 312km or Sherborne for 216km. Some pundits were planning to go to Wales. I would plan to head Southwest.

After pushing the glider out and getting frustrated at the lack of help (with a buggy ignoring me and whizzing past to the launch point without a glider in tow, and no help for ages as I struggled my way to the launchpoint) I was ready to launch by 10:45AM. At 11:15 I was 4th in the queue when I realised my GoPro was missing. Panic! In the end I pulled out of line and having agreed where I could slot back in I went back to the clubhouse. There I found it had been handed into the office. Phew! Looks like I dropped it when putting suntan lotion on before the briefing. I returned to the launch point to get back into line. I was ready to launch an hour behind originally planned. I was feeling a little tired and drained and did not fancy pushing too hard. So I aimed to launch and see what happens.

I winch launched to 1500 feet at 12:33PM. Nearby a gaggle of gliders were turning. I went over and bam! 7kts straight to 4000 feet. Nice! It still looked a little blue to the west but I set off quickly, just 5 minutes after launch. At Chilbolton it was a little scrappy and I was struggling a bit. To the west it was just scrappy small clouds. The drier air did give me a best cloudbase of about 4400 feet though. To the north it looked much nicer with well formed juicy looking clouds. So I decided not to go furthwer Southwest. I turned CBN and then headed Northwards over Andover to the better clouds. Indeed under the bigger clouds were some nice easy thermals, albeit a slightly lower cloudbase. I pushed on as far as Hungerford as the clouds got bigger and bigger. Further North there wasn't much sun on the ground as the clouds were spreading out. So I now decided I'd complete a Chilbolton Hungerford triangle then push Southwest to the drier air again. Indeed locally to Lasham the spreadout was steadily getting worse. Despite that I had a good run, going as far as Alton before heading Westwards again. I went as far as Stockbridge. But even here and beyond to the Southwest it was spreading out more and more. I could hear on the radio people further West noting the spreadout and being concerned about how to get back. From Stockbridge I tiptoed my way back towards Lasham and local soared to the West for a bit as I didn't fancy being out of range any more. My last climb was somewhere West of Candover Church. Nearer Lasham the spreadout was 8/8 and there was a big gap. I glid out past Lasham and a bit further East, and descended gently down to circuit height before a circuit and reasonable landing on runway 09 by the trailer at 3:31PM, 2 hours 58 minutes after launch.

So I flew LAS-CBN-HUN-ALT-STK-LAS which was 178km. A 2.5 hour task time was 71kph with the remaining time local soaring. Back on the ground, contrary to before my flight, I was quickly greeted by Jordan and Declan on a buggy. Declan kindly offered to help me derig. I gladly accepted. An hour later SH4 was ready and I had collected my gear and was ready to ride home again. It was another heavy rush hour with the M25 being non stop filtering through jammed traffic all the way from the M3 to the M4 and beyond so I was definitely glad to be on the motorbike today.

Tuesday 3rd May 2016
First proper XC of the year.

It was a busy start. I was glad to be back as I had missed the whole of April due to illness or being busy when the few good days appeared. But after the usual nice cooked breakfast all 3 of us who had the Discuses rigged and di'ed them. (I had SH4 again.) They were ready by briefing. There was cirrus incoming but it appeared to be thinning. We hoped (and it did indeed transpire) that it would not be an issue. South or Southwest was looking best. I noted a 300km task that sent us Southeast to Midhurst before going Southwest to Crewkerne via Bullington to get round Southampton airspace. A bigger 500km task was set for the pundits. We were expecting a low level sea breeze convergeance and spreadout (worse to SE hence go there first). There were amazingly no significant notams to worry about again. After briefing I had help getting the glider to the launch point. A few of us decided to get into the winch queue around 11:15AM as cumulus started to pop closer to home. It was looking rubbish to the Southeast so I planned just to go Southwest and maybe do a double out and return if conditions were good enough.

