Thank you to Jo Pocklington for sending us these fabulous photos of the Morning Gloring in Australia. More about the Morning Glory can be found in our article here. -- Ed.
Flying the Glory -- October 2012
After hearing stories and seeing photos of the Gulf of Carpentaria Morning Glory, my interest was stirred to the point where 4 years ago, as we were in our Lancair in central west Queensland visiting friends, we decided to go to Burketown to check it out. As it was late in the season, most people had left except Geoff Pratt and a Discovery film crew. We were up at dawn for 4 mornings to get the routine, but no Glory. From then, the Morning Glory was on my bucket-list.
After more pictures and National Geographic articles, the Morning Glory became a definite must-do. So when Ian Barraclough invited us to join his 2012 self-launching-glider safari, we jumped at the chance. A bit of a rush to finish the CofA on the Ventus 2cM VH-VTT and test fly before putting it in the trailer for the trip north to St George to meet up with the group, mainly from Lake Keepit.
We launched out of St George for the first leg to Augathella; my partner, Jo Pocklington towing the trailer. Some arrived with difficulty; others had engine starts. There were 3 motor gliders in the group who travelled with the most confidence each day, 3 self launching gliders and 2 power planes.
Next day, all made it to Longreach; a blue day and not great soaring conditions. The Albert Park Motor Inn kindly supplied a bus for our use to and from the airfield.
We headed off with a hopeful possibility of reaching Cloncurry, 540km north. Only the motor gliders made it. Predicted high cloud moved in and cut off conditions north of Winton. Jo made it to Cloncurry with the trailer, but I turned back 100km north of Winton as it was impossible to safely proceed further, and I landed at Winton. John Clark in his DG800 and Ian & Geoff Sim in their 2 seater Ash also landed at Winton. We parked on a grassed area behind markers, but were asked by council staff not to do so again.
No phone signals meant no contact with Jo to stop her proceeding, so she had to drive back next morning, 350km from Cloncurry, to meet up with me. A night of heavy rain resulted in poor soaring conditions, so we put VTT in the trailer at Winton and enjoyed a night at the Blue Heeler pub in Kynuna en route to Burketown, where we met up with the group once again.
A quick re-rig that evening, and ready for action the next morning, even though conditions did not look favourable for a Morning Glory – dry south-easterly breeze instead of a moist northerly, which brings in a layer of moisture from the Gulf. Even though we were up well before dawn every morning, conditions remained unlikely for a Glory for the next 3 days. On the 4th morning, driving out to the aerodrome in the dark, picking up some of the other crew, a pre-dawn Glory went through like a mini-tornado, but it appeared to be dry.
The last and final morning of our stay in Burketown, determined not to be beaten by a pre-dawn glory again, we were up even earlier to be ready for launch at the first glimmer of dawn. On arrival at the airfield we discovered a very heavy dew layer on the wings; a good sign of a possible Glory.
A litany of errors, including aerodrome lights blinking (which meant 10 minutes before switch off), made me rush my checks (stupid!). On take-off and just airborne, the brakes snapped open with a bang and in my rush to slam them closed, I bumped the flaps to full negative, putting me firmly back towards the ground. The over-centre of the brakes was too heavy to allow me to close with one hand, and I was too close to the ground to let the stick go and pull on flaps or close the brakes with two hands, so I had to persist with the take-off at a higher speed.
Suddenly at about 30' everything went black and I realised that the outside of the canopy had fogged over. Maintaining vision through the clear-vision panel, I could see reflections in the river ahead of me, so started a gentle left-hand turn to get the aerodrome back in sight. At a safe height, I was able to take my hands of the stick, lock brakes and reset flaps. I continued my climb to the north-west in the dawn gloom without being able to see the coastline of the Gulf, or any sign of the Glory.
But as I climbed higher and gained more vertical visibility, a grey monster appeared on my right. It appeared to be 40km away and at that distance, looked stationary. At 2,500' I turned towards it, and shut down the engine. At that point, I could see that the cloud was moving towards me. Flying straight at it from about 2km in front, everything went deathly quiet, except the vario which started beeping in an increasingly rapid tone, indicating strong lift.
I was the only one in the air. I radioed back to the ground: there is a roll cloud.
