Dartmoor Gliding - Hugh Gascoyne's First Competition

What follows is my contribution to the DGS Blog, written during Coronavirus Lockdown. As I write, I am starkly aware of the billowing lines of cumulus outside my window as they gaze down at me from their 3000’ playground. I think of G-CFUB imprisoned in its trailer in the unseasonal warmth of this springtime. We all feel the pain of enforced grounding and I earnestly look forward to being amongst my clubmates again.

My Gliding – a bit of background

I started gliding at Enstone Eagles Gliding Club, Oxfordshire in 1995 on the advice of a friend who had done an air experience flight and was buzzing about it. I was truly bitten by the bug – and went there nearly every weekend for the next five years whilst cutting my teeth flying club aircraft.

EEGC’s modified K7/13 being winch launched.
Note that it still bore a previous sponsor’s logo.
 EEGC was a small club in numbers but blessed with a superb site. The main runway was 27-09 and nearly 1 nautical mile in length. The clubhouse was the old Control Tower boasting a balcony, a first-floor bar and stunning views across the site. A fire escape led up to the roof from where we could view competition finishes in the summer months. I well remember the sleek ships hurtling directly over the clubhouse at 100 feet and over 100 knots, dropping water as they did so! It was this experience (among others) that kindled my desire to join a syndicate and do some cross country flying. Several club members kept caravans on site, and it was the norm in good weather for us to make a full weekend of it.

EEGC’s trusty K8, in which I survived the rigours of the 5-hour duration for part of my Silver.

However, despite everyone’s best intentions EEGC sadly folded in April 2000 due to lack of membership, which was a real tragedy. The Committee deliberated exhaustively but it was just not viable economically. A few dispirited club members gave up gliding completely at that point – especially those who had been long-serving members. Some went to join other clubs in the region. Some of us did get together back at Enstone for a Reunion weekend in September 2001, where I had the good fortune to fly another club member’s Pilatus B4 for a soaring flight. For the rest of the weekend I was in the back seat of the Aquila K13 borrowed and flown over from Hinton. That was the last time I flew at Enstone and I still miss it.

The Pilatus B4 (top) and some of my old Enstone chums at the Reunion Weekend.

 was amongst a handful of EEGC members who transferred to Aquila GC based at Hinton-in-the-Hedges, Northamptonshire. Aquila GC was within a 45-minute drive from High Wycombe where I lived so it was a workable alternative to Enstone. It was an aerotow-only site so I had to quickly get up to speed on this launch method. There was a very successful parachuting operation at Hinton which paid the landowner handsomely and so, inevitably, gliding became the poor relation amongst its tenants. For me Aquila never quite attained the camaraderie of Enstone. Nevertheless, this was where I put in the majority of my instructing time (over 2 years) and I remain ever grateful to club-mates there for their support.

The hangar contained all the club gliders plus the two tugs – a Pawnee and a Cub.
Setting up the launch queue for flying on a brisk winter’s day.
Preparing to take a mate of mine aloft for his first gliding experience.

My personal gliding Milestones in brief:

    • Autumn 1995 – first ever flight in a glider.
    • Spring 1996 – first solo flight.

“I got your aeroplane back in one piece, sir!”
    • Spring 1999 – Joined K6-E syndicate at EEGC. Did a few X-Country comps hosted by EEGC.
    • August 1999 – Qualified as a Basic Instructor.
    • April 2000 – Joined Aquila GC based at Hinton in the Hedges, Northamptonshire.
    • April 2002 – Qualified as an Assistant Cat Instructor.

With the Asst Cat rating I spent many happy hours in the rear seat of the Aquila GC K21.
    • March 2005 – Left Aquila GC (parenting demands & planning for relocation to the Southwest.)
    • June 2005 - Relocated to Tavistock. Joined DGS.
    • February 2006 – Relocated to Lydford.
    • November 2006 – Re-soloed at DGS.
    • March 2008 – BI training with Mark Courtney at North Hill.
    • June 2008 - Requalified as an Asst Cat (did test with Graham Morris at Nymphsfield)
    • January 2010 – Stopped regular gliding (Adoption)
    • March 2019 – Re-joined DGS after a nine-year lay off.
    • April 2019 – Re-soloed.
    • August 2019 – First flight in Ka6-CR G-CFUB, bought half share with Mike Bennett.
    • December 2019 – Started BI training exercises at DGS.
    • March 2020 – Coronavirus lockdown.

My First Cross-Country Comp.

Three of the four syndicate members – myself, Richard Markham and Frank Burgess
on the grid for the Enstone Regionals Comp in August 1999.
I think our K6-E was the only wooden ship in the launch queue.
Advert from Sailplane & Gliding June-July 1999.
At the time of the Regionals, I was in a K6-E syndicate with three others, but luckily none of my partners wanted to do any cross country – so I had the glider all to myself for 7 full days of competition flying! We were blessed with fair to good flying conditions for 9 days – better than anyone had dared to hope given the track record of British Summer weather.

This was my first real crack at competition flying, and me and my syndicate partners spent considerable time fettling the glider and trailer in the weeks leading up to the event. We had to rebuild the rear floor of the wooden trailer, which had succumbed to many wet winters stored out on the airfield with its back end planted in the long grass.

Each daily task that was set had its own challenges, although overall Day 5 was personally my best day of the whole competition and I have eluded to it in my newsletter article. The Day 5 task was a daunting one for the likes of myself – an eager rookie taking his first steps into the wide blue yonder of cross country. It was a 300k triangle (Enstone – Welshpool – Hereford Cathedral – Enstone) with the first TP deep inside Wales. I was later to find out how much more challenging the prospect of a field landing would be in that region as compared to the expanses of Oxfordshire.

There were six other Tasks set that week – all of which resulted in landing out, so I was pretty current at field landings by the end of the comp! Although landing out was demanding in that you had to derig and re-rig the glider, you did get to meet some interesting people. I was courteous and mildly apologetic to them as a general rule, given that I was effectively trespassing, and have so far escaped incurring the wrath of any landowner. In fact, most people were amazed that I had come so far to land on their property without the aid of an engine!

Landed out near Olney on another comp day – note the glass ship in the same field!
I landed out every day of the Comp so became adept at rigging/derigging by the end of it!
One of the main things that struck me on a Task day was the sheer demands of flying before even calling a start. On Day 1, having found myself a nice thermal over the airfield, I was soon joined by a dozen other competitors boisterously jockeying for position. With a handful of gliders stacked both above and below me, I was soon sweating and swivelling my head feverishly! I have to admit to baling out of several pre-start thermals during the week in order to calm myself and regain my composure.

My clubmate Alan Jenkins and his Cirrus on the grid for the Enstone Regionals.
I had already written an article on my experiences in the Regionals for the Aquila GC newsletter, so rather than re-draft it I have included it below word for word and in a different font for clarity. The article was published in the Aquila GC newsletter in January 2001 – some fifteen months after the sad demise of Enstone Eagles GC. You can tell from the style of writing and the descriptions of my exploits that I was a raw rookie!

A Grid of Glass
Your Ed’s first Comp.

Milestones tend to be memorable, don’t they? Although the following anecdote describes an event two seasons ago, it remains a clear entry in my gliding scrapbook.

August 1999 – Enstone Eagles Gliding Club hosts the Enstone Regionals. This was my first competition, and I prepared to fly the Eagles’ flag in the Ka6-E along with Alan Jenkins (his first comp also!) in his Cirrus.

Rather than give an account of each comp day (and we flew 7 out of 9 days, which must be above the norm!) I will focus on the best and worst to give a little contrast!

On the first day I got round TP1 at Rutland Water, with Alan in the Cirrus slightly ahead of me. The second leg to Six Mile Bottom lay beneath an unbroken sheet of murk, so I was inexorably forced down – finding Lyvden GC in favour of a lonely field.

Day 2 also saw me round TP1 before landing out at Winchcombe. Two days – two TP’s. I was quite chuffed but unaware I was about to drop the ball!

