Friday, 27 December 2013

Bahia Gliding 2013 (Return to Paradise)

An Update on the Bahia Gliding Resort
Back in late 2012 these seemed (to me) to be very ambitious plans and Gugui’s target date of September 2014 for setting up a fully functioning gliding resort looked a bit optimistic. Fast forward to September 2013, half way to the target date and my second trip to Bahia and what a difference a year makes! The newly established Bahia Gliding resort is already up and running, and although all of the visiting pilots (save for yours truly) were Brazilians,  there was significant progress towards Bahia Gliding becoming one of world’s premier gliding resorts.

The resort already has its own airfield, located within the bounds of the “Alcatraz” farm (soon to be renamed to Albatroz, which in Portugese means Albatross) just outside of LEM, off the BR-020 road leading South to the nation’s capital Brasilia, about six hours drive from LEM. You can find it on Google Earth by entering these coordinates: 12°10'12.52"S, 45°48'44.44"W) The current facilities include a 1500 meter long grass runway, an open hangar and a tie-down area that can accommodate at least ten gliders. The current glider fleet includes a Grob 103 Twin II, Blanik L-23, Jantar Standard 2 and a Nimbus 3T. In summer of 2013 Gugui purchased a number of gliders in Europe that will be added to the fleet in 2014. These include another Jantar Standard 2, Jantar 1, Jantar 2B, Standard Cirrus, Open Cirrus, and a PIK 20. He is also looking for a high performance two seater, either a Duo Discus or an ASH-25.

This year the towing operation was conducted with a rented Piper Pawnee, which was more than adequate for servicing the current fleet of four gliders, plus a number of Brazilian pilots who came to do some practice flying prior to the 2013 Brazilian Nationals, which were held in early October at the new LEM municipal airport. Starting in 2014 Bahia Gliding should be operating its own tow plane (an already purchased Zlin Z-37T Turbo Čmelák) and a Tost winch, which is at present at the Bahia Gliding airfield waiting to be overhauled before being put back into service. By the way, the location is ideal for winch operation as the thermal conditions around the airfield are excellent and the reliable “house thermals” can be relied on most of the time. As an illustration, the release altitudes on all nine aero tows I took this year were between 200 and 400 meters QFE.

During my visit Gugui signed a lease agreement with the owner of the farm, thus setting up the stage for improving the airfield (lengthening the runway, building a taxiway, installing a runway irrigation system to eliminate dust, improving the hangar) and building the resort facilities right at the airfield. Considering the current and future work on the infrastructure, Bahia Gliding resort is making progress in leaps and bounds and it poised to be ready to receive its first official overseas visitors next season.

More about Flying in Bahia
After all this talk about gliders and infrastructure, you are probably eager to hear more about actual flying in Bahia. If you have read my article in Free Flight, you already have an idea about what was like in 2012, and it was awesome. But this year’s flying was even better!

For starters, this year I made nine cross country flights compared to five in 2012. During those nine flights I racked up 56:21 hours and 6273 cross country kilometers, for an average of 697 km/flight. All nine flights earned one of the top three spots on the OLC plus worldwide daily score.

The soaring weather conditions within the 300 km radius from LEM are usually fairly uniform and reliable.  The usual modus operandi for flying long FAI triangles is to initially head West, downwind towards the border between Bahia and Tocantins provinces, located some 65 km West of LEM. The first turn point is usually between 5 and 50 km inside Tocantins, depending on the weather and the planned XC flight distance. For the second leg of the triangle you either turn roughly due North or due South. On most days the sky looks equally good in both directions and you can easily go either way. When flying a 700 to 800 km FAI triangle, the second leg is usually around 250 km long usually with a moderate Easterly crosswind. The third leg, also around 250 km long, is to the Southeast if you took the Northerly route or to the Northeast if you chose the triangle to the South. The fourth and final leg of the triangle goes due West and can be anywhere from 80 to 150 km. The final glide into the setting sun is downwind, which can be helpful if you’re going for the maximum distance. Also helpful are the stubble fires which are a reliable source of very good and not too turbulent thermals even late in the day.

