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A Bit Of Hot Air

Date: 01/12/1990
Author: Dave Tyrer
Contributor: Chris Jones

The temperature is dropping, time to relive summer flights...

Noon, 24th May '90, at Ubley. Cumulus have been forming for a long time with a light drift from the North. The breeze up the front feels very promising. Steve Ham and Mark Haycraft have already taken off and disappeared over the back. Half a dozen pilots are rigged and ready to go. They launch at intervals. Everyone catches a thermal soon after take off. No one comes back to the ridge. Nick Romanko takes off leaving me alone, last as usual. I wait for a suitable moment and launch into buoyant air. Some scrappy bits take me up to 200 feet above the trees, then I hit solid lift. 3,4,5 circles and Ubely starts to diminish into the background.

The lift continues reassuringly, without any need to hunt around. The bottoms of the clouds are lining up as I approach cloudbase. I glide off towards more cloud a short distance to the South. Then on to a larger one just off the back of the Mendips, finding it easy to maintain 4000 feet asl. I can see Nick Romanko to my left, and behind him, Wells partially in sunshine.

The general murk gives an added dimension to the view, which I am only beginning to take in now. There are clouds over Wells and, further away, over Glastonbury. From this height it does not look far so VB on and glide towards Glastonbury, a place I've always fancied flying over.

After a long period of sink, I find weak lift and am determined to use every bit of it. I slowly regain some lost height, while gazing down at the Tor. Any ideas of better lift elsewhere are forgotten as I am joined by Chris Jones and Carl Tonks somewhere to the South, Nick Romanko from the East and Nick Joyce from over Street. There we all are circling round each other, bobbing about in bitty lift all about the same altitude as though we were at Westbury on a marginal day. It would have been nice to have a chat at this point.

Back up to a reasonable height again now and drifting over Street. Looking at the map I am conscious of Yeovilton and Merryfield looming up on the horizon. I could fly West around Merryfield or with enough height, flyover Yeovilton pan handle. There is very little cloud about now. To the West the sky is completely blue but there are a few small clouds in the direction of Somerton. Somerton it is, VB on and glide. Compton Dundon passes on the left, (Scene of a dramatic one minute flight a year before) and I hit good lift Northwest of Somerton.

Having lost the Mendips with attached radio mast, as a means of orientation, I find railways are the next best thing. The sweeping curves on the ground easily relate to the air map, even when it is moving around in front of your eyes as you fly. I am over the west tunnel mouth of the railway west of Somerton, at about 4000 feet, right on the edge of Yeovilton M.A.T.Z., there is no cloud development to the West, but rather than drift into the MATZ, I head off West hoping.

Below 2000 feet asl. now, and the ground is getting very detailed. I instinctively start sizing up fields. I worry that I might be getting close to Merryfield so turn back, and start flying around aimlessly thinking that' I'm going to be in a field down there soon, and where's everybody else gone.

I find a bit that is not sinking so much and then some zero's. I creep around hoping for some one ups. It's all very tense. This goes on for some time before something develops into a nice 3up. I drift slowly with it over a railway junction with a dismantled railway, which is marked on the map North of the pan handle.

Phew, won' t get hit by a jet for a few minutes yet. 3000 feet, 3200, I must be encroaching on the MATZ now. The lift continues, I drift on, I'm well above it now, assuming my super Diplex alti is accurate, I breath in just in case. I can see Yeovilton runway pointing at me, accusingly, and on the other side Merryfield does the same. I tap my altimeter nervously and look down to see a jet fly directly under me at about 1500 feet, or was it 1000 feet below on landing approach to Yeovilton.

Up to 4500 feet now and I head off south towards South Petherton, where there are clouds, clearing the MATZ now with a big sigh of relief. Good lift at South Petherton takes me up close to cloud base, 4800 asl this time. Now what?

There are clouds along the South coast but nothing but blue sky and one or two wispy bits everywhere else. I stay over South Petherton for a while, waiting for something to happen, but nothing does. I get inpatient with the speed of drift so press on towards a wispy bit which disappears before my eyes. I contact some weak lift that keeps me above 4000 feet at Crewkerne, you've got to have faith. One good thing about the absence of good lift is that there hasn't been any strong sink, which has made the glides fairly sedate.

The coast is getting enticingly close now, so I press on again towards Lyme Regis into strong sink which goes on and on. All faith evaporates following the example of the wispy bits above. I select a large landing field, then hit a small strong thermal, but it disappears shortly after. I fly back back and hit another thermal, or the same one, but lose it at 3000 ft. I glide West towards a flat area just South of Axminster, getting very low now, concentrating on setting up a safe landing.

The flat area turns out to be a series of ploughed fields. I can see the wind direction from the grass crops and from the drift of my shadow which passes over a tractor in the next field. The trees at the end of the field are being blown around strongly, something must be going up somewhere. BANG, into a very strong small core, round and round, steeply banked and up, up, UP. Bye, bye tractor. I'm secretly hoping that the driver is watching me do this trick.

Up to 4000 feet again, approaching Seaton and the coast. I’ve made it, what a view. I float around taking photos of the cliffs and coastline as it curves off east towards Portland and west to Exemouth and beyond. I've had too much excitement for one day and want to land soon. There is plenty of lift everywhere so I carry on west on a zigzag path not making any big effort to stay up, heading for Sidmouth. I stay with the last big flat field before the slopey Sidmouth area. I doodle around shaking my legs about and checking that there is no sea breeze. A few 360's and I land fine. I am absolutely exhausted but elated. I land at 4:15 pm, 3 hours for 48 miles, by far my best flight to date.

Later on, after recovering my composure, I walk into Sidmouth, still buzzing thinking what I've just done. The sky still looks good at 6:00 pm. I wonder where everyone else has got to. Step into the air off the Mendips, step back on the ground at Sidmouth and all you need is a bit of hot air, and a nice second hand Magic IV from Simon Murphy.


Contributor's Notes:

Dave is still in the club and does most of his flying in France during the summer. You'll still see him at Westbury now and again.


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