1995 Leagues & the Klassic

1995 Leagues & the Klassic

If I am to remain true to the original purpose of this story, then I must confess that most of the relevant material – my recollections of the history of towing hang gliders in East Anglia – has now been included. However, I can’t leave you hanging in mid-air so to speak so let’s round it off with a fast-forward to the present day.

The League and Ager Again

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In 1995 I entered the League as a member – no longer a guest. It involved committing to some League comp weekends in various hilly parts of the country, when the weather was unpredictable and often unflyable. This was normal, and I didn’t think much of the idea. Nor did I score highly, being well outclassed by the majority of very competitive and experienced hill flyers who dominated the scene. Sour grapes, you may say, but it was a privilege and a salutory educational experience to be amongst such expert fliers, who on the whole were a very friendly crowd.

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It showed me what a flatlander had to learn: jockeying for take off position on very crowded small hilltops; judging the critical moment to launch; thermalling amongst a gaggle of fifty gliders; not to mention the simple business of navigating to goal, taking photos of turnpoints and working out what the Early Bird bonus score meant.

The overseas League comp was held in Ager in Spain. The terrain hadn’t got any smoother since 1991. The pressure to compete was much stronger. I made some unorthodox landings, only just survived to the end of the comp, came well down the list, and collected some trophies – painful ones!

1996 Hungary Again

Hell’s Bells and Hang Gliders! The overseas League in this year was to be an AEROTOWING comp - and in Hungary!! I certainly didn’t want to miss that, but I was quite ambivalent about being humiliated once more in the UK hill-launched comps, and resented the time and travel wasted by bad weather. In East Anglia, I could decide on the day whether to go flying or do something useful instead. So in the end I did not apply to join the League, but did guest-fly in the Aerotow comp.

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This time the venue was Dunaujvaros, on the Danube about 80 km south of Budapest.
Can’t really do justice to the Blue Danube without a widescreen lens I’m afraid, but it gives you some idea.

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For the League organisers, this was an adventurous and brave decision. It would inevitably exclude some League pilots who had not got the necessary Aerotow launch endorsement. The logistics of aerotow launching about 50 hang gliders per hour were a formidable challenge. Here’s how it was done (see the picture): the redoubtable Marton Ordody mustered his forces - eight tugs! In Norfolk we were lucky if we saw two hang gliders from aerotow launches in the air at the same time.

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The next colourful picture was taken on the first practice day. You can see there is no nonsense about mountains in this part of Hungary. A practice task had been set – to goal at Szeged! Ho-ho! I knew where that was (see the arrow on the right of the picture). The only difference from previous trips was that it was 116 km distant from here, and navigating across the flatlands with just an airmap (no GPS in those days) was quite a test of trainspotting, or following railway lines. After 3 hours and 95 km I ran out of clouds and ideas. In truth the remaining 20 km would have been significantly cross wind and unlikely to have been achievable. Nevertheless, I was mightily pleased. After packing up the kite, a phone message back to base was made for me, then I sat down to wait … and wait … and wait. By that time there was no way to confirm that a retrieve was coming. This was Hungary, you must remember. Kind locals took pity and found me a room for the night. The following morning, contact with base was re-established and this time the message was relayed. John Vernon’s good lady Di Jones heroically motored the 150 mile round-trip to rescue me (I hope you are bilingual in miles and kilometres by now).
I did well in the comp, coming 16th in a field of nearly 60 pilots, just ahead of David Drake at 22nd. From the flatlanders point of view, we could at last say 'see what difference a level flying field makes!' They never held another Aerotow League again. My log book included some remarkable statistics from this League: personal best flight durations of 5hr 52mins and 5hr 40mins; and distances of 100, 95 and 89 km (only bettered by 154 km in Piedrahita in 1994). It was the peak of my flying activities so far.

Camera Film and Tributes

You may have wondered why the picture of the tugs was in black and white, not colour. On every League competition day, photographic evidence was required from each pilot to verify turn points. Routinely, each day, the organisers had to collect a film from each pilot, take these 50 or 60 films to the nearest commercial processing place, get them developed quickly, inspect every film, analyse the critical turn point photos, and publish a list of missed turn points the next day.

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This eye-watering and brain-numbing heroic endeavour was faithfully and diligently carried out by devoted scorers and officials often working through the night, knowing they would be immediately assaulted at dawn by aggrieved pilots appealing against their decisions. Analysing a colour film for turn points was no fun at all, because they were colour negatives, and the colours were all wrong. Dave Bluett is a name that comes to mind. He did this job for many years for very modest (or no?) rewards and little public recognition. Dave (and others too: tell me who you are) – I salute you.
These days there are GPS traces to argue about. To get back to the initial point, normally colour film would be used. In Hungary, there was nowhere local that could process coloured film quickly enough. So we had to use black and white film for all our comp flights. It gave everything a very wartime feel – like flying over the marshalling yards at Hamm from the bomb aimer’s position (the cross was our turn point). The colour picture of my route to Szeged was taken on a practice day.

Airwave Klassic

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In task 6 on the penultimate day – another flight to goal at Szeged, but this time a race - I flopped across the Danube after just 7.5 km, landed in this field and cried with mortification. Gradually however it became apparent that other big name pilots had landed not much further down the road, and my spirits improved magically. Schadenfreude, it is called (oh god, go and look it up in Wikipedia). On the final day of the comp, one of the tugs crashed through mechanical failure, killing the pilot and bringing activities to a sombre close. It was a sad end to one of my best ever comps. But what I really wanted to show you in this picture was that I was now flying an Airwave Klassic. After six years of flying the Kiss, and smarting from my miserable score in the 1995 League, I decided to blame my tools and upgrade to a newer, supposedly better kite. What, you may ask, are those funny black things on the wing tips? Very innovative for their time, those pathetic winglets were a complete pain in the bum. Nowadays jumbos and airliners all have them, allegedly to save a few percent of fuel – not much of an issue on a hang glider though. The hassle factor was significant, and the performance improvement was imaginary. One time back in Norfolk, one of them came adrift (ok, that was my fault) as I was thermalling. I saw the winglet flutter down towards the ground. From my pilot’s position under the wing, I couldn’t see which one I had lost, and from the handling I couldn’t tell any difference at all!. Q.E.D. Oh yes, you can see this kite still has a kingpost – now that was something which was to be blown away by the unstoppable aerodynamic logic of the 'topless' flexwings. I never did love the Klassic as I had loved the Kiss.

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