Hungary for Aerotows

Hungary - July 1991

Hungary in July was hellishly hot. We camped in the "forest" beside the hotel. Kecskemet was in the middle of the vast Hungarian plains. At breakfast outdoors each morning with minimal clothing we were already sweating. Touching metal parts of vehicles or hang gliders was painful. Marton Ordody and his Hungarian compatriots knew what the problem was with hang gliders in the flatlands and they had solved it. They had three or four aerotow tugs with experienced and expert pilots ready to train us in two or three days. Then they ran a small competition for us during the following week.


You can probably see some familiar faces in the group shot (sorry the quality is a bit marginal). From the left, front row: EP, Sean Biggs, Rona, Roger Pearce (of neck-brace fame!), ??, James Oxbury, Tony. Standing from the left: Russell Mutton, ??, Simon Offord, then lots of ??s some of whom may be tug pilots, Hungarian visiting pilots or helpers and/or Sandy Argo, Hugh Jackson, Ian Smith, and elsewhere Stephen Partridge Hicks. A good crowd.
Taking off behind a microlight tug aircraft is one thing - you don't have much option but to rocket along horizontally at 30 mph close to the ground as the tug takes off. Staying behind the tug in left turns, right turns, figures of eight, and finally in tight climbing turns in turbulent thermals (the whole object of the exercise) was another - but we did it! One or two members of the group took training as tug pilots too.
Altogether it was a prodigiously successful trip for me. The statistics were:

  • 9 days flown out of a possible 11 days
  • 3 days training, 6 days comp tasks
  • 22 Aerotow "starts" received
  • 23 hours 12 minutes flying time
  • XC distance flown 326.0 km (202.6 miles)!

On the second day whilst most of us were still doing qualifying flights a task was nevertheless set for Szeged airfield - nearly 70 km (km numbers always look more impressive than miles) to the SE of Kecskemet. There it is, on the right. From my fourth aerotow of the day, and after 3.5 hours flying I arrived above it with 4000 feet to spare (for altitudes, feet sound more impressive than metres of course). Cloud base on the way had been up to 7800 feet! - about twice what you might get on an average day in East Anglia. What a phenomenal achievement - a personal best distance to goal on my second day, including navigating over unknown territory! Hells bells! As I landed, rather cockily expecting to be the only hang glider there (having seen no other kites since Kecskemet), Sean Biggs came over and welcomed me down. He had landed there earlier. Oh well, it was good to have company whilst we awaited a retrieve vehicle.


On the last day of the comp, Szeged was again set as the goal task. By this time I knew the way, so to speak, and did it in 3 hours with a ceiling of 6300', and this time I was alone. The Antonov lived on the airfield, a monster lumbering biplane used by free-fall parachutists. The other pilots on the field were very friendly and pushed me on board for a joyride over Szeged (but not with a 'chute!) while I awaited another retrieve. The big river you see down there was important. At the morning's comp briefing, Marton had said 'If you get to a big river do not fly across it. They will shoot you!'. The other side was a troubled country then still called Yugoslavia.
With that final goal flight I won our little comp and was inordinately chuffed with my exploits. It had all been a formidable experience - not least the …

Retrieves - Hungary


Hungary is a land with a semi-impossible language. If you are English and think you recognise any word in it, the only thing you can be sure of is that you are wrong. Just have a look at the sheet we had to carry with us and you will see what I mean. That's the impossible bit. I'll come to the language's redeeming feature in a moment.
Perhaps I haven't explained before - and it may seem incomprehensible to the lay person - but when intending to go XC in a hang glider in those early days the almost inevitable consequence was that you would land somewhere, and not be too sure exactly where you were, and nor would anybody else.


As if that wasn't enough, after de-rigging your kite and packing up your harness and other flying gear, you then had no predictable method of reuniting yourself with your car - which would generally be back at the take-off point with the winch. A folded hang glider was about 5m long and weighed maybe 35 kg - just about carryable on your shoulder, but not something you would want to walk a mile with (carrying your harness as well). So you had to do two things first: find out where you were (not always too easy), and then find a telephone.
This of course goes back to the days when we didn't have mobile phones, and phones in Hungary were few and far between. On one occasion, some kind Hungarians drove me 15 km through the countryside to the nearest one. On another occasion (see the image), I was pointed to a wall. Thinking there was some misunderstanding and nonplussed I had to ask again, and was shown a box hidden in the wall, inside which there was a telephone! The problem was not so simply resolved however: this was not subscriber trunk dialling territory. There was a handle on the phone, which made a bell ring somewhere presumably, but when the operator spoke Hungarian (only), I had to plead for help again. After waving my save-your-life piece of paper even more agitatedly at the bystander, I persuaded him to follow the instructions. Or so I hoped. There was no real way of telling but to sit there by the road, and wait for Marton to turn up in his car. We all had some long, anxious waits, and some very long ones!
The splendid feature of the language though was that (unlike the stupidly inconsistent and bizarre spelling of English) if you could see it written down, you could pronounce and speak it recognisably! I always took a pocket phrase book with me, and was able to spend many waiting hours in friendly and sometimes hilarious conversation with the local people as a result. English was not widely spoken in the countryside.

Retrieve - Norfolk

The story of the retrieve after my first long Norfolk XC (promised above) went somewhat differently. That was five years previous to this, and although in England, Tony and Rona did not have phone access on the Sculthorpe base. (When they did at last acquire "the latest" mobile phone it cost them £1000 - a hideous sum.) Ergo, my problem on landing at Winterton was basically to get myself back to Sculthorpe, then to collect my car, then to drive to Winterton and collect my kite, then to drive back to Burwell. A local resident who had seen me land in the beet field helped me hide my de-rigged kite in the hedge, and took me back to his house for a cup of tea. On hearing of my intended travel plans he was going into Norwich and generously offered me a pillion ride on his scooter (useful things: hang gliding/motorcycle helmets!). We got half way to Norwich when his rear tyre went down in the middle of the countryside. I said thanks but awful sorry I would have to continue - hitch-hiking (what else? we all did in those days). Three or four lifts later - after skirting Norwich on the ring road and passing through Fakenham - I was close to Sculthorpe base, walking along the road wondering if I would dare climb the boundary fence - it would save miles of walking around the perimeter. Fortunately another motorcyclist saw my helmet and thumb out and delivered me pillionwise to the Sculthorpe main gate. The rest of the retrieve in my own car was much less eventful, and I eventually arrived home in the dark, pretty late, but of course incredibly bucked by the day's adventures and achievements.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License