Blistered feet and a tangled bungee.
Dave Cox reports on cross-country flying
Most of the onlookers, who briefly stop on the hill to observe our models, are not aware that there are so many different aspects to our hobby. Indeed, most modellers have a particular favourite. Some prefer competitions, such as F3F, and will travel around the country endeavouring to limit their flying time to below 40 seconds. Others will spend hours practising to make their beloved model scream in pain seemingly attempting to pull its wings off in the hope of a few more mph.
For me there is nothing more absorbing than testing myself and the model against the natural elements and the best way to do this is cross-country flying.
Before moving to this area my local slopes restricted the distance that could be flow to an out and return flight of about 3 miles. However, the South Downs have many long ridges and cliffs suitable for lengthy flights .The main ones being:
1 - Butts lane to Whitbread Hollow and back, some 6 miles in a ENE wind
2 - Beachy Head to the Cookmere Estuary and back, 9 miles in a SSW
3 - Newhaven fort to the Brighton Marina and back to the windmill at Rottingdean, some 8 ½ miles in a SSW
4 - The Bo Peep ridge to Firle Beacon 4 miles in a NE
5 - West Firle to Firle Beacon 4 miles in a N
6 - Dichtling Beacon to Lewis and back 5 miles in a N
To date I have flown all of these except for Ditchling Beacon and later in this report I recall some of the highlights.But first some general comments and warnings;
Flights of this length should not be undertaken lightly because in most cases there are difficulties that need to be resolved before the flight is attempted. On the flights listed 1 2 and 3, I walked the entire route before hand to assess the possible problems which included.
* Sections where the visibility of the model is restricted by trees or buildings.
* The difficult terrain to follow including steep, slippery or uneven surfaces.
* The difficulty of crossing roads and negotiating gates or stiles.
* The limited number of suitable landing sites along the route should the lift fail.
* The duration of the flight and the need to have sufficient battery capacity.
* Areas of restricted access along the slope which require a detour to be made out of lift.
Given that these flights can last up to 3 hours it is important that the receiver battery is sufficient for the job. I have read in one of the magazines that in average conditions each servo consumes 50 ma per hour. So using my 1/3 scale DG600 as an example, this has 8 servos 8x50=400ma per hour. It has the room for two large batteries 2x2400=4800mah, so giving 12 hours duration. I would treat this guide with a large margin of error, because the battery may not hold a full charge and some servos, especially digital servos are said to consume more power.
In contrast to the big DG600, the F3F Stork has a pencil shape fuselage and very limited room for batteries. It originally had a 1200mah battery, which with 6 servos gave a possible 4 hours duration. This should be sufficient for the first cross country, Butts lane to the sea and back.
In preparation for the flight, I walked the entire route looking for any potential problems. Most of the route is quite straightforward and faces an ENE. I did note that the slope is heavily wooded and should the lift fail it would be essential to land early on the top rather than risk a bottom or slope landing. Fortunately there is plenty of open ground on the top and good access along the South Downs Way. Later, the path crosses the main road, this doesn’t cause any problems because there is good visibility towards the slope and along the road. At The Warren there is a ridge which sticks out spoiling the lift for several hundred ms along the slope to the south, this could be difficult to cross.
Having decided I needed an ENE wind, the next few weeks were of course SW with showers. When the forecasters finally predicted an ENE they also said to expect snow and a biting wind, not ideal but at least I wouldn’t be clashing on frequencies!
The model chosen for the flight was my 6 metre 1/3 scale DG600.This is an ideal plane for this type of flying. It has a high performance but also is very stable and easy to fly without the need for constant stick inputs.
On the Monday morning chosen for the flight the weather was as forecasted. There had been overnight snow and the wind was 10 to 15 ENE with a severe wind-chill. Having arrived at the Butts at 9am I parked next to the gate and began to unpack the DG.
One of the drawbacks of large models is that they do take several minutes to assemble and during this time my fingers really felt the cold and were going numb .It was a struggle to carry the model out to the NE bowl trying to be careful on the icy ground. At the bowl the wind was blowing straight on the slope at a steady 10 to15. The sun was still low and struggling to break through the heavy overcast cloud.
Launching a 20lb model is never easy and so the technique I have developed is to firstly carryout a thorough pre-flight check. Then place the transmitter on the ground near the edge of the slope, then pick up the model making sure the wings are level and the nose slightly down, walk towards the edge feeling the wind, then run forward. At a certain speed the models weight and momentum takes over and I push the plane forward and off she goes. As the model slips from my fingers usually two thoughts cross my mind, firstly “I did switch it on didn’t I?” and secondly” where’s the transmitter”! Fortunately all went well and the DG was soon cruising around the bowl at 2 to300 ft.
