The hang gliding take off ramp at Monte Grappa, filmed in 2010
A report from the International Flight Meeting of Monte Grappa 1999
Following last year’s disastrous weather at Bassano where no tasks were flown and the top of the hill remained stubbornly in cloud for the duration, Bassano 1999 was like arriving on a different planet.
Torrential rain and strong winds were replaced with bright sunshine and light northerly winds with five valid tasks flown and pilots in goal each day. The skies were peculiarly quiet though with a reduced field of only 72 pilots competing.
Whilst last years bad weather and the war in Kosovo almost certainly had an affect, the main reduction in numbers was caused by the German boycott following last year’s rained out meeting. Apparently they believed they were entitled to a much fuller refund of the entry fee than they received following abandonment of the 1998 competition.
A German league was arranged to conflict with the Bassano Easter Meet in the heart of the Austrian Alps which was compulsory for all German league pilots. Not one German pilot was seen in Bassano. Also notable for their absence were the Swiss Team and the French Team were reduced in strength due to funding problems.
The competition headquarters were moved to Bassano this year into indoor warehouses at the RAASM Centre. This provided beautifully smooth tarmac areas for the roller blades and skate boarders and no possibility of ankle deep mud whatever the weather threw at the show!
Facilities were superb with ornamental ponds, real toilets, a full range of activities for the spectators to both watch and participate with including helicopter rides, rafting and bungee jumping from a very tall crane. What was missing though was the normal mad array of microlights from previous years which would launch and swoop above the show – they were located several kilometres distance on another site.
Tucked away in one corner of the central grassed area within the show was a bright yellow 55m tall ramp built of scaffolding. This was used for the hang gliding and paragliding glide angle competition – all pilots in goal could carry their glider up the ramp and attempt to stretch their glide across the tarmac walkway cutting the grass landing strip in half.
This year Bassano did not provide many new wings – just improvements on current models. Icaro 2000 have revamped their Laminar ST which is now the ST02 with aluminium tubes and steel wires replacing the carbon fibre strut and the tip strut. They are identifiable by the very distinctive fan shape sown into the central back piece of the sail cloth. Many pilots chose to fly the “Manfred Ruhmer (MR) ST02” model which comes with extra internal mylar, thin wires and increased VB travel.
Avian (UK) also launched their new topless model called the Cheetah (first seen in Australia this winter) and Seedwings launched the Viagro which was the cleanest and most streamlined looking glider on the hill.
Icaro also used the show to launch their new rigid wing the ATOS which caused a stir when rigged and flown around the course on Task 4.
After the recent competition wins of Oleg Bondarchuk in Australia and Manfred Ruhmer in Brazil, the competition was expected to be very close and would give early guidance of who is on form for the Worlds later this summer in Monte Cucco.
Task One – 79km Out and Return Possagno/Santorso/RAASM
An easy task was set for the first day of the competition with 46 pilots making goal at RAASM. Conditions were good with 500fpm thermals common although turbulent in the light NNE wind. Roberto Reisinger won the task in 2:05 hours only 60 seconds ahead of Oleg Bondarchuk and 90 seconds ahead of Manfred Ruhmer (who lost time at the second turnpoint). Roberto was the last pilot to launch and the first in goal passing the whole field on route.
Following arrival at goal the Italian pilot Ignazio Bernardi gave a splendid Mosquito demonstration on his Laminar 13ST02 buzzing around above the goal field.
Task Two – 93km Out and Return Vittorio Veneto/RAASM
Due to an improved forecast from the previous day, a tarp start was set-up for 13:15 a short distance along the ridge from take-off. Unfortunately the weather did not live up to expectations and 70 pilots were forced into the 250m of airspace above launch just behind the tarp in very mediocre lift. Gliders were scurrying in all directions trying to make the most of the weak lift and maintain some height before the tarp opened.
Eventually the whole field set off down the ridge when the tarp changed shape and crossed the Piave only to find small improvements in conditions. All pilots agreed placing the tarp so close to launch had been a bad idea!
However, once onto the main ridge towards Vittorio Veneto conditions improved rapidly producing 500fpm climbs once more and racing conditions along the tops of the ridges.
