Flying in Patagonia
Previous expeditions
Flight Logs & records
The Sailplane
Living in Bariloche
Launch Music
Patagonia 2012-2013
Overall, a very pleasant season even though the trends of the meteorological conditions, in line with global warming, in particular in altitude, never permitted us to go for a big flight from dawn to dusk . All pilots enjoyed their expedition and would like to come back, but we need the customs officers and the logistics companies become more collaborative. Indeed I was the only visiting European glider, all my German and other colleagues having been discouraged by these frustrating problems.
Patagonia 2012-2013
  • Gallery
  • A diversified activity
  • The arrival in Buenos Aires
  • Meteorological conditions
  • The big flights
  • World record
  • Crazy nights
  • And now?
For full screen display, press F11
thumbnail for {@thumbpath}

main image

A diversified activity: air, ground and water

Gaucho en grand habit de cérémonie
Gaucho in ceremony costume
Le lac Mascardi et le volcan Tronador en été, un p’tit coin de paradis
The Mascardi lake and the volcano Tronador in summer, a slice of paradise

The gliding activity was statistically similar to the  previous season but with more  flying hours, 30 flying days out of 60 days available and 200 hours against 160 in the past year, an average of 7 hours per flight, the longest being 12h40 January 7th, this was also the last flight and the longest distance (2,200 km). The thirty days were lost exclusively for meteorological reason, either rain or windless blue sky, because luckily the only and final failure of the engine occurred January 8th, the last day of wind until our departure February 16th. On these 30 days, 27 were wave flights with winds varying from full South to NW for speeds between 20 and 180 km/h; we therefore have been well served with diversity and this season was altogether very interesting. And as we had a Zodiac inflatable at our disposal with all the fishing equipment, the days of “lake mirror” were a true pleasure. When one remembers the storms of wind, cold and rain of the previous years, it is difficult to imagine the heavenly side of these lakes and snow-covered volcanoes in full summer, as for example the Tronador seen from the surface February 6th. 

Préparer l’ambulance !
Prepare the ambulance! 

Whereas the French were celebrating November 11th in contemplation and generally under dullness, Bariloche was celebrating the feast of the Tradition and the return of the spring, where the estancieros  and other gauchos of the region meet in their most beautiful costumes, Saturday being dedicated to the parade in the town and Sunday is dedicated to the equestrian games and the inescapable "doma" or rodeo where the game consists in remaining 14 seconds on the back of a wild horse especially prepared for this game. That day the ambulance intervened only once.

The arrival in Buenos Aires, again another problem

This was our eleventh year entering via Buenos Aires, every year brings a new surprise at the time of the import; until last year it always occurred on the customs side. Even to the extent that one day, the chief of the customs told us in a “friendly” tone: "Inventamos problemas para venderte soluciones", i.e. “we invent problems in order to sell you solutions”. Since I entered with my trailer and only one glider, I hoped that these problems would not be as complex as with the container: I have never been so wrong! To my great surprise, the customs papers had been signed in one hour, but the enchantment stopped at that point. After having waited for three days for a customs inspector to become available, this man asks for the strict application of the regulation that requires that the inspection of containers carrying personal effects has to be done on the ground, whereas the container in which my trailer had been loaded was already on a truck! Return to the starting point to get the service of the crane and a new appointment for verification, again five days of waiting. During the bus transportation, the inspector remembered that he had previously verified my glider and he signed the papers without even opening the door. At that point I asked to open the door and extract the trailer and then leave the port on its own wheels, but no, it would be too simple, it was necessary to put back the container on a truck, to move it into a fiscal deposit, then unload it back on the ground and there I may finally leave with my trailer.

