Every year, Youth Glide New Zealand holds an annual Youth Soaring Development Camp in Omarama for around 20 young pilots (25 years and under). The aim is for young pilots to gain concentrated experience and training in what is one of the best soaring sites in the world.
Going to Omarama for the Youth Soaring Development Camp has been one of the greatest experiences I have ever had! Being from the North Island (flat land and few big mountains), soaring around the Southern Alps was a big change to what I was used to.
We arrived in Omarama on the 7th December after the 4 hour drive from Christchurch at about mid day. I was placed in the advanced group where we were lucky enough to have 8 gliders for 9 people! These were 2x Duo Discuses, a Janus and a privately owned ASH-25, then 4 single seaters – a Discus CS, 2x LS4's and an LS6!
Flying started on the 8th and my first flight was in UO (Duo Discus) with Trevor Mollard. We took off into the basin and got our first thermal off tow, which went up to 8000ft! (Highest I had ever been in a glider before then – and low compared to other flights!). Trevor gave me a comprehensive tour of the area around Omarama and some of the many outlanding airstrips. As it was a light westerly, after having a quick run in thermals along the Benmore Range, we headed off to the Hawkdun range and did a run along and back from the Omarama Saddle. From there we headed west over the saddle and I got my first experience in wave! We contacted the wave over the saddle and took it up to 12,500ft (I didn't have an oxygen cannula at the time). From there we did some general handling exercises and took a quick trip up to the top of Lake Ohau (for those who aren't familiar with Omarama, it is around 50km North West of the airfield). After the flight, I couldn't wait for the next day!
The next day at the briefing I was assigned YF (Discus CS) and I had a great flight around the basin and getting a good idea of the landmarks and landout strips around the local area. I even managed to stumble into gentle wave behind the Hawkdun Range (pushed upwind of the line of cumulus and kept climbing! I realized what it was after a few seconds because it was so smooth and I could see the tops of the clouds!)
Monday was forecast to be a wave day and I was put in the ASH-25 (TF) with Doug Hamilton. I was also wanting to get a backseat passenger rating so I chose to fly from the back of the ASH to get some more backseat time (still a pretty good view!). We took off onto Mt Horrible (next to the airfield) and climbed up a few thousand feet before heading across to 'Big Ben' (highest point on the Benmore Range). The glide ratio of the ASH was incredible with almost no height lost in the glide across. We climbed up from the ridge in a thermal, pushed into wind into a rotor thermal and before long we were blasting along the wave at 90kts at 14,000ft towards Mt Cook! The top of Mt Cook was covered in cloud but it was still an amazing sight!
From there we went back south to the Dunsten Wave and got within 10km of Clyde before turning around and heading back north to Mt Cook again. This time we went higher just north of Mt Cook and climbed all the way up to 21,000ft! (on oxygen of course!). The view was just awesome! We went back towards Omarama and did some wingovers over some other gliders on the way down (Doug flying of course). We landed after nearly 5 hours and it was the best glider flight I have ever done!
That evening we had a talk from G Dale about using a parachute – which as you may know, G had to do this year in the UK during a competition! He shared his story and what he did to get out of the glider – which took 14 seconds from impact to actually getting out of the glider! I came away from the lecture with the words 'Look, Grip, Pull, Arch' stuck in my head so it was certainly worthwhile attending!
The next day was meant to be thermal conditions and after the long flight the day before, I had a flight with Wes McIver and finished off my backseat passenger rating. On Wednesday I had another flight in YF and did some more local thermal flying, this time pushing further away but still in gliding range. There was an easterly airflow in the basin but over the mountains there was a westerly so the convergence would have been really good if I got far enough away.
The next day I went for a flight with Phil Plane (not sure if he got my joke about two phil's in a plane haha). Again we had an easterly in the basin but it was westerly into the mountains so after a struggle to get into the mountains, Phil (being a highly experienced mountain pilot) took us over a ridge, around the side of a spur and then thermalled scarily close to the ridge! Once we got above the ridge top I got control again and we set off to Lake Hawea and then north nearly to Mt Cook where we got in some gentle wave to take us back to the bottom of Lake Ohau, where the westerly was replaced by the easterly breeze. We had plenty of height to get back from there (10,000ft).
That evening we checked the forecast and six of us started planning a 300k triangle from Omarama, down to Clyde, back up to Glentanner and then to Omarama for the finish. We got the gliders prepared that evening and the next morning we got up at 5:45 to get set for a 0700 takeoff. Craig Walecki kindly agreed the night before to tow for us and was ready at 7am to tow for us. We decided to wait for another half an hour because the wave didn't look very developed.
I was the first to launch, in YF, onto Mt Horrible at 0730 and the ridge was working alright up to about 5,500ft, then turned into heavy sink. After a while on the ridge with the others we decided to push out into wind. We all pushed out around the Eue Range and into the rotor. It took 2.5 hours from takeoff until I actually got into the wave just north of the Omarama Saddle. The rotor was very turbulent and it was a struggle climbing in it.
Alex White contacted the wave first and then I was the second, at about 9,000ft. Once I was in the wave I climbed up and after a quick look South and a chat on the radio to some of the instructors who were pushing south, decided to abandon the task because the wave along the Dunstens was very turbulent and broken (which was explained to me afterwards the reasons why the wave was setup that way on the day). I decided to climb and attempt my Gold Height gain (Diamond if I could) and climbed easily up to 18,500ft where I decided that going higher wouldn't be the best idea as I hadn't got much experience on oxygen. I came down and landed in quite turbulent conditions and found the beginner and intermediate groups had already stopped flying because of the turbulence!
The reason it was so rough on the Dunstens and the ridge had heavy sink around was because there was a huge wave system over the whole southern alps interfering with the individual waves from the ranges, causing turbulence in some places and two waves were dumping right over Mt Horrible making climbing higher than about 5,500ft nearly impossible. It goes to show that even though a day is forecast to be a great wave day, it can be really difficult to get into it and the conditions aren't always great for cross country flights. However I managed to get my Gold height gain, which was something I can't get very easily in the North Island so the flight was very rewarding!
On Sunday, I took my friend's dad up for a flight – a great opportunity to use the Back Seat passenger rating! We managed to get into the wave pushing out into the basin and got up to 12,000ft! He had a fantastic time and kept commenting on how amazing the scenery was! His son is a bit jealous that he has now been higher than him now! Met Richie McCaw on Monday morning and helped him to rig his glider (Discus 2). He is very supportive of YouthGlide and very interesting to talk to.
Overall the course was an amazing opportunity and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to attend it! I personally gained so much from the experience, both in my flying and from spending 10 days with a great bunch of like-minded young pilots! Over the course I clocked up 25 hours of gliding and had an awesome time in one of the best soaring sites in the world! It has been a truly amazing opportunity and I would highly recommend Omarama as a place for a gliding holiday!