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The RNGSA has joined an RAF led, tri-service expedition to Sisteron Airfield in the French Alps.

The RN team is as follows:

 

Lt Cdr Chris Bryning RNR

Lt Cdr John Butler RN

WO Andy Farr.


We are also joined by Mr Paul Marriot, a former member of the RN and a highly experienced mountain instructor.

 

After collecting gliders from Culdrose and Yeovil, the team arrived at Sisteron after a mammoth road trip across France.  Work the first day consisted of rigging the 8 two seat gliders, before heading to our local Gites for a well earned rest.


Further Updates will be posted shortly. We're having a few connection problems!

 


 

Day 1.

The day began with a series of briefs from the Expedition Chief Flying Instructor (CFI), highlighting the key points necessary to ensure safe flying in the demanding mountain environment. We then moved on to a brief for all the glider pilots currently flying from the site covering the complex metrological situation in our operating area.

 

 

 

Chris and Andy got airborne in the first set of launches both flying with our highly experienced mountain instructors.  Launch from Sisteron is by aero tow,  and Chris headed for Trainon, a local ridge before making his way West to experience the awe inspiring sight of the PARCOURS mountain range. The strength of the mountain thermals soon became apparent with Chris seeing 9kt climbs, over 4 times the strength of those routinely seen in the UK.
 
Andy started out on the Gache ridge to the south of the field, and started to get used to the new environment; a world away from his previous experience as a flatland pilot. Using both Ridge and Wave effect Andy soared to over 8000ft before heading North to explore the Sisteron bowel.
 

 

John launched in the second wave, flying with Dave Fidler the expedition CFI. After a bumpy aero tow,  he soared the Gache before moving west to practice ridge flying techniques. Turning back to the Gache, he contacted wave and moved forwards to St Gents and the Crete des Selles. More wave flying followed before practicing the recovery procedure complete with the associated French radio calls.


A good first day concluded with a bbq back at the Gites. 
 

 
Day 2.

 

Andy was nominated as ground crew leaving Chris and John to fly. Conditions were considerably more challenging than yesterday with the Mistral giving 20 to 30 kts of wind over the airfield. 

 

John flew with Luke Hornsey and after a very turbulent aero tow found the local ridges working well. He then turned into the wind and found a strong standing wave between Sisteron Airfield and the town. Airspace limitations limited the heights achieved but, after a conversation with French air traffic control, a wave box soaring was opened to allow soaring to greater heights. Lack of an on board oxygen system limited the ultimate performance but they saw climbs in excess of 10kts and a 14kt+ sink causing a rapid change of course to get back in the rising air. 

Chris and Paul Marriot flew together, working the ridges and thermals before moving into wave above a local lake and achieving stunning views of the Pic de Burgh mountain to the north. The wind direction prohibited a close approach to this landmark but we expect to return on a more suitable day. Strong sink again proved a problem and the pair returned safely to Sisteron after an intense few hours flying.
 


Day 3.
 
Chris sported the ground crew position, leaving John and Andy flying. The wind had dropped and the thermodynamic lift from the mountain thermals coupled with wave lifted the glider fleet to heights of up to 19000ft.
 
 
 
Andy managed the best flight of the expedition so far penetrating over 100 miles into the mountains to reach mount Chaberton. This mountain hosts the 'fortress of the clouds', the highest defended emplacement in the world. Built by the Italians prior to WW1 it was destroyed by allied forces in WW2. The gun emplacements are still visible and the thrill of seeing them was only tempered by thoughts of the long flight home.
 
 
John remained local to Sisteron, enjoying the challenges of working the ridges in more stable conditions and thermalling with a flock of other gliders. As the mountains warmed the thermals strengthened, with height gains only being limited by airspace and the lack of oxygen.  As the aircraft was needed for a diamond height attempt he returned early to Sisteron after 2hrs and 44 mins in the air.
 

 


 

Day 4

 

Day 4 was a quieter day for the RN team. After the routine metrology brief, Andy and John managed the ground operations, giving their best impression of Heathrow Air Traffic Control in order to launch and recover the service gliders. The forecast was good and the majority of crews set out on long range tasks with Mont Blanc as a potential goal.

 

Chris managed a truly tri-service flight, joining Jon from the RAF in the Army's DG 1000 glider. They launched early, just after 12, and quickly paid for their over enthusiasm. Extending the aero tow to Trainon mountain failed to find them sufficient lift and they were forced to fall back to the Gache ridge on the downwind side of the airfield.  The light wind and weak thermals were still insufficient to provide the required lift and they retreated to Hongrie, the last hill before the airfield. 

 

Their endurance was finally rewarded with a 9 knot thermal, released as the hill warmed up. Using the now abundant lift they made rapid progress to the west reaching the summit of Blayeul at over 7000 ft. They raced on over the snowcapped mountains of the Parcours, reaching the 8000ft Domillouse mountain which marks the high point. Their change in fortunes were emphasised by connecting with a 5kt wave which lifted them to 19500 ft, their climb only limited by the controlled airspace above them. The cold finally became the limiting factor and they returned to the airfield after 5 hours in the air. 

All the service gliders made it back to the field after the best day of the expedition so far, negating Andy's master plan for multiple cross country recoveries by trailer. 

 

The day ended with an excellent meal in the on site resturant before the team dispersed for an early night, in anticipation of more long range flying tomorrow.

 

 


 
Day 5.
 
There had been a slight degradation in the weather since yesterday's near perfect conditions with a temperature inversion forming to prevent soaring above 10000ft. The wind had dropped meaning all the lift was from thermals rather than ridge or wave.
 
 
All of the RN team flew today with Chris launching with Tim in R26. They struggled to find lift after releasing the tow but made it on the the Parcours before jumping the gap to Pic de Morgan and soaring the ridge to Grand Bernard. They continued on to Mount Chaberton before returning to base via Guilliaume mountain after a 5 hrs flight.
 
Andy flew with Nobby in R1. A short tow to Hongrie left them in good lift and they managed a fast transit to the Parcours. The lift weakened and they found themselves preparing for a landing at Barcelonnete airfield before managing to claw back some much needed height and continue to Chaberton where they met one of the RAF team in mid flight. 
 
 
John launched late owing to a defect with Duo Discus 16, but they made it to the Parcours to enjoy the spectacular views before jumping the valley to Pic de Morgan and reaching Pousac mountain, 9500ft above sea level. Deteriorating conditions forced them to return to the Sisteron area for some pleasant soaring on the Crete des Selles and Malaup. It was with much regret they finally turned for home, landing after 5 hrs in the sir
 
 
Tomorrow we will be joined by the 4th member of the team, Capt Paul Jessop RN.

 

 


 

 

Day 6

 

The deterioration in the weather continued with the inversion strengthening, and the CFI took the decision to give the team a down day.

 

We took the opportunity to visit some of the designated outlanding fields. The terrain in the alps makes glider landing difficult and a number of fields are selected to provide landing options and are maintained by the local farmers. 

 

Given the limited lengths and more complex approaches,  it is useful for us as pilots to walk the strips before making a landing.  We had a pleasant day touring the fields and admiring the majestic scenery from ground level before returning to the Gites for a bbq.




Day 7

 

Today was busy for the RN team, with Chris setting off early for a road trip to Nice airport to collect some new arrivals. The start of flying was delayed owing to weak thermals, but when we got going  Andy became the first member of this year's RN team to solo in the alps, having a superb flight around the Sisteron area in the exped's Discus 2 aircraft. 

 

Paul also got airborne in the alps for the first time, with an instructor, and explored the local ridges, experiencing the thrills of mountain flying in a Duo Discus. 

 

John flew with Paul M, and found himself soaring in company with a flock of paraglider on a local ridge. The lift appeared to die off and they headed back to the airfield only to encounter a thermal which, to use a technical gliding expression, could only be described as 'Stonking'.  Finding themselves at 7000ft a very short time later later they headed back to the ridges for more.

 


 

Day 8


Another busy day for the RN team.  We woke up to the first cloudy sky we have seen this trip and while waiting for it to clear we discovered N57 our DG 500 two seat gliders had a puncture on its main wheel tire. Chris got busy on the repair, ably assisted by Paul Mariot, Chris P and a supply of spares from the army crew. In the meantime Paul headed out on his second alpine soaring flight and completed a grand tour of the Parcours mountain range, making it up to the Domillouse mountain at the northern end.

 

Andy launched with the expedition Chief Flying Instructor, and, after soaring away from a low aero tow release, set off for the mountains.  Having a CFI in the back seat proved helpful and Andy made it past the Domillouse and across the next 2 valleys to Guilliaume mountain, standing at 8370 ft. 

