10 Apr 2024

Clement Latour - 4 records after 9 hours on speed bar

FAI has ratified both European and World records made by the French pilot Clement Latour in summer 2023. On his Enzo 3, he has beaten the record of out-and-return distance reaching up to 311, 1 km. Moreover, he has made it at a speed of 35,16 km/h thus beating the record of the speed over out-and-return course of 300 km. FAI CIVL congratulated Clement on these splendid achievements and asked him to tell us more about his life and record-breaking.

How long have you been doing free flight sport?

I started paragliding in 2002. I was 20 years old and it was 21 years ago

What made you begin?

It was actually a coincidence. I had already done previously a tandem flight in sailplane and I was so fascinated that I was therefore seriously considering learning sailplane. But in autumn of 2002, I was randomly passing by Coupe Icare with one of my friends during a road trip in the Alps. I saw all these gliders in the air and these people flying. It looked so exciting and so easy at the same time that I couldn’t resist and bought a second-hand glider.

Where did you learn to fly? 

Back home in South France, I started to fly on my own in the Mont Ventoux area with my road trip friend who also bought a glider. From very few hazardous ground handling sessions, we quickly started a “who’s gonna fly first” contest with my friend. What was supposed to be a practice hill was indeed a proper take-off and we were both airborne on our own few days only after discovering Paragliding at Coupe Icare.

Who were the people that inspired you in your life and sport?

My first years of flying were guided by Fred Roche.  Fred used to be (and probably still is!) the Mont Ventoux reference XC pilot and was opening new routes and achievements in the area. He was also very keen to transmit his knowledge and passion to rookies who were eager to improve.

Later on in the 2010’s, I moved to Annecy and met Philippe Barnier. He became my paragliding Mentor, besides being a friend. We have flown most XC together since that date. Philippe made history in 2003 with the first-ever 200 Km FAI triangle. 20 years later, he is still flying top CCC gliders and 300 km XCs.

I was also influenced by Pierre Bouilloux and his Bivouac flights and XC achievements. I didn’t have the chance to fly much with Pierre though. At the time I met him, he was mainly flying on his own, in secret spots, atypical routes.  Nevertheless, his vision and enthusiasm for Free flight were contagious and inspiring.

What are your achievements, and titles before breaking a record?

I was second at Red Bull X-Alps in 2013, Silver European Champion in 2014, and Vice French Champion. I am enjoying PWCA circuit for the last 10 years. I love competing as much as XC flying.

Why did you decide to break that very record in that very place?

The line Aravis-Beauges-Chartreuse-Vercors and back is very direct and offers East and West oriented ridges, allowing pilots to cruise very efficiently and thermaling very few, therefore having a great average speed. I knew for long that this route could be an Out-and-return record route. Some locals in the Annecy area have been trying records on this route for 20 years

What is the previous record and where?

The previous record was set in Slovenia. It was flown by a group of Slovenians, among them my friend Jost Napret, flying to Italy and back, following mostly south-oriented faces. The speed record (over 300 km Out and return course) was set up at 32.1 km/h when we brought it at 35.16 km/h

What flying conditions make your record different from the previous one?

The Slovenian / Italian route is providing pretty efficient South faces but the French line I flew is giving a huge potential in term of speed. It would also allow very early take off (8.30 AM) and very late landing due to the perfect orientation of the Aravis range

How long have you been flying in this area?

I’ve been flying in the French North Alps since 2010. Before that, I was mainly flying in the South Alps

How long did the preparation take?

Once you know the line and have flown already all the parts along different flights over the years, preparation is very quick! The main difficulty is to be available on the Day!

How many failed attempts have you made before you set this record?

I probably headed to this take-off with the idea of this precise out-and-return flight twice a year for the last 10 years. Before the Slovenian record, I was aiming at 300 km Out and return and eventual achieved it already in the past, but not complying with the precise FAI rules.

Who worked with you during preparation?

I was helped a lot by the official observer and Top World pilot Charles Cazaux for the paperwork and pre-flight declaration. Maxime Bellemin was also supporting me for many flights as an observer.

