The Dynasoarers

Hang gliding & Paragliding on the Surf Coast

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My First Cross Country Flight

Darren Brown

Ever since learning to hang glide in December 1999, I have always held in awe the possibilities of cross country flying.  The notion that it was possible to fly incredible distances relying solely on rising warm air seemed unbelievable.  I began to long for the day when I too, would be able to leave the ridge behind and fly to parts unknown where coming down to land was only dictated by my ability to catch thermals to stay up.


Unfortunately, being a solicitor, the nature of my employment dictated that the only times I was able to fly was on the weekends.  Hence my flying experience to date since obtaining my restricted licence 4 months ago has consisted mainly of coastal ridge soaring on Saturday or Sunday afternoons in my Fun 190 down at Spion Kop near Aireys Inlet, Victoria.  At that time, the idea of flying in thermals was pretty much foreign to me.  In an effort to broaden my flying horizons, I enrolled in a tow endorsement course with Dynamic Flight at their new flight park in Trawalla.


During the weekend of the endorsement, I had my first real experience with thermals.  This set my mind racing with the possibilities of untold height gains, far above the 1,000 foot heights I had achieved at the coast.  It was with this in mind that I coaxed my girl friend Sally, into what I told her would be the fun and exciting task of being my retrieve driver.


After preparing for the flight and carefully watching weather reports with baited breath, I arrived at Dynamic's Flight Park on the 2nd of April, ready for what I hoped would be my first ever cross country flight.   At Rohan's house, we loaded the glider and harness onto the back of his trailer and drove to the Flight Park.  The Park had only been officially opened for a month or two and I knew that the cross country potential from here was good with Rohan and Jim last December having both flown 324 km and 146 km respectively.


After setting up and carefully making sure everything was ready to go. I moved up to the tow cable, ready for launch.  I hooked the tow line up to my bridle and gave the commands for the tow to begin.


I towed up to 1,250 feet and began to hunt around for those elusive thermals.  Unfortunately none seemed forthcoming.  I found a very weak thermal which I circled in for a while.  Unfortunately by the time it carried me to the edge of the tow park I had only climbed about 100 feet.  I decided not to go with this one as I didn't think I would get more than a couple of kilometres with it.  I decided to hunt around for a stronger thermal and after gliding down to about 300 feet I set up for a landing to try another tow.


After this less than successful first attempt to get out of the tow paddock, I began to wonder whether today would indeed bring my first cross country flight.  After a second tow to 1,200 feet I felt the unmistakable feeling of rising air and began to circle in it.  As the thermal carried me to the edge of the flight park I had climbed to about 2000 feet.  This was it I decided.  It didn't matter even if I only travelled a few kilometres.  I committed to the thermal and began my first cross country flight.


Things went downhill from there.  I steadily descended to about 1,200 feet where I remained for the next anxious half hour or so.  For some reason I just couldn't capitalise on any thermals I found.  I began looking for landing alternatives so I made my way to the edge of the Western Highway  (at the very least I thought I might be able to catch a thermal triggered by passing traffic).  I radioed to my retrieve driver where I was in anticipation of having to land soon.


Whilst looking around for landing paddocks, it happened.  I was at about 1,000 feet when I caught a sky rocket of a thermal.  I began circling and found the core.  I was managing to get strong lift for the entire arc of the turn.  I took this thermal to 5153 feet where I noticed the clouds (especially a large dark one) were looming close.  With all those stories about cloud suck in my mind, I pulled the bar in and flew down to about 4,700 feet where I continued to fly onwards towards a rather large fire which I notice had just been lit.


I hung around near the fire to regain some altitude from the steadily rising air.  After climbing to about 4,800 feet I moved onwards to the outskirts of Lake Burrumbeet.


I was thermaling at around 4,500 feet above Lake Burrumbeet when I heard radio chatter about an incoming twin engine aircraft flying over the lake.  After an anxious look around I saw the aircraft coming straight toward and about 500 feet below me.  It was an amazing sight.  I don't think the pilots even knew I was there but I could certainly see them in the cockpit.  It was one of those occasions were you wish you had your camera out.


After boating around for a while I decided I would head towards Ballarat.  I thought this would make it easy for my retrieve driver to find me.  I also knew that if I ran out of lift, there were several pubs along the road.


Flying down the Avenue of Honour (a road adorned with trees leading to Ballarat) I continued to loose altitude with only the small whiff of thermals about.  I resigned myself to the prospect that I was coming towards the end of my flight.  At about 1,500 feet I saw the Windermere Pub.  I flew over it's tin roof a few times hoping that it might be a good thermal trigger, but to no avail.  At about 1,000 feet I began to feel the effects of ‘pub suck' and the paddock next to the pub looked like an inviting landing area.


I pulled my legs out of my harness at about 500 feet to give them a good stretch before landing and began setting up for an approach.  At about 300 feet I felt a small thermal but the effect of ‘pub suck' by that stage was too strong and being only a novice pilot I didn't want to take my chances with trying to use a thermal this low.  I lined up for a nice long approach and had my first ever out landing about 100 metres from the main bar.


After some brief radio chatter to let my retrieve driver know where to pick me up from, I got out of my harness to purchase a nice cold VB to make the packing up of the glider somewhat more enjoyable.  A short while later, Gary landed in the same paddock and informed me that we were both equal second for the furthest cross country flight flown that day.


All in all I flew a distance of 25 km and was up in the air for two hours.  Although it may not seem like much of a distance to those more experienced pilots in high performance gliders who have flown countless hundreds of kilometres, I was elated with my first attempt in my Fun 190.  However I guarantee it certainly wont be my last XC attempt and I'll be aiming for a lot further next time.


I would like to say a really big thankyou to Sally, who without which I wouldn't have had a retrieve driver to pick me up and I would also like to thank Rohan, Paul and the team at Dynamic for their support, tutoring and encouragement.


Now having received a taste of cross country flying, I can't wait for the next XC season and to much longer and further flights.