Manfred Ruhmer stormed into goal in 2:38 hours, 16 minutes ahead of Oleg Bondarchuk with the two Austrians Rupert Plattner and Josef Zweckmayr following shortly behind. This placed Manfred in pole position with Oleg still in second. The rest of the field re-crossed the Piave too late to obtain the final climb on the ridge at Possagno required to make goal.
Manfred then proceeded to win the glide angle competition with two flights from the RAASM yellow ramp, closely followed by Oleg and Rupert who smashed his carbon fibre speed bar trying to stretch his glide.
Task Three – 77km Out & Return Santorso/Possagno/RAASM
Today the hang gliders swapped launches with the paragliders and reversed the task from day one. The weather conditions seemed to be weakening once more with the visibility in the valley noticeably reduced from the previous day. Initially the task was set for Santorso/Asolo/RAASM with Asolo located 8km out from the ridge in front of Monte Grappa.
With the weak conditions on launch and the flatlands in front not looking too promising, pilots started to mutter about the difficulty of reaching Asolo in the weak conditions. After some discussion the organisation moved the second turnpoint back to Possagno and the window opened.
After waiting around on launch with a switching wind pilots slowly attempted the task until suddenly the launch was swarmed with the 100 odd paragliding contingent from the other launch! It was a frightening sight to see the whole paragliding field heading for the hang gliding launch with over 50% of the hang gliding competition still on the ground…..
Manfred and Oleg waited until the last eight seconds of window opening time before launching in parallel into the sea of paragliders. Conditions were weak but buoyant along the ridges with maximum heights of 400m being gained above launch. Further along the course the valley crossing to Santorso was shrouded in low lying mist and the task looked rather ambitious.
However, as often happens in competitions a much less stable and clearer band of air was slowly moving in from the bigger mountains behind launch and conditions miraculously improved to give 600fpm climbs for the rest of the flight.
The day produced a second win for Manfred in 2:13 hours, this time only 10 minutes ahead of the Italian pilot Christian Ciech. Only the Spanish pilot Francesc Vinas Dott arrived at goal before Manfred – he passed every other pilot on route around the course!
Rupert Plattner and Oleg were 13 and 20 minutes behind the winning time with 10 in goal and the rest of the field evenly spread along the course. A small cluster of pilots landed 1km short of goal after failing to climb high enough on the ridge.
Task Four – 65km Out and Return Santorso/Pove/RAASM
We awoke to rather cloudy skies on day four which meant a later start than on previous days after the cloud withdrew towards the south. The organisers chose another tarp start, this time 5km from launch across the gap below the paraglider launch.
Conditions were once again rather weak with many pilots struggling to stay airborne in front of the tarp. One third of the field landed before the tarp start and for those who stayed airborne it was a mad scramble in the turbulent 300fpm lift on the paragliders launch.
Ten minutes before the tarp opened at 14:00, we were rewarded with a better than average thermal which gave us just enough height at the correct moment. The lead gaggle gliding out to the tarp at 13:57 contained all the right people in contention for top ten places hovering over the tarp waiting for it to change shape to signify the start of the race.
Heading down the ridges towards Santorso it was surprisingly buoyant with choppy 400fpm thermals at regular intervals. The problems started shortly before the crossing to Santorso where the ridge was noticeable worse than on the previous tasks. The hill behind the turnpoint at Santorso seemed to be cycling and the Westerly headwind on the way out turned 180 degrees into an Easterly headwind on the way back!
Several of the top ten pilots including Oleg Bondarchuk, Josef Zweckmeyer and Gordon Rigg were caught out by the increasing Easterly wind which blew along the face of the ridge demolishing the thermals below the top.
Manfred, Roberto and the two Italians Christian Ciech and Ignazio Bernadi watched Oleg plummet out of the sky to their left as they crossed back after Santorso and prudently moved further right avoiding the heavy sink and arriving higher up on the ridge.
Those pilots who glided parallel to the ridge and then tucked in further West on the crossing from Santorso arrived on the ridge high enough to climb again and make it to goal. The rest of the field ended up at the bottom of the ridge after the crossing, cursing the headwind.
