Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Soaring Visit to Nympsfield

Van Emden Henson

I had business in England last week, off in the Cotswolds, a region vaguely in the southwest central portion of the country. I was to spend a work week there, flanked by both weekends, so naturally it seemed a good idea to see what sort of entertainment I could find that would be particularly English in nature. The choices seemed obvious to me. 

Wembley Stadium
The first weekend I went to Wembley Stadium in London and saw the English National Football team in a Eurocup qualifier against the national side of Slovenia. What could possibly be more English? Hitting the pub outside the stadium before the match, jammed with wildly costumed supporters, slogging down the Watneys, and then watching the likes of Rooney and Wellback work their magic on the over matched Slovenians (actually, the English side started pretty slowly, and it wasn’t until the Slovenians stole a goal early in the second half that the Lion woke up and roared into life), spurring the crowd to lusty cheers! An interesting observation: in the USA, when the national anthem is played pre-match, only a relatively few hearty souls join in singing it, and that rather timidly; it was awesome hearing nearly the entire crowd, some 82,300+ strong, bawling out the lyrics to God Save the Queen at the top of their lungs! We Yanks like that tune, so much that we lifted it, wrote new lyrics, and turned it into My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, a fact I had always thought peculiar. But I discovered that our English cousins have returned the favor when, late in the match they began singing (again, nearly all of them) a song whose lyrics are simply “Eng-a-land, Eng-a-land, Eng-a-land” (three syllables), sung to a tune they borrowed from us, J. P. Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever!
Left:  Rooney about to slot home a penalty.  Right: Me, with 82,304 of my friends, enjoying the match
Yes, it Really Was a Business Trip…

…but I don’t think I have much to say on that score, except that it rained most of the time. (I recall distinctly thinking, “What, exactly is this wet stuff falling from the sky?  I’m certain I’ve seen this stuff before!”) The office was three miles from the hotel, but the town has a lovely walking/bicycle path, so several of us walked to and fro each day, and found it delightful. The business went well, the fellowship among comrades was great, and the week sped by.  This brings me to, at long last, the reason for this blog…

Visiting the Bristol-Gloucestershire Gliding Club

While planning the trip I was looking for a particularly English experience for the second weekend.  On previous trips I’ve spent time in several of the cities in the UK: London, Edinburgh, Bristol, York. I’ve visited more countrified venues: Peebles, Skye, Whitby, Harlech.  I’ve seen a fair sampling of the historical treasures: Bath, Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge, Westminster, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Edinburgh Castle, lots of ruined Abbeys and castles, as well as numerous cultural iconic attractions: Kew Gardens, the British Museum, Hyde Park, Oxford University.  I was in Bristol (on business) during the Olympics two years ago, which was a great time to be in the UK (and to be British, I suspect).  Of course, I had still only scratched the surface of the wealth of available attractions, but on this trip I wanted something … different… something enthralling … something challenging … something more in keeping with my current impassioned avocation … which we all know is, I like to fly gliders!

83 clubs shown on the British Gliding Association webpage
So before the trip I set myself to finding out if our English cousins soar.  I suspected that they did (they produced our own Terence Wilson, after all).  I got on Google and quickly discovered that boy, do they ever! Glider clubs abound!  They are all over the UK. Check out this website, you’ll see what I mean:

The club nearest my business trip proved to be the Bristol-Gloucestershire Gliding Club, in (or actually just outside) Nympsfield village, about 30 miles northeast of Bristol. I spent some time on their website, and was very intrigued.  Here is what their website has to say under the "About the Club" heading:

"The club  has around 200 flying members, a fleet of eight club-owned gliders and two tug aircraft available, with about another 70 privately owned gliders operating on site.  
The BGGC has its own dedicated airfield on top of the Cotswold edge with a large grass strip oriented roughly East/West. We overlook the Severn Vale looking across to the Black Mountains in Wales to the West and the Malvern Hills to the North. This means we get excellent thermal, ridge and wave offering soaring  potential through the year; our members have carried out flights in excess of 750Km and reached over 20,000 ft in wave. In the winter months we enjoy around 100 km of usable ridges (in the right wind directions) from Broadway in the North to Bath in the South.

Cross Country flying for fun & competition is a key part of the club. The BGGC is glad to have among its members senior and Junior World and European champions as well as many pilots who regularly compete in UK National Championships. We typically run Western Regional competition and one of the British national classes on alternate years.

