Michael Sommer | Pushing the Limits

We talk with Michael Sommer about his Out & Return ambitions and whether he will return to Grand Prix flying someday.
Michael Sommer | Pushing the Limits

⏳ Flight hours: 5500
✈️ Current glider: EB29R
😌 Glider of your dreams: EB29R
🌎 Where you want to go gliding someday: From France to Greece! Just imagine what would be possible, following Klaus’ tracks with a modern glider.

Hey Michael, where do we reach you at the moment?

At my home close to Regensburg.

You have won the WeGlide Free competition for Germany this year, congratulations. Was this a good year for flying cross country?

Thank you. I guess the year was not exceptional but there were some really good days in between. In the end, for me, it is a matter of identifying the upcoming good days well ahead and then seeing if there is the chance to make time in between family and work commitments, which does not always work out. This year I was quite lucky. I just did 9 launches from my home airfield, resulting in 8 flights above 1000 km!

Your highest scoring flight was a triangle of 1189 km. You had declared a smaller but similar triangle but turned 10 km short of the first turn point in the southern Black Forest?

In general, I enjoy the free flight, always maximizing what is possible on a given day. This year I started to declare sometimes but was not really serious about it. On that day the declared turn point just north of Hotzenwald did not look good and would have caused some time loss, so I easily let it go. The plan for the day anyway was to maximize the free FAI triangle, which in the end worked out well.

Tell us about your 1115 km flight from the 29th of May, which was the largest Out & Return from Germany and the second-largest worldwide.

So far I did not bother about record flying. But a friend made me aware, that the German Record for the declared out and return was only at 950 km. So when the good weather period 29./30. of May, 1. of June came along and I realized, that on the first day the width of the good weather band above Germany would most likely not be wide enough for a triangle more than 1000 km, I decided on the 1050 km out and return to Belgium which in fact was good fun.

Did you have any trouble with Luxembourg and Belgium airspace?

Markus Kries, who is very familiar with the airspace situation, gave me advice the night before the flight so there was no problem. Thank you, Markus!

On your most popular flight, you crossed the Danube and visited Zell am See. Connecting to the Bavarian Forest on your way back looked a bit difficult?

I am in a very fortunate situation with my start place Oberhinkhofen/Regensburg. We are on track for the big Southern German triangle as well as for the routes through the Czech Republic. And the Bavarian Forest just to the east of the airfield offers great gliding with early launches. Connecting to the Alps is often possible but I was always looking for the right weather pattern, where both in flat land as well as in the mountains the conditions are good. And secondly, I was looking for opportunities to enter and exit the Alps with as little time loss as possible. Best for this is to follow the Bavarian forest all the way to the Southeast and to enter the Alps at the western edge of the Vienna airspace.

The advantage of this is, the gap between the Bavarian Forest (respective Mühlviertel) to the Alps is rather small and the mountains are not as high. On that very day entering the Alps was easier than getting out and connecting to the Bavarian forest again. I have seen this before and it has to do with the - over the cause of the day - retracting clouds towards the higher mountains on both sides, caused by the suction of air.

Together with Felipe Levin, you have perfected team flying in open class. What are the things you both do differently now than a few years ago?

Not so different, the team flying with Felipe from the start was on a very high level. Probably increasing trust levels over time caused even higher confidence, resulting in good decisions and low-stress levels.

Michael's EB 29 'EB'

If team flying is an effective technique to achieve higher average speeds, why do you think it is not widely used in breaking long-distance records?

Surely the trouble of logistics for two guys being at the same place with similar gliders is hindering. Plus the additional attention which is needed by the pilots to coordinate the two gliders in the air over a flight of 12 hours could be quite exhaustive which might counteract the positive effect of team flying.

What do you think is the limit for distances that can be achieved in thermal conditions from your airfield with your glider?

In 2014 I already did 1350 km from Oberhinkhofen which was an exceptional day. If everything falls into place maybe 1400 km is possible. For the FAI triangle for sure, 1250 km can be done. Furthermore, I will continue to work on the out and return. Towards the Swiss Jura turning close to Geneva, 1200 km could be the goal.

On that perfect day, would you launch to the east (Bavarian Forest) or to the west (Franconian Alb), and what would be your task?

To the west, because the Alb with the Danube in the South in the morning usually is generating a nice convergence line, which is accelerating the flight despite low cloud base and weak thermals. Instead going to the east Bavarian Forest would mean maybe earlier launch but due to the higher mountains less working height and more stopping and thermalling. After the departure to the west, the first turn point in the southwestern airspace corner of Zürich and Basel, then the second turn point around Kassel and then along Thüringer Forest, Fichtelgebirge and Oberpfälzer Forest to the Bavarian Forest and back home.

Michael in his EB 29

You flew the Grand Prix Races in Saint Auban (2003) and Omarama (2007). We would love to see you competing again!

Yes, I enjoyed it, and to be honest, following the recent Grand Prix Final in St. Auban, I really would have wished to be part of it. But time is limited. I have to set priorities which I did in favor of the FAI Open Class competitions.

Is there any pilot that has impressed you in competitions recently with his flying style?

What I really got to enjoy is watching the very professional Grand Prix broadcasting. To see Tilo win two years ago at the GP Finals in La Cerdanya was very special. That Tilo after around 30 years of competition flying with his very creative, self-determined, non-tactical, optimistic but also quite risk-taking flying style finally wins a World Gliding Championship is remarkable! He typically does not care, what the others are doing and very often is the only pilot, who is trying a completely different track. Secondly, I was quite surprised about Mario’s very aggressive style which he was showing during this year’s GP Final in St. Auban. Both of you, well done!

Thank you for the interview, Michael! Do you want to mention anything else?

It would be great to have one common worldwide gliding portal to compare flights. Many other countries have already deviated from this, Austria, CZ, and a few more, who have founded their own online platform which in my opinion is not good for the sport. On the other side, I love the functionality of WeGlide! I do not want to miss it again.