Two-pilot team: Alexis Anastasiou and Petros Printezis achieved an altitude record with the Sinus aircraft, gliding over Mt.Parnassus in Greece.
Alexis Anastasiou stated:
The highest altitude reached was 7,640m according to the MLR logger, 7,673m according to the Posigraph logger and 7,771 according to the LX-160/Oudie. For most and of course for the critical part of the climb the engine was off so we actually broke a record for aircraft with engines with the engine off! The Sinus performed impressively both as an airplane and as a glider and the flight characteristics were as docile as at sea level!
Link to the FAI record file: http://www.fai.org/fai-record-file/?recordId=17040
For a few years now our expertise in the mountain waves of Central Greece as well as the frequency
of notable wave climbs has been constantly increasing. On 23.11.2013 we climbed with Kostas
Kiapekos in a Pipistrel Sinus to 7,036m in weak wave. The wind speeds we expected were only
40km/h at 5,500m an altitude we consider critical for the existence and strength of the wave. Since the
forecast was poor I did not even bother taking along the second special high altitude mask from
Mountain High. Much to our surprise we climbed at a steady 1m/s to 7,036m.
It was the first time an ultralight motorglider passed the 7,000m mark. My climb to 7,400m in 2010
was not directly comparable because it was with a very high performance glider with a wingspan of
almost 27m. On the other hand the 23.11 flight was proof that the the FAI RAL2T record of 7,143m
was within reach and most importantly without an engine even though it is a record for powered
It took almost two months of constant forecasting and monitoring of the conditions but finally it seemed
that according to the forecasts by TopMeteo a favorable flow would be established from late Sunday
19.01 to Tuesday 21.01
We would try the record flight with Petros Printezis, one of the co-owners of the beautiful Pipistrel
Sinus, SX-UBK. Petros is a very good friend and a great pilot who takes his Sinus regularly on long
cross country flights with the engine off.
It seemed that the best day would be Monday with the wave properly established, very few clouds and
wind speeds of 100km/h at 5,500m. Since Monday was a working day we would try on Sunday with
weak conditions similar to the ones of 23.11.
We took off during the early afternoon of Sunday. As is often the case when you are very well
prepared and optimistic there was no wave at all. We landed disappointed. To make things worse I
naturally had to work on Monday so it seemed that the record should wait for the next appearance of
Needless to say Monday was a great wave day judging from the early morning satellite pictures and
the wind. After a lot of phone calls and juggling the calendar to reschedule Tuesday’s meetings we
decided to give it a go. The forecast was so strong that it was worrying with crosswinds of up to
50km/h on the ground and the jet stream up to 150km/h at altitude.
On the morning of the flight our first impression was that it did not look or feel like a wave day. On
good wave days there is more wind on the ground, the sky is clear blue and the air somehow feels
fresh (probably because it is coming fast directly from the Mediterranean Sea). On the 21st the
atmosphere was a bit hazy possibly due to some Saharan dust.
When we arrived at Kopais Airfield there was a very nice cloud marking the second or third wave bar
of Mount Parnassus and the wind on the ground was very weak and almost along the runway.
We prepared the Sinus with the Mountain High oxygen system with a carbon fiber oxygen bottle full at 200bar, two high altitude MH Alps facemasks, a pulse oxymeter, the MLR flight logger for ultralights,
the Posigraph logger for gliders, and the Naviter Oudie for gliding navigation. We also loaded gloves,
hats, SkyBoots and of course changed to warm clothing and jackets not knowing how long the climb to
7,500m would take and expecting outside air temperatures down to -45º Celsius. Despite a lot of fighter plane traffic at all altitudes we decided to take off at 11:50 (local time).
This is the timeline of the flight:
11:56 Wheels up. We decide to fly directly to the cloud we have spotted as the second or third bar of
12:11 We arrive at the cloud. The headwind component was only from 10 to 30km/h so we arrive at the cloud 25 km from the airfield at 3200m climbing at 3m/s. We conclude it was the third bar since the distance from Parnassus was about 30km.
12:14 We reduce the power almost to idle and start “surfing” the cloud along its leading edge. We don oxygen masks.
12:18 We are now at 4,400m and the wind has increased from 30km/h to 120km/h in just 1,200m.
