by David Williamson
- RDTC student Worcester
So, sad to say or glad to say, I break off from practice and make a hasty departure for Talgarth. Arriving at the Club, the chairman greets me with "You had to come today, didn't you - need a flight check?" The people here are almost in a different spiritual plane or something - very strange place. Normally you have to wait for a few hours for a glider but today I am air borne within five minutes.
The clouds are arranged in long lines or bars across the wind - a sure sign of a "wave" the oscillations of the wind over the Welsh hills. I have never seen them quite so spectacular. Although I have been gliding for over 30 years I have never flown in real wave conditions - they are generally quite rare except in places like the Black Mountains, which is a mecca of UK glider pilots in search of Gliding's Holy Grail.
My instructor is known as the "Welsh Wave Wizard" and he is indeed a Merlin -like character with more knowledge of the Welsh wave system than anybody. He is a very laid back character and sitting behind me quietly radios a few directions (magic spells?) to the tug aircraft in front to drop us into one of the rising parts of the wave. Bang, we release from the tug and are straight in it and up we go, slowly but surely.
Wave flying has a special magic because it is unbelievable smooth - once you are in the wave, unbelievably rough if you fly out or go below it - so you have to know what you are doing - hence the need for a check flight with an experienced teacher. The next couple of hours he shows me some of the tricks of the trade, where we go in relation to the clouds below us and so on. But most of the time we spend in silence with him only giving a few quiet words of encouragement to other pilots over the radio from time to time. We are both just immersed in the beauty of the cloudscape below and the serenity of the gently rising air and its subtle patterns - he has spent hundreds of hours up here and is still not bored by it and for me it is an introduction to a whole new level of flying expertise. We are both Lovers of the Sky, so there is no need for words.
In spite of the serenity, there are some dangers in the situation, not least of which is, that since taking off, the clouds have spread out over the whole area around Talgarth and we have no instruments to tell us where we are! Fortunately there are a few gaps in the clouds below us and we can sometimes see where we are, vaguely between Hay-on-Wye and Kington. Also, there are a couple of other gliders with us who have satellite navigation systems and can confirm where we are by radio.
Having reached the top of the wave, about 7,500ft and with one of the other higher-tech. gliders returning to Talgarth, we follow them down through one of the small, remaining holes in the cloud which they assure me is over Hay-on-Wye.
They disappear into the hole and we spiral down through the same place a couple of minutes later - it is like going down a giant plug-whole in the sky and is one of the most spectacular cloud sights I have seen, with it towering up all around us. Finally I point the glider into the cloud in the direction of, hopefully, Talgarth - cloud flying without instruments is, I realise, one of the fears I still about flying.
Many years ago I lost control inside a giant thunderstorm, so have been a bit wary of clouds since - it is rather like doing Tai Chi with closed eyes, except you can't open them.!
But we pop out safely below the cloud in a different world, rather dark and dingy compared to where we have been. Sure enough we are just over Glasbury, with the gliding field alarmingly distant - we are now below the wave and can be sucked out of the sky in an instant. My other remaining fear is a forced landing in a small farmers field. Fortunately we make it back to Talgarth without going through strong turbulence or downdraughts and we land safely. It turned out the glider we followed was almost sucked out of the sky, so we were lucky to have a fairly hassle free let-down.
It was one of my best flights, ever and maybe one day the fear will go entirely and I will be my own wave wizard. Not much Tai Chi today but maybe it was perfect Tai Chi after all?