Sunday 18 June 2017

Varese Italian SGP

What an awesome location for an airfield
Varese (or Calcinate or ACAO) is a truly wonderful place.
Towing out on a clear day with Monte Rosa dead ahead
A good fleet of Stinson L5 tugs thanks to the USA leaving a few behind in 1945
The airfield is in a spectacular location and on the last two days the visibility cleared up so we could see Monte Rosa as we towed out over the lake. Most of the week though the weather was hot and stable and with humidity of over 70% it was like being in Thailand according to the locals.

Poor visibility dogged the first few days
Most of the tasks for the first few days were 110-150kms to the East and meant operating between 700 and 1400 metres amsl whilst over built up flatland areas with landout options of airfields and the odd decent field. The visibility on these days was pretty poor.

Day 5 the final glide was from the West and the Director advised that during the last 10 kms the best option was to ditch in the lake. Given that the scorer had done 2 water landings himself  and that there was an ASH25 in the hangar being dried out after a recent ditching we all took heed of this advice.

The competitors were a very talented bunch: Giorgio Galetto, Mario Keissling and Tilo Holighaus to name just three. The competition ended with a cruel twist as Mario, who went into the last day leading by 5 points had a nightmare and missed the first turn only to realise this 90kms later at turn 2 - so he went back to get all the TP's but consequently finished last for the day and dropped to third overall. Giorgio won the event with Tilo second.

We had two days into the higher mountains. Day 5 went North, behind the Monte Rosa and then down to the South West. The turbulence on this day was some of the worst I've ever experienced and made for some exciting times on the ridges. I crossed a couple of cols lower than comfortable and popped out into the South East end of the Aosta valley and into reasonable wave. I met Christoph Nacke here and we chatted on the radio as we climbed in 6 knots to 3700m. Christoph's first radio call said it all: "Hello Jon - do you have a dry mouth as well?" "yes Christoph, and I need to remove the seat cushion when I land". Sadly we then had to drop down to below the airspace limit for the next turn and wound up starting the engines. Only one finisher for the day - master comedian Ugo Pavesi, who used local knowledge and impressive skill to run back on weak ridges before jumping the last col to scrape home.
Monte Rosa towering above the cloudbase

The last day, day 6, was a stunner. 260kms in the mountains to the North in a forecasted Northerly wind. Most of us climbed in weak wave to 2500m in the start area before dropping down to the max start altitude of 2000m. Turn one was on top of a mountain and involved climbing on the ridge to get into the sector. I then followed Giorgio North into rotor climbs before watching him burn into the stratosphere and off into the distance. I bumbled along and worked my up before finding really strong wave near Locarno. 10 knots up to the competition ceiling of 3800m and track along towards turn 2. I dropped downwind to the turn, ran back to the wave but failed to connect so pushed on to the spur where I thought the 25 knot wind would work - and it did, and how. I ran this ridge West, working up the slopes and towards Domodossola. One clenching moment to get across a col (get that stick forward for speed - 90 knots minimum, watch to see the col is going down in the canopy, a little pull up to get over.... and relax) and I popped out into the wide valley behind. I ran across towards the last turn at Varzo and couldn't ignore the 8 knots just before the turn. I was now 500m above glide with 50kms to go and headed for home, pushing the speed up to 130knots all the way home. 108kph gave me 6th for the day and 11th out of 15 overall. A poor result but my goodness what a learning experience the last 2 days were and I really treated this competition as a holiday.

Ugo Rafaelli, Giorgio Galetto and Pino Dal Grande: trying to combat the stress of competition
The company was fantastic - a superb bunch of pilots, a wonderful organisation, an excellent director in Aldo Cernezzi, and a very friendly club. I need to get back to Varese in March/April one year to get more of the North wind in Val Tellina - from the little I saw it is fabulous!





