Dartmoor Gliding News-Saturday 23rd January 2021

Return to Enstone

Back in the Spring/Summer of last year after we had all emerged from the first lockdown, I had the opportunity to submit to the DGS Blog the tale of my first proper cross-country endeavour in my old K6-E. It described how I had valiantly (or stubbornly!) battled to the first turnpoint at Welshpool to claim a 4th place in the Comp that day. It was 31st August 1999 – blimey, where did those 22 years go? Anyway, with my flying appetite whetted, I was hopeful that a return to REAL flying in the summer of 2020 would ensue - perhaps with some small cross-country tasks initially and working up to longer distances. Covid-19, however, had other ideas and torpedoed all our hopes. So, we grounded pilots had no choice but to resort to the virtual reality of Condor2, about which I have previously Blogged.

As a virtual soaring group, we have been pretty active whilst confined to Covid quarters, all of us participating in a series of challenging tasks hosted by Rick's Condor2 Server. He has set many and varied tasks for all abilities, and the time and effort he has put in is appreciated by all of us. So, with this unfinished business of the ENS-WPL-HEC-ENS 300k task still rattling around in my brain, I suggested it might be set as a Condor2 task. Rick duly obliged, and on Saturday 23rd January he opened the 0915 briefing on TeamSpeak. To my shame I was late to the briefing - especially embarrassing given I had declared the task. I could hear the tut-tutting from my fellow competitors through my headphones as Rick gave the briefing. 

Preparing to start the task over Enstone Airfield.
The task was 300k, departing from Enstone, Oxfordshire (the site of the now defunct Enstone Eagles Gliding Club) to Welshpool, Hereford Cathedral then back to Enstone. The choice of aircraft was K8, Standard Cirrus, K6-CR, K-21 or Blanik. No prizes for guessing my chosen ship for this task. Thermals were set to strong with a 5000ft cloud base. We welcomed a new pilot to our little Comp in the shape of Matt Howard from North Hill GC, who chose the K21.

Runners and Riders


Ed B


Yours Truly





Std Cirrus

Simon V

Std Cirrus

Alan C


Matt H

After a couple of relights we were all airborne in the start quadrant. Alan Carter in the Cirrus was first to depart - the first leg to Welshpool being the longest of the three. The performance difference between his Cirrus and my K6-CR made itself apparent as I watched him extend to a 10-mile lead.

1st Leg – leaving a thermal at 4500ft, Alan in the Cirrus 10m ahead.
I don’t know if it’s the same for you, esteemed pilot reading this article, but for me the first thermal taken after leaving the start (or cutting the cord) is always a very scrappy affair trying to get centred and settled – both in real life and in the simulator. Such was the case again on this task – old habits die hard! 

All the banter heard over the airwaves whilst we circled in the start quadrant seemed to vanish as we all sought the first thermal away from site. There was lots of concentration going on! So, it took a while for me to settle both aircraft and nerves, and it wasn’t until 22 miles out from TP1 that I hooked up my first half-decent (in terms of handling of the flight controls!) climb. As I circled, I could see Ed (K6 DQS) off to the south on another track to Welshpool. I was grinning gleefully with the +10kts I was getting in this climb, never experienced for real other than fleetingly.

Working on my Core Strength!
There seem to be two trains of thought when it comes to thermal centring; ‘Tighten the turn in lift’ or ‘Flatten the turn in lift’. I have found the latter method yields greater success personally, but there is merit in both, I am sure. I am somewhat of a creature of habit (or just plain stubborn!) so I tend to stick with my chosen method. Anyone who has dipped into the Reichmann book ‘Cross Country Soaring’ will know that there is a whole raft of detailed information on soaring strategies accompanied by baffling (to me anyway) scientific charts. Depends how deep you want to go, I guess.

With Welshpool now less than 4 miles distant, I was relieved to see Rik in the Blanik and Simon in the Cirrus still within ‘catching up’ range as they both rounded the TP. Now, if I was brave enough to put the speed on and give chase, this could be my chance to gain some ground. Easier said than done though, the K6 is quite a draggy aircraft at 85kts, so I was forced to let head rule the heart and fly more conservatively.

