27 Aug 2022

Double European and Spanish distance record claim - "it was too hot to land".

FAI has received a Straight distance to a declared goal European record claim from Francisco Gines Navarro Gonzalez (Paco Navarro) and Marcelo Sanchez Vilchez (Spain). On July 25, 2022 they flew on the course Zarza - Capilla (Spain) - Bonete (Spain) 329,91 km. The current record was set in 2019, at that time Jouni Makkonen flew in Finland 274,7 km.

UPD: FAI Has ratified this a Straight distance to a declared goal European record on December 6, 2022. Congratulations!


We have contacted Francisco and Marcelo to find out more about their sports careers and this very attempt.

FAI.CIVL: How long have you been doing free-flight sport?

PACO: I have been flying for almost 31 years, since the end of 1991.

MARCELO: I started paragliding three and a half years ago, at the age of 16.


FAI.CIVL: What brought you into the sport?

MARCELO: My father (Sergio Sánchez Novoa) has been hang gliding and paragliding for 30 years, and he still continues, my mother also flew until I was born, so I come from a “flying family”.

PACO: I have always been interested in adventure sports in contact with nature. A friend of mine heard about the recent foundation of a paragliding club in my hometown and we went there to try it out. I was hooked from the first flight.


FAI.CIVL: Where did you learn to fly?

PACO: In Lorca (Murcia), with the Desnivel paragliding club, under the guidance of the Jiménez brothers (Pedro and Paco), Pepe Sánchez, Julián Jiménez and other members of the club.

MARCELO: I started paragliding with Draco School, my first teacher was Antonio Morillas, and then I started to fly and train with both, Juan and Ramon Morillas, who is also a multi-record breaker in paramotor.


FAI.CIVL:  Who were the people that inspired you in your life and sport?

PACO: My brother José Luis, since childhood, both in life and in sport. Thanks to him I got to know most of the sporting activities I practice (spearfishing, cycling, hiking...).


FAI.CIVL: What are your achievements or titles before breaking a record?

MARCELO: Since I started competing last year, I still didn’t have much time to win many competitions, but I won a couple of Opens in the Sport category, and made the podium in many others, I also won the regional XContest competition and placed third in the overall with an EN-C wing, but last year my best achievement was setting a Spanish Sport category distance record in a place called Arroyomolinos de León.

PACO: In XC, my first important flight was in Peñarrubia (Lorca), in 1996, with my Edelenergy (I still have it), I flew 85 km in a straight line, and I landed near Barinas. Until then the longest distance flown in Murcia was around 30 km. Afterward, Pani (Jose Carlos Ruiz) and I were alternately raising that mark in Murcia to over 200 km, in my case, 204 km OLC from La Zarcilla.

I have a special affection for my first +100km, I took off out during the Sierra Nevada PWC in 1998. I flew to the beginning of the Sierra de Orce (bordering Almeria) where I encountered a headwind from the east and turned back to land at El Margen, near Cullar (Granada).

My most important XC flights in recent years have been in Castelo de Vide (207kms), La Zarcilla (100km FAI triangle), El Yelmo (223kms) and Zarzacapilla (359kms). This last flight was a triple Spanish record for a pre-set goal (245km), free distance (343km) and distance with 3 turning points (359km).

My first Spanish national league was in 1996 or 1997, I don't remember well. I got to be 3rd or 4th in the rankings, but I didn't go to the last race (Tenerife) so I finished 10th overall.

In the last years, I was on the podium in cross country comps: 1st in Serial LN Gata 2022 and Sport Pre-PWC Piedrahíta 202, 2nd Sport LN Taucho 2020, 3rd in Serial LN Larouco 2022, Sport LN Boí 2021.


FAI.CIVL: Why did you decide to break that very record in that very place?

MARCELO: This zone of Spain is well known for these distance flights, there are three places, not very far away from each other, which are great for XC flights. Knowing this, we organized a van, with a group of eight pilots and a driver


FAI.CIVL: What is the previous record and where?

MARCELO: The previous Spanish record of distance to a declared goal was 275 km, and it was made from Arroyomolinos de Leon, in Huelva, Spain. The previous European record was made by Jouni Makkonen.

PACO: From Arroyomolinos we broke the previous national record of distance to a declared goal of 275 km setting it at 315 km. There was a bit of controversy because other pilots also made that flight but their record could not be validated, as they did not make the previous declaration. The night before this last record attempt flight, at the team dinner, I said laughing to Marcelo: "Don't get upset, tomorrow we'll declare a new record and that's it". It was a cocky joke to lighten the mood, but, when we saw in detail the next day's weather, we saw it was possible and we sent a previous declaration to the RFAE (NAC of Spain). And yes, we did it! Also to our own surprise.


FAI.CIVL: What flying conditions make your record different from the previous one?

MARCELO: The first 200 km were made in not-so-good flying conditions, it’s true that the wind was strong and allowed us to go fast, but thermal quality and maximum height was not that good. But after this, as we previously planned, we managed to climb up into convergence and into it we climbed up to 4700 meters and that was where we made the good distance.