Unloading the container onto the sidewalk
Unloading the container onto the sidewalk

Again another day lost. And when we did arrive in this famous fiscal deposit, we were no longer surprised to see the truck stop at the visitor’s parking and a crane unload the container onto the sidewalk (photo 7): to extract the trailer we then had to stop the traffic, which is particularly dangerous in that place. Fortunately all is well that finishes well but these unnecessary activities, that have never presented any technical problem, have nevertheless taken nine days and, ultimate surprise, an official invoice of 6.050 US$ only for the movements between the boat and the street, operations of a maximum value of 1.000 US$. Plus numerous e-mails and phone calls of protest but since the logistic company DSV-GL held my customs documents in its hands, they had the knife in their hands and, with the help of a lawyer, I was forced to write a cheque for 4,160 US$ to be able to recover my glider. First decision: I would never again use Buenos Aires, so the trailer went back to Europe via the Chilean port of San Antonio, near Santiago. Second decision: I would never again use DSV-GL for South America and I can only recommend that readers do the same!

Meteorological conditions: always warmer, always higher

Eruption of the volcano Copahué December 22nd décembre
Eruption of the volcano Copahué December 22nd décembre
Undulations of the plume of ashes: every particle moves only of few hundreds meters.
Undulations of the plume of ashes: every particle moves only of few hundreds meters.

The situation was the same and hardly typical of recent years, with however the advantage that the eruption of December 22nd of the volcano Copahué, situated 360 north km of Bariloche, did not affect us apart from the need to remain high, between 5.000 and 6.000 m, to overfly the plume of ashes during all our northbound flights, which was never a problem. The observation of the undulations of the plume clearly confirms that the displacement of air particles in a resonating wave system is only a few hundreds of meters, even though this phenomenon goes on until, and likely beyond, the tropopause.
Our local volcano, Puyéhué, having stopped erupting in March 2012, the only ashes were those raised by the NW-NE sector winds, of and small enough not to create any harm for aviation or people.

The characteristics of these new situations are:

  1. A relatively greater warming of the upper air mass. . As last year, we have taken note of the temperatures at 6.000 m (and often beyond) as much as possible, the data are reported on the fig.1 showing the results of our measurements together with the official QNH at takeoff.

    Évolution de la température à 6.000 et du QNH local en fonction de la date

    The measurements made at altitudes higher than 6000 m have been reported back to 6000 m according to the law of the standard atmosphere (y=15-0,0065x). The red dotted line shows the temperature data and the red continuous one is the tendency curve. In the same way the blue curves refer to the QNH, right scale. Similarly to the past year, the average temperature at 6000 m evolved from -15°C at the beginning of the season to -11°C at the beginning of January, with however important variations from one day to another, the coldest day being December 25th with -21°C (SW sector wind) and the hottest one being December 30th with -7°C (wind initially SW turning W-NW).
    The warming of the higher layers is therefore in the range of 8 to 12°C with respect to the standard, between the beginning and the end of the austral spring, which is so enormous that it can explain the weak energies (in terms of climb rates Vz) that we found this season. But there is worse, because higher the altitude higher the overheating, for example the measurement of -24,5°C measured at 8.500 m the 30/12 against -40,2°C standard, means 15,7°C overheating. Just crazy. The meteogramme of these days is reported in fig.3. Under these conditions, it is no surprise that the wave of the mythical Domuyo volcano dropped down from 15 m/s met in 2002 to 3-5 m/s of these last years, for similar or even higher wind speeds.

    Meteogramme of Bariloche, December 25th to 29th. 

    Looking at the red curve, one can observe the gradual increase of the average temperature versus the advancement of the season, a phenomenon that was not obvious the previous year.
    Fig. 2 shows the trend of this same temperature at 6.000 m versus the QNH. The tendency curve is very coherent but the result is surprising to our European eyes, since high pressure in spring and in summer means high temperature, but in Patagonia it is precisely the opposite. Simply because the steady high pressures were centered west of our position and considering the anticlockwise rotation of the anticyclonic katabatic winds, the air flows directly from the south pole, above a frozen sea without possibility to warm-up on the ground, at best on some glaciers flowing directly into the ocean. However I have to admit that we made measurements only on flying days, therefore days of wind, and that the situation might be different when we were becalmed at the beach.

    Évolution de la température à 6.000 en fonction du QNH local

  2. The persistence of a blocking high pressure centre on the Atlantic at our latitude that shifts the trajectory of the fronts northbound or southbound, creating divergences and rotations whose effect is negative for the stability of the wave systems. A typical TEMSI map is shown in fig. 4.

