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Definitions:   URUBU (noun)     1. A small Brazilian Vulture

  2. A large Brazilian Glider

Aberto! - Open!, Fechado! - Closed! This bi-lingual exchange marked the achievement of an ambition to glide in Brazil during one of my occasional business trips there. Last January, I and a colleague were visiting Embraer, the aircraft company which is based between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro just on the Southern Tropic. A major feature of the area is that there is absolutely nothing to do at weekends, so when it became obvious the visit was going to stretch over a second one, something had to be done. I began dropping hints from Tuesday onwards that a visit to a gliding club would be much appreciated. Yes, there was a club nearby said my Brazilian colleagues, and they would try to arrange something.

The weather during the week had been unseasonably wet, even for the Brazilian summer, which is the wetter part of the year, but was improving slowly. Every morning the sky produced cumulus, cloud base 6000-8000 ft agl (8-10000 ft asl), and every afternoon brewed up cu-nims, torrential rain and over-theatrical electricity. The Sao Paulo area gets 300 cu-nims a year on average. However, the locals advised against getting too excited, with so much moisture in the air the clouds were much feebler than they looked with 1-2 kt being typical.

By Saturday morning we had heard nothing but then a phone call to the hotel asked us to come into the plant to brief the Technical Director on progress so far - 'Come as you are' was the message. After an hour's discussion, the final question was easy - would we like to stay working in the plant until it closed at 1:30, or would we like to accompany him to his Gliding Club? Soon we were on the way there after collecting a French visitor, Michel, ('One of my customers who's a glider pilot' explained our host).

The club lay at the foot of a low ridge which formed one side of a broad flat valley holding a meandering river. The ridge rose to about the height of the South Downs above the site, which was over 3000 ft asl and had a narrow grass strip parallel to the hill. We were told the ridge was soarable, that useable sea breeze was common (we were about 50 miles from the sea) and that wave to 20000 ft had been explored.

Brazilian bureaucracy treats gliding exactly like power flying, and the equivalent of a Brazilian PPL is necessary to fly solo, so only 2-seater rides were possible. The club has two 2-seaters, a Neva B, which is an ancient gull-winged machine (much merriment was apparent amongst my Brazilian colleagues earlier in the week when they thought I might fly this aircraft), and the other being the Urubu.

During the drive to the club it had emerged that Michel was a former 3rd place holder in the French nationals, and our host Luiz-Carlos was currently Brazil's National Champion. In real life Michel is Vice-President of a French airline which had just signed an 8-figure contract so we thought it tactful to let him have the first ride. While we were taking a leisurely lunch by the pool (!!) the Neva B took off and never returned, so the Urubu it was to be.

We watched Michel's take-off and stately climb away behind the club's tug. This was an Aero Boero, an Argentinean design which looks like a sharply styled Cub, with a 150 hp engine. By this time there was a lot of spread-out around and he was soon back, his well-judged approach ending in a flurry of sideslipping just after the brakes opened - a useful clue to their effectiveness! On the way back to the launch point I asked him what he thought of the machine. 'Horrible!' he replied with a big grin.


By Geoff Stilgoe