7 summits by Microlight

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Post flight analysis
15 Jan 2006, All done
6 Jan 2006, Highest tow yet
5 Jan 2006, Rivadavia
30 Dec 2005, Summit
25 Dec 2005, Feliz Navidad
15 Dec 2005, We have a convoy
17 Dec 2005, Desvio Las Lenas
14 Dec 2005, We are on our way
10 Dec 2005, The flight from hell
3 Dec 2005, Where we are going
17 Nov 2005, FIAT Wind Tunnel
1 Dec 2005, Kit is away
1 Jan 2005, 3rd place Best of ExplorersWeb 2004 Awards
24 May 2004, Summited Mt Everest
4 Feb 2005, RAeC Awards
Analysis to 96h
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SIGWX Argentina
WINTEM 24hr at FL230
WINTEM 36hr at FL240
WINTEM 36hr at FL300
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El Juncal, Chile
Punta de Vacas
RMH pilot CV


News release: 30 Dec 2005, Summit






It's a long story and there will be more, but we summited today.

Like our abortive test flight yesterday, my engine wouldn't start, or rather it started, and then stopped a few seconds later and then refused to start again. Weather forecast says today is the last good weather day for a week or more. Plan is to see how things go; as we haven't tested things properly we may have to just call this a test flight, or if all goes well then we'll just carry on. Just as I was beginning to despair that the engine would ever start, Beto (my hero) arrived from Mendoza to help, he'd got up at 3.30 AM, a big suprise, I wasn't expecting him at all. I thought it was just too rich to start, let it rest a while perhaps. Pushed it up the track from the station to the road where the entire local Gendamerie were waiting to close the road for us... it must start now. Just as an afterthought, lets give it some oxygen just to help, I whipped off the air cleaner and Beto held the end of my emergency oxygen system next to the intake while I pressed the starter button - worked like a dream, started straight away and once warmed up it started easily. Everybody looked pleased.

Hugo and Isobel sorted out the tow line just like they had been briefed but because we hadn't the opportunity to practice yesterday, Nicky and Alex had a bit of an adventure getting me dressed which is not a simple operation. Nevertheless we managed before Angelo had to wait for too long, my visor and glasses stated to mist up which was a bit worrying, but I thought it would be OK once we got going.

The Gendamerie closed the road and Angelo was pushed back up the hill a bit, but my takeoff would still start in the dip, so a bit of an uphill takeoff but the road's three lanes wide so mo problem with width. Engine, now warm seemed OK, got lined up, Beto attached the tow rope and then there was a couple of minutes delay while I got a proper oil temperature. Angelo said he was ready and then we were off. Engine coughed and choked a bit shortly after takeoff, but at least I could land back on the road rather than just having a 2000 ft chasm full of rocks the size of houses like we had in Nepal. There only seemed to be two or three trucks waiting at the road block, so we hadn't made too much of a nuisance of ourselves. Engine cleared up, but rather low revs, propellor piitch still not entirely right but never mind, climbing nicely, probably couldn't reach Everest height, but we're only going to 7000m.

First turn in the valley quite tight but Angelo hanging on in there nicely. Very little turbulence. As we got higher the valley widened and circling above our camp became less of a problem, cylinder head temp rather high at 120 but stable, In due course the great hump of Aconcagua came into view.

The wind is always from the west here, our route as to fly nearly up the the Chile border and then turn North up the valley to cross a ridge over to the Aconcagua massif. Still climbing well, on average 3 or 400 ft per min we got up to about 18,000 ft before I risked any rotor from the ridge, my Oxygen regulator started the familiar 'wooshing' perhaps a bit lower than the regulators I've used before, would my Oxygen last, or leak past my beard? I should have trimmed it, but there wasn't time, I could just see the gauge in my mirror, it looked OK, but I couldn't be sure which way was empty. Over the ridge it all stayed very calm, a light wind as forecast, a slight orographic cloud over the great hump of the summit itself, it was -22c at summit height, but all my kit was working well, no unpleasant drafts, toasty fingers in my heated gloves but no need to switch on my electric suit.

I got well above summit height before turning downwind east to cross it. We circled around a couple of times and then I called for Angelo to release, perhaps, but one of our radios not working again so I waved Angelo off. (I later found I had inadvertently altered the frequency when it was in my pocket). He released with the line rather tight and I could see it springing towards me, drogue fully open, I yanked the bar in to get some speed just to be sure the line wouldn't do anything catastrophic like get in my propellor. Thank goodness the extra towline bits arrived from Pegasus the day before yesterday, fantastic service! I'm not sure whether our bit of rag which has served as my drogue chute until now would have performed so well.

I circled round the east side of the mountain in considerable sink, full power and going down at 4 or 500 fpm, fortunately no turbulence. Caught a sight of Angelo as I circled round, but I was by now quite a lot lower and didn't think it worth going back up again, took a few more photos and then headed back home, I throttled back very gently just so it wouldn't do anything silly like freeze up on me like it did in Nepal, the inlet manifold temperature dropped from +10c to ambient. I then noticed the oil pressure had risen from the normal 40 or so to 150; not normal at all, temperature OK though, I thought possibly an electrical problem, not an oil pressure problem at all, downhill all the way now anyway.

Arrived back over base camp at great height; circled down, it seemed to take ages, mask becoming quite uncomfortable. Gendarmes seemed to know when to stop the traffic and I landed without drama slightly downwind on the road; entirely forgot to drop the tow line but it didn't snag on anything. It was a relief to get the mask off, American military pilots must have different shaped faces to me. Plenty of oxygen left though, only used about half. My flight was quite short in the end, 1hr 11min. I reached 23768 ft which is some 940 ft above the summit. Unlike Everest, I didn't see anyone on the mountain at all, but maybe a closer look at my photos will show different. Looking at the GPS track, there was actually quite a strong wind at summit level, about 50Km/h, I was doing 50Km/h on the ground into wind and 150 downwind. Had we known this I'm not entirely sure we would have gone, forecast was less than 30, and 35 or 40 is normally our limit for towing as it is likely to be far too turbulent with anything more; but generally the flight was extremely smooth.

Angelo arrived overhead our landing area maybe 20 minutes after me and circled round to land, it looked like he was going to hit the windsock Beto had tied to a road sign, but didn't and he floated on... and on. Nice touchdown, but still a bit fast, the thing is impossible to steer on the ground; in a last desperate attempt to stop it veering off the road and down the embankment a corner of the A frame caught in one of the cracks in the concrete road and his flight terminated in a rather inelegant crunch, the glider on its nose near the edge of the road. After a few moments Isobel observed "he's still twitching anyway", as people ran towards him. Turned out that there was no damage other than a broken upright which is a fairly common occurrance in hang gliders.

I can make a small claim to be an Andinista now, so what next? We've still got a couple of weeks of the expedition, Angelo is still quite keen to do a tow to 10,000m, though both he and I agree this is maybe not the best place to do it, the weather's too delicate, forecast is not good for at least a week. What we might do then is go east a bit, maybe to St Martin 50 Km east of Mendoza where there's a big gliding field and there is supposed to be fantastic soaring weather in Andean wave. It's new year's day tomorrow though, so we won't be able to get the appropriate permissions for several days so we're off to the beach in Chile for a couple of days; believe it of not the Pacific ocean is only two or three hours drive away.

ALPHA emergency parachute
The FIAT group
Outdoor sport professionals choose Ferrino to help them meet fresh challenges
ICARO 2000 Hang Gliding World Champion
P&M AVIATION; UK dealer for Warp Drive Propellors
Survival Equipment Services Ltd, Suppliers of ELT to the expedition.
O-ZEE flight suits.  Suppliers of Bar-mitts to the expedition.
P&M AVIATION manufacturers of fine microlight Aircraft
PARAMINA; Suppliers of Oxygen equipment to the expedition
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
BAILEY AVIATION manufacturers of Paramotors and automotive sport acessories
Neltec flexible heaters to keep Angelo's nosecone clear
P&M AVIATION manufacturers of fine microlight Aircraft
Gerbings heated clothing
AV8 Systems video gear
FLYCOM Intercom and Radio equipment
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3 Jan 2006
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