Did you expect Israel to be a soaring country? You should have a look into OLC’s yearly scores! You might be surprised to find about 50 pilots regularly scoring OLC points. The best flight I could find was a 470 km yoyo in a DG 505, done by Rafi Luski in August 2013. But trying to read the adjacent comment, I first failed then asked Google translate for help... Danny Arazi, chairman of the Israel Aeroclub, and of his home club Megido Gliding Center , helped me to understand how soaring in Israel is possible:
Megido, or with its biblical name Armageddon, is located 6 km from Afula, in the heart of Yizreael Valley about 14 km from Nazareth and the Tabor mountain. All those biblical names for us are waypoints! Our club owns three tow planes and 15 sailplanes. Four motorgliders are privately owned. Gliding started in Israel 82 years ago. Actually, the initial gliding happened very close to where we have today our biggest gliding center at Megido. We count approximately 220 active glider pilots in the country and about 60 gliders (60% private, 40% club) are exploring the skies. We fly only during weekends.
There are two other gliding centers: one at Rosh Pinna, in the Jordan Valley in the far north of Israel, near Saffed and very close to the Golan Heights. The third center is Sde Teiman, near the city of Beer Sheba, in southern Israel. This is the edge of the Negev and Judea desert.
Danny, you told me you were doing active training? Can you explain a little more about it?
In all three centers we run gliding schools with approximately 20 students at any given time. All our activity is based on non-profit, sports clubs with no one on the payroll. All activities, including maintenance and gliding instruction, are done voluntarily.
During the last seven years, we successfully ran a yearly special community program: One day per week, in two gliding centers, we sponsor gliding instruction to kids of ages 16-18 with poor backgrounds and with social problems. So far we've had 220 graduates, of which many did their Blue Solo flight (they accomplish the entire flight but an instructor is passively present in the glider).
On your club’s website I found you operate on Fridays and Saturdays, not on Sundays?
In Israel, the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a regular week day.
Do you organize any contests, or do you participate at events in foreign countries?
During two long holidays, Passover and Sukkot holiday, we fly eight days and during those days we usually run flight competitions with tasks that fit the relevant weather conditions.
Can you fly year round? Is there a best time for extended XC flights?
We are very fortunate to be able to fly all year round as we have only a few days of rain in the winter. The best gliding conditions are during spring and autumn. In the south, over the desert and over the Judea hills you will always find good thermals that allow for long flights.
Are your flights restricted on the weekends?
As the country is relatively small, the skies are quite busy with general and commercial aviation. The TMA of Ben Gurion airport actually divides the country into two parts. In addition, we have a very complex gliding map with air traffic corridors, military restricted zones, and the West Bank where currently flights are only allowed up to 8,000 feet QNH. We have to carefully monitor the radio and maintain contact with air traffic control all the time. Yet, with all these restrictions we are able to fly and accomplish 150-250 km OLC flights in the north and 200-350 km in the south.
Any favorite locations, desert, mountains, ridges, …? Do you have areas where wave flights are possible?
From time to time —quite rarely—we get wave, in particular when southwestern winds hit the Carmel Mountain ridge.
Do you perhaps travel to other countries to fly bigger tasks?
Every year some 10 to15 Israeli pilots travel to fly abroad. Most of us go to Saint Auban for two weeks of mountain gliding. This summer, a group of 12 pilots will be going to France. I have personally flown in many countries including Slovenia (Bled), Italy (Aosta), France, Spain (Jacca), USA (Sierra Nevada), Australia and New Zealand (Omarama). Our big disadvantage is that when we travel, we have to rent local gliders, as traveling from Israel to Europe is yet not feasible.
I counted four different borders? Are you allowed to cross any of them?
Although Israel and Jordan are at peace, unfortunately we cannot fly from Israel and cross the border. If this was possible, we could have a “soaring heaven.” The thermals on the eastern ridges of the Jordan Valley would be a great gliding site all year round!
Thank you Danny for your time to tell us about Israel's soaring community. Have a great soaring year, wherever you will be flying on Earth!