A bit of a departure from our usual gliding-focused events, but this year our very own Ian Gale (proud Europa owner as well as being handy with a glider) invited the UK branch of the Europa Club to try something different – flying out of their comfort zone and up to the north of Scotland!

Altogether 13 aircraft (including a Jabiru and a Robinson R44 as ‘honorary Europas’) came from across the UK to sample the hospitality at Easterton for a few days. The trip was arranged to maximise the amount of fun for the visitors while minimising any disruption to normal gliding operations. Thursday was arrivals day, with glorious weather pre-booked weeks in advance by Ian and bacon rolls provided to restore hungry pilots after a long trip. After all the aircraft had been lined up in a neat double row in the parking area, the pilots were rounded up and taken for a meal at the Bootlegger’s Bothy in Hopeman before being dropped off at hotels for the night. Bright and early the next morning they had the unique treat of a tour of RAF Lossiemouth (including a chance to sit in a Typhoon cockpit), before stopping back at the club for an epic picnic lunch prepared by Sally Gale. Afterwards they had the afternoon free to explore local airfields, with most heading to either Dornoch or Easter to sample the local restaurants for a few hours, returning for a second night stop. On Saturday morning everyone got ready to depart before the day’s gliding started, with some continuing north to visit the spaceport at Unst and others heading down the Great Glen to Glenforsa, or making a dash for home in the south of England. Overall the event went amazingly smoothly, aided by perfect weather and slick organisation by Ian, and from the sound of it our Europa Club visitors enjoyed themselves greatly.

Many people deserve thanks for helping to make this expedition happen, from Ian Gale (of course) for organising the whole thing to Martin and John B for mowing the entire airfield in readiness, John B as assistant Air Traffic Control, Julian as Ground Control and standby Bacon Maestro, Baz and Rick as taxi drivers and of course all our lovely visitors.

I think it’s fair to count this trip a success and we hope to see the Europa Club again. Early reports suggest that they are keen to come back next year, and possibly even sample some gliding next time – perhaps this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

A spell of soarable weather alerted the midweek group to the possibility of bagging a couple of cross-country tasks this Friday. So, a skeleton crew launched Ross off on his first 50k to Feshie in his trusty Mosquito - well done Ross! - and Stuart in the mighty Nimbus zigzagged across the mountains to claim a 300k, proving that you don't need to be in the south of England for good thermals to take you places.

Ross' silver distance flight can be viewed here: https://bgaladder.net/flightdetails/107263

And Stuart's 300 can be viewed here: https://bgaladder.net/FlightDetails/107269

If it wasn't for everyone else in the midweek group being trapped by work, holidays or other obligations, there would no doubt have been more epic soaring flights to put up on the ladder from Easterton. We hope to see (and take advantage of!) more opportunities coming our way this summer...

Last year, the club members undertook an expedition to Bristol and Gloucestershire Gliding Club at Nympsfield, which was very successful but involved taking the gliders a long way down the road.  For this year’s Spring expedition, Billy took the lead in organising something a little closer to home.  The first week in April in Aboyne promises wave and thermal soaring before the Deeside Gliding Club starts getting busy over the summer period.  So it was that a cheery band of pilots made their way over to Aboyne on Sunday 2 April.  Billy and Phil had made all of the arrangements with Deeside so all that John, Adrian, Colin and Ella had to do was get themselves and their gliders from Easteron to Aboyne – only 60 miles away.  R1, JYC, WP and JHN were brought across and Phil conveniently had his Duo, 3D already hangared at Aboyne.  

The forecast for the week was mixed, with Tuesday looking like the best day but heavy rain due to come in on Wednesday on Thursday.  However, if we learnt anything from the week, it was not to put too much trust in the forecast!

Monday wasn’t looking that promising for wave but all the gliders were rigged first thing, and Phil and Colin took R1 for a flight to see what was happening.  A short tow up Glen Tanar led to weak wave from about 2,000 ft and they managed to climb away after releasing at 2,300 ft.  After checking on Glide and Seek that they really were doing alright, it was time to launch the wing! Billy, John and Adrian followed in quick succession with John having the longest flight of the day at over 3 hours climbing to well over 10,000 ft.  R1 landed after 1:45 to let Phil take Ella on her first flight from Aboyne to enjoy the stunning views over the Highlands – another 1:40 flight.  We were also joined for the day by Roger and Julian, who both declined a flight but were invaluable with their assistance on the ground.

