After watching everyone else fly xc after xc whilst I was busy at work I finally caved in and booked a last minute day off. Conditions were forecast to be ok for xc flying but not too epic locally. I briefly flirted with the idea of driving to the Malverns but it would have been a very long and expensive drive on my own. I decided to head to Chalton, our rarely used local easterly site.
Chalton is smaller than Mercury or Whitewool and has a lot of trees on the slope. It did have a lot of thorny bushes covering the top and slope but a scrub bash a few years ago cleared a lot and the farmer topped the hill at the beginning of the year. It is still not as friendly as the other two sites but it is greatly improved from the past. Another improvement we have made is to the parking arrangements. The site guide has previously recommended parking in a layby at the bottom of the hill and walking up, quite an unpleasant walk! We have found it easier to park next to the pub and walk through the churchyard and across the top of the hill to launch. This has the added advantage of every flying day ending at the pub.
I arrived at the hill alone at about 1030, usually I don’t like flying alone but it is a common occurrence at Chalton. As I got my kit ready I could already feel thermal cycles coming through and a few cumulus forming in the distance. I took off and immediately found the air to be quite rough with the thermals very sharp edged. A symptom of higher pressure more stable air.
I found some good thermals in amount the chop and a couple of times found myself 700ft above take off and dreaming of leaving the hill. Everytime the thermal bubble would fizzle out and I would drift back down to the ridge. I spent a lot of time scratching the trees for lift and even caught a full frontal on the brakes just as the leading edged started to give way (not pleasant when flying at treetop height). The scratchy conditions meant that I had made the walk up from the bottom of the hill several times by the time RJ turned up at 1230.
Conditions continued to tease the both of us for another hour before I found a more solid thermal over the road to the north of take off. As I became to circle up I saw RJ screaming across the ridge on full bar to join me.
RJ caught me up as I hit a max altitude of 3000ft asl in a blue sky. The drift was to the south west so we decided to head for the coast rather than our previous goal of Whitewool. With weak thermals and a blue sky I decided to take it slow and milk the lift as RJ steamed off in search of something better. Unluckily he found nothing and landed near Denmead for 11.5km.
I took a more southerly track staying over urban areas and managed to find another climb with took me to the high point of the flight, 3428ft. I glided for the clouds to the south of me and arrived above them!
The wind was pushing me towards the radar on Portsdown Hill and I didn’t fancy having my nads fried so I crosswind towards Portsmouth. I didn’t have enough height to cross the built up area safely so I elected to land on Portsdown Hill safely away from the radar! I made 14.5km in the end, setting the Chalton XC record by default as no one had been xc from the site before! I think with a proper easterly or even ese wind and good xc conditions it should be possible to push north around Southampton airspace and onwards to proper distance.