Stories We Tell

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Some blow by blow accounts of some of the things we got up to!

The First NorthEaster.

Reprinted from NHGC newsletter Jan ’80.
(Note. Mike Pulford was famous for being a fair-weather flyer).

The brave flyers gathered, huddled closely together. The cold bleak wind whistled over the cliff top. The atmosphere was intense with excitement for this was no ordinary wind. It was a Nor’Easter – the first in a long long time.

The usual crowd were there. Greg, sober at last and weary from the floods of ’79. Derek Moore had made the journey, a few essential items packed tightly into the back of his Ford Transit. John sharp, ready for some unusual dual flying (2 kites, 1 pilot?), and Ray Watering stood silent complete with new chin strap and still recovering form the shock of Mike Lake actually ‘buying’ a glider. Will Reynolds stood holding his equipment in both hands (big boy is our Will). But nobody spoke, for there remained one deciding factor to determine whether this North Easter was to be flyable.

Mick Pulford it was who made the move. The rest watched in silence as he edged forward towards the cliff top. The cold wind stung his face his limbs, tired, having never fully recovered from the 3-day week. He stood motionless his eyes scanning the beach in search of the phantom flasher but, alas, there was no sign of him this week. Then slowly, ever so slowly he raised the slender instrument into the air stream allowing it to take the full force of this all to rare North East wind.
Gradually the beginnings of a smile forced itself over his tightly closed lips.
Some of the crowd sensed this and the excitement grew almost to bursting point. Mick Starling it was who finally broke and, with a voice full of anticipation he cried out, “what’s it doing Mick? … What’s it doing”?
The whole crowd held their breath. Mick Pulford, in true Clint Eastwood style, once again slowly and deliberately raised the instrument into the air stream.
One of the crowd could hold his breath no longer, and passed out, Pete Hammond fell asleep and another went home.
Mick finally put the instrument in his pocket. His smile broadened as he turned to the red-faced crowd for HE knew for HIM at least, today was a flying day.
“WHAT’S IT BLEEDIN’ WELL READ?” cried several angry impatient voices.
“39 degrees Fahrenheit!” said Mick, ducking as several helmets and bits of alloy tube whistled past his lughole and dropped silently onto the sand 200 feet below.

Mike Lake

Testing prototypes

During our tow development days I had three rules for anything new that needed to be tested.

Anything I produced I would test first, after all, this is the gentlemanly thing to do. Except…

If it looked a bit hairy, give it to Thompson if he didn’t turn upside down all was fine. This is only fair. Except…

If it was physically impossible, then we would give it to Whitley.

Mike Lake

Free flight

On a windy gusty stormy day it is not, with hindsight, a good idea to be on top of Cromer cliffs playing at being a lightning conductor. I think if ever there were a need for a device able to efficiently electrocute people, in great numbers, in a thunderstorm, it would look like a hang glider.
But the wind was to the NNE so, obviously, sacrifices had to be made.

We waited patiently for the wind to ease from its gusty 35 - 45mph to something more manageable to a glider with a top speed of about 25 mph. When it did drop a bit Paul Whitley was the first to prepare for launch. I was on the nose.
It was an almighty struggle to get the glider to the edge and the closer we got the less of a good idea it seemed. We decided to go down the cliff a bit to a slightly lower grassy slope and as we did the wind dropped suddenly to almost zero. At the same time the temperature changed noticeable. Paul and I looked at each other and did not like the situation one bit. We sensibly decided to abort.
As we started to retreat back up, the wind, just as suddenly as it had dropped, picked up again with an ever-increasing strength. Then just for good measure it started to hail, so hard it stung our faces.

The glider was pinned to the cliff with such a force it was almost immovable. We made virtually no headway up the cliff with every bit of grass and gorse grabbing the corners of the A frame. We were soaking wet our arms ached with the buffeting and we could hardly see.
In desperation we lifted the nose, just the tiniest little bit…

Bad idea.

The glider took off with us holding on to one nose and one side wire each.
At the same time Paul and I thought ‘bugger this’ and dropped the 3 – 4 foot onto the grass as the glider ascended majestically and pilot-less up and back inland.
Paul could do no more than watch as it continued to fly surprisingly well for some distance until a rotor got the better of it, flipping it over and slamming it into the ground somewhere on the golf course. That glider was trimmed well!

Reluctantly we packed up and prepared for the inevitable long long wait until the next
NE day.

Mike Lake

First Cromer splashdown. ‘75

It was freezing cold, as I was packing up on the beach, ready for the 200ft trek back to the top. I waited for a while watching Greg making his final approach. A bit close to the groin I thought …and so did Greg. He had misjudged his approach and it was too late to do anything about it. Hit the groin or take a dip, not much of a choice but the dip won.
Not too far out and in about a foot or two of water Greg made a surprising good landing. As you might imagine I was laughing my head off and I could also hear the others hooting and laughing from the top of the cliff. We were an unsympathetic lot.
I walked to the edge of the sea and asked if it was cold, for some unknown reason Greg did not find this funny. The next instance nothing seemed funny as a wave crashed over Greg before he could unclip. The A frame collapsed and Greg was pinned down on one knee unable to move.
Why me, I thought, as I waded in to help. As I got to Greg he unclipped just as another wave rolled over the glider. We tried to drag it back to the beach but with every wave bits of the glider broke off and when we finally did get it beached there was nothing recognisable left.
Over the years I have hinted that I was due a big reward for saving his life, but he just insists that he had the situation under control and that he had had enough of that glider anyway!

Mike Lake

The Flapping Sail.

On a windy day when I hear a flapping flag or something I can’t help but think of early cliff launches at Cromer.

