Club Expedition to Portmoak - 24th-30th March 2012

by Steve Tape

Day One - Saturday

Arrival day. Some drove up the day before and were lucky enough to find themselves always further north than the accidents and hold ups being reported on the radio. Others drove overnight Friday into Saturday and thus had a comfortable and clear drive north. Then still others chose to have a leisurely drive north on Saturday, quite remarkably reaching as far as Michael Wood services on the M5 just north of Bristol before the need for the first rest stop and breakfast could no longer be ignored.

The weather had some ideas of it's own as to how a soaring week should begin. With high pressure dominating the whole of the UK, slack south-easterlies of 2 knots or so were expected. Not exactly the most promising outlook for a week of hoped-for ridge and wave. Saturday delivered exactly as advertised: 1 or 2 knots and a thick haze obscuring the far ends of the ridges. A small number of our hardened aviators took to the sky later in the afternoon during a slightly less hazy period to have check rides to be ready for any action that may develop.

Day Two - Sunday

Very slightly better conditions: We could see the near edge of the Loch and make out the shape of Bishop Hill. The fleet was rigged and towed to the launch point an eager anticipation in spite of the slack wind. However, it was an excellent opportunity to complete everyone's local checks using EZE and one of the local K21's kindly offered to our use by the Portmoak people.

As the sun moved further around after lunch, the westward facing slope of Bishop Hill began to warm and thermal lift along the face built up for a short period. A lucky few managed to work the lift to just above ridge-top height on a short beat at the southern end. We also had our first "achievement": John Butler converted to the Junior, his first glass single-seater.

Day Three - Monday

The high pressure seemed to be moving towards the west very slowly and hopes for a few knots of wind onto the ridge began to grow. The windmills to the west of the M90 were also visible in the morning, a good sign even though they weren't turning.

By mid-morning the Bannerdown "fleet" was parked at the launch point with the pilots basking in the beautiful sunshine and the locals took every opportunity to remind us that this was unusually good weather for the time of year. Some keen individuals took a launch before lunch and despite heroic efforts to make the ridge work by the power of will alone, all that was managed was a few circuits. The secret turned out to be to watch the launch point marker flags and ignore the often over-optimistic windsock: When the flags began to move it was time to launch.

Just after 1pm the flags began to move, and then so did the grid. It was still really only warm air rising up the face of Bishop Hill rather than true ridge lift but several members enjoyed flights of between one and two hours and at one point we had the entire Bannerdown expedition fleet airborne and on the ridge at the same time. Quite a sight. Flight of the day had to go to John Butler again who managed to get over an hour in the Junior towards his Bronze-C.

Day Four - Tuesday

A little more movement of the high pressure area towards the west this morning raised hopes that today would be even better. The windmills to the west were rotating and there was some optimism about thermal activity now that the inversion appeared to be going higher than a thousand feet or so. The waiting game began again and a small knot of observers gathered at the launch caravan as a few keen individuals ignored the observation about the launch point flags and took to the air. All eyes were fixed on the aviators but the ridge stubbornly refused to work until the tell-tale movement of the flags began... at around the same time of day as on previous occasions!

Once the ridge began to work, once again just after lunch, the fleet launched and the afternoon returned some good flying and tantalizing views into the mountains to boost the already high enthusiasm of all. Most pilots who flew managed flights of over an hour, John Williams getting over 3 hours in DNE, Ian Harris and Ben Dews in EZE getting around 4 hours and Pete Desmond and Steve Tape landing after 4.5 hours each in their mighty DG200's.

Day Five - Wednesday

The centre of the high pressure was now over Northern Ireland and starting to bring the wind around to the west and north-west over Portmoak. Perfect conditions for wave seemed possible with the ridge definitely working and launching began almost two hours earlier than on previous days.

The day proved to be fantastic and with a tantalising hint of wave at the end of the day. Phil Woods and Harry Williams managed Silver Duration flights: Harry was airborne for 5:20 in a Portmoak Junior and Phil for 6:00 hours dead in the Astir DNE. Well done chaps! Al Stacey also managed over 5 hours in the LS8, but the longest flight of the day badge has to go to Pete Desmond who kept his DG200 in the air for 7 hours 45 minutes!

Day Six - Thursday

What a day! The high pressure was by now north-west of Ireland and thin high wave clouds could be seen in the sky from early morning. The locals were talking of Silver heights and possibly Gold heights being achievable. The briefing room emptied very rapidly as soon as the morning briefing finished and there was a queue of gliders beginning to form at the launch point. A lot of local glass was also appearing so the omens were all good.

The ridge was easy and working extremely well, goals for the day were to get Tom and Ben Dews and John Williams their Silver durations, and other pilots were still looking at the tantalising signs of wave. And then it happened. Gliders could be seen leaving the ridge and pushing out over Loch Leven and climbing. Andy Smith, Ian Harris, Adam Berresford and Steve Tape caught the wave and rode it to Gold height over the Loch. John Williams followed suit and bagged his Gold height along with his Silver duration, also getting the longest flight of the day by staying airborne for 7 hours and 10 minutes. Tom Dews, on a conversion flight to a Junior, also tagged along and copied John by getting a Gold height and a Silver duration in the same flight. Well done to all.

But the day wasn't done. Steve, Glenn Turpin and Pete Desmond pushed off towards the north-west in the wave and made their way into the mountains west of Perth. The views were superb and although the wave was almost exclusively blue it was very regular and relatively easy to use. Pete was leaving that evening and so turned for home but Glenn and Steve carried on, Steve being rewarded by finding a 6 knot climb to 12,000 ft at Loch Tay. However, lack of any O2 on board precluded further climb. Who knows if a diamond was on? Unfortunately Glenn, who did have oxygen on board, could not find the climb and so was unable to explore how high it would have been possible to go.

So on the best day of the expedition the achievements were 6 Gold heights and 3 Silver Durations, plus numerous satisfying flights both on the ridge and in wave.


Day Seven - Friday

This was another gorgeously sunny day with the ridge working well. Once again, pilots were launching almost as soon as they arrived at the launch point and enjoyed thermal enhanced ridge lift to well over 3,000 feet. However, the wave remained elusive and it required some bold moves to push out to the next ridge towards Perth.

Glenn was the first to go and began making encouraging noises on the radio. Steve and then Al set off to join him, Steve having a closer look at the M90 than he would have liked, and then Al joined in the scrape away in a thermal with Glenn passing soothing comments about the wonderful smoothness of the lift from the safety of 5,000 feet above. Ian was now on his way in the ASW20, but after a valiant effort and spending some time studying the tree tops he had to abandon the attempt and only just made it back to the safety of Bishop Hill.

The reward for those who made it across the jump was a fantastically relaxing flight to around 8,000 feet in wave and which sealed a perfect end to a quite outstanding club expedition.


The expedition to Portmoak was one of the most successful expeditions of recent years. There were 19 pilots flying 11 aircraft, not including those that were kindly lent to us by the SGU at Portmoak, and we achieved around 150 launches and a total of 230 hours of flying. In addition to the pure glider flying, some motor-glider cross-country flying was carried out in G-OFIX and one of the Portmoak motor-gliders. There were also some interesting social evenings and a couple of birthday parties to add to the celebration of the weeks achievements.

Bring on the Soaring Week!