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Five pilots, two high performance self-launching 2-seater gliders with chase car and trailer. What could be a better set up for an extended soaring safari?

On Safari! Bernard and Michael preparing to leave Narromine

By Bill Mudge

You might remember my report on our 2019 safari, but ever since then, our safari group has had mixed success due to COVID restrictions and unsuitable weather. However, we undertook another successful adventure in February of this year. Bernard Eckey and his ASH30Mi was again joined by Graham Parker and Theo Newfield in their ASH25. Theo brought along his NZ based Swiss colleague, Michael Woolf, and I rounded out the group. As it turned out, we chose the best of the summer weather in February.

The adventure began on Sunday 11 February when Bernard collected our two Kiwi friends at Adelaide airport and took them to Balaklava. He then flew the ASH30Mi to Waikerie while the New Zealanders followed him in the chase car. On arrival at Waikerie Graham Parker was also ready to go but declared that the forecast for the next day promised superb soaring conditions around the Flinders Ranges. It resulted in a quick change of plans. Bernard took Michael for his first look at the Australian outback in tandem with the ASH 25 piloted by Graham and Theo. They struggled across the scrub but made it to north of Carrieton and back to Waikerie. Apparently they enjoyed strong climbs to 10,000ft in the Flinders Ranges.

ABOVE: On Safari! Bernard and Michael preparing to leave Narromine.

Two gliders

Our two Safari ships, ASH25 and ASH30.

On Safari
Tuesday 13 Feb was the day for setting off to the eastern states on a planned 10 to 12-day safari. Our first stop was planned for Balranald. Graham and Michael launched first and managed to stay ahead of a fast approaching frontal system. Bernard and I were not so lucky. We took off only 15 minutes later and got caught just behind the front. We tiptoed through broken lift between building storms and rain, but we finally got ahead of the front about 90k out. From there it was easy going with a tail wind and 10kt thermals to 10,000ft under cu. Graham and Michael were well ahead so pushed on past Balranald before returning. On arrival Bernard and I decided to fly back along the road to Mildura to see if we could spot our chase car driver Theo Newfield. Looming from the west was the front again, now building into dark, foreboding thunderstorms. Eventually both gliders returned to Balranald and were tied safely down, but fortunately, the storms just slipped through south of us. When we woke the next morning we learned that Melbourne had been lashed with hail and up to 100mm of rain.

Front Passed Through
After the passage of the front, conditions were much milder, so a short trip to Tocumwal was the plan for the next day. A late start got us away in weak and broken thermals. Graham and Theo went north of track and got poor climbs but good glides. Bernard and I went further south and experienced the opposite. A low save from 1400ft got us into Tocumwal with height to spare and while pushing our glider off the runway the ASH 25 also called circuit. A very warm welcome by Eddie Maddern ensued and made us decide on a rest day at Tocumwal to observe the preparations for the 2-seater Nationals. It was great to catch up with Eddie and many other friends and associates. The evening was spent at the Palm Motel, sharing a meal and drinks with our old mate and top entertainer, Ron Sanders. Lumpy Paterson not only allowed us to use his tie down area but also made his barbecue area available on the next day for a nice rump steak dinner, which we shared with David Jansen. Graham Parker was pleased to catch up with many other pilots, especially those he had been team members with at World Championships. It was great to see Lumpy’s hangar and his large fleet. Some of us also had a tour of the Tocumwal Aviation Museum.

On Friday we had an early breakfast to join the competition briefing at 9:30. A trough line that had been wavering back and forth through the centre of NSW was now on a line between Tocumwal and Narromine. Storms and overdevelopment were predicted, especially further north, so a task to Temora was set by Graham, our first class weatherman, task setter and accommodation manager. We caught up with more 2-seater pilots including Adam Woolley and Keith Gateley. Keen to beat the predicted storms we launched early - too early for Graham and Theo who required a relight. Bernard and I got away with an in-flight restart and waited for our mates to catch up. The following trip to Temora was uneventful under rapidly developing cu, with bases varying between 5,000 and 7,000ft. Bernard and I landed at Temora, but Graham and Theo went on for about 75km before returning. On arrival of our chase car, we rushed to our motel and got to the Temora Services Club just in time to order a late dinner.

Typical sky

 A typical cumulus cloudscape out on track.

