Conquering the world in a glider


World champion Susanne Schödel sporting the 356 Sa PILOT UTC

A last glance at the sky, a final once-over for the controls and instruments before – at last – the OK is given to the towplane which takes the glider up to an altitude of 600 metres. And glider pilot Susanne Schödel is up in the air, constantly on the lookout for thermals.

Glider pilot Susanne Schödel: Women's World Champion in 2009 and 2011, German Women's Champion in 2010 and member of the German national team.

Susanne Schödel flies with the Hessian Aero Club (AC) based in Langenselbold. The club is proud that the women's world champion from 2009 and 2011 and the German champion from 2010 is one of its members. In November 2011 she even set a world record in the “Free Triangle Distance” category. No woman had ever flown 1,062 kilometres before. Location: the Bitterwasser Lodge & Flying Centre in Namibia. She was even able to outdo this achievement in 2013 at the very same location. With over 1,107 kilometres, she set a new world record in the Free Triangle Distance on New Year’s Eve in the Open Class Women category – despite the 40-degree heat and more than eight hours on the plane. Thanks to the unique African cloud ceiling, thermals carried her to altitudes ranging from 1,700 to 5,000 metres above sea level. Usually, on cross-country routes in Germany, she flies at altitudes of 1,500 to 2,000 metres. And Susanne Schödel topped this world record with another: four days after her first triumph, she set a new speed record on the African continent at 139.3 km/h over a Free Triangle Distance of 500 kilometres.

The fascination of cross-country flying

Susanne Schödel, who was born in 1972, discovered her passion for gliding at a relatively late stage. It was not until 1995 when, at the age of 23, she experienced something which proved to be a turning point in her life – namely a flight from the Mainz-Finthen airfield in a two-seater glider. This first rendezvous with the clouds made a lasting impression – and also represented a continuation of her earlier passion for high-speed windsurfing. Flying at great speed with no engine and propelled only by natural energy – this exciting combination was just what she had been looking for. She is now an experienced glider pilot and has even been acting as a trainer since 2006. Work and weather permitting, she takes off in her white glider from Langenselbold to fly over valleys, hills and rivers and to take in the breath-taking beauty of the cloud panorama in the sky. Seeing the ground in miniature from above, flying in an aircraft powered only by rising air currents, exploiting the thermal conditions caused by the different landscapes below – these are what make long-distance gliding an endless source of fascination for Susanne Schödel. There is also the challenge, excitement and anticipation of flying in unfamiliar territory. Yet gliding is ultimately an open-air sport in which certain aspects can never be planned with certainty – especially when it comes to the weather and off-field landings. A deep sense of enjoyment and gratitude overcomes her as she flies back in the evening when the setting sun changes the colours of the world.

World records are marked in Namibia by planting a palm tree. Susanne Schödel broke a record in 2010 – as noted on the brass plate. In 2011 and 2013 she set further world records.
View of the cockpit of a training glider.

Specialist knowledge and safety first

There is a common misconception that gliders rely solely on the wind for propulsion. However thermals are the decisive factor. These are rising air currents, the energy of which can be transformed into altitude, speed and distance. During the flight Susanne Schödel has to closely monitor the surroundings and her instruments while constantly gauging the reactions of the glider. Specialist knowledge is also required: of aviation law, flight engineering and instruments, meteorology, aerodynamics and navigation. Physical fitness and the ability to concentrate are also indispensable. A further aspect is important to Susanne Schödel: respect for the element of air. After all, humans belong on the ground and their bodies are not equipped for flying. A safety-conscious pilot never forgets this. Susanne Schödel is on her own when in the air – yet while on the ground she relies on a team of experienced gliding professionals. These include Ingrid Blecher, who takes care of the pick-up, and Walter Eisele, her technical expert. They exude calmness and shield her from all outside influences, especially during competitions.

