After countless impressions, unique experiences, interesting contacts, new perspectives and ideas, we land back in our homeland after a somewhat special (flight) journey. The Pegasus team is back. The adjective “unique” in this context is complex and does not only include positive experiences. So we count some new XC points as well as a broken ankle to our return trip balance. But first of all one after the other.
The most southern point of Europe
We are stuck in the middle of winter and our soul demands for paragliding satisfaction. Furthermore the first electronic components have been finished and are ready for collecting and analyzing test data.
Inspired by the YouTube paragliding videos of Ondrej Prochazka, we selected the Canary Islands as destination, packed our bags and started travelling to the smallest, most southern, most unknown and perhaps most versatile island.
Peace of mind
As soon as one enters the island after four hours flight and two and a half hours drive with the ferry, the island already pulls one into its spell. Breathtaking we feel the varied nature, paired with a quiet, down-to-earth, also ecological, but always friendly lifestyle of the approximately 7,000 island inhabitants. It is amazing how diversified fauna, terrain and climate can be on an island with the size of “only” 250 km².
Difficult paragliding conditions
Nearly everywhere you can find hills and rock faces, oriented in all directions with up to 1.500m difference in altitude. At first impression an ideal flying area, but appearances can be deceptive. Last but not least, before our departure, we receive the advice of an experienced flight instructor about the very special wind system of this island. We pay attention to this advice and inform ourselves about the local conditions and risks, but we do not completely deduce the resulting consequences. However, this gap will be closed quite quickly in practice.
Our group consists of three pilots and Elsa, the only non-flying woman. Meanwhile all except Jürgen have arrived on the island. There is an atypical westerly wind. Actually ideal for soaring in the El Golfo valley. Together with Elsa we visit all the official starting places and meet a group of six Acro pilots who are training impressively with their gliders for the World Championships in Norway and Italy. The Acro pilots are using small and fast wings with the size of 16m², in comparison with our gliders (up to 28m²), speed boats vs ships. Flying is not an option for us this day. Therefore we spend our time visiting the cliffs created by lava rocks with their natural basins and caves.
The wind is weaker the next day and appears flyable. Only the closed cloud base sticks to the slope at low 700m. So we go to the deepest starting point in Sabinosa at about 200m.
The starts are smooth and with a few minutes delay we are next to a few Acro pilots in the air. From the ground we are observed and supported by Elsa via radio. Nobody knows yet that these two flights will take a diametrically different course.
The updraft is strong, close to the slope there is a continuous 4 m/s climb. Only far away from the slope above the sea is it possible to sink with the help of descent aids. During a pleasant flight towards Frontera, a real drama takes place on the other side over Sabinosa.
What happened? Due to a flight very close to the slope, the other pilot climbed several hundred meters within a very short time. The steep wall in combination with the frontal wind promoted a very wide and strong upwind band. Escaping by cloud contact was impossible. So fate took its course and the pilot was completely in the cloud within seconds. In spite of the descent aids introduced (ears or steep spiral), the pilot climbed quickly in very turbulent air within the cloud by another 500m. In the end the plane, still in the cloud, was carried unnoticed over the edge of the slope and after about 6km of distance dropped off on a high plateau at about 1200m altitude and was able to make an emergency landing there without injury.
Considering the nearby rock face and the close seashore, the gentle outcome of this flight seems to be a real stroke of luck. The evening ends with a cosy landing beer on the coast off Frontera, while in the background the sun slowly sets on the horizon.
Stone walls everywhere
Due to the horror the day before, only a short “Hike & Fly” flight as warm-up is planned for the start of the following day. Directly next to our house is the little hill, Montana des las Rosas, which seems suitable for this.
After about 15 minutes the ascent is completed and we have a view of the 150m deep plateau of meadows and fields. There is about 15 km/h eastern wind and the terrain doesn’t seem very demanding.
Due to the small starting area we both start with several minutes delay. Start and flight are pleasant. In the slope upwind we can keep a few minutes over San Andres. The landing turns out to be a real challenge: There are fields and meadows below us, but they are crossed by many small irregular stone walls. The whole area is fenced by two power lines.
What is needed is a targeted landing within one of the walled segments. Due to unexpected climbing, the second pilot is forced to change his landing schedule at some point and decides to make a deep final turn. This results in a hard sideways touchdown. The pilot’s ankle is not up to these loads and surrenders.
After a trip to the local hospital, the bitter and unalterable knowledge is unfortunately there: The pilot’s vacation ends here. Several splinters have come off the ankle and metatarsus and two ligaments have torn. Slowly the realization dawns on us that this flight area is quite demanding and offers other risks than the native Alps.
On the same evening our last pilot Jürgen arrives. In consideration of the events of the last two days we urge ourselves to be more cautious.
Lee side flying
The next day there is a classic Passat wind from the east. In the afternoon thermals start in the protected western El Golfo valley. The combination of thermals and high cliffs now allows flights in this part of the island.
We start from the highest starting point ‘El Golfo’ at 1.300 m and keep away from the nearby clouds. This risk is thus averted. The next 45 minutes are a somewhat turbulent but pleasant mixture of thermal flight and soaring.
In addition to the clouds, the wind and the thermals must also be constantly observed. Since the thermal is usually dynamic, it can happen that the Passat wind breaks through during a weakening. This can lead to leeturbulences and strong ground winds.
This also happens on this day. There is a strong wind from the sea and driving forward is hardly possible. It would have been a wise decision to head for the easily accessible landing site in the centre of Frontera. Instead, we try to reach the second landing place in the direction of the sea. Unfortunately, both of us do not succeed in doing so and so both pilots are forced to outlandings in the impassable lava rock, which, however, run without injuries or damages. Only the salvaging of the wings is very complicated, as the lines are easily caught in the sharp volcanic rock and the constantly blowing wind anchors the lines and wings in the black lava.
Hike & Fly + landing on the beach
The new experiences in our minds will explore the island little by little over the next few days. This results in many beautiful flights.
One of the most beautiful routes is the hike to the ridge near Tinor with heading to the south of the island. A suitable end is the landing at the beach in La Playas. In combination with some cool landing beers at the nearby beach bar, the day comes to an appropriate end.
Thomas De Dorlodot
Luckily we meet the X-Alps pilot and flight veteran Tom De Dorlodot, who has just docked on El Hierro with his sailboat, the ‘Search Projects’. We get the impression that the island is generally unknown, but in the flying scene it is considered by the best pilots to be a real insider tip and a good training spot.
We get into conversation and meet the youngest team member Jack and his mother Sofia. Tom reports about the sailing trip of the young family with the ‘Search Projects’ and the upcoming X-Alps race. For our part, we report on our project with PEGASUS, which attracts positive interest. We take the chance and arrange a meeting in Salzburg before the X-Alps start in conjunction with a test flight of our prototype. Thanks for the chance Tom, see you in Salzburg in June!
Besides the flying pleasure we also use the time for PEGASUS. We discuss, research, develop, evaluate data, write concepts and establish contacts with potential partners and authorities.
The foundation has been laid and our goals have been set. A new and exciting journey begins! We invite you to join us on this journey for starting together into an exciting future.