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Talented glider-pilot’s course 2003

 

One rainy night

We arrived at Arnborg gliding centre in Western Denmark at about 2am. Both Carsten and myself were dead tired after the long 4 hour drive from Copenhagen. We could almost figure out that the office was closed and it was therefore too late to rent a room for the night, so we decided to sleep in the car. The sky was grey and sad, and it raid constantly.

 

I had been chosen to take part on the Danish Gliding union’s prestigious “Course for talented pilots.” There were only 20 registered talents in Denmark in 2003, so I was excited and proud to one of them. I had been given a chance to develop my flying skills, and I didn’t want to screw this one up…

 

Day 1, theory and conversions

Monday morning was a rainy morning. The rain hadn’t stopped, so we started off on the course with a lot of theory. Our coach was Anders, better known in the union as AMA. He is a brilliant instructor, especially considering that he had Ole Arndt as a partner instructor.

After a short introduction, I found out that I was the one on the course with least flying experience. Some of the other guys were from the junior national team and most of them had taken part on this course before. First topic was ‘Safety,’ especially when landing on a field. At first it felt a bit embarrassing that I was the only one to take notes, but now I’m quite happy that I can read them and refresh my memory. During the afternoon, there was a short break in the rain, so we decided to get converted to some new planes. I wasn’t sure of what I wanted. I loved flying the LS4, and was pretty sure that nothing I tried would top the LS4, but what the hell? So I asked if I could get converted to the Discus 2a. In the old times, pilots said: ”If it looks good, it flies good,”  and this saying was no exception for this aircraft! It looked good and flew even better…

Monday was the longest day of the year (July 21st) and in the evening we followed the Danish tradition of making a big fire. We drank a few beers and sang a few naughty Western Danish songs. We really enjoyed the evening, even though the weather was terrible.

 

Day 2, or more likely, the lack of it…

Tuesday morning proved to be yet another day with rain, so we decided to continue with the theory. No flying. Among other things, we talked about competition rules, waypoint-passing techniques and how important it is to know all the rules and waypoints in a competition.

 

 

 

Day 3, we’re flying!

It seemed like Wednesday was going to be the day where we start doing some serious flying. By 8am, we had jogged around the airfield and got our aircraft ready for the flight (well, kind of…but anyway). We ate breakfast and went straight to briefing and were told about the day’s task. It had many waypoints and was about 250km long. Anders expected that all of us flew at least one time around the course. I drew the task down on my kneeboard and made sure that all the waypoints (WP) were correctly inserted in the GPS. I also wrote other relevant things such as radio frequencies, airspace to be crossed and so on. I tanked 40L of water in the wings and was ready to go. This was my first flight ever with water ballast in the wings. The weather got better, but it was rather late. At 1pm, I was one of the first to get airborne and had to wait about 1½ hour in the air until all the others were ready and the start-line was opened. There was no time to throw up or get dizzy this time. I was on an important course, this was serious business, and I didn’t want to blow it. When the start-line was opened, I was about 3km behind the start-line. The experienced pilots on the course started the task straight away, so I soon dropped the plan of following them. So I started off in a steady headwind towards WP1, heading almost North. When I was half way to WP1, I spotted the group of the experienced pilots flying South towards WP2. Damn, I was behind! The weather wasn’t ideal for task flying. With a cloud-base of 500-600m I decided to fly cautiously instead of fast. Morten, in a LS8 and I, began cooperating with taking turns at finding thermals and passing WP’s. Morten and myself were the two least experienced pilots on the team. After WP2 we found a good long cloud. It was time to change gear. We soon found ourselves half way to WP3 but the weather seemed to worsen. Suddenly I spotted two guys from the national team, who seemed to be in trouble really low above the landscape! One of them landed shortly afterwards, while the other one was fighting for his survival. I found the thermal he had been fighting in, and it seemed like he was fighting in the wrong place. So I tried to find the centre of the thermal and maybe give him a hint so he could centre himself better. ”2A for ML, move slightly East over the factories if you can, it’s much better over there…” I called in the radio. At 400m altitude the vario showed over 1m/s, and now I climbed all the way up to 800m! Wuhuu, we were back in business!!! 2A moved carefully to the East and thanked me for the help. Oh well, that’s what airmanship is all about, I guess. After having reached WP3, I set my course towards WP4, but I was now all the way down at 300m and the thermals were getting worse. I was overtaken by a German-registered Nimbus glider who flew past me with a rather good speed. “Damn German,” I thought to myself. Later I found out that it was my coach, Anders, who had taken-off after we had all departed and had overtaken all of us!

