Probably many of you have already noticed the spectacular photos in the flight info that we have recently received from the USA. In the „TopStories“ section at the bottom left of the OLC entry page, these are presented again on a daily basis. Especially often we see photos from Nico Bennet, Jim Payne, James Lee, Uwe Kleinhempel, Ramy Yanetz, Michael Cola, Clemens Ceipek, and Gordon Boettger. The latter not only delights the OLC community with fantastic landscape shots but has now uploaded for the second time very unusual shots of his flights for the normal glider pilot. In addition, he completes one top flight after another with one of the few existing Arcus jets, which is obviously also equipped for night flying. Gordon Boettger now gives us the opportunity to share a bit of his extraordinary gliding world in an interview:
OLC: Hello Gordon, thank you very much for spontaneously agreeing to tell us a bit about yourself and your world of gliding. Tell us: How long have you been flying and how did you get into gliding? What keeps you busy outside of gliding?
Gordon: I began gliding at the age of 13 and did my solo flight on my 14th birthday. My father Wolfgang who flew in the Luftwaffe in the 50s also flew gliders and taught me. I did my power solo on my 16th birthday but the gliding is what really intrigued me because of the challenges. At age 21 I joined the US Navy and flew for 8 years with the Navy flying aboard aircraft carriers. I made 2 deployments to the Persian Gulf. At age 28 I joined the airline industry and have been flying with FedEx since then. I am currently a Boeing 777 Captain and am 55 years old.
OLC: We think our readers are also eager to get information about your aircraft. What is the story behind the Arcus? It is a very special version with a jet. The equipment with illuminated instruments and night vision goggles is also absolutely unusual.
Gordon: I recently bought the Arcus a year ago from Dennis Tito. I was flying a Duo Discus. I think I reached the limits of what was possible with the Duo Discus, including several over 2000km flights. I always knew that if I could get my hands on one of Dennis’ Arcus’ then the door would be wide open for what I think is possible in the gliding world. Now there are no boundaries to my goals which is really a feeling of freedom in my mind. The glider is very special and is the perfect platform for what I want to do. It has a high Vne for high altitudes, is legal for night flight, and is equipped for NVG (= Night Vision Goggles, note from the editor) use which is quite complicated. Plus the jet gives me the reliability for starting in extremely cold temperatures. It is virtually 100 percent reliable because it is such a simple system and there is no vibration.
OLC: Tell us a bit about your flying area, the Sierra Nevada, and the wave flights there. As a European, the landscape shots and the spectacular cloud formations seem almost like something from another world. Obviously, it is not only the wave flights that make gliding in California so spectacular. Even 1,100 km FAI triangles are possible, as you can see from this flight.
Gordon: I must say that I feel so very lucky to live in an area where we have some of the best sky in the world for gliding literally above my house. That is a certain advantage I have living here no doubt. The Sierra and the area to the east offer classic wave and thermal conditions that most glider pilots around the world dream of. There is no idle time here if one wants to stay active with cross-country soaring. I must admit that most pilots do not take advantage of the wave conditions as they often get very “sporty” and rough. The wave here is definitely not for the inexperienced. I can write a book about all of my “crazy” times in the wave here. Regarding the landscape, I must say it is absolutely spectacular. The 4000-meter snow-capped Sierra to the west and just to the east the landscape looks like the moon quite often. It is absolutely breathtaking and I never get bored of the views.
OLC: Keyword night flight: For „normal“ glider pilots, the idea of still being far away from the home airfield after Sunset is like a nightmare. How do you feel in a glider 3,000 m above ground after Sunset? How much distance have you been able to „add on“ in the night flight so far?
Gordon: I just recently got certified for using the NVGs (In the USA there is a legal requirement to be signed off for NVG) so I only have been able to “practice” a few times with them at night but I feel very comfortable now using them. It is a totally different experience and requires a lot of focus which makes it really exciting. It reminds me a lot of landing my airplane on the aircraft carrier at night. It is very dark here in the desert because there are very few cities and lights in Nevada. Because there is such a limited field of view with the goggles I have to move my head constantly. It can feel very claustrophobic. The amount of detail though is amazing. The clouds at night are very visible and the amount of stars you see is amazing. I also have made many touch and go’s at night on a totally dark runway for practice using the jet. It is a totally wild experience.
