Kawa and Bobula – wave adventure above Ukraine


(OPENSOARING, 19.02.2018 Agata Kulczycka, translate from Polish Magda Ziobro, photos Sebastian Kawa)

Polish newspaper Magazyn Rzeszow highlight scary wave soaring story above Ukrain. The 7 hours flight, at first turn point on 7000m above the ground in temperate zone at minus 30 C, speed was even more than 300 km/h and terrifying moments was like in the action movies. Piotr Bobula and Sebastian Kawa blessed with luck have made first, pioneer glider flight from Zernica (near Baligrod) above Czarnohora in East Karpaty. https://www.onlinecontest.org/olc-2.0/gliding/flightinfo.html?dsId=6193577

Goal – Wawe flight over East Karpaty

“When I’m talking about it right now – mentally I’m still there,” says Piotr Bobula. This achievement can make Leski county very famous as Land of gliding. Piotr Bobula is an instructor and huge gliding lover, the owner of gliding school, founder of aero club Bieszczadzki. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroklub_Bieszczadzki  He was leading a gliding place in Bezmiechowa for 15 years, then he opened next one in Weremien. The founder of the new method of taking off from the mountainside, using only the gravity. Together with Sebastian Kawa from Slask – doctor, multiple master of world championships in gliding – they decided to fly above East Karpaty, using unknown technique in Poland: flying on the waves.

25 years of dreams 

I was dreaming about it for 25 years, since I came to Bieszczady from Podhale. We would like to create new areas for gliding – says Piotr Bobula. The most difficult thing about making it was to cross the Ukrainian border and get outside European Union. Bureaucracy is more difficult plus pilots wanted to use rising air currents to it, which can be find in East Karpaty, West Bieszczady and Czarnohora.

7000m – 30°C

“These are unknown gliding areas. Before World War II gliders from “Leski”, from Bezmiechowa were flying there but only in the summer and just one way. It was much easier at that time because it was still polish area,” says Piotr Bobula. Waiting for good weather and permission for the flight took two months. As soon as they got the chance and good conditions they jumped into their gliders. 

“To get the permission, to cross the border, you have to send your flight plan the day before. We did it each time, also each time we have to get up at 5 AM to take off on the required hour. We were getting to the border and asking air controllers from Warsaw and Lowow for the permissions for further flight, and we’ve never gotten it. There was always something missing,” says Piotr.

Or Ukraine, or catastrophe 

4th attempt, at the beginning of December, gave to the pilots their dreamed chance. They took off from Zernica airport, flow above Lesko and than they used main air waves. “Because of that we reached the altitude of 5500 m above the sea level very quick. It was just before the border. All the time we were on line with controllers from Warsaw and Lwow. We told them about our altitude and we asked for the permission to cross the border – all according to flight plan,” says Piotr.

“At that moment we got another, unplanned argument – we realised that we have some problems, there was atmospheric front coming from the West that won’t let us go back to our departure airport. Clouds were from zero to 9000 m. We didn’t have the engine to go back, all we could do was flying to the East. We advised Warsaw and Lwow. According to international aviation low – respected also in the Ukraine – if pilots have to deal with life threatening conditions or conditions that may couse a catastrophe, controllers are allowed to give permission for the flight, even against the regulations. The most important is to save lifes and health,” explains Piotr Bobula.

Because of that rule and some coincidences they got the permission to cross the border. “Even if they refused, we would fly there anyway to save our lifes, there was no way back,” says Piotr, “we were flying very fast, at the level of 7000 m, with south-West wind, which was pushing us. Average glider speed is 100 km/h, there were moments when we reached 250 -300 km/h. It’s like driving straight from country road to the highway. In one hour, at about  9:45 AM we got to Czarnohora and old polish observatory Pop Iwan. Our average speed was 200 km/h. On the www.flightradar24.com web site, our altitudes, movements and progress could be seen from around the world.” 

The climber is setting up camps, glider just flies …

Getting so high may cause a shock for a human body. When the climbers are trying to reach the mountain top they set up camps to get use to the thin air and weather conditions. “Our altitude, after half an hour from the take off, was 5000 m and we were still climbing. Pressure was very low, we were breathing using oxygen bottles and some thin air. It was extreme conditions. The temperature was -30°C all the time. We had a special shoes but I was afraid of frostbite,” remembers Piotr Bobula.

Above Czarnohora pilots turned back. At about 11AM they were 30 km away from polish border. “I was very cold, hoping we will get to Poland soon,” says Piotr. But they didn’t. Front moved from West to East for about 60 km/h. “We couldn’t go back. We decided to wait, asking controllers for one more permission for flying above Czarnohora. Few minutes later we were above Pop Iwan observatory again, we turned back. We got to Zernica, 150 km away, and than atmospheric front crossed our way. He was “standing” crosswise,” remembers Piotr Bobula.