12:19 We shut the engine. We are not climbing at all because the lift is too weak and we have to increase the IAS to 120km/h for a TAS of 150km/h to travel very slowly to the northwest along the edge of the cloud in order to position the glider exactly downwind of the mountain top. There is a very delicate balance between increasing the airspeed to travel or even to just hold your position without increasing the sink rate to the point you start descending.
12:31 The plan did not work and we definitely cannot travel upwind with against the more than 140km/h wind so we restart the engine at 4,250m.
12:40 We are now at 5,400m in lift in the downwind part of the second bar aligned with the airflow over Parnassus and we shut the engine again. The lift is very weak at about 0.5 m/s but we plan to slowly travel to the northwest to be perfectly aligned with the peak and at the maximum of the second bar’s lift. The wind is more manageable now at 120km/h.
12:44 We pass 5,700m and this time the plan is working. The lift is steadily increasing; it is now close to 1m/s and we are getting better aligned to the peak. The trick is to be at the exact spot where the wind, the ground track and the fuselage are perfectly aligned with the mountain top. This trick is quite tricky (pun intended) especially with the wind blowing at 150km/h. Also, we have to decide how to deal with the wisps and the stratiform cloud seen in the photo above which will possibly block our climb. We have decided that under no circumstances we are going to fly intentionally into cloud despite the Dynon AHRS onboard. Repositioning a little to the northwest is the best course of action since the clouds are pretty dense to our left.
12:50 We “surf” the wave! With the wind from 225 degrees and a heading of a 235 we travel at 25km/ on a 310 track. We avoid the wisps and we now are at an altitude of 6,100m.
12:55 We have now passed the dense stratiform cloud. We are at 6,500m and climbing at 1.5m/s. The record is within grasp. The ridgeline of Parnassus extends to the northwest with the high terrain extending even more to the north and we always have the tendency to travel so we surf the wave with a track of 345. I put my gloves and hat on. Petros, who is a seasoned alpinist, does not need to.
12:59 We reach 7,000m with lift around 2.5m/s. The condensation on the windshield and windows is freezing uniformly but not at an alarming rate.
13:00:38 We reach 7360m to break with the engine off the FAI RAL2T record for powered ultralights!
We double check the two loggers and it is evident we really did it!
The lift is now close to 4m/s. Petros, a true sportsman, suggests we leave something for the other pilots to claim. He also mentions something about a “Bubka record strategy” but I probably misheard due to the thin air… We allow a slow drift downwind to start descending gradually. We lose momentarily our concentration and start going backwards…
13:04:44 We reach the highest altitude achieve of 7,771m according to the LX and the Oudie, 7673m according to the Posigraph and 7640m according to the MLR! We congratulate each other, turn fully downwind and at last we start descending. We contemplate proceeding with a cross country flight but we are too excited to really concentrate on a new task.
13:08 Our groundspeed reaches 372km/h or 201kt.
13:25 We reach the wave bar we had initially explored at 3,400m and we start climbing along it.
13:32 We are now 20km further and 700m higher. We are tempted to do some XC flying but we are still not very concentrated and worried about the conditions on the ground.
13:40 At 3,000m and now almost overhead the airfield we hit strong turbulence. We keep descending and it gets a little better.
13:43 Petros snaps a nice photo of Iliki lake with some rotor clouds and some cirrus with the effects of the jetstream evident. We study the smokes from small fires on the ground to check the wind. The wind on the airfield seems to be weak and on the runway. Our friend Nachhater confirms it on the radio. In any case we plan how to cooperate in the event we have to do a go-around.
14:05 Petros makes a perfect landing.
14:10 We very happily inform our National Aeroclub and the Ultralight Committee.
14:36 The next photo shows the cap cloud of Parnassus and the third bar clouds.
16:00 We have taken care of the Sinus, put her in the hangar and celebrate with a little ouzo!
We wish to thank Pipistrel for an aircraft which never ceases to impress us, Mountain High Oxygen Systems for an oxygen system which performs flawlessly and their support, TopMeteo for the amazingly accurate forecast, LX for the LX-160 vario system, Naviter for the Oudie navigation system and, of course, George and Dimitra Papadopoulos for the very hospitable Kopais airfield and Nachhater for his assistance.
The next step is to climb to 8,000m and after this to the height of Everest!
WANT MORE INFORMATION?
Detailed report and timeline available for download in a Word document: WR_report_greece1.doc
Beautiful article with many photos also available in .pdf format: WR_report_greece.pdf