At 4am on a clear July morning a group of Imperial College Students set off in 2 cars heading for Dover. This was the start of the Imperial College Gliding Club Summer Tour. Our destination was an airfield in the north of Slovenia, and we didn’t know what to expect. We knew that there was a gliding club and that it was located near some mountains, the trailing edge of the Alps. Imperial College Gliding Club (icGC) go on tour every year with the aim, previous tours have included Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic. Gliding is very weather dependant and this country is far from the best. Travelling to find better weather allows pilots to achieve the longer and cross country flights needed for training.
Arriving at Lesce Airfield the following afternoon we were surprised to find that our expectations of the club were vastly exceeded. The airfield was almost as big as our home site and the grass runway was used for many different aviation activities. The airfield had been a gliding site for about 50 years, the Chief Flying Instructor told us. It was also used for powered flying training, pleasure flights, general aviation and also for skydiving. The airfield was also used by horse riders who, however dangerous it sounds, liked to ride close to the activity. The mountains were at a perfect distance, not too far that we could not reach them, but not too close for the effect of the mountains on the air to make flying low and close to the airfield dangerous.
We flew the next day. We had brought two of our gliders with us, our single seat Discus, and two seat training glider. We had also brought our own instructors, Bob, Martin and Brian, with us from home to train us on this new terrain. They had all experienced mountain flying before and could teach us how to understand how the air flowing over the mountains helps to keep our gliders in the air. Wind flowing towards a mountain is forced upwards by the slope. This rising air carries our gliders up the mountain. The mountains at Lesce are different heights forming steps which made it easy to reach the highest point, at 2000m. From here we could see Austria and the surrounding countryside. Even the most inexperienced pilots in our group were able to enjoy the flying, and still train in these conditions towards getting solo.
Occasionally, the weather was not always up to standard, although below standard was often better than the weather we fly in at home. On these days we could choose to be picky and explore the local area which had plenty to offer. The nearest large town is Bled, visible from the air and distinctive as there is a large lake, Lake Bled, with a castle on an island in the middle. There are plenty of nice walks, several of our group climbed the highest mountain to find a rustic restaurant at just under 2000m. It was also possible to travel to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana.
Lesce proved an excellent location, the flying was great and we all progressed and learned new things. The people were very friendly and included us in their activities, including a fabulous BBQ held for the young pilots of Slovenia. No one wanted to leave and when we did all of us wanted to go back. However, with this new knowledge of mountain flying we can set our sights to more challenging mountain sites.