We are 31 days already in the northeast “sertão” (the most arid region of Brazil) and at every day the world record is so far away. We feel in some way a kind of disappointment, the pressure because it has been so long time searching for a goal that it has become a heavy weight on our shoulders, so there isn’t much motivation left nor many days. The current situation is not so good because during the XCeará many pilots copied our strategy of taking off very early and so surviving during the morning, and this had a psychological pressure on us. After all it wouldn’t be fair after so many attempts and so much study of the place, someone foreign break the 423 km goal. It would a complete disaster. The most important at that moment was to try get apart of all pressure and trust in our own capacity.
I no longer open the curtains to check the condition in the morning. I prefer not have any opinion about the day before we get in Monsenhor Tabosa by flying. But on the way up to the ramp there was already a dense humidity layer in the medium layers of the atmosphere which discouraged many pilots. Some pilots even laughed when we put the canopy in taking-off position, the scenery indicated a possible landing very soon just after the ramp in Custódio.
We planned to fly together in order to speed up until the end of the day. The question was if would be possible, after all fly ten hours totally together in the same rhythm would be extremely difficult. We took off at 7:20 a.m. totally discredited by who was watching us. Some other brave pilots took off at the same time.
Soon after our plan of flying together didn’t work out. We got separated in the first thermal and I took off with Francisco Ceará and André Modelo, and Frank decided wait for few minutes more. It was disastrous when I left, my second thermal didn´t exist, and I ended up alone and went to a critical altitude close to the Priest Chains (Serra do Padre) (km 15). I got 150 meters high just under a completely shaded region, it was almost 8:00 a.m. and my situation wasn’t good at all. Some how I managed to survive and return to the flight.
Cecéu and Frank left just a little behind also in a very complicated situation, crossing an extended moist and shaded region. They managed to survive through the monoliths in the beginning of that flight. Meanwhile, André and Ceará moved through a little to the right route and were in a well formed condition with 10 km ahead of us. My anxiety was huge but still there was more 9 hours to go.
When I saw Frank and Cecéu together five kilometers away from me, I though that we could get together in a little time. Wrong. Because it was still early and the cycles were too short, I couldn’t stay in the same place and I had to keep going alone until they could catch me and fly in group.
Before Madalena we were very close, but my thermal line was really much better and I was in a advanced position than them. Frank and Cecéu chose a complicated line that kept them all the time until the Monsenhor Tabosa plateau. It was a complicated flight scenery, with stratified clouds in medium layers of atmosphere that filtered the already weak sun rays; the group apart with Cecéu and Frank together but without moving enough to catch me, myself on my own frightened to fall, André and Ceará with a 10km advantage and the certain that if we could survive the morning, we would easily get the 400km, but we have a problem, two extremely competent and capable pilots flying ahead of us. And that meaned that we were late.
My anxiety to get close to them was as huge as my anxiety to get together with Cecéu and Frank. I decided to control my anxiety and think about my real situation. Being by myself it would be worthless and I would take a huge risk for the time being. And if I connected with André and Ceará, experienced pilots, I believe that alone I wouldn´t be able to influence their decisions. My idea was to delay them as maximum as I could in order to Cecéu and Frank catch me. I decided to trust us to catch them later. It was a conservative decision that maybe helped very much the group.
As soon I was in the Monsenhor Tabosa plateau my partners joined me. I was in a weak wind cycle so they would feel safer to jump faster and lower. It worked. We were in km 110 and finally we set up our team. A world record was being made at that moment.
André and Ceará crossed the Tabosa Chains and soon they were in the Nova Russas plateau with a good advantage. We just went through the plateau at 700m above the ground. In the end of the plateau I disconnected shortly because I found an excellent thermal that put me 400m higher than both of them and decided to go in Andre´s direction to make him abandon his thermal and not let me catch him. The strategy worked well, André abandoned his thermal. Even so it was possible to find the same thermal and outline another one and make my partners advance.
The idea of flying together was excellent and would bring only advantages in case it really happened. One example of the difficulty of flying in group was just in front of us, Ceará and André went apart just after they left the plateau, where Ceará jeopardized more than should, being to low and allowing us pass him. Pressed by this, Ceará took the wrong decisions and trusted too much in the condition. He fell around 11:00 a.m. near Nova Russas. The three of us were following well and we managed to move with a good average velocity for the record.
André was flying well and with an almost perfect thermal cycles timing, while we were always 10km behind, without catching him up. Our rhythm was ok in the passage of Nova Russas (km175) – PedroII (km270). We were following in an efficient and friendly way, the group spirit that we thought during our conversations. And finally was happening, we were only one organism. And something happened in Pedro II (State of Piauí) that confirmed this.
