1991

1991

Flying Starts

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By the beginning of March I was dead keen to get back into the air, and flew all the flyable weekends in March and April - nearly all of them, and some both Saturday and Sunday. This was the benefit of combining Lejair school activities and NHGC winching on the same field: there was nearly always a good crowd of people there - essential for the teamwork required in winching, and could be jolly useful for retrieve drivers if one went cross country and landed in some corner of a foreign field. Declaring a goal destination to land at (or fly over) added a sense of purpose flight planning for the day - and would have scored extra points for the National XC League. This was a typical modest distance declaration of about 10 miles (photographic evidence was required). The wind was pretty strong that day and the launch took me to 1400' but I "didn't go nowhere" except to land back on the field, and straight way derigged to race off to West Runton where I managed 25 minutes flying in clag at 200'. By the end of March I had accomplished only one mini XC of 8.6 miles to Carbrooke and a non scoring 3.7 miler to Holme Hale from 22 winch launches.

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By the end of April (another 13 launches) however my eforts were rewarded with big XC's on successive days: 40.6 miles to Whittlesey near Peterborough on the 27th in 3 hours (from my fifth launch of the day), and the next day 38.2 miles to Lavenham in 2.5 hours (after 3 launches). Ho-ho! I thought, it's all a piece of cake, I'll do big XC's every weekend … but then 27 launches in May yielded only a successful goal flight to Watton (8.6 miles). There was still an awful lot of luck in being launched just at the critical time to capture a thermal passing near the field.

Tony, as ever, was trying new things and (here) is courageously running a training course for paraplegic pilots (yes - they flew!). The yellow buggy with Rona and Simon was, I think, a grass field version of the payout winch trailer plus car system, and the flying plank was a Fledge - a rigid wing hang glider controlled not so much by pilot weight shift but by aerodynamic control of tip rudders.

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I think Tony found it in a shed somewhere. Potentially it had better performance than flex wing hang gliders, but I don't think it ever realised it.
Then - ohmigod - what is that thing with a string hanging out the back?!
Tony and Rona had heard about the routine aerotow launching of hang gliders. They went to Hungary with a few other adventurous souls to find out how it was done and came back enthused and ready to start. All you needed was a microlight and a 100 foot length of tow rope. You attached the tow rope to your chest bridle; the microlight took off, and wuheeeighhh - you followed!!

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With this arrangement, and with a canny microlight pilot you could be spirited up to 2000' and released into lift - a truly enormous advantage over being winched up at random to half this height, missing the lift and landing to queue again for another launch. There were one or two little difficulties to be overcome of course.
A microlight with aerotow attachment cost about £5000, and (oh, you've guessed already) the BHGA and least of all the CAA were not ready to countenance yet another "dangerous" activity involving hang gliders. The hair-raising aspect of this form of launching from the hang glider pilot's point of view was that you were separated by a mere 100 feet from what looked like a gigantic meat slicer: the prop on the microlight. Did I want to try it? NO WAY! - they must be crazy. Tony and Rona couldn't get clearance from the British aviation authorities to do anything like it, so - they arranged a trip to Hungary to do it out there. Would I like to join the group? Eurggh … well no, er but maybe … well yes, OK then.

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