JWGC 2015 Daily Reports
11/23/15- We’ve Arrived
The US Team has now entirely arrived and we’re making all the preparations we can to be ready for the contest next Monday. Over the past couple of days, Patrick and I spent getting the glider from Lake Keepit over to Narromine. The countryside is really beautiful out here and the driving delightful. At Lake Keepit, we met Attila Bertok, the owner of the Standard Cirrus, Romeo Zulu. This is the same Romeo Zulu from the movie, flown by Ingo Renner in a world championship in the early 70s. Attila was a very friendly fellow and gave a very thorough briefing of the glider, weather and the trailer. Yesterday, we departed and headed to Narromine. We got the registration sorted out and I took a short flight. The Standard Cirrus is a delightful sailplane, in many ways very 1-26 like. The mid-wing, stiff structure and wide chord makes it an excellent thermalling machine. It thermals quite slow, about 40 knots. Furthermore, since we will do a thorough sealing job, this ought to improve yet.
We’re off to an exciting start!
11/24/15- Practice Days
We’ve been having an exciting time at Narromine. On the upside, we have had great success in getting the gliders ready and flying as a team. I have switched gliders with Boyd because he was a bit too heavy for the glider he was originally flying, so now I am flying W3. It is quite a nice ship and thermals quite well.
The bad news is that Patrick, my crew has gotten quite sick. He has visited a doctor and is currently weathering it in the motel room.
The team flying practice has been working remarkably well. Today was the first practice day and we managed to stay together for almost the entire flight, assisting each other quite well in the blue conditions. I definitely see and feel the benefit by doing this sort of flying and am looking forward to doing it in the contest proper. When it is working, it is less workload than would be on an individual pilot and the team unit is able to scope out a lot more air. We found a lot of thermals together and were not entirely reliant upon gaggles or other gliders to get us out of trouble.
Speaking of gaggles, the mega fur-balls that set up prior to the start and sometimes on task are absolutely spectacular. I have not seen as many gliders in a single thermal as today.
All is well on my part and am looking forward to more flying. I hope Patrick feels better.
11/29/15- Practice Day Two
Today is the third and last practice day and we elected to take the day off to relax. Practice Day Two worked out quite nicely. Team USA started out of the gate fairly early, probably in the first third of the group. We worked our way to the Cumulus clouds and found good lift underneath. I unintentionally got separated, though found my way back to my two teammate, albeit 600 feet below. By diligently listening to the information provided and by quickly adjusting for the better air underneath one glider or the other, I managed to catch up again on the second leg.
What is worth mentioning is what team flying is really all about. Unlike in US contests, in world championships, you are assigned a team frequency for a given competing country. Here, pilots can freely talk to their teammates. This allows two things. The first is simple discussion on tactics. For instance, which clouds to take, which gliders to follow, when to start, etc. The second and more interesting aspect is physically flying in close proximity to one another. Basically, by flying three abreast, you are raking a much larger amount of air than when flying alone. When one glider hits rising air, then the other two quickly adjust. This is amazingly useful in finding thermals when there are no clouds and centering thermals. There is a whole lexicon that is used for this process so that pilots can get across as much information as possible with little words or ambiguity. For instance, if I am hitting a thermal, I would say-
Bubbling (Feeling the onset of a thermal)
Turning Left or Right (Indicating intentions)
4,5,6 (on variometer)
Good, No, Unsure. (Worth sticking with it or not)
With all of us on the same page and doing the same, this process is amazingly effective. The team flying aspect is really exciting because it affords all three of us a lot more tactical opportunities. Going off alone into the wild blue yonder is tactically insane if you are alone. However, if you have one or two other gliders with, your odds are much much much more in your favor.
Also, it’s worth noting that all three of us are effectively equal in soaring ability. While we differ in judgment and certain skill sets, when it comes to thermalling and cruising, we stay together very well. This, coupled with the same exact gliders makes us a very effective team. As a result, I feel like we are going into this contest completely competitive and have an honest chance of winning.