We put ourselves in a very complicated situation and under pressure. We arrived in Pedro II in a critical altitude for the time, 500m above ground at 2:20 p.m. and we were stuck in an extremely weak thermal that would takes a long time to go climb, and time was something that we didn’t have, the clock is always the biggest enemy of a record breaker. After all, the group’s goal wasn’t the Xceará and much less another 300km flight. I decided go for some aggressiveness in the benefit of the group. I warned them trough the radio that I would go for a cloud just after Pedro II at my own risk. The answer was fantastic: “if one goes, everyone must go. It’s record or ground!!!”
A big dam just after the city of Pedro II with a huge cloud and well formed was our destiny. Our well developed cloud analyses could not let us down in that so special moment of the Brazilian hang-gliding, with three pilots of the same country about to break a world record together. It was almost 2:30 p.m. and we were close to 300 km of flight, and we still have more 3 hours to go and less than 150km to the record.
Our biggest fear was to get late in that cloud’s cycle, a mistake would be fatal at that altitude. We crossed the dam and we didn’t hit anything. Actually we made a navigation mistake, and luck of us it was possible to correct it. We did the called desperate angle when there aren’t many options, the only way is to jump 90 ° in the wind direction to find any disturbance line that could help us. The theory helped the practice. We jumped to the right, hit an active line, which was the active line of the cloud and found a nucleus of about 3m/s and our situation got much better. Quickly we were in a comfortable altitude and enough to continue moving.
We made a little transition to the next cloud where we finally reach the cycle and getting a really good position for the time: 2:40 p.m. at the base of the cloud just 15 km from PiriPiri- (state of Piauí) (km 310). A suspicious that the record could really be broken started to distress us.
In the transition to PiriPiri we saw André too low trying to survive a little bit before the city. He really made a fatal mistake by being so low and landed. We knew that soon or later we would pick him up and also we knew that from now on everything was up to us.
The scenery was not good. Although we always dealt with cirrus and some adversities in that final region of the flight, that sky for some time scared us because it was too humid and with stratified clouds in medium and low layers of atmosphere. Until Barras (km 375) was calm and no emotions, we flew over the city on the right just before 4:00 p.m. we still had 1h and 45 minutes to the sunset which would be at 5:43h according to the GPS. In order to homologate a record we must obey the local aviation rules and in Brazil airships without appropriated navigation instrument to navigate at night must land before the sunset.
After Barras-PI we took fast and strategic decisions to get in right position at that final hours. The biggest challenge was to hold the anxiety to keep the average velocity, which is the most important thing to accomplish a goal in a perfect time. The major problem about flying all day is adapting to the hours of the day, meaning during the morning you don’t need to hurry and take many risk that easily can put you down. After 11 a.m. the condition starts to get better and is more reliable allowing you to move more aggressively and constantly. But the major problem is during the end of the afternoon, when the pilot is already is a fast rhythm from the busy day and doesn’t realize that is time to slow down to avoid going down. Pilots too much aggressive might be luck or perfectly fit in the cycles, but I think that is unlikely for them not make any mistakes.
I compare this transition from the middle of the afternoon to the end of the afternoon with when you are arriving from a long trip, when the driver gets in a urban area with a high way rhythm, up the speed limit and because he is already close to home (record) he relaxes and distracts because is tired. Most of the accidents happen under these cincurtances. So, it’s very important to keep focus and concentrated until the end, because a little mistake can cost you a lot. I learnt this during two big flights that I did in Quixadá. When I was approaching the end I let my emotions take over my decisions and not allowing me to accomplish my goal. I went down twice when I was almost passing the 400 km.
In Barras (State of Piauí) we took maybe the wisest decision of the flight, when we forced almost 90 degrees to the right to the disturbance line direction that was above. We managed to climb high enough at 1,5m/s until we reached a safe height to jump to the next cloud. It was 4:30 p.m. when we crossed the 400 km barrier. Still 1h and 15 minutes to go, we were together and only 23km to the record. An euphoria took over the group and Marcelo Prieto supported us very much and welcomed the select group of pilots that crossed the 400 km. but still was missing a movement in order to win the game. Another thermal.
After the 400 km the glides were pretty much tense. Marcelo and I kept cool and skeptical until we were above the 423 km mark, while Frank was already celebrating and was sure that we would reach it easily. The GPS “go to” was Miguel Alves (Piauí) (km 455) and we were just about 40km away from the city and only 10km to the world free distance record. It was the moment to find another one just to ensure.
Our instinct guided us well so far and we thought that we would find a thermal there. We found an excellent nucleus that placed us above 2000m ceiling. It was time to control our emotions because the world record was already broken but our goal was Miguel Alves (Piauí) and we had still 30km to go.
The gliding over the Parnaíba river, border between the states of Piauí and Maranhão was thrilling. Because we spoke about this moment for so long time, finally our dream came true, 445km to Quixadá and we´re making our last gliding in direction to so “dreamed” Parnaíba River. We arrived there and found well formed and constant wind cycles. Finally we were 100% fulfilled after so many attempts, so much commitment and dedication.
