Carolyne Kauser-AbbottExplore: Travel in Provence

St Remy Things to Do Try Gliding at Aéroclub des Alpilles

Soaring in the Alpilles

In the idyllic playground of the Alpilles, my husband (aka M. Avion) stumbled upon utopia for those who like (or wish to try) soaring. In the heart of the Bouches du Rhone, is a location where the confluence of meteorological elements and geology create near perfect gliding conditions. The first time we rode our bicycles past the small airport at Mazet de Romanin, M. Avion was captivated by this new opportunity for taking flight.

The location of the Aéroclub de St Rémy des Alpilles benefits from favourable north to south winds and natural geological features which includes the prominent ridgeline of the Alpilles. When the wind conditions are right, the gliders lift off the ground as if by magic and can stay aloft for extended periods. Before the imposition of regulations preventing setting records for flight longevity, the longest flight for a two-person glider, at this aerodrome, was over 57 hours!

Gliding Aéroclub des Alpilles

The airport is a club where members learn to glide or improve their skills. However, the public is welcome to fly with an instructor. Booking in advance is highly recommended, reserve a time slot either morning or afternoon, and you will be assigned to a glider and a pilot (detail below). The typical “baptême” (initial flight) lasts about 20-30 minutes. Sit back and enjoy the silence while soaring over the Alpilles. 

Gliding Aéroclub des Alpilles Take off

Helpful Mistral Winds

One weather phenomenon that impacts the Bouches du Rhone and Vaucluse (also parts of the Languedoc) is the mistral wind that blows from the northwest, this air current proves particularly useful for gliding. The mistral (the name comes from masterly) can be a forceful and often cold wind.

“The mistral takes place each time there is an anticyclone, or area of high pressure, in the Bay of Biscay, and an area of low pressure around the Gulf of Genoa. When this happens, the flow of air between the high and low-pressure areas draws in a current of cold air from the north which accelerates through the lower elevations between the foothills of the Alps and the Cevennes. The conditions for a mistral are even more favorable when a cold rainy front has crossed France from the northwest to the southeast as far as the Mediterranean.” Source Wikipedia.

Gliding Aéroclub des Alpilles Taking Off @Alex Martinez

The mistral can be your friend, but it can also be your enemy, these winds can blow for days on end, and gusts can exceed 100km/hr. Flying is not possible if the wind is that strong, besides these winds have been said to cause some people to go insane. However, a moderate mistral wind (25-60km/hr) generally means blue skies and clear sailing.

Gliding Aéroclub des Alpilles @Alex Martinez

A steel cable runs a full kilometre along the ground, attached to a tractor at the edge of the field and to a glider at the far end. The tractor engine roars spooling a winch, the cable tightens and the glider catapults into the air. The first 60-meters of flight are at a gentle grade, but after that, the glider rapidly hits a 45-degree angle, at 110km/hr — this is an example of non-powered flight taken to new extremes. At the apex of the lift, about 400 meters above the ground, the aircraft releases (automatically) from the cable and escapes the bonds of the earth to its own devices. Within a minute of takeoff, the pilot makes a slight left turn towards the ridgeline of the Alpilles, in hopes of finding updrafts to take the glider even higher.

Mechanics of Glider Flight

The birthplace of modern-day gliding was Germany, and in 1927 the Alexander Schleicher GmbH & Co., was founded, making it the oldest sailplane manufacturer in the world.

Gliding Aéroclub des Alpilles by Alex Martinez

Instrumentation on a glider is extremely basic. An altimeter, to check your height, an airspeed indicator, to make sure you have the correct manoeuvring speeds, a variometer to ascertain the rate of climb or descent, a radio to let people know where you are and a compass to give you an idea of the direction of flight.

However, the most important instrument is a tiny piece of yarn attached to the windscreen, determining if the glider is in coordinated flight. If the string is vertical on the horizon, it means that the pilot had input the correct amount of rudder with his feet and balanced the appropriate amount of aileron with the stick. This little piece of yarn does not lie, and if positioned correctly, you are sure to improve your stick and rudder skills as a pilot. Once mastered, the glider becomes harmonic, expertly balanced upon the air.

Gliding Aéroclub des Alpilles Alex Martinez

Landing a glider is not something that you have the option of doing twice. With no engine, and power to pull you out of trouble, arrival is a critical part of the flight. The pilot turns to final approach, with the plane’s nose at the optimal angle, its speed should be at least 90km/hr with the air brakes slightly out. The instructors at Aéroclub de St Rémy des Alpilles with their thousands of hours of flight time guide the aircraft to the ground until the centre wheel touches softly. Back on terra firma.

Practical Information to Book a Flight

Aéroclub de St Rémy des Alpilles (website)

To book your flight, send an e-mail to contact@aeroclub-alpilles.fr with the following information:

  • First name, last name,
  • Desired date of flight (or week)
  • Morning or afternoon
  • Number of people flying

Or call: +33 (0)4 90 92 08 43 (from 8:00 to noon, and 1:30pm to 4:30pm Monday to Friday)

Price for one person 90€ (group pricing available)


Image Credits: Photos #3-7 were provided by and published with approval from Alex Martinez

Original Post: Taking Flight in Provence Gliding Over St Remy

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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride was at six-months old, her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

2 Comments

  1. September 29, 2018 at 7:49 am — Reply

    I have long thought about doing this. Maybe next time!

    • CKAdmin
      September 29, 2018 at 2:23 pm — Reply

      I think you would love soaring over the Alpilles.

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