We are also an active teaching club, operating 7 days a week through the year and offering one day courses as well as regular training. Our instructional flying benefits from local soaring opportunities through the year; both in thermal and on our ridges, as well as occasional wave flights.

The BGGC  logo derives from the distinctive shape of the Severn River as it nears the Bristol channel - in the days before GPS systems became nearly universal in gliders this was a valuable landmark to pilots returning from long cross-country flights."

Several of those statements caught my eye:  200 flying members... two tugs ... 70 privately-owned gliders on site ... thermal, ridge, and wave ... operating seven days a week throughout the year ... 

I sent an email to the BGGC, inquiring about a possible visit, and received an encouraging reply from Daphne, who let me know that I could indeed come fly with them.  Her message said it would cost £25 ($40) to take out a temporary Associate Membership, which would be required in order to fly with them, and would entitle me to six flights. She pointed out that I wouldn't be allowed to go solo, but would have to fly with an instructor (no surprise there -- even were I to convince their instructors of my skills, I'm not at all sure my US license would be recognized in the UK).  She said there was no cost for the instruction (!), and that the costs were launch fees and soaring time (use of the aircraft). The soaring time costs 45p ($0.72) per minute, while the launching costs would be £20.50 ($32.80) for a  1000 foot tow, going up £1 ($1.60) per 100 feet thereafter, and £9 for a winch launch.  [For comparison, we often take tows to 3500 feet near the reservoir, which I think of as being about a $50 tow - at BGGC it would cost $73. Also, our $20 aircraft use fee would pay for 28 minutes of flight at BGGC.  Our costs are rather lower. However, the cost of aviation fuel over there is a bit more than double what it is here, which likely explains most of the cost differential. As you will see below, their clubhouse, hangar, and general facilities are much nicer than ours, likely also contributing to the cost differences.]

The thing that really caught my eye was that they do winch launches!  I'd never done one of those, and it is something I wanted to experience! So I started formulating plans to spend the Saturday after my business trip with the BGGC. Daphne iced it when she let me know I could spend the night there; they would give me a bedroom for £6 ($9.60) and throw in bedding for another £5 ($8.00). So I said I would do that, and asked if I would be able to get into the club late in the evening.  Daphne responded by saying that likely no club members would be around; she sent me the combination to the front door lock, told me there would be an envelope with my room key, and gave me directions on how to find my room ("through the Members Only door, down the hallway, up the stairs, look for Room 3").  Would we be so trusting of a visitor?  I think it really speaks well of them! She did warn me that the room is spartan: 

"It is very basic with a wash basin, so don’t expect luxury!  Downstairs turn left and go through another couple of doorways takes you into the members area with a kitchen (fridge, freezer, cooker etc). Also, Giuseppe might be on site, so you could use his restaurant." 

The last part of that proved to be the most important information she gave me, as you will shortly see.

Getting there is Half the Adventure

I was watching the weather all week, and it rained off and on all week.  The forecast was for it to clear up some Thursday and into Friday, with rain coming back later Friday and hanging around Friday night and all day Saturday.  Not what I wanted, since I would have only Saturday to visit the glider club.

 Business was done by 4:00 pm on Friday, so I finally got started on my Nympsfield adventure.  It was about a two mile walk from the office to the car rental agency. It was getting dark and, as had been the case almost all week, it was raining.  I got the car and drove back to the hotel and fetched my bag, then grabbed some dinner, knowing I would get to Nympsfield fairly late and suspecting there might not be anyplace around to get food.

So when I left town, it was late, dark, and raining steadily.  And I was driving on the wrong side of the roads, in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side. I’ve done a fair amount of driving in the UK before, so I wasn’t too put out by that, except that it’s been a couple years since the last time, and there is always a pretty uncertain feeling about it until I get back into the groove.  Getting back into the groove in the dark, in the rain… well, that didn’t promise to be so much fun.

The first part was okay, because I was tooling down the motorway M5, which is just like driving on I-580 (except for being on the wrong side).  Once I got off the M, however, the fun began, because then it was driving on narrow, winding country roads.  The rain quit about when I got off the M, so things were looking up.  I’d programmed the destination into GPS on the iPhone I was carrying, and following the directions in the dark didn't seem difficult, especially as it had stopped raining. It was only 12 minutes to my destination, the GPS assured me!

