1987-9 A Bystander Returns

1987

In January, having recovered somewhat, but still feeling fragile and sorry for myself, I signed up with Tony and Rona for a Lanzarote hang gliding trip - as driver. There was absolutely no way I was contemplating flying, nor did I know if I ever wanted to fly again, but I needed to do something.

Lanzarote

I had loaned the Magic 3 (now repaired) to Tony to fly while he was out there - he deserved to have more performance than the training kites he would be taking there. It was an interesting and generally comradely time, with some adventures. When flying was not on, I would go rambling amongst the volcanic landscape and along the dramatic coastal cliffs.
Tony, whilst rigging the Magic 3 in quite a strong wind suffered the "clapped hands" syndrome. The spanwise rigidity is lost; both wing tips rise up and meet above your head with the horrid noise of aluminium spars bending. This does rather spoil your day, or week. In the event, we sold the wreckage (it was in principle repairable) to an eager local pilot and left it on the island.

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On another less windy day - in fact with benign weather at Mala - Bob Barrett had just had a pleasant flight on his Clubman (this is he, on the right), and kindly said 'Here, Ed, why don't you have a go'. My weak mindedness was palpable: 'Well … er - OK!'. Take off wasn't a problem on the nice rounded slope, but landing - if I had to run fast on my weak leg amongst volcanic boulders - would not be a good thing. I had an enjoyable 15 minutes thermalling above the top, then came in for a top landing trying to fly slowly but close enough above the ground so that my concerned comrades could leap up and grab the rigging wires to pull me safely down to earth. It was a good experience, but I was certainly not ready to risk it again, and this remained the case for a year or more. Meanwhile, back in Norfolk, changes were afoot …

Fransham Fields

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Tony and Rona had secured the use of some fields in Fransham (mid Norfolk) for Lejair's training school operations with the Koch winch. They weren't very big fields, but they were fine for training. That's Tony with John Burrell and James Oxbury - an excellent team of instructors.

I guess I must have dropped in a couple of times during the rest of the year 'just to see how they were getting on' and remained very ambivalent about resuming flying. To exercise my weak leg I went on long rambles - up the Peddars Way, and in the Pyrenees for example - always deliberately putting my worst foot forward. It didn't work: the muscles never regained their original size. This occupation had its hazards too because much of the time I was surveying the sky and the clouds, and not watching out for potholes in the track.

1988

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Diversions

When the weather was unsuitable for hang gliding, other activities were devised. Phil and Angie got married. That's Tony and Nigel Webb, Stephen Partridge Hicks and Lucinda, and Rona in their gladrags. If the wind was too strong, Tony would sit under an autogyro that he found in a shed somewhere, willing it to leap into the air, whilst Paul Welton and others (names please) looked on, bemused.

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Parades of the walking wounded were organised. That's John Burrell faking it, a genuine casualty in the centre (?Anthony Shaw) and the magnificent Dave McEwen on the right with a dislocated shoulder.
When the wind was impossibly strong - which made going to the field pointless - you could always go to the coast to watch the incomparable Paul Whitley soaring the barrier at the bottom of the pathetic slope at Corton, or potentially dragging people to their doom in a force 5 at West Runton.

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The lunatics assisting this endeavour are recognisably Barry Freeman and holding the nose wires, Peter Bowden (?Suffolk guys … help please!). The stones in this image are probably airborne too; the sand definitely was. Later, on the coast road between Runton and Cromer, from the shelter of a car we watched a lone hang glider under angry grey skies pirouetting and figure-of-eighting well out to sea above the breakers whilst the force 5 wind whipped low mist and clag across the coast. The lift band would have been very wide. Paul had hours of muscular, balletic flying that day.

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At other times, a purposeful person (Rona, taking a break from instructing) was going XC and - jubilantly - being retrieved from Bacton (I think) by Tony and ?Justin.

Elsewhere, aerial photos of Fransham were being taken by someone else whose mental judgement must seriously have been in question. Ah, you guessed! Very gingerly, two years on from the prang, that man was creeping back into the air. After some refamiliarisation on training kites without further mishap, he started to borrow Tony's Magic 155FR. The '155' meant it was smaller than the regular Magics (and sank faster), and the 'FR' designation ('Full Race') meant that it was tuned for high performance and consequently flew like a plank until Tony worked out how to de-tune it and make it flyable. But being kite-less at this juncture (remember Lanzarote) I was in no position to be unduly critical. Nice looking clouds up there …

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That black lump attached to the keel was, I think, a recording barograph that Tony had acquired. The black lump at the nose of the keel was, probably, a wrapped-up kite bag. Could these have been for the eventuality of an XC out-landing … ? Probably, but by the end of 1988, despite quite a lot of launches, I hadn't logged any XCs at all. The damn fields at Fransham were too small. They didn't allow enough altitude to be obtained from the launch before you had to release, and then you could do little more than fly back to the launch point weaving between tall hedgerow trees.

Step Towing

On light wind days, the height obtained was even less. I do remember crying quietly behind the hedge in abject frustration whilst birds soared all around into a perfect thermalling sky. We experimented with step tows to overcome this problem. I won't try to describe the technique in detail - the memory of it still makes me ill. It entailed turning downwind on tow, with the towline still attached, to pull some towline back off the winch drum, before turning into wind for a further pull under tension from winch. After two or three hair-raising steps you could reach 1000' or more (1400' - so says my log book) which was well worth having, but it slowed down the launch rate significantly, so it wasn't always popular with pilots waiting in the take-off queue. By the end of the year I had received 96 launches, and apart from one splendid flight with XC potential back in May lasting 2 hours and thermalling up to 5000' but staying within range of the field on a borrowed kite (thank you Tony), none of these resulted in XCs. I had also overcome the possible trauma of flying the coastal cliffs from West Runton and Cromer on a couple of occasions. Looked like hang gliding was back on the menu …

1989

More of the same, mostly. I logged 89 launches, one 7-mile XC in May (from a launch at 6 pm!) as a tantalising taster, and then one massive 44-miler to Woodbridge on August Bank Holiday weekend.

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A significant improvement in the chances of going XC though looked promising for the next season: Tony and Rona had negotiated some much bigger fields in Beeston - close by, and just north of the A47.

A few expeditions to other parts of the country did not yield much reward.

Mere - again

September 1989. Yes, seething with inactivity, as usual, but winch launching also featured - a vital innovation for Mere, where the wind was so often in the wrong direction. I took 5 launches, which lasted about 3 minutes each. Enough said. I can see Jayu and Barry and ? in the foreground.

NHGC AGM

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More recognisable mugs at the NHGC AGM in Norwich in December. You know who you are. Come on, own up.

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