Gavin Wills Mountain Flying Course.

I went on a mountain flying course run by Gavin Wills at Omarama. This came about because Warren Dickenson had asked if anyone wanted to go along when he and Dane had a private course booked in the last two weeks of February. I wanted to go down to Omarama around the end of February, so the timing suited me.

At the time I didn't know Warren and Dane, and they're a bit less experienced than I am, but I figured if I held back a little they might be able to keep up. As it turned out I was barely able to stay with them most days.

The Course:

Each day started with briefing at 10am. This is the daily weather briefing for everyone. Then we retire upstairs to the classroom. The classroom sessions lasted until lunchtime, which as we had uninspiring weather the whole time was later than usual because there was no point in launching early.

Afternoons were flying. Warren and Dane did day about with Warren's LS8 and the Duo with Gavin. I flew the DG1000 with whoever was available in the back seat.

After flying we had a quick debrief to discuss the days lessons.


Morning class was general stuff, landouts, mountain thermals. Dane and Warren did some strip work to freshen up their outlanding skills. It wasn't really soarable.


Morning class was ridge and mountain flying. Things like how to get through mountain passes, etc.

Super Tuesday.

We flew onto the Lindus ridge following Warren in the LS8. It wasn't working. We got low. Then we got lower. We were circling a knob near the strip, maybe 1000ft agl, when we finally got a decent climb.

We worked our way up to the tops and followed a spur west. Over the top we got an extra thousand foot or so and headed to Timaru Creek. Through a saddle. With a few hundred foot clearance. And nowhere to land on the other side. You get through to the other side with height to cross, or you glide out to the lake and go round the corner to the next valley for a landable strip. I got across with a few hundred feet to spare.

Into the Dingle. The Duo crossed in and went north. Warren and I waited. The Duo got low. The Duo struggled. The Duo went everywhere except to the big scree face Warren and I were parked over. Eventually Gavin and Dane got bored and came to our nice thermal. They climbed up from below the treeline and joined us. Once we were all together above the tops the group headed down the ridge to look at the lake. No real lift along the ridge going down. There is a nice strip and a hut at the bottom of the valley. Turned at the lake and came back north. Still no real lift, always just enough to stay above the tops. All the way up the Dingle, then across into the Hunter Valley.

Another low crossing, only a few hundred feet to spare. Lovely view. Worked our way north to the top of the Hunter, then crossed into the Landsborough.

This was the real thing. The only landing is out to the west coast near Haast. There are a couple of passes to sneak back in to the Hunter or over to the Hopkins, but trust me, we were below the tops and those mountains are big and pointy. A few nervous moments as I went up there.

We worked our way north until the cloud was preventing further progress. The cloud was down below the tops, maybe 8000ft or so. After getting as far as sensible, we turned back and went to a pass to get into the Hopkins. Popped across to the Neumann Range, down to the end, jumped over to the Ben Ohau range, ran down that, then a nice glide back to Omarama. The Duo ran alongside during the fast glide home. We tried matching glides at 100, 110 knots. The Duo seemed to just have an edge.

You might detect a note of enthusiasm about this day. Crawling through the mountains with no margin, my comfort level a distant memory, the landout options not of interest because I might need them one day but because I might need them in ten minutes, really concentrates the mind. It was great. I learned so much more than if we'd had an easy run.

ICG flight log


Today we got the wave talk.

Warren and Dane went ridge/thermal down toward Cromwell. I climbed up at Hugo's and milled around in broken wave in front of the Hawkduns.

Pushed forward over St Bathans for a bit. The cloud didn't give a huge amount of room, but there was some interesting stuff going on over Stew's gulley. Was starting to get bored when I heard the others returning.

They got on to the eastern end of the Hawkduns and Gavin announced a race to Hugo's. Naturally I headed towards them as fast as I could, burning off the height. I saw them on the ridge three thousand feet below me, turned to follow, and cranked up the speed. The DG1000 was two up and full of water, so we had a slight advantage.

I managed to get down to the same height as the others just as I passed them, going a little faster. Pressed on up the ridge until just before Hugo's were Lemmy reminded me that there would be turbulence. Gently slowed down before the bumps. Delightful.

Over the Ewe range the Duo came alongside and we did a few glides at different speeds to get a comparison between the gliders. Not much difference, but the Duo seemed to always have the edge.

IGC flight log


I think convergences were the topic of the morning class.

Wave. Another boring day at Omarama. Barely worth filling the water ballast and oxygen up.

We struggled a bit to get going in front of the Benmores. Hooked a climb. Avoided the clouds. Turned on the oxygen. Opened the GAAs. Went to Burkes Pass. Cruised towards Two Thumbs. Turned around. Came home.

Low cloud and rain was moving from the south towards Omarama, so we had to be careful not to get cut off. The descent near Twizel was impressive. From 14,000ft, full brake, 100knots. Coming down at 20knots plus. Around 8000ft we were under the cloud and had a clear run home. Except for a little sprinkle of rain.

That made my sinuses ache.

IGC flight log


Ridge day.

Started on the Benmores, heading towards Otamatata. I fell behind and wasn't climbing as well as the others. They were across Otamatata onto the St Marks range before I left the Benmores. I went in low on the basis that they were in lift, so I must be able to find some. Heading in to rising terrain with the only good landing behind you isn't a great feeling. Just as I got the the high point at just level with the top I got some lift. Relief. Climbed up and caught the others.

Now we pushed south onto the Kakanuis and ran east. Before we got too far Gavin decided the weather wasn't looking great and called us back. We climbed in gentle wave ahead of the ridge and easily pushed south over Naseby to drop onto the Hawkduns. A quick blast up the Hawkduns, over Hugo's, over top of Omarama, and onto the Benmores.

Couldn't find a climb on the Benmores. Warren and Dane dissapeared towards Two Thumbs while I struggled. I didn't want to be left behind, so after a few beats and getting nowhere I sucked it up and went off at 5000ft.

Naturally I ran into good lift no more than five kilometers on track. I could hear the others ahead and knew the ridge was working. Gavin confirmed it was good down low, so I pushed hard for Burkes Pass and got onto the ridge well below the tops. The first spur wasn't working until I was well along, almost to the end. Got a little bit there by slowing, but the others were already at Two Thumbs, so I cranked it up and ran fast below the tops. Got to Two Thumbs low as Dane was 10,000ft above me. The Duo had already gone.

There was strong lift at Two Thumbs, so I climbed to 9000ft and headed after the others. Dane was still visible above me. As we went over Tekapo I got to 9500ft. We were pushing into 20 - 30 knots. It was downhill pretty much all the way. I got one climb a few kilometers short of Mt Mary, but nothing else was working well enough to stop for.

The Duo reported good ridge from low on the Benmores. I went slightly north towards an edge of cloud I could see near Twizel rather than direct to the Benmores. I didn't make it.

Landed out at Pukaki Airfield. Deiter came to retrieve us in the cub. Took a while because he flew to Lake Pukaki and looked at the strips there and wondered where I was. Took a low relight and dropped onto the northern end of the Benmores at about 1000ft above the basin floor. Climbed away easily on the ridge.

IGC flight log pre landout
IGC flight log post landout


This is a lot of fun. The course was great. I learned a lot.


Warren and Dane took some photos.