09 Sep 2021

Jochen Zeischka after claiming new Speed: Records are there to be broken

In August 2021 FAI has received the World and European record claims for Speed over a triangular course of 50 km for HG class 1 in particular 59,61 km/h  made by Jochen Zeischka (Belgium) on Laminar 14 / Icaro 2000 at Saint-André des Alpes (France). We have contacted Jochen to learn more about his achievement.

- After breaking a speed record last year you decided to go for a speed record again. Why?

Simply because the current record was overdue. It did not represent the current state of hang gliding anymore. Which is also visible in the margin by which it was improved.

- What is the previous record and where?

It was flown in Riverside, Australia in 2000 by hang gliding legend Tomás Suchánek at an average speed of 48,84 km/h.

- Again you break the record that lasted almost a decade more than 2 decades. Why was it so difficult to break it?

Breaking it was not too difficult, since as stated before, it was overdue. But I wanted to breaking it by a margin that represented the progress in hang gliding over the past 20 years. And that took a bit more preparation.

- Why did you decide to break that very record in that very place?

The terrain. It presents an almost perfect natural 50 km triangle, almost shaped by nature for record attempts. Last year, I wasn’t able to do long flights due to a painful knee. That, in combination with the lack of comps due to Covid, turned my attention to the short distance speed records. I already had a first attempt at the 50 km record last year (even before succeeding in breaking the 25 km speed record), so I knew it was well within reach and it felt like unfinished business not to go for it this summer.

- What flying conditions make your record different from your flight last year?

The 25 km record had nice cumi’s in the sky, while this record was flown on a record day with extreme cloudbases in the higher mountains, but blue skies in the St. André area. So, flying alone in the blue is not what I hoped for, but it worked out really well.  

- How well are you familiar with that flying area?

Pretty familiar. I learnt hang gliding there with Belgian hang gliding school Trike Valley which is to this day providing courses in St. André during summer holidays.

- How long did preparation take?

Last year, I had already prepared the waypoints for the 25 km and 50 km triangles. This winter, I certainly spent some evenings going through all the options in my mind. And then of course it takes a well-tuned glider and an aerodynamic harness. Every hang glider pilot knows this doesn’t come for free. It takes some effort and tweaking to get it right. Obviously, I want to thank Wolfgang Genghammer from Skyline who helped me a lot. The harness position is just perfect in flight. Since this year I’m flying the Icaro Laminar and I really didn’t need to do anything to that glider, apart from some basic CG adjustment. It is a performance the way it was delivered by Manfred Ruhmer.

- How many failed attempts have you made before you set this record?

Depends on what you call an attempt. I declared the same triangle maybe 10 times. Just in case the conditions were better than expected. But in reality, the conditions were often very windy with broken thermals. Definitely not your classic St. André conditions.

So including last year, I flew the course 4 times, but only the last one was a real attempt. The three times before were training flights where I knew upfront that the conditions weren’t good enough to be really fast.  

- Who worked with you during preparation?

In the first place, I was in touch with Jo Bonné, my official observer. He’s also instructing at Trike Valley, which is the reason that he’s available for 2 weeks in St. André. No record without an Official Observer, so I had to align my holidays with his presence there. 

Next to that I discussed the course with Tom Weissenberger and compared it with possible courses in Austria. In St. André, Pascale from the La Mure landing field suggested I reverse my direction. Which turned out to be the right direction for the conditions of the record day.

- Have you launched alone or in a company? How far have your companions managed to fly?

When I launched, there still were a few HG pilots around the start area. But I waited for peak conditions in St. André and by that time, everyone else was far away and above 4000 m in the higher mountains. 

- Tell us about the flight, launch method, your speed, wind speed, thermal strength, etc.

The course was set from near St. André launch, to the North, returning along the La Coupe ridge and back to St. André. As you can see on the map, that’s a natural FAI triangle. The winter plan was to fly low on the ridges as much as possible, but the conditions of the day decided differently.

Three times I started, each time at different altitudes (2300, 2500, and 2800 m AMSL). Diving onto the ridge, trying to take a really strong thermal at the famous antennas, which would allow me to dive onto Cheval Blanc. That was the plan. It didn’t work on that day.

Because of the high thermal tops (3500 m in St. André), thermals were wide apart and the antennas were never providing good lift. So I changed tactics and attempted a fourth start at 2600 m and instead of diving onto the ridge, took the first solid thermal to 3400 m, at which point a cloud whisp hinted at a convergence zone above Lambruisse. So, the low ridge race became a high thermal race, gliding at 90 km/h and taking 4 m/s thermals. 

The second part of the course was, as planned, a ridge race along La Coupe. The crucial part was to catch the right thermal to start the final glide back to St. André. I hit another solid 4+ m/s and knew it was going to be a very fast 50 km.

For speed records, you can only lose 2% of your distance in altitude. So I had to arrive above 1600 m. Since I was in solid 4 m/s up, I didn’t hurry too much and took plenty reserve for my final glide, burning that reserve gradually away with another 90 km/h glide. The final 3 km got tense however since I found myself in the sink while my reserve height was almost completely burnt during the glide. To make matters worse, I started mixing up the numbers, doubting whether I had started just above 2600 or 2700 m. And realising that I probably wasn’t going to make goal above 1700. Crossed the goal cylinder at 1680 m, but I wasn’t sure anymore if I was +/- 30 m low or 70 m high. Turns out in the end that I was 70 m high. Pfew.  

A quick summary for those interested in the numbers: 

- it took 39 minutes of gliding at 81 km/h with a glide ratio 15,5

- and 3 thermals or 11 minutes at 3,7 m/s on average 

- What was the most tricky thing in breaking this record? 

Be at the right place at the right time with an official observer at hand.

- What was the most difficult part of the flight?

There wasn’t a particular most difficult moment. The mental aspect is different from competition flying. In competition flying, your performance is relative to the others around you, unless you lead out on your own or lost track of the others.

In record flying, time is ticking relentlessly and for a short distance, you really can’t afford to spend 2 circles trying to find a thermal. A 50 km speed triangle is 50 minutes of trying not to waste a second.

- What is your next goal to achieve?

Of course, I’d love to attack the 100 km speed triangle. But where will I find the time? We’ll have comps again next year and I guess all holidays will be spent on those...

- Any advice to pilots, interesting notice, some share of experience that you gained while breaking this record?

Records are there to be broken. The flight details above should give eager pilots more info than I had before attempting. Come on, someone’s got to break the 60 km/h barrier. It is possible!