Until next year - thankyou ACAO Varese


Monday 15 May 2017

Spain SGP

Well that all seemed to go well. The contest was held at Santa Cilia on the West end of the Pyrenees - a place I haven't flown at before. Beautiful scenery in the air, loads of really big birds: vultures, buzzards, eagle, a big easy airfield and locally good outlanding fields. The only downside is the building of a new motorway along the valley, like much of Spain it will be really nice if they ever finish it.
Over the top of the Pyrenees with no spare tyre

It all started a bit shakily - I popped a trailer tyre in a service station and had a tough time changing it. I was then stupid enough to do well in the practice day so the omens weren't great. Midway through the competition the glider main wheel went flat and I spent a morning chasing round like a looney trying to find a replacement inner tube, with no success. It was therefore a case of patching the old pone and praying. Fortunately it all worked out...

Santa Cilia Airfield
Day 1 I flew pretty well and entered the last TP convinced I was going to win the day. Annoyingly the route I took out, North to the ridge I'd just left, wasn't as good as the route to the South taken by Thomas Gostner and Aldo Rodriguez. Third for the day at 114kph then.

The following days I finished 4th, 4th and 2nd: consistent but not good enough. All the throwing tyres around had me with searing back pain so I was walking like a Centenarian and only really comfortable once I was sat in the glider.

Going into the last day and in third place I felt strangely confident: I knew I was going to do OK. That delusion evaporated within 5 minutes of going through the start when I was 1000' below the pack. Dammit! A bit of persistence paid of though, and once back in the game I was able to keep pushing while staying high. 80kms out from home GT and OS stopped just behind me for a 2 knot climb - I carried on to where I reckoned the ridge had sun on it and was rewarded with a nice 5 knot average. Up onto a 3 maccready glide I set off for home, getting a bit of a shock when OS popped up on Flarm below on my left with 20 kms to run. This time I had the right route and was able to come home 20 seconds ahead of him. That was good enough to win the day, win the contest and qualify for the World Final in Vitacura, Santiago in Chile in January 2018. It was even my birthday - life does not get better!
The ticket to Chile....

Thursday 11 May 2017

Serres 17.1

Most of the guys from the Cerdanya trip went home but there was still left me, Mike and Neil McLaughlin. The weather forecast suggested Serres would have better weather, and it was on the way home for Mike and Neil so we decamped to Serres.

We had a couple of duff days to wait before a nice strong Northerly set up. Mike launched first and got into wave very quickly. I launched half an hour later and had a bit more of a struggle in rotor over Aspres before connecting. Moving up to Pic de Bure the wave was varying in form but for a few minutes I could watch the altimeter wind up in an average 14 knots of silky smooth lift.
Pic be Bure wave

The three of us got together, I contacted Salon to check the airspace was deactivated and we then rode the bar down South West to overhead Mt Ventoux and back. Neil went in to land leaving Mike and I to move East out of the wind into weak therms out to Jouerre and back.
Cruisin' in the wave bar down to Mt Ventoux

Day 2 was a bit blue but worked pretty well with therms to 12,000' in the hot spots. We flew South West on to the Luberon then East over to Siguret near Barcellonette, with the opportunity to pick out most of the airfields in the Southern French Alps. 6.5 hours of this and at least one of us was feeling a little tired!
Overhead Siguret in the Barcelonnette valley

Day 3 was 8/8 overcast and a 15kt Southerly - rubbish. However, we launched anyway and ended up having a really great flight. The Aportres ridge was working very well so Mike could practice dropping down to the foot of it and working his way back up: good exercises to get used to looking up at 2000' of rock as you scrape up it. After a while we trickled over to the Cretes des Selles and ridge ran across past Malaup on to Jouerre and climbed up to the 8000' cloudbase in wave enhanced thermals. From there we nipped over Sisteron to the West and found a wave gap over the Meouge gorge and climbed up to 10,000' between the overcast. A neat 5 hour flight that was great mountain flying training for Mike.

Departure day - leaving at the right time?
So ended a fabulous three weeks training with my son. I really enjoyed flying with him and was pleased with how he flew - always having a landout option in mind, thinking about Plan B if the next climb didn't work and keeping a clear picture of the topography and what valley went where.

I then set off back to the Pyrenees and the SGP at Santa Cilia, Jaca. Mike went back to the UK to train with his Juniors team mate ready for competitions in Germany, France and Lithuania. Vot haf I created???!!

