Tilo Holighaus | Sailplane Manufacturer and Grand-Prix Champion

Time and again, Tilo Holighaus lets us in on his flying adventures in exciting flight stories. In this interview, he tells us a little more about himself and his flights.
Tilo Holighaus | Sailplane Manufacturer and Grand-Prix Champion

⏳ Flight hours: 6000
➰ Direction of circling: Rather right
🏅Competition or Cross-country: Both :)
🍕 Favorite in-flight snack: Homemade Vesper from my wife Katja
🍺 First drink after a long flight: Sour Radler

Hello Tilo! Thank you for telling us a little bit about you and your flying. Before discussing your flying adventures, we are interested in learning about you. You are certainly known by almost every glider pilot, and not only because of your great flights. You run the company Schempp-Hirth Flugzeugbau, where you produce great gliders. Some know that you were born into a family of aviators. At what age did you sit in a glider for the first time?

At the age of 5, together with my brother Ralf at the rear seat of the brand new Janus, flown by my father. I remember the flight very well - we flew low at the ridge at the Teck :-)

Did you know back then that gliding would be your passion, and could you hardly wait to start training, or did you find your way into the cockpit later?

Actually, both - flying has always been my passion, and I started the classical way with model flying. Alone at a meadow behind our house and the Teck, later in our club, the Fliegergruppe Wolf-Hirth Kirchheim at the Hahnweide. I enjoyed it so much that I started gliding "late" at 14 ½. From the first flight on, I did model flying sporadic.

Since you are an aircraft manufacturer, I would like to split the question about your favorite aircraft. Let's start with the supposedly more straightforward question. Which glider type from your house do you like to fly the most?

I usually always answer the question diplomatically and say Minimoa. A bit more personal, I would say: The new Arcus, preferably together with my children. Or alone in the Ventus.

Tilo with his daughter Amelie in the Arcus in the area of Nitra

The competition never sleeps. Which aircraft from another manufacturer did you find most enjoyable to fly?

I find it exciting to fly other manufacturers' aircraft. The closest to my taste are probably the LS sailplanes.

What was the most significant success in your flying career?

I especially like remembering my first 1000km triangle in 1990 with a Nimbus-3 from the Hahnweide. Three years later, I did a speed world record over a 1000km triangle distance with a Nimbus-4 in South Africa. And last but not least, my world championship title with the Ventus-3 at the 2019 Grand Prix Final in La Cerdanya in the Pyrenees.

Which flying skills are you particularly proud of, and which would you like to improve?

Low at the Kochertalbrücke

I can keep my nerve in challenging situations, consistently have alternatives in mind (especially safe outlanding options), and get away from lower altitudes. Flying fast also works well, but I would like to improve further in team flying with others, e.g., in a crowd, and using the new technical and electronic possibilities.

Being that low for more than 30 minutes requires mental patience

When I look at your flights in WeGlide, I always notice one thing: You fly very often and not only in great weather! In your comments, one can read detailed information even on relatively small flights and feel how you enjoy every flight! After so many hours of flying, what motivates you to set up and fly the Ventus even in supposedly lousy weather?

The best flight is the one you make

I am glad that my comments are read :-)  What motivates me? Probably simple curiosity. Based on the fascination that there is always something going on somewhere. And especially in bad or, as you aptly say - supposedly lousy weather - you can learn the most, and such flights are lovely to remember. And as I like to say, the best flight is the one you make. So go flying. Excuses for not flying today are too easy for me here :-)

Happy smile in the ridge lift of Teck

Which flight from the last two years has remained a special memory for you?

Spontaneously, the joint flight adventure to St. Auban in June 2023 comes to my mind, together with Mathias Schunk, Nils Fecker, Johannes Beyer and Henrik Theiss.

Satisfied pilots after a long journey to southern France

The next day's return flight was extremely impressive: we took off in the worst weather with initially less than 1500m cloud base and upcoming showers in the southern French mountains. We just made it to the high mountains, where it was highly complicated but also beautiful. Back home at Hahnweide, I marveled late into the night at the incredible wonder of being able to experience so much in a single flight.

Most of the time, you take off from your home airfield, the Hahnweide. But you have already flown in several regions. Which one did you like best and why?

I like it almost best in our varied homeland - especially with the many different conditions through all seasons. Otherwise, I love the mountains - the more lonely, unexplored, and natural, the better. That's why flying in Chile in the Andes has been one of my absolute highlights so far.

During your last flight, you used the Albkante in ridgeflying. Tell us a bit about the specials of your home region in terms of ridgeflying. What are the difficulties?

Ridge flying on the Alb is insanely fun for me, as it is, after all, very complex and always surprising. Besides, it is a beautiful alternative before or after the actual season or in weather conditions that only allow thermal flights to a limited extent, e.g., when the base is (still) too low. Unfortunately, the Alb is unsuitable for long distances in the ridge lift because you need a steady northwesterly wind. However, this is usually only available when a front is approaching, and it always starts raining too early for me...

Wind from the northwest would be perfect for ridge flying at the Albkante

Longer lasting wind is, therefore, mostly only from the west-southwest, and this means that the Alb does not work well at the main ridges, but always only the cross ribs work well. This means that you climb on one rib and then have to fly around the noses through the lee of the next rib, getting low there again. Especially against the wind, i.e., to the southwest, this is not for the faint of heart and is only recommended for someone who knows the landing possibilities very well and is well practiced in outlanding.

The prevailing wind from the southwest creates lots of areas of sink, which have to be crossed

With a tailwind, on the other hand, you can wonderfully extend your flights on the Alb with a bit of wind - how often have I been able to complete or extend flights coming from the Black Forest in this way.

Even during wintertime, Tilo can do ridge flying from the airfield Hahnweide

Where will your next flying adventure take place?

Next week, I will fly to the Grand Prix Final in Pavullo/Italy. I am looking forward to flying in the northern Apennines, even though it will be very challenging, and I have developed a special safety concept. I will benefit from my experience in the first e-glide competition in 2019 with the Discus-2c FES. This, by the way, is a form of competition that I also really enjoy, because you have a lot of additional flying options and through the permitted, indeed desired FES use it comes virtually in any weather to exciting, instructive flights - hopefully an alternative that will also enrich WeGlide even more :-)

Thank you, Tilo, for the insights you shared with us. We wish you a successful competition and all the best for your future adventures in the air!

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