UK Mountain competitors soar to new heights in difficult conditions

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The United Kingdom Mountain Soaring competition at Aboyne Airfield opened on Sunday with a magnificent day under trying conditions.

Magnificent because there was strong mountain wave, creating large areas of lift.

One glider (3D), a Duo Discus flown by John Tanner, based at Aboyne airfield, climbed to 29,705 feet: indeed he and his passenger only stopped climbing because of a suspected oxygen supply issue.

Others climbed almost as high, and many competitors started their cross-
country flying from an altitude of 10,000 to 12,000 feet.

For those not familiar with glider racing, you cannot just climb high and then dive 
really fast. For any long distance flight, there is a maximum allowed height loss of 1000 metres between start and finish, and each glider has a flight recorder which is checked after they land to confirm where they went and at what heights.

There are big penalties in your score if you lose more height. There is also handicapping to compensate for the better performance of some gliders.

Sunday was trying because the southwesterly wind was very strong, there was much sinking air to ‘match’ the rising air, and at lower levels (up to 2500 feet) significant turbulence, which made the tow plane pilots rather busy.

There was also a lot of cloud cover, making it difficult to remain in clear air – another competition rule is no cloud flying. The cloud base was about 2500 feet, so much of the tops of the Cairngorms were in cloud, which would make descending in cloud very dangerous – every cloud has a granite lining.

The first day’s cross-country task was an ‘hourglass’ shape. Competitors had to fly from Dinnet (just west of Aboyne) to Kincraig (south of Aviemore), then Huntly, on to a point south of Nairn, and back to Aboyne airfield, a task length of 286 km.

Santiago Cervantes, in his Discus, won the day with a speed of 186.1 kph (115.5 mph) – remember this is with no 
engine.

A few competitors landed out, one after gaining his ‘gold height’, a climb of 3000 metres, after release from the tow aircraft, landing near Kildrummy Castle.

Day two’s competition was cancelled due to poor weather, but Lucas Touw, 18, of Aboyne was sent on his first and second solo flights in the calm conditions later in the day.

Day three was a complex cross-country task, to be flown in thermals, which are large bubbles of hot air which rise. The route was Loch Kinord, Dufftown, Ballater, Kingussie, Loch Muick, Braemar Stadium and then Aboyne airfield, a total of 253.6km (157 miles).

The route was optimised to keep gliders over the mountains where the soaring was better. While six gliders flew the entire route, many did not, and landed in various fields, or just returned to Aboyne, having flown part of the route.

The day was won by John Tanner with a speed of 79kph (50mph) which considering the poor weather was excellent, and he was leading the competition after day three.

Day three was completed with a visit of a Coastguard Helicopter to Aboyne airfield during a training mission.