Benalla Storm

Benalla Storm

Monday, August 1, 2011


Klippeneck is an interesting airfield. Located on top of a hill that is one of the highest points in the Schwaebische Alps, the field is 1000 feet above the valley below it. Matthew, his dad, and myself were given an aerial tour of the local area in a power plane by a pilot named Hans Peter. He was very kind to do so, and had a good time giving us a demonstration of what happens if you come to the field low on base. "If you are turning right like this on base, and suddenly realise that you are below the ridge and all you can see is trees, just make a hard left turn away and you will see this off-field landing option here at the bottom of the valley." He then proceeded to do a low fly-by of this off-field landing option, just in case we missed it.

The Klippeneck airfield is quite long and runs 05-23. However, the middle of the field has a huge dip and the threshold of 23 curves around the mountain and becomes runway 20. I have to say that a flat-lander like myself found this to be quite surprising. Needless to say I found my first landing to be a little bit intimidating, but have since realised that it's not so bad. There are also four huge hangars at this airfield filled with more gliders than in all of Southern Ontario combined.

And we thought Derek Mackie drinks a lot!
The first few days before the Klippeneck contest began the airfield was very, very quite. In retrospect this was understandable because the weather was quite poor. However, slowly the gliding field came to life, and the pre-contest prep began. First a few people showed up at the airfield, and the next thing I knew the beer trucks were pulling in and one of the hangars was quickly turned into a briefing room, dining area, and disco/coctail bar. Soon after the glider trailers and caravans started pulling in and the field came to life. Over 90 gliders are registered at this contest! All of these pilots, plus crew, families, and some fans make it a very active place to be! You can follow the Klippeneck website with this link:
First day gridding. Photo credit Chris Gough.
Photo credit Chris Gough.
The Klippeneck contest has five classes: Standard, 18m, Open, FAI, and Double Sitter. Unfortunately this puts Matthew and I in our LS1s in a tough position. We have found ourselves in the same class as LS8s, Discus 2s, and the like. Luckily our class voted to be handicapped, but it won't matter too much as Matt and I will be leaving early to go to Musbach for the World Juniors. 

The first day a task was set of 160.5 km and the grid was made. We sat and waited, and waited, and waited. Finally at around 1530 we commenced launching! Matthew found himself at the very front of the grid, leading the way of the Standard Class. I was launched shortly after and found the initial conditions to be quite good. The start line was opened, and I made my way to the start. The 10 km return to the start with the gaggle was a struggle, and before I made it across the line I saw two other gliders that had landed out. Back over the field I found myself in a gaggle at 900 feet with 12 other gliders. Needless to say we were not able to get away, and the unofficial day "winner" flew 65 km out and return.

The second day a task was set for Standard Class of 131.6 km. You can tell that the conditions aren't stellar because of the short distances set on the tasks. We made the grid, and waited, and waited and waited. Finally we were launched. With the Standard Class at the back of the grid we didn't make a start until 1500. Before the start the area around Klippeneck was booming. I found myself able to climb above cloud bases riding the front of a cloud which was heaps of fun! It is interesting in Klippeneck as they have a start altitude and speed cap. I tried to follow Chris's advice to stick with the gaggle, but I soon found it difficult to keep up with LS8s and the like.

The whole day was a huge challenge. After the initially great conditions I was frustrated to find myself drifting further and further away from cloud base without finding good climbs. I flew most of the course between 1500-2000 ft AGL. Luckily, most of our course was across friendly landing options (I almost found myself in a few of them!). At a couple of points along the course I found other gliders in my course, and even found Matt (also struggling with the conditions) around the second turnpoint. The path between the second and third turnpoints was across rising terrain, so I tried to make sure that I had enough altitude to get into the third turnpoint. I had enough altitude to climb along one ridge, and was hoping to find some lift along the sunny-side of the hill. I was quite surprised to very quickly find myself go from 1500 ft AGL to 450 ft AGL! Unfortunately the ridge produced no lift and I was forced to land on top of the hill. I landed 8 km short of the third turn-point. Chris and Nathan Johnson (another Australian competitor) were kind enough to come and retrieve me. I managed to find a very kind farmer who helped me pull the glider to the edge of the field, and we were de-rigged and on the road within 10 minutes. Along the way we saw many other trailers picking others out of fields.

When we returned to the field after a late meal we found out some pretty awful news. One of the competitors named Alex was flying a self-launching motor glider. We don't know any of the details of the accident, but he died. This is the most terrible thing to ever happen at this contest, and the entire group is quite devastated. Scores from yesterday are all 0 and today was declared a no-flying today. The have decided to continue with the contest, although the contest director has resigned as he was quite close with the pilot. Understandably we saw many people pack up their gliders and head home today.

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