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Temora and the N.S.W. Gliding Championships

Very Wet Temora.

Weather Map

So we arrived in Temora and, once the gales had subsided, the rain bucketed down for days.

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.

What a pleasant surprise!

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.


Ibises demonstrating that there was some lift up there, perhaps from a hangar roof which
would dry out and heat up quite quickly under the strong sun.

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.

JB1 Glider

This South-African built Jonker JS1 Revelation is really 'state of the art'. Each wing is in
four separate sections. The self sustaining version has a small jet engine in the fuselage.

ASH 31 Glider

This ASH 31 Mi was brand new; Pam, the proud lady owner, had never even flown it. There is an engine just behind the cockpit. Two doors open on top of the fuselage and a propeller hinges up, driven by a 56 hp water cooled,
rotary engine with dual ignition and fuel injection. The engine remains in the fuselage, driving the propeller by belt.
This glider is not just 'self sustaining' (able to remain aloft with its engine, once launched), it is 'self launching'.

Solar Panels

This picture shows the engine compartment doors on the fuselage. The dark strips - there is one on each door - are
completely flush solar panels which charge the aircraft's batteries. The batteries power the radio, electronic
instruments and (presumably) engine starter.

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.

Glider Trailer

Like a newly hatched moth, the glider fuselage emerges from its chrysalis.
And, like a moth, its wings are not immediately ready for flight.

Glider Trailers

Like open pelican beaks. The tops are supported by gas struts. The trailers come with single or tandem axles.

What have i done?

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.

The mail must get through.

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.

Two Mail Vans

Transferring cargo while waiting for the mail plane, supermarket trolley clearly visible.

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.

Mail Plane

Mind my paint with that trolley. And hurry it up, will you?

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.

Two white vans

My guess is that the local mail for Temora town went into the
small van and that for the surrounding districts into the larger.

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.

The mother of all storms.

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:


Looking west, all was black until one of those flashes that flicker inside the clouds, lit up the airfield.

In the morning we had another huge electrical storm and this is what the airfield looked like when it cleared:

Wet Airfield

If you owned an aircraft worth $250,000 which had been out through two violent thunderstorms,
would you have slept last night? Not this cookie! Thankfully there was no hail and no damage.

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