Alone, unarmed, and scared witless
— My version of the photo reconnaissance pilot’s motto Alone, unarmed, and unafraid
Hang glider: Airborne 154 Sting 3
Harness: Aeros Myth 2
Camera: Ricoh FF-9 compact 35mm film
The Airborne (Australia) Sting 3 does not look anything special, as hang gliders go, but it just flies so well!
Experimental camera rig
When I flew with it (see next photo) I found the camera rig sticking out at an angle is strangely disorienting in flight. That doubtless contributed to my failure to stay up on that flight; an extended top-to-bottom.
On landing approach to the bottom field at Ringstead. Notice the helmet bungee. It takes much of the load from your neck, shoulders, and back: Load that you are likely unaware of until you try a bungee system. It is worth more than a new wing and a new harness. The pulley allows you to turn your head easily.
I had the Airborne factory add extra zippers (one each side) in the undersurface of my new Sting 3 to facilitate in-flight photography. A better view than that conferred by my experimental rig attached to the control frame, in my opinion.
The camera zippers are 18 inches long. The camera bracket, available from Simon Murphy, attaches with elasticated Velcro to the leading edge tube, which is inside the sail. The zipper allows the attachment point on the bracket to protrude below the sail undersurface. It also allows you to attach the bracket to the leading edge tube, which is otherwise inaccessible.
See Kimmeridge Khmer Rouge for a handful of photos of poor quality taken at this once popular flying site.
Bell Hill, summer 2010
My camera at this time was a Ricoh FF-9 compact 35mm film camera with built-in automatic film advance (motor drive). Its shadow is visible on the sail in this photo. When you take a photo, the film advances to the next frame ready for the next shot. In addition, unlike most similar cameras of the period, it did not turn itself off if you had not taken a photo for some minutes.
I took photos by pressing a switch on the control bar, which simply closed a circuit. The switch was connected to a two-strand wire, the other end of which had a 2mm jack plugged into a socket in the camera.
On this flight, although I got above the hill with enough height to land in the top field, I tried to prolong the flight through a sink cycle. Even with the aid of paragliders marking the locations of lift and sink (I was the only one flying a hang glider there that day) I lost the gamble and I ended up landing at the bottom.
However, I flew again on that long summer’s day. On the second flight I had the sky to myself because the wind had strengthened and become very turbulent.
Echeloned left at four thousand foot intervals from eight up to twenty thousand feet, they headed southeast paralleling Thud Ridge. The Ridge was a twenty-five mile long mountain range that pointed directly at Hanoi, twenty miles away.
— words from The First Ace by Henry Zeybel, 1986.
Well, I have never seen an F-105, but one day in 2009 a prolonged howling had everyone looking around. Eventually a section of F-15 Eagles, at least one of which was a two-seater, flew past behind the hill. We count on the jet jockeys keeping a good lookout and they seem to have good air-to-air radar; as far as I know they have never caused us a problem. (About once a year Bell Hill is closed to free flying by NOTAM so RAF Tornados can practice bombing an army mobile radar site set up on adjacent Bulbarrow Hill.)
By late summer the thermals are generally larger and less turbulent than in spring. (At least they are in Britain. I don’t know what they are like in Vietnam…)
Late afternoon lighting. The circular feature at the front of the top landing field (top left in the photo) is a crater; presumably from a bomb or shell during World War II. It is so near the front of the hill it is in the overshoot region for hang gliders. In other words, any hang glider trying to land there would be ‘in orbit’ and would simply fly out in front of the hill because the ground slopes away from you as rapidly as you lose height. This is another failed attempt at air-to-air photography, incidentally. Notice the hang glider disappearing under my right starboard leading edge.
Fall (autumn) 2010
I have a red and white streamer attached to the zipper that closes the undersurface of the sail. It would not do to take off with that open. A couple of years ago I was ready to launch in the Discus, or I thought I was, when I noticed I had not zipped up the undersurface. When I arrived back home, I made a streamer out of red and white duct tape so that it flaps about in front of my face if I am clipped in and I have forgotten to close the zipper. When I zip up the undersurface, I tuck the streamer into the keel pocket of the sail.
Conditions that afternoon consisted of very little wind, but thermals occasionally rose in the vicinity, causing the wind to strengthen (usually) although not always in the right direction. As usual, the paragliders helped indicate the presence or absence of lift. (If they launch and the lift is inadequate, they land back on the slope, whereas a hang glider in the same situation would end up in the bottom landing field: A minimum of an hour turn-round time.) After waiting for more than an hour clipped in, the wind came on the hill and consistently lifted the weight of my hang glider while I stood on the hill holding it (the 154 Sting 3 weighs about 60 lb). Additionally, the handful of paragliders airborne were climbing. I launched into rising air—followed by about 20 paragliders…
The lift was elusive and there were paragliders all over the sky. (The shadows of two are visible on the field in this photo.) However, in a flight that lasted less than fifteen minutes, I rose above all but three of the paragliders. I gained only about 350 ft above take-off, but it was a memorable flight.