The plan was to get to the Gliding Club early and fly the Falke motor glider at first light.
I met my pilot friend in the dim light of dawn and we got the aircraft out of its hangar. After an inspection and a short taxi round to the refuelling bunker we added 25 litre of mogas.
The aircraft had been left wet and muddy and it was my job to clean it. Cold wet hands. Aircraft do not fly well with wet wings.
The dawn was grey, everything was grey. Some more shades to add to the 50 we keep reading about.
We could not see the end of the runway. From the clubhouse there is a certain row of trees. If you can see the individual trees, visibility is just about good enough to fly. We all know where the trees are and with imagination there was a murky darkness there but no individual trees.
The restaurant at Lasham Gliding Club is open to the public all day, every day. It serves good value food. You can watch the flying activities. If you wish, you can arrange a trial flight.
After the flight there is a bar with good real ales.
Lasham Gliding Club is signposted off the A339 South of Basingstoke. There is adequate visitor parking.
During the consumption of three cups of coffee we saw an occasional shaft of sunlight but it did not last. Calculations from the temperature and dew point suggested that the cloudbase was 150 ft above the field. We waited. The restaurant began to fill up with Sunday lunch people and a couple of cycling clubs stopped off for refreshment. Dawn patrol was postponed until midday.
Once in the aircraft we felt better, rather like an addict must feel when he has drugs available. After all the checks it seemed to take ages for the oil to come up to flying temperature. There were no other aircraft ready to fly so, like pioneers, we started.
Cloudbase was at 800 ft. We are not allowed to fly at less than 500 ft so we were in a narrow sandwich between earth and cloud. We followed the A339, Alton to Basingstoke Road until we could see Basingstoke. By then, the airfield was out of sight. We turned back. If you get lost in the air, you cannot stop and ask the way.
It was good to see the fields now covered in delicate green as the winter sown crops sprout. Quite a lot of our poor quality agricultural land is now laid out as solar electrical farms. The place where Hampshire stores your garden waste was steaming gently as the vegetation fermented. This is usually a good place for thermals.
We flew a couple of circuits and bumps and then landed (You could see an example of landing in this Youtube video). Just over half an hour in all. We were the first to brave the day and we were met by several other pilots wanting to fly once we had landed.
For the Tecchies
The Falke (Falcon) motor glider has a range of 430 miles, a maximum speed of 118 mph and a glide angle of 23:1. That is optimistic. A modern glider has an angle of 50:1, a standard Cessna 8:1 and the space shuttle 4:1, Just a little better than a brick.
The engine is a Rotax 1200 cc, 4 cylinder horizontal generating 80 hp. It runs on petrol and burns 15 litres per hour.
Post Series on Gliding, by Mike Sedgwick: