Temora has been reported as being the friendliest
town in New South Wales - Wikepedia. Now that would be
a hard claim to sustain. How can you say one town is the friendliest unless
you've assessed every other town . . . and even then it's subjective.
However, Pam tells me that in every shop she visits she is greeted warmly.
Certainly everyone we've spoken to here has been extremely friendly.
Now, guess what? You're never going to believe me but, honestly, I DID NOT KNOW! The New South Wales Gliding Championships are being held, right here, at Temora Airfield this week. Not only that but all the gliders arrived today and are tied down within a few metres of our caravan, dozens of them. This all happened today, Saturday.
I spent some time splashing around the beautiful, sleek aircraft, taking pictures - it had rained heavily again in the night. Morning dawned clear and sunny but the ground was soaked, shallow surface water standing over 50% of the airfield surface.
Gliders rely on thermals (warm, rising air) to remain airborne, thermals which are generated by the sun warming the ground. Wet ground, of course, is cooled by evaporation so 'lift', if any, is very much weaker.
Just as one pilot was commenting on this, above us circled a flock of ibises slowly gaining height.
It was a 'nostalgia trip' for me and I was amazed at the changes in technology since I had last flown. At that time 'winglets' had become fashionable on gliders as indeed on commercial jets. Winglets are small vertical 'fins' on the wings tips preventing high pressure air from below the wing from spilling around the wingtip to the low pressure zone above. They make the wing more efficient.
Many of the newer gliders not only have winglets but the outer end of the wings were angled gently upwards in stages, terminating in a winglet. At the same time there was tendency to sweep back the leading edge.
Another surprise change was in the quality of glider trailers. There was always a lot of innovation in the manufacture of these trailers, but even so gliders were often supported in (or on) the trailers using cushions, ocky straps and all sorts of improvised pieces of wood lined with bits of old carpet, etc. Some trailers were very good but others were in terrible condition. Functionality of lights and tyres was always a concern as most trailers spend their lives open to the weather.
At the N.S.W. Championships there were lots of commercially built trailers which would set you back, I was told, in the region of $25,000. That doesn't include the glider, that's just for its box. The gliders can cost ten times that amount, especially those with an engine.
While having no inclination to resume my flying career, if such it can be called, I did feel a strong pull to be part of this operation going on just over the fence. I knew that crew members for 'trailer retrieves' were always in short supply, so I went over, explained my background, and volunteered to assist anybody who was short handed.
A word of explanation: If a glider pilot is forced to land in a paddock a long way from home he has two options. He can either request an aero-retrieve or a trailer retrieve. In the first instance, the paddock is deemed suitable for a tug aircraft to land and tow the stranded glider back to base. This option is quicker but expensive. ('He' should be taken to read 'he/she'.)
The other alternative is slower but cheaper and involves the retrieve crew driving out to the stranded glider, dismantling it, loading it into its 'box' and towing it home by road.
Now, in volunteering, what I meant was: If a glider was forced to land in a paddock some way from Temora, perhaps a mate of the pilot would appreciate an extra pair of hands to hitch up the trailer, accompany him out to find the glider and assist in pulling it apart and loading it into its trailer, etc.
How my offer was interpreted:
The guy in the caravan over there
is willing to crew for anybody who needs him.
The offer had scarcely left my lips when I had become the solo crew member, not for one glider but for two. In practice that meant that, on receipt of a phone call from either pilot, I would first locate his car somewhere on the airfield, then go and find his trailer and couple the two together. I would enter the GPS coordinates I'd been given into 'Alice' and set off into the wide blue yonder. The glider could be up to a hundred kilometres away. I would pray that spare wheels, jacks, wheel braces etc. were all present and serviceable and especially that the other glider wouldn't also require my services at the same time. Then, putting all that out of my mind I would enjoy a trip out into the countryside at somebody else's expense.
As it transpired, high surface winds put paid to any glider launching the next day and rain and thunder storms wrote off the day after that. These unfortunate pilots had prepared their aircraft, towed them to Temora from all over N.S.W., possibly taking their annual leave to attend, got themselves all psyched up . . . and now this.
Still, perhaps I'll get through the week earning the kudos for volunteering without having to turn out at all! It's rather nice in one respect; my offer had been repeated at their morning briefing so they all know me by name though I know few of theirs.
Just behind our caravan two white vans would park up from time to time, either around 7:30 in the morning or around 5:30 in the evening. Sometimes a large yellow van joined them and bags and cartons would be unloaded from the big yellow van into the medium sized van then the big van would depart. The two smaller vans waited by the airfield fence for the mail plane. As soon as it landed it taxied up to the fence and shut down its engines. The van drivers, who had already retrieved a supermarked trolley from its hiding place, leaped the fence, rattled it across to the mail plane's door and began transferring incoming bags and parcels.
The aeroplane driver is not into this physical work. He'd open the cockpit door and lean out, watching the van drivers transfer mail - perhaps ensuring that the supermarket trolley didn't get too near his paintwork. As soon as they were clear he'd restart his engines and taxi quickly to the runway threshold, turn and roar down the strip and into the sky with some distain for us earthbound mortals. Or that's how it seemed.
With the plane just a receding drone in the sky, the mail was passed over the fence, some going into the small van and the rest into the larger one.
Soon the white vans too had gone and it was as if nothing had ever happened. Until the evening when the plane would return and collect the outgoing mail.
The first time we witnessed this procedure we decided it must be Class A drugs that were changing hands. I still prefer that scenario, I always enjoyed pirate stories as a child.
One evening we watched towering thunder clouds approach from the west. The weather forecast, too, bode ill for the night. After dark we were treated to the most spectacular light show I've ever seen Mother Nature produce; lightning flashing in fast repetition over 50% of the visible sky. If I could have drawn a line across the sky from north to south, all the sky west of that line was a constant display. Initially there was no rain and I wondered if I could take one of those amazing lightning photographs that press photographers seem to achieve so easily. But, no, I didn't. I was just getting the hang of it when the rain started with a vengeance so I scuttled into the caravan to see what I'd got. This was the best I had managed:
In the morning we had another huge electrical storm and this is what the airfield looked like when it cleared:
Footnote: This re-working of Page 156 was completed on 6 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.