This year’s gliding tour happened to start on the longest day of the year. Lasham had decided to try and get as many flights into the day a possible, which was handy; not only did the early morning start seem more bearable but some even went flying before leaving. A largely uneventful journey followed across Belgium, Germany and Austria found the group in Nitra, Slovakia.
Nitra is located about 60km west of the capital Bratislava and 8km away from the Tribec Mountains. The airfield itself is only 2km out of the town of Nitra and has hosted numerous World and European championships. As a result it has very good facilities including a swimming pool and a tennis court (very useful when you weren’t flying). We stayed on the airfield in chalets, which were only 20m from where the glider trailers were parked, so we could easily fall out of bed each morning and rig the Discus (luckily our twin seater, 496, was either in the hanger or trestled overnight). The airfield doesn’t have any catering facilities (only a bar), but we were able to get food at on of Nitra’s two tescos, one of which was actually on three separate floors. We went out most evenings and attempted to sample some of the more local cuisine, including an Italian, a Mexican and an Irish restaurant (the origins of the Irish one were questionable), and two homemade barbeques. However we did go to a very good local restaurant where, if you ordered 2 days in advance, you could get a whole suckling pig. One fact that seemed to pass most of the restaurants was that when Sage said he was vegetarian, this means he eats no meat (dishes ‘without meat’ may just contain less meat). We also made evening trips to Bratislava and Banska Bystrica; the latter is a historic town in the middle of the Tribec Mountains. Some of the group later returned to Bratislava on a poor weather day whilst the others climbed the local ridge.
The first day was spent using 496 and the winch to get everybody who could fly the Discus, 296, checked out. The winch was not the best (the average launch was around 700’) and the launch was initiated by swinging a very heavy metallic bat around your head. The only problem was the winch driver could barely see this bat from the other end of the airfield, so some people found themselves standing there for over 5 minutes. Next, the winch was very underpowered and had a very sticky clutch, which resulted in some very jerky launches (and subsequent cable brakes). Whilst everyone got flown, we ended the day having successfully broken every weak link on the airfield and concluded not to use the winch again unless we had too.
Aerotowing was carried out by an ultralight called a Eurofox. These are kit planes, which are actually built onsite. The employees acted as tug pilots, and on one non-flying day we all got a flight in it. They are so proud of what this aircraft they build that all the way through the flights they were telling us facts and statistics about it. And they have every right to be proud; anything that small and light capable of towing 496 is a very well designed aircraft. Although the climb rate was slightly slower that we were used to, it was a very good thermal indicator.
Generally the weather was superb by British standards; there were numerous days with at least 5000’ cloud-bases and average thermal strengths of 4knts. This allowed those who were pre-solo to do a lot soaring practice and upper air work, and those who were able to fly 296 were able to practice their soaring and go for badge claims. There were a daring few (mainly flying with Bob) that went to the local ridge. I say daring because as we saw when we climbed it, if the ridge wasn’t working it was a long way back over some very unlandable fields. The proximity to Nitra meant not only some very picturesque scenery, but also it also guaranteed thermal triggers on blue days.
The locals were all very friendly and helpful, the youth contingent even allowed us to join in their drinking games; their shots glasses were the size of tumblers and the homebrew was lethal (8 hours wasn’t a long enough recovery time).
Overall, everyone there got something out of it. Pre-solo students were able to learn in a familiar glider in superb conditions and those who flew 296 were able to home their thermalling skills; one even managed a 5 and a half hour flight. Thank you to Bob and Sage for their instructing and mentoring during the first two weeks; Sage even managed a few cross countries in the last week when he had no one to instruct.