    TEMSI anticyclonique de blocage typique

  3. The periodic appearance of a high pressure cell on the Pacific ocean whose centre is located right at our latitude, or even higher latitudes, i.e. more south,, generating some cold and dry low speed katabatic south flows. The fig.5 shows the situation of December 25th generating a weak south flow (10 to 20kt) but sufficient to produce single waves downwind of every mountain and finally permitting us to make nice sightseeing flights deep into the Cordillera, an area totally obscured by cloud on big wave days.

    Isobares et isohypses typiques d’un flux de sud

    The Fig.6 shows the distribution of the winds at 5.000 m for this same Christmas day, that fits well with the weak katabatic flow, 20kt due south for more than 1.000 km southbound, permitting however very nice flights.

    Vents à 5.000m le 25.12, flux de sud catabatique faible

The big flights

The last three weeks of December were particularly interesting and the presence of Philippe Athuil, a top French pilot residing in the United States, made it possible to break eleven American records and one world record, the speed on out-and-return 1.000km at nearly 215 km/h on December 12th. All flights are downloadable from the OLC. Most American records broken by Philippe were previously held by Jim Payne. Jim was also with us in Bariloche as the pilot of Dennis Tito for training purpose within the Perlan project, with a DG 1001M. I was personally very much impressed by these two personalities, on one hand a multimillionaire Californian, 72, who didn't hesitate to spend 20 million US$ to buy the first space tourist ticket for one flight of 7 days and 54 revolutions around our planet in a Soyouz space ship, who now finances a project to go freezing his buttocks in a glider at 27.000 m and who wants to be the first to go to Mars, and on the other hand an ex fighter pilot, jet pilot, active test pilot in activity, glider pilot of the highest level and exemplary professionalism. Follow on as well as the conference held in Bariloche December 6th .

The world speed record on 1.000 km out-and-return at 214,8 km/h

On the eve preceding this flight, the pilots had to anticipate their return to home because of the arrival of a front and strong rain, flying “only” a small flat triangle of 1.200 km in 7 hours. I had a lot of doubts about the time of the end of the crossing of the front and in fact it was still raining at breakfast at 7h30. But the situation improved and I proposed a speed task with one southbound additional point close to Esquel to close a 1.500 km flat triangle if the conditions permitted. The centres of pressure were in the right place with a good low pressure centre located on the Atlantic ocean (Fig. 11) generating a good “pulled” flow.

Nefoanalysis December 12th at 3h LOC 

Only drawbacks: the front should limit the flight to 200km to the south (Fig.12) and the wind should turn NW around 600km to the north.

TEMSI December 12th

Tail wind above Catan Lil at 448 km/h at FL130. 

The play ground was nevertheless more than 800km long! I am quite conscious that this course is far from being the best for this type of task because it is necessary to twice cross the wake of the Lanin volcano, which breaks up the organized rebound wave system. An ideal start would have been from near Zapala, 250 km to the north, but that would have brought us to an area where wind would have turned northwest according to the forecast, therefore less favourable. At the departure the things start to go wrong. The lift is very weak; we stay 1h15 in a convergence in order to reach the departure altitude of "only" 4,700m. The start point is invisible, drowned in the front and does not give any lift. It is therefore necessary for us to climb behind the start point and come back to take the start above the clouds. We then quickly jump above the pampa which is full of small cumulus rotors and we leave on tiptoe while taking advantage of a good tail wind component (230°-160 km/h). I shall always give a great importance to the choice of the range of the working altitude corresponding to the most favourable wind, both in terms of speed and orientation respect to the track. Crossing Chapelco runway axis, we are not very high and have difficulty seeing the best Northbound track because, in order to go fast, we must go straight on track and fly full tail wind (therefore L/D >100), above a solid cloud layer 100km long whose top is at 3,500m, full of rock up to 2,600m (Catan Lil range).

I make the mistake of losing six minutes in the wake of the volcano Lanin, hoping to climb, but without success. The front has encroached deeply into the valley of Zapala and it is necessary to continue downwind for 25km to find the first rebound at only 3,500m QNH (2,300m QFE), in reach of the nice runway of Las Lajas. During this transition with 136 km/h of tail wind, the calculator shows a ground speed of 448 km/h, my personal record.

