Dartmoor Gliding News-Another Week at Aston Down by Paula Howarth

Driving through the gates at Aston Down felt like slipping into an old pair of comfy slippers rather than the slight daunting feeling we had last year. Dad (Peter Howarth) and I unloaded the car, settled into our rooms and made ourselves comfy in the clubhouse, contemplating the week ahead of us. What weird and wonderful exercises would Don have in store for us? What conditions would we face? Would Dad get the chance to fly the ASW19? Would I achieve a soaring flight I have desperately longed for? Stay tuned…

Monday – 8:15am, in the briefing room to meet our course mates and reacquaint ourselves with the quirks of the Aston Down airfield (I.e. Don't land in the crop!) We weren't in any rush as it was wet and foggy. Aims of the week discussed, weather, RASP and NOTAMs studied and the optimistic approach adopted that this weather WILL clear – because that's what all glider pilots do – it was time to get the toys out. Having being used to our trusty wooden gliders of the K13 and K8, I was really excited to get to grips with the glass fibre K21, one of the club dual training aircrafts, and the K23, the single seater. This was the first aim of my course: to convert to glass fibre. At the launch point, the question was who's going to test the cloud base? And guess who drew the short straw… Me! A quick briefing on what to do when launching into cloud and it was time to go. We launched and before long Don and I were in cloud at 800ft, but we held on to 900ft to do the cloud exercise – release under tension, open the air brakes and wait until we see the ground. My week of flying had begun and just 6 flights in, it was a great feeling to know that Don wanted to send me off solo… Shame the ruddy cross wind was a tad too strong! Dad had a couple flights in the K23 to familiarise himself with the airfield once again.

Tuesday – conditions were better although the crosswind was still pretty strong. So it was more of the same as yesterday. Getting used to the K21, circuit planning, oh and the small matter of my first ever REAL cable break. And boy did I break the cable! (See photo) it was a low level break and those of you who know Aston Down will know that it's fairly easy to make the decision to land ahead. I felt great and it just goes to show that the training really does pay off and natural instinct just takes over based on those eventualities we all go through during our pre flight checks. Unfortunately due to the cross wind again, it was decided that going solo would have to wait another day.

The damage to the cable…oops!
Wednesday – today we were flying from the other end of the airfield, the southern end. Last year this was my solo end… Was this a sign? It was also club day so there were a few more faces and gliders at the launch point. Don and I flew together again a couple of times; he was rather silent on flight 2 and lo and behold, when we landed I was asked “do you want to do that on your own now?” YES!! So it was out with the instructor and in with the ballast. Waiting for the take up slack, I glanced over my shoulder at Dad and he definitely did not look as nervous as the last time I soloed at this airfield! Over the course of the morning, I did quite a few solo flights in the K21, mainly circuits and stalls as conditions weren't anything special. Towards the end of the day, I had a briefing from instructor-to-be Dad on the K23. The short version is that it's a glass fibre K8, so for anyone from DGS thinking about glass fibre aircraft, the K23 is the perfect starting point. First couple of flights took a bit of getting used to, but by the third flight, I was loving this little single seater. Dad got the chance to fly the ASW19 today too.

Peter: Having not flown a glider of this type, I approached Don to ask for a conversion briefing and any other details that I needed to know about flying the ASW19. The reply was, “nothing special to know other than remember it has got a retractable undercarriage”. So after a thorough check of the placard and careful familiarisation with the cockpit layout, it was time to pull the glider onto the grid, get strapped in and do my checks. Shortly afterwards I was being pulled up into the air by the Skylaunch winch. At 1500’ it was wheel up and try to find some lift and get used to flying the glider. No lift found and only reduced sink, but at least I could go further to try and find something. It was soon time to start planning my circuit and landing. So using WULF, I configured the aircraft for landing, putting the wheel down and set off downwind. A good circuit and landing opposite the bus, the first flight was over. The second flight was much the same. I unfortunately didn’t have chance to fly the ASW19 again and have a good soaring flight, but it was a good experience.

Dad contemplating the ASW19 cockpit before launching.
 Thursday – this was the worst day weather wise. Thick fog and drizzle meant there was no rush to get the toys to the launch point. Instead it was a briefing about aircraft limitations and the importance of a reference point during the approach. By late morning cloud base was high enough to get the toys out for some all important circuit practice and further familiarisation of the K23. Before that though, Don set me off on a Bronze C paper to see how I'd fair. Unfortunately I didn't reach the pass mark on a few of the sections but I was pleased with what I achieved given that I haven't done any studying for it yet. Maybe a goal to achieve over the winter perhaps? I then joined everyone at the launch point to explore the conditions: 1200’ cloud base and flights of only 10 minutes. Dad also had a flight with Don aka. Bloggs in the K21 where he had to induce a launch failure and Patter through how to deal with it. Spirits weren't too damp though as we had a lovely roast pork with all the trimmings to look forward to for the course meal.

Friday – what a beautiful morning! RASP showed an inversion that would disappear over the course of the day. Visibility was 30km, light winds and lots of cumulus to bounce around underneath. The launch point was very busy with club members declaring all sorts of cross country tasks. I've never seen so many gliders queued for a launch, mainly ASW19s and 20s. Then came along an Ash 31; a motor glider with a 31m wing span that self launched – what a sight that was! I had three flights in the K23 while it was quiet and could feel that the bubbles were starting to form. But when it came to my turn again, it was so busy at the launch point that I decided not to launch. It was fairly intimidating seeing so many gliders, knowing that they all wanted the nearest thermal to go off soaring, and I didn't fancy getting caught up in all of that seeing as I'm new to the skills of soaring. Instead I took myself off to the winch, a lovely Skylaunch winch which I was allowed to have a go at under the guidance of Dave.

Waiting to launch in the K23.

Waiting until the afternoon to launch paid off massively for me. My next launch took me to to 1500’ off the top of the launch where I hit a fantastic thermal straight away. Left wing down and I circled to a fabulous 3,400’ before pushing into wind in the direction of the river Severn. Unfortunately I hit nothing but sink and couldn't find any more lift so it was back down to the ground after 25 minutes. However my next launch was by far the best flight I have ever done. Off the top of the launch I climbed to a massive 3,700’, right up to cloud base. I was beaming at this achievement alone! So I pushed off into wind again but after losing 1000’ I was determined to find some lift again. I turned around to try and find my original thermal. In my 1 o’clock just above me I saw a glider thermaling – there was my thermal! So I joined, turning to the right in the same direction as the above aircraft. “How great is this?!” I thought, and then as I continued with my lookout, I saw below me another glider had joined – this was so exciting! The top glider peeled off as they reached cloud base so I was now the top glider, climbing higher and higher. This must have been the best thermal going (6-8 knots) as before I knew it, another glider had joined just below me in MY thermal! I looked up and there was the cloud – time to leave and explore. I pushed off in a more north westerly direction but once again there was a lot of sink around. A glider was thermaling off to the north east of the airfield so I headed off to join them. This wasn't such an easy thermal to join and it took a couple of turns to align myself in the thermal. By now I was starting to feel tired and I knew I still had the hardest part to do – the landing. It was about half 4 and the thermals were disappearing so I headed off to the high key area to lose height and generally bimble around. 800ft – time to get into my circuit. Back on the ground I felt exhausted, relieved, happy and excited that I had achieved my highest climb, my longest flight of 50 minutes, and longest flight of the day for the course.

The cloud under which I thermaled to 3,700’ with Aston Down airfield below.
Once again, a very successful week at Aston Down. Great experiences and new skills learned to take home ready to fly at our home airfield. I highly recommend to pilots at any stage in their flying career, and I hope by reading this, people will see just how much can be achieved in such a short space of time.

Paula Howarth

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