Christian Ciech is one of the most successful pilots in competition hang gliding, and was FAI European and World Champion at the same time in 2016. We spoke to him…
Do you remember your first flight?
Yes of course, I remember it very well because I was asking myself, 'How am I meant to fly straight with this glider?!' I was 17 and it was 1988. I realised that the glider didn't fly straight but I still landed quite well – at least I made the field! I have been hitting the field ever since.
You've been flying for nearly 30 years. What else do you fly?
I have flown paragliders too, but I cannot say I fly them because I have made something like 30 flights in 20 years. I also have my ultralight sailplane instructor licence, but mainly I fly hang gliders.
Are you a pilot fulltime?
I work fulltime for a manufacturer, which is slightly different. The evolution of the glider I fly is part of my job, but I'm not only a test pilot. The factory is small and we make helmets as well as hang gliders, so I do many other jobs: checking the manuals, emails to customers, checking the gliders.
You grew up in the Dolomites, a perfect place to fly hang gliders. Where do you live now?
I lived in the Dolomites until 2001, then I moved to close Lake Maggiore, on the southern side of the Alps on the border with Switzerland and Italy to be near work. That is my home now. I go back to the Dolomites to visit my mum and spend some family time there.
You have had a lot of success in competition, but in 2016 you added the title of FAI European Hang Gliding Champion to the FAI World Champion title you won in 2015. Congratulations!
Thank you very much. Hang gliding is always interesting and always exciting, and these two competitions were very different for me. The FAI European Hang Gliding Championships in Krushevo was interesting as I didn't expect such good conditions. But actually almost every day we flew interesting tasks, from 90km to 146km. So I enjoyed flying there, it was good.
Did you go to the Europeans expecting to win?
For different reasons I'd had a long layoff over winter 2015/16, and then the flying season in Italy had been very bad. So I'd only done two days of competition that season. I wasn't really convinced about my capabilities. Of course I was hoping for a good result, but I wasn't sure I could compete at the best level.
When did it start to go right?
After two tasks I started to fly more conservatively and tactically, and that worked. So then I realised I could do much better than I had started. I started to gain some points, climb positions, and I ended up on the podium, so that was good.
The FAI World Hang Gliding Championships were in Mexico in 2015. You won there too. How did the two competitions compare?
I like flying in Valle de Bravo, where the competition was held, and I like to fly in the mountains – high terrain with high cloudbase. But the competition started in a different way because I won the first task. Normally that is an uncomfortable position, because you feel the pressure. But on the second day I had a technical problem, which forced me to fly slowly, but I still made goal. When I made goal I realised I was in the right frame of mind to do well in the comp. And in competition that is what really counts.
The head game… A lot of pilots talk about that. How do you manage to stay cool, calm and collected and fly well throughout a long competition? The best situation for me is when I'm not thinking about the results, and instead I'm thinking about what I can learn from the flight. If I set my mind in this way, it's the best thing I can do. It's not always possible, of course. Sometimes the competition stresses you out and you fight for the result, but that doesn't work very well for me. Flying to learn is the way I fly competitions.
You fly like that in every competition? 'I am here to learn'?
Yes. I try.
That is an admiral approach and one we could all learn from I'm sure. Now, if there was one place in Italy you'd invite other hang glider pilots to fly, where is it?
You should fly Monte Cucco in Umbria, central Italy. It's one of the best flying sites we have in the country. We have very good conditions when the wind is quite strong, which is good for hang gliders. It's also an excellent place for paragliders. The best time of year to come is August.
See you there?
See you there!
** Christian Ciech's competition success includes:
- FAI European Champion in 2016
- FAI World Champion in 2015
- Four Team golds at the FAI World Hang Gliding World Championships, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015
- FAI World Champion in Class 5 (rigid) hang gliding twice, 2002 and 2004
- Eight-time national Italian Hang Gliding Champion
- Bronze medal at the 1998 FAI European Hang Gliding Championships
Photo Credit: Flavio Tebaldi