To get to Lake Keepit, I first flew into Sydney and then hopped onto a connecting flight to Tamworth (a small town 45 minutes away). When I stepped out of the ATR in Tamworth and looked at the sky, I already knew that the next week of flying was going to be awesome… all I could see were the most textbook perfect looking 10,000ft cumulus clouds going in every direction.
I arrived at Lake Keepit around 1pm, where I met with the glider owner and we spent the rest of the day cleaning, redoing milar, and various other things to get the glider into the best possible shape. After a thorough polish the next morning, it was time to take the mighty Libelle GSH for a spin. I somehow managed to get away without needing a check flight, so I decided that my first flight would just be local, nothing too crazy, and just getting used to the glider. I took myself on a little wee tiki tour over the local Kaputar ranges, had a look at the mines, accidently nearly hit about 15 paragliders that popped out of a cloud, and flew back to Keepit. What I thought was a small calm first flight somehow turned out to be over
300km at a little over 80kph without even trying! To put into perspective how good the weather was that day, a local pilot (and also our task setter) did over 1000km thermal out and return in a 15m ls8.
The following day was practice day, and after another early start to fix the canopy seal and more milar (both of which fell off on the previous flight), we were off on a 3.5 hour AAT. I ended up waiting and following people through the start gate (due to not entering it properly on my navigation device) and was very confused when everyone aggressively turned around after passing the start line. It turns out that was my introduction to the weird game that Australians play with false starts. The practice task was very fun to fly. The first 100km or so was cruising between 7.5k - 8k clouds averaging about 6kts. The middle 100km was paddock hopping, never really above 2000ft agl, and the last 130km was back to 8k cloud base with an
even better 8kts average. I was maybe a bit too optimistic thinking an un-ballasted Libelle could achieve final glide at a 4.5kt MacCready and the respective speed, and I subsequently absolutely cooked it and ended up climbing away from early base into a paddock. We were briefed that it is totally acceptable to come in high and do proper circuits at the airfield to avoid landing short in the lake, and so with the finish ring 3km out from the field and 500ft above the lake we all naturally flew strait in over the lake to hit the finish line with barley enough height to land long. Doing strait in final glides over a 7km long flooded lake is
definitely one of the scarier things I have ever done in a glider.
The next day I woke to the loudest thunderstorm I have ever heard. Apparently, there was lightning striking parts of the runway. The day was called as a rest day and so we all headed off to Tamworth to eat too much food and fail miserably at ten-pin bowling. This was a great opportunity to get to know everyone before the beginning of the comp.
Over the next six days we had some absolutely awesome weather conditions, ranging from complete over development to post storm blue days. All of the tasks were AAT’s which were very well set. The first competition day was a bit of a struggle over the first 80km as I lost my vario pre-start (later inspection would reveal this was due to many spiders setting up camp in the pneumatics), this was made all the more fun with It being a blue day. After lots of encouraging language towards my instruments and nearly landing out at about 3 different airstrips in Gunnedah, the mighty vario started working again and we continued to whizz round the rest of the task. Thankfully, for the remainder of the comp all the instruments remained functional and the tape and seals no longer decided to fly off mid-flight.
The challenge on day two was the earlier than expected dying-out of the weather at the last turn points, and the 15kt headwind on final glide. Thankfully it wasn’t 15kts while gliding over the lake, but with the headwind and over confidence in my flight computers calculated speeds… I have never seen 9000ft disappear so quickly! Day three was much more gaggle focused during the early stages. On the southern leg I completely forgot how to use an Oudie and accidently flew 40km more into a wedge then I meant to and ended up turning at 80 minutes or so over time. I managed to get that down to just under half an hour when I crossed the finish line, but a lot of speed was lost. Thankfully the remaining competition days went a lot smoother with far fewer errors, more sketchy final glides over the lake, and achieving a task speed personal best of 102kph over 300km (unfortunately this was knocked down to 99.9kph as I was under-time due to the raw speed that is the libelle).