“Situation was even more serious because of the fact that two hours after departure all instruments stoped working due to low temperature at 7000 m and -30°C. Gliders are adapted to maximum altitude of 2000 m and temperature between 10 – 12 C. – instruments couldn’t survive such a low temperatures and just refused to cooperate,” explains Piotr Bobula. But pilots were ready for this kind of situation. “In my pocket I had hand GPS for the surveyors with downloaded maps of whole Europe plus some batteries. We used it to finish our flight,” says Piotr.

Iced up …..

Frozen glider falls like a stone 

150 km away from the polish border Sebastian Kawa decided to cross the atmospheric front, 80 – 100 km wide. It was very risky. There was no visibility, moreover iced cloud could freeze the glider. “In these conditions ice grows on the wings extremely fast. Glider loses ability to fly and falls like a stone,” explains Piotr Bobula. Pilots got into the front but they didn’t cross it.

“We have to run away otherwise we are going to die, I said, so we run away to the North, to Ukraine. We didn’t have the permission to land there. If we land there we would lose more or less two weeks to explain, what are we doing there and to get permission to go back to Poland,” says Piotr.

Before, pilot’s plan in case of emergency was to land in Romania, in European Union, but it was impossible. “Front was coming from Romania and Poland, all we could do was to fly to Ukraine. And we did it … We were lower and lower, in the iced cloud we lost almost 4000 m – necessary to cross the border and get to Zernica. We were passing by Stryj, Drohobycz, Truskawiec. All that time we were in range of Lwow’s radar. Near by Drohobycz, already in the lowlands, we caught airwaves and we kept on flying like that, we even increase our altitude for 500 m,” says Piotr.

They were 2000 m above the ground when it started to get dark. They really wanted to get to the border and land in Zernica or Bezmiechowa. However they didn’t manage to pass the mountains, because front left some low clouds behind. “We changed our direction to the North and decided to land in Arlamow. We were stressed because it was already dark. Maps don’t show that airport, it was hard to find it in the forest. Finally we did it and landed in extremely hard conditions, with very strong wind. It was totally extreme, I was so cold that I could not get out of the glider. I felt like I came back from the space …,” says Piotr Bobula.

Arlamow airport is located in Trojca, 15 km north from the hotel. It was empty and closed

Piotr Bobula and Sebastian Kawa finally – to sauna

“First we advised our team from Zernica to pick us up with the trailer and car, than we advised Arlamow administration and we asked them to open the gate for us,” they explain. When their team finally came, they knew that they are saved. “After all of that, we went straight to sauna in Lesko to get warm,” says Piotr, “when I’m talking about it right now, mentally I’m still there. It was huge risk. Nobody makes those kind of flights and probably won’t make them in the winter and on those altitudes.” 

Now glider pilots surf on the wave. New age in polish gliding

Their flight was 7,5 hour. They did something that nobody did before them. It’s a record in a category of “exploring new gliding areas”. In Poland nobody ever did gliding flights on the wave, used winter air currents to long distance flights – explain pioneers, who were learning how to use waves in New Zeland and South America, and than they brought the technique to Poland. 

“Tadeusz Gora has made flight to Vilnius using thermal currents, we used waves currents to get East Karpaty;” they say. Till now, polish glider pilots were using thermal currents, those used by Tadeusz Gora. Kawa and Bobula, using south waves in Karpaty, have started new age for gliding.

“These flights are completely different than thermal flights, they are not related to the sun, but to strong winds, blowing with 100 km/h speed. They meet mountains on the way and they rising, waving the low parts of atmosphere even up to 12.000 m,” explains Bobula. 


Piotr has been activity working for years to bring back the gliding tradition, which has been there before World War II. Leski county was “Gliders Land” already in 1935. At that time there were two gliding areas: Bezmiechowa, high-performance gliding area of Lwow Areoclub, and Ustianowa, military gliding area. “We try to bring those traditions back to life. Actually we did it just before Christmas, after that famous flight,” says Piotr.  “On December 18 th Leski county signed a resolution to become an official land of gliders. Today we have here three gliding areas: Bezmiechowa, Weremien near Lesko and Zernica near Baligrod, on the edge of Leski county they are creating 4th one, and pilots really want to continue what they have started.”


Celebration in June

This year we will be giving prices for first flights: 1000 km and 1500 km from Zernica – says Piotr – and its all happening in a special year – 100 years of polish aviation.

That’s why this year on June 30 th we will organize a celebration in Lesko. There will be an air show with the best polish acrobatic teams. You are all very welcome to come.


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