Final Glide Through Lightning – Scary Thunderstorm in the Mountains!

Cockpit view from one of my scariest flights in a glider as I have to cross a line of thunderstorms over the Rocky Mountains on my final glide back to the airport – conditions are quickly deteriorating. There are now many storm cells with rain, lightning, thunder, and hail in the area that I am looking to navigate while also trying to stay within safe gliding distance of landable airports or fields. The video depicts the third leg of a flight on July 31 2020, attempting to complete my first-ever declared 750km task. It starts just as I am about 430 km into my task, having made excellent progress with an average task speed of 125 kph. So far, I have kept my hopes for a successful task completion alive.

But now, it is quickly becoming evident that I will not be able to complete my task and must shift my focus to return home to Boulder safely. My flying buddies are in similar situations as we seek to advise one another on the best course of action to take. The video provides a cockpit view of the flight with detailed commentary about the critical decisions along the way so viewers can consider their own choices. I also added some comment at the end that discusses how and when I might have avoided getting into this situation, to begin with.

Seeing the lightning right in front of the canopy amplified my stress level, which was already high as I tried to weigh the decision whether to continue or try to hold and wait for the storm to pass through. I can now say from experience that high-stress levels do limit one’s cognitive abilities, especially concerning complex tasks such as piloting a plane. (Look up Yerkes-Dodson Law.) Deep breathing can help reduce stress and bring it back to a level where one can function well. This flight was about 1 1/2 years ago, and I was long unsure whether to publish this video. I ultimately decided to do it because I think there is a lot to learn from this flight. If it helps anyone become a safer pilot, this would far outweigh any harsh criticism that I may get.

Editing disclosure: I did not hear the thunderclaps following the lightning flashes you can see on screen; I added these sound effects to emphasize the psychological impact that the lightning had on me. I slowed down the playback speed of the video during the lightning flashes to make them more visible. The video is recorded by the GoPro camera mounted inside the cockpit on the right side of the canopy. My glider is a Ventus 2cxT 18m high-performance sailplane from Schempp-Hirth. The flight originated and ended at Boulder Municipal Airport (KBDU) – an ideal soaring location for exploring the sky above the Rocky Mountains. Source: ‘Youtube / Clemens Ceipek‘.

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