As the top of the Glory, my height had reached about 4,000', and I was met with a most incredible sight, but I was the only one lucky enough to see it. The sun was just appearing as a glowing red ball through a smoke haze, as is common at that time of year in that country. As it increased in height, the glowing red rays of the sun reached the top of the Glory and slowly descended down the back edge, the trailing edge, until the whole of the back edge of the cloud was lit a flaming red and appeared like burning water, tumbling down over cobblestone rapids. It was the most amazing sight, but I didn't have a camera!
Flying high above the cloud and heading north-west out to sea, a secondary wave cloud became more and more evident (about 8km further back), and appeared to be converging with the primary, perhaps 20-30km ahead of me. Conditions were still unusually smooth and quiet, even for wave – not a bump.
Then at the convergence point between the primary and secondary there appeared to be total cloud cover, with great lumps of cloud being ripped upwards and illuminated by the red morning sun. As I reached the convergence area, I felt the first violent bumps of this turmoil, as if explosions were going off underneath me. This was very different from any turbulence I'd ever felt in gliding.
Not knowing how far out to sea I was, and being cautious, I turned south-east to run back along the cloud. Pushing the speed up to 130 knots in smooth air and sliding down the front of the cloud, still in unusual silence, I got to the point where the left wing tip started to slice into the clean-cut cloud. It looked like a knife slicing into thick whipped cream as it disappeared from sight. The impression was that it looked so solid that I would feel drag on that wing tip, and I found myself pushing on the right rudder to prevent it from dragging me in. But, of course, there was actually no change in resistance on the left tip.
At that point, I realised that the cloud had almost reached Burketown as I could see over the leading edge, so continued further south-east for about 30km and then turned back. The cloud had travelled quite a long way inland and over rough country to the south of Escott Station. Not having arranged with Jo and the trailer to go a long distance inland, I started to work out how to get back over the top. Slowing down to 60 knots, climbing above the cloud was easy. Diving off the trailing edge, through heavy sink and across to the secondary was no problem. A short flight on the secondary and feeling quite drained and tired with the adrenalin, I landed back at Burketown after about 90 minutes in the air.
Words cannot describe the experience.
With a 350km flight back to Cloncurry that afternoon, I was very weary at the end of the day. There were 4 cross-country legs en route home to Cunnamulla, where we encountered storms. Even though I arrived at 13,000' and could have reached Bourke, Jo had had enough driving for the day and we put VTT in the trailer the next morning. This was the right choice as soaring conditions would have been very poor for the rest of the trip home to Western Victoria.
It's a huge trip from Western Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria: 6,000km return + an extra 700km to come back and get me from Winton. Would I do it again? Yes – if it were closer.
-- Tony Tabart
About Tony Tabart
Tony Tabart is a retired fine wool producer from Western Victoria. There is an air strip on his property which hosts a small gliding club - most of the members are local dairy farmers.
Tony felt that being the first Australian to win a day in a world competition (Yugoslavia in 1972) was his greatest achievement - until he became the oldest winner of the Australian Open Gliding Championship in 2004, after not having competed in the Open competition for about 15 years. He has been Australian Open champion on 4 occasions.
Tony represented Australia in 6 world championships held in Yugoslavia, Waikerie, France, Italy, Austria and most recently, Sweden (the oldest competitor) in 2006 and has crewed for Australian team members in Texas and Finland. Tony managed Australian teams in the USA (Minden & Uvalde), where Brad Edwards won a Gold Medal for Australia, and in South Africa (Mafikeng). He also assisted with the Omarama world championships.
Tony set many gliding records and completed the second FAI 1,000km triangle in the world in January 1979 flying a Nimbus II in the Tocumwal area; this flight also broke the Australian 1,000 km triangle record (at that time) by flying 1,017km in 9hrs 45min (125kph). Twenty years later, Tony's best flight was completing 1,030km in 6hrs 32min (158kph) in Bitterwasser, Namibia in January 1999 in an ASW20.
Tony is also a power pilot with an instrument rating and he ran a small aviation business for some years. He has approx 11,000 flying hours, both power and gliding. He completed building a Lancair (a high performance two-seater American kit) in 2005 which he owns with his partner, Jo Pocklington.
Tony has been flying for about 50 years and ‘the thrill is as great as ever’. At 76 years of age, Tony has no plans to retire from the sport: ‘I’ll continue as long as I have my health and my ability; I’ll be flying as long as I can’.