22 February 2009

A taste of alpine flying

Last week our family spend the traditional Finnish "skiing" vacation in style: we were in Chamonix, France.
Joanna and the children challenged themselves on the various slopes every day, enjoying the sun, the huge mountains and the stunning views. Whereas I myself managed to fly all but one day, typically in very light conditions.

The weather was characterized by northerly winds, causing the main Planpraz site to be in the lee. This was not a problem, but it may have caused the thermals to be "broken"; in any case they were very small in all dimensions. Nevertheless the flying was nice and interesting. I'd never started from really snow covered slopes; here there was actually a ski piste prepared just for us pilots!

On Friday there were no clouds at all and it turned out the best day of the week with somewhat stronger and slightly larger thermals. I made two flights, in the first one I had a nice thermal bubble right after launch and I could turn up to above take-off and the lift station, but then it was again over. Inspired I went back up for a second flight. Now only got bits and pieces of boyant air straight after launch, but once I was some 600 m below take off found a good thermal close to the mountain. I had to do figures of 8 in it, but it did carry me a good 150 meter back up. A bit later found a similar but shorter-lived one (or then I simply found it near the end of its lifetime) and then it was time to land; after 30 minutes, the longest flight of the week. Working such patches of light lift makes for excellent practice and in those settings it is great fun!

07 February 2009

Finally bagged

Yesterday's last task in the Paragliding Worlds was stopped, to allow helicopters to rescue two pilots. As nobody had reached goal yet this meant the task was invalid and did not change the score. Those unfortunate pilots are both reported to be stable into recovery.
I was just about sufficiently fit to fly in the morning and was amongst the first to take off for the 85 km long task. Conditions were blue, with light winds, and relatively weak thermals but significant turbulence in the sheer layer. I was in the leading group to cross the valley towards the Elefanten turnpoint behind Valle. We ended up very, very low over the foothills at the other side and me and several others were forced to land while the other 8-10 that were only 10 meters higher managed to get slowly up.
Teammate Ari never heard that the task was stopped and flew into goal thinking he had won the day and that all the other top guys had bombed out. Some indeed had, like me, but most of course landed when the task was stopped.
So the comp ended in this strange way, but in the evening we had a nice price giving ceremony, and a good party. Collectively we flew more than 125 000 km to determine that Andy Aebi, Elisa Houdry and the Czech team are the new champions.

For Finland the results are mixed. Ari ended up in excellent 15th place, no Finn ever ranked that high in the Worlds. Jouni had a bad first week with tree landings etc., but showed good form in the last tasks. I flew a couple of good tasks, but had difficulty adpating my speed to the field and the conditions, and was nailed down by illness. One comp we will all get it together, and we now know that we have what it takes to challenge the very best in the world.

As was expected the local organization was downright perfect, and the hospitality of the town and its people just wonderful. This combined with the great weather and flying conditions makes for a perfect comp setting.
The accidents were sad as always, but nwo finally seem to have triggered a serious discussion about various safety issues that I expect to result in some actions in the upcoming CIVL meeting.

06 February 2009

Another long dry run

For me it was another day in the sick bow but for those pilots that were fit the task committee and the weather conspired with a very difficult 100 km course.
The forecast predicted stronger winds, drier air and high thermal tops. And indeed the few clouds that were seen early on dried out soon, demanding pilots to fly in the "blue".
Despite it all some 40 pilots are reported to have reached goal. Ari and Jouni were amongst the first 10 or so!

05 February 2009

Decision day

Today was a decisive one at the worlds. The task committee had set a very original 106 km challenge. The start already sifted the armada as it was a 6 km exit in front of launch but now with the next turnpoint as Llano in the south.
My own decision was to refrain from flying in the hope of a quicker recovery from the flu.
The course took the pilots back to the antennas and from there to the Elefanten point. There were many possible routes for this leg especially as the cloudbase was really high. Urban took the most westerly route and won the day by at least 15 minutes.
"Only" some 50 pilots made goal today, fellow Finnish pilots Jouni and Ari were fortunately amongst those happy few. Although they were a bit slow we might well climb a bit in the nation ranking.

04 February 2009

Fast and lonely

Yesterday-s task 8 of the Paragliding Worlds called for 114 km of flying. The fastest pilots completed the approx. 100 km speed section in an incredible 2,5 hours!
I was still weak and decided not to use the early window opening and instead launched in the ordered way, that is late. Unfortunately conditions at launch were weak so the ordered launch took a long time and I was really late in the air. As a couple of other late launchers dropped out early I flew the whole day completely by myself with no help of any other pilots. In fact most of the time I didn't even see any others, not even in the distance, weird! Flying alone is much slower and after 4 hours and 75 km I was so tired I decided it safer to land.
Finnish team members Jouni and Ari came into goal, again around 30-40 place, some 20 minutes behind the leaders.

03 February 2009

High an dry

After the rest day on Saturday we did not fly a task on Sunday. Instead we commerated Stefan Schmoker, the pilot who sadly died in an accident on Friday. We flew more or less straight from launch to Valle, with flowers which we dropped over the landing zone. In the evening there was also a mass in the main church.

Today it was back to normal again with a whoppy 97,4 k task, mainly in the flats but with a last leg over the Mesa back to Valle. Initially the conditions were quite turbulent but after the start thigs got better. There were fewer clouds today, and more interestingly, the thermals topped out at some 3700m later in the day; very high that is.
For whatever reason I suffered from influenza with fever last night and throughout the day. I decided to try to fly but very carefully, staying clear from the traffic around the start and also otherwise ensuring at least double the normal safety margins. It was definitely tiresome byt after a total of 4,5 hours of flying I landed in goal; needless to say very happy! My time of 3:34 is of course not very good, approx. an hour after the leaders, but goal is goal.
Teammates Ari and Jouni also made goal and quite a bit faster. Ari had early on a very clear lead and took a route back over Espina. Unfortunately for him the predicted notherlies higher up were not really there so he had to fight the normal southwesterlies for some 30 km. Needless to say that cost much time, but he finished approx. 40th. Everybody else took a more direct course, ove the flats and the smaller hills which worked quite reliably. Jouni flew conservatively and came into goal as 60th or so. All in all one of the better days for the team as a whole we expect to climb up in the team ranking a bit.

Tonight it will be an early night for all of us and hopefully we'll be fit to fight again tomorrow. We have four more tasks to improve our scores...

Today managed to upload my track in the local internet cafe. Some day we'll try to upload our tracks to the XContest.