The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
We usually write about peoples successes in gliding which can give the impression that gliding is easy or certain. So I’m sharing a story of abject failure in the hope that you can learn from some of my mistakes.
After a dismal 2012 I have been itching to get my Silver Badge this year, buoyed by the fact that James has just completed his silver, and that the weather for the weekend was looking good. I planned a task West to Husbands Bosworth and back, which should comfortably get me my 50 km silver leg and 100 km diploma, I also wanted to do my Silver height gain. I intended to take off at midday and be back by 2 pm to make another commitment at home around 4 pm.
Mistake 1: I had panned my task well in advance, (on the Thursday before Sunday flying) and not modified my plans based on the changing forecast.
Mistake 2: adding in an unnecessary time pressure, by having another thing to do on the same day
I arrived at around 9:15 and started to rig the glider, it took longer than usual as I was rigging alone, and had to replace batteries in the loggers.
Mistake 3: Not having got the kit ready in advance
I eventually got everything sorted and got the glider out to the launch point by around 11 am, sought out the duty instructor and got a briefing. He immediately informed me that everybody else was heading East and my plan to go west was unwise (see mistake 1).
“Go and plan a task to Rattlesden, an who is your crew?”
Mistake 4: Not having organised a retrieve crew in advance
I went back and planned a new task, and found somebody to crew for me (thanks to Kate Woods) by now it was about 12:30 when I finally got permission to fly.
Jump in the glider, winch launch to 1,100 ft (not my best bit of winch flying) and …. straight back. Couldn’t find any lift. Back in the queue and off again at 12:50. This time a better flown launch to over 1,200 ft and into my first thermal.
My thermaling technique left a lot to be desired, although being current, I have not done much soaring for a good 8 months, and it showed.
Mistake 5: not spotting my poor thermaling technique and abandoning the task, in favour of doing my Silver height.
Nevertheless, I climbed to 3,400 ft and feeling the clock ticking, I headed off on task along cloud street.
Mistake 6: not waiting until I had reached cloudbase 1000 ft above m
By this time I was near the junction between the M11 and the A14. I was concerned about entering Cambridge ATZ. The wind was pushing me towards the North East. At this stage I thought I was pushing north away from the ATZ but looking at the trace I headed more East than I thought.
I lost 1000 ft in the gap between thermals, found another weak thermal, took a few turns and rejected it pushing on.
Mistake 6: I was low and should have stuck with that thermal
At this point the flight was practically over, I continued to lose height, while trying to scrape and eventually landed a RAF Waterbeach.
Mistake 7: Landing on a disused airfield on a Sunday
I had chosen Waterbeach on the basis that as a large airfield I knew I could land it, compare to the more imposing option of landing in an unknown field. The problem was that closed airfield are locked and it took hours and about 10 kilometres of walking to find somebody to open the gate and let my retrieve crew in.
If you do land at Waterbeach the gap in the fence is at the Junction of Denny End Road and Pembroke Avenue on the south side of the airfield, and you need to walk East to the main entrance to find the security guard with the key.
Eventually I did get back to Gransden safe and sound with no harm done except to my pride, the total distance I have covered was 20 km. Thank you to James Shaw and Kate Woods for coming to get me.
This post is a co-publication with Cambridge University Gliding Club
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