I winch launched at 11:24AM to 1600 feet. Once up at cloudbase (somewhere around 4000 feet QNH) I set off at 11:40AM and headed Southwest in good conditions. It was a bit slower going past the Salisbury area where thermals were weaker and clouds smaller. The headwind was a little stronger than forecast although further Southwest it was a bit less. I got to the Sherborne / Yeovil area at about 60kph. There was a sea breeze front there which I went to investigate. Further West it looked iffy and I bottled out of going much further. I was still a fair way short of Crewkerne. I spent a little while playing with the sea breeze front, although it was pretty weak so I didn't go too far along it. Just 4km to my South past the sea breeze curtain was a turnpoint (Melbury Bubb, MBU) so I went there and turned. Curiously my route there invloved patchy wispy cumulus below me and very weak lift so I didn't sink much. Coming back past the curtain I scared myself a little as I wasn't sure where the lift was but got away in the end albeit in fairly weak lift. I headed back inland to some nice clouds once I had enough height. It was then good going until South of Salisbury Plain again where conditions had worsened. But I tiptoed through the almost blue conditions in weak thermals until I reached bigger clouds after Stockbridge. Then it was a simple job of cloud hopping my way home. With good lift and bigger and bigger clouds it was a good romp. They spread out badly as I closed in on Basingstoke. I felt I got through just in time. After turning BAS I was thinking of going West again but local conditions were iffy. (With hindsight I should have stayed further West but never mind as I wasn't sure if it would spreadout there too.) I was heading towards Popham and in the murk (no sun on the ground) I blundered into my strongest thermal of the day. 6.5kts on the averager with gusts off the scale. I bumped my head on the 5500 foot airspace ceiling but nearer to Popham (better airspace) I topped up to a 5600 foot cloudbase. From that height I went out to Bullington Cross before returning home without needing to soar again. So I final glid back from Bullington and had a smooth landing (apart from turbulence at 120kts and 500 feet during my 'competition style finish' making me bump my head gently on the canopy oops) at 3:42PM, after 4h18m. I'd say task time was about 3h45m, with the rest of the time local soaring. It was a chilly -3C under that spreadout late on so towards the end I started to feel the cold. I am so glad I wore my winter ski jacket, extra longsleeve and woolly socks as I needed them.

Back on the ground, SH3 had already landed and SH2 landed soon after me. Sounds like I went the furthest of the three of us so I am pleased with what I did. LAS-MBU-BAS-BUL-LAS for 274km at 73kph. We leisurely put the toys away while chatting about the day. I then ate my lunch sandwiches in the clubhouse at 5pm and headed home soon after.

Sunday 31st March 2016
Local soaring and a short XC.

I motorbiked it to Lasham today as I didn't have the car handy, arriving at 7:45AM. After getting frozen on 24th February, I deployed my heated gloves this time. They were great at 3C and well worth the faff of setting them up. I had a nice cooked breakfast and tea as usual. The glider (Discus SH4) was ready by the 9:30AM briefing, but not before some drama during the rig. I managed to overrun the rail with the belly dolly. The glider ended up in a precarious position and I needed help lifting it up again onto the rail and pulled a muscle in the process. But all was ok in the end. Some forecasts had been saying showery, others not. So I wasn't sure what would happen. There were no notams to worry about. Some 200 and 300km tasks to the North and Northwest were set. I was soon ready at the launch point after the briefing having pushed the glider out there.

I winch launched at 11:12AM to 1200 feet but straight into lift. Cloudbase was 2800 feet above Lasham, rising to 3000 feet but staying stubbornly lower to the North and Northwest and spreadout too. Every time I tried to push those ways I ran into problems, got low and retreated. After 2 hours of not getting much past Basingstoke I decided to go South instead. There were some nice streets that took me rapidly South to just past Butser Hill. Here cloudbase was at 3700 feet. Much nicer here. I turned back North and now it was slower going into a 26kph headwind. But I soon found 2-3kts of lift that got me back to Lasham. After one more climb up to 3800 feet up the side of a cloud I was feeling cold and headachy. It was time to land. A fairly uneventful landing ensued at 2:31PM, 3h19m after launch. In the end LAS-BUT-LAS was just 47km, but atleast I went somewhere in the end, albeit at a slow 48kph as it was a pretty slow into wind return leg.

With help I pushed the glider to the trailer. I saw a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly buzz the glider despite it being only 10C. After a rest and munch in the clubhouse, SH2 and SH4 were mutually de-rigged at 3:30PM. Then I retrieved my motorbike gear which the office had kindly looked after for me. I left the airfield at 4:30PM and hit the fun A339 and A33 roads before M4/A412/A40 home.

Thursday 25th February 2016
Refresher course.

I had booked the Falke for 2PM three weeks ago after postponing it back then due to bad weather. But when booking SH4 for yesterday I also moved the Falke booking forward to 10AM as it was looking soarable in the forecast. The shorter range forecast was less promising though (too much cloud) and I was cold from yesterday so having had a good soaring flight yesterday my alternative plan today was to try and complete the refresher course in its entirety. After freezing myself on the motorbike yesterday I was relieved to have the car today. It wasn't quite as cold but still below freezing. The traffic wasn't too bad apart from a queue to get onto the M25. I arrived at 7:50AM. I had another nice breakfast and then waited for action. Around 9AM CFI Colin Watt rounded the troops up and we headed to the hangar to get the toys out. Meanwhile Bob Johnson, the instructor I was due to fly with, was stuck in traffic and running late. So after helping tow a glider out I rendezvoused with Colin at the launch point. We walked together back to the hangar and got the Falke motorglider ready to fly. I then flew with Colin instead.

