It’s springtime and in Europe pilots have had a very busy start into the new soaring season. After a too long winter, they are finally enjoying really long flights. In Colorado, where I live at the moment, we are still waiting for the real thing. So I spent some time looking at my Northern German soaring buddies’ flights, envying their achievements. Last Sunday they had better flights than anybody in the US…
Two flights of more than 700 km and several 600+km flights were logged on OLC. Okay, these guys launched in the very North and then flew southwards, escaping the colder air on the seaside, but they all came back in the evening, without engines… These brave pilots cannot use mountain thermals or ridges, only pure and honest flatlanders’ lift. Let me introduce you to the countryside of Schleswig-Holstein: Where the hell is that?
I am talking about the northernmost state of the world’s soaring capital – Germany. North of Hamburg and bordering Denmark’s southern edge. Denmark by the way, is also a famous insider location for glider enthusiasts. While Colorado’s trees still struggle to grow green leaves, the country between the Baltic and the North Sea is already flourishing. After the snowmelt, flowers, trees, grass and weeds are all blooming. There’s only two ways to escape the terrible amount of pollen: One is to go sailing, and the other one – maybe not as popular – is to take a winch launch into clear blue spring skies dotted with little white clouds. At 1,000 feet you are out of pollen-trouble and have wonderful views over flat lands between the two seas. Spring thermals can be pretty strong – well, maybe 2.5 m/s (~5 knots). But over an area where you can land almost everywhere, who cares? Take advantage of the colorful views and move on cross country! The highest elevation is the Bungsberg at 551 feet… No ridges, no mountains…
In May the canola fields dominate with their bright yellow between dark green meadows and some beautiful towns. On a good day you might be able to see both seas at a time. Schleswig-Holstein - try to pronounce it without spitting into your coffee-pot – is only about 70 miles wide from East to West. I like to compare its size with the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado, which is also flat and can be difficult for finding thermals. From Hamburg to Denmark you drive about 100 miles. These land- / seamarks are important for soaring. Hamburg does have a huge class B airspace around its international airport. You can get around, but the river Elbe, which runs right through the 1-Million-City, can be very challenging. Crossing it on the west side, you can easily lose 3,000 feet, which is a lot when only having about 5,000 feet to work with… Denmark can of course be entered, but you have to able to use your radio in English!
The two seas? They can be annoying sometimes, but not always. In the Rockies I learnt about mountain convergence. Back in Germany I knew very well what a sea convergence is like: The two air masses coming from the Baltic in the East and the North Sea in the West warm up while flowing over the country. They meet somewhere in the middle of the landmass and converge (climb up). Where neighboring wind turbines are facing in two opposite directions, you do not need a mechanic to fix the problem! No you just fly over the place! Simply follow the local storks and travel straight. Even late at night you can be lucky and fly a quick 100k. At a longitude of 54 degrees, the sun is up long in the summer months.
Last year, over 220 pilots submitted flights in Schleswig-Holstein to OLC. The longest was almost 800 km. The pilot, Christoph Schwartz, flew southwards and took advantage of the better thermals south-east of Hamburg. But the second longest flight was performed only in the state, using the lines of lift, flying back and forth. Björn Pauschardt and his copilot used their club’s Duo Discus and enjoyed their day under a 6,000 feet cloud base. In 2012, seventeen local clubs competed in OLC. The biggest club counts more than 100 members; of course there are also some very small ones. Every club has an active group of young glider pilots and students, and they do not only meet to fly together but also have a volleyball tournament in the winter.
If this sounds like homesickness to you, you’re wrong. I simply remember the good days in Northern Germany. The rainy ones are long-forgotten. And the sea breeze which can destroy thermals on hot summer days is another story not worth to be mentioned. Currently, I am taking advantage of some more grayish and moist Colorado days while waiting for the nice thermals to finally pop up over the Rockies and then we will hopefully enjoy some supplemental oxygen!
Meanwhile, she has traveled a bit, flown a lot, and lived in the US.She is happy to now know glider pilots from the US too and says, “they are as amiable as everywhere on the world.” She feels fortunate to have found a temporary soaring home in Boulder, surely one of the best and most scenic places to fly on Earth!
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