Thursday 27 April 2017

Super Cerdanya

After 48 hours back in the UK it was time to pack the car and hit the road for Europe.

The neighbourhood on its way out

The neighbourhood gone
I was honoured to be allowed to join son Mike along with a bunch of recent Juniors for 10 days down in Cerdanya in the Pyrenees, starting 14 April.

Sergi Pujol: the Dude of Catalonia

Cerdanya is a fabulous airfield expertly run by Sergi Pujol. Sergi is brilliant - always enthusiastic, keen to fly, happy to run with a minimum of rules but still highly professional: the guy is a star. The launching operation is smooth with 2 Rallyes on hand and some great tug pilots. The airfield has a very long tarmac runway set in a wide valley with loads of fields on hand for rope breaks etc. The tows can be long to get into convection and are charged at c€4.20 per minute - but they still averaged out at just c€50 per tow. The clubhouse is one of the nicest I have visited. It has huge picture windows facing the runway and mountains behind, a comfy indoor sitting area and balcony overlooking the apron outside, excellent coffee and good food. Downstairs is a restaurant that does a neat 3 course meal for €20 - bargain!

another breakfast on the clubhouse balcony

Creative artwork on the club K7

We had pretty good weather and flew 9 days out of 10. We could have flown the 10th but went for a bike ride round the valley while Adam Woolley and Sergi flew, found better conditions than expected and went to the highest mountain in the Pyrenees (Pico de Aneto) with a 13k' cloudbase.

crawling up a mountain somewhere

Mike Gatfield in his LS8 cruising back after a 460kms O/R

Now that is a GOOD sky

We had wave to at least 4000m amsl ;-) good therms to 13k' and a couple of really nice cross country out and returns to the West end of the Pyrenees. Everyone flew really well, had a good time and is likely to go back.....

Sunday 2 April 2017

USA SGP 2017 wrap-up

Wow. What a fantastic week. Here's my short video of the experience

Florida SGP 2017

And again, big thanks to Bo Michalowski and Maria Szemplinski for some great photos!

Saturday 1 April 2017


At last. It's amazing what a decent night's sleep does for you.
A day win

Today's task was 270kms and conditions were forecast to be blue. Max start height was 3800' and it was a struggle to get that high before the start. Down the first leg South most of us followed the highway and operated 3000' to 4500' in the blue. At the Southernmost turns there were clouds and I was up with the leaders but missed a therm on a leg North. Here we go again I thought: another ignominious day. But... at the third turn from home I deviated 45 degrees South back to clouds, bumbled along and then set off towards a power station near the penultimate turn (it must be like Didcot - right?). Fortune smiled on me and I cored 4.5knots 5kms short of the power station to get just below glide, and set off into the blue. 30kms out I turned the radio back on and heard Tony Condon 2kms in front. I spotted him 500' below and was able to overhaul him before the control turn to come home first - yay!

A great bunch of guys: the 2017 SGP USA pilots

The event finished up with an aeros display, a baby Gator on the runway and a dinner in the hangar.
Right on cue - Gator on the runway

So ends SGP USA 2017. What a fabulous week - great people, amazing weather, superb organisation - all in all a faultless contest. Once more, huge thanks to Andrew Ainslie for making it all possible.

Friday 31 March 2017

SGP USA Day 6: Spaceport day

We awoke to grey skies and the threat of rain in the air. The director sensibly scrubbed early and we held a bit of a forum, discussing start rules and the dangers of landing low over a public road. Of course, by 1400 the sky looked amazing and in the UK we'd have been on a 500kms task at least!

Paula and I left site and headed East to Cape Canaveral, or the Kennedy Space Center as it is now known. What a great place! The visitors centres are really well done with the consoles from the original moon landing launch, the stunningly massive Saturn V rocket, the rocket assembly building, transporter, and Atlantis shuttle. I have to admit I must have had something in my eye when the final IMAX style movie ended and the screen became transparent to reveal the Shuttle - very well done indeed.

"Mos Isley spaceport: You will not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy"

Typical. All that work I did to get a US glider pilot licence and the ship is out of airworthiness.

Up Slack...
...All Out

Saturn V. The scale of the thing is incredible.