view of clouds at 10000 feet
cruising under the cumulus below 10,000 feet

 Some days I just sit for hours cruising under the cumulus below 10,000 feet. When I land just before last light, the few remaining pilots frequently ask me how many kilometres cross country I flew. Sometimes after 5 hours the answer is only 100 kilometres. In "ordinary" weather I may even have stayed within final glide of base - I fly for fun! When the thermals are good I fly cross country but rarely race. I usually take my time. A number of times I have done leisurely 200 kilometre trips without worry as 10,000 feet on final glide gets you home from a fair way out! I know it is difficult for some competition-hardened pilots to comprehend but I enjoy the view, watch the clouds form and relax in the cool, fresh air. I wave to the wedge-tail eagles and smile at them - they can tell if you are happy or nervous! I fly alongside them when they are content. Later I polish my flying in the smooth final thermals of the day while savouring the approaching sunset. 

fluffy cloud
fluffy cloud

 It all started 27 years ago while I was riding a motor bike around Australia. I stopped at Stanwell Park south of Sydney and watched as pilots walked off the hill. They flew their hang-gliders around for hours! I started lessons the following day. I learnt to fly and then spent hundreds of hours soaring ridges on the south coast of WA. Mark Facius, Ray Chatfield, Russ Sharples and I rented a local house - the "Hang Glider Haven". Near Albany I flew with kestrels, seagulls and wedge-tail eagles. I flew with my mates. I watched dolphins, sharks, schools of salmon and the glistening ocean. I flew my hang glider so that it blocked out the sun over nude sunbathers. I felt water condensing on my face as cumulus or orographic cloud formed overhead. At Esperance Mark and I raced cars along the coastline and dogs along the take-off hill. I flew with sea eagles and watched dolphins surf. My mates and I would sometimes start flying at sunrise. We would land for lunch and then go back up for hours. In the skies we were happy as swifts but at least we usually landed when the sun set. Flying overseas in the moonlight is another story. 

fluffy cloud
fluffy cloud

 I follow the Russell Brierley and Greg Moloney principle - you should fly for more hours than you drive! In my case this means more than 4 hours. Since October 97 I have had 24 flights of over 4 hours. 3 flights were over 6 hours. Some other principles I often use are contrasted in the table below :- 

Fun lover
XC Racer

Thermal strength

Take every thermal

Work 80% of strongest


Follow roads, use silos

Go direct, use GPS

Height band

Above 5000 feet

Above 1000 feet

Speed required

Above stall speed

State record

Camera use

Photos of scenery

Photos of turnpoints

Diversions allowed

Any time, any where

If necessary to stay up

Final glide

Check if sun going down

Use glide computer


fluffy cloud
fluffy cloud

 I have been in a state competition flying around 350 kilometres most days in a twin-seat glider (sailplane) with an expert cross-country pilot. We averaged around 100 km/hr for our Pilot Option Speed Tasks (POST tasks). I learnt a lot, saw heaps of country and my flying improved significantly. After the comps I did solo glider flights of 300 km and 400 km. I even managed 300 km in a PW5. However I did not photograph the turn points, carry a barograph or fly a regulation FAI triangle. Some of my flights were in the shape of a pentagon, others a bowtie! When in a fast glider I chased semi-trailers on the highway to check I was maintaining around 100 km/hr. 

fluffy cloud
fluffy cloud

 Safety fits in well with fun flying. While in the sky I prefer to look outside the canopy. I give regular position reports by radio. I wear a parachute. I also follow the "be-nice-to-the-wife" principle - if she is content then I can have more leave passes for flying! She is happy that I fly safely (I actually asked her to marry me while flying tandem in a hang glider at 1000 feet). My style of flying means I go home like a little budgie - all chirpy and excited. I often arrive euphoric and that is always good for a relationship! 

fluffy cloud
fluffy cloud

There are many ways people can enjoy their time in the sky. Gliding clubs should attract fun pilots as well as those seeking the competitive challenge offered by cross-country racing.

photo of hanglider over coast
flying on the coast at Albany

Note 1 : Did you see the rabbit on the cumulus? - That's what happens if you fly too high and get hypoxic!
Note 2 : Did you realize who my son and I are looking at? - It's me flying in the hang glider overhead!
Photographs, web pages, flying and Photoshop effects by Keith Lightbody

My email: :
cumuluskeith at