We launched at 10:15AM. I took over control once above about 100 feet. We headed Northwestwards to the far side of Basingstoke at about 1700 feet which was just above cloudbase. It was fun cutting through the smaller wisps of cloud while going round the bigger clouds. In the distance to the North or Northeast I noted a big cloud tower which was curious so early in the day. Soon Colin reduced power to the engine and I talked my way through my field selection as we descended. I soon had selected a nice big field close to Popham that wasn't too waterlogged and once Colin was happy I would get into it safely he powered up and we climbed again back to 1500 feet. After heading South back past the M3 another big field was selected, noting a power line at the far end that wouldn't be a problem. This field we got close to actually landing as there were no houses nearby to bother. Again we powered up once Colin was happy I would get in safely. Then he took me further South to an area of smaller fields. This was more challenging. I had a grass field picked that looked good but then as we got lower I spotted sheep everywhere. Luckily another empty crop field nearby was also OK and I switched to that field, approaching from downwind. Once happy I would get in safely we headed back to Lasham, picking more fields on the way as stepping stones home. He had me land after a powered circuit at 10:47AM, 32 minutes after launch.

Then I returned to the launch point and waited for Bob and a glider to appear and be available. As luck would have it, Bob turned up just as K13 glider B was coming into land and be available. So we had time to complete a launch before midday when Bob had to go up in the Falke with another pilot. At 11:45 we winch launched. Bob had set me up with a simulated power failure. At about 400 feet I lost all my lift and had to nose forward and land long. For this exercise I was treating the short runway as my airfield boundary. I did get tricked a bit and started to turn at 300 feet. Bob took control and kept us flying straight. Too low to turn! He reminded me it is OK to overrun the boundary and into the next field if I needed to. Some good lessons were learnt there. My rotation in the launch was also slightly too quick. Otherwise it was OK.

While towing back Bob peeled off as we passed the Falke. He suggested to go and take a solo launch to re-aquaint myself with the K13. Back to my roots! Colin was headed to the launch point and joined us as we (the buggy driver and I) towed back to the launch point. I then winch launched solo at 12:09PM. By now the sky had badly overdeveloped and spreadout had gone to 7/8's with big gaps between thermals. It was a straight forward launch into a big dead hole between overdeveloped cloud slabs. I practiced a few stalls and turns before an uneventful circuit and gentle landing right by the winch queue at 12:15PM, after 6 minutes.

Then after helping to launch a few gliders we stopped for lunch at 12:30PM. A nice leisurely warm lunch in the clubhouse was rather more civilised than yesterday. After an hour we returned to the airfield. Another pilot flew B solo, but returned at the same time as Bob at 2PM. We took the glider over again. After going to the aerotow queue which was busy with a trial flight, we moved to the winch queue as it was empty. We launched at 2:09PM. It was a better rotation this time, just a bit slow to correct for crosswind at height. This and most other launches were to about 1100-1200 feet. This gave us time to do some tight turns to test my coordination. He was deliberately trying to run me out of height so that when we were low enough I had to stop the exercise myself and head back to the airfield. An uneventful circuit and landing ensued.

Then my last flight was the aerotow. We launched at 2:26PM. On the way up we did descending on tow, boxing and out of position exercises. I was expecting a wave off at 4000 feet but it didn't happen. At 4300 feet after clipping some cloud we decided the tuggie had forgotten and released. Once clear of cloud we did some stalling and spinning exercises. Again he was running me out of height. Low down he had me head towards a cumulus cloud in search of lift. But we were down to 1000 feet and heading away from the airfield. So I called time and headed us to the circuit before we got too low. The circuit was fine. A glass glider did a beat up and pulled up ahead of us with energy to go deep into the downwind leg. We didn't have the energy to follow so we cut inside him. But on finals we ended up very close to him. He was to our left. We came down to land together, and he then cut across in front of us. Luckily I was able to keep to the far right and stop on the grass landing area outside of the peri track safely at 2:46PM, 20 minutes after launch. Bob then went over to have a word with the pilot of the other glider who apologised for cutting us up. However I wasn't complaining. It was a rather good demonstration of how things can go wrong so easily and so quickly, and perfect for a refresher flight.

