A glider pilot, his plan and a dangerous banana

50 years ago, Klaus Tesch had a bold idea: he wanted to fly from Hamburg to the French Atlantic coast – in a glider. His travel provisions almost thwarted his plans.

Running the 100 meter sprint distance in less than ten seconds for the first time, throwing the javelin over a previously unachieved 100 meters – athletes are driven in search of new limits. It was the same with Klaus Tesch 50 years ago. In 1972 he wanted to fly from Hamburg to Ancenis on the French Atlantic coast – in a glider. Over 1000 kilometers without an engine, GPS and alone in the narrow cockpit.

“Just having the idea for such a flight in our latitudes and then working on the project is extremely impressive,” says Sebastian Huhmann. The slim Hamburger knows exactly what he is talking about. Huhmann is a pilot with Lufthansa, has been a passionate glider pilot since his youth and is a friend of his mentor Klaus Tesch.

Until then, only a handful of pilots had mastered the magical 1000-kilometer distance, two Americans in 1964 and 1968 being the first. And then came Klaus Tesch on April 25, 1972. The date of such record flights is not set by the pilot, but by the weather conditions. Gliders need thermals, that rising tube of heated air in which they spiral upwards. But for the targeted record distance not only 1000 kilometers of reliable thermals were necessary. Without constant pushing from behind, the distance could not be covered. Tesch needed a sustained, decent tailwind.

Heat is relative – the North Sea as a hotplate

Two days before the flight, the right weather conditions appear over the Arctic, which were only two or three times a year back then and no longer occur today due to global warming. It’s freezing cold, the Baltic Sea is frozen. Polar air flows across the North Sea to Central Europe. The sea, which is “warm” at six degrees, acts on the icy air like a gigantic stovetop. In addition to the heat, the air also takes a lot of moisture with it on its way to the south-west, which would later become beautiful thick cotton clouds over the mainland. Only they show the glider pilot the thermals.

“Klaus’ plane was state-of-the-art,” says Huhmann Roller shutter cutter LS1c. The elegant aircraft had only been on the market for almost four years. 15 meter wingspan, retractable landing gear and made entirely of fiberglass instead of fabric-covered steel tubes. A good 20 years later, Tesch lent the plane to his student pilot Huhmann: “It was certainly not a punishment to sit in this cockpit for ten hours,” he recalls. Although sitting isn’t the right word, in such high-performance aircraft the pilot tends to lie down with his legs slightly bent.

In the early morning hours of April 25, it had to be on the Glider airfield in Hamburg-Boberg all go very quickly. The day before, snow showers were still moving across the north. On the back, the meteorologists from the Hamburg weather station promised, the hoped-for thermals and the strong tailwind would come.

The record flight begins at a height of just 300 meters

At 08:30 the winch pulls Klaus Tesch’s LS1 into the sky. When the rope comes loose, it is only 300 meters high. Not much. However, Tesch immediately finds good thermals, circles up and sets course for France. On board a stack of flight tickets, water and a banana, which hours later almost cost him the record.

“Getting on track means leaving familiar territory and constantly checking your position. Without GPS, just with a map in your hand and your eyes on the ground, that’s a real challenge,” says Huhmann. Especially since the eyes not only search the ground for landmarks, but also the air for new thermals and the map for airspace. Some of these invisible borders may only be flown at certain heights, some not at all.

Nerve thriller near Paris

Over France in close proximity to the busy Parisian airspace, Tesch was fully occupied with navigation and had no intention of violating airspace regulations. And suddenly he was only 250 meters above sea level. In this situation, every glider pilot actually has to look for a suitable field and prepare for the outlanding. At the last minute, Tesch saw a group of houses on the Seine in the blazing sunlight, on which the wind was blowing. If clouds don’t indicate thermals, then occasionally there are such signs on the ground. expert knowledge. The wind blew the air warmed up by the house walls upwards, Tesch turned his glider in and let himself be carried upwards in circles from 250 to 1800 meters. Rescued. A test of nerves. And this is where the sport begins.

