Friday, July 17, 2009

My first cross country

I took time off work during Canadian Nationals Soaring Championship to watch the competition, listen to morning lectures and evening battle tales and do a bit of personal flying. My goal for that week was to do my first ever cross country flight, which had to be at least 50 km away from home field to qualify for a Silver Badge.

Naturally, weather gods were paying attention and the first four days of competition were a complete washout, so I did not even bother trying to get in a glider, let alone go somewhere. Then came the day that promised lots of Cu clouds and good lift with decent ceilings. With such perfect conditions, there had to be a catch and the catch was the wind. Very strong wind aloft from North/ North West was predicted for the duration of the day. North wind pretty much eliminated my original destination in the north and left me with just one option – Thillsonburg airport, 66 km away from my home field.

As I was mulling the “go - no go” decision, the wind on the ground did not seem to be bad at all and the Cu were not looking to be broken by the wind, so I decided to try. I prepped the glider, my maps, water, snacks and at the last minute threw in additional weight in the glider thinking that I might need it to fly better against the wind.

I launched right after the contest pilots, tow pilot dropped me at 2,000 ft over the field and I immediately climbed to 5,000 ft. It was a good beginning, but as I climbed, I noted that I was drifting downwind and that the wind was very strong higher up. I needed to go west, but with the very strong wind from the northwest, I had to point the nose of the glider to the north-northwest to avoid being blown southeast.

I spent the next half hour near the club trying to figure out the combination of speed and the nose direction that would result in some progress towards the goal. My movement relative to ground references was painstakingly slow but still noticeable after 30 mins, so I decided to try to go all the way.

Given I only had my maps and no GPS, I split my route in 2 legs. One was to Brantford airport which I could see and which was about half way. Another leg would be from Brantford to Thillsonburg. If I got low around half way point, I could land at Brantford.

The lift was good earlier in the day, so I never got low, but the wind at some point got so bad that I spent an hour imitating a helicopter over St George having Brantford airport right in front of me but not being able to get any closer. I finally decided on more forward speed which resulted in loosing more height, but at least I started moving again.

As I passed over Brantford, I picked up my landmark (abandoned railway) that would lead me almost all the way to Thillsonburg. My progress had been slow and for a while I could not see the airport, although I was pretty sure I could see the town of Thillsonburg. I double checked my position against my other landmarks and was confident that I was heading in the right direction, but I still could not see the triangular runways that were depicted in Flight Supplement.

Getting closer, I could see a single grey/white runway and then looked at my notes and noticed that I wrote asphalt against one of the runways. I guessed that the other two runways would be grass.

My original plan was to fly right over the airport and then turn back and fly to the club. With winds being favorable on the way back, it was easily doable and would have been an extremely short flight. Alas, as I got closer to the airport, I noticed that the high cirrus clouds moved overhead cutting off lift. Lift died completely soon thereafter but by then I was close enough to the airport and still had height to over fly the field, decide on into the wind grass runway and make an announcement on Unicom frequency.

I then set up a nice circuit, lined up with my chosen runway and had my best landing on the year. Too bad Murphy’s law was in full action as the airport was empty and no one was watching me land. I got out of the glider and called my crew asking to be aerotowed back to the home field. Two of the club members were flying around in their Decathlon and landed at Thillsonburg to lend a hand and take some pictures of my departure:

The aerotow was an adventure in itself but I got home safely and did not need to disassemble the glider.

The day was a lot of work, but I still liked the cross country flying and can’t wait to do it again in better conditions.

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