Then Bob launched solo in B to hangar fly it. I took a buggy to the hangar to collect him. He found a few weak thermals so was an extra 10 minutes or so. While I was waiting I updated my log book and again found Colin nearby who signed off my Falke flight. By now it was after 3PM so I decided I would wait out the rush hour. Once Bob landed we stayed near the hangar as other gliders were coming too. He also signed off my glider refresher flights. We helped put the gliders away and closed up the hangar by 4:30PM. Then in the clubhouse I had some carrot cake while chatting to fellow pilots, before transferring to the bar. Meanwhile the rush hour (as seen via google traffic) was a rush hour from hell with severe delays on all the main motorways with accidents everywhere. The M25 cleared up soon after 6:30PM but the M3 and M4 were hopeless. So in the end I took the A31 and A3 route. I left at 6:55PM. The country road to get to the A31 was fun in the pitch darkness. Then a straight forward drive home, albeit past two big accidents en route. I had wished I'd had the motorbike again for going home but it was nice to socialise for a change instead of dash off as soon as I finished flying.

Wednesday 24th February 2016
Cold first local soaring flight of the year.

Brr it was a cold start at about -4C. I had planned to go by motorbike today from Hendon as the car was unavailable. However even with 6 layers and heated grips on full blast, my hands got seriously cold. The start was ominous with a thick frost on the bike. I wiped that off the seat and mirrors. It was great to filter past some heavy traffic in the usual hotspots. After being OK on the local roads, the motorway was brutal at the higher speeds. Above 40mph my hands were cold. At 70mph I was losing the feeling in my fingertips. Twitching and shaking my hands helped to circulate though. I paused when coming off the motorway to get some more circulation too. I arrived at Lasham just after 8AM and was glad to warm up over breakfast and a hot cup of tea. I went out with the others at 8:30AM to help get gliders out of the hangar. A willing soul volunteered to help me rig SH4. Then as we were on runway 09 fairly close by (light Northeasterly wind) I managed to push the glider to the launch point, so no tow out needed. The glider was parked up on the runway by 10AM. Then I helped others for a while. I was sent back to get a new battery for K13 glider B. Then I helped a fellow pilot rig. At 11AM I returned to the glider to get it ready. I attached the GoPro to the canopy, trying out a new swivel mount. It works rather nicely! I also decided to try some electric heated inner soles for the first time. I installed those. Although apparently the battery packs attached to my legs made me look like a convict on parole but never mind.

Meanwhile aloft, a line of thick cirrus was keeping Lasham from getting soarable. Cumulus had popped to the South and was starting to pop to the North too. By midday I had joined the winch queue hoping to catch the popping thermals as the cirrus drifted Southwards and away. But I discovered the winch hook was very stiff and unusable. I declared it U/S and pulled out of the queue. I joined the aerotow queue instead at 12:15PM and was soon sent skywards behind a tug.

I launched at 12:34PM after not being sure whether to tow North or South. I went South as someone was reporting good lift over Fourmarks. I released at 3000 feet nearby (the 3000 for 2000 deal was still active) I found the lift but it was dying away and there were no decent cumulus clouds nearby. After a little while wondering what to do I made a break Northwards across the gap back towards Lasham. It was silky smooth and dead for miles. I was close to the airfield at about 1800-1900 feet when I found bubbles of lift again. Just Northwest of the airfield I found enough lift to gain height and get to the cumulus clouds to the Northeast of me. Climbs were 2-3kts in places with one or two better ones to cloudbase of 3500 feet, with some climbs going up the sides of the clouds to 3700-3800 feet at times. North of Basingstoke there seemed to be a slight convergeance with a long street that I ran down as far as Overton before backtracking upwind. Towards the sun there were spectacular crepuscular rays. Meanwhile to the North it looked scrappier. However later in the flight I went towards Newbury looking at some clouds there. But the day was already slowing down and I was struggling. I spent a while trying not to drop down near Kingsclere, just out of range of Lasham. By 2 hours into the flight, despite the electric inner soles (which proved to be a little feeble), I was feeling cold and very tired. So I was relieved when I scrabbled enough height together to get into range of Lasham after trying out various local small clouds. I made it back to the vicinity of Lasham at 1500 feet. I couldn't resist a couple more climbs back up to 3000 feet under local good clouds. But the day was slowly dying I felt and I was feeling cold so I was happy to land soon. After an eventful circuit the winch launch was set off right under my nose as I landed close to the winch (avoiding a glider in the landing area where I wanted to land). That along with the rest of the flight was caught by the GoPro. I landed at 2:59PM, 2 hours 25 minutes after launch.

On the ground I got someone to help me pull the glider back to the trailer as it was bogged down on soft muddy grass. I wasted no time getting the glider put away when I was offered help to derig. I also reported the winch hook problems to the workshop nearby. The glider and all the various bits were away by 4pm. After gathering my own gear and a short rest I set off home just after 4:30PM. The rush hour traffic was bad as expected but it was good fun filtering my way through it all, probably saving more than half an hour. Meanwhile, tomorrow I have the car and a session in the Falke motorglider booked so I'll be back for that and not as cold (heated car, heated motorglider cockpit, shorter flights).

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