Sunday, 21 October 2012
Whether to fly?
He was only a humble meteorologist, but one look at a girl and he could tell whether...
Some days it’s good, some days it ain’t. Working out which is which is part and parcel of being a daring, free-flying aviator. Settle down now and Uncle Batsby will give you a little lesson in flying and the weather... if only to bestow on you the knowledge to be suitably impressed by my tales of derring-do.
A paraglider might look like a parachute to you, but to us it is a wing, an aerofoil, a means to commit aviation. The world paragliding distance record is over 500km, set by one Neville Hulett of South Africa. For us it’s all about keeping it up, but eventually gravity always wins the unequal contest. It’s a bit like the European form of democracy; however hard you struggle, Europe ignores you and carries on regardless.
Actually, the main reason for landing is usually to regale your audience – any audience – with exaggerated tales of heights climbed, distance won and competitors vanquished. (Imagine then, how pissed off Neville must have been when he landed in the boonies without a soul in sight!)
Falling or flying? Just like those nutters who go in for freefall parachutery, we are always descending through the air, typically at around 1 metre every second, so we need to find air that is going up faster than we are going down. Although you can’t see it, the air is in perpetual turmoil – some going up and some going down. We need to find the uppy bits. And then stay in them.
You can’t fly without knowing whether. But wither the weather? (When we’re together?) Little fluffy clouds – that’s the ticket. When you see little fluffy clouds you can be sure they are sitting atop their very own little column of rising air. Like a lava lamp, bubbles of warm, light air pop up from all sorts of origins then rise and expand as they float on the colder, denser air around. As some air goes up, some must come down and eventually what was uppy air starts to sink again and so it goes... When you hear a glider pilot talking about thermalling he means he’s managed to spend a little time in his own personal bubble. Easier said than done; the bloody stuff is invisible.
A typical flight from Mount Babadag in Turkey starts at a mile high – a little over 5500 feet and lasts 20-30 minutes on a straight glide to the bottom. On a good day, you’ll find thermals and get up to around 8000 ft, prolonging your flight and increasing the fun factor. The other day I topped out at 12,200 feet and lest you think, “Pffft, easy!” civil aircraft regulations require the use of supplemental oxygen above 12,500 ft.
That pimple below is a proper mountain!
Yes, yes, yes Felix Baumgartner jumped from 24miles high, but he had a balloon and a special suit. Pffft, easy! I had to do it all by myself, in shorts and tee shirt and I have to tell you, it was bloody freezing up there! Nice view though.