Sunday, 15 April 2012

Week 6 - Day 7

Another frontal day, with rain, sleet and snow from a 200ft cloudbase throughout the morning. The weather began to clear up around 3pm with some sol getting to the ground, and some small and scraggy cumulus being formed off Stage 1. I think we perhaps left it slightly late launching, but were trying to see that the rotor and thermals being triggered by the ridge were repeatable and consistent. After 45 minutes of watching, a very large area of dead cumulus from a zone of much higher humidity was approaching and sat only two or three kilometres to the west. The climbs to start with were quite broken, but this was to be expected, and we moved further north along the ridge. Our options were beginning to thin fairly rapidly; the humid airmass had wiped out any thermal activity south of the Hecho valley and much of the activity within it and the better looking (rotor?) cumulus to the North would have had us arrive low to them with a very small chance of being able to scrape back to the airfield - a time when local knowledge would have helped considerably, as it may have been that we were guaranteed a climb from the clouds to the North, but it wasn't a risk worth taking on our last day. I made the very bad call to go and try some rotor looking activity on the north side of a cloud from the humid airmass, which on trying promptly delivered 10 knots down and rain straight to the ground. Not the perfect way to end the week, but better than not flying at all. Huge thanks to everyone at the airfield here, they've been a a massive help on days so marginal we wouldn't have even launched at home, and best of luck to the guys from Lasham that come after us. Hasta luego.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Week 6 - Day 6

Wow. The kind of day we’ve been waiting for and the result that we should have had from the very first day of our time here. Woke up to blue skies (How long’s it been?) but the obligatory area of 100% humidity was sat over by Yesa reservoir some 20km to the west. A stiff wind at 290/15 so rotor thermals were the dish of the day – for days with more ridge running high up, a more southerly direction is necessary. Slightly unsure about the best areas to find the rotor, we had a fairly in depth chat with Jose Antonio, which was to prove invaluable. We took off at just after 12 - the cumulus were very scraggy but this was to be expected because of their turbulent origin – buoyed by the production line of these Cu from Stage 1 now stretching several km’s downwind. We took a rotor climb straight off tow round the North facing edge of Stage 2, and made a long glide out to the next line of rotor starting on Stage 3. This delivered well, and we were able to make progress downwind. Catching sight of a large whirling Cumulus, we deviated slightly and caught a huge climb at 9kts – pushing out slightly into wind out of the edge of the cloud delivered a silky smooth wave climb along its vertical face, at an average of around 10knots and peaking at 17 knots up. Took the wave up to 14,500ft but with no classic lenticulars in sight, we went off for some sight-seeing to the East. We made it as far as Ordessa, hooking up with some typically strong Spanish thermals on the way back to the West, and we spent a lot of the afternoon with the highest peaks cut off by cloud, so the cumulus closer to the valley were explored. Transiting out towards Yesa at cloudbase, we managed to find a funnel shaped cumulus which allowed us to exploit the wave again – only up to 8,500ft this time. We were getting pretty wary of the ClearNav (fantastic system) running out of juice from the batteries and then losing the trace (battery down to 10.7volts), so made a nice fast finish out from the west, capping off an awesome flight of just over 6 hours. Made the whole week and the sleigh rides completely worth it. Forecast for Saturday is quite poor, but the soundings don’t look quite as bad as the predicted weather, so maybe there’s some flying on the cards.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Week 6 - Day 5

Very frontal day, 8/8 stratus at probably around 5,0000 ft amsl for most of the morning. The higher level cirrus moved off to the East and with the sun now completely out it set to work very quickly evaporating much of the stratus, but there was still a very large CuNim (?) out to the West within 5km. We got the glider out and were sat in, with the tug warming up, when Jose Antonio called off the launch due to a considerable gust front (wind had gone from about 5kts to 20kts in the time it took us to get in and get cameras etc ready). Forced to retreat with glider in tow to the hangar, we hoped for the predicted much clearer window from about 5pm. This did come, but by the time we launched (Wind 280/10-15) at 5:30 no new cumulus were being formed, and the only apparent hope was ridge and wave. We played on the West and North facing sections of Stage 1 for a time, but found it difficult to maintain height, but for about 15 minutes we found either a very small area of wave or a very persistent thermal in the middle of the Hecho valley. Got some fantastic shots close up with the vultures (must have camera ready at all times from now on...), and were back on the ground after an hour and a quarter. Forecast for Friday is much better, let's hope that they're right.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Week 6 - Day 4

Scraggy cumulus about from dawn, with a band of cirrus advancing from the West. The morning’s soundings showed again a large amount of instability, coupled with 100% humidity – although we were assured that this pairing did not write off flying. We were ready by about 11, and were on the pan that adjoins the main runway (Asphalto) by 11:30. The sky looked vaguely usable with a mix of stratocumulus and small cu but with very little sun getting anywhere near the ground, we went for lunch. After a couple of hours of sitting around, if anything the weather had gotten worse; thicker cirrus cover, no sun to be seen anywhere, and all of the convective cloud of any description was several km’s to the south beyond a small ridge, which was judged to be too far. We got caught in a shower and were forced to put the Duo back into the hangar, but we were sure not to dismiss the chance of the conditions improving. That they did, but only slightly, leaving a stratus scattered with embedded (and deceptively dark) cumulus, very similar to before the shower, but the better looking cloud was over a slightly larger area now to the north and west of the site as well. We took a launch at just after 3pm, and the tow was ominously smooth. We found the odd half knot climb to the south of the airfield but very little else, making the decision to cross over to the into wind ridges of Stage 1 to the north did little, and we were back on the ground within 45 minutes of take-off. It looks like we’ll have some flying tomorrow afternoon, but I think even the Met Guys are having trouble predicting the progress of the fronts and troughs.

