There are some things in life you simply have to tick off your bucket list: for example a road trip with friends, a successful mountain ascent, or the planting of a tree. The list should also feature a glider flight over the Alps, because almost nothing else on this planet offers a comparable feeling of freedom.
We had to keep postponing our date due to the weather. Even today, thick clouds hang over Innsbruck’s Nordkette Mountains. Christian Senn calls me with a cheerful voice and says that several “sun windows” are forecast in the Außerfern area. I set off for Reutte, 100 kilometres away, with a somewhat queasy feeling in my stomach. Christian is chairman of the Außerfern Gliding Club and has 20 years of experience in flying all over the Alps.
As I arrive at the district behind the Fern Pass, a few sunbeams are doing battle with the rain clouds. It is still unclear who will win. For this reason, Christian Senn prepares the motor glider for us instead of a sail glider – a beautiful red, yellow and white “Rotax Falke” model, with a 15-metre wingspan and 100 HP. “Normally we pull the gliders into the air with the motor glider. However, gliding is too turbulent for a greenhorn today,” explains Christian.
As soon as we are in the air, Ehrenberg Castle and the 400-metre “highline179” bridge appear on the horizon. At that very moment, I discover a sick bag on the shelf in front of me, which has obviously been stolen from a large German airline. I am glad to say, however, that I am not feeling nauseous at all – quite the contrary. I’m flabbergasted at the impressive views. The Lech is one of the last wild rivers in Central Europe and it snakes through the Lechtal Valley, untamed and turquoise. Not far away, the Heiterwanger and Plansee lakes shimmer an iridescent blue-green. From the air, it looks like a piece of the Caribbean has been dropped into the midst of the Alps. We make a loop into neighbouring Füssen and see the royal castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Christian Senn sometimes sails over the Alps as far as Vienna.
Flying for all
Daring pioneers built the airfield in Außerfern back in 1953. Today, the gliding club boasts of 45 members, its own hangar, a camping site and café next to the runway. The association is financed mainly by guest flights. Non-member pilots pay for the use of the infrastructure and members work voluntarily at the airfield, which allows local pilots to pursue their passion at an affordable price. Passenger flights are also reasonably priced at between 50 and 110 euros.
It is very important for the association that gliding is affordable for everyone. Even the flight instructors work free of charge in Reutte, which keeps training costs down to around Euro 1,200. Until a pilot is allowed to fly solo, however, he or she has to undergo intensive training with 50 flights in a two-seater and swot up on huge amounts of theory: aerodynamics, flight law, instrumentation and meteorology.
An hour of infinite freedom
The highlight of our trip comes at the end of our flight. While flying alongside the Wetterstein Mountains, we skirt the Zugspitze Mountain and observe the spectacular construction work at 3,000 metres above sea level, where a crane is currently hovering over the new summit restaurant. Dark clouds soon appear menacingly from the north, but Christian simply flies away from the rain and makes a perfect landing in Reutte. I look at my watch in surprise: we had been in the air for over an hour, the time has literally “flown by.” So this is what freedom feels like. At any rate, I now know what I will be giving my wife for her next birthday.