The Worst Day: Day 3. Enstone – Northampton West – Stony Stratford - Enstone. It didn’t get off to a good start – I found myself circling at 1200’ above a field no more than 10Nm from base! Stubbornly hanging on to ½ a knot, I clambered out of the hole I’d dug. 28k further up the leg I was low again and sweating but hoping things would improve. They didn’t.

Losing out in another weak thermal, I hurriedly looked for a land-able field, electing one with a slight upward gradient. As I neared the ground my mouth dried as I saw a raised earth-working straddling the width of the field – there was no way around it – I had to land! The moment I touched down, the earth ramp flung me back up again and I landed heavily. I thought I’d damaged the fuselage but despite the horrible noise, the worst I’d done was clogged the wheel-box with mud and damaged my pride. But as I unpacked the cockpit the full weight of my folly became apparent – there staring back at me was the disconnected cable to my logger! The lessons learned in this tale? “Heed Thy Preflight Checks” and “Pick Thy Field in Good Time”. With NIL points in the bag it was time to go to the bar!

The Best Day: Day 5. Enstone – Welshpool – Hereford Cathedral – Enstone. The day before, Alan had put in a heroic effort in his Cirrus, and almost got round the task (Enstone – Southam – Norman Cross – Enstone) bagging 389 points and a 7th on the day, so the gauntlet had been well and truly thrown down! I gamely pressed on to Worcester where it got marginal again. Down to 1500’ I gave up staying on track and just followed the energy. I spent the next 45 minutes in this ‘not quite high enough for comfort’ zone, my anxiety requiring the debut of the urine bag! Eventually finding some better-looking cloud, I realised I had ventured well off track – almost crossing the return leg! I decided the Long Mynd would be my goal to restore credibility, so I set my jaw and plodded on. Mercifully, I got my best climb of the day at the Long Mynd to 3300’ and realised I had a shot at Welshpool. I went over the calculations on my JSW again and set off with eyes glued to the vario.

Halfway along the glide I could see Welshpool in the valley, but there was a ridge of high ground looming up before it. “Have I got enough height to clear it?” I thought. The sheep looked awfully big and the fields awfully small and rocky. I swallowed. With 500’ or less to spare, and watching every twitch of the vario, I crested the ridge and regained normal heart-rate as the valley fell away beneath me. Altitude is a wonderful thing!

The glide was just enough to get me to the TP, where I turned downwind to look for a field, but the only level ground was peppered with telegraph poles and pylons! Just as I was about to plump for a stringy little field, I glimpsed sunlight reflecting off tarmac too my right, a shiny black rectangle of tarmac that was billiard-table smooth… a RUNWAY! Of course, it was Mid Wales Airport at Welshpool (had I looked at my map) and the angle was just good enough, so I went for it. Having just enough for half of a downwind leg, I made my intentions known (next time I’ll use the radio!) and came in. As I rolled to a halt I let the emotions of the day ebb away, my metabolism reverting to ground-based mode.

On the ground, I met up with one of the other competing pilots who had landed out there in his Discus. He told me that as he watched the K6 approaching he was hoping it was one from the Long Mynd, but the distinctive ‘rhubarb and custard’ colour scheme confirmed his suspicions – I had out handicapped him! We exchanged our stories of the day’s trials over a cup of tea (as you do) as we awaited our crews. It was going to be a long night. Kipping in the car was mandatory.

Talking to some of the other pilots the following day, they had all had trouble with the last part of Leg 1, and I had only made TP1 by diverting well off track – almost to the point of ridicule.

By the end of the comp I ended up in 9th place, not bad against glass, and enjoyed every emotion-wrenching minute of it! Alan had some great flying despite the latter half of the comp being denied him by flu. We both came away from it enriched and gagging for more! From the depths of a very untidy and poorly planned field landing, to the glory of a Day 4th beating a glass ship, gliding is constantly full of surprises. With each and every challenge having a different flavour, and the potential to extract from a pilot his entire emotional repertoire – I realise my addiction is here to stay!

Hugh Gascoyne.

My white-knuckle ride from Enstone to Welshpool – 144km with the string pulled straight.

Hugh Gascoyne

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