Travelling North
On Saturday the trough was still with us, but it now looked better towards Narromine, our next destination. However, overnight disaster had struck in the form of a flat tail dolly wheel. While we were still repairing it around midday, many Temora members were already launching. The sky was rapidly filling with cu again but high tops to the west looked ominous. At first conditions were tricky with broken and narrow thermals, but after passing Forbes it got better with better organised lift and some streeting. After parting early, we rejoined with Graham and Theo west of Parkes and saw the radio-telescope known as the ‘Dish’, which featured in the moon landing). On arrival at Narromine Bernard and I chose to land and were greeted by the renowned Beryl Hartley who fed and watered us in the clubhouse. While the good soaring conditions lasted, Graham and Theo pushed on to Coonamble before returning.

Members of Bathurst Soaring Club began to arrive for their annual camp, and we met Kerry Claffey, Stephen Kramer and Sean Young (our esteemed editor!) among others. Beryl kindly arranged very convenient accommodation at the onsite motel, and we opted for dinner at the Services Club.

Adam Woolley Graham Parker

Adam Woolley and Graham Parker at Tocumwal.

Next day, Sunday, was another rest day as thunderstorms were predicted all around. Conditions to the north would have been okay, but the heat and humidity were taking its toll. Our gliders (again thanks to Beryl and Arnie) were safely tucked away in hangars. Luckily, we were invited to join the famous Narromine Soaring Centre BBQ that evening along with the Bathurst guys.

The forecast for the following was again looking good with the trough still in the midst of NSW. It was my turn to drive - a trip I’d already done during our 2019 Safari, only in the opposite direction. A launch into a reasonable sky got the boys away to our planned destination of Narrandera with Temora, Hillston or Leeton as alternative landing options. An uneventful run got them there well ahead of me in the car and trailer. Narrandera is a gated and locked airfield, but with help from a local Council worker, we were allowed in and out, albeit with a warning that his boss wouldn’t be very pleased about it. Accommodation was quickly found, and we dined at another Services Club. The following morning the very helpful guy arrived together with his very placated boss. He was eager to please and even helped us to get our gliders nicely positioned for take-off.

Michael takes a rest from the heat in the trailer.

Michael takes a rest from the heat in the trailer.

The weather forecast suggested Robinvale as our next destination. From previous experience we knew that accommodation was scarce there, so for the first time we booked ahead. We had a struggle to get away, but the conditions got better on track with cu eventually popping around 9-10,000ft. However, while approaching Hay, we could already see the rapidly approaching high dark overcast. As we went below it, thermals slowly got worse and weaker climbs were the norm. Graham suggested we make for Balranald and maybe motor on to Robinvale. Bernard and I tiptoed to Balranald with 4,000ft in hand, giving a very marginal glide to Robinvale. Graham and Theo found a good climb to 8,000ft behind and further north, which gave them final to Robinvale. Bernard and I got weak and broken lift and made it with no height to spare. Our accommodation was in riverside cabins at the caravan park and was probably the best choice for the trip. Dinner was at the local Chinese restaurant - filled with Chinese backpackers who worked in the surrounding table grape vineyards.

Leaving Temora

The sky on leaving Temora.

Last Day
So, we came to our last day on Wednesday 21 Feb with the flight back to Waikerie. The high cloud from the day before had passed and good heights with cumulus were predicted once again. Graham opted to drive as Theo was now on top of the engine management in the ASH25Mi again. Robinvale airport has a locked gate, but from a previous trip we knew of a back gate from a farmer’s paddock. This proved unnecessary as a helicopter and tanker were operating from the airfield on our arrival in the late morning. We both struggled to get away for the first 30km with Theo and Michael falling behind. At first the predicted cumulus were missing but when they started popping, good climbs to 9-10,000ft were the order of the day again. Good progress was made and by the time we reached the SA/VIC border we were already on final glide to home. Theo also made up time and ended up overflying Waikerie for an extended flight with his friend Michael Woolf.

Into the gloom towards Robinvale

Into the gloom towards Robinvale

In all, a very successful adventure with some great weather, meeting old and new acquaintances and enjoying a great camaraderie among the participants from different corners of the globe. Like I said at the beginning, it was living the dream. Sleep in to around 8am, have brunch in a different town every day, plan the weather and task, launch early afternoon, land at another field, book a motel or cabin, go out for dinner with beer and the odd bottle of red wine, then do it all again next day! None of us are spring chickens any longer but as I said to Bernard, “Many others our age would be in a nursing home or down the pub playing pokies.” If he or Graham taps you on the shoulder and asks if you’d be interested in a soaring safari, don’t hesitate – go for it!

Typical sky

On the way to Narromine.