XC FLIGHT

Author: Nir Eshed

On Sunday the 8th of November, Brett, Charlene, Vicki & myself decided to travel to Bulwer for the day.

The weather report wasn't that promising. We had heard that some snow had fallen in the area of Underberg!!! (Are we going to have a White Xmas for a change ???) We thought that if we were not able to fly - at least we will see some snow in November.

The morning sun looked promising. A wonderful day, with clear skies in Durban. I was worried that we were departing a little bit late for Bulwer (09h30), but Brett had promised us that we would be on top of the mountain at 11h00 !!! I challenged him ….. he Floored it & what do you know … 11 O'clock we were on top !

On the way, I couldn't stop glancing out the bakkie's windows and noticing the fresh N/E wind blowing.

When we arrived at the 1000 take-off, we saw some gliders in the air (Bruce, Josh …) They had been getting up to 400m ATO, but not really going anywhere. Brett took off and cruised around for a while. Then we spotted him nearly going for finals at the bottom of the 600. To his credit, he 'stuck to his guns', found a little bubble & worked it out all the way to 500m ATO. At this point he decided to drift with it and went over the back (due west). I had taken off by that time and managed to get to 400m ATO very quickly, but couldn't get any higher. One could see that the clouds were starting to form at about 750m ATO. For the next half an hour we kept to the ridge, looking for the right thermal. The conditions that day didn't look promising at all. All I expected was to fly around and to have fun, but FORGET about a XC flight.

Suddenly, I saw Bruce gaining some height and, in typical Bruce fashion, going-for-it. So, I looked for the right one to take me over the back. When you set your mind right, you can achieve great results ! I found a thermal and got up to cloud-base (700m ATO), and started my XC. All in all the flight was quite simple, with a helping hand from Lady Luck. Looking for the next bubble and using-it all the way back to cloud-base.

I had managed to cover a lot of ground very quickly, but 19Km down the line, I found myself above the area where Brett had landed (nearby the two dams) -100m below TO & losing height. My best chance was to stay above the water, as the temperature differences between the ground and the water had to release something !!!

I looked down and saw part of the water starting to 'boil'. Here she comes .… I hooked into it …. and Brett's voice came over the radio: "You are doing well!! Go-for-it! We are right behind you for recovery." What a pleasure!!! Finally, Bruce & myself landed safely just outside Underberg Golf Course. The sky to the west of us was very dark and ominous and we had to head home early. 26Km in less then an hour (excluding the period of Pre-Decision time of XC flight).

I would like to take this opportunity to advise some of our less experienced pilots :-

  • If you are gaining height: Go-for-it. You never know what will be the outcome unless you give it a try !
  • If you see other pilots leaving the ridge: Try to get up and follow them, as you will be able to see the areas of good lift & bad sink.
  • If you have gone for a XC flight, but you can't see any other pilot in your vicinity: Hang on to your flight plan. (If you haven't got one … it's a good time to make one !!) Make your goal as far as possible, and try to get there !!
  • Do not worry about recovery at this stage: Concentrate on gaining height!
  • The golden rule: IF IN LIFT (even 0m/sec) stay there!!! Try to find better lift close to you.

Remember, a thermal starts on the ground, & most of the time it reaches it's end at CLOUD BASE!

So if you have drifted away and lost it, and the lift was not ridge lift … find it again. (Don't just run away because you have enough height at that point). Get to cloud base and try and drift with the cloud! If the cloud is in the stage of dissipating … run towards your next trigger point.

With regards to making the decision of going to the site or not - I have noticed so many times that the information made available to us about the weather, is VERY inaccurate. It does not take into consideration the 'local Micro-Met' - so unless you make the effort to be there on take off, you are always going to hear about some other pilots that had great flights that day, and end up kicking yourself!

The most important issue is - do it for fun and DO IT SAFELY.

So next time, if you have gained 500m or more …. Give it a bash, or you will never know. You may break your own record, and even if you don't, you will gain a lot of experience!!

It is easy if you set your mind right - think positive.

See you at cloud base ….
Nir.