2000 story of team 618 

Have trailers - will travel

Euroglide 2000

Team 618: Phil and Diana King.

Phil and Diana King's adventures in Euroglide 2000 first featured in the magazine Sailplane & Gliding. To find out more about S&G, visit the site of the British Gliding Association.

You couldn't really blame the guards for being dubious. When a man spends his working life providing security for a disused and dilapidated Russian air base in the old East Germany, the last thing he expects to find on the runway is a strangely-dressed English woman with a motorless plane. And when she claims to be flying from Holland to Berlin and Paris and back, some conspiracy seems certain. But how, in my rather wobbly German, was I to explain Euroglide 2000?

In principle, Euroglide is a simple idea, a 2000km race run biennially by the Eindhoven GC TPs this year were Lusse (near Berlin) and Issoudun, with a control TP at Dahlemer Binz, to take us round Belgian airspace.

After the first day's launch at Eindhoven, each team is on their own, to manage the task as they think best, flying as far as they can each day, and taking off the next day to continue the task. Ten days are allowed to complete the race - which seems like enough until you get near the end of the time and realise that bad weather is closing in. You are allowed 300km credits to trail forward along track, with a maximum of 100km on any day.

My husband, Phil, and I did Euroglide in 1996 and found it to be our sort of flying, but a bit lonely, so this time we asked some friends along. Finding people interested in the idea took a little time. It takes a particular type of insanity to relish flying every day from a totally strange airfield to an unknown destination, drive or fly unpredictable distances each day and not to be quite certain where the next meal or bed is going to be, nor even which language you will use to buy dinner.

Julian Fack turned out to have the right breed of insanity, bringing his Duo Discus and three other Mynd pilots, Paul Garnham, Nick Heriz-Smith and Richard Hinley, to share the flying and crewing. They proved to have the resourcefulness, energy and spirit of adventure which this competition demands.

Preparation was extensive: our new kit included a quick-rig tent, German and French charts and an aerial designed for high speed driving. We studied the charts at length (but not sufficiently, as it turned out), marked the maps and loaded the GPS with gliding clubs where we might get launches. Eventually we packed the car and trailer with all the things we have discovered, from previous rallies and Euroglides, to be absolutely essential, and set off for Eindhoven.

After a night at Pam and Gerrit Kurstjens house, we spent a day fettling and planning, before a briefing, mainly in Dutch, with Pam translating the more important parts for us.

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Day 1, Tuesday
We arrived at Eindhoven to learn shortly before a midday launch that Berlin would be the first TP. It was a blue and not highly soarable day, but the track was roughly downwind and at least there would be other gliders to mark thermals. Phil took this first flight, gaggling in weak conditions not being my strong point, and announced that he was setting off shortly after I was ready to roll, in company with 494 crew. Various confusions made us leave Eindhoven 30 minutes after the pilots and, in spite of the poor conditions, we very soon found ourselves falling behind.

After 150 miles' hard driving, we were catching up the gliders and 494 announced an imminent landing. Phil carried on and I eventually caught him up at 19.00hrs at Oerlinghausen. We agreed to stop there, knowing we still had to de-rig, pitch the tent, find dinner and get to bed before doing it
all again the next day (and the next, and the next…). Local lift kept Phil airborne to guide me in to the airfield, so that I drove in the gate as he touched down.