During the glide to the river, it was for the first time during the flight that I could relax, after 10 hours and 10 minutes of maximum attention and adrenaline, my head was free to think about other things. In a retrospective look of all my trajectory in the hang-gliding I thanked a lot everyone that helped me to get there. I remembered a lot André Fleury, who certainly would be with us if he was ok. Definitively this world record was being accomplished in the Brazilian Northeast “sertão” due André Fleury and Marcelo Prieto, who for many years spent their time and knowledge to discover some of the peculiarities of the region. A paradigm was undone because in the hang-gliding history in the “sertão” never one could think of taking off so early. The 10 hours of flight has been crossed. Strong winds and perfect weather conditions made the difference.
I looked at Cecéu still flying next with respect and admiration; after all I was blessed for having him as teacher and now as friend. I know that for him that moment was so special as for me. Not just for breaking the so famous Fre Distance World Paragliding Record, but for being rewarded in such great style after so much perseverance and search. It has been so many days away from home, handling with so criticism, envy and pressure. And nothing of that was in vain. The severe discipline that we imposed to ourselves gave us good results.
We were about at constant 2,0m/s above the Parnaíba River to the cloud base. It was 5:25 p.m. and we didn’t have much time to land. It is against my principles not to obey certain safety rules, however after the sunset there are at least 15 minutes of sunlight that allow perfectly to land safely. If I wasn’t flying under these circumstances I certainly would enjoy every single minute of sunlight, but we decided to abandon the last thermal that would take us to the 500km and this way guarantee the record homologation. It’s fair enough.
The vegetation of the State of Maranhão is very humid and green, with huge trees and coconut trees that restrain a lot the landing options. In our last glide we were a little bit worried, because we hit weak wind cycles that would not allow to go down and of irony we even made some calculations to check how long would take for us to land if we continue in that glide. In fact if we continued in that wind cycles line we would miss the deadline, so we looked for a bad line that would put us on the ground faster. We followed a road until a small village called Santana Velha, where we landed in a small football field.
We were really welcomed and we were served with a very nice Black beans and rice. The local people never heard of that “flying cloth” and there never has been such aircraft or something alike. They asked us if we had jumped from a airplane and we explained to them that we have left Quixadá (Ceará), they couldn´t believe us and thought that it was a lie. The best explanation is the fastest one to understand and we said that a very strong wind took us there, which in part was true.
Without any doubt sports like hang-gliding look like unpredictable, because we only see scars and not what caused it. Maybe that’s why is not understood by everyone and considered such dangerous sport. “It’s really brave” that was the phrase most heard in the village. In fact it must be madness for who doesn’t practice it. After all, we spend more than 10 hours suspended in those lines thousands of meters above the ground, taking hundreds of decisions inside a mass that we barely can see. In Quixadá I compare the beginning of the flight with a rafting, where the only option is follow the flow. But even so looking such madness, there is so much study and knowledge behind of it. We followed the plan. We took of from the heard of Ceará, flew over all State of Piauí and we got really close the Amazon region in Maranhão. We crossed a huge part of the Brazilian “sertão”. The three of us together. This record breaking is not just a numerical barrier breaking, but also it proves that hang-gliding doesn’t need to be an individual sport and egocentric. Our dream of working together as a team did work. And the team is not just the pilots on the air, we can not forget our dignified rescue Dioclécio, (Dió) and SOL Paragliders, which developed these wonderful canopies and supported us in this conquer.
When we decided to fly together, we knew about the adversities. We are compelled by competition, therefore we never look at the pilot next to us as our partners, but as our opponent that in some point we must exempt. Victories are individual and there is no room for other pilots on the podium steps. When we started our search for the record in October, I remember in many flights competing with my friend and partner Cecéu, when I should just help him and been helped. It is much easier for everyone fly in group, but it’s difficult transform this group in a team. Frank understood our philosophy and was already part of it. It was a philosophy that started by André Fleury and Marcelo Prieto, and we are all delighted for the opportunity to practice so well, perfect and harmonic, finishing with a Free Distance World record.
The Northeast XC Expedition 2007 finally ends. It was 31 days in Quixadá, Ceará, Brazil. Three important records broken, two South American and one world free distance. Four very important flights (397km, 414km, 398km and 461km). More than 3,000km in the air and more than 8,000km on the road by the same rescue. A complete success. I’m sure that after so many years investing in the Northeast Expeditions, Ary Pradi must be delighted, after all three pilots of the Team SOL flew with the new Tracer 11, accomplished something that no one ever has done in the world paragliding: 461km together.
SOL, Ary and the pilots definitely deserved it.
The SOL team wishes specially to thank Cláudio Henrique Landim from Fortaleza for his support during the Northeast XC Expedition 2007.
Big hug for every one and we´re waiting for “the 500km...” see you in 2008...