Tuesday, 29 March 2011

7 hours in a glider above the Alps

As well as building my flying hours, I get to fly gliders every now and then and got the chance to do a 7 hr flight across the French Alps, flying a circuit of just over 300 km (160 nm), and a total flown distance of 660 km (350 nm).
We reached an altitude of 15,000ft in a very cold and dry air, using the waves as a mean of soaring. We could have climbed probably up to 20,000ft but it was just too cold.
Needless to say the view from such high altitudes is absolutely amazing!

The glider-towing is going well despite the quite challenging weather. I'm on my way to my 200th tow flight already.
The flying in itself is not difficult, what makes it interesting is the challenge to find a thermal (column of rising air) or release the glider on a ridge with upgoing air, usually surounded by dozens of gliders, most of which are difficult to see.
We use the gliding equivalent of the TCAS, called "Flarm", as a mean of detecting other gliders and tow planes in the area. It does not always work though.

When the airfield is wet (as it has been for the past few days), we use solely the short concrete strips to take-off .. and to land. Some landings look more like an aircraft-carrier landing, and it is possible to stop the plane within a hundred meters (330ft).
The fun begins when we release the glider and make a steep descending turn, well over 60° bank, descending between 2000 and 3000ft/min back to the airfield.
The soaring centre's activity is doubling from this week onwards, and will double again for the summer period.
I've been flying around 2 hours a day lately, which is quite good already, considering we fly pretty much everyday, whatever the weather does to us.

What usually means a "no-go" for a plane pilot, can actually be excellent for a glider pilot.
A strong wind creates waves with very good rates of climb (often well above 2000ft/min of rising air), as well as a rising air along a ridge. We set up a surface wind limit of 40 kts.
A big dark cloud is the place where you want to fly if you are a glider pilot, as those dark cumulus are the sign of a thermal. The darker and the bigger the cloud, the stronger the thermal.
Very interesting flying, and well fun!

Airborne life continues...


Guido BENEDETTO said...

so spectacular pictures! great post!

Rayan14 said...

Ça va vite quand même! Vraiment superbes ces vols en planeur!

Chris said...


Alex M. said...

Impressive, and incredible photos!

Greystone said...

Superbes photos

LaZer said...

Tiens mais je reconnais Coucouss sur une de ces photos :)

Bien jolies photos en tout cas !


Golfcharlie232 said...

Hehe, tout a fait, on le voit assez souvent Couscous!