Innsbruck July 2001
By: William R. Cotton

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We are in a United 777 torture machine on our way to the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences(IAMAS) 8th Scientific Assembly in Innsbruck, Austria. Fortunately, this flight to Frankfort, Germany is shorter than usual as it is a direct flight. Nonetheless, United manages to stuff more coach seats in a given space than any other airline! The seats were so close together that when the person in front of me had their seat full back, there wasn't room for me to have my knees directly in front of me. Now anyone who knows me, knows that I am not the tallest person in the world, so I ask, how can a person six foot tall manage in coach now days?

Back in the good old days, 20 years ago or so, United used to have seat arrangements which were not only comfortable but served good meals as well. Now, the food offered on an overseas flight is worse than what was served on a 2 hour domestic flight back then. United now reminds me of Braniff 30 years ago, and those of you who have heard of the airline know what happened to them! The flight was delayed for about an hour while they repaired a new humidifier feature offered to "first class passengers". Because of the delay, we landed in Frankfort about 30 minutes before the departure time of our connecting flight to Munich. Sitting behind Vollie and me, was Wu from NCAR. We got off the plane and rushed out the door and a service person told us we had been automatically booked on a flight leaving an hour later. But we decided to see if we could make the connection. Since customs formalities now amount to a single check of our passport as we proceeded from one terminal to the next we actually arrived at the gate with 10 minutes to spare and got on our scheduled Lufthansa flight. The legroom on that 50min flight was about 6 inches greater than what we had to contend with on United overnight!

When we arrived in Munich, Wu invited us to ride with him in his rental car rather than take the train as planned. This sounded great, so we served as navigators as we drove around Munich and then southeast to Innsbruck. Wu really appreciated our assistance. He dropped us off at the Hotel Europa Tyrol, about 7:15PM on the 12th, which was about the time our train would have departed Munich. So we unpacked and walked a few blocks to have "traditional" Austrian food spaghetti, sitting outside on a canvas covered deck on the sidewalk. By 10:00PM we were enjoying the comfort of straightening out our bodies in a bed covered with the warm featherbed with the temperature outside in the 70's. Those things are nice when it is cold outside but in the summer it is either too hot with them on you or too cold with them off, no in between. I slept well until about 3:00PM with the road noise and railroad noise (the hotel is directly across from the train station) woke me up. This is the penalty we pay for living in the foothills in Colorado with no traffic noise. I remembered I had brought along some earplugs and put those in and went back to sleep.

After waking up after 0700, we had a great buffet-style breakfast in the hotel which came with the room. I then called Georg Mayr who is a an alumni of our department and who has arranged for me to go soaring. Georg picked us up at 11:15 after we took a short walk around town and drove us out to the gliderport. The glider club is co-located with the internationsl commercial airport in Innsbruck except they operate on a grass strip located on the east side of the field. I met my arranged pilot and we looked at the skies which were becoming increasingly cloud covered and decided to wait until
Saturday afternoon when Georg was forecasting a foehn event with the likelihood of wave lift. The plane I am to fly in is a DG-505 Elan, a ship I have wanted to fly for sometime. The club has a hangar full of two- and single-place gliders, stacked vertically. I asked if they were mostly private ships but no, they were all club ships.

Vollie and I then decided to take a hike in the hills but low enough that we were beneath the cloud deck. So we donned our boots, put on our hiking packs and took a bus to the town of Igls. Before getting on the bus a few drops struck us, but Vollie said "it vill not rain!" But, in spite of her German orders the rain came down in buckets. Even though we had full rain gear including our rain ponchos, our feet got soaked as the rain wet our socks which then wicked the water down inside our goretex lined boots. Afterward I found out that my expensive digital watch with altimeter and compass got wet enough to destroy it. It claims to be good to 50m in the water! Still the walk down the mountain side through the dripping forests was fun.

We opened the shutters of our hotel room to see the surrounding mountains perfectly free of clouds. So we decided to make the most of it by beginning with a ride in the funicular to the town of Hungerburg and then walking the trails up the mountainside. About 11:30 and 1.5h of hiking I decided I had better head back down to go on my arranged glider flight, while Vollie continued up the mountainside on her own. When I got down the mountain I decided to walk the 5km to the gliderport. Arriving about 1:30, I met the gliderclub pilot, Barny Tanda, who was to be my flying host. We immediately began pulling out the DG-505Arian, and hooked it to a tractor to pull it to the other end of the field. Moving that ship around made me realize what a big heavy plane that is. I could walk under the horizontal stabilizer when it was attached to the taildolley!