My friend Lionel Patty was essential: he drove us to the take-off with his 4 by 4, waited for us to take off, and drove back home. He needs to be a very good friend to wake up at 5 o ‘clock just to give me a lift :)

Have you launched alone or in a company? How far have your companions managed to fly?

We were 4 pilots on takeoff with pretty much the same flight plan: Philippe Barnier, Justin Puthod, Jeremy Burnier and I. Jeremy landed early in the day because flying over Col de la Colombière in the first 30 minutes was tricky. Justin was performing well, flying fast on the same line right behind us (because he took off a bit later) but had a bad collapse with a cascade of incident following; he eventually recovered the glider but decided to land after that. Philippe and I flew most of the day together, taking the lead one after the other.  Philippe was faster from the second part of the afternoon, and closed the flight before I did.

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

For logged-in users: https://www.xcontest.org/2023/world/fr/vols/details:Clement/22.7.2023/08:31

Overview https://www.xcontest.org/2023/world/fr/pilotes/details:Clement

Conditions were very wet in the morning in the Sallanches Valley with low clouds. The previous day probably gave unexpected rain showers. The original and classic plan to take off early and follow the east faces of the Aravis was given up at 10 AM. After walking 100 meters toward the West, we finally took off on the West face, heading at the East Bargy face which is the slowest and most tricky route, less direct but a lot dryer on that day. At this point, I thought that there was no way it would be a record day. I was not flying the planned route and I had taken off 1 and  half hour later than my expectations. Still, we made the flight as fast as possible. Strong instability. Not a very high cloud base, a light South West wind to make the second part of the day easier, nice cloud streets in the Vercors. I had a low save on the way back from Vercors, after crossing over Grenoble: I decided to jump on the East face of the Rachais, which was probably a bad choice and put me at 700 AMSL over Corenc at 4.15 PM on a SE face, looking desperately for a thermal to save the day and catch the west faces again. I made it but lost some time, allowing Philippe to fly away. Later on, In Crêt des Mouches, south of Tournette, I made an unnecessary detour when I could have made Mt Charvin directly and saved a few minutes.

What was the most tricky thing in breaking this record?

We need the consistency of good conditions all along the course. It often happened that conditions are brilliant in Aravis and up to Grenoble and that we get stability in Vercors for instance, forcing us to give up or at least to slow down

What was the most difficult part of the flight?

Such out-and-return flights are mainly about pushing the speed bar along the ridge. As far as the conditions are good, there is not so much decision-making. It’s all about being able to keep the speed bar as much as possible for 9 hours. To be honest, this type of flight is not the most exciting one compared to a FAI triangle. But we have a few days in the years which are perfect for out-and-return and on which we wouldn’t be able to fly a triangle because of too low cloud base too strong West wind… On a perfect flying day, I would most likely fly a triangle instead of an out-and-return.

Was there a moment when you were ready to give up?

Because of morning humidity and low clouds, I had given up the idea of flying the record on that day. But paperwork had been made already and I decided to go flying anyway…

Was there something frightening? Any unusual happening?

I would say that the flying incident of Justin was frightening, though I didn’t directly see it. We get prepared for collapses and incidents during our SIV training but it reminds scaring when it’s happening in real life!

What were you eating and drinking in the flight (if you were)?

I drank about 2 liters of water and ate 3 to 4 protein bars + 1 banana.

How did you celebrate the record? Who was the first to congratulate you?

We top landed on takeoff with Philippe after the flight. We quickly discussed the flight and made a few waggas before flying down to landing. Waggas are great as a celebration!

What is your next goal to achieve?

I am still very much focused on flying a 600 km straight line. I’ve been exploring new places lately like Karoo, South Africa but didn’t get anything close to 600 km yet. The involvement is big in terms of preparation, time spent, expenses... Flying 600 km requires very specific conditions and logistics. Chances to achieve it are therefore very small. But the quest is more important than the achievement they say, isn’t it?

Any advice to pilots, interesting notice, or some share of experience that you gained while breaking this record?

Records are made to be beaten. No doubt that this one will be beaten soon! The average speed can be increased to 40 Km/h and the distance could probably be close to 400 Km. Fly safe!