Days 1, 2 and 3 and my first outlanding in Bahia
During the first two days (9/15 and 9/16) the weather was a little less than ideal, with high humidity at the top of the convective layer causing the Cu’s to spread into a layer of stratocumuli in the afternoon. For this reason, and because I was a bit overly ambitious, I landed out about 90 km south of LEM after completing 672 km on the second day.

I chose a 1.6 kilometer long smooth dirt airstrip next to a large farm. No sooner I got out of the cockpit, a worker from the farm arrived on a motorcycle to check out what had happened and if I was okay. Thanks to my (and his) rudimentary knowledge of Spanish we managed to communicate enough for him to help me move the glider off the runway, after which he gave me a ride on the back of his motorbike to the farm’s main office. There I got introduced to Luis Evandro Gauer, the managing director for this and five other soy and cotton farms in Bahia, all owned by a company called FraNor and totaling some 40,000 hectares. After a phone call to Marcel to report the land-out and the coordinates, Luis took me to one of the farmhouses with a bathroom, a large kitchen, a dining room and a couple of sofas in front of a big screen TV and offered me to stay there while he attended to some of his duties. I crashed on the sofa, relaxing and surfing through Brazilian TV channels. Luis returned after about an hour and offered me a cold beer and a couple of tuna sandwiches, both of which I gladly accepted. After we finished the meal, and after I refused the second beer, Luis took me on an hour long guided tour of the farm showing me the twin cotton processing lines, huge soybean silos and a number of very large and very modern combines, tractors and various other farm equipment. Soon after we finished the tour, Gugui and Bruno arrived in the Bahia Gliding Jeep with the trailer. Twenty minutes later we were on our way back to LEM – a 130 km two hour trip. Gugui and Bruno brought a few sandwiches and a two liter Coke bottle that Gugui’s mother-in-law Araci filled with freshly squeezed orange juice. We made it back to the house around 11 PM, just in time for the third installment of the dinner.

At this point I should mention that landing out in Bahia is a fairly safe and straight forward affair. The area is flat with large cultivated fields and with a number of farms with adjacent dirt strips used by crop dusters. There are, however, some less hospitable areas. Most notably, the Tocantins province to the West of Bahia and the Goiás province to the Southwest feature hilly terrain at elevation of 400 to 500 meters QNH, covered in tropical shrubs and dwarf trees. The cultivated fields few in this area are few and far between and the road network is fairly sparse. However, if you stay within 20 to 30 kilometers from the Bahia border, you can always move back closer to Bahia and the landable terrain if you happen to be getting lower. Similar scenery is also typical in the Piauí and Maranhão provinces to the North of Bahia. On the flip side, there are a number of airports and airstrips whose coordinates I had in my Oudie and I would often check (and confirm) that I was within the gliding range of at least one of them.

The weather on Day 3 (9/17) improved, with only a few localized areas of cumulus overdevelopment. I flew a 599 km triangle to the North, because the XC Skies forecast was a little better to the North. At one point on the third leg, while climbing in a 3 m/s thermal under one towering cumulus, virga appeared from the opposite side of the cloud, producing a very bright and beautiful rainbow. During this flight the total energy system in the Jantar wasn’t functioning properly, which made things interesting when pulling up from a 180 km/h cruise speed.

Day 4, 5 and 6
The morning of Day 4 (9/18) brought overcast skies and even some rain early on. Gugui decided to call a non-flying day and troubleshoot the Jantar TE system instead. Given that I spent a lot of time in the cockpit the previous three days, right after the 30 hour trip from Vancouver, BC to LEM, Bahia, I was quite happy to have a rest day. After a few hours of troubleshooting the TE system we discovered that the culprit was the old PZL pneumatic vario, which appeared to have developed a leak. The problem was solved by swapping the PZL with a Winter vario from the back seat of the Grob 103 Twin II. By around 1 PM the skies cleared and the Cu’s started popping, so the day could have been a flying day after all.