 

Having repaired the Navy glider, Chris got airborne, skimming the rocks of Trainon ridge. A rain shower came through and Chris was able to use the lift on the edge to head south to Beaume ridge to the south of Sisteron town then moving on to Eagle Rock before heading home via Chabre ridge completing a 2.5 hour flight which included meeting the full set of glider pilot's friends; Ridge, Thermal and Wave lift.

 

Paul and John swapped over in Duo R26, and John launched with Andy in the back seat to head for the Parcours. The initial stages of the flight went well but strong sink on the way led to a quick reach for the map and the prospect of an unplanned return to one of the outlanding fields they had walked over the weekend. Andy rose to the occasion and gave John a master class in ridge soaring, digging them out of the hole and getting back on course for the Parcours. On arrival they were able to transit at high speed owing to much improved improved lift. On reaching Domillouse they headed home through several rain showers, landing safely back at Sisteron after a highly demanding and enjoyable 2hr flight.

 


 

Day 9

 

The weather continued to deteriorate with some overcast cloud punctuated by spectacular lenticular (clouds), giving evidence of mountain wave from the southerly wind. Andy joined the ground crew, leaving Chris, Paul and John to fly. The cloud and wind direction made the Parcours a non starter for most so the majority spend the day in or near the Airfield. Owing to the wind shift, we all launched off the south facing runway before turning North for the nearest ridge.

 

Chris enjoyed his first mountain solo, soaring in the RAF's Discus glider on a tour of the Sisteron bowl. Malaup ridge, to the north of the field worked well and set Chris up for a flight to the west of the field, visiting the St Genis outcrop and Eagle Rock. 

 

Paul also enjoyed a local sortie in a Duo again taking a tour of the bowl and polishing his mountain soaring techniques. 

 

John launched with Nobby in a Duo and after a good climb on Malaup, contacted wave which took them to 9000ft. With the Parcours unavailable they used the height to run upwind to the town of St Aubourn to the south of Sisteron. The lift faded as the overcast developed, but after spending some time low on a ridge, they finally found a good thermal which allowed them to return over Sisteron town, take some aerial photos, then use the ridge lift to explore East to Leigh Mongeham before returning to Sisteron Airfield after 3 hrs airborne.


 


 

Day 10

 

Rain stopped play so the day was spent doing minor maintenance on gliders, trailers and vehicles before heading back to the Gites for pizza night.

 

 


 

 

Day 11

 

Low cloud and light rain delayed takeoff so Andy and John took the opportunity to visit La Motte airfield, a gliding site over the ridge from Sisteron. Having seen the field from the air, it was good to walk the strip and meet a few other British glider pilots.

 

Back at Sisteron the weather had improved somewhat although the cloud still damped down the thermals and the light wind made ridge soaring extremely challenging. The team made best use of a limited weather window with Andy doing a short trip in a Duo, Chris converting to a single seater Ventus glider and John going solo in a Discus. The wind dropped completely and all returned safely in time to head out for a team meal in the local village of Sigoyer. This a familiar landmark used when descending back into Sisteron, and all enjoyed a good meal with some stunning views across the valley.

 


 

Day 12 

 

The Mistral wind returned, giving difficult conditions for the last flying day. Andy and Chris helped out on the ground while John took off with Stuart Naylor in JAC, a Duo Discus. On a previous AT expedition John had spent several weeks sailing the Southern Ocean with Stuart's brother, Will, and was delighted to enjoy a different adventurous sport with another member of the Naylor family. 

 

They initially headed to the Gache ridge, climbing to 7000ft in the strong wind but we're unable to get through strong sink to reach the upward part of the wave further up the valley. Instead they returned to the Gache for another climb then headed North West to Chabre ridge. This ridge worked well and they climbed high enough to connect with a 4 knot wave which took them up to 9000ft. They were joined by N27, the Navy DG 500 Glider and spend some in company before JAC headed North to the next wave bar to close in on the impressive mountain of Pic de Bure. They then headed home via Grande Causeway losing height in the downward part of the wave before landing back at Sisteron after nearly 3hrs in the air.

 

Having finished flying it was then time to clean and de-rig the gliders prior to starting the journey home tomorrow.