It was now time to head south towards the sea. Reaching the car park the first obstacle encountered is to pass the woods that lead up to the SE slope. If the model is not high enough it cannot be seen above the trees. Fortunately the lift was good and the DG sailed across into the next bowl whilst I scurried pass the trees. Here the lift was even better and I had to be careful to keep the DG clear of the occasional low cloud.
From here south, there are several miles of bowls and ridges .The bowls producing good lift whilst the ridges give poor or no lift. My technique is to keep the model in the best lift whilst I walk ahead to the next bowl, then fly faster through the poor lift into the good lift. To do this means that for half the time the plane is behind you and often at a considerable distance. This is when the size and stability of the DG is so important because you need to be both looking ahead at the ground in front and behind at the model. This does involve considerable neck swivelling but is essential to ovoid either slipping on the uneven terrain or loosing sight of the plane.
The DG has the advantage of full span flapperons and when using the Multiplex 3030 transmitter the flaps and the elevator trim can be mixed to give a range of speed settings. When the flaps are raised by 2mm the elevator is lowered by 1mm to increase the cruising speed. This allows the DG to cover considerable distances at a high speed without much loss of height. Then, when the flaps are returned to normal the DG climbs and slows back to a steady speed.
After half an hour the main road was reached which is next to the golf course. Crossing here was not a problem because the DG could be flown ahead and kept in sight whilst checking the road was clear to cross.The next obstacle is the most difficult section on the whole route.At The Warren the ridge sticks out and obstructs the ENE wind giving a wide gap with no lift.The DG lost height quickly in sink and lift was not found again until passing the road that turns off for Beachy Head.This whole area is heavily wooded and the DG had been uncomfortable low over the trees.Having lost so much height I was unsure if it was wise to attempt a return flight, but before making that decision there was still a short distance to go to reach the sea.During this time the sun was gradually breaking through and the view looking down on a snowy Eastbourne was impressive.At Holywell I was pleasantly surprised how good the lift had become and it felt as though the DG was in a gentle thermal rising to 500ft or more overhead .Strangely despite the fact that the wind was ENE and the cliffs below are SE the DG continued out over the sea without loosing any height. Could the sea be warmer than the land and so pruducing thermal lift?
An hour had gone since setting of and the Butts seamed like a long way away, so the DG was brought back overhead and left to gently circle whilst I had a cup of coffee and food. With the sky clearing and the visibility improving the return flight back to the Butts was much easier and the DG maintained a good height all the way. Arriving back at the Butts the time taken was just under 2 hours for the 6 miles flown.It then needed 10 minutes to loose height and land in the field next to the car park. Unfortunately on landing the leading edge of the left wing hit a patch of frozen mud that the cattle had churned up and damaged a 6 inch section of the leading edge. This was later repaired and was only a small price to pay for such a successful flight.
The batteries were checked to see how much power had been used, but the checker showed little change from full.
Approximately two weeks later and in much warmer conditions I flew the same route again this time using the F3J Stork.It also took 2 hours and on checking the much smaller battery I anticipated it had about another hour of charge left.
Battery technology is always improving and the 1200mah battery used was later replace with an 1850 mah of the same size. This was intended to give a longer flight time and a better safety margin for the next planned flight, Beachy Head to the Cuckmere Estuary and back.
Facing SSW the Beachy Head and Seven Sisters cliffs form one of the longest continuest cliffs in the country and a tempting route for a cross country flight.There are however a number of difficult sections which were checked by walking the entire route before the flight was attempted.
The two most difficult areas being the initial launch over the cliff and the crossing of Burling Gap.
Launching over a shear cliff is never easy, but is made much harder in this case because the cliff at Beachy Head faces SE and the wind direction needed for the whole route is SSW. Therefore I decided to use the bungee to gain height before pushing the plane out over the cliff edge into what was only going to be poor lift.
At Burling Gap the cliffs are only 10 ms high giving little lift. The footpath turns away from the edge, runs behind the hotel and then through a copse of trees.
Before setting of on the flight I decided that I would not continue beyond 3 hours even if that meant landing out in the fields .The receiver battery should be okay for 4 hours but the whole flight was likely to be over the sea and this would still be the longest flight both me and the Stork would have made.
I reached the cliff at 9am .It was quiet and as forecast there was a 10-mph wind from the SSW with thin high cloud cover. Pretty much ideal conditions. As I started to set out the bungee on the grass just west of the hotel I did wonder if I couldn’t just give the Stork a hand launch. But then I remembered the story told to me by another modeller who had witnessed first hand the possible dangers of cliff launches.
