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Tour of Bell Hill part 2: Top landing at Bell Hill
To set the scene, the glider in the top landing field is being carried forward to the parking and rigging area on the hill. You would not normally land that far forward; not safely, anyway.
The field is brown rather than green as in the other photos. This was later in the year (and indeed in a different year) than the other photos.
When the crop is high, as here, I start with at least 200 ft above take off before turning down wind. If I cannot gain that much height, I land in one of the designated landing fields at the bottom of the hill.
On this occasion I encountered sink nearly all the way, so my approach was a continual turn of varying bank until shortly before touch-down.
I leveled out momentarily. You need to land well back from the front of the field, which slopes and is very turbulent. Landing gear coming down to increase drag and thereby increase rate of descent…
Aiming for the snake-like trail where others have landed and carried forward. (Usually the farmer leaves a wide track all the way from the gate at the back of the field to the gate at the front. I guess this year he forgot.) Vehicles are parked along the top of the hill, along the fence that bounds the front of the field.
You need plenty of extra airspeed here in case you encounter a ‘hole’ in the air. The semi-upright position with the harness open creates lots of extra drag for a steep approch.
Often, just as you touch down or shortly before, you are picked up by a gust. You must hang on; maintain lots of speed and keep the glider straight. Hang glider landings here are otherwise no problem. (Just a bit scary on approach, is all.)
Next, I moved my hands to the downtubes (in case I needed to flare) so the camera button was out of reach. Despite the crop grabbing for the base tube, I made a good no-step landing only yards from the track.
This landing in 2012 was in the middle of the field. (It is not as far forward as it appears here; a result of the curve and slope of the field.) Other experienced pilots say it is less turbulent here than at the back of the field. Even so, when I touched down, I was hit by a gust and carried up about ten feet, and I landed again some seconds later. This photo was taken by my GoPro HD taking a photo every minute automatically. I do not know if it is the first or the second touch-down, but judging by my sideways weight-shifting (indicating the turbulence that often accompanies a gust of wind) I would guess it is the first.
Unclipping without assistance in a strong wind requires a different technique from that shown here. (Such techniques are described in books by Dennis Pagen.)
Expert opinions differ about whether to land at the back of the top landing field at Bell Hill or land in the middle.
It is usually fairly turbulent on final and it is even more turbulent at the back of the field. However, I feel the turbulence does not cause a problem as long as you keep lots of extra speed in hand on final. Then, when you encounter a ‘hole in the air’, although you plummet, you still have plenty of airspeed to maintain directional control. As you round out, as often as not you will be slammed by the wind (not always). It can be so strong that you climb twenty feet or so and you make a second landing.
I noticed several hang gliders slowing up when about 30 feet up, both on bottom landings and here, in the top field at Bell Hill. (I suspect they are airplane pilots, who habitually slow up on final.) Do not do it! Keep that high speed on all the way down (to 2 or 3 ft up). Then just maintain that height until the glider settles. At that point, flare if you need to. (If you are slammed by a gust during the round out, pull in…)
These three photos were taken on a cold late afternoon in late August 2014. They are 5 seconds apart.
In the first photo, I have let go the base tube with my left hand to move it to the downtube. (My right hand is already on the right down-tube.)
Although it is less turbulent in mid field, the risk of overshooting is significant. Having to fly through the strong turbulence at the brow of the hill while skimming the ground and avoiding collision with the fence, parked vehicles, and paragliders rising up from the hill weighs the decision (in my opinion) in favour of aiming to land at the back of the field.