I was brimming with confidence as I drove through a sleepy hamlet and started up a pretty steep hill. Until I suddenly drove into a dense fog bank!  Suddenly my comfort zone got really small, as I was driving on the wrong side up a narrow, twisty road, in fog so dense I could only see about 20 feet in front of me.  By the way, what we in the States think of as a narrow country lane is about twice as wide as the country lanes in England! The roads were lined with pretty dense vegetation and also have essentially no shoulder, so there are very few places to pull over or turn around. But the GPS was still giving me directions, so I was not totally flying blind.  It told me my destination was 2 miles ahead. Naturally, in the fog I slowed down to a medium crawl, and also tried to recall the directions I’d gotten off the BGGC website.   

What I particularly recalled was that I would come to a junction at the top of the hill, turn left, drive on for about a mile, and find BGGC on the right-hand side.  I was NOT to take the right turn at the sign pointing the way into Nympsfield village. I found (I thought) the left turn and took it, then came to a sign pointing a turn to the left leading to Nympsfield village (wrong way!), didn’t take it, and drove on a couple miles without finding BGGC.   

I thought I must have taken a wrong turn and I turned around when I could and headed back to the intersection to try again.  The GPS was of little help, because it seemed that no matter where I went it kept telling me that my destination was 2 miles ahead. I got back to the intersection and tried to make a right turn back onto the road I came up, and somehow missed it.  Looking for a place to turn around, I made a left turn… and found myself on what looked like a bicycle path! Oops. (As it turned out, later careful examination on Google maps shows it wasn't a bicycle path at all - it was a wrong-way turn onto a one-way access at the split in the road!) So I stopped and started backing out of it, only to have to hold up while the only car I had seen in quite some time passed by on the road (no doubt they were speculating on “how that fool managed to get himself completely bollixed up and ended on going the wrong way round?!”) I managed to back out, reverse course on the road, finally getting on the road I suspected was the one I had come up. 

My intent was to go back down the hill to the village I had passed through on the way up (hopefully still below the fog line), and start over. GPS, as usual, put my destination at 2 miles ahead.  I drove on a distance, until I realized that I was NOT on the road I had come up.  So I found a place to turn around yet again, and started back.  GPS said my destination was 2 miles ahead. By now I knew that I was lost, and I was beginning to be certain that GPS was lost, as well. As I was driving back up the hill and making this realization, the GPS announced, “You have reached your destination.”  I screeched to a halt, right in the middle of the road, and looked around.  Nothing.  A white curtain in my headlights ahead, inky blackness on both sides.  Not a hint of “my destination.”  So I drove slowly on, still not finding anything.  I thought if I got away a half mile or so, I could make another, slower approach, using the GPS. But then I found out that on the iPhone (at least the one I was carrying), once "you reach your destination" the GPS stops navigating and shuts down!  Which is when I discovered that my signal was so weak that it wouldn’t support another search.

So I was on my own, lost, driving without direction, in the dark and in a fog, with no better plan than to drive until I was somewhere (hopefully out of the fog) where I could get directions or get the GPS program reset. So I just kept driving.  A few minutes later, still in the dense fog, I saw a little sign by the roadside, maybe 18” high, that said “Giuseppe Gourmet Restaurant” and a few yards later passed a building with a light on in the window.  Now that was promising!  Daphne had said that "Giuseppe might be on site, since his restaurant is there!" But it was another ¼ mile or so before I could find a place to turn around, which I did, then headed back to the sign. When I came to it, a few yards later there was a break in the vegetation, indicating a driveway. As I turned in the driveway, I saw another small sign, which announced that I was at the Bristol-Gloustershire Gliding Club!   


Giuseppe Gourmet Restaurant's Facebook page
Thinking my search was over, I pulled into the parking area, finding quite a number of cars parked there. I had found Giuseppe's restaurant, but I didn't see the glider club anywhere.  After a bit of driving around the car park I came to a sign warning me that I was about to drive out onto an active airfield, and decided I'd gone just about far enough.  So I went back to the car park, parked the car, and went into the restaurant, where about 20 people were dining.  It was too bad that I'd eaten before setting out (and had a mediocre meal, at that) because the smells at Giuseppe's were absolutely delectable!  I flagged down a waitress and asked if she could tell me where the glider club was.  She pointed and said, "Right through that door and straight down the passageway." 