“You don’t sit in a glider and fly ten hours. You approach such flights over the years. During training, first one and then two hours on the field, later three hours on the first small cross-country flight. When you have mastered the craft of flying , you increase it to five hours and more,” explains Sebastian Huhman, who works as a flight instructor at the Hamburg Aero Club HAC trains the next generation – the place where Klaus Tesch once started. Physical fitness is also important, according to Huhmann, and endurance sports help him.

A banana almost ends the record flight

Gliding means being wide awake at all times. “Especially long distances require constant decisions. It’s like chess in the air. Assess your situation, interpret instruments, weigh up options, opportunities and risks, plan several moves ahead,” Huhmann summarizes his experience from thousands of hours of flight. Hard mental work that can only be done by someone who no longer has to think about flying.

No problem for Tesch. He is hungry and enjoys the banana. He disposes of the bowl through the tiny sliding window on his left. But the trajectory of the organic waste ends abruptly at the leading edge of the wing. A banana is now stuck where insect corpses noticeably impair the flight performance of the sensitive LS1c. If she stayed in place, she could end the record flight. An aerodynamic meltdown. He tries in vain to reach for the bowl with his arm. No chance. Abrupt flight movements are too risky. In desperation, he takes one of the flight charts and twists it into a staff in his narrow cockpit. The paper actually withstands the wind and Tesch scrapes the wrapper of the high-energy snack off the surface. Movie hero McGuyver couldn’t have done better.

He has now passed Le Mans and is on a straight road towards Ancenis. He still has 250 kilometers ahead of him, it is late afternoon. As it flies west, the time until sunset increases. He not only needs the warming sun because of the thermals, he also has to find the airfield when there is light. According to the rules, the entire operation would not be recognized as a target flight without landing on the announced small airfield. As with motor sports or sailing, there are also official championships at national and international level in gliding. Tesch wanted to achieve the target flight world record in the standard class. For this he had to reach a predetermined airfield with a certain type of aircraft. On the same day, Hans-Werner Grosse flew 1,490 kilometers from Lübeck to Biaritz. However, Grosse had the more powerful aircraft and flew aimlessly as far as he could. Two records for themselves. Grosse’s was surpassed 30 years later, Klaus Tesch’s hasn’t been to this day.

Searching for the destination with the car map

At an altitude of 1400 meters, the white LS1 finally glides over the small French town on the Loire. Tesch looks hard out of the full-view canopy. He has no idea where to look for the airfield. North of the city, it was said by a friendly glider pilot. He doesn’t have a flight map of the region with him, just a standard street map that doesn’t show the place.

Eventually he discovers a shooting range that he knows from the Bundeswehr airfield in Hamburg-Uetersen. Tesch estimates that the runway should run parallel to the shooting range. Only at the last moment, turning onto a meadow with a wooden hut, does he recognize a white “A” on the roof: Aerodrome. He did it. 1050 kilometers in ten hours in an airplane without an engine.

Half a century later, 1000 kilometers for a glider pilot is still cause for celebration, but one that is being celebrated with increasing frequency. Sebastian Huhmann has also climbed a few 1000s. Gliders have become much more powerful in recent decades. Thanks to GPS, the pilot knows his position down to the meter, is automatically warned of airspace boundaries, digital instruments show him the wind direction and the computer calculates whether he can even reach his destination.

Climate change, lack of time, air traffic – such flights no longer exist

Record pilot Klaus Tesch today

Record pilot Klaus Tesch today

© private

Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, record flights like those of Klaus Tesch remain unique. Today, straight routes to a distant destination are no longer flown. Not just because of the weather. The airspace over Europe is much more strictly regulated than it was then. “Always straight ahead following the clouds” is no longer possible, especially not across national borders. Therefore, triangles are flown at competitions, at the end of which the pilot lands back at the starting airfield. This is also more time-saving. Sailors who do not land at their home base ultimately have to be fetched back home by car. In the case of Klaus Tesch, that was 1,000 kilometers there and 1,000 back, at 100 km/h because of the ten-meter-long special trailer. Nobody has that much time today. so Huhmann.

But all the technology is useless if an inexperienced pilot is behind the controls. “What gives me great pleasure is being a flight instructor, introducing beginners to gliding,” says Sebastian Huhmann. If you want to follow in the footsteps of Klaus Tesch, you can Hamburg-Boberg do every weekend between April and October. At 08:00 is “hang out”.

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