The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
In my ongoing saga to complete my Silver I took advantage of a thermic but windy day to attempt my 50k. The wind was from the South West, so the obvious plan is to go North East, however, I was still a little concerned about the lack of landable fields as having recently had put the CU our ASW19 with terrible airbrakes into a field only 280m long. Thus I planed to got North to Crowland, in theory this would let me go via Upwood and always have a gliding club in range. This is the tactic Graham used for his silver distance.
The plan was good and was only foiled by the weather, top cover moving in from the west was making a trip to Crowland unlikely, and so I tasked to Rattlesden (Again) just before taking off I had a slightly soggy sandwich from the back of the club fridge.
The flight started well, after a reasonable winch launch I found my first thermal and climbed to 3,000 ft, by which time the wind had blown me to Cambourne. There was a notam for model rocket firing north of Cambourne, so I pushed back into wind a and took another thermal a couple of times until I was at 4,500 ft, that was 25 minutes after take off an everything seemed to be going well, time to set off.
The plan was to head perpendicular to the wind, and hop from the thermal street I was in to one further east, I could then take a thermal which would drift between the rockets and Cambridge Airport’s ATZ. A good plan, poorly executed. From the trace you can see that I turned back down wind a little too early, and rather than flying along in the lift, flew in the weak sink next to it. In about five minutes I lost 1000 ft ran back to Bourne as my nearest easy land out option and tried to climb away again. At this point I was quite worried that I had screwed it all up. This was perhaps a little pessimistic, I was at 2000 ft over a perfectly good land out option, and was climbing. But your gliding and cross-country training does little to help with the elation you feel when you are climbing or are on task or the crushing mix of disappointment and panic when you are descending.
After a short climb I had another dash for the thermal street and this time I found it, so no harm done. Around this time I started to feel a little ill, I’m not sure what caused it because I haven’t felt Ill in a glider for ages. I put it down to two possible causes 1) the slightly dodgy sandwich I had before take off, or 2) dehydration – although I had a bottle of water with me, I was concentrating on the flying and fumbling around for a drink is not easy. A proper camelbak and in “in flight plumbing” are essential for long flights especially in the hot weather.
I climbed to near cloud base 4,700ft listening to Cambridge Approach on the radio, we are supposed to talk to Cambridge, but a combination of nerves about using the radio for the first time, the constant chatter from other aircraft, still feeling ill, and needing to concentrate on flying, I never managed to talk to them. As I was now well above Cambridge ATZ and comfortably North of Cambridge I set off East to Newmarket. This is the stage I feel least comfortable about when flying, leaving the comfort of flying slowly in the thermal for flying fast in the sink, has an inherent peril to it. At stages I was flying at nearly 100 knots due to the strong sink, but a doubling of airspeed does not result in a observably faster rate across the ground. The good thermals always seem to be out of reach. In reality I covered 20 km in about 6 minutes (a ground speed of nearly 200 kph).
I flew to a promising looking cloud and thankfully found a thermal. I had hoped that some straight an level flight would clear my nausea, but it hadn’t and it was now affecting my ability to thermal, the first thermal I gained no height in due to being poorly centred. I pushed on SE towards Rattlesden, took another thermal and gained some height. The plan was to zigzag all the way to Rattlesden, by the third thermal, I was having difficult focusing on the thermalling, as general flying was taking all of my concentration. As I left the third thermal, the Vertica informed me that I was on final glide for Rattlesden, and I decided that I was no longer happy with my condition to fly.
I decided to head back to Newmarket Race Course, which is a know good land out site. On the way back it became clear that I would not make it back it to the West of Newmarket, and flying low over the town was stupid, so I started looking for fields to the East of Newmarket.
I spotted a field which was very long, flat, with well maintained grass, and into wind. There were several field in the area which were possible, so I took some time to fly around and look at them all. I was drawn back to the original field I had spotted as it appeared to be close to a main road and an access gate, and unlike some other fields was clearly flat and smooth. However it was also surrounded by low white fences, a clear sign than horses are nearby. After doing a few extra turns to ensure there where no horses on the field I landed.
One on the ground I pulled out my phone an called Graham to inform him where I was (Pro Tip, have you GPS co-ordinates to hand when you make the first land-out call) I then got out and explored the field. The was and exit at the north end of the field and a gate onto the main road. So far so good, all I needed now was somebody to unlock the gate. So I walked toward the stables (marked on the map) I found the stabled deserted except for the very expensive looking horses. I went from stable to stable and office to office but couldn’t find anybody.
Eventually I found one of the grooms who was Pakistani and didn’t speak very good English, after failing to explain about my glider, I asked for directions to security. A litter more wandering and I found an office with somebody who did speak English. The called security who came and walked me back to the glider. It was then that I discovered where I had landed, in Sheikh Mohammed’s private race course, be the time we got back to the glider, a small army of security people had turned up. After some explanation, I mad it clear that all I needed was the Gate to be opened when the crew arrived and that they could drive up to the glider dismantle it and drive out.
However, there was a problem. I had landed on the special grass, and no cars were allowed on the grass. Furthermore, the grass was surrounded by a special track, and no cars were allowed to cross the track. There was only one gap in the track, and that was at the south end of the field (shown on the map) about a mile away up a significant hill. The security guards and I were not keen on pushing the glider so far up hill. I pointed out that the tail skid would cut a long groove in the special grass. After two hours of debate, phone calls, and more and more people turning up, somebody in charge of the horses arrived and immediately resolved the situation.
“If the horses see that they will panic, it has to go now”
And so, Andrew drove his car and the trailer all the way down the special grass, we de-rigged the Glider and drove back out.
So in the end although I was disappointed about not getting to do my 50k, the adventure of exploring somewhere as elusive as Sheikh Mohammed’s private race course made up for it. I have promised Graham that my next landout will be equally interesting.
A big thank you to Andrew , Graham, and Nadani for crewing for me, and to the staff at the race course who where very friendly.