PACO: The wind speed at altitude, we were flying very fast after the first 100 km. In transition, we were flying at 70-90km/h, with peaks of more than 100 km/h, and without the need to go on full speed bar. We found the announced convergence, materialised with clouds, which made us fly high, 4.200m in my case, and more than 4.700 m for my companions. Flying in convergence we hardly needed to turn, we made kilometers without losing time. I only left this line in the final 4-5 km, to go to the turnpoint. After that I didn't think about extending the flight any further, I went back under the convergence clouds, already at low altitude, to look for a safe landing with little wind.

FAI.CIVL: How long have you been flying in this area?

PACO: 7 days, from Saturday 23rd to Friday 29th July.

MARCELO: This is the second year I went to this place, but the weather conditions last year were not as good as this time.


FAI.CIVL: How long did the preparation take?

MARCELO: I’m always preparing for this kind of flights, in winter I train a lot in the physical aspect, to have the necessary endurance for these long-distance flights, and the regarding the paragliding part, I always try to fly as much as possible. I usually fly around 300 hours per season and the place where I usually fly, and where I learned, is very technical and turbulent so that allows me to feel comfortable in most all conditions and places.

PACO: Well, in my case there was hardly any preparation beforehand, I didn't even think seriously about breaking a record, I went because Marcelo called me. His father and he, together with David Polo, were organising a group to go. They arranged the dates due to the cancellation of the Siles competition and I signed up. I was looking forward to flying XC, lately, I had only flown in cross comps.


FAI.CIVL: How many failed attempts have you made before you set this record?

MARCELO: Mostly none, two days before we already set a Spanish record which also was European, flying 315 km to a declared goal, but we didn’t claim it because two days later we set this one.

PACO: Only 1, as on Saturday July 23rd we set the record of 315km, the next day I had a puncture (unintended landing) after 186km. On Monday 25th the day came out and we broke the previous record, so we gave it another "kick at the can", hehe.


FAI.CIVL: Who worked with you during preparation (any team, friends, NAC officials, NAC observer, trainer, local pilots, etc))?

MARCELO: I have a personal trainer called Jorge Ruiz, he is in charge of my physical preparation, on the flying side, my father and Juan Morillas are the ones who usually help me with the weather forecast, and Ramon Morillas, who always gives me good advice for this difficult projects. 

PACO: The preparation of the group was a bit of a team effort, although most of the organisation was done by the Sanchez family tandem (Sergio and Marcelo), who were in charge of renting the van and booking accommodation at the Zarza-Capilla hostel. Sergio is not only a pilot but also an FAI observer, thanks to him this European record can be validated.

Javi García, from Zero gravity, gave us the XC_Guide app, which is very good, especially for managing pick-ups and not flying Ramón López, the pick-up driver, crazy.

Gonzalo Pleguezuelos put his car at the team's disposal, which was great as a retrieve vehicle. In short, we all collaborated to a greater or lesser extent.

On a personal level, I signed up for this trip motivated by the desire to fly long distances as a team (I want to work on flying as a group), to help each other to go further. And this leaves aside the competitive spirit that reigns in the classic events that often, at least in my case, prevents us from enjoying the flight and the landscape overflown.

If I set a record or beat a personal best, that would be perfect, it would be the cherry on the cake, but I didn't think much about it.

On this trip, as we were seeing good weather forecasts, we decided to make joint declarations of records to the federation. And well, we were able to achieve them on 2 occasions.

FAI.CIVL: How many pilots were in your company?

PACO: We were 7 pilots that day.

MARCELO: I launched in the company with all my friends of the group we organized. Some of them managed to fly 150 km, another one 260 and four of us managed to fly over 300kms, in the end, I flew 356kms in the straight distance and 371 with three turn points also with my friend David Polo, this flight in addition to the Distance to a declared goal record, also supposed a Spanish straight distance and with three turn points distance records.


FAI.CIVL: How far have your companions managed to fly?

PACO: We always try to fly in a group, it's much easier, funnier and more efficient, but we don't always manage to do it.

Sergio, pilot and FAI observer, took off, flew for a while and went to land, then helped the driver to pick up the other pilots.

Manuel Miranda and Gonzalo Pleguezuelos, flew En-C and En-B gliders respectively, both of them bombed out  after  about 37 km of flight.

Angel Hormigo landed after flying 4h and 179km.

Javi García got off after flying 266km, very happy, he had beaten his personal best.

Joao Veiga didn't like the storm clouds we had to go around. About 65km before Bonete he radioed us to divert to the southeast to avoid them. He landed past Hellín after encountering an easterly wind. He flew 325 km and flew 7h 25min.

Marcelo, David Polo, and I (a little further away and lower) followed the planned route, avoiding the more developed clouds to the northeast, passing between the storm clouds and the CTR of Albacete, without deviating too much from the pre-set goal.

