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Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 07:30

Little Palms of Bitterwasser

Making long distance cross country flights

from Milan Petkovic




Q. You have made an achievement that no one prior to you from Serbia has made and from ex Yugoslavia only two glider pilots from Slovenia were able to make. What is it in your opinion that is required to make such a record flight ?
A. Just like in every other sport in our sport of gliding achieving a top result requires many years of hard work, sacrifice, knowledge and preparation. Then just prior to a record attempt it is necessary to be in good flying - gliding currency and good psycho physical condition. My personal preparations for this attempt were in Australia where I trained with four time world champion Ingo Renner. Besides this I ran on a regular basis in the hills of Hong Kong in order to be in good physical shape. We must not forget the importance of a good team which provides support for you on the ground as well as while you are airborne. Our dream team as we jokingly called it in Namibia consisted of Bostjan Pristavec, Klaus Seemann, Woody Woodward and myself. Last but not least having good sports luck is always very welcoming :)Q. Your record flight was made in the south west part of Africa in a famous gliding center of Bitterwasser. What are your impressions from Namibia ? How much does it cost to make such a trip and a record attempt?A. Yes, this record flight was made in Namibia on the very south west corner of Africa. Africa as a continent is fascinating and for me in particular Namibia with its huge Kalahari desert which meets the cold Atlantic ocean on the west. People in Namibia are wonderful, greeting you with their big genuine smiles. I must say that gliding in Namibia besides all its beauty is "extreme" because for hundreds of kilometers you could be flying over the desert without a single sign of civilization and it is not rare that you have no suitable terrain for an outfield landing. Altitudes at which you fly are between 3000 and 5000 meters what means that you are using supplemental oxygen most of the time. The temperature in the glider just prior to take off is over 40 C and then in the late afternoon as the sun is setting down the temperature drops down close to freezing. Average duration of the flight is between 7 to 10 hours (we were flying on a daily basis for 2 weeks) and therefore you must make sure to properly hydrate and feed (nourish) your body. Also, you must make the glider cockpit as comfortable as possible for flights of such duration.
Unfortunately such gliding activities are very expensive and I haven't have the courage yet to sum up all my recent spending's. I will not exaggerate if I say that tens of thousands of dollars (US) must be invested in such activities. In addition to this, one must invest lots and lots of time what means that all your vacations and many many days off must be spent at glider ports.Q. Bitterwasser flying lodge has a custom of Palm tree award once a FAI 1000 km flight is accomplished. Can you tell us more about this award and what are your impressions of this customary ceremony ?A. I must admit that I myself was unaware of the custom of the "Palm award" upon achieving a Diamond distance flight for the first time. Only upon my FAI 1000 km flight and its verification by the official observer I was told that I will be awarded a palm tree which I will have to plant myself. This tradition is as old as the Bitterwasser flying center itself, which means from the 1960 ties. At first the palm tree was being awarded for every first individual diamond flight. Later on, as the gliding progressed the requirement was raised to a FAI 1000 kilometer flight. The palm tree is also being awarded for every new world record. In the palm alley in Bitterwasser there are currently around 200 palm trees. The oldest ones are as high as 10 meters and my baby palm tree needs to grow to those heights in the years to come. What made this ceremony very special to me was that I had our national flag which was given to me by my father prior to the Beijing Olympic games. Once the palm tree was planted I wrapped around it our flag and then was congratulated by all those that were present at the airport. This flying season only four palm trees were awarded, three for a FAI 1000 km flight and one for a new world record.Q. You have been living outside of Serbia for a number of years now. Currently you are living in Hong Kong and there you are employed as an airline pilot. Are you able to fly gliders in Hong Kong and what are the conditions like ?A. I have been living in Hong Kong for the past year and I fly for an airline company Cathay Pacific. Prior to moving to Hong Kong for many years I lived in the USA. There I flew gliders on the ridges of Pennsylvania as well as the desert of California and Nevada. Unfortunately there is no gliding in Hong Kong but thanks to my airline job and my companies understanding I am able to plan my gliding activities. I fly and train year round in Australia, America, Europe and now Africa.Q. In your opinion what are the current gliding trends world wide ? What is it that our glider pilots need to do do in order to be successful at an international level ?A. Gliding trends world wide are developing at such a pace that without serious funding it is practically impossible to keep up. Every success requires a strong base of pilots. Unfortunately we in Serbia have not had that base of pilots for at least the past 30 years. My great wish is to work with young glider pilots in order to develop that base and then our national championships would have more participants. Our focus should be on making every existing glider in our country airworthy as well as further training of gliding instructors so that they can train others in cross country flying and advanced soaring.
We are experiencing a crisis of gliding world wide but with lots of work we must find ways to continue the development of gliding and especially the training of younger pilots. This development must be guided and supported by qualified sports organizations such as aero clubs and soaring societies.I would like to use this opportunity to thank all those that helped me in becoming a glider pilot which further led to my airline carrier. In particular I would like to thank my father Ratko Petkovic who although he does not know much about gliding has always been and is my greatest supporter.I am hoping that this record of mine as well as four other national records and a Gold C badge which I have achieved in the past year will serve as a motivator to my fellow glider pilots and encourage them to strive towards goals that sometimes might seem so distant and unreachable.Wishing all of you lots of gliding success.Best regards,Milan Petkovic


Please see also Milan's 2011 trainings and records flights on the Online Contest Server: Milan's 2011 Flightbook









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During the Second World War the town was the site of Royal Australian Air Force Station Tocumwal, which was a major Royal Australian Air Force training airfield and aircraft depot. Today, the airfield has grown to be a renowned gliding site.