It's not been the best season, the hope generated by last year's epic 10000ft cloud bases well and truly dashed. It started ok, some nice flights from Sharpenhoe and Rutland to get things going. Long wet July and early August blighted my tomatoes and flattened flying ambitions. I hadn't had flight I felt had done justice to the days potential all year. Other than a Sharpenhoe flight to Malverns a couple of days ago, but frustratingly clipped airspace which reduced the glow of the flight slightly.
So I turned up to Milk Hill White Horse, a bit frustrated and knowing the good flying days will soon be drawing to a close for the year. As did half the free flying community, Cromer Crab in mind. Early doors was crowded and I was wary of joining the melee in strong wind that was of to the west. I landed twice when it seemed silly.
Finally a few wings left the hill, stronger climbs increased separation in the air and joined the effort to depart the earth bound plane. I try to push out the front to find my climbs in strong wind conditions, fewer people and more space to turn back into. A bird marked a climb out from the hill, I pushed out into lift to the marked climb, put into a few turns and climbed in a bubble off the spur of the hill, drifting back at 1800ft in a reasonably consistent climb. The game was on.
I was in a small gaggle of 5 or 6, Tom Kane my twin Delta 4 amigo one of them. The climb dissipated and we drifted in zeros at 1500ft for a long while, survival mode well and truly the order of the day. I envied Tom who'd pushed back to the hill and found a better climb out, drifting over us at base. Balls. I finally connected with another climb north of Marlborough that took me to base at 3000ft, the sky ahead was well serviced by large active looking clouds. Easy, stick to base and cruise. The path to Oxford was laid out.
There were wings dotted all around, the gaggle I'd left with was still pretty much cohesive which Tom rejoined. The cruise at base approach worked well up to Abingdon area, I was detached from the gaggle but was happy to plough my own path. I still hadn't got much more than 3000ft and still had a sense of surviving rather than being immersed and on top of the flight.
I drifted past Cowley on the outskirts of Oxford, my OUH offices near the Mini Plant directly below me, Spires of Oxford off to the north. So many times I'd been sat in that office, tracking flights from Milk right over my head, cursing my lot. Not today! Over Garsington, Shotover Hill, Wheatley, Benson ATZ safely to the south. The sky to the north east was opening up, smaller cu, more blue, if I could jut survive to the better conditions forecast to the east. It was only 14:00, still early, but I could do with a climb. 1500ft over the M40 wasn't that comfortable. I was drilled down to 500ft, convinced I was down in the golf course below, imagining my entry in novelty retrieve vehicle (golf buggy) to join the road sweeper I'd had earlier in the year.
But no, a punch from below signalled a climb close by, surely not. Turn, concentrate, I'm in, then out, it's pretty rowdy but slowly getting me back in the game. An Alpina came from nowhere and joined the effort, we worked it together back up to 3200ft, what a beauty. We were faced with a blue hole between us and Milton Keynes though, the sky didn't offer many options to the north. Whereas to the south, large solid clouds offered a dead end route to Dunstable home turf and ceiling under 3500ft. Shit. What to do. I'd rather go around blue hole especially with so little height to play with.
Just as I'd decided my lengthy detour, a cu started to form amongst the blue. Target set, on the bar, over Waddesdon, Whitchurch, wave at Abbotts View Alpacas off to the right. By now Milton Keynes was well in sight and I'm wondering about Cranfield, north or south route, I noticed airspace around Bletchely on XC Guide as well, I couldn't remember that but didn't take time to stab it and get the details.
The 100k mark was getting close and I was bit fixated by that, I made a bit of a death glide towards MK hoping I'd stumble on something on the approach. Sure enough a weak climb emerged and took me back up to 1900ft and was still going, but straight towards the mystery Bletchley airspace. Balls. Thoughts of my Malverns flight tarnished by airspace incursion came to the fore. Leave the climb, just go around. I slid into descent ended my day landing into strengthening wind down by the A5.
The mystery airspace was a Battle of Britain memorial flight NOTAM warning for some time earlier in the day, if I'd paid more attention I could have stuck with my final climb and kept going, there was still another couple of hours in the day. Doh, lessons learnt, use the tech dummy.
Still a 100k flight at last, but strangely felt like I was in survival mode most of the flight, barely got over 3000ft. The route through past Leighton Buzzard wouldn't have been troubled.