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Tandem Flight Engagement

Saturday, May 31st, 2014 at 6:21 am Written by:

May 29 was predicted to be a poor thermalling day. I caught the taxi up with the expectation of making two or three flights in the day just for practice. The take-off field was crammed with gliders for yet another German hang-gliding competition. No chance of getting off early. The competition task was short: a speedy zig-zag across the valley and then to the landing field.

By the time there was enough room to get to the front, there were all sorts of antique gliders being set up, including an Airwave Calypso, which is the kind I flew when one belonged to the Bristol University Hang-Gliding Club in 1991. Imagine the days when almost every British university had its own hang-gliding club. It boggles my mind.


There were two tandem gliders preparing to take-off. These tend to be large, inefficient, slow-flying gliders that waft around on big sails. The co-pilots were both blond girls with no fear. Here is one of them being shown how they will run down the ramp without tripping over.


I stopped prevaricating and delaying my own take-off, and finally got in line ahead one of the tandems. After bimbling around above the trees and generally being useless, I noticed that one of the tandem gliders was out-thermalling me. This got me very angry. If I was going to be beaten by a crappy tandem glider, I might as well give up on this whole game. There is no point in me buying all this fancy gear if I cannot go places.


I followed the tandem on its circular course and was soon above it. The tandem continued to skim past me at an alarming angle. Now it was a matter of survival that I should stay in the thermal successfully and keep above it. My brain was switched on.


After another ten minutes I was up and chasing the clouds. This is where I wanted to be. Unfortunately I had no gloves and was wearing only a thin fleece. The parts of me outside the harness were chilled, but my main body was warm. The harness is tight and sealed. It feels like being in a big bear hug with barely room to wriggle my legs or torso. The pressure is calming and reassuring.


I journeyed east as far as Goldeck, watching from cloud base the procession of rigid wing gliders cross the lake for their turn point and then race down the valley to the landing zone. The thermals failed to materialize on several sun-drenched ridges, and I was half-way down the mountain and barely maintaining altitude before turning back. There was no chance I would make it to Griefenburg. Unless…


That was such a joyous thermal. It did not feel like I was flying, so much as dancing on a big soft balloon. I looked up and watched the black nose of my glider gyrating. I love my glider. I did not want to pack her up after I landed in the field.

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