Sunday, 22 November 2015

Bahia Gliding 2015 (Starting a New Chapter)

Before coming to Bahia for the first time back in 2012, I dreamed of going to one of the premier gliding places in Namibia, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. I had read a lot of good things about these places and I had heard a few first person accounts from my friends (like Milan Petkovic) who had made the pilgrimage to some of these places. However, after four trips to Bahia my priorities changed a bit. While I would still like to visit Omarama and Bitterwasser one day, I see myself coming back to Bahia every year for as long as I'm able to. So far I've been staying for only a couple of weeks a year, but next year I'm planning to be there for at least a month, hopefully longer if I can fit it with my work and family obligations.

Each year that I come to Bahia Gliding I keep thinking that there's no way things could get any better. The weather is awesome and very reliable, the flying is out of this world, the company is fantastic and the food is on par with some of the best resorts I've been to. Yet, every following year I have to admit that I was wrong, that the things do keep getting better.

So, what makes Bahia Gliding such a great place for a glider pilot? If you have read any of my previous posts you'd probably know at least a part of the answer, but in any case, here it is again.

The Man Behind Bahia Gliding
Bahia Gliding resort came into being as a result of the vision, enthusiasm, and a lot of hard work by my Brazilian brother Guilherme Purnhagen - "Gugui". He first flew in Bahia in the Brazilian nationals back in 2010 and fell in love with the place. From then on, Gugui organized a yearly expedition with a few of his gliding friends from his home town of Rio do Sul, in the state of Santa Catarina, in South Brazil to LEM in Bahia, a three-day 2200 km journey. When I first came to fly with Gugui in Bahia in September 2012 we stayed in a little two-bedroom suite in the corner of a crop duster hangar (see my  article "Gliding in Bahia" in Free Flight for more details). Since then Gugui has continued to work hard on acquiring new equipment (gliders, tow planes, winch) and gradually transforming the Bahia Gliding operation into a premier gliding resort.
A selfie with Maicon

This year Gugui hired Maicon Leite as his helper. Maicon is a very fine and helpful young man and all of us visitors thoroughly enjoyed his company and appreciated the good work he put into helping the operation run smoothly.

Bahia Gliding 1 (2013-2015)
2015 was the third and last year that Gugi operated Bahia Gliding from a rented farm a few kilometers South of Luís Eduardo Magalhães (LEM), on the East side of the BR-020 road. The facilities at the farm have been adequate for the size of the operation, with a 1400 meter long dirt runway, a hangar with running water and power, a fridge with beer and coconut water and a tie-down area for the gliders.
Bahia Gliding 1 Hangar

The main issue with the current location is that it's on leased property. With the farm being so close to LEM, the lease is expensive and any improvements have to be negotiated with the landlord. Looking long term, the arrangement wasn't sustainable. So, Gugi spent the past few years looking to purchase a suitable farm where he could move his gliding operation and fully realize his vision.

Bahia Gliding 1
Bahia Gliding 2 (2016+)
A few months ago Gugui bought a 200 hectare farm some 90 km North of LEM. The new farm is located in a valley, alongside a small river which forms its northern border for about 2.5 km. The surrounding area is mostly covered with cerrado (Brazilian tropical savanna). The current facilities include a couple of farm houses and a nice gazebo by the river. The farm has a small plantation of pineapples and  a variety of other tropical fruits and vegetables, all grown organically.

The day after my first 1000 km attempt we all took a rest day and made a day trip to the new farm. After a two-hour drive, with the last 20 km on the dirt road through the cerrado, we arrived just in time for lunch. Gugi and Maicon prepared some delicious churrasco (Brazilian barbecue). After lunch we went for a walk and a swim in the river. The water was clear and warm, around 25 °C and it is like that all year.

