My First Soaring Flight after a 12 year break from Hang Gliding

The first time my feet left the ground with a hang glider above me was in December 1978. Over the years I have enjoyed some long periods of frequent hang gliding, and I have also had some protracted breaks from the sport for various reasons.

My most recent break from hang gliding lasted 12 years. That break ended two days ago with a soaring flight at an inland site in perfect conditions.

All these photos were taken on iPhones. Most were not taken by me. The photos show how the preparation and check-flight day unfolded.

The few captions below are written for those who know nothing about hang gliding.

The steps I needed to take to get safely and legally back in the air were:

Check out the glider, harness and car racks

Surprisingly there was no corrosion on the rigging wires or the aluminium airframe tubing considering the glider had been stored in its bag in my imperfectly sealed garage only 300m from Bass Strait for the past 12 years. My hang glider is a Fun 190 manufactured by Airborne Australia.

Have the glider examined for airworthiness by an expert

Detailed inspection and required maintenance tasks (minor) took Rohan around three hours. Then it was declared airworthy – a comforting confirmation prior to flying it. I also purchased a new carabiner (the link which connects my harness to the hang loops attached to the glider) – it’s an important component.

After some training slope runs under guidance of an instructor, find a suitable flying site with suitable flying conditions

Dynamic Flight School hang gliding instructor Rohan Holtkamp (highly experienced and highly regarded) has a small training slope on the property at Trawalla from which the flying school is conducted. The prevailing south easterly wind was ideal for a session of training runs on this hill. The slope was such that the glider could be run down the hill without taking off. But it also permitted some minor airtime between long steps (a bit like walking on the moon looks) which meant the landing flare could be practised.

In passing, Rohan Holtkamp holds the current Australian hang gliding distance record of 532.4kms. On 8 December 2017 he flew an Airborne C4-13 hang glider from a launch site near Ben Nevis in western Victoria to a landing 10 hours and 19 minutes later in central/western NSW between Lake Cargelligo and Condobolin.

Mount Black, Gordon Victoria
The township of Gordon is located in a remarkably rich and fertile volcanic farming area about 100kms west of Melbourne, not far from Ballarat. Truly an area of bucolic splendour. Near Gordon is this rounded grass-covered volcanic hill called Mt Black. Hang glider pilots refer to this flying site simply as Gordon. The ridge of the volcano rim and the central depression of the crater can be identified in this weathered ancient landform. This photo shows the gently sloping northern side of the hill. The takeoff location is on the southern side of the ridge, which is steeper.
Mount Black, Gordon Victoria hang gliding site
The southern side of Mt Black. The launch site is not far from the gap in the trees on the skyline. The height of the launch site above the landing paddock (where I was standing when I took this photo) is 400 feet. The elevation of the site above mean sea level is 2200 feet.
View of landing paddock from Gordon hang gliding launch site
The landing paddock as seen from the launch site. It’s the light coloured field with the diagonal track across it. My aiming point for landing was the middle of this track. The optimal wind direction for this site is a south easterly.

Clockwise from left: driving up the western side of the hill; view across the depression that was once the crater towards the back of the ridge near the launch site; parked just behind the ridge where the launch site is located. There is a tree line along the ridge, and two electric fences with stiles over them.

Fly

The check flight required that Rohan observe satisfactory assembly and pre-flight checking of the glider, a satisfactory takeoff, soaring flight maintaining height by staying in the lift band, and a satisfactory approach and landing, with the point of landing being on or very close to a designated point in the middle of the paddock. He could also request demonstration of other things as he saw fit.

The wind was blowing a steady 15 knots occasionally strengthening by a few knots as cloud bands drifted over the hill. If given a choice, we would probably have chosen exactly this wind strength. The wind was south easterly which was the ideal direction for this site. The planets were aligned for the planned flight.

Airborne Fun 190 hang glider soaring near clouds
There was ample lift after takeoff (which did not require many steps at all!), and I climbed easily to a height of 200-300 feet above launch height (600-700 feet above the landing paddock). I soared backwards and forwards along the ridge at this height. At one point Rohan asked me (he was in radio contact, as part of his supervision of the check flight) to perform a full stall and recovery. This is relatively gentle exercise in the Fun 190 compared with some of the light aircraft in which I have performed stalls.
Airborne Fun 190 hang glider soaring near clouds above Mt Black Gordon
On launch the air temp was about 8°C and with a wind speed of 15 knots the wind chill made it feel like 4°C. I was warmly dressed but it still felt cold on the hill. It was obviously no warmer while airborne, but I have no recollection of feeling cold while flying. Exhilaration might’ve had something to do with this. I chose to do this first flight without using a radio to transmit, without any flight instruments at all and without a camera. I wanted to focus without distraction on flying. All the performance feedback a pilot requires in soaring a hang glider in such conditions is available from the senses.
Airborne Fun 190 hang glider soaring at Gordon Victoria
It felt familiar and comfortable to be flying again. In fact it felt awesome to be flying again. I was climbing, descending and turning at will in a steady breeze under lines of scattered cumulus with a strong and generously sized lift band. I had the privilege of soaring above this beautiful green landscape. And I could relax in clear sight and reach of a large and conveniently located landing paddock. But I remained conscious that my lack of recent experience (12 years since my last flight) was a factor not to be ignored or treated lightly.
It was not a long flight (I didn’t time it but Rohan estimated it at 15-20 minutes) but it was exhilarating and uplifting. The duration of this flight was truly irrelevant to the great satisfaction and enjoyment it provided.

