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The EPIC Journey of the Woody Winch Challenge

To set a scene – it was Sunday 15th July 2018 and the weather was shaping up to be the perfect day to fly the classic K-8 for a UK-based hobbyist, Gary Western. With light winds and good lift up (to possibly 6000 ft), it was the perfect flight condition. Making the most of these perfect conditions, Western decided to challenge himself to the Woody Winch Challenge. For those who don’t know, the Woody Winch Challenge is one of Rattlesden Gliding Club’s annual trophies. Essentially, it means taking a winch launch and flying to Tibenham, followed by a distance flight after that.

Western, a passionate glider, began gliding at Essex & Suffolk Gliding Club in 1972. Within a year he had his Bronze C. However, gliding took a back seat in 1975/1976 when his family started their own business. In 1980, Gary converted to a PPL A, and managed to knock off 10 hours to his PPL syllabus. He continued to fly until he was diagnosed with a heart condition in 1998.

In 2013, Gary’s love for gliding was reignited in a chance encounter with the CFI of Rattlesden Gliding Club, Dave King, which then saw him join the club. Fast forward to 2018, and Gary Western is now working towards his 100km diploma and possibly a 300km task – all of which must be done in the K-8!

Now here we are, Western ready to take on an enormous challenge with his K-8 in hand. The route he had planned included Tibenham, Lavenham, Rattlesden, Mendlesham, Newmarket and then back towards Rattlesden. The distance totaling to 193 km. And so it began by a winch launching very gently to about 1,100ft and softly flew into a lift with a gentle climb to 2500ft.

The Woody Winch Challenge Gary Western described the journey to Tibenham as pretty smooth. Only having dropped below 4000 ft once, which only lasted a few minutes before he was able to find good climb again. I arrived in Tibenham in less than an hour after take-off.

After reaching Tibenham, Gary turned at about 6000 ft towards Rattlesden and Lavenham. While he was able to find lift, this turn was a little more difficult because of the strong headwind which made his progress quite slow.

Western commented that this part of the journey was “quite frustrating”, as it proved difficult to fly in a straight line for quite some time. As described by Western himself, it was beginning to feel as though Tibenham and Diss seemed no further away with such slow progress.

It finally picked up again and he was making fast progress heading back over to Rattlesden but that changed once more as he began to battle the wind again headed towards Lavenham.

After getting around to Lavenham safely, and he headed back to Rattlesden where he arrived surprisingly quickly. Before focusing on his next task, he reset the Kobo. His next task was another club task known as the Cunningham Triangle. This trophy award-winning challenge consisted of Rattlesden, Mendlesham, Newmarket and then back to Rattlesden.

So Western set off to Mendlesham, flying across a blue patch to some clouds in Stowmarket. Whilst crossing the blue, he hit some strong crosswinds and fell just below 4000 ft. To combat this, he hit thermal in the blue, which quickly took him back up to 6000 ft and led him back on track over Stowmarket. This was much further than he initially anticipated, and with the good lift disappearing quickly it only felt harder.

Nonetheless, he managed to make it to Mendlesham and then made his way over Great Ashfield. While it wasn’t easy, when he finally made it to Great Ashfield he got the cracking climb he was waiting for. With a couple of tense journeys, it was a welcome change for Western who was able to relax for a bit.

The relaxing easy ride continued all the way to Newmarket, despite a little crosswind. After arriving in Newmarket, he spotted a fellow hobbyist Colin Ashman in his Skylark 4, who too had undertaken the same task. Surprised by the fact that Ashman was ahead of him despite taking off after him, Western asked him how he managed to do that as soon as landed. Colin Ashman said that he had re-routed to Newmarket when he didn’t like the look of the blue stuff towards Mendlesham.

They both headed back to Rattlesden, Western about a mile behind Colin at this point. With Colin at almost 7000 ft, Western decided to reach the same thermal and shot up to 7500 ft, which he assumed was high enough to get him back to Rattlesden. This wasn’t the case at all, so he readjusted and settled for a straight glide back at between 55-60 kts.

In the home stretch, Western encountered some more difficulty, as the wind direction had changed and there was now a serious headwind component. The sky had another big blue hole, so he saw an inviting cloud to his right and headed towards it but it began to decay leaving Western with nothing.

For the first time in his journey, Western began to think he was going to fail the challenge he had set himself, as he was down to 2500ft with no clouds within gliding distance. Even though at this point he could see Rattlesden quite clearly, there was no way he could reach it from the height he was at. Things began to look up when he spotted some large warehouses ahead, and he was able to climb up to 4500 ft, but seeing was Rattlesden was close he glided back at around 3000 ft instead.

Overall, Western described the experience as a “very rewarding flight once more in a beautiful but challenging, cross-country glider. Now I look back, I did thoroughly enjoy it, but you do wonder sometimes at the time when things are not going as smoothly as they should be.”


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