I have not really taken advantage of a long distance at night because I have not really had the chance yet. The wave will have to work all night for this to happen. Since we are now toward the end of our wave season, I am hoping to have the chance one more time to now go for a 3000km flight throughout the night. The problem is the extreme cold. On my last flight, it became very cold at over 7000 m. Obviously, heated clothing is a must and more batteries might be required.
OLC: If you filter the OLC-FlightFinder for Gordon Boettger and flights above 1,000 points, you will currently find 22 hits. You have been flying at a very high level for many years. What or who particularly motivated and encouraged you on your way to becoming a very good glider pilot? How is gliding organized in the USA. Are there clubs like in Europe?
Gordon: I have always been goal oriented to going a little further and expanding the limits of gliding. I very much love thermal flying but there are obvious limits to how far one can go with thermals. On the other hand, with wave flying the limits are virtually endless, especially now that I have the Arcus. I would rather have the comforts of thermal flying any day, with little turbulence, nice easy winds, and warm temperatures. There is a price to pay for these long-wave flights and it’s often not easy. Dealing with crazy winds on the ground, icing, cold, severe turbulence, super long days, and fatigue, there is a definite risk, but with risk comes great reward. The feeling I get after dealing with these factors and then safely landing at the end of the day is super rewarding.
Klaus Ohlmann has been a great inspiration to me and continues to be. We do have clubs in the USA but nothing like the clubs in Europe. I would say that almost 100 percent of cross-country pilots are doing this with their private gliders. Also, we do not have the youth in gliding that I see in Europe. Personally, I think we are in a pretty sad situation with the popularity of gliding with our younger generation.
OLC: Like many other pilots in the USA, you comment on almost all your flights and upload fascinating pictures of them. If you add the free TopMeteo weather film in the flight info, users can understand your decisions and the conditions very well. We wish that many more pilots would use the comment function and the picture upload. Do you have an idea of how to motivate more OLC users to do so?
Gordon: I am also very critical of this. I think it is so very important to take pictures and make comments. I have never quite understood why more people don’t share their experiences. Maybe some feel that it slows them down to take the time to take pictures. I know it is a distraction for me and that it does slow me down, but it is very important to me to share this incredible experience with others that don’t get the opportunity to do or see what I am seeing while I’m flying. Seeing a trace does nothing much for me, but when I can tie a trace to pictures I can envision myself in someone’s cockpit. That is the goal for me. I hope that people get to experience this with my pictures. After all, if we are to try and make gliding more popular, this is the kind of thing that is needed. The Europeans are much better at this and with social media than the US pilots are.
OLC: What are your further goals with the Arcus?
Gordon: My ultimate goal would be for a straight line two-day flight downwind into the central part of the USA exceeding 2300km. This is very difficult because we only get one to two days a year that allow this because the weather required is very rare. Also, I have to be available and not be stuck on the other side of the world with work. Work does seem to get in the way many times :). A very likely goal that I would also like to accomplish is over 3000 km. I believe this to be the next thing that I can get done if not this season (wave season now coming to an end) then next season. Also, I think very large triangles are possible such as a 1500 km triangle in our area because of how the mountains in Nevada are lined up for mountain waves. The key is obviously to have the weather to allow this but I think these goals are possible.
OLC: Dear Gordon, thank you very much for the interview and the many details from your gliding world. We wish you a great 2023 season and many successful flights. We are also looking forward to more exciting photos and reports from your flights.
Gordon: Thanks everyone for taking the time to listen and thanks to all for sharing their wonderful experiences. Remember that no matter how far one glides, it’s the experience and fun that we have doing this, where ever we might be in the world that makes this so much fun. Keep sharing your stories and pictures so that we might be able to make this wonderful way of flying more popular around the world. Fly safe and have a great time. Let’s have a great summer soaring season! Source: ‚Stefan Harries on OLC, online contest‚.