Flying is pure freedom and passion

Uli Schwenk has a philosophical approach to gliding, and it works: he has won the German National Championship and the European Championship too for several times; over and above he became the second-best in the World Championship in New Zealand in 1995. He is on the top in Szatymaz too.

  • As your competitors heard that I’m going to make an interview with you, they all said: Uli is great, and it really seems that everybody likes you. But it is a competition, you have to win…
  • You need to have a healthy desire for success, but you have to be able to lose as well, or more precisely: accept a not very privileged position. 
  • You mean gliding is a different sport, one of a kind.
  • Community and good-fellowship is extremely important. I’ve been a vice-mayor for 17 years in my hometown Münsingen, and I have seen many sport clubs as well. I can surely say that gliding is different. But it is a demanding sport indeed: We have to take care about technique and weather. You have to be fit mentally, struggle with the difficulties, don’t give up whatever it comes and concentrate for many hours. Gliding has a great advantage compared to many other sports: If you are a Formula 1 pilot, you will get all the information, including all racetracks details for the whole year in January. You can be prepared for every single curve. When you glide, you enter a completely new racetrack each time you fly. The best of it: we are part of the nature, we use the gift of the nature like free energy and we have to know how to use it.  
  • Is it demanding? 
  • More demanding than driving a car. Not just because we have to calculate many influencing factors, but because we fly in four dimensions. Three space coordinates and the timeline too. However the most difficult is to show this beautiful world to the public. It’s not spectacular seeing from the ground. There is a famous book written by Jochen von Kalckreuth - Das stille Abenteuer (The silent adventure). This is what we do with passion. Not to forget: have to fight for airspace; Europe is relatively crowded, there is a huge demand for free zones. I always point out that we use just a very small amount of energy, and we are part of the great life circle. 
  • Would you please explain that?
  • The sun warms the surface of the Earth, which has a varying characteristic: lakes, forests, mountains, fields, etc. Warm air rises, clouds are formed while the air goes through them, and goes down again. It is like the everlasting cycle of seasons. As a pilot you have to understand these rules of nature. The geological circumstances might be different, but main principles are the same around this planet. 
  • Where do you like the most to glide?
  • In the mountains. Chile for example is fantastic with those 7000 meter peaks.
  • Is it not dangerous with a glider?
  • A little bit. You have to take care and keep distance. This is our life insurance. 
  • You are 57 years old, and still in the top league. How do you do that?
  • Basic fitness is essential, and you have to stand it for hours to stay motionless. You have to concentrate, and you have to know when you need to relax. This rhythm is very important and it is also part of the nature and very important part of our strategy: relax and motion just in time. Attention is also important. The observation of small things makes one a good pilot . You have to read from the clouds what is going to happen in the next minutes. You can learn this knowledge in many years. There are talents who compete after three years, but I needed 14 years until I understood everything. If I have been a football player decades ago, I would be a couch or a simple fan by now. 
  • I guess you have a tolerant family back home…
  • Without a strong willing and a very good family you can’t do that. Flying means freedom, but the rest of your family is restricted while you are away for a championship. If you are not stressed you are able to see 180-degree of the horizon, which is quite a lot, but not the whole picture. If you have a good partner and you put you shoulders together, you will see the entire world. My daughter lives in Canada, and she is just arrived at Szatymaz to see me. This is a great honor for me. I guess I did something well in my family…
  • What have been changed in gliding in the last years?
  • We have much more instrumental information, I can tell you very precisely where to find what. What is unchanged: you have to find energy lines in the air. Sometimes when I fly by engine driven planes I use them to spare fuel and have a larger speed. If they see me on radar they ask me: Why do you fly in a zigzag? Last time I answered: in Baden-Würtenberg where I live, we have a green prime minister, and he also said that we have to save energy… And this is the way I do it!
  • Why do you fly now in the 13,5 m class?
  • It is also about nature and environment! These are relatively light-weight planes, so technically it is possible to install an electro-engine. That means that we don’t need any towing plane. These engines could be uploaded again at the end of the day by solar panels, mounted on the hangar-roof. This tiny engine can help you to overfly unfavorable zones as well.  There are many great opportunities, we need a clear regulation, and it opens new skies. 
  • And how do you feel in Szatymaz?
  • I met in very few places in the world with such a high level of service and hospitality like here. After landing the local organizers and helpers really take care about everything. And the gliding competitors are just great. I've mentioned the spirit of brotherhood. It is in the air here. 

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