Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

My Silver C distance flight

by Dion Baker

Before Christmas, while I was organising going to Waikerie, I made a bit of a resolution. In the past, I’ve done long flights, and a few cross country flights, including a couple of 300km ones, but I’ve never been one for declaring and claiming badge flights and the like. So, with this in mind, I finally decided that it’s probably time to go for my Silver C distance.

I’d tried this twice before, in ’06, and never had much luck. The first attempt went pretty well, until I got back, went to spray my baragraph trace and, like many before me, has smoked the drum with no alfoil on it. My second attempt ended with an outlanding. Ray Lawley, David Lawley and myself decided to try our Silver C all on the same day. All three of us made it down there rather quickly, but on attempting to get back, found that the headwind home was so strong, we were essentially going backwards. Pretty soon, it all turned topsy turvy and all three of us ended up landing in the same paddock.

So, on the morning of the 4th of January, the day I had planned to go home, I talked to the weatherman and he told me it would be fantastic conditions, right up to 10,000ft with little wind upstairs. I decided that I’d been putting it off for too long and to go for my Silver C. It was a very rushed preperation, and upon my DI I found that the battery charger had been turned
off, and the battery was flat. I got a spare, tested it, and put it in. Long story short, a quarter of the way to Loxton, all the instruments went haywire, the Colibri started beeping and I decided to call it off. The other battery had gone flat too.

When I landed, I believe my fathers comment was “You don’t have to come this low to notch, you know.”

On the way home, I decided to come up on the Friday and give it a go again. This was the last day I could fly my glider before Form 2 ran out, so I was adamant I was going to do this.

8th January, I came directly up after work, and sorted out most things that night. In the morning, I went to the briefing and while a task was set, the weather didn’t look good. But I didn’t mind. I’ve never been too scared of a bad day, because you never know what might happen.

Dion prepares for the flight

I was somewhat unsure if I was to fly yet, as people who were on the grid were looking up at the sky and putting their gliders away. The day had been cancelled for the SA Comps, and there was still heavy cloud cover, blocking any sun getting through. Ray took off in AUGC’s Libelle, GMI, and was radioing back the conditions. It didn’t sound good, the thermals were topping out around 4,000ft, but I decided that I was going to do this, chuckling when Didi, loyally at my side the whole time, joked that I’d take a tornado as a thermal if I could.
So I took off, and bunged off just before 2,000ft in the only thermal I could find. Thermalling up to 2,400, I realised I hadn’t notched, so out came the airbrakes, and while trying to stay in the thermal, I came back down to 1,900 and started again.

On that, I went straight up to 4,500ft. I played around a bit, contemplating if it was good enough to go or not, and played around with GMI in a thermal for a bit. Eventually, I decided to leave.

Perhaps 18 – 20km out, I was getting low with no thermals to speak of, and hit the point of no return. I had just enough height to get home, so I had a decision to make, do I battle on and hope I hit something, or do I turn around and go home? I decided to turn for home, and take what I could, then see what happened from there. I turned around, levelled out, and ten seconds later the vario hit 7 knots and up I went. I decided it was on.

I originally altered my track to try and go where there was no cloud cover, but very soon I realised that the thermals were actually a little bit upwind of where the breaks were. It actually made sense once I thought about it.

My whole flight was done very very slowly. There was a horrible headwind, which resulted in my drifting backward 5 – 10km every time I thermaled. I was cruising at anywhere between 60 – 90 knots, depending on height, location and lift. I was working a height band of maybe 1,500ft, because below 2,500ft the thermals were broken and hard to find, and above 4,000ft
they weren’t worth staying in. Just before I arrived at my turnpoint, Loxton Wheat Bunker, I ended up at 1,800ft over a small farm. It took perhaps 20 minutes to make it back up to 2,200ft but then after that I shot straight up and drove on.

I was picking paddocks the whole time, even from 4,500ft. I was starting to get nervous as I got to the turn point. The cloud cover above was getting worse, and I wasn’t finding any thermals. I turned at the bunker with only 2,000ft. At that point, my only though was along the lines of “Oh well, if I outland now, at least I made the first 50km.”

I’d been up for almost two hours now, and all that time was spent getting to my turnpoint. I’d heard a few people on the radio organising to come out my way as well, but later found out that they decided not to, as they didn’t think it looked all that good.

Directly after I made my turnpoint, I found another thermal, somewhat weak, and rode that up to 3,500 where it died. I moved on a bit further, making nice ground speed due to a now favourable tailwind, and hit a 10 knot thermal. I went right up to around 4,900ft, and on that, I took my time getting home. I was playing around at 50knots, surprisingly enough in zero
air the whole way, contemplating turning to go somewhere else so as to waste time and make my five hours. But, alas, on arriving back at the airfield, with 2,000ft, no food left, no water left, and a broken pee tube (I had to hang it out the window D=) I decided to finish up. I practiced my
competition finish, with my pull up getting me into the sector for Waikerie (my last turnpoint on the declared out and return task) and landed with a big grin. I was rather proud of myself. I’d done my 108km on a day that the comp was called off (granted, it did take some 2.5hours to do).

So, I was some 230ft off my height, and didn’t make the endurance, but I’m very happy that I completed my 50kmout and return on one of the hardest days I’ve flown. To make me feel better, my total distance was 134km.

The $50 I put on the bar that night went down well too, as one would assume.

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