Typical Events at Bannerdown Gliding Club

Hot 'n' High in the South African Sun - Winter 2004
by Nick Smith

25.5 Meter span of the Nimbus 3
In the winter of 2004 I decided to follow the sun and went to South Africa to do some gliding. The weather was stunning and I was made very welcome by Dick Bradley and everyone at Soaring Safaris.
A little bit of dust hurt no-one

He runs a lovely fleet of aircraft including a Discus, LS4, LS6 and Nimbus 3. I thought I’d briefly recount the experience of flying a day in the South African National Gliding Championships, along with flying the heaviest, most cumbersome glider I’ll probably ever fly.

The competition day starts early when you’ve not got a crew so it’s out of the tent at 0600 to clean the glider.


Dust storms and rain overnight make the daily grind of cleaning 25.5 metres of wing a real chore (you don’t de-rig unless you REALLY have to). Then comes the water ballast… apparently they’re short of water in some parts of Africa. I’m not surprised really with the amount that goes into the gliders. The Nimbus took 250 litres to get it up to max AUW of 750kg. That’s 5 barrels a side!

With the long wings both inches from the ground there’s the long drive over to the launch point, stopping at the compulsory weighbridge to confirm how close to the legal maximum weight you’ve managed to get today. The grid looks impressive; the open class is full of big sagging wings. Anyone with less than 25 metres starts to get a bit of a complex. Having dropped the aircraft at the launch point it’s time to retreat to the shade of the briefing tent. The task is invariably an assigned area, in excellent conditions. First launch is soon after midday.

As the hors concours (horses conkers) pilot I’ve got the choice of the front of the grid as snifter or the back after everyone else. I choose the front.

Ready to launch
Watch those trees
Flying High in South Africa

The runway is fairly long but the tug pilot still has to choose the gap between the trees to climb out through as 4000ft ground level and 30 degree temperatures make their mark. The competition launch is only to 500 metres so you get left wallowing in thin thermals with an aircraft that’s happier high and fast than low down and dirty. Getting up to start height of 11,000ft is easier once the thermals become more established.

The Nimbus 3 isn’t easy to get into the core of any thermal so it’s fortunate that you don’t have to thermal very much. In a straight line it’s just like the Duracel rabbit; it goes and goes and goes. The first TP is 70km without turning and then there’s a series of thunderstorms to gain the height back but I get worried and turn when I didn’t need to; seconds lost.

Getting back into my stride the 200 km run to the second TP is great fun so I extend into the sector. Turning for home with a 250 km final leg I was getting low at 8,000ft and desperately in need of the 12kt thermal that took me back to 14,500ft cloudbase. One more climb needed to get home, and that happens 120km later in a dust devil. The final glide is a bone shaking Vne run to race across the airfield and pull up to 800ft.

The average speeds in Africa are high and the winners are making over 140kph. It’s hard work staying anywhere near them and every second counts. I didn’t complete the whole competition as work intervened but I’m definitely going back sometime soon so if anyone fancies crewing for a Nimbus 3 in a country where landing out is almost unheard of then come and collect your polishing cloths from me.

Nimbus 3