It was the first decent day of the comp and a 310k task was set! I was the 5th glider to launch so knew I was going to be waiting around for a while before the start gate opened. The conditions in the start sector were fantastic; I spent a fun hour and a half bombing around at cloud base waiting for everyone to launch and the start gate to open.
I set off within minutes of the start opening as I knew I had a long flight ahead and that it would be a push to get it complete before the weather shut down.
The first leg was into wind towards Burbage with plenty of gliders marking the good climbs. The next leg of 128k was the same length as most of my previous XC’s, a quite daunting thought! It was downwind and with a couple of 5kt climbs up to 6000’, it was by far the best part of the flight and I managed to fly this leg at an XC speed of 112km/h!
It was strange flying over Milton Keynes and being able to spot Dunstable and knowing that I was a long way from finishing when I was used to being on final glide from there!
As we turned the far turnpoint near Sackville farm, the spreadout started and I had a long glide towards the next possible climb (almost 30k away) with around 10 other gliders.
It was from here that the flight became challenging and a change of gear was necessary. Gone were the cruises at 80kts, instead we slowed right down to 60kts in an effort to preserve as much height as possible before the next climb as they were getting further apart and of weakening strength.
I spent the next two hours struggling to stay above 2500’ and expecting to land out at any moment! I don’t know how but I managed to stay airborne and slowly push into the 20kt headwind. Not easy when the climbs are about 1.5kts.
Quite a few of the group I had left the furthest turnpoint with had landed out, with only a few of us left.
I found myself near Gloucester airport with the only promising climb being on their ILS approach. I spotted a couple of other gliders in the thermal so radioed up Gloucester to let them know of my position. They were very helpful, re-directing traffic onto other runways to enable us to stay in the thermal and even offering for us to land there if we got too low! I didn’t find the thermal worked for me as I was so low down so I pushed out a little to try and find some better fields.
I had picked a decent field and had just started to plan my circuit when I bumped into a very welcome 3kt climb which I took up to cloud base, which was now only 3500’. My flight computer showed me as being 500’ under glide from Aston Down, all I needed was one more climb!
I set off towards Aston Down, getting lower and lower whilst not finding any lift under the clouds where I expected it. I flew over a glider in a grass field but pushed on in an effort to get at least 300k down track! I managed this but with the flight computer complaining of my final glide being through terrain and no possible lift around, I turned back to the inviting field already occupied with another glider.
The field turned out to be a little steeper than it looked from the air, but being a Dunstable pilot I wasn’t fazed a bit! The other pilot, Ben Hughes, had already found the farmer so within minutes of landing we had the field access sorted.
The gate was nice and close to the field and Gatfield’s ford focus managed to get out of the field fine with Ben’s LS8 trailer. Unfortunately, Rhoan’s car didn’t quite manage with HCV. We spent a good while taking run-ups but with no luck. We eventually had to get someone from Aston Down to bring his 4×4 to the field to pull the trailer up the hill.
My flight ended up being 7 hours and 20 minutes, by far my longest and most enjoyable flight!
The next few days were scrubbed so this ended up being the last competition day. I had never thought I’d end up in the top 20 but I managed to come 19th overall!
If anyone is thinking of doing the juniors next year, even just for the two seat training, go for it! It’s a fantastic experience, you’ll meet loads of great people and learn heaps about XC flying.