A few words from Colin Thomas, who organised this year's Exercise Soaring Eagle course:
Fulmar Gliding Club hosted a 5-day gliding foundation course at Easterton between 4th and 8th July. The course was open to members of the whole force across the Services, but preference was given to those serving at RAF Lossiemouth. The aim was to allow individuals to develop their management, communication, core values and teamwork via the unique experience of gliding. Three gliding instructors came to Easterton for the week, two full-time instructors from the RAF Central Gliding School and one volunteer instructor from RAF Cranwell gliding club. They were supplemented by one of the Fulmar or Highland instructors on each flying day and on Friday 8 July, instructor duties were handed over to our local team when the visitors had to head back home. Highland and Fulmar members also turned out every day to assist with winch launching, log keeping and general ground duties. We also called on the services of our own tug pilots to provide aero tows on three days, allowing the students to experience longer flights including some wave soaring. Finally, the trusty Venture motor glider was in use throughout the week to provide the students with cross-country flying experience.
Eight students assembled at Easterton at 0830 on Monday 4 July. Most had never met before and the majority were stationed at RAF Lossiemouth although two had travelled up from RAF stations in Lincolnshire. With an average age in the mid-twenties, they brought a youthful enthusiasm to the club. Among the team were two who had previous gliding experience and one qualified service pilot but the other five were novices who weren’t entirely sure what to expect. Their initial trepidation was dispelled by a thorough briefing whilst the low cloud slowly cleared, and we were ready to start launching at about midday. The emphasis for the week was on winch launching and that first day consisted of 16 glider flights with the majority being 5-minute circuits. A few weak thermals were around, however and the longest flight of the day was 29 minutes.
Tuesday dawned much brighter and this turned out to be the busiest day of the week with 12 winch launches, 5 aerotows and 5 motor glider flights. The longest flight of the day in a glider was 47 minutes. Wednesday was disappointing as the wind had picked up significantly and the forecast was for gusts to 30 knots all day. We kept the gliders in the hangar and concentrated on briefings and some simulator flying. The students were also treated to a tour of local WWII airfields, some of which had housed Fulmar and Highland gliding clubs before they both ended up at Easterton.
The weather improved again on Thursday, allowing us to make up for the lost flying of the day before. Although the wind wasn’t as strong, it still proved a factor and we saw a bit of wave over the airfield. With the help of some aerotows, most of the students experienced the pleasure of flying in wave lift with the longest flight of the day hitting one hour – this being limited by the need to share the glider with some other students! Come Friday, the wind picked up again and the gusty conditions proved a test of our students’ newly-found flying skills. For this final day of the course, winch launches were given to those who were near solo and the remainder had their final chance to experience wave flying. All five aero tows resulted in flights of more than 30 minutes with the day being rounded off by another glider flight of one hour. Unfortunately, due to the gusty winds it wasn’t possible to send anyone solo but several students were very near to the standard required.
The statistics for the week are impressive, considering we only flew 3 ½ days. We had a total of 46 winch launches, 22 aerotows and 17 motor glider flights with a total flying time of 30 hours. The funding for this course was provided by the Royal Air Force under a programme of adventurous personal development training to improve personal and team resilience to positively impact performance, as well as physical and psychological wellbeing. We hope to run another Soaring Eagle course in 2023.
It was Easterton's turn to host the second leg of the ICL this year, after Portmoak held the first leg in April. However, despite all our efforts to scrub the clubhouse, ready the gliders and lay in stocks of bacon, the weather gods were not moved to smile upon the event.
Saturday looked sunny enough, but with 38 kt gusts it was deemed far too exciting to attempt any launching, even for the brave. The day was scrubbed and visitors amused themselves with the simulator instead, in between bouts of competitive bacon-roll-eating. A shame that so many folk left early due to the weather, as Neil's excellent local venison barbecue on Saturday evening was definitely the highlight of the weekend - even if we did have to hold it in the hangar due to the wind!
Sunday dawned grey, wet and miserable as predicted and stayed that way throughout. By mid-morning the last of the trailers had set off home in the drizzle. Fair to say that this ICL, which we were looking forward to after two years of Covid restrictions, was a washout - we will have to hope for better weather for the next one. Many thanks to everyone who pitched in to smarten up the clubhouse and help with the catering, though - at least that bit went right...
Naturally, of course, the weather has since improved during the week, and as I type our illustrious chairman is just returning after a good 3 1/2 hours of wave soaring in his very shiny new toy. We look forward to seeing his Silent and Stuart's Nimbus vying with each other for supremacy on the Ladder over the coming months!
To help make up for a long, cold, frustrating winter for our long-suffering trainees the club ran an intensive catch-up course over a long weekend, with the intention being to get as much flying as possible for the students booked on the course, focusing on circuits and landings using the winch.
Each day started at 0900 and included 'chalk-and-talk' briefings to supplement the flying. We were lucky enough to have flyable weather for each day of the course, although the winds weren’t favourable for winching at first, so the tug was used instead for the first three days. Not as much circuit-bashing as intended, therefore, but this was made up for by longer flights and the chance to find some lift in challenging conditions. On day four the wind finally settled in a more helpful direction and the stalwart old bus winch came to the fore. By lunchtime the thermals were becoming too hard to resist and the last few launches resulted in climbs up beyond 6,000 ft.
It was great to have such a buzz around the airfield, with lots of activity - more than fifty launches - and tired but happy students (and instructors!) by the end of it. Highlights included soaring flights for all students, Rob getting his Silver height in R67 and Neil converting to the Junior. It was a bit of a change to our usual format but seems to have been a success overall - we might just have to do another one sometime!
Sophie thermalling up above 6,000ft in 115 - photo by Mike.
... That spring has arrived at last?
All the toys came out of the box (or at least the hangar) this weekend, and we even enjoyed possibly the first thermals of the year on Saturday, with many of those flying managing soaring flights of at least an hour. Sunday had similar bright sunshine and crisp clear skies, but alas no thermals this time, so most flights were sled rides – except for Tony Mountain who stayed aloft for an hour and a half from the last launch of the day!
Meanwhile, Martin and Anne ventured into the heart of the mountains with G-BTDA, bringing back photos of their travels - this one showing Loch Builg and Strath Avon (courtesy of Anne).
One of the best wave days for a long time at Easterton this last Sunday, with almost every flight getting away into wave close to the site and roasting up to 10,000 ft or more. All three students flying with Robert had an excellent soaring flight - a good reminder of what gliding is supposed to be about. Easterton has been making a name for itself on the BGA Ladder lately, and Sunday's flights (some with photos) can be viewed here:
Honourable mentions go to Richie (with Robert in HYJ) and Adrian (in JHN), whose flights aren't recorded on the Ladder but are equally worthy of note. And many thanks to Dave for valiantly providing tows in increasingly blustery conditions as the day went on.