By Damian le Roux
Apparently the 1000 km Diploma has not been achieved by a Southdown Gliding Club member before, so for posterity here is how it happened.
There are a few gliding Gods who have achieved 1000 km in the UK, but I’m not in their league so I need to resort to going where the gliding conditions can be amazing, South Africa. See photo 1.
To give some background, I have visited Soaring Safaris in Bloemfontein three times now and had a fabulous holiday every time. Soaring Safaris was started by Dick Bradley, a very nice guy and gliding grandee, currently being treasurer of the International Gliding Commission of the FAI. He runs Soaring Safaris with a number of others including sometimes his daughters, one of them being our own Claire Durston who often helps out there during the four-month season. They are all thoughtful and helpful people which makes for a nice atmosphere.
In many ways South Africa (SA) seems to have been made for gliding. In the morning, Dick Bradley phones ATC to say we would like to go gliding, and they immediately close large areas of their controlled airspace so it can be used by gliders! Can you imagine that happening here? The terrain is flat and the farmers create vast open fields which are easily land-able and easily recognisable as such from a distance because of their dark brown colour which contrasts with the uncultivated terrain. Then the dark brown fields are excellent thermal generators, so when getting low and heading towards land-able areas, you are also heading towards the best thermals… which are usually indicated by dust devils. It just could not have been organised any better.
The soaring weather tends to run in cycles of a number of similar days, varying between showers and blue with a batch of exceptional days occurring every now and then. I was lucky with the weather on this trip; I was there for 23 days of which there was no flying on only one day, because of strong winds.
For the first 10 days of this trip in January 2019 I flew in a lot of low blue conditions, which is easier than blue in the UK. In SA low means the lift is only going to 5-6,000’ Above Ground Level. Given that the ground is 4-5,000’ Above Sea Level, then in ‘low’ conditions oxygen is sometimes needed! On days when there are cumulus clouds it is not unusual for convergence lines to develop, but on my trip, virtually all my flying was classic climb and glide, I rarely found even a bit of a street to follow.