MENTOR XC-Challenge 2016: Florian Schöpf
Personal Best on Maiden Flight
"Many thanks to NOVA for the prize and also for the perfect service you provide to me and many, many others.
For four years my project “house building” had delayed my project 'new glider’. Before I knew it, I was flying the oldest wing around – my MENTOR 1 was manufactured in 2008. My tenderly named "Red Lightning", was variously nicknamed "Red Rag" or "Wet Wipe" by my fellow pilots.
With some effort, and to some extent, I could keep up with my flying buddies on cross-country flights. But when it came to top-performance, I had to face facts. Besides, my annual check revealed that the wing didn't have too many more seasons in it and despite building a house and planning a family, I started to think about getting a new paraglider. In my club we often discuss the relative performance differences between the different MENTOR-generations. Generally they are played down. But as a matter of fact, my maiden flight on the MENTOR 4 turned into a real revelation!
Whether a flight is big is not determined at mid-day under the cloud super-highway in the Puster Valley. The determining factors are in the morning hours, during low valley crossings, in soft evening conditions and, most importantly, whether the flying is relaxed. And it is precisely in these aspects that the differences in performance achieved in four generations of glider design are extreme. I would not be able to write these lines if the additional performance had not been so obvious.
On the 20th May 2016, I received my new MENTOR 4, "the Pink Lady" (a special edition NOVA anniversary wing) and the following day we went out on the best day of year to dance with the clouds at the Grente. An exceptional XC day was forecast – flying at its very best!
Between caution and full speed
At 9.13 am it was "window open" and the first pilots to launch started to mark the initial thermals. As ever, NOVA team pilot Berni Pessl was one of the early birds. No time to loose! I took off at 9.22 am. The initial climbs towards the east were slow. With my old MENTOR 1, I was used to making sure I got every bit of height in a thermal and always to fly at trim speed because accelerated, my L/D sank into oblivion. Now I could keep up with everyone. With a minimum of safe altitude and with the speed-bar always engaged, I crossed the Antholzer Valley.
Minute by minute, the thermals were getting stronger and I crossed the Staller Saddle at a comfortable altitude of 3000 meters. Although the trip towards the Großglockner and back through the Defreggen Valley was fast, the strong May thermals, aided by a NW wind, sometimes were real rippers. How nice to know you have a MENTOR 4 above you and to feel comfortable even in these strong spring conditions.
My thoughts were completely focussed on the line, the speed-bar and the leading gaggle, who were somewhere ahead of me. Once I had returned to the Malga Grente, the flying became much more relaxed. In the Puster Valley the first clouds were forming and I actually managed to catch up with Berni Pessl. We raced ahead together, the flying line as straight as a ruler, towards Gitschberg further west. We only rarely flew below 3000 meters. From Gitschberg onwards, the flying became even better and as the first little reward for our efforts throughout the day, the late afternoon programme in the Ridnaun Valley included silky smooth thermals, high cloudbase and gentle wind. A dream come true!
The Lüsener Alm was easy this time: easy! Cross the wide valley, hit the perfect thermal and follow the amazing cloud street towards Kreuzkofel. Visually, the Dolomites were the evening blockbuster. Conditions calmed, we were relaxed and there was time to take photos of each other, hop from cloud to cloud and just enjoy the flight. Because I had taken off so early I had the courage to set my final turnpoint further south than I had ever dared to – at 37 km from the start. Beneath me and in front of me, the breath-taking panorama of the Dolomites was revealed.
Euphoria at the end
On the way back I flew over the Kreuzkofel peaks with a comfortable 3600 meters. Another highlight of the day came right at the end. In the last thermal of the day, the remaining XC pilots re-united. Everyone had been in the air for at least 10 hours. Everyone had contributed something. Everyone was exhausted – but with the knowledge that we had completed long FAI triangles. Together we climbed in the 2 m/s thermal, enjoyed the evening sunlight and you could hear the odd 'yipee!' and see some celebratory wingovers.
Finally we set off on our 15 km final glide into the already shady Antholzer Valley. We tried to land as close as possible to the Grente take-off to maximise the triangle and then this gaggle of flown-out, euphoric and dog-tired pilots landed safely at the bottom. What a day! What a feeling!
I hope next year will bring more days like this and I can take my “Pink Lady” for another tango round the clouds.