I had lost count of the number of people who told me how straightforward it was to fly from Brentor to North Hill.
“Go to Okehampton, turn right, get a couple of decent thermals and you’re there.”
Most of the comments were in that vein, but some were more tempered. “Try it, even if you don’t get there, a good field landing will give you more experience than just landing at another gliding site.”
The weather on 1st September 2004 looked reasonable and I decided to give it a go. From Brentor I coaxed the K6 to 1600 feet in weak lift and drifted towards Lydford. Consternation in heavy sink near Bridestowe turned to elation in three-up – North Hill was possible after all. Topping out at 2500 feet I headed north, but Meldon Quarry was in shadow, as was Okehampton straight ahead. The cumulus over Dartmoor had filled in and rags of low cloud were spilling off the high ground to blot out the sun.
At Okehampton there was no sign of thermals, decent or otherwise. At 2000 feet, I faced the possibility of landing out and started checking the fields. I saw some reasonable ones by North Tawton and was making for them when the vario twitched. Around I went, but in making 150 feet, lost the opportunity to land in the field I had selected. I pressed on hoping to find more lift, but a bout of three-down dispelled that idea and at 900 feet, I decided it was time to land. There was a large triangular field to the south and I edged towards it, giving it the 5C check-over.
Can I get in? – With 400 yards to play with I jolly well should.
Cattle? – Nope.
Cables? – Can’t see any.
Crops? – Just grass.
Check slope? – Slightly up to the west.
The slope meant the approach would have to be from the east with an undershoot full of cows – undesirable, whilst the overshoot was a dense wood – highly undesirable!
The field boundary was a stout hedge bank with a large oak in the near corner. Time for a last check as I started downwind, making sure not to get too cramped. A bit high on the downwind leg – the altimeter was on QFE, I extended using farm buildings as a reference to the field. Turning on to finals, I pulled full air brake but reduced it to half and easily cleared the hedge with the big oak fifty yards away. Rounding out early to allow for the up-slope, I held off, the tail swishing long grass. Then we were down, coming to a halt less than half way into the field.
I stopped the watch, set the switches to off and opened the canopy. I put the parachute on the wing but there wasn’t a breath of wind. After an hour in the air everything was still and quiet; all I could hear was a buzzard ‘mewing’ in the trees ahead. Well if it wasn’t soaring, perhaps I shouldn’t feel too bad about not staying up.
My call to Brentor on the mobile was answered by Jennipher Badcock’s dulcet tones. Martin Cropper and Brian Seedhouse agreed to do the retrieve and I gave them the map reference from the GPS, remembering to tell them there were maps in my car.
Now it was time to think about how to get the K6 out of the field. It was opposite a gate, but that was choked with brambles and clearly not in use. I walked back along the landing run to call at the farm and found another gateway, but that too was blocked. So far everything had gone well, but was access to the field now going to be a problem? I climbed over the hedge, jumped the ditch beside the road and headed for
the farm. It looked typical – a couple of broken down pick-ups, a rusting baler and an even rustier piece of machinery I could not identify. But the yard was tidy enough with bales of hay in the Dutch barn stacked to the roof.
Apart from the swallows ‘chittering’ overhead, the place was as quiet as the grave. And then I realised why -
the house wasn’t occupied. It was a working farm all right, but nobody lived there.I went back to the glider to get some water and an apple before exploring the far end of the field. In the corner I was pleased to find a wide gateway with not even a gate to bother about – great!
I went out to the road to wait for the retrieve. Overhead the cloud had begun to break and the buzzard was climbing in wide, lazy circles. As the afternoon got warmer I could think of nothing better to do than sit down on the verge, lean back and close my eyes.I had been like that for twenty minutes when I heard the sound of an engine.
Some two hundred yards down the road I could see a dustcart moving along slowly, the blokes in the cab were all craning their necks to peer over the hedge at the glider. I had gone back to relaxation mode when there was a commotion from the same direction. The dustcart was in much the same place as before but now it looked different – it was stationary and leaning at a drunken angle. Curiosity had got the better of the driver, who, whilst gawping at the tilted glider, managed to achieve a similar stance for his vehicle by dropping the nearside wheels into the gully!
I sat watching as the crew tried to extract it, but after five minutes they gave up and I saw the driver on his phone, presumably summoning assistance. It prompted me to call Martin and Brian to warn them the road to the south was blocked. They said it wasn’t a problem; they were coming from the north and would arrive in ten minutes.
“By the way,” said Brian, “your map is out of date.”
“I’m sure it can’t be that old,” I replied.
“Well, for a start it doesn’t show the A30 as a dual-carriageway!”
Old map or not, they arrived soon after and we manouvered the trailer into the field. Having polished off the remains of a cheese sandwich I had left in the car, we chocked up the trailer and started de-rigging the K6.
Out on the road, flashing amber lights heralded the arrival of a works truck to attend the disabled dustcart.
But we had other things to think of. First slide the port wing into the trailer and then the starboard. OK, now for the fuselage – easy does it, and finally the tailplane. Good, now all that’s left to do is make sure everything’s packed with the cushions.
“Why have you got so many cushions?” Martin had made it sound almost accusatory.
“Can’t have too much packing,” I replied. That sounds a bit weak in retrospect.
“Hmm, sometimes I wonder just what goes on in your trailer.”
Sad to relate, I could not think of a pithy response. Instead, I drew attention to the road nearby. The services of the works truck had failed to alleviate the situation of the distressed dustcart and some heavier assistance had been called upon. The response came in the form of a large breakdown recovery vehicle, adding yet more amber flashers to the scene.
We made a final check that everything was on board before closing the trailer. I towed it back across the field in the tyre tracks made earlier and paused in the gateway to make sure the road was clear. Well there certainly wouldn’t be anything coming up from the south for a while: not whilst the road was still blocked by a works truck, a heavy recovery vehicle and a drunken dustcart.
Back at Brentor there was time left to help Martin rig his Cirrus and get him airborne: then I was able to reflect on what had been an eventful day. Yes, my first attempt at a cross-country flight and the field landing had been a useful experience and what’s more, I enjoyed it.
Shame about the dustcart though!