19 July 2009

Kiikala - Hyvinkää

Saturday morning a small group of enthusiasts gathered at Kiikala airfields to enjoy a quite rare day with light winds. We started towing early to give fresh and less experienced pilots a chance to fly in light conditions. After a couple of hours the thermals were gaining in strength, as shown by Juha N who in the maiden flight of his new Rush2 managed to get and stay up for a while. Little later Mika S and myself decided it was time to get ready for cross-country flying.
Mika had planned to fly to Nummela or Hyvinkää airfields. As both are located withing restricted airspace he had programmed the various areas into his navigation instrument. And checked the ceilings for the days with flight control. I simply looked at the map and decided to shoot for Vesivehmaa airfield, a distance of approx. 134 km.

As happens quite often, we turned out to be a bit too optimistic. In a band laying over the southmost part of the country there clearly was a drier, or more stable, airmass in which very few cumulus clouds appeared. We could see that some 20-30 km to the North much better conditions were to be found.
So it was not a big surprise that in our first couple of tries we could not really get up. At best I encountered a waekish thermal that drifted quite fast, the north-westerlies aloft seemed as strong as predicted. However, the same winds brought the "good" weather slowly closer. Once I was up for the third time I found a strong thermal that took me up to cloudbase, albeit that the cloud desintegrated once I'd reached it. It looked too difficult, and probably futile, to wait for others to join me so I set off towards my far away goal in the north east.

The first couple of hours the flying felt really difficult, largish areas with strong sink were interleaved with thermal areas, but in those it was hard to find the narrow cores that were needed to really get up. Once found those cores were excellent, often 5 m/s up! The route however, was perpendicular to the main flow and hence I had to hop from (sometimes invisible) cloud street to the next. The same north-westerlies pushed me all the time towards the restricted areas.
But after a while I managed to get into that better airmass and this made things a bit easier. Now there were more clouds, that lived longer and formed clearly visible streets. I used one of those streets to fly straight into the wind, hence positioning myself into a more favourable location for the next few jumps.
But after some 4 hours of intensive flying I'd only come to withing 69 km of the goal, and was getting rather tired. When in front of me there was a large area with no clouds, and to my right a beautiful cloud street to the Hyvinkää airfield, I decided to change my course. Soon I was spiralling down to the airfield where I saw some other paraglider pilots packing up. After almost 5 hours I was welcomed by Ari and Kimmo (in the picture) who had been flying tandem passengers all day.

Although the going had been really slow the track shows nicely how one often had to make significant route adjustments to make progress. Some pilots call this the "chess" aspect of cross country flying. One has to think and look ahead to avoid getting stuck. This day had almost all possible challenging factors: a strong cross wind that required many "jumps" from lift bands (cloud streets) through sink areas, many lakes that cause areas with no lift, largish wooded areas with no landing options, and airspaces that should be avoided or where one has to stay below a ceiling altitude.

Little later Mika called us and informed that he was some 10 km west of the airfield. Once we'd packed up the Hyvinkää towing gear Kimmo brought Mika and me to the Hyvinkää station where we only had to wait a couple of minutes for the next train to Helsinki. Meanwhile Juha K saved our day by driving my car and Mika's keys to Helsinki, thanks!

12 July 2009

Rain refugees

After a thunderous Tuesday night some of us simply had had enough. When Wednesday was cancelled because of the ongoing rains Juha K., Sebu and I executed a wild plan we had researched the previous night: rent a car and drive to the closest flyable place (with dry air).
As we could take turns the 800 km ride to Nice went smoothly and as we passed Monaco just at the right time Juha and Sebu could fly down to the Rocquebrune beach. We then hurried to Gréolières for famous pizza at the Barricade.

Thursday we had some good flying at Gréolières, once we managed to get high Sebu and I flew the ridge all the way to Coursegoles and back. We landed for lunch and in the late afternoon had another, shorter, flight. The next morning we heard that some local heros (David, Luc, and someone else) had flewn a 195 km triangle!
We ourselves on Friday probably took off a bit too early in Gréolières and never really got high; a bit of overcast seemed to dampen the thermals too much. But in the late afternoon we had a fantastic flight in a nice clear sky and strong conditions at Gourdon.
Meanwhile we had met a nice group of Swedish pilots who planned to attempt the classic flight from Col de Bleine to St. André on Saturday. At the launch we went together through the route details and then waited for the thermals to turn on. I took of first soon to be followed by Sebu, Juha and 3 Swedes. At a crucial point all but me and Juha did not attempt the glide north to the next ridge, but continued westwards which is a bit of a dead end. I easily got to the other side and up again but a bit furhter along the route encountered ever stronger headwinds. I probably should have gone over the mountain again a bit earlier instead of trying to fly around it. Nevertheless a very nice flight. Once on the ground I was very lucky to get a ride back to launch. Hence I could make a second flight, now back to Gréolières. There were a lot of clouds now and I could pretty much just glide home, at times having to pull big ears to stay below the clouds.
Sunday morning we had to get up early to drive back to Slovenia, so we could not fly, but our escpade was really worth the effort (and expense): 4 days with good flying!

07 July 2009

Rain... and cancelations

Day one of the Nordic Open ended early as the leading group in task 1 flew right into a huge shower that was waiting at the first turnpoint. At launch it had looked liked a quick task seemed possible, and very soon after a short briefing the 130 pilots took off to work their way towards the start cylinder. At launch there was little wind, and quite often from behind, so some of us had to wait a bit. I myself had to wait for some gliders right below me on the hill to get away before I could launch.
Soon the sky was filled with gliders; and clouds as the weather was clearly over developing by now. After that start time a front group glided quickly towards the next turnpoint closely followed by a second group that contained mainy Finns and other pilots that could not get of the hill as quickly.
But within 15 minutes these were flying in the rain and soon the front pilots reported dangerous conditions which prompted the afety director to cancel the task. Many just managed to glide back to the head quarter landing zone but nobody managed to pack before the rain hit that area. Later in the afternoon the hotel area was covered with gliders that were dried in the sun.

On Monday, day 2, the forecasts and sky didn't look very promising but we were transported up to launch nevertheless. Thanks to an extra bus the logistics were even more efficient but nevertheless when we were all there it had become clear that it was impossible to fly a task. At the same time it was decided to also cancel day 3 as the forecasts promised even worse weather. Right when the briefing was over with the friendly folks of the Ljublana airport called in to warn us of a strong front approaching fast so we could not even fly back home.
Jouni (thinks he) needs all the excercise he can get before the X-Alps so decided to run down and then maybe home and I was silly enough to join him. Even though we took an easy pace my legs are of course very stiff, after 25 km of running on sandals.

05 July 2009

Nordic Open 2009 ready to start

It's another Sunday morning here in Preddvor, Slovenia. In half an hour we will have the first morning briefing for the Nordic Open 2009 paragliding championships. Most of us arrived here on Thursday and Friday and despite the daily over-development we could get in a bit of practice, yesterday actually allowed for some good thermal flying.
The weather gurus forecast more over-development for the coming days, with showers and the possibility of thunderstorms. So it quite possibly is going to be difficult to have valid competition tasks; but at least we should be able to fly.
And it's very nice indeed to see lots of old friends; last night we had an opening dinner and although the food quality was undoubtedly way below the most pessimistic expectations, the traditional spirit and comradeships of the Nordics was bountiful.