1983 The South of France & East Anglian Towing

1983 The South of France - First XCs

December 1982 saw five days flying - a surprising total for a winter month. Then January 1983, none; February, one; March one, and April three. With my frustration at boiling point, something else was needed - maybe a different country, and/or better weather. In May, with trepidation, I set off for the Montagne de Lachens in the Maritime Alps, not knowing what to expect, except that they had big mountains, and roads to the top. Everybody seemed to be going there, and returned with heroic tales, provided they survived the heart-stopping mountain top ramp launches. This was a technique that could not be learnt in the UK!


I did survive my first ramp launch, and everything came true: see p6 of the log book.


First an XC (cross country flight) of nearly 10km, then three days later a total distance of 48km out and halfway back along dangerous looking mountain ridges in dodgy valleys. The blodgy path on the aerial photo shows a gain of height above the distant ridge and then the flight along the valley to the right and back. "So where is Lachens?" I hear you cry.


This pic was taken from near orbit on one of my best flights … (only joking). The blodge in the SW sector near a river is Lachens. The town of Nice is just visible on the coast near the bottom, and Monte Carlo (yes, flew there as well - really did) is further along the coast to the east.
I brought home a load of slide film for development, and came back to the down-to-earth terrain of East Anglia. The very next Sunday the wind forecast was NE-erly. Wooster (with family, for once) and I raced to Cromer in bright sunny perfect-looking weather until we met bl**dy sea mist right on the coast. Paul Whitley was the only other pilot there.


We hung around in cold greyness for a long time. Paul and I did eventually fly - dicing with varying levels of mist and low cloud. The wind got stronger. Wooster wasn't going to fly. He now owned a massive Lightning (from a trike, I think). Paul asked to fly it, dual, with his girlfriend, which he did with complete confidence as you can see here. Amazing guy. Wooster is on the nose wires. Count the legs in the other pic.

East Anglian Towing

One weekend sometime later, in July by now, the wind forecast was again useless for coastal flying and more sea fog was forecast, however, I phoned Greg Thompson on impulse. There had been mutterings about towing starting up again in Norfolk after a fairly dreadful time with bureaucracy and fatal accidents - see Mike Lake's pages for the full story.


Yes! they were going to Foulsham, and it was happening! Their pay-out winch system was towed behind a car. Here it is (far left) with Paul Whitley and Greg and Wooster. Mike was there, somewhere, and maybe one or two other people. On the right is the view from the winch during a tow, and that's Paul taking off on his Cyclone, below. They generously offered us a go. The machinery looked very well designed; the launch process looked somewhat more hairy. I guess we were both too sh*t scared, besides, we didn't have the necessary tow bridles on our kites and harnesses. Caution, we called it. But the sight of Paul (and Greg and others) getting launches to 1000' was something that could not be ignored for much longer.


It took about a month. On August 14th at Flixton, fear was overcome. My log book records three tow launches with a "Lake Step-up bridle" (thanks Mike! and the winch team), eventually attaining a height of 1000'. A week later I was back there again with Wooster and took five launches, except that the first two tries were aborted at low level in very turbulent thermic air because I couldn't keep station. Heart failure was not far away. I seem to remember launching from the short peri-track which had aggressive piles of hardcore at 50 yard intervals alongside it. Dodging these on landing after an emergency release was … um, challenging. But we did want thermals, didn't we? I managed to circle in "reduced sink" for a 10 minute flight after the best launch to 1000'.


Flixton was an interesting scene - other microlights dropped in for a chat. Here's Dave Cook on the left in his own-design Shadow, and someone else (any offers?) in a Dragon on the right (I think). Wooster took a joyride in one of the visiting trikes.

Read Dave Cook's full story: Flying from My Mind: Innovative and Record-Breaking Microlight and Aircraft Designs by David G. Cook. ISBN: 9781844155880


On this same day, Paul and Mike created NHGC history. According to my diary, the wind was southerly. Paul had had a good launch, caught a thermal and disappeared northwards, to the envy of everyone. Activity had slackened off somewhat during the midday turbulence, when a small car crept hesitantly across the airfield to the launch point. A highly bemused farmer and his wife had brought Paul back from his landing 6 miles away! Paul won a fiver from Greg for the first tow launch XC of more than 5 miles. A little later Mike Lake caught a thermal too, and disappeared northwards. He said he made about 6 miles, landed in a field, knocked on the door of the nearest house - and was welcomed by the very same farmer's wife who then drove him back to the airfield too! It was to be a year before I took any more tow launches (I can't quite recall why) and a year and half before I too eventually XCd from a tow launch, and then it was with Tony Webb and Rona Webb and Phil providing the 'infrastructure'. In the meantime, I was keeping myself adequately airborne, and aerodynamically creative. A week after this towing episode, I set myself up for some coastal adventures once more.

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