I have been to South Africa three times, flying from Mafeking , and had some fabulous flights at high speeds but the magic 1000k flight was still not accomplished. One attempt had been cut short due to running out of daylight and was 925 km and the next was cut short by massive storms with a very exciting return to Mafeking just ahead of a huge storm with lightning all around having flown 750km.This year I decided to fly at Bloemfontein gliding club where Dick Bradley runs Soaring Safaris.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED!! 1000km in South Africa - Carr's account
The club, close to the town of Bloemfontein , is set amongst beautiful trees and has a good clubhouse, swimming pool and several brick hangars. Dick has also built a very long open shaded hangar where eight gliders can be parked out of the sun. I was again flying Dick's Nimbus 3, HS, which now has identical instrumentation to my ASH which is a real benefit. The ASI is however in KPH but 150kph does feel much faster than 82 kts!!!
Robin and Ed would set tasks for the ambitious and for the less experienced. It was just like a weekend at Dunstable. When all the fettling was complete we towed out into the bright and hot sun and waited for the thermals to start.
We woke up to a windy day and we sent Ed off as a snifter. As soon as he could stay up we joined him. It was not easy with strong winds breaking up the thermals and continual re-centering needed. Cloud base slowly went up to 12,500ft but the wind never lessened, as forecast, so it became obvious that we could not fly 1000k before dark. After five hours and still 300k to fly home we called it a day and enjoyed the tailwind helping us back to Bloemfontein . We had flown 740km and it taken seven hours. Still there is always tomorrow. If at first you don't succeed!!
Next day it was even windier with huge storms not very far away. Only Ed and Robin flew with Ed landing just seconds ahead of a storm front approaching the airfield. The winds on the ground were over 50kts so Ed dared not get out of the LS8. I parked a car in front of the nose of the LS8 and then two of us lay on the wing while the tug pilot held on to the tail. The dust storm raged for fifteen minutes and when the storm had passed we looked like red Indians as all our clothes and hair were covered in red dust.
Dick Bradley telephoned me early next morning to say it looked good for another attempt at 1000k. I had watered up HS the night before so Ed, LS8, Robin with Mike Abbott , ASH 25, John, LS6-18, Steve, LS8, and I in the Nimbus 3 were ready for take off at 0900 with the task declared. At 0930 we send John off as snifter and the rest of us soon follow. The sky is clear blue so a tow to 3300 ft over the start point is required followed by a gentle drift off, on track, hoping that an early land out will be avoided.
Poor Steve had released off tow early and was struggling to start in the very weak blue thermals. Ed and John were soon having rather too close a look at the countryside. . Steady Eddie calls to say “boys, maximum patience will be needed while we wait for the thermals to pop”. After one hour only 72km flown but at least there is very little wind and thermals are getting stronger with small cumulus appearing. Ed and I are close together with Robin way off to our right. A large blue area ahead for about 40k, where there are almost no landing fields, is a good reason to slow to max glide and Ed joins me when I have found a good thermal. John is not far behind and Steve is now on the way. Progress is now much easier with good lines of lift and cloud base up to 12000ft.Robin, Ed and I reach the first turn at Mansfield , 340k, at the same time. Good looking clouds on the way back where we have come from but they are hopeless with no lift. On and on we fly but still no thermals. It is not so worrying for Robin and I with our long wings but poor Ed is losing height rapidly and flies off way to our left to try another line of clouds. The LS8 looks like a speck way below us but at last Ed finds a 9kt thermal and is soon back at cloud base. Ed now has to turn his radio off to conserve his battery so we shall not hear from him again but no doubt we shall see each other. Really good cloud streets are forming to the left and right of track so at last we can make faster progress. We have only flown 440k in 4 hours so unless cloud base goes up to the forecast of 17,000 we shall be pushed to complete the flight before sundown. Sunset is at 7.15 and it is pitch dark by 7.30.
Robin has taken the left line of clouds and I the right line but we should meet at the second turn which is just a GPS position with no obvious ground feature. Robin is now 40k ahead of me and is at the second turn and John is about 40k behind me but no sign of Ed who must be close by. I calculate that as long as I am at the second turn by 4pm there is enough time to fly the 390k last two legs and be back at 7pm.
I then make a real mess of the turn and waste precious time ensuring that I do not get below 9,500ft. Time for a really good sniff of 100% oxygen and a chocolate bar to give me a shot of energy. John asks when I am going to turn for home and I reply that I intend to continue hoping to get back before dark. Steve is getting tired and has decided to go home before reaching the last turn and so complete his longest flight. The next leg is only 161k and at last cloud base goes up to nearly 16,000ft. With a couple of good climbs and a short cloud street the average for the leg is 145kph and I see Robin coming out of the last turn, Amalia, so I have made up some ground on him.John has now turned for home and keeps passing useful information for the final leg. It is now just 5.10pm with only 227k to fly but the day is starting to die and the long blue gap to cross again. I divert round the edge, as Robin has done, to fly through small amounts of lift and cruise gently on towards the better looking clouds south of the river. Oh how I love these long wings but the thermals are now only 3kts so it is time to drop the water from the inner tanks and save the outers for the long final glide. Robin calls to say lift is still ok and that I have plenty of time but I still need a good climb at the last cloud ahead of me exactly 100k from home.
There are no more clouds in sight ahead. It is now 6.20 but of course the last 100k will only take around half an hour if I can just get back up to 14,500ft. I suddenly glimpse the LS8 which must be Ed. If this cloud works we should finish together. I find a steady 4kts to 14,500ft and have 1400ft to spare for the 160kph final glide. I feel quite emotional as at last I will complete the 1000k flight. Now time to relax sit back and watch the vivid red sun setting off the wing tip as I cruise home. Suddenly I think that I do not want the flight to end it is so beautiful up here and HS has taken me 5000km in the last two weeks.
With all this height I will allow myself a competition finish. As I approach at VNE with the water pouring out from the outer wings Dick Bradley calls to say that HS looks beautiful. I land and as I roll past the hangar everyone is clapping. A few seconds later Ed arrives in style and flies two victory loops and lands just behind me.
It has been a fantastic day for the LGC pilots. Carr, Robin, and Ed, 1000km flights, a personal best of 929km for John Reed, a personal best of 750km for Steve in the LS8 and a 500km out and return for Tom Rose. Time for photos before the sun sets and then off to the bar for celebrations. I am very happy but exhausted. (My total distance flown was 1138 km and it took me 8 hours 42 minutes.)