This is the gliding club of Santiago, Chile. Best known as where the 2010 Sailplane Grand Prix was filmed, it’s right on the freeway in the suburbs of Santiago (note the freeway sign right next to the wingtip). The Andes are in the background. The mountains are much closer than what these pictures show.
In Santiago on business in early May, I went out on a Saturday to watch and perhaps find a local ride. Like a large, modern European club, Vitacura is complete with 7-day-a-week staff, lunch/dinner kitchen, control tower, hangars, kids' play area, visitor viewing area, and of course, lots of gliders. The club fleet comprises L-23 Blaniks, Janus B/C, and a Pilatus B4. Private ships are all Schempp-Hirth (Nimbus 3, Nimbus 4, Ventus cT, Ventus 2, Discus 2, Mini-Nimbus, Duo and an Arcus), with only a lone Libelle for color. Several of the field elders have enjoyed long time relationships with the Holighaus family, and the shop is staffed with S-H trained technicians. I wandered around the covered area where I found this immaculate Stearman, among other gliders and power planes.
I hung around the lunch area and met the locals, including Carlos Rocca, the current national champion and highlighted pilot from the Sailplane Grand Prix video. Great people! I secured a slot for an “Andes” flight with Eduardo, one of the instructors, in a Janus C. Eduardo owns a Nimbus 2C.
Remember that this is the reverse season from the North, and it’s mid to late fall. The sun’s heating is less than our fall as the Southern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun AND the earth is further away. So I can feel it’s already peak heating at 3 PM when we launch. The only place to crash right after takeoff is the riverbed to the left:
We are in suburbia!
Rapidly we leave the city. The drill for the high tow into the mountains is to ridge soar on tow. Combine this with gusty conditions, a 50 m tow rope (shorter than US standard), the Janus’ snappier rudder and roll than the ’25, and it’s a bit stressful on tow.
After release, at the ridge shown above, Acongcagua (below, middle of picture) comes into view to the east at only 70 km away. We couldn’t get over there, but it’s great to see it. Normally you cannot see it as cumulus obscure the view. The landscape at this altitude and in this area is very much like California's White Mountains, barren with canyons that run all the way down to the valley. Even late in the day, there is air funneled up to the top. The forecast had hinted at wave, but the wave markers are very high up.
We’re at 2700 m (8,000 ft ) on this ridge and join the only other glider up here today, a Ventus 2 from the club:
But the real treat are the Andean Condors—six of them! Even Eduardo said that’s a lot; normally they see only one or two. As we fly with them, Eduardo calls out “Oh, that’s a male,” “There are two females,” and so forth. Hey, all I can tell is that they are black and they are BIG.
How big is BIG? Notice the shadow on the snow field below the condor!
After this ridge we toured around to other ridges, but found little else. We ran over to a ski resort while Eduardo regaled me with stories of ships hitting power lines, hitting condors, or getting too low and crashing at the ski resort (!). We head back to Vitacura, which I can’t see in the haze, but the mountain right next to the airport is easy to find poking above the smog. From the IP, it’s a hazy view of the airport:
90 kph in the pattern, light wind, and a smooth touchdown. Eduardo even gave me a ride back to my hotel! What a great club. I’ll be back again in their strong season (November – February)!