Back to the flight yesterday. After meeting up with my teammates, we went out of the Cu field into the complete blue. We spotted the gaggle ahead, managed to run it down, climb on top of it and murder it on the final glide. The final glide thermal was a 6.5 knot average, with speeds of 110 knots at times. After hitting the minimum finish height at 300ft, 3km out, I coasted on to the runway, cracked open the spoilers and landed straight ahead. This sort of competing is so much fun!
Patrick is still not feeling well. We are all caring for him the best we can and hope he will pull through.
Tomorrow is the opening ceremony and on Tuesday is the first competition day. So far, the weather forecast looks gangbusters! Stay tuned.
12/01/15 Day One (Not)
Today we gridded with the contest committee prophesizing 10 knot climbs to 13k. However, the sky was cirrused over and the wind was quite strong. It became apparent the day was a dud and was cancelled for both classes. This ended up being a good decision since at 5pm, a major gust front came ripped through the airport. This managed to damage two gliders (not ours) because one of them was not tied down properly. Luckily for those pilots, the damage seemed pretty minor. Nonetheless, I am glad we did not have to deal with a gust front, either in a field or in the air.
JP, Boyd and Garret and I went to Dubbo. JP and I went to the Flying Doctors visitor center, which was very interesting. The Royal Flying Doctors were established in the early 20s to service the vast Australian bush and answer medical emergencies. Now they fly King Airs and have a much more sophisticated system and clinics.
Tomorrow looks low, blue and windy. I am hoping that we get a day in tomorrow. We seem to work well in team flying in blue conditions and can’t wait to try it out!
12/02/15- Day Two
Today was a successful soaring day at Narromine. The strategy today was to respectably get around, while putting us in the 900+ range. The goal is to fly consistently and not screw up and see what opportunities open up in the future.
Today was a tricky blue day. We had winds in the 15-20 knot range from the SSW and lift up to 5000ft AGL at best. A lot of sink was to be found and the thermals were quite far apart. After starting, I quickly found that I was in a worse line than my two teammates. I lost 500ft on them very quickly and had to work very hard to get back up. By the second half of the first leg, I was back with them. Today, all three of us at one time or another got dropped substantially below the others and had difficulty getting back that altitude. 500ft vertical separation does not mean much when you’re at 8000ft, but zooming around at 2500ft is a whole different story.
However, we made it work quite well and stuck together almost the entire flight. We largely flew alone, with occasional stragglers coming to join us. The gaggle flew quite a bit more aggressively into the first turn area, but ended up coming in 30 minutes later than they could have. While some did better because of this, we ended up doing quite well while getting back quite a bit earlier, therefore taking a lot less risk that the day was going to fall apart late as the forecast predicted.
The only bummer was that JP got bumped lower on the last leg and Boyd and I hit final glide before he could honestly catch up. This is why he ended up losing about 50 points on us. However, it is worthwhile to note that in FAI rules, the scoring formula is about twice as volatile as the US rules. So the spread relative to what we are used to is much less than what we normally expect. Also, with me getting 919 points out of 1000, it is like I got 960 points under US rules.
Tomorrow looks similar but a bit stronger. The team flying is working quite well and we are constantly making small adjustments. We are really excited and are ready to tear up the skies!
12/03/15 Day Three
Today was yet another successful soaring day at the junior worlds. We started at a good time, though the German team managed to pass us pretty quickly. We latched on to them and started following them and managed to close almost all vertical and horizontal seperation. However, they hit a bubble just above us that we did not and had to keep going, while they were climbing at 7 knots. We could not find a good climb until closer to the first turnpoint. This stumble cost us as the gaggle overran us and drove on forward. However, after the turnpoint, the Standard class angels came overhead and started marking thermals for us. It was an impressive sight, seeing 25 fully ballasted gliders flying like locusts from one thermal to another. We climbed up to 9000ft in very strong lift and started to move really quick. We managed to hang on to that gaggle all the way to the second turnpoint, when they kept going to another one and we had to cut the corner and head toward the third turnpoint. At this point, it went blue, but the lift was still quite strong. We decided to pull the stops out to catch up and were keeping a really fast pace. A small Club class gaggle formed around us and Boyd and I were leading it. JP fell back a bit, but later caught back up just before final glide. We were leading LS4s and LS7s in Standard Cirruses!
After the third and last turnpoint, we caught the main gaggle, outclimbed most of them and beat a good bit of the gliders home. Even with our earlier hiccup, we got around 940 points for the day. If we can keep this up, we will be in great shape.
12/04/15 Day Four
Today was not as successful of a day. I didn’t get a good night’s rest and was fatigued all day. We managed to connect well together prior to start, but on the first leg, I ran a worse line and lost altitude on my teammates. I hit a bubble 100ft low and did not find anything while JP and Boyd climbed out. Now I found myself alone, below the gaggle and in the blue with few ideas. There was no wind to speak of, making the thermals quite bubbly and short lasting. Furthermore, centering is much more difficult because there is not the sort of consistency from one thermal to another. After working quite hard, I cut the corner in the second sector and reconnected with JP and Boyd. Now it was JP’s turn to get hosed, when he did not connect with a bubble. Boyd and I charged off into the blue, while JP was struggling along. We ended up going too far into the third sector and got burned toward the end of the day. However, we managed to limp on home. I was really relieved to see JP make it home, well 25 minutes after we did.
It is interesting that on the day that we flew least effectively as a team, all of our scores dropped down significantly for the day. While this is frustrating, it is a good indication of the importance of sticking together.
And we did not really do THAT badly. At 821 points, that is like 910 points in US rules, or 91% of the winner’s speed. For a day when things were not going well, this is not a disastrous result.
In any case, I feel a lot better today and am ready for the day.
12/05/15 Day Five
Today was a very successful soaring day at Narromine. The day worked out way better than forecast. Off of tow, I easily climbed up to 7500ft, an altitude that was a luxury yesterday. There were clouds over the high ground and it was clear we needed to head that way. JP had some trouble climbing out because his towpilot dropped him off far away. He connected low, at 1200ft with our thermal, but only got up to 6000ft. We had to head over to the high ground to the East, so I spoilered down to not leave JP to cross a section of blue sky alone. We made it to the clouds outside of gliding distance of the airport, but with plenty of height to spare.
We skyrocketed up to 8500ft. A big area of high thermal activity set up over the high ground. I was rather satisfied with this as I predicted this during the briefing. Finally we would get some really nice glides today! We started at 2pm, though I immediately dropped about 400ft below Boyd. This was due to three turns prior to start that just did not work out, in an effort to tank up. Nonetheless, we drove off and were hitting 6+ knots. Boyd went off on his own when he gained a bit more and JP and I drove hard to catch up. Once we connected with the line of clouds, we just kept going, not turning, whereas most of the Europeans would get too tempted by 6 knots. By not turning, we managed to overrun most of the gaggle right out of the start. Then, a prudent and early deviation going deeper into the turnpoint took out nearly all vertical separation between us and Boyd.
This was very good as the rest of the task was blue. We tanked up to 9000ft and went zooming off at 85 knots. The big threat now was the cirrus (the clouds, not the glider) ahead. We nipped the turnpoint and went driving hard to get into the third turnpoint before we were overrun. At this point, one bad pull up in good air and one badly executed turn into a thermal ended up getting me 1000 feet below JP and Boyd. Driving hard again, I managed to close nearly all vertical and horizontal separation at the last thermal for final glide. The final glide was really exciting. I left maybe 400ft below an MC 6, but then we hit a ridiculous amount of rising air along the way. I ended up going 120 knots (redline) for a good 8 miles.
The end result is that we got around 940 points and Boyd ended up third for the day. We functioned well as a team.
Something I’d like to mention is how great the entire team is working, including the captain, coach and crew. John Good is doing a fantastic job as Team Captain, representing us to the organization and keeping the team together. He knows FAI contests and understands their rules really well and is excellent at developing the strategic course for the team.
Garret Willat and Tony Condon are awesome coaches and crew. They worked their butts off on the gliders, getting them cleaned up and spruced up before the contest. Furthermore, they have the best and most recent team flying experience. They have been really helpful giving us information in flight.
Patrick has been doing a great job crewing for me. He is feeling well and keeps me focused on the flying and helps out with the preparation and retrieval of the glider. It is a tremendous amount of energy that I save, especially in this heat.
I am very happy with the team we have here and feel we are functioning very effectively together. I am very thankful that we are getting as much support from such amazing people.
12/06/15 Day Six
Yesterday was one of the most fun contest days I had ever flown. We did not perform well on the scoresheet for several reasons, but it was the strongest conditions I had ever flown in. We expected cirrus to roll in and the day to not be as strong as expected. As a result, we felt we had to start a lot earlier than what ended up optimal. We ended up leaving in front of the gaggle, expecting them to get burned and instead we got overrun. The reason was that after the first turnpoint, JP and I did not connect with a bubble that Boyd had and were low in the hills. Boyd ran away with a 15km lead. Finally, we dug out with the gaggle right on our heels. JP and I then pushed over as hard as you can possibly go in a Standard Cirrus. Balls out, afterburners on, every possible word or expression for how hard you can push. We were cruising at 100 knots at 11,000ft.
After the second turnpoint, we connected with a 7 knot thermal and watched the leading elements of the gaggle join underneath. We gotta do better. Ready! Moved on to the next cloud. Smooth 13 knots average! We dropped the gaggle and went charging out ahead. The standard class caught up. JP and I managed to stay with them for a long long time. Going into the third turnpoint, JP hit a bubble I did not connect with and he got 1500ft on me. We seperated for a short while, but I connected with better lift. We then planned a convergence perfectly and got back together at the same altitude. At the fourth turnpoint, we caught Boyd.
The last two legs were uneventful. We coasted on home without much trouble. At the last thermal, just as we were leaving, there were a couple club class gliders coming in.
This was an incredibly fun day to fly. Tactically, we had good reason to start when we did. We could have done little otherwise to change our fate after the first turnpoint. Once we got back up, we flew really well. We have adjusted our tactics for today and hope that we can fly as well as we did yesterday.
12/07/15- Day Seven
Making the same mistake twice is generally not advisable, but we again started behind the gaggle and got burned. When we launched, it looked like the conditions were going to get quite bad at the end of the day. We were expecting it to be a distance day, or at best a survival task, with a third of the fleet barely scratching it home. Starting early on a day like that, especially as a gaggle of three increases your odds of being able to make it home, so we went out early. However, there was still decent lift underneath the cirrus and we ended up getting mowed over by the gaggle… again. On the second leg, I got quite a bit of altitude on JP and Boyd, so I figured the best way I could help was to drive out forward somewhat and mark some climbs. I deviated substantially, figuring that the air under the cirrus would be dead. However, they and several others managed to keep going more or less straight and then I had to deviate back. I did all I could to reconnect with them and while I got close, I could not catch up. In order to catch up, you have to fly in stronger lift and fly faster in between the thermals, in better air.
In any case, the gaggle ate us up on the last leg, as we all struggled home. Miraculously, almost all of the club class gliders made it back, so our gamble really did not pay off. However, we can be happy that we made it back as half of the standard class all landed out.
Last night was “International Night”. This is the day when all the teams bring food and beverages from their country and set up in the hangar for a social event. We brought tacos and s’mores. The Germans made spaetzl. The Belgians brought their wonderful thin waffles. It was a lot of fun!
Today is a rest day and then we have four more contest days. It has been a blast!
12-09-15 Day Eight
Yesterday was an interesting day. It started out with expectations of thunderstorms coming in later in the day, so a short 2.5 hour AAT was called. However, when we launched, the day turned out to be much more benign and the threat of thunderstorms went away. Instead, there was solid Cu and long thermal streets. We started quite a bit later, trying to use the better part of the day.
Going into the first turnpoint, we ran a line that was somewhat sub-optimal. It ended fairly early in the turnpoint and we got quite low. I saw a good looking cloud toward the next turnpoint and tried to communicate this to my teammates. Finally, I turned, expecting them to turn with, but there was some miscommunication, so they kept going. I hit a good climb, 5 knots, but they struggled for a while some place else. Boyd got out well, but JP never fully recovered from this low point and struggled around the task the rest of the day.