Versatile timepiece: the 356 Sa PILOT UTC

Technology plays an important role in taking off, flying and landing. There is a further component which is important for Susanne Schödel: she always relies on her 356 Sa PILOT UTC. She was first introduced to Sinn Spezialuhren in 2004 by the glider pilot Dr. Angelika Machinek, and then once again at the “Pink Tie Ball” benefit event organised by Komen Deutschland e.V., an organisation devoted to helping cure breast cancer. Sinn Spezialuhren supports this event by donating a financial district watch. The 356 Sa PILOT UTC was a gift from team-member Walter Eisele. The chronograph has been on her wrist since 2008 – during long-distance flights and competitions alike. A particularly practical aspect is the watch's UTC function which Susanne Schödel uses for rapid conversion. That's because the flying times have to be entered in the log and flight books in UTC. By setting the display to the second time zone she always knows the correct UTC at a glance without having to calculate. The chronograph function also proves useful especially during competitions. Here the emphasis is on completing tasks in set time limits. Susanne Schödel uses the chronograph function to gauge exactly how much time she has in which to complete the remaining kilometres.

Specialist knowledge is required for gliding: in aviation law, flight engineering and instruments, meteorology, aerodynamics and navigation.

A personal best at the world championships

A good example of this was the 2012 gliding world championships held in Uvalde in Texas. Here the participants had to fly 618 kilometres. Things got off to a bad start for Susanne Schödel. She set off late as a result of the weather and was then confronted with difficult conditions en route. The result? She started to lose time. The evaluation time ended at 20:08. Any flying after that time would no longer count. Furthermore the „legal daylight time” was set at 20:23. Anyone landing after then would incur extra penalty points. This was to be avoided at all costs. When Susanne Schödel took advantage of a final thermal she checked the time on her 356 Sa PILOT UTC. Would the thermal last long enough for her to land on the airstrip in Uvalde by 20.23? The team captain radioed the time information through to her. Wouldn't it be better to give up and land elsewhere? No, she decided to press on, glancing continually at the 356 Sa PILOT UTC. Her last check was when she touched down on the airstrip at 20:22. She was just in time – the 356 Sa PILOT UTC had faithfully provided her with exact time measurement. Incidentally, Susanne Schödel was one of just three female pilots among the total of 98 entrants. Her average speed was 143 km/h – a personal record. From the start of training through to the end of the last evaluation day the pilots flew a total of more 800,000 kilometres – which is the distance to the moon and back!

The 356 Sa PILOT UTC. The chronograph has been on Susanne Schödel's wrist since 2008 – during long-distance flights and competitions.

This showed once again how reliable the 356 Sa PILOT UTC has been to Susanne Schödel on her flights, strengthening her resolve to continue using it. But there are two further ways in which the watch raises trust levels. It forges a link to how she flew in the past. Before GPS came along she used to calculate times and speeds using her watch. A practice she is now continuing with the 356 Sa PILOT UTC. And the second reason: if there is a power failure and the instruments stop working she can at least rely on her watch (and her parachute!) for technical assistance, giving her an added sense of security. Besides the technical precision, Susanne Schödel is impressed by the fine craftsmanship which has gone into creating the watch. This lends the 356 Sa PILOT UTC a cachet all of its own. It puts the timepiece into a superior category to that of other watches which simply vanish into a drawer as soon as the battery runs down.

Susanne Schödel is well aware that rival watch brands have a stronger market profile than Sinn Spezialuhren and advertise their products more aggressively. Yet, having compared different models, there was only one conclusion for her. “Sinn Spezialuhren has technically superior designs – and realises them more successfully – both in terms of quality and durability.” Susanne Schödel is convinced that her 356 Sa PILOT UTC will be a faithful companion to her for many decades to come. As far as she is concerned this puts Sinn watches in a category which does not need to rely on showy advertising – something which Susanne Schödel values. The 356 Sa PILOT UTC. The chronograph has been on Susanne Schödel's wrist since 2008 – during long-distance flights and competitions.