The new farm will become the home of Bahia Gliding starting next year. In order for that to happen, it needs a suitable runway, glider tie-down, hangar space, and a few new bungalows for the visiting pilots (each equipped with air conditioning, TV and a full bathroom), and Internet and Cell phone infrastructure. This may look like a tall order, but the work on building the first bungalow was already in progress during our visit (see picture below) and, as of this writing, Gugui has cleared the first 400 meters of the future 2000+ meter runway. So, while not everything will be finished by the next season, all of the essentials for continuing the Bahia Gliding operation on the new farm should be in place.
Bahia Gliding 2 with the location of future runway highlighted
Gugui (left), Aleksandar (center) and Maicon (right) inspecting the wood frame construction of the first bungalow
The current fleet of gliders at Bahia Gliding includes a Nimbus 3T, Jantar Standard 2, Blanik L23, G103 Twin II and five KW-1 Querro-Querros. Only two of the five Querro-Querros were flying this year, with the remaining three de-rigged in the hangar in need of some AD mandated modifications. All five should be airworthy for the next season. On top of that, Gugui is in the process of acquiring a Nimbus 4, Jantar Std 3, DuoDiscus and Discus BT.

Towing Operation
This year the towing was done by a Zlin 42, UFM-13 Lambada taildragger and a Maule borrowed from Sergio, the neighbour. Gugui is working on restoring an upgrading a Tost winch and will likely add a Wilga to the tow plane squadron and a Cessna 172 for ferrying visitors and supplies to and from the farm.
UFM-13 Lambada
Soaring Weather
The weather in Bahia has two seasons: dry and rainy. The dry season starts around mid April and lasts till around mid October.

Gliding is possible all year round, with the best and most reliable conditions at the end of the dry season (mid September to the end of  October). During that period, the sky is full of Cu's almost every day with the cloud base usually between 3000 and 4000 meters ASL (2200 to 3200 meters AGL). This year there were several days with cloud bases up to 4500 meters ASL.

Due to the proximity to the Equator (11 ° Southern latitude), the day at Bahia Gliding lasts 12 hours. Thermal activity usually starts around 9:30 AM and it is possible to set off on a cross country flight around 10 AM. The Sun sets at 6:00 PM and by 6:15 it is almost totally dark. While it is possible to find lift late in the day, care must be taken to land no later than a few minutes after 6 PM. This provides for a maximum of around 8 hours of soaring per day.

The trade wind generally blows from the East, usually around 15 km/h, although on some days it can be stronger, up to 30-35 km/h (which promotes cloud streets).

By 11 AM the thermals are usually well established and it is possible to find 2 m/s up to 2500 meters ASL. By 1 PM the cloud base lifts up to above 3000 meters ASL and the thermal strength increases to  3-5 m/s. Some areas are a little better than others and the best conditions are usually found at the ridge between the states of Bahia and Tocantins, which provides an excellent trigger for thermals.

The weather throughout the Bahia Gliding cross-country soaring area is usually fairly uniform and reliable. On some days parts of the area may be dry and on some days parts may be smokey due to wild fires in the cerrado. This usually doesn't present a problem since these areas are easy to avoid. On the other hand, the wild fires produce very good, reliable long-lasting thermals, which can be seen from far away and which can be particularly useful towards the end of the soaring day. I almost made it a habit of climbing in smoke for the final glide.

Cross-Country Soaring Area
The new Bahia Gliding farm lies in the middle of a vast area (approximately 900 x 300 kilometers in size - see the picture below) ideal for long cross-country flights.
Bahia Gliding Cross-Country Area (highlighted) Orange shaded areas are landable.
The plains to the south of Bahia Gliding 2 stretch for about 450 km all the way to the southern tip of the state of Bahia. The terrain is flat with large areas covered by landable cultivated fields of mainly soya, cotton, and corn, with a large number of crop duster runways adjacent to many of the large farms. The same type of terrain extends for some 50 km to the east, after which some landable fields can still be found, but become more scarce. The Bahia plain extends some 80 km to the west of BG2,  up to the ridge on the Bahia-Tocantins border. The ridge runs north-south for more than 300 km, all the way to the northern tip of the state of Goias. The terrain on the East (Bahia) side of the ridge lies at elevation of around 850 meters, while the terrain on the West (Tocantins) side is about 300 to 400 meters lower, featuring small hills and cerrado, which is unsuitable for outlandings, save for several small airports and dirt strips.

To the north of Bahia lie the states of Maranhão on the west side and Piaui on the east side. The first 70 to 90 km immediately north of the northern tip of Bahia are unlandable. However, further north into Maranhão and Piaui there are many large areas with landable fields scattered within the cerrado, stretching for 1000 kilometers north of BG2.

