WA glider pilot Scott Percival and Victoria-based John Orton recently travelled to Alice Springs with a huge 25m wingspan “ASH” glider in tow, one of only four in the country.
It was the first in a series of visits to scope out the weather, the geography, and local facilities in the hope they can eventually break a national speed record, among others.
“The town has been attractive to glider pilots trying to break records,” Mr Percival said.
In the 1980s Hans-Werner Grosse famously spent time in Central Australia, setting a number of world records in gliding.
Mr Percival explained Grosse had attempted his records in his native Europe but “physically ran out of space”, so Alice Springs was the “natural place to come”.
“His early flights here with the forecasting and the knowledge of the area were exceptional. In those days there was no GPS,” Mr Percival said.
Many of Grosse’s records were about long distance flying, but these days speed is the name of the game.
Mr Percival and Mr Orton specifically want to break the speed record for a 100km triangular course known as the “FAI Triangle”, currently held by Ingo Renner, set in 1982 at Tocumwal, NSW. Renner averaged 195.30km/h and set the record “in his lunch hour” according to Mr Percival.
“Ingo is a four-time world champion and an exceptional pilot who’s been given an Order of Australia,” Mr Percival said.
“He’s such a generous man who has put so much time and effort into his sport,” he said.
During their two-week visit to Central Australia Mr Percival and Mr Orton came close to breaking the record, short by just two minutes. It was a good result for their first visit with valuable lessons learnt for next time.
“If we are successful enough to knock off his record, I’ll feel bad about it, “ Mr Percival said.
“But it’s not going to stop me!”
“The technicalities are very precise,” Mr Orton said.
“You can only lose 1000m of height between the start and the finish.”
Gliders travelling at high speed lose a lot of height, so in order to stay within the rules, the pilots have to stop and catch a “thermal”, a rising column of hot air which they fly in circles to stay within, and gain height.
Central Australia has some of the best conditions in the world for thermal flying and Mr Percival Alice Springs was on the bucket list of many pilots., and he had no doubt there would be more gliders with them on next year’s trip.