He had been to the Llyn peninsular in Wales for a scale competion. Like BeachyHead the cliff is vertical with a sharp edge .The flying was going well and he was filming the launches with his video camera. Next to launch was a 1/3 scale Duo Discus. Weighing 30 lbs with a 7 1/2m wing span , requiring 3 men to launch. He positioned himself near the edge and started filming. The launchers ran forward but failed to get the Discus up to flying speed and it flopped over the edge. Still filming, he ran forward to get a better view only to be stopped by an onlooker who grabbed him as he went pass and saved him from going over the edge. The Discus hit the rock face and splashed into the sea .The crowd looked on in silence as the model floated on the sea below .The was no way down, the model was lost.
Then somebody noticed a fishing boat chugging along; they waved, they shouted, they could at least retrieve the model. The boat changed course and headed for the model. It pulled up alongside and the crew started to lift it on board, perhaps it could be repaired, with new electronics it could be made to fly again. Then to everybody`s amazement the fishermen through it back in the sea and chugged off! Again stunned silence.
The Discus was last seen floating out to sea and by now has probably been washed ashore on some Caribbean island covered with barnicles. Perhaps I would use the bungee to launch the Stork afterall!
The end of the bungee was tied to one of the gorse bushes and the line unwound from the drum. The wind seemed to be hitting the cliff at a forty five degree angle from the right, so the line was pulled to face directly into wind .The Stork was switched on and thougherly checked before being hooked on and pulled back to tension the cable. When the maximum pull was reached, the nose was raised, the wing levelled and she was launched towards the sky. The Stork is purpose built for flat field bungying and whistles up the line, however at about 50 feet it hit the curlover from the cliff. It stopped dead then shot off to the right before I could regain control and climb to about 100ft.I then lowered the nose and the parachute released and fell back to the ground.
I had hoped to reach a better height and knew it would be a struggle to maintain height in these conditions.I scrambled to retrieve the bungey that had landed in the gorse scrub. I really needed to move the Stork further along the cliff into better lift and so the bungee line was quickly gathered up and pushed under the vegetation.
Quite soon half the height had been lost and I was unsure if I could reach the better lift before giving up and landing. However the best feature of the Stork is its ability to push forward into the wind without loosing height, but it was desperately low before rounding the corner into the good lift.
Having reached the SW face the flying became much easier. There is a long section heading down to the Belle Tout light house and with the wind blowing directly onto the cliff the Stork was now happily maintaining 300ft or more .The cliff here is fairly straight and gives constant lift, so the Stork was flown high and in front making it easier to see whilst walking and checking the ground for rabbit holes.
At Belle Tout the old track that runs up to the lighthouse and is now precariously close to the edge with signs of fresh rockfalls and I felt much happier walking on the grass. Looking up whilst walking that close to the edge is definitely not wise.
After another 15 minutes the most difficult part of the route was reached .There is a good reason why Birling Gap has that name . Here the cliff lowers to about 10 ms and the footpath is redirected behind the hotel, between houses and through a copse of conifers!
Having previously walked the route I had planned to hold the Stork back over the higher east cliff whilst I walked ahead and negotiate the path past the hotel .The plan unfortunately did not take into account the fact that the morning sun would be blindingly bright just in that area. The Stork would not be visible if I continued too far.So I decided to fly it across the gap and hold it over the west cliff which is not so high. The lift was not good, but enough to maintain a few hundred feet.
The next obstacle was to pass through the copse and a gate before emerging out onto the open meadow, I had previously tried running through and new that the conifers would block all views of the model and it would take nearly 10 seconds. I therefore carefully pointed the Stork into the wind and brought it to a near hover .I wanted it to stay in one place so I could easily find it .All I could do now was run. Though the copse past the cedar tree, up the bridle way, turn left, open the gate, run through, pass the last bushes, look to the right and hope the Stork was still in sight. Once again I had underestimated the Stork and it was happily parked just were I had left it.
With a big sigh of relief I could now regain a good height and continue west. The seven sisters are of course named after the high cliffs divided by the valleys. The flying was easy for the glider but involves a lot of legwork for me negotiating the steep slopes.
At the second sister there is a cave just below the cliff edge, which is used by peregrine falcons. The remains of several pigeons were strewn across the grass showing that they were present and doing well. One parent was flying around the nest and I was pleased that the Stork was several hundred feet above it. I kept it high and quietly flew by. I didn’t want the Peregrines trying stork for lunch!
From here to the Cuckmere the flying was easy but a real slog up and down the slopes. Finally after I ½ hours of flying I reached the furthest and highest of the ridges. From there Beachy Head looked a very long way, so after pushing the Stork out over the estuary it was brought back overhead .I needed a short break for food and drinks and then the return trip could start.
