Junior Pilot Ben’s First Cross Country Flight

Last Sunday, 17 year old Junior Glider Pilot Ben L flew his first cross-country solo gliding flight from Stratford on Avon Gliding Club.

After achieving my bronze and cross-country endorsement (Thank you Mike, Barry and Andy) I was keen to take the leap and fly out of gliding range of the airfield on my 50Km attempt. But before I could embark on this adventure, I received an email saying my application for the ‘Junior Nationals’ two seat training had been accepted! I spent 10 days at Bristol and Gloucestershire Gliding Club where I flew with some of the UK’s best pilots and had a go at some competition racing. Overall, I achieved more than 10 hrs of training on my three flights, which was all subsidised by the BGA!

This amazing experience motivated me even more to embark on my 50km flight, but with a few setbacks due to weather I found myself frustrated and looking at every forecast I could get my hands on, waiting and longing for the perfect day. That day came on Sunday the 8th September 2019 and I woke up early, excited about the potential day ahead. I helped prepare the gliders for flight and spent some time carefully wiping down the wings of the Astir, to ensure every last part of the gliders performance could be eked out. Many thanks to all that helped me prepare the Astir and to Mike ensuring my flight plan was up to scratch.

I took off at 12:45 aiming to fly 53.5km to Bicester airfield then another 53.5km back to Snitterfield! Well that was the plan anyway. After launching I secured my first climb of the day gaining 1,841ft with an average climb rate of 2.5knts. Eventually I started my task at 13:09 and with 3,500ft I pushed south leaving behind me the birds that had just aided my last thermal choice.

Following and jumping the cloud streets I flew over familiar sites, two of which being Caffeine and Machine, (a car enthusiast’s dream place) and eventually the M40, whilst still using all the ground reference points to ensure my electronic nav kit was in fact taking me to Bicester.

Eventually after only 50 minutes I found myself approaching the turn point, shortly after navigating around the restricted airspace in which skydivers would be jumping!

On my return leg I hit the most exhilarating part of the flight, I had just left Bicester and hit some tremendous lift which instilled the thought in my brain that the whole edge of this cloud street must be working so I pushed on, only to hit tremendous sink. I continued on to the next part of the street that looked remotely thermic but – more sink!

I made the decision to turn back to the lift I had previously encountered, as by this point I had already lost 1600ft and was down to 2500ft. Staring deeply at the cars whizzing down the M40 I climbed back to 4300ft and continued the flight where I managed to fly at 90Kts down a cloud street whilst holding my altitude. I was back into familiar territory and proceeded to fly towards the finishing line.

It was so rewarding and exhilarating to think I had flown over 100km without an engine! With this thought in my head I continued to fly for another 3 hrs, where I got to see hang gliders, hot air balloons, helicopters and other light aircraft! Just after landing I opened the canopy and heard ‘Well done Ben’ as some of the members congratulated me on my flight from the glider they had landed just before me.

Overall, I flew for 5 hours, 6 minutes achieving all of my Silver C Badge and part one of my 100K Diploma.

It was a great day and I encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in either taking up gliding or progressing to cross country standard to go for it!

Its awesome!!

Peter C’s first 100km in the LS4

Peter C completed his first 100km X/C task in Stratford’s LS4 on Sunday along with his Silver Duration and Silver Height gain achievements. He sent the following write-up:

With the first favourable forecast for many months, I dragged myself out of bed early to guarantee the LS4 as mine for the day. Phil had the same intentions but his delay of 15 mins meant he was relegated to the mighty Astir…..sorry.

Having done my 50km Silver Distance last season all I needed now was just my 5hrs and 1000m height to complete my Silver Badge so I “declared” 5hrs and with the sky already looking good at briefing, I was keen to get going.

It was “jokingly” suggested to me that taking the clubs hot ship for 5hrs of local soaring was not the done thing. Fortunately Dan and Keith came to the rescue and persuaded me to join them on a 100km task. (Snitterfield – Edge Hill/Shennington – Worcester –Snitterfield).

Dan in FA and Keith in 302 got themselves airborne and loitered around whilst I waited for my launch. Luckily I came off the wire straight into a thermal and I soon got up to nearly 4000ft and with a quick radio frequency change to 130.4 I got myself through the start line. The task was now on and we were Shennington bound.

Overlooking Gaydon

Overlooking Gaydon

It was great fun of the 3 us flying in formation and sharing thermals together. Flying efficiency was somewhat reduced due to us all taking photos of each other. It was more about positioning our gliders centre in frame and not centre in thermal whilst keeping lookout for other traffic!

Keith in his LS8 and Dan in his LAK19

Keith in his LS8 and Dan in his LAK19

With Shennington reached we then took it in turns to lead towards Worcester. All was going well until I got cautious and I stopped to take a climb and unlike the SAS, Dan and Keith at this point left a man behind. It was then just me and my poor thermalling technique to get me to Worcester. With the sky ahead not looking great I drifted back to the sanctuary of the sky above Snitterfield. Here I floated about until I got high and confident again to crack on towards Worcester. (Keith and Dan had already completed the task at this point and were already back on the ground).

Gaining Height over the Stratford River Festival

Gaining Height over the Stratford River Festival

With no obvious land-out fields below I tentatively made my way to the Worcester turn point. The next issue was a gaggle of competition gliders on task from the Shennington regionals right in the area I needed to go to turn Worcester. Eventually I eased myself within the group, turned Worcester and soon got above final glide and I made my way back to Stratford with no issues. At this point I still had 1.5hrs to go and so I kept high going through the finish line and then set about staying high until the 5hrs was up.

Turning WORcester over the Sixways Stadium

Turning WORcester over the Sixways Stadium

Ragley Hall and Alcester & Ragley Park Cricket Club where I played for many years

Ragley Hall and Alcester & Ragley Park Cricket Club where I played for many years

The next hour went quickly as I was enjoying climbing high, playing with the clouds, taking photos and finally getting my Silver Height. The best I got was 5750ft QNH just west of Stratford – the views were amazing.

The flight time was now 4.5hrs. The next 30mins seemed to take an age to get through. I kept looking at the time and each minute dragged by so slowly. I kept saying to myself, stay high, stay high.

5hrs up and time to relax. I radioed to Snitterfield Base to confirm my time but the reply came back that I had a lot of beers to buy. I took that as the confirmation.

As the conditions were still great I went on another quick tour to Alcester to take a photo of my old house and then tried to burn up some height by flying at 135knts. My fastest speed to date – it was great covering the ground so quickly.

Alcester from above.

Alcester from above.

5.5hrs now up and I thought I better come down as everyone was starting to get thirsty. After using the air brakes to lose 2000ft I entered the circuit and landed on 27.

Subject to the BGA’s rubber stamp, I’ve now completed my Silver Badge, my Part 1 100km Diploma and I also now have a significantly lighter wallet (thank you Chris for organising the monster round, I owe you one!)

Thanks must go to Dan and Keith for persuading me to do the unexpected 100km and for Phil who cleaned the LS4 wings after I landed even though he didn’t get to fly it. I promise it is all yours next time and I’ll return the cleaning favour.

Peter C