Oerlinghausen is huge. We estimated 100 gliders on site, tightly packed and suspended from the roofs in 5 large hangars, with 2 more hangars (garages?) full of trailers tidily parked in numbered slots. We awoke on Wednesday to a poor forecast and eventually resigned ourselves to a rest day, watching some huge cu-nims building. 494 joined us, along with a number of other teams, having used some of their credits to drive from their landing point to where they could get a launch.
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Day 2, Wednesday
We awoke on Wednesday to a poor forecast and eventually resigned ourselves to a rest day, watching some huge cu-nims building. 494 joined us, along with a number of other teams,
having used some of their credits to drive from their landing point to where they could get a launch.
Day 3, Thursday
The weather looked similar. When a clearance broke, there was a big scramble to launch: an ASW 27 won the prize for being the quickest to react to the changing conditions. We followed, only to create our very own grid squat with about six other Eurogliders. The tugs were taken off line in a strengthening crosswind, but after a long period of everyone hoping that someone else would show the way, a tiny soarable patch arrived and we rushed to take a winch launch.
Several of the others, including 494, managed to catch the soarable window and make a few miles. I was at the back of the queue and could only manage 10 minutes. Frustrated, we derigged the glider and pitched the tent again.
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Day 4, Friday
Time was passing and we had still done only 230km. We trailed to join 494 at Blomberg Borkhausen, a delightful little site surrounded by woods, where we took tows behind a Super Dimona. By the time I launched, Nick in 494 was reporting 3-4kt climbs and a cloud base of 4000ft amsl. After an inept 20 minutes, I climbed from circuit height and was on my way at last. For the first section of the flight, there was a series of lowish wooded ridges running across track, with flat crop-covered valleys between. Not a lot of landing options, but with gliding clubs close to the route and good climbs popping off the ridges, we didn't have to worry too much about outlanding possibilities.

As I approached the Lusse TP, I found very good conditions, with cloud base now up to 6,000ft and climbs occasionally averaging 5kts.

I went round the turn by GPS, set off on the second leg and then saw another airfield with gliders on it about two miles further south. Confused, and to be on the safe side, I went round that as well: 2,000km is a long way to go only to find you've muffed the TPs.

The tentative destination which Phil and I had agreed was Laucha, on the second leg to the south-west of Leipzig; I hadn't properly prepared the route beyond that. It was clear it would be possible to go further, perhaps even as far as the Wasserkuppe, but I was getting tired and cold. I kept bashing into wind while I tried to decide how long to go on. Suddenly I realised that, through inattention, I had got quite low and there wasn't any obvious good climb in reach.

Finding the only field for miles, I scratched hopefully at a succession of clouds, until one finally produced a good climb and I stayed with it back to 4,000ft. But the long flight and low scrape had sapped my determination; as I came to Allstedt airfield, a rather grim-looking disused military base, I decided I had had enough and called Phil to say I was landing.

Unfortunately, I thought I was at Bad Frankenhausen, about 15 miles away, so he went there. By the time I realised my mistake, he wasn't picking up my radio signal. When I landed, the mobile wasn't picking up a signal either. The guards arrived very quickly. Could I use a telephone? No. Could I walk to the village to telephone? No. My German improved rapidly as I tried to explain the situation, but these guys were giving me the jitters. Maybe I had the same effect on them. They put me in their car and drove past a load of derelict bunkers and other military buildings to the old control tower. Up some rickety stairs to the top, where at last, from one corner, I managed to speak briefly to Phil and tell him where I really was.

Next question. Could I walk to the road to meet Phil? No. I must stay at the control tower. I explained why it was important. They had a long conversation. I suppose they must have concluded that I wasn't dangerous, only mad, and they suddenly said: "we will take you to the road".

In the car again, to drive to a high locked gate, where they stopped. "We need to be by the road, outside the gate, so that my husband can see us." No. I was beginning to feel like a prisoner of war. Perhaps no-one had told them the Iron Curtain had come down. I explained again. Reluctantly, they found the keys and I was on the roadside at last. Phil arrived quite soon, we were escorted to the glider, de-rigged hastily and shown off the premises. We headed for Bad Frankenhausen, a cheap meal and a welcome bed.

