The day I broke the Club Tandem Record
Okay.... I was just a passanger, but! But I could have probably done it without Jason, who piloted us 55km from Beechy to Boonah.
Now within the club, it's customary for write ups on special days like the day we flew to Boonah, but instead I'm gonna write about my learning experience and address the write-up to my fellow Intermediate XC pilots that rarely fly past Beaudesert (you know who you are). At our level of flying we are constantly fighting demons, asking questions about rough air and whether we are just chicken grit?
I'm not one to hog all this knowledge gained from others as well as from these tandem flights, so here are some key points.
1. Mythical Pilots
First of all, it turns out that Jason Turner is human after all. There is nothing mysterious about this man. He does get repeatedly frustrated in the air, he swears at the elements at times, he shouts at the glider, gets anxious, has a superstitious reluctance to acknowledge decent climbs, and yells a lot for no apparent reason. He also burps a lot and makes dad jokes when coring rough climbs.
Matts who I have had the pleasure with flying twice, is the same. He is more vocal in the air than on the ground, in a good way! And, like Jas, that tightening of the legs around me, I take as tensing up while battling those thermals, not as affection.
Turns out, it is very normal to get anxious in rough air. Even for those top pilots.
2. Rough Air
Okay, here it is... you know those times when you and I have flown to Beaudesert in relatively smooth conditions? Well, apparently they were once-offs. We can no longer compare those flights to everyday XC flying. It appears to be that rough air is normal along the way, as well as the odd big wack (you just got to control it!)
Some of the tandem XC flights I've been a part of, have been a roller-coaster ride, but not once during the flight did the pilot even remotely consider landing, because that was normal to them and they felt in control.
So when you ask yourself next time in the air, is this really it? Is this really XCing? Well, yes it is. We are living on the edge of life, here. And to go far, we have to increase our tolerance to rough air and the anticipation of collapses. That said, stay safe, just land if you can't hack it anymore, the mountain isn't going anywhere.
3. Get as close to the terrain as you comfortably can (while always maintaining a safe glide to at least two landing areas).
I've had two flights with Matts and on both occasions, I was taken back by how close we were flying to hill. In fact, Matts and I were virtually in the bombout on Friday, I was about to speed dial my lovely wife to come pick us up, but he managed to climb out by staying close to the hill. It was amazing. We were constantly judging our glide to the BO, but meter by meter we climbed slowly. When 20 minutes later you're at base, you realise just what an achievement that is. And Jas did the same yesterday but with much rougher air. Thirty minutes we were at Gordos going up 50 metres and losing height 50 metres, just over and over. And it was pleasant air. It was frustrating. But he stayed with it. We'd have decked it for sure if weren't close to hill. You have to be close enough to the hill so that when those trees start thrashing around, you can see them clearly and head over.
4. Be prepared to walk-out.
You can only do point 3 if you are prepared to walk out. So you have to walk 3km? Big friken deal. Stick to roads (like I currently do), and you'll never fly far (unless you're in Dalby or Manilla). Those places where you have to walk out from, that's where the lift usually is. We flew over Kooralbyn yesterday over terrain that I thought if we landed in I would surely starve, but looking back, no, they were just small hills. And indeed it was where all the lift was.
5. Never give up
So many times, I thought to myself during Jason's and Matts' flights, I'd have given up and landed in that situation. In many of those situations when I was picking out landing options, the pilot was looking at trigger sources (as well as landing options). When you've lost so much height from 2000m, it seems like that's the end of the day for you but the fact is you're not on the ground until you're on the ground, not when you're still 400 meters in the air.
I think I picked up in this experience that I'm a little away with the fairies when flying, taking in the scenery when I can. I was amazed at how acute Jason's observations were. This stuff isn't just text-book stuff, it all seems to work in real life. Whilst battling with these monster thermals, Jas was picking out tiny observations in the distance. "Look, there's Rob Wilton crapping himself. Look there's Simone getting flushed. Let's not go there!" And I'd have to really stare to see these things. I think it's just something you have to really train yourself to do.
Jason and Matts are always looking out for clouds. Not the big half established clouds that I try and race to and end up decking it half-way, but the ones that look like someone has just farted in the cold air. Just barely there, and much closer than the established ones. Head there, and pretty much straight away - beep - beep - befff****ck!!
So there you have it fellow mediocre pilots. That's what I picked up from flying with two of Australia's best paragliding pilots.
Will it improve my flying? Probably not, but I'll give it a shot...