Editors' Note: Thanks to Ritz for forwarding this article, originally published in Plane Sailing and written by former Australian Team pilot Terry Cubley, who was Australia's Team Captain for the 2012 WGC in Uvalde and serves as Australia's IGC representative. The article was provided by Jo Pocklington.
The year was 1975 - yes they had gliders in those days. The Victorian State Championships were held at Bacchus Marsh from the 21st January - 1st February. I flew our syndicate Kestrel 17m for the first four days, a glider that we had bought at the end of the Waikerie World Comps 12 months earlier.
As with any competition, and in particular one from Bacchus, the ‘75 State comps started with wet and windy weather - a no contest day on the Saturday.
The Sunday was a little better, still with 25 knot winds and low cloudbase, but at least the rain had ended. The task was an out and return flight to Skipton, 90km west of Bacchus, past Ballarat and Snake Valley. Thermals were OK but the strong wind made it quite difficult getting to the turn, with cloudbase only 3500-4000 feet. By the time we crossed the tree’d area south of Ballarat there were only two of us left, everyone else was either in a paddock or turned back to the Marsh.
Peter Crane in the Libelle hung in there for a while but eventually he picked a good paddock about 20 km short of the turn.
This last 20 km was tricky; the thermals were broken and the wind quickly penalised you for a wrong turn. I was able to use some streeting and topped up 500 feet at a time to avoid getting low. I still remember the exhilaration of taking a photo at Skipton - at last a tailwind. The trip to Skipton took over three hours, but the return to Bacchus was done easily in just over 45 minutes. When I landed the strip was empty, I found the crowd in the bar waiting for the phone call.
Monday's weather was another improvement; winds were reduced to less than 20 knots and cloud base was close to 5000 feet. The standard 300km FAI triangle, Lismore - Avoca, was set. Lismore is about 100 km SW of Bacchus, past Meredith and Rokewood. The advantage of this direction in a SW wind is that there is a little more moisture around and so the cloud is a little more reliable, although a little lower than further north.
The day was actually fairly straightforward around the two turns. Good racing with reasonably consistent climbs and some good glides. I spent much of the day with Frank Erdman in the Open Cirrus and a couple of Libelles, one flown by Russel Dunn (Haidyn’s brother). After Avoca (NW of Ballarat) the day started to slow down a little and a few gliders ended up in paddocks close to Ballarat. There was still some lift around and provided you stayed high and were reasonably careful, getting home was not too much of a problem. Frank beat me on final glide and won the day at 75kph (not world shattering speeds but good fun).
Tuesday certainly looked like an improvement, the wind had dropped to less than 10 knots but had moved to the SE. Typically with a high overhead and an easterly component the weather is a little stable and very blue - no clouds today. These days can actually be quite difficult at Bacchus; often there is very little lift east of the high country and so getting away can be difficult. An out and return to Great Western (near Ararat) was set, a distance of 305 km. This day was no different from normal under these conditions—lift before start was only getting to 3000 feet (AGL). I started at 2600 feet and headed up the Werribee gorge towards Ballan. It was certainly very tricky; the ground rises almost 1000 feet just before Pykes reservoir and the lift was still only going to 3000. At Ballan I was low ( it’s always a little weak here) and then suddenly the thermal kept going to 4500 feet - I was away. The lift continued to improve out past Ballarat and was quite good all the way to Great Western. Nothing startling, but good, consistent climbs in the blue and I was on final glide just past Ballarat. 77 kph for first place. JB was flying the Jantar (GOD) and also did well for the day, placing second. This was good practice for him because at the end of the comp he went to Horsham with the Kestrel and won that comp.
That was the end of my flying, I can’t remember who flew the Kestrel for the rest of the week. I had had some really memorable flights, but of course the weather just continued to improve once I was on the ground.
Wednesday was a better day, with blue thermals to 8000 feet and light northerly winds. The Nimbus 2s took control of the comp with the better weather and heavier wing loadings. Tony Tabart came for the last four days and won every day, to be expected as he had been on the Australian team at the world comps the year before.
Wednesday's task was a 500 km out and return to Dimboola (just past Horsham). A fairly straightforward sort of flight from what I can remember. Tony Tabart and Laurie McKinlay, both in Nimbus 2s, tied for first, with a speed of 92kph. I cannot help but think that with modern techniques the speeds would have been higher, but at that time 92 kph seemed like a good speed.
Thursday was even better, still with thermals to 8-9000 feet, still blue but a lot more predictable. A 500 km triangle to Dunkeld - Sutherland resulted in a speed of 116 kph by Tony Tabart, a new Australian speed record. This same day produced some long flights in SA and at Tocumwal. Malcolm Jinks flew a 750 km triangle speed record and Ingo Renner flew a 1150 km straight distance flight in the Caproni two-seater - a world distance record.
Friday was the peak of the cycle. After the high speeds of the previous day, and the 750 km flight by Malcolm Jinks, the task setters were keen to have some large distances. A free distance task was set so that the open class gliders could set a large triangle. The three Nimbus 2s all declared a 750 km FAI triangle from Bacchus to Coleraine (west of Hamilton) then due north to the west of the Grampians to Lascelles and then home to Bacchus. It was certainly a good day, with cloudbase at 12-14,000 feet up north with light northerly winds.
Tony Tabart, Dave Ferguson and Laurie McKinlay started about 10:30am when the lift was already quite reasonable. Not reasonable enough for Laurie unfortunately, as he landed on top of the ridge about 10 km from Bacchus. A reasonably efficient aerotow retrieve was arranged once the rest of the fleet was launched, and Laurie decided to try again, starting at about 1:00 pm. The day was certainly as good as expected; many 500 km flights were completed by the pilots. The crowd then waited for the Nimbus’ to return. Tony Tabart was first home before 6 pm with Dave Ferguson only 5-10 minutes behind. It was certainly a day for the record books. Tony’s speed of 118 kph was a new Australian and world record, and it was certainly the biggest flight ever done from Bacchus.
Meanwhile, Laurie McKinley was still flying but the day was slowly dying and he took his last climb somewhere near St Arnaud, about 120 km from home. As he slowly glid past Maryborough, about 80 km from home at approximately 6-7000 feet, it was looking a little bleak. There was certainly no more prospect of lift so it came down to the performance of the Nimbus to get him home. Some reduced sink stretched the glide, and as the sun disappeared behind the horizon, Laurie arrived at Bacchus after a nail biting final glide over the high country. He arrived back just before 9 pm - everyone was in the bar and the first we knew was when Laurie walked into the clubhouse. One wondered what was possible that day, maybe not a 1000 km but certainly close to 900 km.
The last day was a fizzer. The air mass changed overnight and a maximum thermal height of 2500 feet meant a no contest day. No one seemed really upset by this, after such a great couple of days plus some interesting flying, Bacchus was certainly proven as a serious cross country site.
27 Years Later?
It's fair to say that no more 750 km flights have been flown out of Bacchus since "The Day" in 1975. Quite a number of 500 km flights have been done, and the tendency has been for pilots to go elsewhere to try their longer flights. It was certainly a great day in 1975, but we probably get a few of those days most seasons; they just have to occur when people are flying and people have to be focused on flying such a distance from Bacchus.
The aircraft are certainly better now. I have outperformed a Nimbus 2 in the DG300 - a higher wingloading helps. The flying techniques have certainly improved - Tegan and I were averaging 135 kph on some good days at Narromine last season in the Janus C. Let’s see if we can get a 750km flight out of Bacchus before 2005.