The club was founded here in 1977 by glider pilots from Harrismith and Bethlehem. In the last ten years, several pilots from KwaZulu-Natal and the Transvaal who, respectively, were frustrated with the relatively poor gliding conditions in Natal (except for the Drakensberg), and found that the Transvaal clubs were a little expensive, have become the representative groups.
The airfield is located just above Harrismith, next to the road to
4 km to the East is the Platberg, a dramatic and - in prevailing wind conditions - generous provider of ridge lift. The top of Platberg is part of a nature reserve, and it is not unusual to see game there as you fly past! The total effective ridge line, from Bobbejaanskop at the eastern end of Platberg, to Glen Paul (last in a string of hills northwest from Platberg) is nearly 20 km.
To the north and east the land is gently rolling with scattered large
rock-crowned hills and ridges. To the west it is flatter, but to the south the horizon is dominated by the rugged skyline of the Northern Drakensberg and the Malutis.
Airfield altitude is about 5 600' ASL, the Berg moutain tops are around 10 000'.
The airfield is also used by power traffic, but this is very light, and more than two or three visitors in a day is very unusual. The main runway is paved (1200m+), and we use a 'grass' runway parallel to that on the east (it's a bit threadbare on the end we normally launch from). - See the airfield diagram.
The climate is quite typical of the highveld (dry continental African) pattern: lots of sunshine, summer rainfall, primarily in the form of scattered afternoon thunderstorms, but not too much of it. A washed out weekend is fairly rare during the summer, but will happen occasionally in spring or autumn. Winters are, by South African standards, very cold and dry. Snow at some stage during the winter is expected on the mountains, and occasionally in Harrismith itself. Harrismith is windy, and a 10 to 20 kt westerly is common. (Good for up to 2000' on the winch launch!)
Thermals are generally good (+5m/s is not unusual) throughout the warmer months (October to April), and are easy to find to the north of the airfield. You will not usually fly much above 12 000', but on very good days you can make 16 000' and more. (Gold heights have been attained here). Thermals are a little more scattered to the south (on the way to the Berg), but a good pilot can expect to get to the spectacularly scenic mountains with little trouble.
Wave can be found above the berg on occasion, and sometimes above the Drakensberg escarpment (running northwards, about 20km east of Harrismith).
In winter lift is hard to find, but the strong westerly or north-westerly winds allow you to run down to the ridge of the Platberg, and once you get there you can stay up ridge soaring for the rest of the day, or get to say 4000 AGL and go hunting for thermals which are, if rarer, still present and sometimes still strong. An evening flight on Platberg ridge, as the sun goes
down and the wind gently dies, is something to remember. The air is smooth as cream, the light is gold on the copper rocks, and you come home to the hangar landing in the twilight.