Newsletter 45 – April 2009

Pipistrel News from New Zealand – December 2008 & January 2009 trip

As readers may know Omarama is a world famous gliding venue and it is like a magnet to the gliding fraternity in NZ and around the world, including the writer Alan Clarke and his wife Donna, NZ Pipistrel agents. Alan and Donna are based in Kerikeri, the top end of New Zealand and some 800 miles from Omarama, following is their New Zealand report.

In mid 2008 we decided to spend two months in the South Island starting with a visit to our daughter in Dunedin, and then Wanaka, Queenstown (for XMAS) and then January 2009 in Omarama.

Lots of planning mid 2008 and we left Kerikeri in the northern part of New Zealand’s North Island in late November on a perfect day with a good forecast. Liftoff Kerikeri about 11 am and lunch at Raglan at 1 pm, an excellent place to fly into with all facilities with a 10 minute walk of the airfield.

Then down the west side of Lake Taupo to Turangi to overnight with friends who are building a chalet there.

Next morning, a big high was over NZ and it was a clear and a calm day at Turangi. However we ran into low, but fast lifting overcast at Waiouru, with help from some Air Force helicopters we received the enroute weather to Paraparaumu and continued on South.

I broke my own rules at Paraparaumu and did not ring ahead for the actual weather at Omaka.

Cook Straight which separates the north and south islands of New Zealand was fine & clear till we got to the East Bay and then a moderate SE wind was pushing onto the hills and down and down went the cloud. Got an actual at Blenheim from Wellington Control of 800 ft and 5 to 10 mile visibility so thought that is OK, kept flying on and down and down we went, unfortunately turning back looked even worse. Eventually the weather cleared up as we got clear of the hills near Blenheim and on reflection I broke 2 of my important rules.

1st rule, never break your own rules – mine being always ring ahead for actual weather!!

2nd rule, never trust Cook Straight

We overnighted at Blenheim and then flew on the next day destination Dunedin. Perfect weather all the way and my wife wanting me to fly low past each river mouth so she could see if the salmon fishermen were catching anything.

Stopped at Rangiora where the microlight club is one of the friendliest in NZ. Then over a very ugly grain fed cattle farm near Ashburton, horrible, finally stopping at  Timaru to visit my 99 year old father (his memory is not great but he remembered I have something to do with aeroplanes).

Arrived in Dunedin about 4.30 pm, staying with my daughter and took a keen local pilot for a demo flight the next day. What a beautiful area Dunedin is from the air, and we even soared at Saddle Hill for a short while. Lots of hills around Dunedin for a Pipistrel owner to get out of the office and go soaring and somewhere I plan to return and explore again.

I went flat hunting in Dunedin with my daughter, and even saw a block of modern flats with toilets in the showers ?, what a place but that’s another story.

Spent most of December in Wanaka and Queenstown and somehow got busy “as you do” with family and XMAS and flying didn’t happen. However picnicking by the lakeside with a bottle of wine is not all bad!


Eventually got to Omarama just after XMAS on December 28 and found our caravan booking had failed but was not a problem, the camp on the airfield is fully equipped and so a $300 tent and a $100 airbed did the job perfectly.

Omarama seemed to have a 20 knot westerly daily but the camp is so sheltered that the tent didn’t flap even once, in many ways I think it’s the best campground in NZ.

The foresight of the man from Queenstown who built the camp, airfield, irrigation systems and so on – what a great job he did for gliding and NZ tourism alike.

At first sight Omarama looks like a “one horse” town but in fact it has everything.

Dozens of hangars, a great camp, two commercial gliding operators, a smart main building with wireless internet, enough shops to have all you need, a grocer with fair prices, and a pub with the best blue cod ever.

The biggest attraction of Omarama is the gliding is amazing!!

It’s all there – thermals to 9000 feet, ridge lift and of course, wave!!

Some amazing people with up to 30,000 flying hours frequent the airfield, a mixed group of instructors who instruct in the northern hemisphere in the summer, or fly the big jets in Europe 6 months a year and come to Omarama for the southern hemispheres summer.

Every day starts with a weather briefing at 10 am and then glider and tow planes are heading everywhere.

Omarama Airfield

For non flyers there is a Lake 7 minutes away with water skiing and fishing and there are 4WD possibilities everywhere too. I am an ex ag pilot with around 6,000 hrs fixed wing and 4,000 helicopter but I had  a break from flying for 18 years before taking up gliding in 2004,  I came to Omarama with a healthy respect for the Southern Alps and no experience of wave flying at all.My experiences….

Day 1, I found a nice thermal at Twizel to 9,000 ft.

Day 2, I took Don from Canterbury with me and learned a lot.

Day 3, I motored up to wave at 9000 ft.

Day 4, I found Grant who used to be a gliding instructor and got a lot more local guidance from him, over several flights.


Winter at Omarama

And so it went, gently feeling my way around a new area, so very different to gliding in North Island where thermals and ridge lift stop at 5,000 ft.

Eventually I found I could motor up to 4,000 ft and shut down, and work my way into wave ending up at about 9,000 ft, sometimes taking up to an hour to get there other times much quicker. With no oxygen fitted to my aircraft my wave heights were limited in altitude but none the less it was overall a great experience, Grant taught me a lot, including patience and perseverance and with oxygen fitted next trip, who knows how high I will end up?


How did the Pipistrel do at  Omarama at 30:1

I have no experience at competition flying or in a 45:1 glider but these are some of my observations.

Pipistrel Sinus 30:1
45:1 Glider
Fly 800 miles to Omarama at 100 knots cruise at over 40 mpg
Take off under own power
Tow plane needed
Very Good
Ridge Soar
Very Good
Cross Country Glide
Very Good
Suit Competetive Gliding
Probably not
Suitable for extreme mountain ridge soaring
Probably not
Get home from anywhere
Yes – just start the Rotax
Not always
Cheap to run
? ?
Two Seats
Not always
Suitable for fun gliding
Suitable for flight training
One man operations

So it is not a matter of which is best, it is more of a question “what kind of flying do you want to do?”

The first Pipistrel Taurus is now flying in NZ

The first Taurus is now flying in NZ, side by side two seater 41:1 with retractable engine, we don’t have much to report as yet other than he is really enjoying getting to know his new plane!

Wishing you safe flying, regards Alan & Donna Clarke