Ridge Flying in Nova Scotia - The Annapolis Valley 1995


The Bluenose Soaring Club flies in an area where there is very little opportunity to utilize anything but thermals for staying aloft in gliders. Many soaring clubs also use air rising over ridges to stay aloft and fly the length of the ridge. Although there are appropriate ridges exposed to prevailing winds in Nova Scotia, they are too far from our home base at Stanley, Nova Scotia to be conveniently utilized. Two that come to mind are the Cobequid Hills in Cumberland County, and the Highland Plateau near Cheticamp in Cape Breton.

Many of the members of the Club live in the Annapolis Valley which is bounded on the north by a basalt ridge 500 feet above the valley floor and an upland to the south that is of a similar height. It is the basalt ridge, called the 'North Mountain' that provides the potential for ridge soaring. It has a steep southern slope but only a gentle slope down to the Bay of the Fundy on the north side.

As a low pressure weather system enters the area winds increase and shift to the south and south-east. These provide ideal conditions for ridge lift from the Annapolis Valley. The difficult part of this is that the low pressure system also brings decreasing cloud levels and rain. If the timing is just right, the winds arrive at the beginning of the day and the rain does not arrive until late in the day -- these are the days to fly the ridge.

There is an airport at Cambridge in the Valley which is happy to host our club flying but it is near the southern uplands. In order to access the ridge, agricultural fields are used near the North Mountain. We have used two locations, (1) one just east of the town of Canning and (2) one north of the community of Weston. The first is about 2 kilometers from the ridge while the second is less than a half a kilometer from the ridge. Both fields are about 700 m long, north-to-south which makes the launching height lower than the Club members are used to at Stanley. In light winds we release from the cable at 700 to 850 feet while in stiff winds the heights are 1100 to 1400 feet.

In 1993, the Club had one ridge day at each of the sites. Both occured with very brisk winds and turbulent conditions, that challenged the abilities of all pilots. At the Weston site, we were ridge flying up to 2300 ASL with some gliders up to 3000 feet in wave. The experience was so rewarding that we moved equipment to the Valley in the autumn of 1994 for a second season, unfortunately, the conditions never materialized to do ridge soaring and we spent our time at the Cambridge Airport.

1995 Ridge Flying:

In 1995 we were luckier, because in one month, we had three weekends with ridge flying conditions. Two gliders flew the ridge, an Open Cirrus (C-GUIL) and a Ka-8 glider (C-GAWA).

Oct 21:

This was a beautiful day, with clouds disappearing in the morning but with winds too easterly and weak for good ridge lift. At one point thermals developed and flights got up to 2800 feet. The Open Cirrus used the ridge later in the day and was able to fly for a several hours from the Lookoff to Berwick. Late in the day the winds increased and became more southerly and our Club glider reached the ridge to fly the rising currents. Most of the other flights that day were circuit flights which allowed pilots to get used to the new surroundings and low level flying.

The challenge of this day was to get to the ridge over two kilometers away with a launch height of less than 1000 feet before becoming too low to have to land out. It there were no ridge lift then the chances of landing out were increased. However, this is an agricultural valley and there are many fields at that time of the year safe to land in.

Oct 28:

This was our second day at Canning and the winds were brisk from the south, but the cloud cover was low. Every pilot that flew was able to get to the ridge and fly for at least a half hour. The height of the ridge is between 700 and 800 feet ASL and we were flying at 1000 to 1100 feet ASL. The brisk winds made for turbulent air over the ridge which made for uncomfortable flying. All of the flights were local and were not able to explore the length of the ridge. (My flight was in front of the ridge and I only had weak, sporadic lift but I gained confidence and was looking forward to a second flight which never materialized.) At mid-day, the cloud base dropped to less than 1000 feet and with the threat of rain, we packed up early in the afternoon.

Nov 11:

This was the best day of the three for ridge flying. Again, everyone who flew got at least a 1/2 hour on the ridge. The winds were not ideal, being too south-westly and at time dropping to below 10 knots.

What made it such a good day was that we were flying from the Weston field and were much closer to the ridge. Launches were to about 1100 feet just the right height to stay on the ridge. At first the brisk winds made for turbulent flying but as they shifted more to the south, they lightened. Despite the light winds gliders were able to maintain height on the ridge although no one flew very far from the launch point. George Graham flew west as far as Aylesford and as far east as Berwick.

I had the last flight of the day and was afraid that I would not get a ridge flight. The previous flight had given up because the winds were dropping and ridge flying was less certain. On my first flight earlier in the day, I was on the ridge briefly in brisk winds and maintained height there, but did not stay at the best position relative to the ridge and lost height. On this second flight I knew what to do and went to the ridge and found very light lift. But the Ka-8 flew calmly and quietly up and down the ridge staying between 950 and 1050 feet. To my south the Valley was 800 feet below me but to my north the flat ridge was only 300 feet away. It was as if I was on final on fields on the North Mountain and starting downwind on the fields in the Valley. The sun was setting and the clouds had dispersed to make a beautiful, scenic flight. I was quite encouraged that the Ka-8 could fly the ridge with such light winds.

Nov 25

The fourth weekend flying in the Valley was out of the Kings County Airport. The sky was at first sunny with cumulus clouds and there was a brief period of lift before a high haze and thickening clouds killed lift. UIL got away in lift to 3000 feet and flew to the North Mountain and the Weston area before lift died and had to return. Most of the rest of the flights of the day were circuit flights.

This ended a brief season of ridge flying. All who participated agreed that the extra effort was worth it and we gained valuable experience with low ridge flying. All are eager to pursuit it again next year, hopefully, starting earlier in the season. Next year we want to try for longer flights to gain more confidence with ridge lift.

Larry Bogan - Bluenose Soaring Club