Land

These are screen shots from an iPhone video taken by a pilot who landed in this paddock before me. I landed in the designated area, and the approach and flare were as required. Landing in any wind at all in this forgiving low speed glider is gentle experience.

Pack up the glider and discuss the flight with anyone who will listen

Rohan, the instructor, was sufficiently satisfied with the day’s flying activities to sign off on the check flight and to recommend that my previously held intermediate pilot certificate and privileges be reinstated.

Mazda CX-5 in hang glider landing paddock with hang glider on roof racks
Leaving the landing paddock.

Drive the balance of the 500kms for the day back home feeling very satisfied

The GPS’s first offer of a route home was just over 200kms. When I selected a more direct route not excluding dirt roads, the distance reduced to 180kms. Most of the drive was in the dark, and the back roads certainly provided more than a few sudden encounters with large kangaroos. A drive in the dark on quiet dirt roads in confirmed roo territory is a slow drive.

Time flew on the drive home as I replayed the day’s events over and over in my mind. But I was pretty tired by about the time I had 100kms to go. These two photos represent nicely the onset of fatigue during a night drive after a long day and some hang gliding.

I’m watching the weather charts very closely to ensure I don’t miss the next 15 knot south easterly at Apollo Bay.

The link below, ‘Times When I Flew Like a Bird’, is to a post which describes in part my hang gliding history.

16 thoughts on “My First Soaring Flight after a 12 year break from Hang Gliding

  1. Welcome back young fella. I could be mistaken but I don’t recall seeing an ‘awesome’ in any of your blogs ?

    Like

    1. That’s because I hadn’t been hang gliding recently at the time of writing any of my previous blog posts.

      In choosing that word I also drew on the rich linguistic tradition of which you are the author and until now possibly the sole exponent Hughbert, of the entirely unrestrained use of superlatives when writing about the act of hang gliding.

      It could also be related to me mixing with the younger folk more often.

      Like

  2. Great to see John, I can only imagine how keenly you must now be wishing for suitable conditions in AB.
    Between ocean swimming, motorcycling, hang gliding and a fireplace, you now have an activity for all seasons and all conditions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, given you’ve included the fireplace as an activity I think it’s safe to say the weather will not shut down operations from my AB base.
      Given the trend in the vaccination numbers it must be about time for you to contemplate getting roadworthy tyres on your motorbike Noel in readiness for a ride down to AB and beyond as soon as the starter’s gun goes.

      Like

    1. I guessed you’d approve Marion! A recent note from Fiona on Facebook: “I can’t wait to have a fly with you at our home site.” I’m looking forward to that.
      Safe travels Marion. Photos please.
      Cheers, John

      Like

    1. Thanks Geoff. As you would have guessed, it was an enjoyable flight for a number of reasons. There were some bands of cu coming through with enough in them to give the windspeed on launch and the lift out in front of the hill a temporary boost. But I flew quite late in the day, and while there were a few bumps from time to time I couldn’t say they were thermals. Rohan said that pilots often get away from this hill in thermal lift and head off cross-country. The air temp reminded me of a very memorable flight in a borrowed Combat under your expert guidance off the Remarkables in NZ some years ago, soaring over and landing in a green valley between snow covered peaks!

      Like

  3. Fantastic John! I was so pleased to hear you were back in the air the other week, my uncle’s a gun. Let me know when the next 15kt wind you like the look of pops up and I’ll be down to operate the cameras for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess we will have to wait until the restrictions on travel between Melbourne and the regions are lifted before you can turn up at a local hang gliding site with your cameras Andrew. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later. It’s a very kind offer you have made.
      There is a reasonable chance of suitable flying conditions tomorrow morning so the glider and gear are already on the Mazda ready for an early start. If the weather doesn’t cooperate for a fly, an ocean swim is a most acceptable plan B.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s