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1500 km to Waikerie Coaching Week but worth the effort!

When the NT Soaring group departed Alice Springs we left grey clouds behind and kept blue skies in front of us on the way south. With a Cirrus and an ASK 21 Mi in tow we stopped for the first time an hour shy of Coober Peedy, put up our one string pop up mosquito tent and woke up to a stunning outback sunrise but with plenty of flies eagerly buzzing outside. 

Christmas Eve saw us stop at Coober Peedy for a free cup of coffee courtesy of a chap who once flew at Gawler and was looking forward to gliding happening in the Opal town again. But we had no time to lose! Soon we were back on the road and finally got to Waikerie about an hour after sunset. Being the first group to arrive we utilised the spare day prior to the commencement of coaching week for a relaxing day of wine tasting in the Barossa Valley.

Boxing day saw many eager glider pilots arriving and setting up camp for the week. The formalities were quickly dealt with, followed by a few words by lead coach Craig Vinall.  Soon it became apparent that we were in for a week amongst new gliding friends and plenty of pleasant soaring, albeit mainly in blue conditions. Coaching Week 2022 coincided with the peak of the Murray River flood in the Riverland region and the Waikerie airfield served as a base for plenty of sightseeing flights. All passengers were charged $250 for a 1/2 hour flight. In contrast, we observed the spectacular scenery from the peace and tranquility of our glider cockpits. Best of all, Mother Nature provided the energy in abundance and free of charge.

Every day a short triangular task was set but participants were given the option of going around multiple times. Over the week our combined cross-country flying amounted to 14,900 km for a total of 67 launches. I flew three tasks in an ASK21 Mi with a pilot from NT Soaring and got an introduction to aero-tow launching as a welcome by-product. My longest flight was around 7 hours and the shortest just over 2 hours. Experienced pilots from six different clubs participated and actively contributed to the morning briefing sessions, which were led by a super knowledgeable SAGA head coach. Every day he focused on a different topic and directed our attention towards a new area of improvement. Craig’s statistical analysis of the previous days flights added to learning process and made us realise what we need to focus on. Not a single outlanding was recorded and we only lost one day due to difficult soaring conditions. Some pilots used the day to polish their aero-tow skills, while others combined some sightseeing on the ground with an extended luncheon amongst like-minded people. The welcoming atmosphere and the very supportive attitude by all our fellow participants were nothing short of exemplary.

During the final wind-up dinner, the “Rising Star Trophy” was awarded to Zenon Bussenschutt from the Adelaide Soaring Club. Zenon’s dedication to our sport has made him attend all Coaching Weeks over the last three years. He has shown a steady improvement in skill, knowledge and expertise, which is now enabling him to fly beyond gliding range with confidence. Well done Zenon!

To sum it up, the coaching week was incredibly well organized, the setting simply stunning, the briefings top notch and the facilities very comfortable. The professional catering was outstanding and the participating people were warm, cheerful, engaging and welcoming. There was even time to explore the town, the bursting Murray and the surrounding wine growing country.  A big “Thank You” must go to the coaches and the members of the Waikerie Gliding Club for running such a enjoyable week and for making their truly excellent facilities available to us. Last but not least, a big “Thank You” to SAGA for their generous subsidy, which has allowed our participation. We clocked up around 3000 km and came to the conclusion that it was definitely worth it. If you’re thinking about participating next year, just put it into your diary and look forward to a week of fun and learning at Waikerie!

Written by Kimberley Morgan of NT Soaring, January 2023.