Wednesday 6th July - Day off in Sisteron
The following day we made our way to the gliding club for the morning briefing. The briefing was in French, but the club chairman spoke some pretty good English so was able to translate. The morning was overcast so there was no rush to get started. As the pilots had many forms to sign I made my way to the glider to get it prepared to see a number of people crowded around it. Having been asked if the glider was mine, I had to fight the erg to say yes and showed people to cockpit. Lots of complicated questions came my way- what type of engine has it got type questions – I was on fire on this day and managed to answer them – fair enough they may not have been 100% accurate but I still answered them!
Around an hour later, Robin and Ed returned – the glider was ready and towed to the end of the runway. It was fairly overcast, but rather hot and muggy so launching was postponed for a while. Eventually the club jumped into life and launching began. The Binder launched, covering the gliders behind in dust, circled over the top of the airfield and made its way to the mountains.
As it was quite a late start I decided not to hunt down the nearest kayaking spot, but was sent on my task of finding a cash machine. I had gone deep into Sisteron and eventually found a couple but no where to park. Around a mile up the road I found a free car park (well I think it was free, anyhow I didn’t get a ticket). As I pulled into the car park a car drove straight at me – the idiot was driving on the wrong side of the road. Then it dawned on me that I was the idiot abroad!
I headed back to the airfield, helped around with the locals for a bit and then the Binder returned. The usual wipe down and we went to join the local pilots and other visitors who were under the large gazebo for some snacks and free beer! A nice little social occasion and it was nice to meet and chat to some of the local ‘pundits’.
We retired to our new quaint hotel for the night, which appeared to be in a small village in the middle of nowhere.
Thursday 7th July - A flight in wave
Thursday was another late start due to the heat and stability. The day started in the restaurant with a rather unusual chat on things not really suitable for a family newsletter! The wind was forecast to be a strengthening southerly which doesn’t always give the best conditions at Sisteron. Most of the pilots gave up but not Rob and Ed! The Binder launched (from the other end of the runway to everyone else) and after a small period of time a call was heard over the radio that they had got into a wave system. At which point a number of visitors ran to their gliders and took off, trying to connect with the wave.
I thought that they would be away for a while so I decided to go and get some grub then head out of town to find a kayaking site. As I left the supermarket I got a text – ‘We’ll be down at 3pm so you can have a go. Currently holding 11000’ in wave ‘. Now I had to make a decision – do I continue to find this kayaking centre or go back to the field for a flight. I made my mind up instantly and went to find this river. No of course I didn’t – I headed straight back to the airfield at the speed of sound and sat at the side of the runway looking at my watch awaiting their arrival.
Before I knew it I was strapped in the back and accelerating down the runway. The air was very buoyant and I tightened my straps just a little bit more. Soon the engine was off and Robin was thermalling away up wind, trying to get established into the wave. After an hour of soaring in a mixture of pretty rough thermals, ridge and rotor lift we got established in the most gentle wave at around 9000’ behind the Lure, however airspace meant that we were restricted to 11,500’.
The views from the cockpit were incredible; looking over the top of the Alps, and at a fair height above them, was truly amazing! Due to the airspace restrictions we flew north and established in some even better wave within the Seyne valley – the vario hitting 9knots and the glider feeling as stable as anything. As we reached 12,000 I was handed control whilst Rob sorted out the oxygen. I think I was in awe at this moment in time as my flying was awful – coordination went right out of the window and I could never get it in the same lift as Rob!
With the oxygen tube now stuck up my nose we shared control of the glider and got it up to the highest I have ever been in a glider – FL195. To my surprise it was actually quite warm and glad that I hadn’t put a jumper on! The cloud formations were stunning too – the perfectly formed lenticular after lenticular made the sky look magical. Beneath the Leni’s was a layer of AltoCu and then some lower level Cu below (well I say low level, they were at 10,000’!). There were also a number of CuNims which went straight through the lot of them – it was like nothing that I had seen before.
Eventually the wave began to weaken and we had a gentle float down exploring the surrounding clouds for the next hour, with a beeping from behind my head reminding me to breath. The AltoCu began to fill in but we found a small gap to squeeze through. This was at the right place to enable us to get onto the Aspres, Serres and the western edge of the valley. We were pretty close to the mountain tops but some of the lift, and more to the point, the sink was unbelievable! It was the first time that I had received proper instruction for a long time, and I hope I was an OK student. Getting the turns in at the right time, in the right direction was vital otherwise that mountain would get a too close for comfort!
The dynamic lift coming up the ridges had some really strange effects and the turbulence was unbelievable-I have never flown in conditions like this before but it made it so much fun! Despite the straps being as tight as they could go, both of us hit our heads on the canopy on more than one occasion. And then there were the wings – after looking out and seeing one wing completely bent upwards and the other completely bent downwards, I thought it was best just to look straight ahead.
Unfortunately the flight couldn’t last forever, and 4 hours of the best flying I have ever done had to come to the end. To say I was buzzing after was an understatement and I think my grin probably stayed until the end of the trip!