Netto +11,7 m/s at the Vne in the Cordillera del Viento valley 

The sky of the way back seen from the turn point of the O/R 1.000 km

From that point, the system is well organized with beautiful rolls for 150km, the junction with the valley of the Cordillera del Viento is all in lift and we arrive there at 5.200m, which is 1,000m too high. Finally the delirium begins as per the most beautiful days, it is necessary to accelerate “full steam ahead” during 200km in an initial netto of +11,7 m/s (photo 14). I observe that the wind speed is lower (90-100 km/h) and better oriented (260-270°) at high altitude than below 5.000m. It is necessary to optimize the netto to maintain the highest possible speed to exploit these advantages, that makes us play for long time around the Vne between 7,000m and 8,600m (244 km/h IAS). The photo 15 (at turn point looking south) shows the sky that awaits us for the first 200 km on the way back, not extraordinary but sufficient. The key to the speed record was the track between Zapala and Chapelco, 120km without any marked rebound, wind ¾ in front but less strong at high altitude, 100-110 km/h against 130-150 km/h below 5,000m. We lose 4,000m as expected, without reducing the speed, with a steady Mc setting at +5 (the maximum possible of the Zander computer), flying even faster than requested, managing manually the trajectory to reach the rotors of the Chapelco volcano at the altitude of the clouds, where the lift is maximum, thus converting lift into speed.

Rotors downwind of volcano Chapelco towards Bariloche. Between the two bars, the valley of the Rio Collon Cura. 
This rotor is an 80km long "tube" that brings us back on the finish line of the O/R at 17h20, ready to head South to the next TP. The crossing of the plain toward the next point to the South is made on tiptoe because the front enters exactly as foreseen beyond the international airport of Bariloche that we must fly round by 20km East. At the end, the enormous rotors and lenticulars of Esquel invite us to begin the final glide at 250km and 3,600m below the glide path at an average speed of 295 km/h. World Record broken and at least 4 US records, in spite of my mistake that has cost 6 minutes. Happiness for Philippe! And congratulations to the weather forecaster.


The crazy nights of Zapala, December 2nd

This is what happens when one moves far away while knowing that a front will pass in the afternoon. Bruce Cooper replayed precisely the same script as two years ago, the cloud cover over Bariloche at the end of the afternoon being, as foreseen, about 7/8 with heavy rain, Chapelco airport being closed by rain and they were 250km away with winds reaching 160 km/h, gusting 180 km/h, 45° headwind component. Flying 250km in these conditions with only three hours of light and no possible alternate runway was effectively a risk not to take, so they safely landed out at Zapala airport. The pilots suffered a lot to get the glider to the parking area using the engine, which lacked any tie-down facility, so with just a rope between the tow hook and a tree, the glider remained free to move into the wind like a boat, the wings remaining free. Luckily, no big damage. The storm was so violent that our friends didn't close their eyes during the night, everything was shaking in the hotel!

The following day the return was simpler, with a full day available and 160 km/h of wind that had turned to the northwest, i.e. 45° tailwind component. On the ground at home at 13h LOC then rain starts at 15h, just after having put back the covers. Oops! In this country the northwest wind doesn't bring anything good, contrary to south Europe.

And now?

I shall likely re-launch an expedition but first the most difficult part has to be done: it is necessary to rebuild a complete logistics from a blank sheet of paper. There are two options: either entering Argentina via the port of Zarate, 100 km NW of Buenos Aires on the Rio Parana, or entering via Chile before crossing to Argentina in flight, under a different customs system. In any case both options take about three weeks more than via Buenos Aires and it is therefore necessary to leave Europe latest at mid September for flying the first week of November, the costs not being significantly different.
For those interested, there is space in my container, located at Valbrembo (LILV).
Home | Flying in Patagonia | Previous expeditions | Photos | Video | Flight Logs and records | The Sailplane | Links | Living in Bariloche | Press | Contact us
Last update: 19/06/2012 - Copyright © 2012 TopFly. All rights reserved. Powered by Maia Venturini