Three weeks after their maiden dual flight the Raymonds now tried a first cross-country flight in their new machine. On June 21st Eric Raymond sent out an e-mail reporting: “Irena and I just returned from an overnight trip in our new plane, our first experience traveling in it. We set our goal to be easy, only 100 miles away, and in the conditions we could have flown twice that far, both ways.”
Irena had the mission prepared by studying aeronautical charts to become familiar with the Italian airspace, the terrain and possible restrictions. Being a glider pilot she does not like bad surprises and therefore also looked for possible outlandings - just in case... Finally, on a clear, sunny morning the GO-decision was made: “At noon time, there was not much thermal activity at our area, but far in the mountains we saw towering cumulus." Taking off from Voghera, everything went smoothly. "With the help of the motor we reached the first soarable hills.” After thermaling for a while they decided to check out the upper air and climbed above the clouds. Irena is amazed: “Words cannot express the beauty of the view when flying in, between and above the clouds. It is like being in a sweet dream.”
On top of the clouds a tailwind helped to reach the goal in less than 3 hours. Irena flew most of the time to get used to the 22-meter wing span. In the sometimes turbulent conditions the Duo required more force on the controls than a smaller 15-meter glider. “I really enjoyed thermaling the ship, it allows me to fly very slowly. At only 30 mph it climbs very efficiently!”
While cruising over the clouds, the Raymonds enjoyed the smooth air and the sun fuel for Sunseeker's solar panels. Eric explains: “Our path was sometimes blocked by towering cumulus that we could not climb over. Under the clouds we were likely to encounter turbulence, downdrafts, lots of shadows and high terrain, so we tried to stay on top as much as possible. Better conditions for a solar-powered airplane!” Flying under the clouds they met a Duo Discus, instructor + student, and travelled a little bit together. But after a while, Eric and Irena decided to go explore the high peaks to the south, which still had some snow in mid-June. Pretty views!
The final landing at Pavullo airport was easily made, and the Sunseeker Duo was allowed to spend the night in the aeroclub’s hangar with its light wings folded while its two pilots enjoyed an evening with their hosts and some other international guests on the field.
The next morning the Raymonds awoke to strong NW winds. A headwind to get home… After a turbulent take off through rotors in the lee of a mountain, the rest of the trip went smoothly. Eric introduced his wife to some “unbelievable smooth” convergence soaring, “like flying in wave lift”. Despite the wind another 3 hour flight took them back home to Voghera. After a short local detour toward Genoa, Irena was happy to make a very smooth landing: “Our first XC flight with the Sunseeker Duo was a great experience!”
While we can enjoy the Raymond's pictures of this first sunpowered dual trip, Eric's dream gains more and more popularity. Several websites have picked up the topic already, not all of them airsport related!