419 Squadron pilot breaks Canadian glider altitude record

Melanie Paradis (left) and Patrick Pelletier (right) just before taking off. Photo: Submitted


On October 6th 2020, Melanie Paradis, a Cardiovascular Perfusionist from Edmonton and Patrick Pelletier, a 419 Squadron Pilot took off from the Cowley glider strip in a two-seat glider belonging to the Edmonton Soaring Club and succeeded to break an almost six decades old altitude record. The previous record, which was set in 1961 stood at 29,799 feet. Melanie and Patrick soared well above that height and broke the record by almost 2000 feet. The height they achieved was 31,727 feet at the time of writing. The record claim still requires to be ratified through a lengthy process which includes the calibration of the flight recorder, analysis of the flight record and verification by the Soaring Association of Canada officials.

The Cowley glider strip, located just a few kilometres north of Cowley is home to the Lethbridge Soaring Club and has been known for decades as the “Mecca” of high altitude soaring in Canada. Glider pilots from all over North America congregate here twice a year in the hopes of experiencing a weather phenomenon called a “mountain wave.”

Mountain waves are created when winds strike a mountain range, go up above the peak and descend on the other side. When conditions are ideal, that wind oscillates up and down on the lee of the mountain range just like a wave in water. Glider pilots take advantage of the portion of the wave that goes up and in essence “surf” the wave to great heights with their gliders. The Livingstone Range, west of Pincher Creek and north of the Crowsnest Highway, happens to be ideally oriented for the westerly winds to strike it. The east face of the range drops steeply, creating ideal wave conditions during the fall for glider pilots, enabling them to soar to great heights that usually only airliners and fighter jets can reach.

Melanie learned to fly gliders at a young age through the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and is a dual member at Cu Nim Gliding Club and Edmonton Soaring Club, where she has recently renewed her instructor rating. She is a life long student who strives to learn from every experience afforded to her. She is a mom to three boys, and is excited to be back flying after taking time off to raise her young children. This was her second time in Cowley and the record-breaking flight was also her second time experiencing the mountain wave.

Patrick learned to fly gliders at a young age through the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, he is a member of the Lethbridge Soaring Club and is also currently serving his 29th year in the Royal Canadian Air Force and has over 4000 flying hours in military jets, 1000 hours flying general aviation aircraft and nearly 1000 hours flying gliders. Even though Patrick has flown many types of fast military jets including the CF-18, he still considers flying gliders as the most pleasant form of flying there is.

To learn more about the Lethbridge Soaring Club or the Soaring Association of Canada, follow the links to their websites at: www.lethbridgesoaring.ca and www.sac.ca respectively.

Climbing through 28000 feet, oxygen masks are essential survival items at this height. Photo: Submitted
After Flight
The record-breaking crew smiling after landing. Patrick Pelletier (centre) and Melanie Paradis (right) escorted by the Official Record Observer Gary Hill (left). Photo: Submitted