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Day 5, Saturday
Phil launched with several other Euroglide teams into the best-looking sky so far. He got going very quickly and I followed. As usual, I dropped behind quite soon, but picked up the last message: "Drive like **** for France!" I knew roughly where we were heading and drove for hours, faintly hearing just one brief exchange between 618 and 494 which seemed to say that they were crossing the Rhine in more difficult conditions.
Two hours later I got the message on my mobile that both 618 and 494 were at Wustweiler. Directions from 494's crew brought me to yet another grassy, pretty hillside site and a welcome cup of tea.
Day 6, Sunday
We watched a blue sky for signs of anything. The locals sent a motorglider up to snift. Gliders at nearby Marpingen winch-launched. Around mid-day, they started going round in circles. After an hour our group optimist said the circles were getting higher. Phil and Nick agreed to try the day. We pushed the gliders right to the end of the short, 20-metre wide grass strip, the locals helped the tug by pulling on both tips of the Duo, and they staggered into the air, turning right just off the ground to avoid the trees at the far end. The crews settled down to wait. After a while both gliders reached an impossible height of 3,000ft and instructed us to roll. We drove slowly, listening to the patter of pair flying: "... Bubbling... Good air... bad air... I'll try the sandpit if you go for the supermarket car park... this field by the blocks of flats looks all right... half a knot..." We watched them as they defied gravity for nearly four hours to add 60km to our total distance and finally ran them to ground just in France, where the locals celebrated our arrival with beer, coffee and a large rhubarb flan.
Day 7, Monday
Nancy Malzeville: a huge airfield where we took winch launches and set course for Troyes, running a gauntlet of military jets from nearby Ochey. Approaching Troyes I was just below glide to the airfield, and losing out, the air apparently dead. I knew where the field was and had landed there before, but couldn't see it. The last 20km were tense, flying as accurately as I could and trying not to look at the crop-filled fields, the biggest tangle of wires and pylons I have ever seen, and then the outskirts of Troyes town. 494 had gone on to St Florentin. It had been a very hot day again. I changed course a few degrees to cross the town as I approached the airfield and was rewarded by a tiny burble of lift. A turn was just feasible. The lift strengthened. After a few turns it averaged 3kts. I climbed to 6,000ft and headed for St Florentin, arriving to find ten other Eurogliders there.
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Day 8, Tuesday
Ten teams gridded ourselves in reverse handicap order. I was one of the last to launch, found a good climb over the airfield, set off, found nothing, came back, climbed again, set off again, reached Auxerre 28km down track - and landed at the airfield there. A follow-me van came out and towed me in and then went back for three other Eurogliders, including 494. As flights of less than 30km don't count, we had to go back to St Florentin. It was beginning to feel like snakes and ladders.
Day 9 , Wednesday
The day looked good and we hoped Phil and Julian might get round the TP and part of the way back, so the crews drove a short distance to wait. To Auxerre airfield, in fact, which we knew was high enough for good radio reception, large enough to park two trailers, and, most importantly, equipped with an air-conditioned café. Too good to be true? Dead right. One coffee later, the pilots told us to roll. 494 came to a halt at Cosne-sur-Loire, still 83km short of Issoudun. Phil managed 35km more. We all drove to Issoudun, where we met a dejected Dutch team who had crashed their car nearby and were waiting for repairs.
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Day 10, Thursday
We had to be at Eindhoven by Saturday and we still had 645km to fly. Phil and I had 160km credits in hand, but 494 had used nearly 100km in the first two days. Tactics were starting to be important. We launched into a reasonable, though not wonderful, sky, with a big bonus of the wind behind us. The kilometres slipped past as we worked our way round two large military areas and into Chalons.
Day 11, Friday
Friday morning, we needed a good flight if we were to have any chance of finishing. The sky looked similar to Thursday, but turned out to be not so good. Phil managed to get away, but 494, trying to catch the bottom of a bubble Phil was in, found themselves in a field only 20km from Chalons. Phil and I pressed on. A small hitch when we discovered (not for the first time) that a key waypoint was not in our GPS: Dahlemer Binz itself! Fortunately we could both look up the co-ordinates. At Dahlemer Binz we met several teams who had been stuck there for some days. The final leg would be into the strong west wind which had helped us along the third leg. This had discouraged them from moving on.
Day 12, Saturday
The next morning, our last day, it was raining. We shared their pessimism. After it cleared, it was the sort of day when you might conceivably make a respectable downwind flight, especially in country not covered in trees. There are a lot of trees on the German-Belgian border. We still had enough credits to finish by road, and we decided that it was the only thing to do. It was raining again as we arrived back at Eindhoven, some small consolation that we had made the right decision. Gerrit Kurstjens was among the local members there to greet us. He had completed the task in his Nimbus 4T in six days, just half the time it took us, but I doubt if he had more fun than we did.
Abiding memories?
The immense variety of weather and landscapes we experienced. The locals at all the clubs along the way, who offered hospitality and assistance and, in many cases, turned out especially to launch us. And, as usual with gliding, the feeling that there is so much more to see and to learn. Next time, we tell ourselves, we will be even better prepared.

Diana King
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