A day full of hope only to be dashed after the first climb at a rock solid inversion ☹
Ho-hum… It's only March. Of course, it all started somewhat different. The night before was spent scouring the weather forecasts and thinking about various options. Where to go? What was the wind direction going to be? How much wind was there going to be? It seemed a bit light on the wind side of things and the direction was determined by whatever forecast I happened to be looking at. I opted for the baby RASP one as I liked the look of that and a gentle blow from the South/South South West. NOTAM'S clear and a lift to the hill was sorted with my friend Steve. (I'm ever hopeful that one day he'll fly XC and crack that first 50 or more)
Anyway, arriving at Golden Ball car-park the day was actually looking quite promising, clouds were forming slightly to the west (although a tad low) and some of the normal suspects were gathering as if waiting for the kill. A quick chat to Craig and we decided it was a day for some shopping in Milton Keynes… Not that I like shopping. Plus of course we knew the route pretty well and all the good spots for a thermal or two. We even discussed the airspace considerations to the south of Milton Keynes, with such optimism what could go wrong?
Arriving at take-off it still looked plausible to get something, just a matter of what that something would be. Some people were opting for the southerly wind track and heading up the west side of Swindon and then past South Cerney etc. Craig and I decided our decision point would be just past Marlborough, whether to head north east and Oxford to Milton Keynes or head North'ish and the west side of Swindon. Everything is so easy when stood around chatting.
After a bit more chatting and banter on the hill, it was time to get down to business and saddle-up. Birds were thermaling and the wind was on the hill. However, all the clouds had vanished and there was a definite haze when looking up… Not good and a clear sign of an inversion layer. Oh well, not be put off, three of us on Zeno's took off within a few minutes of each other closely followed by the rest of the squadron.
I had launched straight into a climb, albeit a weak affair and made the most of it. At least I was going up, just rather slowly. Eventually the sky was a little busy with everyone looking for lift and the odd gaggle formed all slowly dribbling upwards and not getting that high… Things got a little complicated at times with some turning left and some turning right. Gotta be said, some do need to read the rule book on climbing in thermals… Not forgetting the appendix regarding the golden rule of staying away from Zeno pilots as we're always in the right 😊😊. Time to find my own space and stop worrying about others, I scooted off down to the end of the ridge behind the trees to the east of take-off. Sure enough, I found a climb and milked that for everything I could. Hardly worth the effort given I maxed out at around 2200 again and a rock solid inversion creating some bumpy air.
Looking back to take-off, everyone had landed and I didn't know why. I couldn't see anyone crumpled on the hill-side so carried on doing my own thing. I had the air all to myself, nevertheless, I opted for heading east along the escarpment in the vain hope of finding a hole in the inversion after spotting the most pathetic cloud I've ever seen. Sure enough, it was crap and again I was maxing out at 2200 + ft or thereabouts. I was having fun and decided it was worth staying around for. A couple of other climbs later I was still getting to the same height whilst I drifted slowly backwards towards the forest with Marlborough a little further on. I spotted Craig further to the west and headed over his way and we both made the most of another pathetic little climb off the edge of the forest. Obviously, I'd realised pretty quickly that any long XC wasn't going to be on and messing around at 2500 is always a struggle… There isn't much room for error where one wrong turn and you'd be on the deck. It's fun though and good practice for "low-saves"
The track was due north heading straight for Swindon, crossing the M4 would be a good achievement given how things were, I thought. After some more scrappy climbs, all stopped depressingly low at the inversion, I was on the deck near Wroughton. That wasn't with out incident as I got hit by a bullet thermal on one side of my wing, very very low down, as I was getting ready to land… Oh the joys of spring. Good job I don't mind the odd spot of active flying 😊. It was a nice day out and at least I got some flying done. Thanks once again to my mate Steve for picking me up. We didn't bother going back to the hill and went home to plan another day.