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I was really looking forward to the 2021 flying season after my friend Tomas Suchanek and I bought our ASW20 last year. I am getting used to flying famous gliders.

Attila Bertok 1

By Attila Bertok

I still have  my Standard Cirrus, Zulu Romeo, made famous by Ingo Renner. This particular ‘20 was owned by  Arnie Hartley and at one stage by John Rowe.

There is also a story in the book ‘The Road to Narromine’  that describes how to hit a powerline with a glider and stay alive.

That was our UKI. At least we have a lucky glider. I’ve already had some nice flights from Lake Keepit in November, and even visited some paddocks with it, but I was really looking forward to taking the glider further west into some stronger weather and longer days. Of course, nothing went to plan. I skipped the entire season due to Covid and the unusually wet weather. I have also had the glider with me and unfortunately, with older technology, there is always one more thing – or three – to fix.

I ended up having two short trips to Narromine with a two-week break between them.

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A Narromine Feeling
On the first trip at the end of January, I rolled into Narromine after a short nine-hour drive from Coffs Harbour. I’ve always liked to fly here, and I always liked to come back. It was great to meet my friends again, Arnie, Beryl and everybody else. As they say, there is something about the place and that feeling sort of hits you. I think it is the feeling of anticipation of what might happen in the next few days. Thankfully, a lot happened and mostly in a good way. I just try to give a general sense here of my modest adventure instead of a circle-by-circle description.

I arrived a few days late, considering the weather. The Australian top guns, David Jensen, Adam Wooley and John Buchanan were just about done with their annual renewal of all sorts of Australian records, but it was still nice to mix a little with these great pilots. I have enormous respect for them. Nowadays people tend to talk about the technology of the gliders more than the people in them, but it is still the pilot who does the most work.

Anyway, my plan was to get going early, fly as far away as I can and try to come back, maxing out the conditions. This is what I do on most days, since I don’t fly competitions in gliders (yet). I usually drive a few hours to Keepit or Narromine, so I must make it worthwhile. However, ‘must’ is the wrong expression – I just love to be up there.

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Sense of Achievement
This type of flying gives me an enormous sense of achievement, especially when I get home on possibly the last thermal, right on a few minutes after sunset. I’d better not be late, because otherwise Beryl gives me a debrief. When you put your glider away in the darkness, you know it was worth coming even for this one flight. Then eat, sleep, repeat!

Some flights are more memorable than others, but I think the day I turned home north of Bourke just a little before 5pm and made it back was one of the highlights. When I started to work my way back, I thought there would be no way to make it, but finally I did. On the way home, I enjoyed some incredible scenery, like seeing the rainbow next to a huge storm cloud and a wall of dust.

It is also more interesting when the mobile phone reports being out of memory, just when I could have taken the photo of my lifetime… Looking at the last few clouds when the light is hitting them from below because the sun is so low is also one of the memory slivers which will sit in my mind for a long time. As a bonus, I could even climb high enough to get home. Adam was on the radio on the way as a source of encouragement and I was glad for it. He was on site for a few weeks when we had many long chats comparing the notes of a glider and a (mostly) hang glider pilot – me, that is.

One day, as it was a bit windy, we went to Forbes to test-fly my new hang glider. Adam offered to keep me company on the trip. It was also a good day for other reasons as well, such as survival.

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All-Day Flying
In general, this Narromine trip was great practice, since people who only fly in the middle of the day don’t know the feeling of a fully ballasted glider when there is not much lift to stay up, such as at the beginning of the day. I am getting better at fighting ‘water ballast greed’, when I finally drop some ballast instead of going all the way down.

This phase of all-day flying is exciting without exception. I had a few days when I could just barely manage to stay up, because it was a little too early and I sank down to below 800ft. On the other hand, when it feels easy to stay up, you know that you are late and have wasted at least half an hour or more. Flying with flaps was also new, but I have found it fun. Finally, I’ve managed to put the gear down on every landing.

My last flight on the first trip was also memorable, especially since I landed out at the end. This put a fair-sized dent to my ego, but it really was fun. The always-helpful Adam came to get me. On the way home, we experienced the true meaning of a mouse plague. We were driving for hours and there were mice everywhere. We’ve even seen some huge white owls. They could barely get off the road, I guess because they had gained too much weight. Too much food around!

Talking about mice – a few days before I came, Ikemi Ichikawa found a visitor in the cockpit during a flight. Since it showed some unfriendly traits, Ikemi let this particular visitor out the window. I don’t know what I would have done, but congratulate her for keeping her cool.

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Statistics
The statistics of the trip looked quite good at the end. I think I’ve spent 6 and a half hours daily in the cockpit on average. The longest flight was 808km, and the shortest was 450km. I must say that I was hoping for a 1,000km flight, but I am not unhappy, because the cloud base was nowhere near as high as we are used to here. Sometimes far away from home, I’ve seen 10,000ft, but not for long.

I’ve managed to fly on days even when it was predicted to be not so good. Although I had a few strong climbs, conditions were nowhere near as good as in a ‘normal’ year, but these things come together anyway. This was due to the dampness of the ground and the general weather pattern. We also have the luxury of much better weather forecasting, such as Skysight, which helped a great deal in planning.

Devilish
I went back for another three days trip a few weeks later. This turned out to be as good and picturesque as the first, even compared with the various other parts of the country I’ve visited. One of the highlights was the flight down to the south of Hillston. Here, I had the opportunity to sample some great lift.

