Pennine Soaring Club Social Night November 2016

What a great turnout for a wild and wet November evening! 30+ hardy PSC members braved the howling wind and driving rain to hear about the scary experiences of some of the country's top pilots - shame they couldn't come but Graham, two Simons and two Phils did their best to fill in . . .

Chairman Graham kicked off the evening with a beautifully illustrated talk about his wave flying thrills from Longridge. We know it was beautifully illustrated because he told us the photographs were fantastic. Several times. Shame they were back in his house. 

Alone on takeoff, conditions were looking good although there was a strong wind with wave cloud far away. Continuous climbing, including heading upwind over chipping, found him going up and up and up . . . Despite losing the lift while fiddling with his camera, he soon found it again, and was soon at 6800 ft. As a careful and safety-conscious pilot he of course had the latest navigational aids to locate airspace - 'phone-a-friend'! Unfortunately radioing Woody didn't answer the question. Problem. Big ears were too painful to hold in with cold hands, so he spiralled, but went too low and lost lift, and the flight was over.

This tale recalled previous cases of strong conditions on Parlick where apparent light winds on launch soon developed into flying backwards, with collapses following a sudden increase in wind speed.

Learning Points: Wave can catch you out! Watch forecasts carefully and look for changes of wind speed and direction at altitude. Have a listen to Judith Mole's podcast on wave.

Next up was Simon Scott with a tale from ye golden, olden days of stiffie flying, when men were men, beards were compulsory and sheep had bodyguards. Souther Fell is renowned for being a light wind area, and flyers often make the journey up there when it's howling everywhere else.

Launching in light winds after a hairy drive up the M6 with the gales threatening to blow the hang glider off his roof rack, he was soon soaring around Blencathra, crossing the valley towards Barf with Andy Wallis. Once they got together above Bishop rock they then set off in different directions, with Andy taking the sensible route up towards some wide open spaces. White horses on Bassenthwaite should have sounded some warning bells! Too late, Simon realised he was going really fast up a valley, and even turning into wind he was still going backwards. Fortunate to get around the summit and diving over the back, he had to fight his way around power lines to make a very strong wind landing.

Learning Points: Know the wind forecasts along your likely path, and have an escape route! Wave can cause dramatic changes in wind speed, both on the launch point and elsewhere.

Then it was the turn of the irrepressible Simon Baillie, with a tale known to many, but still very much worth the telling. Arriving late to Parlick, with a great looking sky and an epic forecast, Simon did a blue-arsed fly impression and was soon in the air (with our then safety officer trying to catch up, shouting something at him - more of that later, read on . . .)

Passing beyond Dunsop and Burn, Simon climbed to around 4500' and was settling in for the crossing of the Settle valley and looking forward to a voyage across the Dales; little did he know . . . the gremlins in his harness had finally teased his reserve container open; all Simon knew was a 'funny feeling and a strange sound'. Next thing was a violent tug on his shoulders as his emergency parachute did exactly what it says on the label, and created an emergency. Fighting to control the main canopy, which kept re-inflating and driving him ever faster towards the ground, Simon was looking forward to topping up his air(ambulance) miles, but fortunately his descent towards horrible trees and rough ground slowed at the last minute, dropping him onto a fence with minimal injury and no damage. Phew! Down, but potentially in deep doo doo if he had been injured, as he had no phone signal, no-one answered his radio calls, and he was out of sight in a hollow.

The message Simon didn't get on the hill was along the lines of 'something's hanging off your harness!'

Learning Points: Don't rush, check, check, check. And check again. Think about some kind of tracking device that doesn't depend on phone signals. We should all carry radios, and use them. What sort of first aid kit would have been useful?

Phil Wallbank then recounted a tale of flying from Milk Hill, on one of best paragliding days ever. Good looking sky, and a cloud street that went to infinity. And beyond. Phil was flying on edge of it, keeping out of cloud by flying away, then back under it to top up, hardly doing any circling. In the strong wind with a ground speed over 75 km/hour, this was paragliding ecstasy. Until it wasn't.

After losing some height, he moved back under the street and climbed back to base, but now found ever-increasing and inescapable strong lift and was soon in the white room. No problem, edge of the cloud can't be far away. . .

20 minutes and 12 km later, he was 3500 ft higher than cloudbase, soaking wet and starting to freeze. Trying to escape took ages. All went well, but the last couple of hundred feet took him into controlled airspace, and negated all his XC points.

Learning Points: look at the soundings as part of flight planning. He knew he would come out as cloud top forecast was around 8000 ft. Big clouds are dangerous.

After hearing all these tales of the dangers of being sucked into cloud with no visibility, or going down in the boonies with no signal, our very own Phil Colbert then came on to offer the solution to many of these problems: AirWare, his own invention of a low-cost, low-power device to integrate with existing flight instruments and give a visual display f where everyone is and what are their height, climb, speed etc. (as long as they are also similarly equipped). The system will also link up to LiveTrack24, to provide real-time logging. With ground stations scattered around our sites, a system like this, if widely adopted, could be a fantastic safety boon, and the club will be doing all it can to support this excellent initiative. Such was the level of interest that people were still asking Phil for info after 11:30!

The venue worked well, but has the disadvantages of being upstairs, which is no good for anyone with a disability, and there is a room charge, so until we know whether we can return to the Boatyard, we're on the lookout for a suitable place for the future.

Brian Stewart

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