Freesteel Blog » Skipping a caving conference for a flight at Pandy

Skipping a caving conference for a flight at Pandy

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 at 11:25 am Written by:

Went down to the Hidden Earth cavers conference in Monmouth last weekend. After causing much mayhem and ranting regarding lasers and scanning (and that was before I had even trawled through Companies House records) I bagged a Sunday flight on Pandy owing to a rare forecast of easterlies and sunshine. I went to bed early while Becka stayed up forcing everyone, including my designated retrieve driver, to finish the Hilde-schnapps in the car-park at 3am. The retrieve driver not surprisingly had a hang-over in the morning and needed some persuading to come along. (“The fresh air will clear your head; you won’t be able to concentrate sitting here through all these boring lectures.”)

The best use for a football field — mass camping at a caving conference.

We got away at 10:30am, drove to the landing field (full of sheep), looked at the smaller landing field to be used when the first was full of sheep (surrounded by tall trees), then drove up. The wind was blowing between 22 and 29mph on the edge of the hill at take-off. That at least kept all the paragliders away. But there weren’t any hang-gliders either. Felt a little concerned about this. It’s always best to have a local at a new site to point out what’s safe and where not to go, otherwise you’re just guessing and taking chances. But nothing can actually go wrong until you’ve taken off, so we walked down to fetch the glider.

Just then, like the cavalry arriving, a car carrying three gliders with their friendly pilots turned up, and everything was great. They showed me their preferred take-off and told me how high you need to get before crossing over to the main ridge. Asked about top landing near the take-off, they said everyone has done it once, and then vowed “never again”. And don’t worry about the sheep if you can’t make the smaller landing field.

I went with the video on the keel. It has batteries for 2 hours, which meant it ran out by the time I landed after 2hrs38mins, so I didn’t record that debacle. At least there’s enough to review and learn from. I can see why I always seem to find it easier to turn left than right: every time I pull right my legs twist left leaving my centre of gravity unchanged. Without the camera I would never find out about it. I wonder if there are some drills I can do to break this habit. When I tried to set some practice moves before I completely forgot about them after take-off. Maybe I need to staple a note to the base-bar.

The picture above is the view across the infamous gap at the north end of the ridge. You have to get high to cross it and not have too much of a headwind. One guy failed. I was too wise to attempt it. There was a sail-plane buzzing along the whole extent of the ridge below us not taking much notice of this obstacle due to its better speed of penetration. It couldn’t get very high in the thermals either, so maybe we weren’t doing so bad. A small helicopter cruised along behind the ridge for a view. A light aircraft went along in the other direction above us. The sky went gloomy for an hour. Then it got sunny again. My bladder was absolutely busting, which was the only thing that forced me down.

I screeched across the smaller landing field way too high and way too fast, confused by a windsock that was as shredded as a pair of caving underpants on a pole…

…and overshot it, skimming the hedge and road into the field full of sheep to run it in cross-wind without a flare.

The track-log provides more opportunities for debriefing and squeezing out as much knowledge from experience as possible. The two red arrows coincide with the same time when I am flying west (downwind) just before an 8 second 360 degree turn (the dots are 2 seconds apart). Downwind ground speed is 48mph and upwind ground speed is 10mph, airspeed was between 32 and 38mph in what was probably approx a 20mph wind. I could have flown slower upwind to take advantage of it (had I had the mind to read the numbers off the vario), but then there’s the small matter of the wind-shear near the ground where the breeze is much lighter and possibly in a different direction which won’t be fun to drop through with nil ground speed into a sudden swoop.

I could spend all day watching people set up their landings and then try it again. Something tells me that learning to get this right could pay off one day.


  • 1. Tom Rust replies at 1st February 2014, 8:04 pm :

    Hi Julian-
    I’ve been trying to find an email to contact you, – please forgive as this was the only way I could try to leave you a message. But first, hang gliding!
    I’ve been a pilot for 33 years, flying here in California. I fly an original Talon and an old Ramair when its light, primarily at Fort Funston – home of the largest hang gliding club in the world, the Fellow Feathers. Dont get me started on our politics… You can see our webcams & flying conditions at

    A note about landing – if you have the chance to land uphill – even a slight uphill, and even if the wind is slightly downwind – take the downwind uphill landing approach. I know it will seem crazy, but the you’ll find gravity is VERY powerful, and you’ll stop in a surprisingly short distance. I know you know this but always be prepared to flare HARD. We’re spoiled here on the coast – always landing with a nice headwind – many times you can just parachute to a nice soft landing. Anyway, come visit sometime! There are 6 flying sites within a short drive here in the Bay Area. Flying all year round, but spring and mid summer are best. Infamous sheers – rare, but sometimes get above 2000′, spectacular views from all the sites.

    I have some questions on your Slice program – any way to remove the () in the file names generated?

  • 2. Julian replies at 11th February 2014, 6:50 pm :

    How surprising that you can fly there. That’s practically in the middle of the city of San Francisco.

    I’m learning all about downhill landings. There’s a better one in the top video here:

    It’s a very long time since it was the flying season here, and I am beginning to get a lot of nerves about my first flight in the spring.

    As to the slicer, it would take a bit of work to fix this as I’m not current with it. We do have a Python version (with DLL) where it generates those file names. Or it could be more easy make a script that renamed the files after running the slicer.

    What are you are using it for? There could be an easy work-round.

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