Over the past 4 years I have made 4 outlandings, all in Bahia within 100 km from LEM. Twice I landed on a dirt airstrip next to a farm, and twice in a field, also near a farm. In all cases the people on the farm were very helpful and once I even got a guided tour of the farm and a dinner. The retrievals were also easy and straight forward - twice by aerotow the next morning and twice by trailer.

Arranging to Fly at Bahia Gliding
For the foreseeable future, only qualified pilots known to Gugi, and those recommended by them, may be invited to fly at Bahia Gliding.

Gugui came up with this system for two reasons. The first one is safety and minimizing the risk of accidents, especially given that glider hull insurance is currently not available in Brazil. The second reason has mostly to do with Gugui's life philosophy, one I fully share and support. According to this philosophy, the main objective of running the Bahia Gliding operation is living a good life and sharing the enjoyment of flying and having a great time with good friends. Of course, the operation has to make some money in order to be sustainable, but the costs to the visiting pilots will be much lower when compared to the other premium gliding resorts in the world.

This year there were three visiting pilots from overseas: Jeroen Verkuijl from The Netherlands, Aleksandar Veg from Serbia (his second visit) and yours truly from Canada/Serbia. Next year there will be probably be more coming.

Getting to Bahia Gliding
Travel to Bahia Gliding involves flying to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or Brasilia and then taking a local flight to Barreiras. The new Bahia Gliding farm is about 2 hour drive From Barreiras, or a 40 minute flight in a Cessna 172. Whether arriving from North America (like I did) or from Europe, it is a long trip, so plan to stay for at least a week.

Plans for the Future
If everything goes as planned, the new Bahia Gliding farm will become a unique all-inclusive gliding oasis and resort. The qualified pilots will be able to fly many different gliders, as well as receive ground school and in-flight instruction on various topics related to gliding and cross-country soaring. This year both Gugui and I did several XC-soaring instructional flights, either in a the G103 Twin II two seater (one of these flights was over 500 km) or flying cross country in two equal performance gliders. Next year, with the arrival of the DuoDiscus it will be possible to do dual cross country flights of 750+ kilometers.

My Flight Stats
All of the best and longest flights of my gliding career have been flown at Bahia Gliding. Although I still haven't managed to break the 1000 km barrier, I have made many long flights over 750 km, including a couple in a Jantar Standard 2 and three flights over 900 km in a Nimbus 3.

Over the last four years at Bahia Gliding I have made a total of 46 flights, 236 hours, 23,700 cross-country kilometers and 23,100 OLC+ points. On the OLC+ Worldwide Daily Scores I have placed 1st 18 times, 2nd 8 times and 3rd 4 times. This year I collected 5120 points in the race for the 2016 OLC Champion, which is currently good enough for the 1st place overall (until the beginning of December when things start cooking in the South Africa and the Namibian desert). BTW, Jeroen Verkuijl was until a few days ago in second place with 4545 points, with all of his 6 flights from Bahia Gliding.

My 2015 Flights
You can find all my 2015 flights here on the OLC. For flight details check out the pilot's comments.

A video record of my two weeks of flying at Bahia Gliding in 2015

More photos from Bahia Gliding 2015 (in no particular order)
Yours truly by the river at the new Bahia Gliding farm
High above the Bahia plain with Robinson Rosa
Another one with Robinson Rosa
The view says it all
A selfie while snorkeling in the river at the new Bahia Gliding farm
A view from the river at the new Bahia Gliding farm
A selfie with Maicon Leite after our landout at a farm
The ridge ar Bahia-Tocantins border
Under the cloudbase in Junico's Jantar Standard 3
Late afternoon scenery with a medium smoke ahead
On final glide with the Nimbus
A nice looking cloudstreet some 300 km north of LEM in the state of Maranhão
Artêmio Frasson Junior - "Junico" in his Jantar Standard 3 (just to the right of the Sun)

Gugui pointing at something in the river at Bahia Gliding 2
Maicon Leite taking a photo of a rainbow
Final glide into the sunset
A few seconds after rolling to a stop after another long day in the air
A selfie with Maicon and Gugui, enjoying a beer after another great day
The river at Bahia Gliding 2
The organic pineapple plantation at Bahia Gliding 2

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