On looking out the window on Saturday morning and seeing the rain splash in the puddles my initial thought was ‘what’s the point’ believing it may well be another wasted journey. However on second thoughts, I thought, why not and off I went to arrive at the gliding club late morning. Having picked up the tugmaster, Ian Lane, half way he told me the tug was offline for its annual and again my thoughts turned to why did I bother on a day like this.
As we travelled east the sky opened up with cumulus developing showing there were indeed thermals around, better still above the cumulus there were signs of wave. Maybe, just may…..be, I had called it right this time?
On arrival at the club the winch was out and there were two, the CFI and an instructor, in the air, the windsock was almost horizontal. Thankfully it was down the strip, if somewhat blustery. Not having been winch launched for some time I required a checkout. This wouldn’t normally have been a problem however having arrived a bit later than usual I found there was quite a demand for checkouts on the winch and the duty instructor, Angie, was pretty busy. All was not lost though and I mucked in launching, recovering etc as I waited my turn.
As we worked away launching the check flights we could hear the pilots already aloft discussing their success, and lack thereof. They were managing to stay up and had used the thermals to push on to the likeliest place to contact the wave, Ben Aigan, around 8 miles from the club. They could see the wave above but were struggling to get to it, they were talking of seeing rain in the distance and the cloud was filling in. Pretty soon they were all back.
As I helped Phil de rig the very capable 753 (an LS7) he said he had managed around 3000 feet and having explored the sky for 3 hours had given up on contacting the wave.
It was now around 3pm (I think) and the chance of getting checked out and heading off on my own for a decent flight were diminishing. I had resigned myself to not flying. Oh the good old British weather!
As it turns out Martin was in a similar position in that he was waiting on a checkout on the winch and was keen to fly. He too could see that even post being checked out the chance of a decent flight from the winch was not high. Determined to fly something he asked if I fancied going for a short bimble in the Falke.
The Falke, Sollas 2013
Now the Falke, with its VW derived engine, single mags, agricultural design and discomfort is not an aircraft that inspires. Compared to modern gliders its performance is poor, to say the least. Compared to even spam cans its performance is poor, to say the least. However, having been very dismissive of this aircraft previously and having laughed when asked if I was interested in buying a share some time ago I have had to reconsider its credentials as it has previously seriously impressed me and I was keen to let it do so again.
That said this aircraft is a compromise, it does not belong in either camp.
I guess the truth is I simply wanted to be in the sky, it’s been a while due to the weather and irrespective of what the opportunity was I would have taken it. So a quick, but thorough, check and we were ready to go.
As we waited patiently in the hope for speed on the take off roll we had plenty time to look skyward and note that although it appeared pretty much overcast the low stratus had dispersed and the sky had brightened. It looked as if our bimble may actually be very enjoyable and afford some very nice views indeed.
As the Falke reluctantly left the ground and even more reluctantly climbed, complaining all the while, we laughed at the performance as we passed through down draughts and had 2 down showing even at full power. To achieve any altitude at all was going to take some time! Indeed with 22knts groundspeed showing it was going to take some time to go anywhere too. Nevertheless we had made the effort to get airborne and were extremely grateful to be so.
Slowly, very slowly, we climbed and the views opened out, not the most spectacular we had seen in the area, but made ever so sweet by being airborne when only a matter of minutes previously the chance to have a flight had looked remote. As we climbed we were getting hints of lift here and there and were becoming hopeful of a decent flight. At around 3500 QFE we contacted what felt like decent lift with around 4 up showing. The man in the left seat took the decision and cut the engine, oh how so often that very action chases the lift from under the wings. Not this time though, there we were engine off at 3500 and climbing at 4knts with headsets now removed. Granted I’m no expert and I marvel at high-performance gliders climbing, but to be in the Falke and climbing at that rate I was gobsmacked. I guess naivety is not always a bad thing.
Initially we were in clear air, there was nothing to show the wave bar, we were simply doing our best to stay in it. We pushed out what we believed to be across the bar in to wind, ground speed got as low as 5knts, we don’t know whether this was forward, or backwards though. I guess it’s the closest I’ll come to a hover in a fixed wing. The lift was dying off the further in to wind we pushed, let’s turn 45 degrees suggested the PIC and try to track along it, I obliged and as we turned we caught sight of the cloud that had formed behind us and at the same time we found the lift once again. With the wave bar now clearly marked the PIC jokingly said ‘what do you think, 10K’, I laughed.
We continued to work the wave bar exploring it extensively for the best lift, closer to the cloud, nope lift not as strong there, push out from the cloud, yes that’s better let’s stay with this for a while. Push out beyond the end of the cloud, oops it’s falling off again, retreat, now where was that strong lift? What about jumping to the next bar Capt. said I? ‘Mmmm, I’d be more comfortable at 10k before trying to jump to the next bar’, came the response. They do always look closer than they are, and the inevitable sink when jumping can be seriously damaging to the work done.
As we climbed we discovered that the software (Airspace Aware) running on the Nexus automatically adjusted its setting. Having been initially set to show airspace up to 5000 feet it gradually pushed this up as we climbed, 6000, 7000, 8000, 9000, 10 000.
It looked seriously as if we would indeed get to 10 000 feet and we did, in fact as we passed through 10 000 the lift was so strong that my request for a photograph of the instruments was met with a, ‘leave it until 12 000’. Alas we didn’t actually get to 12 000, at 11800 amsl we decided to attempt the jump. It was disastrous, nose down and speed on we had 10 down most of the way across only to discover there wasn’t any lift to be found. Having lost the lift the attempts to find it again were more important than any old photograph and by the time we had given up on finding the lift a photograph was pointless. At 5000 feet we started this much underestimated machine and hunted once again for lift. Not for too long though, it was approaching 5pm and finding it at this time would be bitter sweet as we would not be able to make the most of it due to failing light.
Instead we opted to finish off our ‘bimble’with a couple of loops and returned to the airfield just before 5.30pm.
We had achieved 11500 feet on the altimeter which had the QFE set on the ground, adjusting for the airfield height took us close but not quite to 12k. An 8000 feet height gain without burning a single litre of fuel is not to be grumbled at!
Admittedly it’s not the longest, the highest, or the most exciting flight ever, or even that I have had in the Falke. However what made this flight very special are the circumstances leading up to it. To think that I almost didn’t go to the club as I judged the weather wasn't conducive to flying (it was still pouring when I got home) and that having gone I had all but resigned myself I wouldn't fly!
What a wonderful activity aviation is! It does just take a little bit of belief and some effort at times, as the Falke demonstrated to me on a previous occasion last Summer when I crossed the Minch in it from Plockton, again with Martin as PIC. But that’s another story!
Yet again this humble flying machine made a pair of middle-aged fat guys smile. Thank you once again, Martin.
I wonder if that share in the Falke is still for sale?
There really isn’t anything like climbing in silky smooth wave using only natural resources to give a sense of being part of the environment (rather than being in it), it has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. With the unparalleled visibility a glider affords and the freedom to enjoy it enhanced by lack of engine to manage and engine noise to disturb one's thoughts, it is easy to become lost in the fascinating world of the sky. Why not get along to Highland Gliding Club and give it a go!
22nd February 2014