The three of us managed to make the 400m radius beacon marked at Bonete, but they arrived earlier and higher, which allowed them to return to the convergence to extend the flight. They achieved the national records for free distance over 3 turnpoints by flying an extra 40km after the declared goal turnpoint.

In David's case, unfortunately, the pre-set European record cannot be validated as he doesn't have an FAI licence, but he did it too, and he also broke my previous national record of 359km OLC, set in 2020. The new one has been set at 371km.


FAI.CIVL: Tell us about the flight, launch method, your speed, wind speed, thermal strength (from-to), lowest point, highest point. If possible provide the link to live tracking replay or xc-contest.

MARCELO: The flight at the beginning was very difficult, due to low thermal top and a lot of wind, we didn’t have a very low point unless one, in which I had to go into a rotor to find the thermal and that was strong. At the beginning thermals had a strength of +3 more or less, but then when we got into the convergence they were +6/7 but quite turbulent at some points. The wind had an intensity of 35/40 km/h in mostly every layer but, over 3500 meters it was a bit weaker, around 25km/h.

Link to my flight track: https://www.xcontest.org/andaluciaxc/vuelos/detalles:Latigojr/25.07.2022/11:25

PACO: I took off at 13.24h local time. The idea was to fly as a group and that's how we started, waiting for each other before jumping to the leeward side but I made a mistake and took the north face of La Moraleja. The south face worked better and I fell out of the group, so I had to fly the first 150 km alone, I risked flying fast to try to catch up with the group again. I managed to catch Javi, who by flying an En-C had fallen behind the En-Ds and was in a low point. I continued to fly fast, with Javi following a little further back. We hooked to the convergence before reaching Bienservida. Following the line I did about 100 km more. I left the convergence alone to go to the waypoint.



FAI.CIVL: What was the most tricky thing in breaking this record?

MARCELO: When we were at about 300 km mark there were loads of clouds in front of us, just over the goal and it was also raining, we were almost giving up of doing the record, but at some point the big cloud disappeared and the rain too, so we were able to break the record.


FAI.CIVL: What was the most difficult part of the flight?

MARCELO: I’m completely sure it was reaching the convergence, at that point we had to fly with crossed wind to be able to reach it and I also tried to fly as high as possible in order to be able to climb on it as much as possible

PACO: For me the first 100 km were complicated, it was difficult to stay in the air, the thermals were loose, they didn't go up very high and they were quite broken and drifted by the wind.


FAI.CIVL: Was there a moment when you were ready to give up?

PACO: At the beginning, I fell out of the group. And this, added to bad climbing, quite turbulent near the ground, made me think about going for a landing on a couple of occasions. The thought of how hot it would be on the ground while I will be waiting for retrieve encouraged me to do my best to stay in the air.

MARCELO: I consider myself as a very committed person, I rarely give up of something, but it’s true that when we saw the thunder I had to think about our safety, but anyway I tried it until the end and I managed to do it.


FAI.CIVL: Was there something unexpected?

MARCELO: Yes, it was too cold. We knew the temperature at the top of the lift was going to be low, but we hoped it would not be so cold. The whole flight we were talking over the radio about that cold, reaching a point where we were transitioning putting the hands inside the jacket to try to warm up a little bit.

PACO: Well, at the end of the flight, after I had touched down at the pre-set beacon, instead of continuing to fly NE to extend the flight, I made the final glide to the North, looking for a good landing and the road that would make the pick-up easier. With the fatigue I went into safe landing mode, I didn't even think I could beat my personal best in free distance (343km).

FAI.CIVL: What were you eating and drinking in flight (if you were)?

MARCELO: I always take my Totum sport energy bars with me, they are all I eat.

PACO: I ate one cereal bar and drank approx. 1/2 litre of water, regularly in small quantities.


FAI.CIVL: How did you celebrate the record? Who was the first to congratulate you?

PACO: We didn't do any special celebration, we are waiting for the official confirmation from the FAI to have a team lunch or dinner.

MARCELO: We were planning to make a party, but the real fact was that we had 5 hours driving to the place where we slept so we ended up arriving at 5 am and everybody just went to sleep. The first person who called me when I land was my mother, who always follows me in my adventures.

PACO: The first to congratulate me were my fellow pilots who landed earlier and were already in the van (Sergio, Angel and Javi), and Ramon, our pick-up driver.


FAI.CIVL: What is your next goal to achieve?

PACO: Well, probably next year we'll team up again to try to go a bit further, we'll see :)

MARCELO: I want to be the first person to fly 400km in Spain and why not, I would like to break the world distance record someday.


FAI.CIVL: Any advice to pilots, interesting notice, some share of experience that you gained while breaking this record?

PACO: Well, get organised with other pilots flying similar wings and try to beat your own personal bests. Always try to fly in a group, it's the fastest way to progress. Besides, flying in a group makes you enjoy it more.

MARCELO: My best advice for this kind of flights is to fly with a great team of people. If everybody works for the team, the team will do great things for sure.