And so it was that my adventure in finding BGGC ended happily.  I went down the hall, found the BGGC office, picked up the envelope with my room key, and wandered off in search of the room (using the flashlight in my cell phone to find light switches along the way).  I found the room, made the bed, then wandered until I came to the member's lounge, where there were chairs, tables, a lot of gliding books and aviation literature, and a small kitchen (we should have such a nice set up!).  I relaxed and read a bit, then turned in for the night.

A Rainy Morning at the BGGC  

When I woke up in the morning, it was pouring rain, really coming down hard.  Nobody was about, so I wandered around a bit in the daylight (in rain, but no fog), checking out the layout of the place. The first thing I noticed was the honking big sign for the BGGC right over the window of the restaurant, which I didn't see the night before because of the fog. Then, as I walked about in the rain, I realized how big the glider club is; the office is a brick extension attached to the restaurant, and also attached to a long white two-story building with the bedrooms upstairs and the kitchen, lounge, instruction room, and library/computer room downstairs. Outside are two enclosed hangars (one with several of the club's eight gliders and one with the Pawnee tugs) and a workshop where gliders can be repaired, cleaned and waxed, etc. Very luxurious compared to our operation in Byron!

After my walkabout, I went back in and got dried off, and waited to see if anybody from the club would show up.  The rain was still coming down in buckets, and if that were happening in Byron, we would all certainly stay in bed. But of course, it almost never rains in Byron.  I suspect that if the BGGC gang stayed home when its raining in the morning they wouldn't get a lot of the soaring they do. It rains a lot in Nympsfield.  

The workshop
Given how hard it was raining, I wouldn't have been surprised at all if I spent the whole day there by myself. The Brits are a sturdy lot, however, and started trickling in around 9:30.  The first to arrive were Fred Ballard and Graham Morris, who greeted me very graciously (Fred made coffee, which was very welcome indeed!).  Fred described himself as the Winch Master, General Maintenance Chief, and indicated that he had also, in a moment of indiscretion, allowed himself to be named Club Director. I made sympathetic noises when he told me this.

Graham Morris turned out to be an instructor.  In fact, while I don't recall the official title, I gather he is (something like) Regional Inspector of Instructors, which I suspect is somewhat akin to a DPE, similar to the position Dan Gudgel holds out here in California
Graham Morris
The weather was starting to let up, so we fell to chatting while the rain played out. Graham showed me some of the instructional material they use, and some of it was pretty cool.  For one, the gliderport at Nympsfield sits on a plateau with steep hills dropping off to the north, west, and south. Depending on the wind direction, any of them can be generators of ridge lift. They have a really nice 3D model of the terrain in the vicinity of the gliderport that they use to illustrate to newbies where the relationship of the wind to the ridges and how the lift is generated. 

Another model they use is even cooler.  I picked up a wooden model of a modern fiberglass glider, and remarked how it had obviously been hand-carved from a block of wood, and how impressed I was with that.  Graham picked up another model, also obviously hand-carved, and told me to have a look at it.  I noticed immediately that the ailerons, elevator, and rudder were all articulated, and remarked on how useful that must be for instruction. Graham suggested that I look closer, and pointed out that not only were the control surfaces articulated, but that the controls in the cockpit actually worked correctly. Including the spoilers!  I thought this was really cool, and made a short video of it.  I want one! 

By now the rain had just about quit, and Graham took me out to the hangar to see some of the fleet.  When he opened the hangar the first aircraft in view looked remarkably familiar; it should, as it was a Grob103!  Those birds are everywhere, it seems.  Behind the G103 was an ASK 21, and behind that was a DG505, and, in the wayback, a pair of Ka8s.  The club also has a G102 AStir, a Club Astir, and an LS-4, but they weren't in the hangar. 

BGGC fleet members: G103 (left), ASK 21 (center), and DG505 (right)

Graham asked about our fleet, and I told him what we had.  I mentioned that we would like to have a spin-able two-place glider, as we are not allowed to spin our Grob103s.  He asked why, and since I don't actually know, I couldn't tell him. I just indicated that for whatever reason, we cannot spin them, and thus we currently don't have an aircraft suitable for spin training.  Graham was blunt in his reply, "So, you don't actually teach people to fly, do you?"

I didn't have an answer to that.

