Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hang Glider flying in the Air!

Hang Glider Training in Norfolk

Tuesday the 22nd saw me going to Norfolk to meet up with my hang gliding instructor Tony Webb who normally returns to the UK in the summer, and trains hang glider pilots from his Norfolk base.

I had not flown a hang glider since December 2005 when I got by club pilot hang glider rating, mainly because I didn't have a glider of my own, so the trip was to refresh my skills, but I also wanted to take the opportunity to do a chest bridle conversion, as this is the type of release method used while tow launching a hang glider at the Suffolk coastal floaters hang gliding club where I will be flying from next month.

After a 2 hour drive from London, I arrived at the Fransham farm airfield from where the hang gliding tuition is conducted. After saying hello to Tony Webb, I met Rona, completed the necessary paperwork and was ready.

The first task as always is to rig (prepare for flying) the hang glider, perform the daily inspection of the aircraft to make sure it is airworthy, and there is nothing that requires attention or would make the aircraft un safe to fly.

On completion of this task, I put on a hang glider training harness which has the chest release fitted, carry the glider over to the launch point, where Tony briefs me on the new method of attaching the tow line to the pilot, and the differences it will make to my flying. I am now ready for my first flight which is a low level (20ft) flight to get me used to the chest release as well as remind me how to fly a hang glider. I hook myself into the glider, perform my pre-flight checks, Tony then attaches a single line to my chest via the bridle, I pick up the glider on my shoulders, level the wings and tell Tony I'm ready, and he tells the winch operator "all checks complete, take up slack", the line tightens a bit, I call to Tony "Stand By" which he relays to the winch, the line stops pulling, I check the wings are still level, the hang glider nose is at the proper angle of attack and the wind direction is still correct and call to Tony "All Out", he relays, the line starts to pull, I keep the hang glider control bar pulled toward me as I accelerate forward, a couple of steps and I'm airborne. I shift my weight to keep the glider pointed at the winch, and before I know it, the flight is over. That wasn't bad, but it was hard work, as the I had to work much harder to keep the glider pointed at the winch while being pulled from the chest bridle. I had 3 more flights, the last 2 being up to about 80ft. It was now past noon, and the sun was out, and the thermals were about, making the conditions not idea for training, so Tony called time for lunch, and we'll resume I the afternoon around 4pm, when the conditions would again be suitable for training.

I take my packed lunch back to Tony's chill out caravan where I quickly consume the contents, as I need to try out some harnesses to see which one will fit me, I'm looking for one to buy one that I can use when flying with the Suffolk coastal floaters hang gliding club.

With the help of Stephan the winch operator and the hang simulator I settle on a used purple pod harness. Tony turns up a bit latter with my new reserve parachute, and fits that to me harness (this is one piece of equipment that I hope I never have to use), I already have a chest bridle, so I now have the minimum equipment that I need to be able to fly with the Suffolk coastal floaters hang gliding club, so there is no reason why I shouldn't get some airtime and gain some more hang gliding skills in the club environment.

After the lunch break we (there are some other students there as well) meet Tony at the tow field, and I'm ready to try out my newly acquired equipment. The first thing I notice when I put on the harness is how heavy it weighs. The increased weight is obvious due to the reserve parachute in the front.

The first flight is to 80ft just to make sure I'm happy with the harness, and still remember what I was taught in the morning session. The flight goes well, with the harness not causing me any problems.
The next flight is high one, with the flight plan calling for a circuit of the field once I get to the top of the tow and release the line. This is the first time I'm going to have both line attached to the bridle, so Tony mentions that I should release the top line using the top lever and the bottom lever when I get to the top of the tow.

The launch goes well, and I climb out to about 100ft, where it is time to release the top line, I pull in the control bar, my left hand goes to the middle, and my right hand goes to my chest. "Twang", I see both lines fall away! I had done a double release. I glide down a land, and sigh, as I now have to wheel the glider a long way back to the launch point.

15 minutes later after I get my got my breath back, and go on to have more flights, this time I'm able to do the circuits as Tony gives me a tip to help stop double releases, though I'm not totally happy with my landings. It is now late, so we pack up for the day, and I have to make the 2 hour drive back to London.

Wednesday 23rd August
Having ended yesterday on a good note I was so looking forward to the day.
On the way up to Norfolk, there was a traffic jam on the motorway, this lost me about 15 minutes. Part of the journey to Norfolk takes me past RAF Lakenheath, an American airbase where they have F16s stationed, so I stopped at the viewing area to see if I'd get an opportunity of seeing a F16 take off, after 5 minutes it didn't seem they were taking to the air soon, so I left.

As I got to the training field, I was happy to see that the glider I used yesterday was already rigged, this would save some time getting airborne. As I approached Tony mentioned that rain was forecast for the day, so he had rigged the glider to save time. I got ready, did my daily inspection, carried the glider to the launch point.

The first flight was supposed to be a simple 80ft release job just to make sure I was awake, I launched, the glider climbed, about 40ft the glider started veering left, I was caught napping, I knew I was going to get on top of it, so I released, and belly flopped to the ground, letting go just before the left wing impacted the ground.
The second flight was only slightly better, as I released, but again I veered left, and while I corrected it, and the glider stated going back on course, I didn't have enough height, so I ended partly in some hedges. It seemed I wasn't keeping the bar pulled in enough, and was allowing the glider to balloon up as I climbed. So I needed to keep the bar pulled as I climbed, and once at a safe height, I should left the bar out very gradually to avoid ballooning.
Tony decided for the 3rd flight I should go for a circuit, and this time everything went according to plan.
I had 4 more flights before we had to stop due to the threat of rain called a halt to proceedings for the day. One abort due a slight veer to the left, the next I double released, and the last 2 were good circuits.

It is raining today, so I can't go back today, and I'm back at work tomorrow. I'll see if I can get another day off before Tony Webb goes back to Spain the 1st week of September.

I wasn't able to take any hang glider pictures, so sorry for the long post without pictures to break it up.