THOUGH not superstitious, it was not without a- touch of excitement we went to briefing at eleven o'clock on the 13th February. At the time the weather was already developing for something big. Cumulus clouds shot briskly up, and a fresh wind was blowing from the north. What was the task to be?
The unveilment soon came: out-and-return flight to "9 de Julio", an aerodrome 82½ km due south of Laguna de Gomez.
The meteorologist promised cumulonimbus rising up to 25,000 ft. during the afternoon. In addition he blessed us with a northerly wind of about 20 kt. at 4,000 ft. (cloudbase) increasing to about 40-50 kt. at 25,000 ft as a jet-stream was hanging over the district. The start-line was open from 12.30. It all sounded very exciting. and -- bet your life — it became so!
When we came out from the briefing room it was evident that the weather was developing quicker than anticipated, so most of the pilots got very busy in preparing for take-off.
At about 12.30 the clouds had laid themses in long 15,000 ft. high cloud streets, or rather fronts, stretching almost parallel in the direction of the course. One front (I) was lying about 10-15 km. east of the course; the other visible front (II) was situated just west of the course; between the two fronts was a spreading of cumulus activity. Moreover it was clear that the fronts were rolling slowly eastward.
I got well over the start-line at 13.48, and with the strong tailwind it was not long before I reached Front II, which by now had rolled into the line of the course. The situation was now far from promising: in front of me it was raining and no sun was visible, neither forward nor to either side of the front diagonals — in other words, this big area of the Front II was apparently collapsing.
From the starting-point, left bottom corner, the direction of flight goes diagonally to the right. Front II barred the way, so Braes got enough height in Front III to pass the turning-point and in Front III to cover most of the way home-ward
In view of the situation I dared not carry on exactly along the course, even though with my good altitude I could glide a long way towards the turning-point. But Front I, situated about 15 km to the east, looked much healthier; moreover, there were small cumuli on the direct way to it. Quickly I made up my mind and formed the plan: I would try to contact Front I at the greatest possible height in order to have a good chance of gaining access to the cloud-lift, then gain enough height in this lift to enable me in one stretch to fly straight through the collapsed Front II and so arrive at the turning-point at the prescribed maximum height of 1,000 metres.
It was a very exciting decision, because from the view of earning points it was very dangerous to divert from the course, on the other hand. I should not earn many points by gliding down and landing in the vicinity of the turning-point.
So, round with the "bus" — or more correctly, the Ka-6 (Rhönsegler) — and away to the nearest good-looking cumulus 5-6 km. to the east. Here was 1-2 m/sec and I climbed as high as I could in order to have a good chance of attacking Front I. From this height I had — as I thought — a very good view of the situation, and consequently I dived into the side of the nearest cumulo-nimbus.
Never, never in my life have I experienced such a downfall. It simply rained "cats and dogs" — and how it hailed too! The water ran down the inner side of the cockpit as though a tap had been turned on. I began to feel seriously uneasy as to whether the Rhönsegler was going to "sink". But in fact the variometer was only showing ½m sink, so I carried on, hoping to find some lift somewhere. But oh, how it rained -- at the time I sent Noah and his Ark a sympathetic thought!
At length I got out of the bottom of the cloud, and as the variometer was still pessimistic, I — crestfallen — again had to go out to the west, where the sun was still shining.
Nervously my altitude disappeared to about 800 metres before my spirits once more rose in accordance with the altimeter after a call at a little cumulus.
At it again! — and the next cumulonimbus, a little farther south, got an unexpected visit — and this time I was much more lucky: with typical Argentine hospitality the "clock" showed 4 m/sec I found myself about 15 km north-west of the town of Bragado, and before I reached the base, I worked out my course, speed, and height to reach the turning-point at an altitude of 1,000 m. At that time I was about 55 km from the turning-point, so I had to climb to a height of about 4.000 m.
Blind to the Turning-point
With the lift averaging 8 to 10 m/s. it went quite nicely, and at 4,300 m. I corrected the course, 260°, and speed 135 km/h and soon I came out into the loveliest sunshine. I had no ice formation as freezing level was about 4,500 m. but nevertheless it was necessary to fly on the compass, because I had no ground visibility on account of a fine white sheet of strato-cumulus originating from the collapsed Front II that stretched out like a high wall about 20 km. in front of me.
At a height of about 2,000 metres I met Front II. It was only a little turbulent, yet I got a single lift that sent me up 300 metres in straight flight (see barogram).
Well, I had now been flying on instruments for nearly 40 Minutes. The last time I saw the ground, I was 55 km from the turning-point, and the last 25 minutes I had been flying at a speed of 135 km/h almost at right angle to a strong wind of perhaps 3o kt average. Accordingly — and will anyone blame me for the thought — I was very anxious to get under cloud base and see where I was!
If everything was O.K., I ought to be near the turning-point in five minutes.