Alison Mulder, Duty Instructor
About this time several other people began arriving, and preparations for flight began in earnest. Three other instructors arrived, two senior "Full" instructors and one "Basic" instructor.  The latter does introductory level lessons, while the former can do the full range of instructing including winch launching, spin training, cross-country training, etc.  In this manner I learned that BGGC has quite a large instructional staff. There are 28 instructors listed (and pictured) on their webpage.  It was a rainy day without much promise for soaring, yet no fewer than four instructors were on site (and all four instructed while I was there).  The Duty Instructor, fulfilling essentially the same role that our Duty Instructor fills, turned out to be a delightful woman named Alison Mulder, with a crisp instructional style and a dry wit. Before getting out to fly, Alison indicated that she was going to go grab a sandwich, which reminded me that I hadn't had much to eat since dinner the previous evening, so I asked her where one could get a sandwich.  She said that Giuseppe was happy to make sandwiches, if he was around, so we went to Giuseppe's and he indeed made a fine sandwich for each of us.  We sat in the restaurant eating and gabbing, and after a while were joined by Sid Smith, another senior instructor (the website lists him as the Deputy Chief Instructor for the club).  Sid, Alison, and I had a nice lunch and a highly enjoyable discussion of flying, winch launching, and weather.
Deputy Chief Instructor Sid Smith (left), Basic Instructor Jake Brattle (center), and Full Instructor Alsion Mulder (right)
  Fred decided it was time to get the operations underway, and began setting up the winch. The BCCG airfield is a wide grass field (much wider than a "strip" or "runway"), oriented mostly east-west (07 and 25).  The safety briefing describes the field this way: "The airfield is a less than smooth grass field with various slopes along its length and width, situated at 700 ft above sea level. In particular, this means that when on the ground, aircraft can become invisible due to the field undulations. In addition, the perimeter of the field is surrounded by trees except for part of the east end. Parts of the airfield are unlandable."

BGGC from the southwest.
The cable parachute
Because the wind was blowing from the southwest, the winch was stationed at the western end of the field, with the cable laid out from the winch to the hook-up area at the eastern end of the field. The winch has two drums, allowing two cables to be laid out. A parachute is attached to the cable at the aircraft end, and when the cable is released it brings the cable down more or less gently to the ground.  The winch operator has a truck that he uses to fetch the cable after it drops and pulls it back into position for the next launch.  Because a road runs along the north edge of the field, there is a hard limit of 10 knots of southerly crosswind; more than that and there is a risk of the cable drifting out and coming down on the road, so they stop operations in that eventuality.

Fred informed me that with both winch cables in operation, the winch can launch gliders at the rate of 10 per hour (one every six minutes!), although he noted that the aircrews are rarely ready that rapidly. Considering that they also have two tow planes they can deploy, this can be one BUSY airfield on a heavy-traffic day! That days like that occur is evidenced by finding BGGC on Google Maps, and looking at the satellite photo closely.  They are launching west to east in the photo, and you can count seventeen gliders gridded up for winch launch.  There are also six other gliders and a tow plane on the field (as well as a passenger car, in the middle of the field!).  I don't think this was a special day, because when I asked Google maps to give me older photos of the same site, the pictures from 2004 and 1994 also showed about the same level of activity!).

Control center
To help with this operation, they have a mobile "control center" in the form of a bus, which they park at the departure end of the runway.  The bus provides them with an office for paperwork (including FM-type duties of recording takeoffs, landings, flight times, etc.).  It also provides some protection from the elements, and. probably most important, is outfitted with a pair of bright lights that are used for visual signals to the winch operator (they also have radios, but routinely use the light signals instead). The bus is a great idea, I wish we could use one!

The preparations completed, it was time to get down to business!

And Finally, the Flying

Alison was my instructor.  I had given her a summary of my gliding experience while we had the sandwiches.  When we got out to the field, she asked if I had any experience with winch launches, and I said that I did not.  So she gave me a short briefing of what to expect.  The highlights were these:

  1. Once the slack is out of the cable, the launch will begin and proceed very rapidly.  The first part is the most difficultAs on aerotow, the idea is to quickly balance the glider on the main wheel alone (we were flying the G103), but that would be made more difficult for two reasons.  First, the grass field really isn't particularly smooth, so we would be rolling over a bumpy surface, and second, the acceleration would be much more rapid than that of an aerotow.
  2. The glider would lift off rapidly, and climb at a very steep angle, much steeper than anything I would have experienced unless I had aerobatic experience.  It would remain very steep throughout the climb.
  3. Because of the steep angle, there would be no view over the nose (except the sky); the only view would be out the side and down.
  4. Because of the southerly crosswind, we would immediately establish a bank to the left and hold it throughout the launch.  This would prevent the plane from drifting downwind (and taking the cable out over the road).
  5. There is both a minimum safe and maximum safe speed of the tow. We were not to allow the airspeed to fall below 50 knots nor climb above 75 knots.  If it dipped below 50 the nose had to be lowered immediately lest it drop below stall speed (42 knots) and the aircraft just become a stone on the end of the cable.  If airspeed climbs above 75 knots there is considerable danger (I'm sure she told me  exactly what the danger is, but I don't remember, frankly;  possibly it was going faster than the cable could be reeled in, risking slack line, cable break, or cable fouling), so if we got above 75 knots we were to release immediately.
  6. We should release when over the winch.  If we didn't the line would back-release automatically when all the slack was taken up.
  7. At the beginning of the tow the force would be forward, but as we got higher and higher the force would be increasingly pulling down on the glider.  This would require considerable back-pressure on the stick to maintain the climb angle and prevent overspeeding.
  8. Upon release it is essential to get the nose down quickly before airspeed drops and the aircraft stalls. Mostly this is just a gentle easing of the stick forward, but if done aggressively one can fly the plane in a parabolic arc producing a brief period of zero G (it's how they train the astronauts, after all, although I don't think they use winch-launched gliders to do it).
  9. After that it is normal glider flight!
Here is a short video I made of Sid Smith and his student taking a winch launch. It was made with a handheld cell phone, and is largely out of focus, but the gist of the launch can be seen.  Part way up the launch I saw the cable parachute deploy and start to drop; you can hear me say, "That's not right!" before it occurred to me that, just like aerotow training, instructors on winch launches will occasionally pull the release to simulate a premature termination of the launch. I follow them around to their landing.  Don't be fooled by the engine sounds during the landing; the tow plane was just beginning an aerotow launch of one of the other gliders. 

First Flight

Alison said that on the first flight the takeoff would be a demonstration, with her flying and I could "follow through" on the controls. After we released she would turn the controls over to me for whatever flight we could make, and I would do the landing. That plan suited me fine. We got in the Grob103, call sign G-DEWR, and went through the preflight routine.  Alison and I exchanged the preflight checklist mnemonics we use.  Mine ends with "Emergency Plan" while hers ends with "Eventualities," a perfectly lovely name for the same thing. She emphasized that should the cable part, winch fail, or hook accidentally release, we most likely would be able to land straight ahead (more or less), because the field really is much bigger than it looks.  She pointed to the trees ahead, that looked like they marked the end of the field.  "That will fool you," she said, "because that is really only halfway down field.  There is a LOT of landable area past that."  I gathered that if we were too high to land ahead we could easily do a teardrop return and would probably probably be high enough to essentially do a normal landing after an only slightly abbreviated pattern. Rather comforting, that. We strapped in, ran the checks, closed the canopy, and the operations manager signaled the winch operator to take up slack.  

Everything happened really, really fast after that. We started moving, and accelerated astonishingly quickly.  Maybe Alison actually got the nose up and balanced the thing on the main wheel -- it was really hard to tell, since we were bouncing along the grass.  But whether we balanced or not, we shot up into the sky very fast, and were at an incredibly steep angle almost immediately.  Then Alison "laid us off to the left a bit" to keep the cable from drifting downwind; this had the effect of adding a noticeable left bank to the exceptionally steep angle, and meant that I could see the ground below out the left side, but not forward or out the right side.  Both of those views were just of the sky. I stole a couple glances at the ASI and saw the airspeed twice climb as high as 80 knots, but Alison quickly nudged the nose higher and brought the airspeed back to the acceptable range both times.  

OLC Track, flight 1
And then, just as I was getting used to the odd deck angle and weird view, Alison pulled the release and said, "Your airplane." And a few seconds later she quietly reminded me, "You might want to think about lowering the nose to gain airspeed..." (left unstated was the "before we fall to earth and die" or any similar exhortation).

With the winch launch you really feel the aircraft being flung into the sky, a much more vehement, almost violent, feeling than that of being dragged aloft in an aerotow.  As a result, the sudden calm that envelops the cockpit upon release is much more noticeable after the winch launch.  Instantly everything is incredibly peaceful (that is, so long as you remember to lower the nose). I set off down the west ridge, hoping to encounter some lift, while Alison pointed out landmarks and topographic features.  She pointed out an ancient burial mound and a Celtic fortress, as well as the Woodchester Mansion, reputed to be the most haunted house in Britain ( There was a bit of a southerly wind (which is why we "laid off to the left" during the launch, but that is almost the worst direction for ridge soaring from any of the ridges around BGGC, and with no thermals cooking up after the morning rains, a sled ride was clearly in the offing.  Alison described her favored approach technique, visual approach monitoring altitude, distance, and angle to the field, noting that if you control any two the third comes along for free.