The flapping sail was an integral part of glider design and pilots used to use this as an airspeed indicator. The more you pulled in the more the sail flapped. Imagine the sound of a cigarette card on bicycle spokes x 10 and you will get the idea. Often the sound could be heard on the beach.
At each end of the flight range there was ‘no flap‘ (you were stalled) and ‘flapping like buggery’ (you were in a dive).
Paul Whitely used to amply demonstrate both ends of this scale when he was in ‘acrobatic mode’.
We used to watch open mouthed as Paul would nose up until a full-blown stall developed and then he would fall into a steep dive. The sail would actually collapse and be nothing more then a flapping fluttering sheet. We would all be holding our breath while Paul plummeted towards the ground. Then, just in time, the wing would miraculously recover and Paul would climb up and do it all again, giving us watchers hardly enough time to catch our breath.

These gliders had no tip struts, no luff lines, no reflexed battens or sweep+washout to stabilise the dive. Instead the sail was always tight at the front and flappy at the back. As the sail flapped it killed lift at the back, the faster you went the more lift was killed, eventually stabilising a dive.

That’s right dive recovery on these early gliders was down to a flapping sail. Don’t you just love ’70s hang gliding?

Mike Lake

Topless Gliders.

So you think modern gliders with no kingposts or upper rigging a new idea? Not true.
The first glider I flew was also a topless design (the kingpost etc. was an optional extra). However, the designers had a fantastically simple and novel approach to handling negative loading… Don’t subject the glider to negative loading.

Don’t you just love ’70s hang gliding?

Mike lake

The mid – late 70’s

I had finished my second homebuilt. The first was from drawings this one was from an idea that I could do something better. Deflectors were the order of the day (struts and wire on the leading edge for strengthen and shape) and methods to enhance billow shift were evolving. (Including ‘pulley system’, many already in use). My idea was to just extend the cross tube a bit and put a small pulley wheel on the ends. This and a ‘normal’ pulley wheel on the nose plate gave one continues cable running from wingtip to wingtip around the nose plate. There were no deflectors as such. As one wingtip flexed in the other flexed out. For strength there were also two additional flying wires going from wing tip to ‘A’ frame corner.
This flew ok and the billow shift mechanism worked fine.
There was nothing particularly innovative here, but it was a slightly unusual configuration.

I had tested this to the point of flying from Cromer but after flying a while I thought the ‘A’ frame base bar was really too far back and needed adjusting. Like a fool I did this on site, and in an adrenaline filled flying state of mind.
I tilted the ‘A’ frame forward a bit by lengthening the rear wires and shorting the front wires (as a prototype It was all easily adjustable). What I forgot to do was lengthen the additional flying wires. The effect of this was to put unacceptable amounts of camber on the leading edges giving a glider configuration that enjoyed going into a dive…
I prepared for a cliff takeoff.
GO …..and I was up and away.

I immediately knew there was something wrong and a second later I knew exactly why. The glider started to speed up as the nose pitched down. My god I thought and for some inexplicable reason I started to sing loudly. The nose down tendency was already starting to make my arms ache and I was heading out to sea. I tried to wrap my feet around the rear flying wires to ease the pressure on my arms but this made me lose what little control I had.
I had to make a turn and as I did the glider sped up even more and started to side-slip for good measure.
This was not good so I sang even louder interspersed with OH SH**.
By the end of the first verse of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ I was flying very low very fast and heading along the beach pushing out for all I was worth. One Herculean effort got the nose up a bit. Fortunately as there was a bit of cross wind and I was heading directly into it I managed to make a perfect but very fast running landing….
Piece of cake.

This problem was easily fixed but this glider came to the end of its life when a slightly out of control bonfire damaged the sail. I was not as disappointed as I should have been. Glider design is best left to the experts.

Mike Lake

The Blue Peter vario. .

(Varios at the time were about a weeks wages! ).

Take a container about a pint and wrap it in tinfoil for insulation.
Stick a bit of white card on the lid with a pin hole in it and in the lid. Stamp some very fine parallel lines onto this card. I made a rubber stamp from (I think) an old hot water bottle.
Get some cling film type stuff and stamp the exact same very fine parallel lines onto this and make a tiny tiny pinhole. Overlay the film onto the card so the parallel lines line up exactly.
This thin diaphragm detects tiny increases in air pressure between the inside and outside of the pot and the parallel lines magnify this movement using something called the Moiré effect.
This only detected if you were going up or not going up and it was to make my fortune.
Instead when I showed it to (Snowy I think or one of the Suffolk boys) they laughed out loud so I hid it away.

Mike Lake

Testing Reserve Chutes

A windy day at Hill Farm saw most of us yapping, as you do. Dave McEwen thought he would spend his time productively. Deciding to inflate his chute and give it a good airing he looked for something solid to attach it to. This Dave would call a cunning plan, whereas others might call it a cupid stunt.

Tying his harness to his ladder on his car, he thru his Chute skywards. BANG went the chute. BANG went the ladder and BANG went the roof rack it was firmly attached to. BUGGER screamed Dave as he was holding onto the Chute at the time. By this time the chute was traveling at a good 20 knots along a freshly ploughed field with copious amounts of nice sharp stones. Followed by Dave. Followed by his Harness Followed by a frigging great big ladder. Followed by what was left of the roof rack. Fortunately the car this was all originally attached to stayed where it was.
Dave decided to hang on as he didn't want his Chute ripped to shreds in the thorny trees he was heading for at a rate of knots. Also he wanted to avoid being run down by the pursuing ladder and roof rack!
I would like to report that we all ran to his assistance. But that would be a tad untrue, because we (about 10 of us) were all totally incapacitated by hysterical laughter. Except Bob (good egg) Cogman who was the only one who went to Dave's rescue.

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