Flying conditions around Lake Keepit in summer are mostly great and often outstanding. There's little in the way of other traffic and airspace to worry about and with an interesting topography and lots of places to outland, Keepit has a deserved reputation as being one of the best places to fly in Australia.
Typically, the cloud base is 6,000-8,000' with occasional days up to 13,000'. Thermal strength is 4-5 knots on a bad day and can your can often get a rowdy 11 knots on good days. Most thermals are marked by CU and there are plenty of easy outlanding fields.
There's controlled airspace to the east around Tamworth so most tasks are set in the 180º semicircle to the west which stretches about 3500 km towards the Indian Ocean. Outside controlled airspace, there's not a lot of traffic. While all gliders use Flarm, it's see and avoid for the the other traffic.
So generally, it's a great and relaxing place to fly.
By January, there are very few insects in the air so your wings stay clean and fast. Visibility is normally over the horizon except if there are bushfires around the country when it can get a lot less.
The topography is nicely varied, especially compared to some of the other often boring flatland sites around Australia where you can do a single turn in a thermal and find yourself lost. This makes flying more interesting and makes it harder to get lost because after a few flights, you can orientate yourself using the local ranges and towns.
Keepit itself is ringed by several ranges of hills, the Carrols, the Kelvins, the Mount Kaputar ranges and Mount Borah. Mount Borah is an internationally well known launch site for hang gliders and paragliders and can get busy over the weekend, especially in January. Mostly these gliders fly downwind but be aware that they're likely to be around.
The highest point in the region is Mount Kaputar to the north west, which towers almost 5,000' above the plain and is snow covered for all but 364.95 days a year. To the east of Kaputar, there are several valleys heading towards the Queensland border mostly a few kms wide with good outlanding fields. To the north east, the ground slopes gradually up towards the Northern Tablelands. Though tasks are not often set far in this direction, you can often find great convergence there.
Like much of the high ground in the region, there are plenty of escape routes to the plains either side which makes our high ground rather more relaxing to fly than other high ground such as the alps.
Our region can have 'big weather' in Summer.
You can get localised overdevelopment and storms in the afternoon on unstable days in the hot months. Occasionally, these storms will join up with remarkable rapidity into a large storm front covering a huge area. These are to be avoided. The German or Polish paraglider glider pilot Ewa Wisnierska achieved a world record height gain while practicing for the 2007 paragliding Worlds close to Mount Borah. She and some others tried to get between two storm cells. The cells rapidly joined up, along with two or three other to form a massive storm front. Ewa was sucked up to over 32,000' and was very fortunate to survive.
It can be a hoot flying storm clouds but sometimes, even flying close to VNE, you're still going up at 10 knots while trying to escape and things can turn hairy very quickly.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of soaring planes,
Though I don't care much for Victoria,
it's freezing when it rains.
That hopefully is the limit of Australian culture for this website but what's written there is the truth. Australia can be hot in summer. Damn hot. And while the country gets sunburned, you do not want to.
Unless you have spent some time somewhere south of the Mediterranean, you may not be prepared for quite how strong the sun can be in Australia. For sure, it's one reason why we have such great gliding conditions but it's also the reason why we have to be so careful when we're out in the sun.
The average day temperature at Keepit in January is 34º which with our normal low humidity, is quite bearable. The record stands at almost 49º which is not. Regrettably, extreme temperatures do not make for extremely good flying. But on an averagely hot day, when you can expect to be above 7,000' for most of the day, the temperature in the cockpit is fine. It's on the ground that you have to be careful.
The first thing is, wear the right clothes. This mostly means dressing in light, long-sleeved clothes with good UV protection and wearing a broad-brimmed hat. Wear plenty of good, high protection sun screen on any exposed skin, especially if you are light-skinned.
The second thing is to drink lots of water. Most people carry water in a hydration pack or bladder wherever they go on the airstrip. Most water at Lake Keepit comes from the dam. In summer, if the dam level is low, our tap water can contain bugs like giardia which can give you an upset stomach for a while so only drink boiled tap water. Rain water is available at several points around the club and at the launch points so this is the best place to fill your water bladder.
If you're drinking lots of water, you're going to need some effective 'pilot relief system' in the glider. If this doesn't work brilliantly, don't worry. The humidity at Keepit is pretty low so things dry very quickly!
It's a good idea to get your glider ready in plenty of time, before briefing and before it gets hot. Ideally, your crew does this for you while you relax in the shade.
A good tip, whether you wear a terry towelling hat or not, is to soak it with water just before you get in the glider. Then when you shut the canopy and the temperature starts to climb, you can have a cool head until you have reached a cooler altitude after launch.
One of the things which makes Keepit a great place to glide is that there are many easy outlanding options. The area around Lake Keepit Gliding Club is known as the North West Slopes and Plains. Slopes and plains. What this means in practice is that there are a lot of outlanding places around… the plains either side of the slopes mostly.
Though the region isn't really the outback, the local country isn't sparsely populated unlike much of Europe. Paddocks are large and may be some distance from a road. If there are small rivers around, then cars may not be able to drive into a paddock without a long detour. If there are dry crops, cars may not be allowed into fields at all in case they start a bush fire. You need to try to contact the farmer before you organise a retrieve and the farm house may be a long hot walk away.
Though there are unlikely to be tasks over proper remote areas, many pilots carry a personal tracker like an InReach. This type of device can not only broadcast your location via satellite and SOS messages but it can also send and receive messages via satellite tagged with your latitude and longitude.
Australia, especially in the bush, rejoices in a third-world phone network. There's only one network to use in most of the country, Telstra, which works in most of the bush but there are areas where reception is patchy or there isn't any reception at all. It's a very good idea to radio in that you might outland while you are still airborne so you can concentrate on the circuit and landing in case there's no radio or phone on the ground.
What all this means is that you may be in a field for quite a while before you're picked up and that means you should be prepared and carry a survival kit in the glider. Well, let's call it an outlanding kit.
The list which follows contains items we normally carry in our outlanding kit.
Stuff about the local region