Winds were brisk and a few planes that had already launched seemed to be ascending well up the mountainside. After waiting for some commercial jets to clear the area, our turn finally came. Barny mentioned that when a "heavy" jet came in or took off like a 747, they had to move all their equipment to the side of the field. Fortunately, that did not happen while we were out there. Barney handled the winch takeoff, getting about 300m. It didn't seem like much altitude to me but Barney immediately flew over to a bench in the mountainside on our left, skimmed over the trees, around an old stone quarry, and found some weak lift. He worked it back and forth slowly gaining altitude. After about 300m he gave it to me and I began prospecting the hillsides for lift. My first reaction to taking the controls of the DG-505 Elan was, my what a heavy feeling plane this is! But it climbed well and as I contoured the mountainside we began climbing at times at 6m/s. Many of the ridge thermals were very powerful hitting the plane with a bump and up we would go. About 10 minutes later, we were on top of the mountainside skimming along the ridge tops. As we headed southwest we flew over the top of the gondola where there was quite a crowd of people on top waving at us. What a flight! Later several people at the meeting said they saw a sailplane like the one I was flying and even exclaimed there goes Dr. Cotton! They may have been right. I then continued soutwest and eventually saw a cumulus ahead with about 4 sailplanes thermalling beneath it. I headed there and joined the crowd. The thermal was very strong at its core so I really banked steeply into it and before long I had thermalled up through the group of gliders and was looking down at them beneath me. As Rolf and I have experienced in the past, it seems like a lot of European glider pilots do not bank as aggressively in thermals as we do. This was a clear case of a thermal with a very strong core where steep banking in the thermal core really paid off. I had gained a total of 3000m since I took over, or about 9000'.

I then headed further southwest to a point where I could overlook a large lake in the valley below. There is no way I can give justice to the beauty of the terrain. The mountains are extremely rugged. On the west face the slopes are forested to within 400m or so of the top. On the east side they fall away sharply with scree and almost vertical descent. Then you overlook the valley with the colorful town of Innsbruck and green pastural lands. Across the valley are mountains just as tall as on the side we were on but appearing more gentle by comparison.

Much too soon, Barney said we should head back so others could take the plane up. Again I contoured the mountain ridges and eventually went northeast of the gliderport where Barney said I could see Germany on my right, Switzerland ahead, and Italy on my left. This was one of the best flights I have ever had. At times I took a few pictures when I let Barney take over, but it is both hard to describe in writing or even in photographs what this flight was like.

Barney took over for the landing, putting the nose down and picking up speed to over 125km/hr, and landed well. After we landed, Barney admitted that our winch launch was so low that he didn't think he could pull it off. While we were still in gliding distance of the airfield, we were skimming over the trees after release so low that I could pick out individual leaves on the trees. I don't imagine on an ordinary day he could have pulled it off, but the thermals were so strong right down to the tree tops that he could connect. What a flight! We each had a beer at the clubhouse and then I grabbed a bus back to town.

Vollie also had a great hike, and enjoyed the views, the flowers, and just being out there. She also thinks she saw me soaring overhead. She was pretty tired so she must have covered quite a few miles.

That evening Georg Mayr had us up to his home for a great dinner, sitting outside with a view of Patscharkotel mountain. He and his wife and children live in a large, quite old, remodeled house with his parents. His mother, reminded me of Vollie as she kept passing food to us time and again.

This morning when we opened the shutters the sky was partly overcast. But after breakfast it cleared enough for us to decide to take the bus to Igles and then the gondola to Patscharkotel. It took about an hour to get to the top and as we walked around the winds blew and it started to rain and thunder. So we didn't go to the very summit but instead explored a native flower garden operated by Innsbruck University.
Then we began the walk down. Just walking down trails and then roads most of the time is tiring as the descent is something like 4000'! It rained off and on but not enough to soak our boots again and the lightning stayed near the summit. We had a nice lunch with beers sitting outside in Igles while waiting for the next bus.

That evening we decided to try out an Indian restaurant we had spotted. The food wasn't that great as it was very bland for Indian food and the curry didn't even task like curry. Probably the locals don't like spicy food? Vollie also ate something that resembled a bug.

This is work day for me as I gave the first talk in the morning. I overviewed our work modeling three flood storms in Colorado and provided a synthesis of our findings. The talk went well with a lot of discussion following it and people complimenting me afterwards. Rit Carbone later presented a paper describing a statistical study of rainfall in the lee of the Rockies and the Appalachians. It clearly demonstrated a coherent signal of storms forming in the mountains and then propagating eastward for many days across the U.S., consistent with our earlier research. That afternoon I served as session chairman.

In the evening Vollie and I found a vegetarian restaurant, called Phillopino that Ed Zipser had told us about. The food was great. It was the best restaurant we had found so far. As we were about half through the meal, Ed and his wife, Marilyn, stopped in. They also liked it so well they came back for more. We had a nice time talking with them. Then after a little walk, Vollie and I had to try some sinful cake with cream, called sacher torte, that was too sweat for my taste.

I attended the morning session of the conference which focused on TRMM results. In the afternoon since the clouds were breaking up, we decided to take the gondola up top of 2334m Hafelekarspitz, which is one of the mountains I had soared over. Bob Dickensen, now from Georgia Tech was on the same gondola as us. From Innsbruck, the escarpment looks steep but nothing like the far side where the mountain slopes drop off in steep rock slides and pointed peaks. I wanted Vollie to get an appreciation of what it looked like from that side.

We rushed down the mountainside in the gondola so that we could have dinner with Zev Levin, Danny Rosenfeld and a large Israeli group.

We got up at 5:30 and caught the 6:37 train to Munich and then flew to Frankfurt where we flew Unites new direct to Denver flight, arriving home about 9:00PM and very tired.