Manfred won the task in 1:43 hours, one minute ahead of Roberto and Christian with 16 pilots in goal. Oleg moved back to fifth place overall in the ranking.
Task Five – 55km Race from M Pizzoc to RAASM
Breaking with tradition the organisers abandoned the cut to 30 pilots for the final day and allowed all pilots to compete on the final task. In order to remove the need for film development on the last day (ensuring the results were calculated for the evenings prize giving) we drove two hours West of Bassano to Monte Pizzoc perched at 4500 feet asl above Vittorio Veneto.
Initially the organisers were sending us to the Aviano launch 15 km further West than M Pizzoc. At the last moment they changed the launch (probably due to the NATO activity at the Aviano Airbase just 5km upwind of the launch) which resulted in half the Austrian team driving to the incorrect launch!
As the window opening time of 12:45 approached, the clouds above us grew ominously tall and the view along the ridge towards goal looked rather dark underneath a heavy looking sky. Suddenly water began to drop on our heads and the previously relaxed mood on launch turned to a frenzied panic as the remaining pilots all wanted to launch and escape down the course.
It was a race against the weather as the competitors dashed down the Vittorio Veneto valley climbing to cloudbase with the rain and hail starting to affect the gliders handling. Oleg Bondarchuk delayed his launch by four minutes from Manfred Ruhmer attempting to recover from the previous days out landing.
As we raced towards the Piave the skies were even blacker, the sun on the ground disappeared and the previously sporadic rain turned to a heavy persistent shower. The gaggle gathered together half way across the Piave in a weak 100fpm climb with Manfred sat on top well above the rest of the field, all watching and trying to decide the best course of action.
Manfred had enough height to make it onto the ridge at Possagno and glided into goal in 1:34 hours 10 minutes ahead of Oleg. With less height than Manfred after the crossing, Oleg Bondarchuk, Roberto Reisinger and Gordon Rigg resorted to trying the valley and were rewarded with a weak, scrappy 100fpm climb from very low which improved to 300fpm and put them all in goal.
Meanwhile Steve Elkins patiently waited before the Piave crossing for the sky to clear and the ridge to start working again following the showers and arrived fifth and last pilot in goal one hour behind the other four!
The Next Round
So an excellent Bassano 99 produced a resounding and confident win for Manfred Ruhmer. Oleg Bondarchuk was chasing hard despite admitting that he prefers flatland flying to the mountains. With five Austrians in the top ten they must all be in contention later this year at Monte Cucco Worlds along with the two Italians Ciech and Bernardi on their home ground.
The International Hang Gliding Circuit now moves across the Atlantic to the US Nationals where both Manfred and Oleg will be competing against our American cousins. Also joining them will be Gerolf Heinrichs fresh from a winter spent in Australia with Moyes and competing against Manfred for the first time on the oppositions glider.
1 Manfred Ruhmer A 4395 Icaro2000 Laminar 14ST02MR
2 Roberto Reisinger A 4031 Icaro2000 Laminar 14ST02MR
3 Oleg Bondarchuk UKR 3804 Aeros Stealth KPL
4 Rupert Plattner A 3798 Icaro2000 Laminar 14ST02MR
5 Christian Ciech I 3716 Icaro2000 Laminar 14ST02MR
6 Ignazio Bernardi I 3535 Icaro2000 Laminar 13ST02
7 Josef Zweckmeyer A 3376 Icaro2000 Laminar 14ST02MR
8 Gordon Rigg GB 3312 Icaro2000 Laminar 14ST02MR
9 Mario Alonzi F 3296 Icaro2000 Laminar 14ST02MR
10 Toni Raumauf A 3141 Icaro2000 Laminar 14ST02
NATIONAL TEAM RANKING
1 Austria 9839
2 Italy 8334
3 Great Britain 7255
4 France 6587
5 Ukraine 4847
MANUFACTURERS’ TEAM RANKING
1 Icaro2000 9993
2 La Mouette 7504
3 Avian 5143
4 Bautek 4746
5 Aeros 4590
Gliders flown in the competition:
La Mouette 14
Wills Wing 5
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