Cool – Soaring in Iceland

a late winch launch

a late winch launch

Most people would probably not think that Iceland has more to offer than geysers, hot springs, volcanoes, great seafood and a very green landscape? Well, while driving back to Reykjavik on Iceland’s highway No. 1, all of a sudden an ASK 21 launched right next to the road… A sharp left turn and there we were again - stuck on an airfield…

After launching, the glider also did a sharp left turn towards a 10 kilometer long mountain range, which raises 500 meters high right next to the field. The evening sea breeze allowed for some ridge flights, enlightened by the westerly sun which seems to never go down at 64 degrees latitude. Entering through the gate we learned the local soaring club was founded already in 1936. We stopped by at the club house to have a look around the field. Club members had gathered there in the warm building. While preparing a coffee and cutting some great tasting Icelandic cake they were waiting for the young Gudsteinn Thor Valdimarsson to return from his first solo.

Gudsteinn offers cake instead of beer

Gudsteinn offers cake instead of beer after his solo

We were immediately invited to take a flight, but first I wanted to know more about the field, the club and their traditions. For example the Icelandic soloing tradition does not include a smack on the back. "Why not, don’t you have thermals?" Chief instructor Skuli A Sigurdsson explained that the longest flight ever in Iceland had been a 520 km-yoyo in the wave which often forms behind the different mountain ranges. Westerly and northerly winds can create rising air masses up to 25,000 feet. But usually the ~60 club members of Svifflugfelag Islands (the soaring club) will use thermal conditions to fly some 300 kilometer distances over the short summer with the endless daylight. Under a 5,000 to 6,000 feet cloud base it is not uncommon to launch later in the afternoon and then stay up until the next day. After the long wave flight in July 1195 for example the pilot landed at 2 am the next morning.

long shadows...

long shadows...

Coffee and cake at 6.30 pm… “Do you also have female members in your club?” The answer is a proud “Yes, we do have three women fly gliders!” We were then invited to take a tour around the facilities: In a huge hangar a Duo Discus, an LS 4 and some privately owned LAK 12 were stored while outside the club’s ASK 21 and an LS 8 / 18m were practicing their late evening ridge flights. Besides the winch the club also owns a Pawnee which currently is at the workshop in Reykjavik for repair. Interestingly this workshop is owned by the city, but the club is allowed to use it and only pays for the use of energy and warm water, which is cheap in volcano country. A Super Dimona motor glider was warming up the engine to take a tour. Skuli explained this model was flown in from Europe’s continent by Icelandair. The club has many members who are pilots with the national airline, and therefore the transport of newly purchased gliders is sometimes organized by plane.

Ole, Jonas, the winch driver and Skuli after an evening's flight

Ole, Jonas, the winch driver and Skuli after an evening's flight

To end the day, we decided to have our son experience the first ridge flight in his life with instructor Olafur Gislasson. The two pilots launched in “TF-SAC” the club’s well maintained ASK 21 and found light ridge lift at Mount Vifilfell. The evening sea breeze had blown low clouds into the area, and the mountain top was sometimes hidden in white puffs. The glider could thus not climb higher than 400 meters above the ground. However after 25 minutes Jonas and Ole returned with a big smile to the Sandskeid airfield. Almost 9 pm, late dinner time!

Elke Fuglsang-Petersen

Elke Fuglsang-Petersen started soaring after she finished her school and college education and found herself locked into a small office for the next 45 years. In German soaring clubs she met a lot of new friends, enjoyed a great way to get out, could see things from a different angle, and gained a better overview.

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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  1 comment for “Cool – Soaring in Iceland

  1. April 18, 2015 at 11:11 am

    HI Elke,

    I am planning a trip to Iceland and would like to get in touch with the club. Can you let me know how to reach them?

    Thank you,

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