Week 6 - Day 3

The forecast cold front passed through overnight and throughout the morning. At briefing, the satellite pictures showed a small window currently to the west of the mountains where there was a probability of extreme instability. Once again, a highly positive attitude (“It’s going to clear to leave 15k cloud base and 8kt climbs” etc.) paid off, and by midday said window of better weather was situated just to the south west. A hasty cafĂ© con leche and bocadillo followed and we launched at 13:07. We had launched perhaps slightly late (must hurry Dad on his coffee next time…) but came straight off tow into 3-4kts up to 6,200ft amsl; the sink between climbs was huge – often as high as 8 or 9 knots but the thermals were nearly equally rewarding. Cloud base was significantly lower and the cumulus a lot scraggier to the North, so we set off to the south, having to take a rather large detour around some restricted airspace just south of the airfield which is used to protect Lammergeyers (Whatever they are?). As forecast, there was a large amount of vertical development in places, and the instability prediction couldn’t have been closer to the truth: After a few minutes of shower dodging to the North of the site and 10 minutes sat on a ridge at Stage 1, we took a climb up to 7,000ft. There was a large area of fairly spreadout cumulus stretching off to the southwest, but at a much higher base of over 8,000ft. Flying underneath this paid dividends, delivering a near constant 5kts to cloud base; the lift was so strong we ended up at 85kts with the air brakes half open and we were still going up. Wary of showers encroaching from the West and South -We had been explicitly told to look out for storms building near Cuculo (It’s a mountain just to the south of the airfield, please don’t ask me on the spelling) – we headed north west from Riglos. In amongst flurries of snow, it appeared that there were inklings of wave about, and we returned to site just before 4pm in one of the many showers. All in all, I don’t think we could have extracted any more from a day when we woke up to rain pounding the rooftops.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Week 6 - Day 2

Awoke to a wall to wall blue sky, and the forecast from both TopMeteo and MeteoSim was for a borderline blue/cu day throughout, with a slight increasing humidity as the evening approached hopefully bringing with it a slight increase in cloud (Wind 230/~5). It seems (to a complete newcomer) that mountainous flying is a lot about getting up early and then waiting. And waiting. Briefing was at 10, and we were ready to fly by 11, but no cumulus had yet popped near to the airfield. By about 12 there were cumulus about 15km to the South approaching Riglos, but as the locals weren’t launching, we thought that we’d wait. By the time 2pm came and went I was beginning to wonder whether we’d fly at all, but we were offered to take a launch around 2:45, through perhaps a slight impatience on my part, we took off. Dropped at Stage 1, immediately it was a lot easier to find climbs than yesterday and slightly stronger at around 4 knots, with a much more predictable network in the bowls and ridges. We gradually worked our way up to Stage 2 (Approx 3,500ft QFE) and spent nearly half an hour trying to find a climb strong enough to punch through the inversion at 7,500ft amsl. Transiting to the valley just to our West, we found enough height to match the smaller peaks of Stage 3 (5,000ft+ QFE). With small but frequent bubbles coming off the ridges, we were able to do a lap and a half around Isaba to the North West and Canfranc to the East. Not a large task by any means, but gave some incredible photo opportunities, and once again, the vultures were a huge help in finding the strongest climbs.  

Forecast for Tuesday isn't great with a cold front passing through the morning, but potentially a window of a couple of hours of extreme instability, just got to be careful not to get caught out by storms locally.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Week 6 - Day 1

Was extremely tempting to fly yesterday afternoon, arriving at the airfield to a soarable and breaking 8/8. Took the 'responsible' decision not to fly with another 7 days ahead, and so the only possible option was taken: the bar.
Occluded front passed through over night, leaving some wispy Cu in the morning. Much more moist airmass 30km to the West, stratocu with wave above it, so our initial plan was to explore that if we could.
Launched just after Jose-Antonio (DCFI) at about 11:30, I'd tell you what cloudbase was but we never made it that far. Wind was 300/15-18 which was fine initially, and the tow and release onto Stage 1 (Foothills just North of the airfield at around 1200ft QFE) suggested alot of activity was being triggered, and we managed to string a few climbs together but soon lost Jose. We tried a lot of clouds closer to the airfield, with accompnaying vultures, but found that the bubble of lift was vertically quite small, meaning that the thermals were often short lived.
View to West at 09:00 - Wave above the Cumulus