Hang-gliding Until The Mountains End

Dale Lippstreu on launch

Last year, Dale Lippstreu flew 268km in South Africa on his ATOS (Class 5 rigid wing hang glider). Although longer flights are often achieved across the South African interior, this is an exceptional flight for the mountainous region of the Western Cape, where the technical challenges usually end flights well before 200km.

It was also outstanding considering the difficult conditions on the day. A low inversion limited height gains, which would have stopped most XC pilots. But Dale's skill and commitment saw him pull off the longest flight yet recorded in the region, on any form of hang glider.

The previous longest flight of 203km was set by Huw Williams in 1983 on a flex-wing hang glider.

"I have to admit that while my objective was to break the record by flying from Tulbagh to the junction of the Sishen line and the R335 to Loeriesfontein, things did not look good on launch as there was a clear and low inversion as far as I could see.  My optimism was further tempered when I discovered that the top of my tuned whip aerial had broken off with the result that radio range would be very limited.

Dale Lippstreu launching from Gouda

I launched almost directly into a thermal but it was very weak and did not take me very high. Conditions were in fact so bad that I did not see a single hang or paraglider on the ground or in the air the whole day.  My other flights to Clanwilliam since I started flying again two months ago were mostly between 5,000 and 7,500 ft but on this occasion I seldom got above 3,500 ft.

Dale Lippstreu banked up on his ATOS

From Saron to Piekeneers Pass [Ed: an unbroken west-facing mountain chain about 1,500ft high that usually works well] I rarely managed to get above the ridge and had two low saves from below 500ft.  My first decent thermal was at the pass where I got to 4,200ft. 

My flight through the Constriction was a scratch the whole way well below the mountain tops and often following valleys. [Ed: This is a technically challenging section where the valley constricts and landing options are limited].  

My next good thermal was at Mount Synnott behind Clanwilliam where I got to 5,600ft (the only other time I followed this route (about 30 years ago) I turned over the back at 13,000ft).

[Ed: this is often the last good climb before entering the seabreeze-affected windy northern airmass.] 

From there I found hardly any lift across the 20kms of the plateau and wound up at 400ft above the last farm before the Doring River gorge where I spent about 10 minutes scratching on a slope about 200ft high until I caught a thermal that took me to 6,600ft.

Dale Lippstreu on big glide beyond Clanwilliam

From this point my problems changed as the wind started to howl and the lift became abundant.  The challenge became to get enough height to safely drift behind the high ridges that one has to traverse to get to Vanrhyns Pass. 

Dale Lippstreu carving a turn

After Vanrhyns Pass the problem became a complete absence of roads and human habitation and to compound matters I lost radio communication with Sally.  Attempts to phone her were unsuccessful and highly disruptive because I was using my phone as a variometer. I opted to follow the Sishen–Saldahna railway line and after 50 kms of absolutely nothing I spotted some buildings next to the track. 

ATOS passing overhead

On arrival I discovered that the buildings were corrugated iron sheds without windows i.e. uninhabited.  I pressed onto the next structure about 10kms away and it turned out to be a railway bridge.  I managed to eke out a few kms further by drifting in thermals before landing 3kms short of my declared goal.  It would have made no difference if I got there because there was absolutely nothing there anyway. 

Landing area in the desert scrub

Derigging was a real chore because the wind was blowing strongly.  I was pretty sure I was going to have to spend a night in the desert but after about 1 ½ hours I managed to flag down a truck on bogeys doing line inspection and they took me to the road to Loeriesfontein which I was assured was travelled. 

In the absence of anything to do I set out walking towards Loeriesfontein 65 kms away but at about 8pm Sally came on the radio.  The retrieve was nearly as epic and entailed travelling down about 100kms of dirt roads before we joined the N7 Northwest of Vanrhynsdorp.  We got home at 2am on Sunday morning.

All in all something great to have done but which I would not care to repeat soon!

Track from record flight in Western Cape, South Africa

(See the full track log

Dale is now attempting to break the hang gliding world record set by Dustin Martin in Texas in 2012. 

Can he raise the bar beyond 764km?