17 July 2005

Lotsa sweat, little flight...

We meet two passengers outside the cable-car entrance in Thollon. In a few minutes, we've bought the tickets and start boarding the egg-shaped vehicles that will whizz us to the terminal station in a few minutes. Even though it's getting late in the afternoon, it's a hot ride with little ventilation in the cars.
A short walk takes us to the take-off terrain we visited a few weeks ago. Nothing much has changed since our last visit. A single pilot is taking off as we arrive, and all seems to be going all right. I help Alex and Michael lay their wings while they brief their passengers. Alex's has done a few flights already, and they're in the air pretty soon. Michael's passenger isn't as practiced, and after three attempts, Michael decides to go to the other side of the take off area, where the slope is more regular and will allow a longer run. By that time, we've run up and down the slope three times, laid the wings a few times, under the late afternoon sun, with very little fresh air to cool us down.
When Michael and passenger finally take to the air, I finish laying my wing. Another pilot has taken position beside me, the area is big enough, and we both settle to wait for the right conditions. I can feel a stirring of the air, but on my back!
The wind has swung to the South West, and we start a long wait for the thermal gust to come from the front. After well over half an hour, I decide to attempt a take off when the wind dies. The wait is still long, but at last the wind seems to die. I raise the wing and take two steps in the slope, but my speed is not high enough, and the break in the slope is too close. I fall in the hole while the wing overtakes me and drops on top of the bushes.
I gather it and decide to take the B option, which is to walk to the other side of the area and use the slope to run as Michael did over half an hour ago. It still takes me a good twenty minutes in the sun and heat to walk accross and lay my wing. The tall grasses and sparse bushes allied with the angle of the slope combine to make the laying a harduous task, but I can't afford risking a snag on the lines, I still haven't repaired the damaged brake line.
While I'm laying the wing, I can feel a few gusts of wind come up the slope, but a few coming sideways too, and even downhill, so the wind from the back is strong enough at times to create a downdraft. When I'm done laying the flying engine, I sit down to wait for the right gust. After a few false alarms, the right gust comes up the slope and I initiate the few steps that raise my wing. It's above my head, the lines seem to run clear, and I take the few running steps that will take me to the air. The gust wasn't very strong, as soon as I'm airborne I feel its lift, but it's very weak. The vario stays silent. I first go left, getting a few beeps from the electronic instrument, but the altitude gain is lost with the first turn I have to make t come back to the area. The right-hand side of the area is not better, and since this is going to be a short flight, I quickly head for the shore of the lake.
Flying over the clear water is a thrill.

This flight is too short, and soon it's time to line up with the landing field. The head wind is not too strong, laminar and very regular, so my final approach is well executed. Some bystanders are watching, and when I prompt them they applaud my landing! That was fun...

Technical data: Flight duration 0:16, Take-off altitude: 1660m, Maximum altitude reached: 1660m, Total climb during flight: 126m, Max rate of climb: +1.2m/s, Max descent rate: -3.4m/s, Landing altitude: 480m.


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