Flybubble team pilot Graham Steel shares his insight on flying a 54 km Declared FAI Triangle over the low terrain of the Cotswolds in the UK.

The weather on RASP looked reasonable with moderate climbs to 3500ft with very light winds, but a probability of cloud spreadout shutting things down later in the day.

RASP forecast lift

As usual the night before I looked at the Notam page (http://www.notaminfo.com) and this flagged up that we had a major airspace issue with parachute drops at Little Risslington. This seems to happen once a year on the best of flying days. The temporary airspace extended to within a few kilometres of our winch field.

My next stop was to go to XC Planner (http://xcplanner.appspot.com) to decide on a route for the day. Normally with a weak forecast for the day early-ish in the year I would not venture off the high ground of the Cotswolds into the Vale of Evesham however the airspace restrictions left little room for much else.

XC Planner

My plan was to follow the high ground from the edge of Cleeve Hill across the small pimple hills of Woolstone and Oxington then glide to the edge of Bredon Hill. Fly along the hill and have the first turn point right on the far edge of the hill. Anything past this point and you slope off downward toward the river and I didn’t want to do that. The second turn point was the furthest point north on the high ground above Chipping Campden and then with luck it would be a downwind run along the edge of the Costwold escarpment back to the Xclent tow field.

With it planned I download the GPX file for all the Flyskyhy users in the club (iPhone freeflying app) and sent it to all the members and did the declaration by email to the UKXC League (http://www.xcleague.com).

So how did it go?

A nice first winch which felt quite high and off into a climb with a lowish cloudbase of about 3200ft. Slowly I crept away from the field. Following the plan I got a climb off the back of Cleeve Hill (where I had got a good one the week before with a sailplane).  I carried on getting good climbs not getting lower than 2000ft or much higher than 3300ft, I made sure I got as high as I could on the last pimple to glide to Bredon Hill where I was rewarded with a nice climb to base.

I then crawled along toward the end of the hill.  It was now getting to decision time of where to go next, my instruments suggested there was an easterly flow which would make the next leg into wind but I wasn’t convinced, I think they were just confused by the random search patterns as I got bogged down by weak inversions.

Climbs and glides

While contemplating this I could see that Wayne’s live track showed him near so I had a look for him and spotted him in a nice climb at the beginning of Bredon Hill in the same place that I had climbed minutes earlier.  Great I thought, in a mo’ he will be over here helping me with this pathetic bit of lift that I am working.

However as soon as he got to base he shot off over the back of the Hill and disappeared, I could only think that he had abandoned the task, this left me with even more indecision.

As it transpired Wayne had in fact flown to the wrong turn point on his map!

Anyway I tagged the turn point and set off back along the edge of the hill. Keeping to the plan I glided from Bredon Hill over to Dumbleton Hill which was to be my stepping stone to get back to the Cotswold escarpment. After some messing around I got the climb to base and headed North East to get back to the escarpment and on route.

I could see on the live track that Wayne was still flying and had made a direct line to the turn point so perhaps my thoughtful route was just a waste of time?

I got in a climb back on the escarpment and Wayne flew in underneath me on his way back from the turn point!

The sky at this point was looking quite developed with not so much sun on the ground, but out towards the turn point it still looked good so I pressed on. With bases now getting to 4000ft it was easy to tag the turn point and go back to where I last saw Wayne.

Graham working hard

The live track seemed to show he had landed and in fact after we went our separate ways he didn’t get another climb maybe because of there being so much shadow? Who knows? But, he slipped off the escarpment down into the Vale and landed.

On the other hand fortune was smiling at me, the sky now looked better than ever and I was getting good strong climbs to above 4000ft and everything I went for (every cloud) worked as I had hoped.

Soon I was back at the field to watch Ken land from whatever journey he had been on. I climbed back to base once more but the desire to carry on had left me now. I did, however, start to think what if my declaration went wrong or something? So with that doubt in my mind I added a further few km to make the triangle bigger.

The net result was a 66km FAI triangle or 53.9km FAI declared triangle, scoring 172 or 177 respectively.

UK XC League flight

It was a very rewarding day's flying in the end and it went exactly to my plan but that doesn’t mean the plan was clever, after all, it could be just dumb luck!