Early Morning Flight, an Easterly Blow and a Koala

Wind direction at Apollo Bay generally moves in a constant cycle around the compass rose in an anti-clockwise direction. It can stay from one direction for days, and sometimes pass through various points on the compass with no pause at all.

Last Friday morning the pressure patterns were configured and moving such that forecasters predicted a light WSW wind around dawn, backing to the SE for a short time, then backing further to the E where it was forecast to stay for at least the rest of the day. The south-easterly wind strength was forecast to be 10-12 knots – strong enough for a hang glider to climb in the rising air flowing up and over the coastal hills (ridge lift).

The coastal hills at Apollo Bay provide ideal ridge soaring conditions for hang gliding when the wind is blowing from the south-east at 12-20 knots. High performance hang gliders can take off in stronger winds. But for hang gliders such as mine, a south-easterly of around 15 knots is ideal.

I drove up the winding road to the launch site not long after dawn. The wind was very light, which was mildly surprising as it was blowing 10 knots on the sea in the bay (and wind speed typically increases with elevation). We watched the wind indicators carefully for some time. Useful information was provided by the direction the clouds were blowing, the direction the boats in the harbour on single moorings were pointing (an excellent indicator of wind at the harbour), variations in surface patterns and texture on the water reservoir, movement in the wind in the trees behind and the bushes and grass beside and in front of us and the state of the surface of the sea (noting in particular, waves, wind lanes and the absence/presence/nature of whitecaps). Over a 90 minute period the wind had short periods of backing from the SW to the SSE and SE with occasional gusts around 10 knots. Eventually it settled in the SE (suitable for launching) and I launched with some optimism of at least maintaining height, and hopefully climbing a little. I turned left after takeoff, flew east down the range of hills and just as I had hoped, climbed gently in smooth rising air. I soared around for half an hour, reaching a maximum height of just over 1000 feet above sea level (200 feet above launch height). The wind then backed around to a more easterly direction, and became a little lighter. Because the ridge lift (and accordingly my altitude) were now reducing, I flew to the beach and landed.

This was a brief and straightforward flight in a basic model hang glider in good conditions with excellent launch and landing sites. The technical details of the flight are included for any readers unfamiliar with this form of flying who wish to understand a little more about how hang gliders fly. For others, enjoy the photos of a short early morning flight in this beautiful part of the world.

Pre Take-off

Checking the conditions. Around dawn the wind was blowing at 10 knots from the south. Normally this would be a good indicator of slightly higher wind strength at launch elevation (800 feet or so above seal level). But on this day the wind was barely blowing on the launch site. Before driving up into the hills to launch, I also measured the windspeed at Point Bunbury, watched the moored boats in the harbour and assessed the wind direction and strength on the main beach where I intended to land. I checked a number of possible landing areas on the beach for beach width in terms of tide movement, and it was fine.
Apollo Bay at sunrise
View from the hills behind Apollo Bay as the dawn colours began to appear, slightly behind schedule due to a cloud layer across the horizon.
Waiting for the wind to change direction and speed
Hang glider assembled and pre-flight inspection completed, helmet on, radio on and tested, instruments on, hooked in and hang check completed – just need wind. The ‘runway’ I eventually used for takeoff is on the right. Good to have a choice. The breeze was starting to become more constant when this photo was taken, and as my friend Bruce wasn’t holding the front wires at this stage, I have one hand forward holding the keel, my other hand is on the upright and one foot on the A frame keeping it from moving, all of which combine to hold the glider steady on the ground while waiting for the right conditions for takeoff.
Hang glider about to takeoff from hills at Apollo Bay
Bruce, who kindly drove my car down from launch to meet me on the beach after I landed, assisted me on launch once the wind came up and steadied, by holding the front wires until I had the glider balanced in roll (left and right wing tips level) and pitch (nose in correct position, neither too high nor too low) and was ready for takeoff. Here his hands are near the front wires, but he has let them go to indicate to me that he is no longer holding the wires. This means that the glider’s attitude (position relative to the horizon) is being controlled totally by me. If the wireman is using a lot of force on the front wires to hold the nose down and suddenly lets go, the nose of the glider can flip up and over backwards. There is usually talk between wireman and pilot as to whether he is holding any and if so how much pressure. When the pilot is satisfied he is controlling the glider without input from his wireman he will say ‘clear’ and the wireman will quickly duck out of the way to the side as the pilot commences the takeoff run. For the initial lifting of the glider and commencement of the takeoff run, my hands are holding the A frame uprights in the ‘sword’ grip and my shoulders are taking some of the weight of the glider.

Take-off

Hang glider - commencement of takeoff run
I am leaning through the A frame here as I start my takeoff run. Note that compared to the previous photo, the carabiner is no longer behind my neck but behind the top of my helmet because the wing has started to lift as I gather airspeed, pulling the hang loop tighter. It is important not to sprint out of the blocks on takeoff or the nose of the glider can pop up, causing it to slow down and possibly stall. My hands here are in transition between the ‘sword’ grip and the ‘dagger’ grip (see next picture) which is maintained on the uprights until safely airborne when hands are shifted to the base bar.
Hang glider taking off
Just leaving the ground – eyes on the horizon ahead and building up airspeed by keeping the nose down a little.
Hang glider - first turn after takeoff
The carabiner is now well above my helmet because I have changed from the hang position (vertical) to the prone position (horizontal) with my legs inside the harness. I turn left as I have good flying speed and I am aware that I am in gently rising air. My next action is to continue the turn back closer to the hills where the lift is strongest, then slow the glider down to a safe climb speed, and enjoy watching the altimeter slowly registering my climb – on this day, to 1060 feet above sea level. (The standard unit for measurement of altitude in aviation is feet).

