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!

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