“Cockpit condensation made a fine mesh of tiny crystals on the canopy. I reached up and wrote the altitude with my hand wearing a black fleece glove – 8,800 meters! The analogue vario was still showing a climb of 2m/s.”
PUSHING THE LIMITS … or how the Taurus was flying at 9,214 meters (30,229 feet)!
“Cockpit condensation made a fine mesh of tiny crystals on the canopy. It was not just a layer of ice – it was tiny icy crystals. Not the usual form we were used to have at high altitudes. I reached up and wrote the altitude we thought we reached with my hand wearing a black fleece glove – 8,800 meters!! The cheap thermometer showed -45C and then went blank. My glove was covered with tiny white diamonds of water that didn’t melt despite my body warmth. I opened the side window and stuck my hand out for a few seconds. Wooo hoooo!!! Who has the chance to stick a hand out of an airplane almost at the altitude of Mt. Everest! What an ecstatic moment, full of adrenaline and sense of achievement!”
Mike and Alex shook hands at that altitude. Every breath they made was heaving and steaming with a bit of water, since the medical oxygen bottle they used was starting to suffer from the low temperatures. SPO2 check: Still at a healthy 95%. Systems check OK…except the digital vario that stopped displaying almost 1000 meters lower. The altitude reading was still going, but the LCD was fainter and fainter due to the extremely low temperature. The simple good old analogue vario was showing a healthy climb of 2m/s even at that altitude.
“The sky was dark blue at that point… I took a few more photos and then the camera just went dead. Cellphone camera also died. The sheer cold froze all the electric current in our devices.”
Undampened small yaw oscillations are now present when excited. Before the attempt the team consulted Tine (Pipistrel R&D and test pilot) : ‘”You should have no stability issues, but there may be a possibility that if a yaw is excited, then the tail will not dampen it,” he said. Taurus behaves exactly as forecasted.
“We slowed the aircraft to 90km/hr and the first signs of low speed buffet were present, so we are maintaining 100km/h since the Vne at altitude is now at 130km/h! We attempt few shallow turns. The controls significantly stiffer. Aluminum rods contracted by the cold were to blame. The aircraft flew magnificent!! We were impressed.”
Another deep breath with the heart rates significantly raised and the pounding heart beat evident. At these heights there is no man’s land. Anything could go wrong.
“The nature gives us the excellent climb rate and we depend on the equipment, strapped tightly, active observers in our reclined seats of the Taurus. Angels of the deep blue were calling us to push higher. It was a magic moment almost from a fairy tale. But reality check… We should actually return to the ground! No need to push higher. We hesitate for a moment as the altitude angels are calling us.
We look at each other and with a great disappointment we turn the Taurus to the lee side of the wave and start a shallow descent.”
Thawing the glider slowly from the surrounding temperature -45°C is mandatory. The descent takes a while and the two pilots keep silent all the way to landing. They pass in front of the rotors on the way down and with a nice final glide back to the home airfield where a nice and warm spring afternoon was kicking in.
The frost on the titanium wing pins remained there for a more than an hour. The O2 bottle is practically empty. All the gadgets are slowly blinking back into life.
“We rushed to download the flight to Seeyou …. 9,214 meters! Much higher than we expected! Definitely the absolute record for UL in height, but the logger was rated to 8000 meters….
We just don’t mind! This flight will remain in our hearts and minds for ever…. Or at least until the next wave season.”
The authors of the story: Mike and Alex, would like to thank:
• Pipistrel Team for the support and the great glider that keeps proving itself
• Mountain High Oxygen systems for their support and for keeping us literally alive
• LX Navigation
• Bigatmo sunglasses for protecting our vision