last entries

A different kind of challenge..

Oct.11 - 20

..presented itself to the MWP team and its "videographs" on Wednesday morning. Years back, when the MWP'ers chose "Rodeo in the Sky" for the title of the first TV documentary on their rotor and wave adventures, they didn't know that this selection would have far reaching consequences, that it would haunt them years later.
Well, the time had come! The TV crew had decided to finally answer the question, if those crazy pilots are capable at all to master the turbulences of earthbound life.
Earthbound life? Well, sort of! It was shake, rattle and roll at 5ft AGL: the "gaucho check-out" on horseback. Rene and I had been tricked into believing that all we had to do on the Zuccardi vineyard was act like true connoisseurs with a glass of red in our hands.

RH_horse_RH00655 - - WDH_horse_RH_00649

The world looked different now: we had to earn each sip of Malbec, Chardonnay and Sauvignon, with a fast lap around the bodega. Rodeo, allright, turbulence: at least moderate!

In the afternoon it was camera man Gerald who had to live up to his "Rodeo-Challenge" of the day. He was strapped in the cockpit of the Stemme with all the video equipment we found tightly secured to his arms, feet,....
Hours later he had earned the "Ohlmann certified high altitude turbulence video operator" license.

During the night the Gods of the winds decided it was time for a big blow. The science flight in the morning established a new altitude record for the Stemme crew: 41000ft. Everybody was excited: time for a record attempt! No, no attack on Steve Fossett's recent exploit, "only" a challenge to the German altitude record, which has stood for more than fifty years at 13015 Meters (roughly 42700ft), flown by wave pioneer Joac Kuettner.
Rene and Klaus donned their pressure suits and took off into an increasingly blue sky.
For the rest of the gang the waiting game began. When, hours later, Klaus initiated contact with Mendoza Approach to return there was no trace of victory in his voice. And as soon as the canopy was lifted, the expression on the faces of the pilots said it all: no cigar! The wind had shifted and the waves disappeared.

On Friday, a frontal system was fighting its way through the Andes, covering the ridges south of Mendoza in a thick layer of clouds. Above Plumerillo there were enough blue holes to lure our "planeador" into the sky. Rudi was flight engineer and cloud photographer. The turmoil over the mountains and its blow off was only part of the picture: out there over the Pampa was the action tonight.

eve_sky_3348 - - tower_clouds_3361

Why on earth is this stupid cellphone yelping at 0530 in the morning?
Half asleep I turn around and reach for it. Someone has been faster - suddenly the strange melody stops. Minutes later, I hear the chimes of Windows - what the hell is going on , why all this noise?
Slowly I remember: after the second bottle of Malbec last evening, Rene had come in, somewhat excited, and presented a quick analysis of the weather situation. There was a slim chance that early today in the wake of the slowly moving front a window of opportunity for a second record attempt might open up.

53 minutes from wake up to gear up: an alltime record for Klaus! Unfortunately, it was to remain the only record for the day. The atmosphere apparently hadn't read Rene's forecast, much less adhered to it.
"...only uncoordinated up and down, in the most unlikely places, nothing to even hint at promising wave activity", so the comment of the pilots after landing.

This left a free afternoon, time to finally explore the neighbourhood. Mendoza International Plumerillo is about 6 miles from downtown, residential areas stretching out even farther. To get to the nearest supermarket one had to cross the 'beltway', right in front of the entrance to the airbase. Crossing the four lanes also meant crossing a time barrier. Suddenly I found myself somewhere in the seventies, judging by whatever raced by me in the streets. Peugeots, Fiats, Renaults, beaten by sun and time into genuine vintage fought their way through moving wrecks of what I could barely identify as pre-war (which war I don't know) Chryslers, Fords and what seemed like a constant stream of colorful buses.

Fiat1500_3423 - - Plumer_Bus_3577

The TV crew had taken over Sunday, which was just fine as there was no sign of any acitivity in the sky. From "Breakfast at Rosita's" to "The last Tango in Mendoza" we acted our way through the appropriate adaptions of classics.

Monday was national holiday, it was also the day when the Servicio Meteorologico began regular daily ascends of radiosondes. With our Tango-experience only hours ago, we barely managed to find an airworthy crew to chase the sonde and collect data to verify and cross-calibrate aircraft and sonde temps.
Walking back from the met-site in the far corner of the airport I came across this tired DC3, which in its last days, had apparently served as firefighter.


The beginning of the end.. that's the way it felt on Tuesday morning. Last night ARTE TV threw one last asado, they were off - back to Germany - in the afternoon and our science specialists Jörg and Rudi from down under had managed to secure seats in the plane to Sidney the next day. Even the clouds seem to tell us that wave season is over in Mendoza: the first fat cumulus congestus appear over the high summits


Another interesting science mission is scheduled for Wednesday. 100 miles south a satellite is going to take a sounding using a GPS occultation technique. We send the Stemme there to take data up to 28000ft for later verification of the measurements from space. It is Jörg's last flight, in the afternoon he and Rudi are off to Santiago and then on to Adelaide. It's getting empty around here.
The five of us left are meeting for breakfast the next morning and discuss remaining tasks. Mayor Eduardo Alvarez is going to take the bus to Cordoba tonight, and tomorrow Klaus will be trying for the morning flight to Buenos Aires, Rene has a confirmed seat to Santiago in the evening and then Colonel Rodolfo Hub and I will be last to leave the base, heading for the bus terminal in Mendoza.
The lentis have left, too - only cu's in the sky, overdeveloped already in the southwestern quadrant. Thermodynamics has replaced aero(=wind)dynamics.

One last time I climb into the Stemme cockpit. No more high altitude adventures expected, a little bit of evening wave, perhaps, if we get lucky. After several attempts to climb out of the lazy Pampa air we get the Rotax going. A mere extra thousand feet we need. Then, north of Uspallata, we find a line of convergence and climb to cloudbase near 20000ft.


In Colorado, this would have been plenty of altitude to look down upon even the highest peaks. Here, some of the high plateaus appear close enough to make one feel nervous. After we get our mandatory adrenalin kick by having to ridge soar over unlandable terrain, we manage to get to a promising cloud - with a little help from a friend: the Rotax again. Then it's up, up, up with 1000ft/min. At 18000ft it's time to head home. One last final glide, one last call to Mendoza Approach and one last time we hear the now familiar voice:"Kilo Oscar Papa, buenas tardes, amigo!"

Friday, Oct. 20 a day with too many "last's".
Last visit to the base commander in the morning, to thank him for the outstanding support we recieved from everybody at Plumerillo, last lunch and a last hug for Rosita, heart and soul of casino and pilot bar. At 4:30p an Air Force van takes Rene to the aeropuerto civil, 3 hours later Rodolfo and I take a cab to the bus terminal in downtown Mendoza. My night bus to San Martin leaves an hour later. A last hug with Rodolfo, the promise to meet again and coche 711 plunges into the Friday eve rush hour - Mendoza, site of MWP Operation 2006, drifts solwly out of sight.