Suddenly, at a height of 1,300 metres I had passed Front II and . . . came out to the most beautiful sight and the greatest gliding experience I ever had ... In front of me — right on my course — and about 7-8 km away, lay 9 de Julio's aerodrome, and under me the landscape resembled a veritable battlefield of fallen gliders — it demanded quite a lot of self-control not to become "silly" at that moment!
I rounded the turning-point at 15 hrs at the required height of 1,000 m., but though the turning-point lay in the sun, the air here was absolutely dead after the violent rainfall from Front II that had passed. On the other hand, another front (III) came rolling along about 10 km. to the west. The front was just about to hide the sun again; but under it, farther out to the west, I could see that the sun was shining again. Here was my real chance! I realised that the only possibility of getting home in the strong headwind was again to go out west seeking for contact with the coming Front III, and staying high. So once more at right angles to the course!
Soon I was beneath Front III heading west for a tiny little spot of sunshine; but — down and down I went, 400 m - 350 m, and under me, on the ground. lay "meine liebe kollega" Nietlispach — it was far from an inspiring sight.
Diamond Altitude reached
Then suddenly, at 330 m there it was — 1 metre. In a moment I had got 3 m/s out of the thermal, and Nietlispach was getting smaller and smaller — I must confess -- in a very pleasant and delightful way! At 1,200 m I reached the base at a rate of 4 m/sec, steadily rising in the cloud. Now the variometers got busy: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 — 15 m./sec. Soon they ran themselves off the top, and I heard the voice almost breaking in the Crossfell "squeak" variometer.
The thermal was fairly calm with no problems. I was climbing at a constant airspeed of 80 km/h. Only the altimeter's activity convinced me that I was going up in 3 so-called "howling Argentine storm" with a vertical speed of perhaps 60 km/h or more.
At 5,000 metres I got anxious about the oxygen apparatus as I did not think it gave enough oxygen. I therefore examined the tubing to see if a knot had developed! It was not the case, so I decided, although I really felt in quite normal condition, to leave the cloud.
It is worth notice that while I had been examining the oxygen apparatus 1 had climbed 800 metres to a total height of 5,840 metres — the Diamond was — what I did not realise at that moment — home: hip, hip, hurrah!
Where No Birds Fly
I straightened up on a course of 320° and was now on my way homeward on my absolutely best glide ratio, i.e., about 110 km/h.
Gradually I began to be a little impressed by the size of the cloud system in which I was flying, because, after 10 minutes' straight flight, I still had to fly on my instruments. Suddenly it struck me -- over-icing of the hood! And indeed, when I opened the window, I was flying in the brightest sunshine and had evidently done so for some time.
Curious, I turned my glider a little to the right, and from my tiny world in the cockpit 1 looked out through the panel and was witness to a most fantastic view. Indeed, it was microcosmos against macrocosmos, a constellation whose proportion sometimes is unrealised by many of us so-called civilized human beings.
The cold front, which I had left, stood just in front of me like a big snow-covered mountain-massif — pure white, with an almost vertical wall going down, down — 4,000 m., I think — reaching the snowy carpet of a layer of stratocumulus which totally covered the earth. Above me the wall was still rising about 2-3,000 m., demonstrating the great power of these giants of the clouds. It was easy to guess that the weather beneath the front was frightful, but it was not my problem — I had no problem at all. I flew in a smooth world of beauty, created by those wonderful clouds, and crowned by a sky as blue as you have ever seen. It was a marvellous adventure and I began to understand the fascinating feeling the mountaineer has when, after troublesome efforts, he plants his ice-axe on the peak of the mountain.
In this environment I flew almost an hour on a steady course of 320°.
To the Hard Facts again . . .
At about 1,300 metres I came out of the strato-cumulus layer. Now I was able to orient myself a little, whereupon the hard troubles of reality again made their entry in my cockpit!
The dead-headwind had only given me a glide-ratio of 1:10 and there was still 30 km. left to reach Laguna de Gomez! Again the conditions seemed to be better to the west, where small cumulus about 10-15 km. away were forming in the sunshine, free of stratocumulus. I reached the area at about 500 metres and after careful searching I found a good thermal of 2-3 m/sec. Here in the late afternoon the wind had weakened a little, so after a happy meeting with two thermals to near the base (1,300 m) I could pass the finishing line at 17.05 with 160 km/h on the clock.
My arrival was not very exceptional, because many of the pilots already had been retrieved by acro-tow. Most people thought I was joking at the finishing line! Later on, when they told me that I was the only one who had fulfilled the task. I thought that they in reverse were joking at me! But nevertheless, so it was, and the joy was naturally great in the Danish camp.
How things finally turned out, with cancellation of the contest, was the last hard fact of the day. Well, what do you think? Ought I really to be superstitious in future? Was the 13th February really an unlucky day?
No, it was the day of all time! Today there is only one thing I am annoyed at, and it is that we at the evening party in the restaurant did not get the third bottle of champagne uncorked, because, as Cowboy said: "What an infernal noise when the cork bangs on the six-metre high tin roof!"