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A Very Carefully Planned 267km Flight

April 15, 2013


Here is an account, in Paul’s own words, of an impressive spring flight, which he says, “didn’t just fall from the sky”! Check out his tracklog here.

The idea stemmed from a meeting regarding airspace in northern France, where I discovered the open pathway between Paris and Lille to reach the coastline from Létanne, in the region of Champagne-Ardenne. A week later, the forecast promised the first real spring flying conditions with an east wind. With the challenge still fresh in my mind, but of course too early in the season to attain such a distance, I detect (as many others) that this is the day not to miss. I organized retrieve driver – I have to be at work the next day at 7:30 ready to perform surgery…

Upon arrival at the take-off, the first cumulus clouds appear and I quickly prepare myself for take-off. Appropriately, getting up an away is a easy but the flight for me and two other pilots is almost over after 10 Km. The promising cumulus fails us and we end up low, ready to land, not very proud… Luckily, we manage to emerge from the situation and I begin to consult my map and the flight corridor to the sea…

The cold conditions are penetrating, omnipresent for the duration of the flight; my fingertips are frozen in spite of my heated gloves. These conditions are probably responsible for Wim or Phil’s exhaustion, who share the same over-ambitious objective, the coast! Yet this objective keeps me going, motivates me to advance quickly, legs stretched and pushing the accelerator, only stopping in the strongest thermals.

I ignore the cold, neglect fatigue, and only think of keeping my retrieval informed of my position as I advance.

The flight occurs in 4 stages:

In the first stage, the cumulus clouds are present and generous- the path is easy and one must optimize this stage to advance.

The cumulus clouds almost completely disappear in the second stage and I have to progress in the blue and take every possible lift. I lose sight of Wim, then Phil…

Just prior to the third stage, the cumulus clouds return in full force and the path forward accelerates. The third stage is powerful.

Until the end of the day, a thickening cirrus haze develops. My last big lift is at 50Km from the sea and I see myself in a final glide, a lovely flight but without the magic of attaining the sea…

A grey and uniform sky does not give me any hope to pursue my flight. It is, nevertheless, in this milky atmosphere that the birds show me the way. The progression over the remaining kilometers is achieved in this docile aura. I take everything that passes to maintain myself up to a final glide over the white cliffs of the Opal coast, an unforgettable memory.

After 7 and ½ hours and 267km, I land tired, frozen…and happy!

-Paul Schmit