Soaring the Coastal Hills

Hang glider over Bass Strait at Apollo Bay
As the sunlit areas on the sea indicate, the sky was almost totally covered in cloud. But I did find a few patches of bright sunlight as I circled and flew backwards and forwards along the hills. The air was a very pleasant temperature.
Hang glider turning over coastal hills in  morning sunlight
Commencing a 360° left turn in front of the hills. On my right are Wild Dog Creek beach, Pirates Cove, Skenes Creek and in the distance, Cape Patton.
Hang glider turning over coastal hills in  morning sunlight
Hang glider half way through 360° turn in front of hills
At the halfway mark in a 360° level turn below the height of the hills, it is important that the turn be continued at a sufficient rate/angle of bank to avoid flying into any cumulo-eucalyptus. More pertinently, it is important not to commence such a 360° turn too close to the hill.

Approach for Landing on the Beach

Hang glider setting up approach for beach landing
The lift began to fade as I soared back and forth along the hills and instead of flying 1000 feet above sea level, I was now around 650-700 feet above sea level, below the height of the launch site at Marriners Lookout. So it was time to fly away from the hills towards the beach to select my touchdown point and to set up my landing approach. The early morning low tide gave me access to vast stretches of beach from which to choose a landing spot, and as expected there were very few people on the beach this early. I have landed on this part of the beach many times in years gone by, but the addition of three solid-looking speed humps across the runway was new! My preference was to land just beyond the southern breakwater projecting into the sea, which would place me at the end of my street. Whether I could glide that far from this height in the light cross wind blowing from my left was a question that needed a quick answer. There is a technique for making such an assessment, which involves looking carefully at the ground immediately on the far side of a vertical obstruction such as the groyne. If at a given airspeed and glide angle the ground I can see just above the groyne is disappearing from sight (as the groyne appears to rise and obscure it), my touchdown point will be short of the groyne, not beyond it. If on the other hand I am seeing increasing amounts of ground just the other side of the groyne, my touchdown point will be beyond it. The latter was observed, so I knew I would clear the southern groyne.
For completeness, if the groyne appeared to be neither rising and increasingly obscuring the sand beyond, nor sinking and revealing more and more sand just the other side of it, my touchdown point without further action would be the right on the groyne! Powered aircraft also use these principles during the landing approach.
Hang glider on final approach for beach landing
Gliding silently down through smooth cool morning air. Unlike powered aircraft, there is no ‘go around’ option when landing. You only get one shot at it.
Hang glider on final approach for beach landing
The steps at Tuxion beach (Cawood St) can be seen in the dunes under the trees.
Hang glider on final approach for beach landing
A walking couple can be seen just below the high water mark on the beach.
Hang glider on final approach for beach landing
I had good height as I crossed the breakwater, so I put a slight dog leg into my approach path to lose a little more height.
Hang glider on final approach for beach landing
Straightening up again after losing a bit of height, and aiming for a spot on the smooth wet sand but well clear of the water and devoid of all people and dogs. In descending through the last 100 feet or so of air I pull on a little extra airspeed as there can be a reduction in the wind (wind gradient) near the ground due to the friction between it and the moving air. The Tuxion beach steps can just be seen on the right side of the image. The approach is looking good.
Hang glider just before landing touchdown on beach
On short final approach, my hands move from the base bar to a ‘dagger’ grip on the uprights (as used on launch) for the flare and touchdown. The technique is to level out and slow down gradually just above the ground which involves the base bar progressively going forward, then moving my hands further up the uprights and at just the right moment pushing forward slowly at first then more strongly until my arms are extended upwards (when there is nil wind or light wind) which raises the nose of the glider to stall the wing which then acts as an airbrake. If done well, this can see the glider stop moving forward altogether with the pilot’s feet gently lowered to the ground with no requirement for even a single step forward. Typically one or two steps are used on landing.

A Convenient Destination

With Bruce waiting for me at this beach (we were in touch by UHF radio), the two of us were able to carry the assembled glider over a fence and across the Great Ocean Road to this lovely area of mown lawn. Perfect spot to pack up the glider – much better than doing it on the sand. Also, my house is only 300m up the street from this corner.

The Flight Data

The GPS plot of my flight path on final approach and landing. The 3D town view looks straight up the street in which I live. The slight dog leg I used to lose a bit of height on approach can clearly be seen in the lower right image. Note: the satellite image used was taken before the speed humps (groynes) were put on my sandy runway.

Solid Easterly Blow

Strong easterly blows are a feature of summer in Apollo Bay. In January there was a decent blow which lasted a few days. These boats were safe in the calm water of the harbour, but conditions were a little rougher just outside the harbour mouth.
Rough seas at mouth of harbour at Apollo Bay in easterly wind
Looking across the protected waters of the harbour to the wind waves generated by the 30+knot easterly.
Rough seas in easterly winds as viewed from residential street
Bass Strait as seen from the street in front of my house. The wind was blowing directly up the street. In a persistent strong easterly, even though our house is 300m up this street, our windows get covered with salt spray.

Apollo Bay Pedestrian

The eucalypts along Milford Creek beside our house are home to many resident and passing koalas. Seeing and hearing koalas in the trees, on the ground, on the fences and in our garden or on our lawn are all common experiences. This koala is known to us, and he was on his way to cross the road and head half a block south to the trees in his territory.

The lawn art (bottom right) appears occasionally in a Cawood St back yard.

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