Rick turns Welshpool in the lead.
Rounding Welshpool, I realised I had equalled my epic flight back in August 1999 (where I landed out at Welshpool Aerodrome right next to another competitor in a Discus) so with renewed bravado I set off to Hereford to try and chase down the leaders. After taking a stonker of a climb, the red mist started to creep in, and I pressed on with abandon, sometimes nearing 90kts in a vain effort to catch up. This was my undoing, as I got low and ended up scampering around either side of track hunting thermals. My flying became ragged which drastically reduced my expected rates of climb. I could now see Scratch behind me in the other Blanik, and Ed was closing the gap also. I marked a couple of thermals, so it was clear that Scratch was scratching, but to his credit he was overtaking me on points.

The consequence of my ‘pressing on’ was that I arrived at HEC much lower than was comfortable in the simulator – in real life it would have been reckless! The houses looked BIG out of the window.

Do not try this at home, kids! 1500’ above a built-up area.
My tunnel-vision frame of mind pushed me to round the turnpoint at Hereford Cathedral – so that was in the bag. Now I had to resort to ‘survival mode’, pegging the speed back to best glide whilst scanning all around for clouds or cloud shadows. At this point I was starting to resign myself to a field landing somewhere. I headed for a small cloud off to the left of track, the altimeter winding down ominously. This was going to be tight.

View from 600ft. “There’s my field, but this cloud has GOT to work!”
Come on, keep the speed steady… gentle turns… maintain bank angles not too steep… surely this will yield something? I had my field picked over the nose – just near the river, so an upslope to make use of if necessary. Then the vario pitch dipped – was this the hoped-for pre-thermal sink? Stay on course, it should change any second… the vario starts chirping again. Yes!! In we go, watch that speed, steady bank, do not get greedy for that core, 2 knots will do me just FINE right now!

Euphoria – that unexpected climb to escape a seemingly inevitable field landing.
Having extricated myself from the ignominy of an out landing, I set off again with head firmly overruling heart. Scratch was by now snapping at my heels, but in the spirit of gliding I let him know if I was in a good thermal. Ed was also closing in at about 8 miles distant. With 40 miles to run to Enstone I found myself low once again at 1250ft but was able to scrape away – Scratch joined up below me.

Scratch joins the thermal below me – cores were quite tight!
I now started to consider how best to deal with the final 35miles to the finish at Enstone. Because the thermals were generally strong and wide, I exploited the low stall speed of the K6-CR by pulling up steeply as the lift began to increase. This ‘dolphining’ worked well, but I had to be very careful given the rates of climb that I did not get drawn rapidly into cloud. On one occasion I had the stick fully forward to prevent this happening.

How can I still be going up at this attitude? – look at the Vario!
I continued to dolphin down track in this fashion until I got within the final glide of the finish. Remembering to reset the McReady to zero, I had a look at the scoreboard. It was clear Rik was going to win it, and Scratch was likely to take 2nd place given his points advantage. Ed was still a threat, so with renewed concentration I soldiered on.

With 19 miles to go I encountered another big fat thermal to pull up in, rather than circle, to maintain forward momentum. Holding the glider in the stall, it was amusing to see how the simulator mimicked the stall, with incipient wing drops while the vario sung a drunken tune!

Holding it against the stall before pushing on.
As soon as I got within gliding range of the finish line, I concentrated on controlling the speed to keep a safe finish height on the final glide calculator. 75-80 knots seemed to achieve this. I checked on Ed’s position and he seemed to have slipped back. Now it was a case of flying through the finish quadrant properly – I had completely missed it on a previous task when I was in the lead, costing me points and the win. Much egg on face! I did not want that to happen again, especially after this long and arduous (but very gratifying) task.

Final glide into Enstone – Scratch and Ed behind.
I could see the finish up ahead now, and although the angle looked uncomfortably shallow, I trusted in the final glide calculator. I also had a bit of speed on so could stretch the glide if I needed to – but it was fine, and I crossed the line with height to spare.

Over the line at Enstone. Must do this for REAL one day!
We all thoroughly enjoyed this task, some of us sticking with it despite the call of domestic duties. Thanks to Rick for accepting my suggestion – now it is out of my system. I promise I will not be late for briefing again!

View as seen from the winner’s seat – well done Rick.

So, victory on this task is handed to The Blanik Brothers (Rick and Scratch respectively) shortly to be performing at a venue near you! I think the K6’s can be happy with the mid-table result, but everyone’s a winner for taking part.

Time to derig and saunter off to the bar – virtually.

I suspect the next task Rick sets will be shorter, perhaps using more slippery aircraft – but that’s the thing with this, it is always a new challenge. Perhaps we can inspire other pilots out there in Lockdown Land to come and join us?

Hugh Gascoyne

No comments: