Sebastian Kawa reports from the Kalahari Desert

African Skies

African Skies

Usually in March the Northern Hemisphere’s pilots slowly get their equipment ready for the new soaring season, and Southern pilots prepare for the fall. The 2013 Helli Lasch Challenge was hosted in March at the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in South Africa. The current World Champion in the 15m and the Standard Class Sebastian Kawa was invited to join the event. It was his second trip to Tswalu, where he enjoyed two weeks of soaring over the Kalahari Desert.

This year, the South African fall season 2013 offered mixed conditions for their visitors. Not 1,000km weather, but cloud bases up to  5,000m. The extraordinary visibility and the colors of red sands under high cumulus clouds provided wonderful views.

A little bit of History

Helli Lasch was born in 1912 in Köln, Germany and moved to South Africa at the age of 20. In 1947, taking a course at Bern, Switzerland, he started gliding and later competed in South African National Championships. He also accomplished several records. Helli had to bail out of his BS-1 in 1967, an experience which people are still talking of. His wife ordered an H-301 Libelle to replace the broken glider.One year later, one of his three daughters, Orcillia (Strilli) married Nicky Oppenheimer who worked in the South African gold mining business. Nicky had always been an aviation enthusiast. After in 1982 his father in law had died while approaching to land in his last glider, a DG 400, Nicki established a biannual soaring event. First held in 2003 and every two years since, the couple hosted the “Helli Lasch Challenge” at Tswalu Kalahari reserve. The current World Champions in the Open, 18m, 15m and Standard Class are invited to fly together with the South African National Team.

Flying in Tswalu

Every morning, pilots listened to lectures and discussed a variety of questions associated with competitive flying. Take offs were usually a bit later in the day. Jonkers Sailplanes had brought a collection of their JS 1 Revelation gliders; Astir, DG 1000 and Duo Discus were available for training. Single seated, the pilots could fly in ASW 20, LS 6, ASW 27 and ASG 29.

Throughout the first week, Sebastian flew the two seaters together with younger pilots. He enjoyed the company and took lots of pictures. On  one of these flights he got really busy when the crew had pushed a little too hard and then found themselves landing a DG 1000 in a “field”. It’s a big bird to manouvre but “Thanks to the glider’s good brakes we managed a short landing after approaching over some trees…”

During the second week, flying single seated, Sebastian could not share as many thoughts and experiences while flying. A second landout in the old corporate belt extracting manganese mines in the Black Rock was another challenge, as in Africa you do not only have to deal with rough terrain but also need to consider wild animals. Before landing, he had called a tow plane to pull him out of his landing site. It was late in the evening, but after a rough take off, a less powerful Cessna brought him back to Tswalu – just in time for sunset…

After all, on the last days, Sebastian had a chance to race with the Jonker brothers and the German Tassilo Bode, enjoying lift of 6 to 8 m/sec under clouds with trailing rain here and there, rain which does never reach the ground…, they achieved average speeds of more than 160 km/h and submitted nice triangular flights to OLC.

African Impressions

In the evening, rain storms at high altitude over hundred kilometers away were highlighted by the last western sunlight: “First you see blue, then violet until it finally all turns into black shadows.” For pilots, helpers and non-flying partners the hosts had organized rides in off-road Land Rovers with a canopy to watch the wildlife. An unusual attraction for Europeans was of course the lions and rhinos. Visitors watched countless kudu, ostrich and tame meerkats, who treat humans like a part of their landscape. Sebastian would have loved to take his kids to this magic place; unfortunately children are usually not invited to participate in the Helli Lasch Challenge… Well, they will probably enjoy daddy’s wonderful pictures: