Sunday, April 13, 2008

Someone’s living my dream!

I was stooging about on the net the other week and came to the Southern Soaring website – link - and was surprised to recognise the mug of the man enjoying a wave flight at 17,000 feet on their latest news page!

Before I’d started my glider training at Taupo Gliding Club in New Zealand, I had sought some opinions on solo in a week courses at various places, including an online forum for the Condor gliding simulator. A member of that forum, Vic, had done his training at Taupo and was going to be there the same week I eventually decided to do the course.

We shared the on-field digs, had dinner together a few times in Taupo and generally shared the training for a few days. Nice guy – he told me he wanted to fly at Omarama to experience wave flying and flying in the alps.

Omarama is like Mecca for sailplane pilots (for any glider pilots reading please excuse this primer). It’s a small town in New Zealand’s south island and a combination of mountains and prevailing westerlies result in amazing gliding conditions, including wave flying. Some private operations provide gliding tours and training (a bit like African safaris) and many gliding enthusiasts plan to make a pilgrimage to Omarama at least once in their lives. The world gliding Grand Prix races have been held there in 2006 and 2007.

Well, Vic clearly achieved his goal. Last time I’d seen him at Taupo he had progressed to flying solo in one of the club’s single seater PW5s, and now, here was a photo of him, at 17,000 feet, oxygen canulla in place, in wave over Omarama.

Well done that man!

I emailed him to get the good oil and he told me a little more about it.

He told me he flew in a near-new Duo Discus with the CFI of Southern Soaring Chris Rudge. He was (after briefings on use of oxygen, and the parachute) towed to 3,000 feet, then from ridge to ridge up to 8,000 feet, then as he describes it "punched up wind into rotor 100 knots indicated, very turbulent in sink, then into updraught of the rotor".

Having experienced a bit of rotor at Taupo a few weeks ago, I could visualise a bit of this (though working out how to transit the rotor is still confusing to me). He described being bounced about and then a smoothing out and they were into wave.

Oxygen went on at 10,000 feet, withy full-flow by 15,000 and he topped out at 17,500 feet! Vic says it was "cool but comfortable, outside temp. minus 5C".

Of course one of the tricky things about altitude flying is apparently you can be flying close to Vne (velocity not to exceed) but with a modest indicated airspeed. As well, in wave, you can be more or less standing still relative to the ground - and this happened to Vic - 55 knots indicated and at a virtual standstill on the GPS.

He seemed chuffed about his 3-hour flight (of which he flew all but some getting through the rotor). A lucky man...

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