Flying from Lautaro

One day when I was flying near Temuco, I met a group of very active paraglider enthusiasts who were trying to stay in the air, motorless, using the lift from the only small hill in the area, a hopeless affair in that slight wind. They told me of Jorge Krauss, a friend of them, who had a motor. The next day I went to visit him. He has a farm near Lautaro, a small town half an hour driving distance from Temuco.

Jorge is the kind of guy who straps the motor to his back and takes off from between his swimming pool and the power lines. But I'm more cautious, and even more so in unknown terrain, so Jorge proposed to fly from the town's air field. We went there, and found it in intense activity: A student pilot was doing his first solo, in a Piper. After the proud new pilot landed, he was baptized in the traditional way: Throwing him into a large pool of used engine oil! That's another thing I love about ultralight aviation: Our two-stroke engines don't produce any waste oil that could be misused for such a baptism!

We set up on that air strip, and took off. The day was cloudy, with a steady west wind blowing. The air strip is flanked by houses and a row of tall trees on the western side for most of its length, so we launched from its end, clear of such obstacles and the wake they produce. Still, launching a paraglider in side wind is not so easy, but after three attempts I was airborne. Jorge, launching on foot, took longer, but finally was flying too.

While waiting for Jorge to get into the air, I checked the cloud cover. When I started, it was almost completely cloudy, but as I flew at low throttle, just keeping the altitude, the sky partially cleared up.

This photo may give you an idea of how the wing looks from the pilot's sight. Actually, I shot this photo by holding the camera in front of me, and pointing it straight up. When making photos, I hold the camera with my left hand, while the right one has to hold both brakes, and the throttle. I slightly pull on the brakes, so that by sideward displacement of the control hand I can do a limited amount of directional control, since both brake lines start from an already tensed position. Also, the slight tension helps stabilize the canopy against tucks that may happen when hitting some turbulence. That said, I must also say that the relatively high loading of my wing makes it extremely resistant to such tucks. Even in quite rowdy air, I have seen it shaking quite a lot, without ever tucking.

When flying this same wing without the motor and trike, it behaves very differently, having some tendency to tuck when hitting turbulence. But it always recovers quickly, without even giving me time to react before it has recovered on its own.

When Jorge reached me, we did a little formation flying, and then we parted. He likes to fly low and buzz the trees, while I'm more of a high flier. And I saw interesting clouds building up! Until that day, my only soaring experience had been over ridges, and a  little thermaling. But here over Lautaro I got my first chance ever to soar in a wave!

Look at the clouds in this picture. Such cloud stripes form when the wind blows over a large obstacle, which in this case is the coastal mountain chain. The wind develops into a true wave, with areas of strong lift, and long, narrow transversal clouds marking the crests of these waves. I had read enough about them, and I wanted to try them!

I motored up, and at roughly 600 meter above the terrain I hit the first strong lift. I let the engine run at idle, while I continued to climb on the wave. Soon I found that the wave was stable and powerful, and that I no longer needed the engine! I shut it down, and enjoyed that rare commodity of silent flight. Soon I was reaching the cloud, at 800 meter! I flew away, not wanting to loose ground sight, even if this cloud wasn't large enough to be dangerous. I reached an area where everything was falling, and soon was down to 600 meter. I flew back into the lift zone, and soared up again. Hey, this was fun! 

The wave intensified, while the topping clouds started to develop into cumulus. I decided go a little farther from Lautaro. It was quite warm, so it was comfortable to stay up longer. I flew along wave streets like the one seen here on the left, and also enjoyed some rocketlike altitude gain under some cumulus clouds. A few times I had to fly some spirals to get away from a particularly strong climb tube, but I never needed really steep spirals. About 4 m/s steady climb was the fastest I saw. 

While I was close to the air strip, I saw two planes take off, fly around, come back. Probably some training flights. They stayed far below me, all the time. Then I went farther into the land. I was becoming thirsty and hungry, but it was still warm, so I stayed up. This was my first cloud-powered flight, after all, and it had to last! 

I toyed with the clouds. Under the more moderate flatbase ones I climbed until almost touching them. This photo was shot perhaps 20 meters under one such cloud. The shadows on the ground can give you a better idea where the clouds were. When flying so close to them, it often happens that one whiff of cloud suddenly robs sight for a few seconds, and it becomes really cold. A quick spiral dive will bring one out of them.

The clouds had lots of clear sky between them, so that I could at all times keep watch for eventual traffic. The air isn't densely populated here, but one should never take risks. In more dense clouds I would not have flown so close to them, and during this flight I stayed away from the bigger ones like that on the left of this photo, which can be dangerous both because of the air streams around it, and because of visibility problems. But the smaller ones were good friends! 

The evening came, the sun went down, the cumulus clouds started to disintegrate, but the wave held up. And I kept riding the wave. Anyone with more desire to become famous would have tried to break a record. The day was made for it! I wonder what the distance and endurance record for powered paragliders with stopped engine is? Maybe I could have broken it, if I had flown along the wave all the time, instead of flying forth and back, keeping close to Lautaro. But Jorge had no radio, and my radio covered the 2 meter ham band and the free-flying frequencies, but not the AM air band that I could have used to tell the people of the Aero Club of my intentions. So, I stayed there. After the sun finally went down, and it was becoming dark and cold, I did the last spiral and broke away from the lift.

The west wind was still blowing strong, so I had to land on the tip of the air field. I restarted my engine, so I could abort the landing if my aim in the semidarkness should prove wrong. It wasn't necessary, but there were so many people waving, that I decided I could fly another three minutes before it would became too dark. I flew down the runway, above tree level to stay out of the turbulence, waved back, and then I did the last turn and landed.

Once on the ground, the Piper and Cessna pilots admired my machine's endurance. Jorge had landed long before, with an empty fuel tank. Then I made them look at my fuel tank, which for all practical purposes was still full! It was funny to make them think that I actually ran the engine for the better part of the afternoon while using about half a liter of gasoline! Later I explained a little about the wave, but I'm under the impression that these guys have never actually flown one, and didn't have a real understanding of how wave soaring works. Maybe some day they will discover it. Then they will feel what I felt this day, what Günther Groenhoff felt when he discovered wave soaring in the late 1920s, flying his famous Fafnir... the feeling that has powered generations of soaring pilots, and makes even some modern motor fliers shut down the noisy engine, as soon as proper conditions show up! 

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