Best Flights

First Silver Distance Flight in Taranaki:

Thursday 26 Feb looked like it should be a good day. The previous two days had been a bit too good with instability extending well above cloud base making the clouds tall and overdeveloped with a few showers. For Thursday the tephigram showed the instability was still there but a light northerly was forecast along with high cloud coming in preceding the tropical depression which hit over the weekend. The northerly and the high cloud should tone down the over development – if they didn’t kill the thermals altogether.
The task was to start overhead Stratford airfield and head north east to the first turn point where York road meets the bush line. From there east to Whangamomona for the 51km leg (the extra kilometre is to allow for the 500m radius beer can turn points) and then back to Stratford airfield. Since the whole task was a little more than 100km and I was going to land where I took off, using the 1% rule I could take a maximum 1000m (3300 ft) tow.
Ralph Gibson towed me to cloud base 2500ft above the airfield a little to the east. After sampling a good thermal near Toko I crossed the start line and tried to get to the first turn point by using thermals and avoid the big mountain convergence that had set up to the south - the idea being that the convergence draws all the warm air from a big area making it hard to get away from. Anyway the thermals weren’t working and I had to retreat to the power station thermal which gave me a 1600ft 3knot climb. (We’re lucky to have that) This got me into the convergence which gave me an easy run into and out of the first turn point. After leaving the convergence I got a 1000ft 3.3knot climb between Toko and Douglas.

                       York Road Quarry.jpg
                      York Road Quarry. The course to Whangamomona began near here. Photo: Peter Miller

At this point I was really going to give up local flying and commit myself to going for it. Another spur was that Peter Miller my glider syndicate partner had just presented me with his new medical so this might be the last time I fly the Discus for a while – Peter has a bit of catching up to do. So, off to Whangamomona. The next decent climb was just to the south of Te Wera where it had worked so well on our camp. Then a long glide to Whanga in the blue. Turning there, the GPS said I still had a 15:1 slope back to Te Wera airstrip which was reassuring. I took a 100ft 1knot climb near Whangamomona but left it thinking I could find something better than that – little did I know.

                       Whangamomona: as Richard Arden and Tim Hardwick-Smith saw it during  the                                                      Te Wera camp. : Photo. Richard Arden.

Gliding back to TeWera, there was a promising looking cloud over the airstrip, which didn’t work – bugger. I had now been about 30kms without finding a decent thermal and I was down to 2300 ft. The high cloud was really starting to move in and the sun was getting dimmer. Some cloud over the Makahu tunnel was the only option to check out before I called Steve Barham on the radio to come and get me before landing at Te Wera. To cut a long story short the cloud gave a nail biting 1knot climb back to cloud base at 4400ft. The GPS went from saying I had a 58:1 slope back to Stratford to 25:1.
It was with some feeling of relief and elation that I set off on the final glide to Stratford using the speed to fly thingy on the electric vario. The actual glide through what must have been mostly subsiding air was about 33:1 (either that or we paid too much for the Discus, Peter) which meant arriving overhead Stratford airfield at 1000ft after a 29km final glide. The club’s PW5 should have been able to manage that as there was a small thermal cloud near Douglas and I did fly through some lift over the hills near Peter Gains airstrip.

After landing and putting the glider away I was able to shout Official Observer Steve a beer, download the flight off the flight recorder onto my laptop to see if I had “dunnit” and give him a copy – modern technology! Landed at 1705 and total flight time 2 hours and 41 minutes. This might seem a bit seem a bit mundane to other gliding clubs but this hasn’t been done in Taranaki for a long time and it was certainly exciting for me.
This is a good route for 50km flights with ample airstrips to make it safe. Also inland Taranaki thermals a typically stronger and higher making it possible to get back to Stratford even from a long way out.
Thanks to Ralph for towing, Steve for waiting around and being OO and Peter for organizing the day and letting me fly more than my half share of the Discus.

Tim Hardwick-Smith
March 2009.
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