Day 5 (9/19) the weather returned to normal, making for an easy 723 km to the North.

Day 6 (9/20) turned out to be weaker than expected (1.7 m/s average for the flight), but still good enough for a 589 km (568 FAI triangle) to the South.

Days 7 and 8
Day 7 (9/21) the weather conditions improved with cloud bases initially at 3000 meters, rising to 3500 m in the afternoon. I was also able to take advantage of cloud streets on several long glides. To top it all off, my last thermal was a stubble fire in which I gained 1415 meters of altitude in 2 minutes and 19 seconds, for the average of 10.2 m/s!  The tally for the day was a 767 km flight (751 FAI triangle) at an average speed of 126 km/h.  Not bad for a Jantar Standard 2 and the starting altitude of 200 meters QFE. Considering that I could have taken off at least half an hour earlier and that I could have landed half an hour later than I did, a 900 km flight should have been possible that day.

For Day 8 (9/22) the weather forecast looked great and I decided to go for the maximum distance. This time I chose to fly the Northern triangle, if for no other reason than to change the scenery. By midafternoon, the cloud bases rose to 4100 meters QNH, but the conditions were drier than the day before and with not as many cloud streets as I have grown accustomed to. Mid-way through the second leg I chose to deviate around a large area of brush fires in order to keep the wings clean for the remainder of the flight. The result was an 810 km flight (783 km FAI triangle) at still respectable 117 km/h, worth 1044 points on the OLC+.

Days 9, 10 and 11
For day 9 (9/23) the forecast again looked very good and the cloud base was supposed to be a few hundred meters higher than the day before. Marcel and I prepared Gugui’s Nimbus 3T-25.5 and this was going to be my first ever attempt at a 1000 km triangle. Exciting stuff! I made two flights with the Nimbus during my last year’s trip to Bahia, but those were in the 24.5 m “short” wing configuration. This time around the Nimbus was rigged with the long tips, bringing the span to 25.5 meters. With everything prepared and waiting on the runway, we got a call from Gugui that there was an overheating problem with the tow plane’s engine. By noon the problem wasn’t getting any closer to being solved, so we decided to call it off for the day and went to a local river beach instead. The water was just the right temperature and crystal clear and we enjoyed a couple of hours of swimming and had a few beers, all while keeping an eye on the Cu’s high up in the afternoon sky.

Day 10 (9/24) was forecast by XC-Skies to be even better than the day before, however the weather didn’t unfold as forecast. During the day a cold front approached LEM from the Southwest and a pre-frontal weather pattern with low visibility and significant overdevelopment affected a large are to the South and West of LEM. Soon after turning South for the second leg the sky got almost totally overcast and I realized that I wasn’t going to break any (personal) records that day. I still managed to cover 644 km and got in a lot of practice flying the long winged Nimbus, which compared to Jantar Standard 2 required a much different piloting technique, especially when banking in and out of turns.

The XC-Skies forecast for day 11 (2/25) was again very good, and it being my last flying day in Bahia for this year, I prepared for another attempt at a 1000 km triangle. Since the cold from the day before was stalled some 150 km Southwest of LEM I decided to try going North instead of South. I took off at 10:27, earlier than usual, but initially had trouble finding a good thermal and was back to 200 m QFE when I finally connected with a decent 2.3 m/s.  The CU’s started popping early, but as I was approaching the Tocantins border the sky started looking darker and darker with poor visibility and very little sunshine on the ground. I decided to cut short the first leg a few km before reaching the edge of the Bahia plateau and turned Northeast to try to get away from the area affected by the front. However, after about 50 km I reached the edge of a huge blue hole covering the whole Northern half of Bahia. I climbed as high as I could (to 2700 m QNH) below one of the last Cu’s and set off into the blue hole. The air was felt smooth, which was not a good sign. Further ahead I did manage to find a blue thermal, but it was only 0.7 m/s. At that point I decided to finally give up the quest for 1000 km triangle and turned Southeast towards where the weather looked to be the best. It was a good decision and I soon connected with a couple of 100 km long cloud streets, first one going Southeast and the next one due South. The remainder of the flight was effortless and very enjoyable and I ended up covering 808 km. The flight duration was 7:18 and I probably could have stretched it another half hour, which means that a 1000 km triangle is definitely possible on a good day.

