By Michael Dufty
Last year about this time in 1999 we had a run of 3 or 4 weekends with great cross country conditions, so after the previous Sundays good flying I was determined to make the most of the weekend of 28 October. The forecast was for northeasterlies, and Noondeening Hill always seems to work best in the mornings, often shutting down around 12, so I thought I'd try to get up early for once.
Eric phoned up about 8:30 and said the temp trace was indicating a cloudbase around 11000 feet once the inversion broke, so it was sounding even better. Gordon Eric and I met up with Richard (from Belgium) at Midland and arrived on take off at Noondeening at about 11:00.
It was looking a bit dodgy for launching though. the wind seemed off to the north a little, reasonably strong with some very strong gusts.
Gordon went off first and got shoved to the right by something just in front of launch, with associated flapping of wingtips. He didn't have a lot of penetration, and was barely maintaining height so it wasn't looking too good, but about as he reached the front ridge he started going seriously up, although still not forwards. He'd forgotten to turn his vario audio on though, and didn't realise how good it was. He hung around out front for a while and then landed, but the one thermal was enough to convince Eric and myself to go.
Eric got off at the end of lull, by the time I'd spread out my glider though, it had picked right up again. After a few minutes hanging onto my glider in a wall I managed to get a bit side on and collapse it onto the ground. I was quite pleased with that until the wind shifted a bit and reopened the glider upside down, lifting it into the tree at the back of launch. I had to wait for the wind to drop to get it down, and it was full of sticks when I respread it, but the wind was Ok so I went. Not the best inflation ever, but I caught the surge and veered between the trees and out front.
I went straight for the front ridge, as it felt a bit too strong to stay over take off on the Saber which I'd borrowed from Dave and wasn't sure how fast it was.
I got one run of the main face in with out gaining or losing much, then as I turned back I could see Eric circling and joined him in a punchy thermal that was pretty hard to centre, but felt good enough to clear the hill.
It faded out at about 3000 feet and Eric and I drifted along for a while in a big lifty area, take turns in finding little cores that vanished as soon as they appeared. An eagle helped out for a while, then everything turned to sink.
We glided crosswind towards the bushy hills near Gt Eastern Highway. The sink was phenomenal, solid 1000 fpm down which went on and on. I was starting to worry I'd make it to the hill and have to land in the trees around it. There was one little farm cleared to the base of the hill for a bail out option though so I kept going, and right at the last minute got another punchy little thermal, giving my about 300 fpm up, which is a whole lot better than 1000 down. I assumed Eric who was just behind would join me in it, but he must have found something else which faded, and fairly soon he was in the little paddock I'd spotted.
The climb didn't even get me as high as the last one, only about 2500 feet above take off, but enough to make it to the road. Over the road I was wanted to try the next low hills, but was worried about getting dropped behind them with the wind as strong as it was. Fortunately I found lift again just I was going to have to divert to keep safe landing options, and was back up to about 2500ft. Id been planning to try to push cross wind to the east (wind was NE) to head for York, but I was very low and didn't like the landing options that way. In fact the wind seemed to wave swung more east and I was drifting west down Gt Eastern Highway towards Perth so I decided to go with it and follow the road. I got more strong sink and ended up over the little hills behind Clackline, down to about 500 feet going down fast looking for a landing option between the hobby farms and powerlines and bush. I got a zero up though, which I hoped would at least let me drift to a better landing place.
I n fact it slowly got better and I dared hope it might take me through the inversion to where the Cu's were starting to pop out well above. It didn't but the next thermal did. The drift was back to south west so I was drifting in to the remote area between Gt Eastern Highway and the York Road, and towards the solid band of bush all the way to Perth. The Cu's inspired me to keep going as it would be a good start if the day got better, and I started getting some stronger climbs, pushing east across the wind between them to stay near the edge of the bush if still a little over it. The lift really improved it was like lift streets across the wind, and I kept hitting more lift, slowly drifting south towards the end of the bush, leaving the climbs when ever they weakened a little.
It was pretty hard going but eventually I got to where I wasn't worried about the bush and could get a bit of downwind on my glides. Then just when I thought I'd done the hard bit, I was clear of forest, back on the higher airspace zone, within glide of a road (the great southern highway) and I nearly lost it, the sink came back and I plummeted down to almost level with the top of a stony hill I'd been hoping would be a good thermal trigger for me as I glided a couple of thousand feet above it. It did come through with a thermal though, and I got a very rough ride right up to 8000 feet.
I was near Beverley then and it did get easy, I was able to cruise form cloud to cloud. The clouds were very short lived, every time I glided towards one it'd vanish, but that 'd be Ok because a new one would materialise above me.
I made it to Brookton and 10000 feet and starting to get cold and tired and thirsty and hungry, but I was determined to finally get 100km. The GPS said I had 85km , and I figured with a groundspeed of 50kmh and 10000feet under me it'd take some serious sink to bring me down short of 100km. Of course that was what I got, and at 5000 feet I still had 7 km to go. When the sink turned into the weakest of weak lift I just stuck in it and turned circles until I'd drifted past the 100km mark.
Once I'd got there I dared explore a bit further and actually found some better lift further downwind, climbing back to 6500 feet and an easy glide to the next town south, which was off my map, but I later discovered to be Pingelly. It was 5 o'clock then and I couldn't see another town for a while, so Pingelly looked like an attractive landing place. I spiralled down from about 4000 feet to land on the nice big footy oval there, and ended up with half the towns kids watching me pack. I guess I could have easily made another 10km, but would have needed a bit of luck to get much further. I was pretty happy with my flight. I did 113km which was my longest flight, and probably the paraglider record for WA. I might have gone even further on my own glider which is getting repaired after I decorated the powerlines with it at serpentine.
Dave's old (very) Saber which I borrowed for the flight still performed well