Onda Grande – Mission accomplished

Jackie Payne reports from Argentina

Jackie Payne reports from Argentina

Jim and Jackie raising their glasses (by Pablo Pszemiarower)

Jim and Jackie raising their glasses (by Pablo Pszemiarower)

Several hours after the biggest flight of the past year 2013, Jim's wife Jackie found a minute (while her husband is busy completing another 2,100+ km flight!) to put down some background information to tell us more about that fabulous day. Jackie also provides a link to a YouTube video introducing the team from which we can catch a little bit of the spirit of that adventure:

"Jim has been on the ground for 15 hours since the big flight, but his feet haven’t touched down yet. We came here for the third season as a team mission. Every day we learn something new and important about the weather, the wave, the flying, and the people who make this project a success. Number one of course is Dennis sponsoring the expedition. This dream would never have gotten off the ground (literally) without his vision and encouragement. He has always kept a positive outlook, whether on the ground or in the air. Dennis and I have exchanged multiple emails while Jim has been flying. Dennis has had the first words of congratulations to Jim upon landing the 1900 km flight in Chos Malal and yesterday’s 2700 km flight. Dennis has taught us that 90% of life is “showing up.” You couldn’t ask for a better flying partner.

The team after the flight: Tago, Jackie, Jim and co pilot Juan Pagano

The team after the flight: Tago, Jackie, Jim and co pilot Juan Pagano (by Pablo)

Tago has poured his heart into this mission. He organized the first Perlan mission in Argentina and built upon those connections for this mission. His knowledge and people skills are world class. In less than an hour, he can arrange for a personal friend and hotel owner to drive to a distant landout airport, help tie down the glider, and give the pilots a ride back to town. So when Tago and I arrive with glider handling equipment and passports everybody gets what they need. When a tire went flat Tago and Morgan were up till 2 am to have the plane prepped for the sunrise launch. When the notam to permit gliders above 19,500ft was not completed, Tago’s phone calls and connections finished that process. When air traffic had questions he had the answers. When they had objections he showed them that there was another perspective for a win-win solution. When the procedures were changed he said teach us to do it this new way.

Launching into Argentina's skies

Launching into Argentina's skies

So, onto the flight. Jim has been studying the weather for 3 seasons. It’s like the Sierra, but different. And those nuances make the difference between a 1500 km flight and a 2700 km flight.  Our mission for several years has been to maximize OLC points. Because the perfect day only comes once in a long while, you plan to maximize the daily cards you are dealt. As we drove to the gliderfield at 4:45 am we passed 3 discos just emptying of their Saturday night customers. It was like a handoff in the relay of life. At the gliderport we had a lot of cloud but there was a foehn gap to the NW of the field. We scurried around with flashlights, head lamps, and high beams from the truck. As the sky lightened we hooked up the tail of the glider to the truck, keeping the full covers on. It is a long dusty drive to the departure end of the gravel runway. Covers off, load the cockpit with food, water, and necessities. Check and verify engine, oxygen, batteries, and electronics are all working. Pilots are last to get in.

Cockpit views

Cockpit views

Jim found weak wave lift near the foehn gap and slowly climbed to 12,000 ft where the lift and winds increased sharply. Sometimes the wave is better to the north, sometimes to the south. It depends on where the core of the jet stream crosses the Andes. Yesterday was the first day in weeks that there was wave to the north for the entire day. An abnormal “blocking” high pressure had finally moved on and allowed the winds to blow across the higher terrain to the north. Jim’s study of the weather forecast that possibility with a good chance of more than 1500 km flight. He actually declared a 2000 km flight but didn’t use those turnpoints. He will have around 2000 km in a “free” 3 turnpoint flight for a motorglider national record. The OLC allows 5 turnpoints which usually means you can fly most of the day.

Highway 2 somewhere below...

Highway 2 somewhere below...

Jim makes it look easy with a smooth flight trace staying between 6-7000 meters most of the day. It was not a simple day. To the south the core of the jet stream blew 10-15 knots harder across the ridge tops. That can cause breaking wave and is extremely difficult to fly. All along the mountains to the West the clouds were lower and dropped rain or snow starting in the mid-afternoon.  I didn’t leave the hotel until Jim hooked 10 knots about 100 km from home. The final glide was that tight, and there is no internet at the field. Rain worked its way eastwards to almost the gliderport by sun set. The steady 30 knot wind was thankfully only a slight left

All Smiles - Mission accomplished (by Pablo)

All Smiles - Mission accomplished (by Pablo)

cross wind at the glider field. Otherwise they would have landed at the large paved towered airport a few miles away. They landed with no problems and then the celebrations began. Photography, well wishers, champagne or sparkling juice, and Juan’s promised victory “distance dance.” Juan is a local glider pilot with a lot of understanding of soaring, but not much experience in wave. He handled the radios, towers, Air Traffic Control, and flight requests. That allowed Jim to focus on the technical flying.

Champagne for the crew

Champagne for the crew (by Pablo)

I sent an email towards the end of the flight about it being unbelievably fast.  It was the highest OLC score ever. There have been 2-3 slightly longer flights since 2007, but all in much higher performance ships. The DG 1001 doesn’t have flaps which would really improve the performance especially at high speed. (The handicaps are set for around 300 ft/min lift so don’t match well with wave flying) Those other flights scored in the 2150 range. Back in 2002 there was a longer flight with different scoring rules that was still 100 points lower than yesterday’s 2486 points. And that high performance ship’s raw speed was almost identical to yesterday’s raw speed. So all considered, the flight of the 29th was the best ever in the OLC."

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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  2 comments for “Onda Grande – Mission accomplished

  1. George Young
    January 1, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Great report!

    Congratulations and thank you for sharing the details.

    George Young
    Discus N44UU

  2. Dr Richard Agnew
    January 6, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    To the Perlan II Team – Well Done!!!

    I was involved with Perlan I and I know from first-hand experience all the planning and team work required to achieve the end result. A HUGE well done to all the team and especially Tago who has always been there for the us ‘Gringos’ :-)

    It is always a privilege to fly in Argentina and the Argentinians have been so supportive over the many many years that I have been flying there and provided all the necessary assistance for foreigners to experience the mighty Andes and the brilliant wave that this unique area produces.

    People like the Tago, Cholo (the Onda God) Miranda, Faldi (Dr Osvaldo Ferraro), Ramon and others have been pretty much silently working away making it possible for pilots (especially foreigners) to achieve our personal bests – weather world records, national records and / or just for the pure enjoyment of flying the world’s best wave.

    Again, well done!

    Fly high, fly long, fly fast and fly safely

    Dr Richard Agnew (Australia)

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