Approach to runway 25, Nympsfield. For scale, there is a red tow plane and three gliders on the right side

Compared to anywhere I normally fly the field at BGGC is exceptionally wide.  It also has significant undulation, meaning that while the overall slope when landing to the west is a slight downhill landing, the actual touchdown may occur on a flat or even a slight uphill, as there is a hill crest about 1/4 of the way along the runway. It is enough of a hill that if you stand in front of the clubhouse, which is a little more than 1/3 of the way from the east end to the west, and you look toward the east, you cannot see gliders staged at the launch point; they are behind the hill crest. 

Here is a short video (not entirely in focus) showing what I mean about the hill in the runway.  I'm taking it from the launch point while the Grob 103 comes in for a landing, touching down near the crest of the hill and disappearing over the hill on its runout.

In addition to the hill, I was also a bit worried that the very wide field would induce the illusion that I was closer to the field than I really was, resulting in a premature round out (and a landing while still well above the earth).  In the end, though, these turned out not to be factors.  It may have helped that I spent a day a couple years ago flying out of the Rideau Valley Soaring School in Ottawa, which also features a wide grass field.  At any rate, the first landing, while not quite "greased on," was remarkably smooth.  I remembered what Larry is always harping about, "Hold it off, hold it off, hold it off." (In fact, almost every instructor, both for power and glider, has said that to me... including Alison.) I touched down without a noticeable bounce just short of the crest of the hill, rolled over the crest, and down the other side, managing to keep it pretty well balanced on the main during the runout.  Largely due to my experiences at Byron (hitting the second turnout, anyway) and at Air Sailing (long dirt runway), I made no particular attempt to stop the glider quickly, instead letting it roll until we ran out of energy.  It made for a bit longer retrieve than it needed to be, but if that is the worst you can say about a landing, I'll take it! 

"That was a very nice landing," Alison remarked. 
Second Flight 

OLC track, 2nd flight
For the second flight, Alison said she would handle the beginning, difficult part of the launch, but that once we were off the ground she would turn the rest of the launch over to me. The big trick, she reminded me, was to keep the glider speed under 75 knots, which would likely require considerable back pressure on the stick. "It is not a heavy pull," she said, "but rather, just an increase in the pressure you apply."

We brought the glider back to the launch point, climbed in, went through the checks, closed the canopies, and signaled our readiness.  We were hooked up and off in no time (I think they really can do 10 launches per hour!)

As she promised, Alison turned the glider over to me very shortly after we left the ground.  I established the left bank needed for cable drift control, and settled in to control the ride.  I held what I thought was a lot of back pressure on the stick, and thought we were doing fine, when Alison surprised me by yanking the release."Your speed was getting too high," she explained, "you were above 80 knots and getting faster, so I pulled the release." If you compare the flight profiles for the first two flights, it is easy to see why this happened. Her climb (first flight) is exceptionally steep with a really sharp change at the release point.  My climb (second flight) is much shallower and rounded at the top. I didn't keep the stick back as I should; the slightly lowered nose resulted in excess speed, leading her to pull the release.   She noted that we had released at 900 feet AGL (compared to the 1200 feet AGL of the first flight), and since she likes to be at 800 AGL over the "high key" point (essentially what we would call the Initial Point) we had a hundred feet in which to fly before committing to landing. "Just don't wander too far away," she said.  We caught a bit of "no sink," which helped a bit.  Still, we were back in the approach in no time. This time my landing wasn't quite as nice.  "It was good," she said, "just not as good as the first one."   She thought I brought the glider down, rather than trying to hold it off and use the ground effect.  She also suggested that my downwind leg was in pretty tight to the runway, necessitating a higher turn to final and a steeper approach than she prefers. (I didn't mention that Larry likes steep approaches and taught me to like them, plus the flap arrangement on the Mini Nimbus makes for extremely steep, slow approaches, so I was just reverting to my "programming.")