While the actual flying side of JoeyGlide was obviously awesome, the best part of the whole experience by far were the people. In total there were 9 competitors, with an additional 4 students in the coaching program (flying shorter tasks in duos/arcus etc.). Of the 9 competitors, 4 of them had been to junior worlds to represent Australia and another 2 have gone to worlds as crew. Most of them had over 500 hours, and one with over 1000, so it was safe to say that there was definitely some considerable experience between them. All of the other youth that were there, competing or coaching, were extremely friendly and welcoming. Each night we had the mandatory sharing of stories about our stuff-ups that day and this was always followed by watching our traces race round the task in the briefing room. I even managed to hold the record for the lowest save for a couple of days! The nights then finished with the 2023 JoeyGlide ping pong championships, which was even more competitive than the racing itself. Each morning we would have a mini lecture with topics varying from AAT tactics to how to fly sheer wave, presented by one of the many world class pilots that were present. I think I learnt as much from these pilots sharing their vast amounts of knowledge as I did from the actual flying itself.
While I was competing in the Australian Junior Nationals competition itself, I was also competing for the Junior Trans-Tasman Trophy. This trophy is competed for by an Australian and New Zealand pilot and simply put, the highest scoring of the two wins. The competitor is generally selected so that there is a match in glider performance, hours, and competition experience. My competitor for the trophy was Cameron Bartlett. He had about 40 ish more hours than me, was flying a Cirrus, and I am not sure of his total competition experience but this was (I think) his 3rd or 4th JoeyGlide. On the first few tasks I never really saw much of him in the sky, but I was able to place better and get myself into a comfortable lead. In the later stages of the competition he begun to leach onto me a bit as the Cirrus and Libelle were pretty evenly matched (my better climb compensating his better glide). Admittedly I had to develop some ‘dirty’ flying techniques to try and get him off my tail (almost running him into a paddock once), but once I saw a good line ahead where I could really increase task speed, it was a relief watching him slowly drop behind and lower on a task leg until he dropped off of flarm completely. It was a challenge and I had to work for it, but I eventually managed to beat him every day of the comp.
The final day of the comp was the worst weather of the week (although I still got the odd 8kt average), and while sitting on the grid there was even talk of changing task due to quite a bit of high cloud forming over the task area. Despite this we ended up launching and flying the original task. I had a pretty average run up to the first and second turn point (although I think so did everyone), got low in the 3rd by miss-judging a dissipating cloud line, did the usual paddock hopping until I got re-established at cloud base, got a pee bag stuck to the wing while trying to get onto final glide, had a pretty good run to the last turn point, and as per usual narrowly avoided landing in the lake on final glide. I was sorry to see the comp come to an end but after a very prompt upload of my trace, putting the glider back in the hangar, it was off to the final dinner.
The final competition dinner was a great night held just down the road at Carroll Gap Farmhouse. We had a lovely dinner which was followed by prize giving over dessert. The final results had Ryan Driscoll in first, closely followed by Jayden Bashford with Josh Geerlings finishing off the podium in third. Overall, I managed to place fourth. Out of Cameron and myself, I also managed to place higher than him and secured the Junior Trans-Tasman Trophy with my name going next on the list of NZ winners and joining the ranks of Dane Dickinson, Nick Oakley, and Alex McCaw. With my latest win, the Trans-Tasman trophy has now been won by New Zealanders all of the previous four times it has been competed for. As well as winning the Junior Trans-Tasman Trophy, I was also awarded the Southern Cross Trophy – a trophy awarded to the highest placed competitor at their first junior nationals.
Overall, I am extremely happy with my 4th placing at JoeyGlide, especially considering the experience of the company that I was in – I am also extremely happy with winning both the Junior Trans-Tasman Trophy and the Southern Cross Trophy. More importantly though, I learned so much - out of everything I learnt, I think the biggest learning I will take away is my completely changed perspective on AAT tasks and all the various approaches to planning and flying them. While a lot of the learning was achieved by myself in the cockpit while flying, I can’t deny that I wouldn’t have done anywhere near as well if it wasn’t for the great support of all of the other pilots competing as well as everyone else involved. I am definitely very grateful for all their help and support while at the comp.
I also wouldn’t have been able to get to Australia and to compete at JoeyGlide if it wasn’t for the amazing support that I received back here in New Zealand. Thank you to all the people that came forward and helped me organize various aspects of my trip to JoeyGlide. And most importantly of all, I would like to thank Gliding New Zealand, the Umbrella Trust, YouthGlide New Zealand, and everyone who came to my overpriced BBQ for the amazing financial backing that enabled me to actually get there and compete. I am very lucky to have had all the support from everyone back here in New Zealand, and I will forever be grateful for the amazing opportunity to represent NZ at JoeyGlide.