Sunday, June 27, 2010

To fly or to swim?

Yesterday was my birthday, but the weather was good and so of course I went flying!

'Good' is not epic, in other words it was flyable but nothing to get excited about.  Annecy suited my mood and I was to meet up with Quentin and Damien to fly from Plan Fait above Tailoires.  Ali and the girls came too, unusual these days, and after lunch together in the cafe by the landing field we went our separate ways, I took the Navette to take off whilst the girls went to Tailoires beach to swim.

The day was slow and stable.  I took off without any grand plans but thought a jaunt down to Margeriaz and back might be fun.  After one of the longest and lowest climbs out (45mins) I finally made it to base above the Dents de Lanfon.  However, I was one of less than a handful of gliders that had made it up - we were either luckier or more patient than the 30-40 wings still milling about down at take off height.

I decided to glide across the lake and fly down the Roc des Boeuf.  Back low I had to grovel again, and it took me an age to get back high at the south end.  It seemed that whilst there were climbs high up, there was precious little working low down, not a great XC day.  Checking in with the others (who had flown to La Tournette) on the radio it seems that they too were getting mildly frustarted with the conditions.  That was it, I figured I did not need to be up here battling with this so I set off back to Tailoires, I was heading into wind and with precious little lift around it was going to be a tight glide.  As I crossed over the beach I tried to spot my wife and kids but with no luck, maybe I wasn't as low as I thought!

Once I was back above the landing field I radioed back to Quentine and Damien that I had decided to land to go for a swim.  It was testament to the day that both of them decided that the day was indeed better to suited to swimming and made the same call.  We all met up at the beach a little while later to cool off in the water.  I spent the rest of the afternoon having fun with the family before finishing the day witha beautiful meal overlooking the lake.  What a pefect birthday!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Above the clouds

I was flying with Annecy based Belgian pilot with Damien De Baenst yesterday from Montgirod.  We had a plan.  It was optimistic. It was a 200km FAI triangle.
At launch it was clear the conditions were not as good as we’d expected, base was low and climbs were slow.  I was first to base at around 2600m, which doesn’t sound that low, but in the big mountains this felt pretty low!  Damien soon joined me and we were not even sure we’d make it out of the valley given the col we had to cross to the north.  We worked our way cautiously through, climbing in a weak climb behind the col before crossing the valley behind.
Things really didn’t look good from there on, the base was only around 2400m and significantly below the summits.  Our route north would be made doubly difficult by the lack of height because as well as the short range from each climb we’d now have to fly around all the mountains rather than over the tops!  As we approached the next ridge Damien was climbing up from lower down as I flew over him to join a stronger climb over the spine, it quickly turned into a surprisingly good 3m/s climb (it was still very early).  What’s more it did not stop or create a cloud.  As an XC pilot I am always trying to understand the aerology, modeling it my head and modifying the model when I experience something I don’t expect.  This didn’t fit in with anything that seemed to make sense, I looked around for clues but I could not see why we were continuing to climb, now well above base.  It must have been some kind of convergence, but I still don’t understand why there was no cloud.  Finally we ‘topped out’ (at least the climb slowed and finally stopped) at about 3000m.  The route suddenly now looked amazing, flying over the first peak and over the top of some small cumulus far below the scene was breathtaking.  Still, in front lay a much larger cumulus, perhaps 3km E to W and 1 km N to S and several hundred meters in altitude, with base around 2400m.  I was a bit nervous approaching this mighty cumulus but realised I did have the height to clear the top of it, just.  Damien was level with me now but about 1km to my right, he skimmed through the E side of the cloud whilst I went right over the top nearer the W side.  We were giggling like school children over the radio – this was breathtaking stuff!
Unfortunately the fun was soon over as I approached the next cloud at base before topping up underneath and crossing to Mt Bisane.  The flight went downhill from there as now we were out of the big mountains the conditions became much weaker.  We both became stuck in multiple places.  We ended up modifying our plans and shortening the course to nearer to 100km than the 200km planned.  We pushed round but base was much lower in the pre-Alps and finally flying back into the big mountains was not possible. The base came down even further at the end of the day to only about 2000m with quite a bit of wind around, making any attempt to get back to Aime both unsafe and unlikely to be successful.  So finally we both landed out near Albertville. A long and hard day flying for only approx 100km of distance, but the moments flying over the clouds made everything worthwhile. What an experience!