Dartmoor Gliding News-Interclub League by Roger Appleboom

A few years ago, fairly soon after I had started gliding, someone gave me a book entitled ‘Kronfeld on Gliding and Soaring; the story of Motorless Flight’, tracing the earliest history of gliding, and following Robert Kronfeld’s own experiences with gliders up until the 1930’s. A fascinating book, and one which vividly conveyed the novelty, wonder and excitement of the early years.

One expression in particular has always stayed with me, being quaint and very 1930’s. After having spent the day at Itford Hill in England, demonstrating to the British Director of Civil Aviation the ability of a glider to soar a slope, and with the watching public starting to go home, Kronfeld asked Mr. Gordon England, the organiser, whether I could go wandering.
“Going wandering; donning hat and coat, putting dog on lead, and yelling over shoulder to wife “I won’t be there for lunch, see you when I manage to make it back!”
OR:- ‘Going wandering; pointing glider somewhere different, yelling to retrieve crew “Going to try to make Newbury and back, might be late for the BBQ!”

Kind of an open ticket to an unpredictable adventure!

The first ICL weekend at Upavon went unexpectedly well; DGS, a club without much previous involvement in the ICL, got points on the board, had some good flights and contributed to a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

The second at Keevil fell victim to the British weather, and so the last ICL event for 2016 was at the Park; as it turned out the team would be the same as before, Roger Green Pundit, Richard Roberts Intermediate and Roger Appleboom Novice. Richard Roberts, impeccable General that he is, got there first - camping on Friday night on what appeared to be a 30 degree slope. The ground crew, Adrian Irwin and Leith Whittington also pitched up on Friday, Leith having pinched his wife’s camper van for the weekend and Adrian having booked in at a luxury B&B befitting his status as ex RAF. I turned up early on Saturday morning, K6 in tow.

The first disaster of the weekend was a call from Roger Green, our Pundit, saying he couldn’t make it because of glider problems; ouch - points scoring chances down 33%! The weather was also doing no-one any favours, with early forecasts looking slightly optimistic. After the 10 o’clock briefing club flying commenced, but no-one was staying up even into the late morning. There is something forlorn about glider pilots standing by rigged and ready gliders, one eye on the sky and the other on the relentlessly ticking clock.

With a 170km task - the Park, Trowbridge, Newbury South, Bradford-on-Avon, the Park - the last two legs into wind and soaring conditions only reasonable to the east, we needed to get away by 2 o’clock. Richard was one of the first to make the decision to take an aerotow to 3000ft and use the height to break clear of the Deverills. Decision made, there followed a mad dash to get on to the aerotow line and get away; Richard at 1.30p.m., me at 2.10p.m. No time for any consideration about getting back, just a vague plan to go north until Trowbridge, turn right, go east towards Newbury, and if I got there turn around and come back again; pretty good plan for those of a wandering nature.

Conditions here look good
 I released from the aerotow at 2,500ft, pointed directly north keeping left of urban blob 1, Warminster, and left of urban blob 2, Westbury, arriving over Trowbridge at a slightly lower height than was comfortable. Instead of turning immediately I continued north to a promising cloud where there was hoped-for lift, and at a respectable 3000ft, cloud base, I finally nosed east, following the Kennet and Avon canal; and following, it would seem, an interesting line of sink which I told myself would eventually end if I held my nerve and kept going.

The view from the office window over Northend
There is, south of Melksham, probably at Berryfield, an industrial estate on which there is a large factory with a steel roof - Avon Rubber plc. I had set the altimeter to QFE at the Park, so the 300ft it showed as I approached the factory didn’t reflect my true height above the ground, but it did confirm that I was in a spot of bother. There was, however, a large field adjacent to the factory so, with the prospect of lift, no matter how meagre, from the roof gleaming in the sun, and with a get out of jail card next door, I felt I had another throw of the dice. Sure enough there was enough rising air to arrest the glider’s descent. Thermalling in weak lift, I noticed a flock of seagulls over a smaller factory to the north, adjusted the angle of bank to join them, and got into strong lift that funnelled us all to over 3000ft; reprieve - clever birds! Google Earth shows ‘G Plan Upholstery and Sofa Brand International’ are housed in the factory - hot stuff.

The flight eastwards from Melksham was fairly predictable, flying from cloud to cloud, long glides between good areas of lift, with the wind drifting us eastwards whilst thermalling.
Newbury appeared about where it should have been, the turn point (or what I thought was the turn point!) was reached, a nearby cloud was used to top up with a bit of height, and with 2,500ft showing I turned west and headed for home - not doubting I would complete the task.

Near Basingstoke
Now the reality check!

Against the wind, thermalling was drifting the glider backwards, and a few hundred feet gained was lost getting back to the start of the weak lift. Limping from one potential land-out field to the next I was sure all other gliders were back home, pilots enjoying a beer, waiting for the BBQ to be lit. Rivar Hill Gliding site appeared on the ridge to my left, gliders still winching….. and I was below their release height - an impromptu visit was tempting but I plodded on. A few minutes, and several hundred lost feet later, the gliding site looked increasingly attractive. Decision made; the approach, I had noticed, was grass field sloping upwards, fence, track, fence, crop, line of trees, airfield; OPTIONS! I doubled back, turned south towards the airfield, height marginal, gliding site partially hidden by the trees wasn’t good, crop looked high, grass field in front seemed fine, this was a no brainer. I landed uphill towards the top of the field. The landing was fine, K6 unscathed, prospects for the BBQ less so; and I thought I was going to get back this time!

Safely in yet another field
For a time things seemed to take a turn for the worse after such a gentle touch-down. It was discovered that the gates were locked, with ‘Beware of the Bull’ signs displayed to discourage trespassers, the track was a bridleway - rough, unmetalled, impassable to a motor car let alone a low-slung glider trailer. There was no phone signal and when I did get through to the club, found that Adrian, my retrieve, had never towed before. A long unstable trailer behind an antiquated Renault van through Wiltshire’s single track lanes was probably not the best way to learn. Worse still, I was assured by the members of of Rivar Hill Gliding Club that the farmer who owned the field was of the unsympathetic kind who chewed pilots’ heads off and displayed them around the farm to discourage other unwanted intrusions: “Good luck” they said when furnishing me with his name and address.

The "road" access to the field
Mere setbacks, hurdles to be straddled, adding to the memories of a gloriously fascinating day!

And so to the credits, the obvious conclusion to any good story…….

To Richard Roberts, for organising DGS participation, helping, encouraging and nurturing the crew, and generally leading by excellent example.

To the ground retrieve crew, Adrian Irwin and Leith Whittington for their help in rigging and retrieving, and their constant good-natured banter which made the weekend so special.

To the Bath, Wilts and North Dorset Gliding Club for hosting the event, and welcoming visiting pilots with such generosity of spirit.

To farmer Hosier - not the expected ogre but a real gentleman, for interrupting his supper to drive up and unlock the gate.

To Brangwy, a 55 year old glider who glossed over the deficiencies of her pilot, so the two could enjoy the pleasures of meandering over the Wiltshire countryside.

And of course, to a family of seagulls who got me out of the poo by marking a thermal over Melksham; Never again will I ponder the delights of Herring Gull pie.

It was a cross-country flight more ‘Kronfeld’ than ‘Eckey’, but then,wandering is merely a frame of mind; roll on next year’s ICL.

Roger Appleboom

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