I had booked SH4 on Friday as it was looking potentially nice. Yesterday was also tempting but the showery forecast and very strong winds put me off a bit. I also had a bad back which was also a factor. But I decided to go today and see how things went. I wasn't well enough to fly in April do I was glad just to get back into the air. Anything else was a bonus.
I arrived at 7:40AM. It was a frosty start with 3C on the car thermometer. Traffic was very quiet. Wave clouds could be seen from the motorway in an otherwise fairly clear sky.
We rigged and DI'ed the Discuses before breakfast after I drew the ballot for the ballotees. Rick had SH3 and another pilot had SH2. Meanwhile aloft a layer of cloud was arriving from the North and clouding over. The gliders were all ready by 8:45AM so I then went for my usual delicious cooked breakfast. Stories of yesterday with snow showers and perhaps not as good as expected maybe unless you could get to Wales. Some epic flights for those that got West though. The briefing was at 9:30AM and the room was packed to the rafters.
The wind was light unlike yesterday and still coming from the North. So runway 27 was being used. Only 10kts Northwesterly at height. Avoid Abingdon as an airshow was taking place. We were tasked to the South anyway where it was all quiet on the notam front and where the best weather is. The freezing level was below cloudbase as expected. Expect a lot of spreadout. 4-5k cloudbase. It looked as cold as -5C at cloudbase.
I was ready to tow out by 10AM. The cloud layer appeared to be clearing and the sun was coming through and cumulus popping. I managed to grab a buggy to tow two Discuses out. After a little while I joined the winch queue soon after 11AM. I added foot warmers and put extra layers on as it was pretty cold aloft. More sun was getting through to the ground and I hoped it would be soarable by the time I launched. There was a small delay as the grid started to launch but that was all good.
I winch launched at 11:45AM to 1100 feet. It wasn't high because there was a slight tail wind at launch. But it didn't matter as I released straight into a thermal which I could use as I was drifted away from the launch area before the next launch was ready to go. The thermal took me gently all the way to cloudbase at 4400 feet above Lasham, 5000 feet above sea level. It was indeed -5C as expected up here. A second thermal nearby took me to TMA at 4800 above Lasham / 5500 feet above sea level. So cloudbase was varying with the spreadout and top cover aloft and the variable heating it gave. Cloudbase stayed generally in this range for the whole flight. I didn't go too far from Lasham. Early on I explored South towards Petersfield but didn't go much past Fourmarks as a big dead hole was followed by total overcast downwind. After returning North and topping up nearer Lasham I explored between Basingstoke and between Fourmarks and Popham for a while before trying my luck further North and West. I eventually followed some streeting clouds as far as Newbury South, then after backtracking to Kingsclere headed out and turned Newbury Racecourse before heading back to Lasham via Overton. To the Noprthwest cloudbase was generally a 100 feet or so lower than at Lasham. I couldn't resist one more climb on the North side of Lasham to cloudbase at the TMA ceiling of 5500 feet above sea level before descending to land by the trailer at 3:07PM, 3 hours 22 minutes after launch.
On landing Rick and SH3 were already on the ground by the trailer. We wasted no time getting the gliders put away, which was completed by 4pm. I continued to extract a logger trace and put my gear, parachute and batteries away before walking to the launch point to check my log times.Then I promptly left at 4:35PM for a nice quiet drive back. (Thankfully the usual Sunday afternoon traffic was not present as tomorrow is a bank holiday. I wish home to Lasham and back was always as quiet as today.)
It may have been severe spreadout, freezing cold and local soaring for me but after the last month I was glad just to get back into the air. I hope it won't be quite so long until my next flight.