Facing south the bright sun was in a very awkward position and I was pleased to see a thin vale of cloud moving to cover it. With this the wind also increased to 15 mph giving the Stork plenty of lift. Returning back to Birling Gap the Stork was much higher than the first crossing and so the crossing was much easier. From Burling Gap at 30 ft above sea level to Beachy Head is a 500-ft climb. 2 ½ hours had past and I needed to make quick progress to reach Beachy Head in only ½ an hour, because I didn’t want to exceed the 3 hours flying time .As the cliff increased in height the lift was improving and the Stork was 500ft plus overhead. Normally the Stork is restricted to days when the wind is only 5 mph, but in these conditions it was getting higher and higher.
After 3 hours flying the launch point was reached and the Stork was so high I had to steer it between clouds that were forming over the cliff face.
Landing in a strong wind near to the edge would be difficult due to the curl over and so the Stork was flown over the Hotel and circled in the field behind, whilst I walked out into the field well away from any obstuctions. After several minutes of crow braking and one loop the Stork was lined up for landing and a safe touchdown made.
Returning to the bungee which had been left under the bushes, it was gathered up and then dumped in the car .It then took 3 evenings to untangle what had become a 150 m long knot!
Checking the ordinance survey map the statistics for the flight were;
3 hours 10 minutes flight time
9 miles flown from point to point.
2500ft climbing up and down the slopes.
2 blisters and a sore knee!
The battery was checked and I expect that there was still 1 to 2 hours left. The estimate of 50 ma per servo consumption had been about right. Of course with this style of flying very little stick movement is made and so there is only a small drain on the battery.
Over a period of several months I walked the entire route looking for any particularly difficult problems. Compared to the Beachy Head walk this was fairly flat, having many miles of similar height cliffs facing SSW.
The obvious problems were firstly the lack of landing sites along the route should the lift fail. Secondly the path detours away from the edge at the Southern Water sewage site and follows the main road passed several buildings. Thirdly at Rottingdean the path is diverted down onto the beach then behind the pub and car park before returning to the cliff.
At the Marina, the cliff continues but the marina buildings obstruct the airflow and it would be dangerous to cross. Whilst standing on the cliff edge looking down on the boats in the marina, I remembered being told by one of the paraglider flyers that this is one of their favourite cross country flights. But the club had banned flying over the marina after one of their paragliders attempted to reach the far side but could not make it. Apparently he was forced to crash land on a yacht to avoid landing in the water!
Just across the main road from the marina is a pitch and put golf course which looked to have plenty of room for me to land and from there the buses run back to Newhaven.
Prior to this fight I had not flown at Newhaven but I know that the site is used by modellers.I would only recommend using a “foamy” at this site because the ground behind the slope is very rough and in front the beach is pebbles.
So climbing up from the car park on the beach I was only intending to launch the Stork if the lift was good. Fortunately the signs were good. The gulls were out flying and a steady 10 mph wind was blowing from the SW.The Stork was launched straight into wind and climbed away to join the gulls. The time was 8-30am and a long walk lay ahead.
The Stork had been fitted with an 1850 mah battery and following the Beachy Head flight I was confident of at least 4 hours of flying with another haft hour safety margin. This was rather academic as the transmitter battery usually lasted only 3 ½ to 4 hours and I had hoped to reach the marina in 2 ½ hours.
The cliffs on this route are small when compared to Beachy Head and the seven Sisters and so the Stork was never likely to reach the tremendous heights achieved there. I had to be much more cautious and keep as high as the conditions allowed.
The first section of the route was straightforward. The footpath follows the cliff edge on my left and on the right is plenty of open ground. After a mile the situation changes and the difficulties ahead become more daunting. Gone are the wide-open spaces in front is Peacehaven. Miles of bungalows built right up to the cliff edge just leaving a narrow track and verge .I needed to be sure the lift was good before setting off. Once started there would be no turning back. I waited as the Stork flew ahead, it maintained a few hundred feet. Enough, but not a big safety margin. I set off at a fast pace, but later could relax as the Stork maintained height.
After ½ an hour I had crossed Peacehaven and could see open space again. Ahead was the next problem, passing the Southern Water site. From my previous explorations I had worked out a route. First leave the edge and walk into the carpark of The Badgers View pub, then sneak around the back, carefully over a low fence and then a low wall onto the pavement of the main road.