 

Half way towards WP4, the sky was closing in with Altocumulus clouds and the weather ahead started looking really sad. “Damn,” I thought to myself. I set my course towards WP4 in a way to fly over Arnborg airfield on the way to WP4. It wasn’t possible to climb sufficiently anymore, and when I was in gliding range from Arnborg I could see several aircraft down on the fields below. So I decided to fly home to Arnborg while I had the altitude for it. I was disappointed in myself. Anders had expected us to fly at least once around the task. I landed and found out that there were a couple more that had made it home. Later during the debriefing I found out that I was one of the best placed pilots that day. Even Anders had used his ”cheater”  engine on his Nimbus when he was closing in on WP4. So all in all, it was a good day.

 

Day 4, a major screw-up

It seemed as if Thursday was going to be the day with really good weather. So I filled 100L water ballast and prepared my self, the aircraft and the GPS. The Cumulus clouds were looking really good. I climbed to the cloud-base at 1300m, and waited for the start-line to be opened. When it happened, no-one started off on the task. “Strange,” I thought to myself. ”What the hell are they waiting for? We have to fly a 500km task, we’re busy!!!” I thought to myself.  ”ML starting task 12:31,” I said clearly on the radio. “Now I’m gonna show those farmers how to fly fast,” I thought to myself. I flew past the other guys at a relative high speed and set course towards a good-looking Cumulus cloud. When I arrived under it, it was dead. No rising air whatsoever. ”Oh well, I’ll just fly towards the next Cumulus then. It probably gives 3m/s,” I thought. I continued towards the next one, and the next one…and the next one. Without looking at my altimeter, I could see that I was getting lower, lower…and lower!!! At 400m I jettisoned the water ballast. Now it wasn’t a competition anymore for me; It was survival! But there were no thermals to be found. I spotted a good but short field with grass and decided to land. Cockpit check at 200m, landing gear out and locked…”ML landing out,” i called with a weak voice on the radio. Daaamn this was embarrassing. A glide of 8km from 1300m…in a LS4!! That was something to be reckoned with. I thought of committing suicide, but decided to call my helper, Carsten, instead.

 

Carsten couldn’t be reached. He was having a great time flying a Motor-Falke. I could see him in the air close to Arnborg, so I decided to call him on the radio instead of using the mobile-phone. That way, he could spot me from the air and see my exact position for when he would pick me up. When I arrived at the airfield, Anders said that the weather hadn’t been as good as it seemed promising. There were also a couple of other pilots who arrived with their plane on a trailer behind the car, so at least I wasn’t the only one. At debriefing I found out that there was another one who had also landed about 8km from the starting-line, but my performance was all that mattered to me...and it wasn’t satisfying.

 

Day 5, last chance…let’s use it!

The meteorologist promised good thermals for Friday, with some isolated rainy showers. This time I would fly carefully and try to fly in formation with some of the other guys. I tanked 140L of water ballast this time, and this was my last chance to learn something through the course. Søren in ‘his’ DG300 and myself flew in formation and had a blast while flying towards WP1 and later towards WP2 where we were joined up by Henrik in the Discus 2a. WP2 was far out near the Eastern coast of Jutland, and none of us seemed to be able to reach it because of rather powerful sea-breeze which destroyed the thermals. Anders called us on the radio from his Nimubs and told us to use another WP as WP2, which was further away from the coast. I reached the new WP2 and set course towards WP3. Søren and Henrik decided to fly towards the original WP2 and ended up landing on a field together with some others who had taken the same decision. Now I teamed up with Christian, also in a LS4, and we flew together and discussed our plans and strategies on the radio. We could see a wall of rain to the North, and another wall of rain to the South, both moving Southwards with the wind. WP3 was situated in the most Northern part of Denmark, and that meant flying through the rain wall. ”Hmmm, time to take a decision,” I thought to myself. “Either fly through the wall of rain and land on a field somewhere up North, or else head South and land in Arnborg where it’s raining right now,” I thought. I headed South-West and arrived in Arnborg shortly after the rain had passed. Christian chose to fly North-bound instead, but unfortunately didn’t get very long. He mentioned later that the air sank with 4m/s in the rain!! So he had to land on a field with potatoes. I helped along with getting him home again and wasn’t too sad that I hadn’t decided to fly North, even though he got more points than I did. On to de-briefing. Half of us had landed out but one of us, Kim from Kolding, who flew in the Janus that day, had reached the original WP2, flew all the way up to WP3 and all the way home to Arnborg! That was something to live up to.

 

Conclusion.

Even though the weather wasn’t exactly optimal, I must say that I got a lot from this course. I feel privileged to have been chosen and given the chance to develop my skills and fly with the best pilots around. I really learned a lot from the theory and I don’t regret that I took notes while Anders was giving us all that Golden information. Those days where we had the chance to fly, I really learned a lot. Apart from that I got to know some great people and got myself a new friend for North Jutland. I hope that I’ll get the opportunity to take part in the course again in 2004.

 

Many thanks to Carsten Olsen, who volunteered to help me during the week. I couldn’t have participated on the course without a helper.

 

Written by Stephen Galea, 2003.