Third Flight

It looked like I could get one more flight in before Alison needed to turn her attention to the last student waiting (Sid and Jake had been instructing others already).  He wanted to do aerotow work, so his flights would likely fill the rest of her day. There wasn't much daylight left, since the rain had kept us from starting until 1:30 pm and the northern latitude of Nympsfield meant that sunset was approximately 4:00 pm, so it was likely the third flight would be my last.

Alison said the plan was the same as before; she would get us off the ground and turn it over to me for the rest of the flight. She reminded me again about keeping the back pressure to keep the speed under control.The wind had shifted to more westerly, down the runway, so we did not need the left bank for drift control.

The launch went much better this time.  I kept the aircraft below the critical speed.  The profile still isn't nearly as sharp as Alison's track, but it shows a couple of mid-launch corrections to bring the angle up and the speed down (the first resulted in apparent backwards motion relative to the ground; I'm still puzzling that out).  We released at 1400 feet AGL, and had enough air under us to make several passes up and down the ridge before heading back to the high key.  This time Alison reminded me early that she prefers a wider downwind (you can see on the track where I made a turn to get farther from the runway), and my approach was much more to her liking.  The landing was good.  "Better than the last one, but not as good as the first," Alison said.

Wrapping Up (half the adventure is finding my way back to London)

It did turn out to be my last flight, as Alison flew with her other student.  He was working toward his first solo, and wanted to do some tow maneuvers.  Alison described what they were going to do; it was similar to boxing the wake, but only going from side to side without dropping down through the prop wash.  She had a name for the maneuver, but I can't remember what it was. When she told Graham, the tow pilot, what they were going to do, she said, "We're going to muck about a bit on the end of the rope." I found that technical description rather amusing, although in fairness I should note that she did give Graham a much more precise description of her intentions a bit later. 

While Alison was getting her student ready, Sid and his student took an aerotow with the intent of doing some spin training.  They launched, quickly climbed to an appropriate altitude, and then got off tow.  They did three spin-entry exercises (looked from the ground like no more than a half turn, maybe even just a quarter turn each time) before coming back.  Then they did two or three straight-ahead stalls, but by then they didn't have enough altitude to keep doing stalls and spins, so they did a bit of gliding about and returned. It did make me think about how nice it would be to have a spin-able glider.

Looking down the runway into the sunset
After that and Alison's flight, it was finally getting too dark to keep operating, especially as the setting sun was setting right on the departure end of the runway, pretty much blinding a landing pilot.  So we gathered up  the gliders, the bus/office, the winch, cables, golf carts, brought it all back to the hangars, and put it all away.   

All the locals were headed upstairs to the lounge for a drink, but, mindful of how much fun I'd had in getting to Nympsfield the night before, I wanted to hit the road to get back to London. So I said my thanks to all the wonderful folks I'd met, and headed off to find London. 

 It seemed pretty easy -  my GPS said exit the club, turn right, and follow the road off to the M4. But when I got to the parking lot to leave, I saw that the road to the right was closed by the police, who were cleaning up a nasty traffic accident that had happened several hours earlier. I had to find a new path.  More fun!  Since I was using a borrowed phone whose GPS I didn't know very well, I didn't know how to tell it to find an alternate route. So I went back inside and asked Fred for alternate directions, starting with a left turn out of the parking, and he rattled off a sequence of lefts and rights and straight aheads that should bring me to the M4. I only remembered the first three or four turns, so I developed the plan to follow Freds directions until I couldn't remember them any further, and then turn on the GPS, hoping that by the the best route would NOT bring me back to the road closure at the BGGC!

And, by golly, that is exactly how it worked!  The GPS led me right to the M4, pointed me toward London, and off I went. It wasn't completely easy, though, as the battery in my GPS gave out before I got to London - but when it indicated "low battery" I stopped at a rest stop, wrote the turn-by-turn directions out by hand, put it on my kneeboard, and used that to find my way to my hotel in London!

Altogether, I had a terrific visit to Nympsfield, despite the rain, the fog, the dark-of-night, and the short weather window.  I got to see a great club in operation in a lovely country setting. I got to experience my first three winch launches, and found them to be incredibly exhilarating.

But most of all, I got to meet some terrific gliding soul-mates: Fred, Graham, Jake, Sid, Andy, and several others whose names I didn't catch. Most of all, I got to meet a wonderful instructor in Alison!  My very heartfelt thanks to all of you for making me feel so welcome and making the visit possible.  Thanks also to Daphne, whom I didn't get to meet in person, for organizing my visit in the first place.

I really hope to visit again sometime!