When I had tried this before it was a quiet Sunday morning and nobody noticed. This time it was monday morning rush hour and stationary cars were queuing up and down the road. I got some querious looks standing on the pavement holding my transmitter and staring up into the sky. It was funny to see the drivers looking up and trying to spot the model. It was useful that the traffic was stationary because the next obstacle was to pass a group of houses. This could only be done if I crossed the road to improve my visibility. Having crossed, the Stork was flown over the houses and back to the safety of the cliff. I then crossed back through the stationary traffic and continued on, leaving some bemused commuters still scanning the sky unsure what I was doing.
The next section for me was to pass Saltdean and on to Rottingdean.This was uneventful with good lift and visibility. However approaching Rottingdean the footpath turns away from the cliff and goes through the shopping centre. To keep the model in sight I knew that I would need to take an alternative route down onto the beach. The cliffs here reduce in height down to only 30 ft before rising again to 200, similar to Birling Gap.I kept the Stork back over the high cliff whilst I walked down the ramp to the beach, then flow it across to the next high cliff. Once again the Stork showed off its pedigree easily covering hundreds of metres of poor lift with only a little loss of height.
Walking along the concrete promenade I was now at the foot of the towering cliffs straining to look up to the model. I had the cliffs rising high to my right with the Stork and gulls climbing above.
I knew it was important to gain as much height as possible in the good conditions because the last difficult section was just ahead. After some 10 minutes of easy flying the cliffs began to reduce in height and with that so did the lift.I therefore turned the Stork back, keeping it flying in the best lift behind me whilst I continued ahead. The cliffs now reduced to only a few feet, allowing access to the beach from the centre of Rottingdean.The cliffs were now replaced with flats, shops and a pub. The Stork was turned back towards me and as it flew overhead I sprinted from the beach up the steps past the shops and turned left, though the pub car park and out onto the main road again. Unruffled the Stork cruised passed overhead and onto the next length of cliffs. Ahead was still several miles of easy flying but at last the marina was in sight.
Nearly 3 hours after launching I arrived at the marina .The lift was good and the Stork was maintaining 100ft, but my feet were seriously aching and so I crossed the road to land.
Unfortunately the pitch and put course that I had planned for my landing had become much more popular than when I had seen it in the winter and there was no easy landing spots. So I decided to turn back and land in the fields I had passes earlier. The first of these also proved less than welcoming with high fences and keep out signs, so I kept heading back passed several ploughed fields until eventually reaching the pitch and put course next to the windmill at Rottingdean. With plenty of room the Stork was flown over the road and circled above the course before making a hole in one on the 7th green. The flight had lasted 3 ½ hours and covered over 8 miles. I painfully hobbled up to the park shop and blissfully sipped a hot cup of tea before dismantling the Stork. As planned I had brought with me a large roll of bubble wrap to protect the dismantled Stork and carry it on the bus back to Newhaven.
After walking from the centre of Newhaven out to the sea front, I approached my car and could see several paragliders on the cliffs, some setting of for Brighton. This had been a seriously long and difficult flight and proved the importance of good preparation and planning.
The Bo Peep ridge faces NE and runs for 2 miles from Firle Beacon towards Alfriston.It is reached by driving up Bo Peep lane from the A27.The small car park on the top is popular with hang gliders, modellers and walkers. So during summer weekends both the car park and sky are often full .As a rule the modellers fly in the bowl to the north of the car park reached via a short walk through 2 gates.
The ridge produces good lift and the only difficult section is when crossing the car park and negotiating the 2 gates. The problem here is that the path is set back from the edge and you need to be certain of maintaining several hundred feet to make the crossing safely.
There is plenty of good landing room making this a safe and easy route for an hour’s enjoyable flying.
The West Firle ridge faces N and runs for 2 1/2 miles between Firle Beacon and the A26.It is popular with modellers and paragliders and like Bo Peep it can be crowded when the weather is good It is a similar height to Bo Peep but has more pronounced ridges and bowls. These work well in a north wind but if the wind changes NE or NW the ridges produce turbulence and poor lift. It would then be impossible to continue and a landing would be necessary. The slope has plenty of room to land, just check for walkers and horses before starting the approach to landing.
So to summarise. Before starting cross country flying-
1 - Walk the route in advance. Checking for difficult visibility, poor terrain, poor lift.
2 - Use a model that is stable, easy to fly and can be seen at a long distance.
3 - Ensure that both the model and transmitter have sufficient battery capacity.
4 - Start with shorter walks and gradually build up to longer and more difficult ones.
5 - Pack plenty of food, coffee and Band-Aids!
6 - If you leave the normal flying site you of course run the risk of another modeller arriving and switching on your frequency. To avoid this I take a cane with a red ribbon and my frequency number attached and leave this at the launch point. You can also park your car in a prominent position and leave a frequency sign for modellers to see as they arrive.