Tuesday turned out as forecast to be a cracking day.  Phil and Colin again led the way in R1 and after Colin demonstrated a successful landing on the narrow strip, rolling to the end as required by local procedure, he was cleared for solo local soaring.  Encouraged by this he then achieved the longest flight of the expedition at 3:20, reaching FL100.  Billy and John also had great flights and Ella had another wave soaring trip, this time in the Perkoz with Geoff, a BI at Deeside.  As it was such a nice day, Martin and Colin Conti took a day trip over in the motor glider from Easterton and their assistance on the ground was much appreciated.  Wednesday and Thursday were forecast to be wet so the single-seaters were de-rigged at the end of the day but R1, resplendent in her new covers was parked up next to her trailer.

Wednesday started overcast and wet, but soon cleared up and the promised torrential rain never materialised, so it was off with the covers for R1 and Colin took it for another local wave soaring trip, returning after an hour and a half.  Phil got 3D out of the hangar and with Ella in the back seat, set off down the runway behind the Aboyne Eurofox (which had been towing all week).  Just after 3D got into the air, a fault with the turbo in the tug meant the take-off was aborted – another exciting first for Ella!  Phil successfully managed to avoid running into the tug by steering off the runway and Ella discovered why we do the straps up tightly for take-off after a bit of a bumpy ride! After that, we were without a tug and flying came to a premature halt.  The forecast for the next day didn’t look great, so Colin and Billy decided that there was little point in hanging around and went home for the night.

Thursday morning turned out to be much better than forecast, so with R1 being already rigged and the tug having been checked out, John and Ella took R1 for another nice wave flight.  After checking in with Phil at 0900, Colin rushed over from home in time to see them land at 1300 and was all set for another flight but the Eurofox tug was still not performing as it should and the crosswind had picked up considerably.  Discretion seemed the better part of valour at this stage and R1 was put into its covers for another night.

For the final day of the expedition the actual weather again turned out to be much better than forecast.  It was a thermal soaring day but with an easterly wind, we were expecting the cloud to roll in from the coast later in the day.  This suited us fine as we planned to pack up mid-afternoon and as we had the 2 Duos at our disposal, we didn’t bother rigging the single-seaters.  With the Eurofox tug still under suspicion we opted for the Pawnee and Colin was the first to go, taking off at 1120.  Mindful of the cost of the Pawnee, he released at 1500 ft and managed to climb to 3,000 ft quite quickly.  However, at that time of the day the thermals were few and far between and he managed to loose the height as quickly as he had gained it, landing after 22 mins for the shortest flight of the week!  John took R1 next, with Roger who had again come over for the day.  They sensibly took a higher tow, for a 1:30 flight, sightseeing in the Dee valley as far as Balmoral.  Phil and Billy took 3D for an hour, before Phil honoured a commitment to take Bob (known to all visitors as Grumpy Bob) for a flight in 3D.  Adrian also had a flight in the Deeside Perkoz with one of their instructors to polish up his Aboyne landing technique.  We then de-rigged R1, re-packed the Deeside hangar, paid our bills and set of homewards very satisfied with the week’s accomplishments.

Everyone on the expedition agreed that it had been a fantastic week which would have been even better if a few more people had been there to enjoy it.  We had pretty much exclusive use of the airfield and its facilities and the clubhouse is well set up for visitors with a roaring wood-burner to keep us warm in the evenings and a gas barbecue out back to keep the catering costs down.  Aboyne beckons for another expedition next year!

A big well done to Luca, who was sent solo on February 26 by instructor John. And a very nicely flown launch and greasy-smooth landing too! Videos of the flight are on the club Facebook page, courtesy of proud dad Colin.

Honourable mention goes to Neil too, for upgrading from the Junior to the Astir R67 the same weekend. Hopefully this is the start of a good year for our students! 

Highland Gliding Club
Easterton Airfield
United Kingdom

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