There were dust devils in literally every second paddock and I was very tempted to fly to Hay, but returned to my senses and turned around. Great help came from some enormous fires because the farmers were burning their fields, making quite a sight when climbing in these thermals and looking down to the big nasty black dust devil. It really looks devilish.

On the other day I went to the south. It was an example of a sky that looks better than it really is. The wind was also very strong from the south and for a few hours I thought I had forgotten how to thermal. After getting very low north of Temora I decided to go into the bigger looking sky and turned at Ardlethan.

It was a little late and it started to rain on me at West Wyalong. I didn’t mind this at all because the glider was climbing just fine in the rain and this acted as a natural bug wiper. After 3 minutes of glide I was dry again, so none of the horror stories proved to be true about what happens to older gliders when they get buggy and wet, though I haven’t yet flown a PIK20. After nearly going down in Forbes again, I was up high and enjoyed some glide ratio improvement from the evening sky.

Finishing the Adventure
On the last day, the forecast predicted even stronger winds, so I was tempted to pack up, but finally I was rewarded with a great flight to Woodstock and back, including a fairly close look at Mt Canobolas near Orange. When I was back at Dubbo, it was obvious that it was going to be challanging to finish because of the strong head wind. Actually, the finish was OK, but it made no sense to fly for distance any longer because of the wind, so I went down and packed up. Wow, what a great three days this was. I can’t wait to be back!

On the way home, I went to Keepit to drop off the glider, and found the Regatta was in full flight, so to speak, so I decided to rig again and fly. It was great to meet the Keepit crowd again and some other faces because of the other event. This time I was rewarded with a flight up to the Queensland border and back. It was great to visit my hang gliding friends on Mount Borah, and I then proceeded with the rest of the flights. I just made it back before the bad weather hit Keepit from the south. It was a perfect finish to the adventure.

ATTILA BERTOK
HANG GLIDING WORLD CHAMPION

"I started flying hang gliders when I was 15, nearly 40 years ago in 1981 in Hungary after seeing a poster from a local club. My father was a glider pilot in the '50s and his stories surely left a lasting impression on me.

I flew my first hang gliding competition in 1984 and finished somewhere in midfield with our homemade glider that my father and I built together. I was Hungarian National Champion four times and at one stage, much later, I held all the records in the country. I think there were 14 of them including the longest flight made by a Hungarian anywhere in the world, 407km flown from Wilcannia to Swan Hill. Back then, this flight was 80km shy of the world record and, considering I did it in 5 hours 45 minutes, it made me think about what is possible. This is still my longest flight.

I came to Australia in 1991 to work for Moyes Delta Gliders and fly during the Australian competition season. This was no easy feat, because the airfare cost about the same as my salary for two years. I moved between Hungary and Australia for several years.

In Australia, I flew several international competitions including the Bogong Cup, Forbes Flatlands and the Nationals in Tumut. In 1992, I went for my first major competition in Norway for the European Championships and it really just gave me an appetite to get up to bigger and better things.

I went to the Pre-Worlds in the Owens Valley, California. I got a glider from Moyes, which was great, but otherwise I was quite ill prepared, especially having only US$300 for the trip after paying the entry fee and other costs. I remember using oxygen only every second day because I couldn't afford the daily $10 for the refill. We were getting up to 17-18,000ft regularly, so I could have used a bit more of the stuff. I was eating $2 pasta salad every day and slept behind the toilet block in a dusty storage room. I was a bit tired, hungry and sick, but I was happy just to be there.

My big international breakthrough came in 1995 when I won the Australian Open in Hay, NSW. It was notable because my friend and three-time World Champion title holder back then, Tomas Suchanek, came 2nd place. After this, I steadily improved but didn't win too much for a while.

I have now flown 13 world championships and have six top 10 placings (1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10).

In 2005 things started to look up, because I won the Gulgong Classic, then the Bogong Cup. I also won the Pre-Worlds in 2006, and then thought that I couldn’t top that.

My best result came in 2007 when I became World Champion in Big Spring, Texas. At this competition, everything fell into place. After winning the first three days I stayed in the lead and after seven days, I won the championship.

The last day provided some excitement when I had a complete instrument failure. I wasn't sure whether the backup system in my custom made instrument panel would work, and had to pull it apart halfway through the course to reset the system. I am very proud of this result because I have never flown as a professional pilot, and I achieved this while working full time.

My other notable result came in Ager, Spain at the European Championships in 2010 when I finished 3rd. I am mostly self sponsored, but Moyes Delta Gliders always gave me a glider and paid for the transportation as well.

I've always wanted to do more record flying, but apart from a camp in Wilcannia in 2000, I never could give it a real shot. At least there I did a 200km triangle speed world record, which still stands today. We also flew a 300km triangle for speed then, but it never got ratified because we didn't file a preliminary notification. Whatever, it was still good fun.

I went back to the States in 2013 and 2018 and won their Nationals in Big Spring again, so four out of four. My American friends say that they like me, but I can stay at home now.

I've also won the Gulgong Classic four times out of five tries and came second once. I've also won the Canungra classic at least three times. I've also managed to win the El Penon classic in Mexico before the Worlds and came 5th on the real thing. Last but not least, I've managed to win the Forbes Flatlands last year in January 2020."