Total Tally
Overall, I flew 9 days for a total of 56:21 hours and 6273 km (697 km average per flight). What these impressive numbers don’t show is how great the whole experience was for me. The accommodation, food and hospitality was fantastic, the company was fun, the weather was hot (up to 40°C) but quite  bearable due to very low humidity and the flying was safe, effortless and extremely enjoyable.
I can only look forward to September 2014.

Bahia Gliding airfield on the Alcatraz/Albatroz farm outside of LEM
Jonathan (the owner of Alcatraz/Albatroz), Gugui and I
At the farm where I landed out on Day 2 (9/16)
Day 3 (9/17) Rainbow in the distance
Day 3 (9/17) Closer to the rainbow
Day 3 (9/17) Abeam the rainbow
Day 3 (9/17) During final glide
At the breakfast table
Buying supplies on the way to Alcatraz
In Bahia, Alcatraz/Albatroz is a symbol of freedom!
Waiting for takeoff in the Jantar with Gugui and his brother Emilio in the background
Milton the tow pilot landing the "Green Machine" 
Day 5 (9/19) Mid day, some 200 km North of LEM
Day 5 (9/19) After rounding the last TP, Barreras at 2 O'clock
Day 6 (9/20)  Flying towards Bahia (in the distance) after the 2nd TP in Tocantins
Day 6 (9/20)  Close to Tocantins (left) - Bahia (right) border
Day 6 (9/20)  After landing, with Marcel (in the background) taking care of business
Day 7 (9/21) The Jantar laden with water, on the runway before take-off
Day 7 (9/21) After 1st TP, flying South through Tocantins (Bahia can be seen in the distance)
Day 7 (9/21) Back in Bahia after 2nd TP, "dolphining" through the perfect sky
Day 7 (9/21) Lovin' every minute of it!
Day 7 (9/21) After the last TP, heading towards the big smoke in the distance
Day 7 (9/21) Getting closer to the big smoke
Day 7 (9/21) Still getting closer to the big smoke
Day 7 (9/21) Inside the big smoke. The Oudie says VarA=+11.8 m/s, VarT=+11.1 m/s. Unreal!
Day 8 (9/22) Marcel filling the Jantar with water for another long flight
Day 8 (9/22) Lunch in Tocantins after rounding the 1st TP and heading North
Day 8 (9/22) Taking a detour around some big fires on the way North
Day 8 (9/22) Heading Southeast after the 2nd TP under beautiful sky
Day 8 (9/22) During the final glide of my first 1000+ OLC+ points flight.
Day 8 (9/22) During the final glide into the setting sun with the Bahia Gliding runway straight ahead
Bahia Gliding from the air
Day 10 (9/23) at the beach with Gugui, Carol and Hiki
Day 10 (9/23) at the beach, enjoying a cold one with Marcel 
Day 10 (9/24) In front of the Nimbus 3T 25.5 before the take-off
Day 10 (9/24) With Marcel before the take-off
Day 10 (9/24) Marcel's selfie portrait with the fumulus
Day 10 (9/24) The long wing of the Nimbus somewhere in Tocantins
Day 10 (9/24) Having fun despite the less-than-ideal weather
Day 11 (9/25) My last flight in Bahia in 2013
Bahia Gliding - the tie-down area
Bahia Gliding - a view from the hangar

No comments:

Post a Comment