Dartmoor Gliding News- Aston Down Expedition 2020

 Due to some unforeseen circumstances the original group was reduced down to 3 of us travelling to Aston Down on Sunday  6th September 2020 with Pete Howarth joining us midway through the week. Andy Davey, Phil Hardwick and myself met up at the lorry stop near Sourton and travelled up in convoy in case any of us developed a problem. The journey went quite well with only one major hold up whilst the fire brigade put out a burning Range Rover Evoque, by the time we got to it less than a 1/4 of the car was left the rest was melted metal on the hard shoulder. We arrived and rigged our gliders in anticipation of a full flying week.

Is the runway wide enough?
Monday dawned and we were up early and raring to go, but low cloud and spots of rain kept us in the club house. Eventually the training course running that week got under way and we watched them until the cloud base got to 2000 feet and then we decided to fly. We sent Andy off first in his Libelle but he was soon down after 6 mins, I and Phil followed but again the flights were short so we retired to the accommodation block and swapped tales.

Andy and Mike discussing the possibilities
Tuesday dawned the same as Monday grey and overcast, the forecast showed it was never going to be a soaring day so Andy decided to polish his Libelle. Phil and I took our gliders to the Launch point and I polished mine whilst we waited for a weather window. Eventually a very large blue hole appeared in the leaden sky and Phil and I both took a launch straight into it. Gliding gently around in the large blue hole we could minimise our sink rate and once back down to cloud base we could scratch a bit of lift staying aloft for a whole 13 mins! We both agreed it was a great experience.

Astir and Open Cirrus waiting to go
Andy, Phil and Libelle
Wednesday saw 600 foot cloud base and light sprinkling of more rain so we stayed in the accommodation block until lunch time when Peter Howarth arrived. Around 1430 the sky brightened up so we took the covers off and quickly went to the launch point. Unfortunately the thermals were very weak and ran out at about 1600 feet, after we had all had a few extended circuits I managed to stay up for 32 minutes and get flight of the day.

Wednesday's grid
Looking west towards the Severn Estuary
Thursday RASP was promising 3 stars from about 10.00 but the weather wasn't playing ball with grey low unbroken Strato Cumulus spread over a wide area. One of the local soarers said it would probably clear about 11.30. He was right, and then it was game on very quickly. Phil went first and instantly got away, Andy next but he scratched for a while before managing a good climb and eventually get away to do a 100k to Little Rissington and back. I had set myself a less challenging task to go to Nailsworth, Cirencester West, Cirencester Church and return to Aston Down. Coming off the wire at 1250 feet I put the undercarriage up, trimmed for 50 knots and went slap into a 4knot thermal, after about 1000 feet it strengthened to 6 up then 8 up with the odd flash of 10 knots up, all the way to cloud base at 4250 feet. I set off on my small cross country and having done that I then went for a bimble up to the North where I was joined in a thermal with 3 Buzzards very close by. Andy meanwhile was sweating on his return from Little Rissington getting quite low and with field selected he managed to climb away and get back to Aston Down just as the thermals all seemed to die, all of a sudden all the gliders were back on the ground and the soaring ended as fast as it started. Peter being the last to return after 1hr 41 mins. All of us came back smiling. My flight was 78k and 2hrs 40 mins, Andy was close to 3 hrs and 100k, well done Andy.

Kemble in the distance with retired BA Jumbos
Look at the vario
Friday RASP  forecast was again optimistic but low cloud and wind strengthening from the opposite direction to the RASP prediction soon put paid to any soaring flights. Peter, Phil and myself all did an extend circuit with myself managing 14 mins. We decided we had had a great week and it was time to pack up and come home. Phil and I were the last to leave and as we got into our cars it started to spit with rain, perfect timing. 

In Summary I had 9 flights and one of which was so fabulous it was worth it just for that one flight, the thermals were awesome and the view across the Severn valley down to the Severn bridge was fantastic. If you haven’t been on an expedition to somewhere different yet I recommend you come with us next time.

Stephen Fletcher

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