So going into the second leg, we split up, but at least we had a lot of cloud markers ahead. I hit consistently 5-7 knot climbs and things were working out well. To the North, the conditions got drier and drier, so I was tempted to turn earlier than later. Once I crossed the blue arc on the ClearNav, I hit a thermal and turned.
The downwind run on the third leg was tricky. I ended up getting lower and lower and dug out near Trangie. After climbing up to 6000ft in 4.5 knots, I moved on, expecting to get something better. Instead, some distance later, I found myself down at 1600ft above the ground, scraping out. I finally connected with a 6 knot thermal, which got me to final glide. I went as far as I could into the third turn area and turned for home.
Unfortunately, I miscalculated going into the second turn area and I could not max out any more distance in the third turn area. I ended up coming in almost two minutes under time, which is fairly costly in points.
Nonetheless, it was a fun day to fly. The clouds were generally pretty honest to me and it was fun to finally see what the air was doing.
Today, we have a 500km assigned task as our task A. We’ll see how the day works out.
Day Nine- 12/10/15
Yesterday was a very successful soaring day at Narromine. However, I’d attribute it more to luck than any particular stroke of genius or great flying. I ended up in second for the day, with 986 points.
Team USA connected together just before crossing the line. This time, we started well after the first starters. Finally, we learned our lesson! We had a tricky first leg. While the thermals went to 11,500ft, the spacing was very substantial and it was tough to find the lift underneath the clouds.
Getting into the turnpoint, we all had to drive a bit lower as the lift behind it was not all that great. As we rounded it, we found a great climb, but I just got a bit stronger lift out of it. As a result, I ended up 1000ft above JP and around 1600ft above Boyd. I saw a number of gliders ahead and split from my group. I connected with a LS4 (HDL) and a ASW19 (V4). We then shot off at 100 knots, expecting strong climbs.
HDL went off downwind of course, so I said goodbye to him, but V4 and I flew most of the flight together, almost team flying. He was off my wingtip a good portion of the time and we did a great job of finding and centering lift. Later, I also found the Polish and Norwegians and we were all loosely flying as a gaggle. With the exception of occasionally getting in each others way in the thermals, we did a great job of quickly finding and centering lift. Flying in a small gaggle is highly efficient.
There were a number of times when I would be looking at the sky ahead and saying, if this cloud does not work, then I will be in trouble pretty soon. Every time, that cloud worked. This is really the biggest reason why yesterday worked as well as it did. I was lucky that I was able to maintain that consistency. Otherwise, it was simply a matter of going along at 100 knots and climbing 7 knot climbs.
It was a very fun day and a lot was learned. Today is supposed to be nearly as good as yesterday, so we will see what the contest director has in store for us.
12/11/15- Day Ten
Yesterday was the most fascinating day of the contest I had flown. The weather was much more finicky than expected. Early in the day, we all were barely staying up. Getting to the first turnpoint, the gaggle limped along, everyone afraid of landing out. The wind was very strong, 20 knots in the lower altitudes and 30 once we got higher. The turnpoint 20 km upwind seemed impossible to get to for quite a while. Once we rounded it, the conditions changed rapidly. It was as though someone turned on a light switch! We were now getting up to 12,000ft and it was rock and roll. The gaggle dispersed and everyone was driving. After the second turnpoint, iwas evident that the day was short-lived. A front was encroaching into the task area, bringing in overcast. After rounding the last turnpoint, it looked like it was impossible to make it back home. I got pretty low and had to dash downwind to get to the sun and the clouds. At that point, I figured it was a matter of shortening the retrieve and making as much distance as possible, so I angled off at a 30 degree angle to course, which had a more favorable wind component and toward the sun. I ended up going from 120km at the turnpoint to 54km from home. I was at 4000ft, but at that point it was clear to me that I would not be able to make any more distance. I had the option of going another 10-15km, darting upwind, or turning downwind and landing at an airport. There was a “fire ban” in effect that day because of the wind. This is when it is forbidden to drive gasoline cars in fields and it is not allowed to aerotow out of fields. Landing out would have been a very exhausting affair, so I went for the airport. (This was a good idea as there were still trailers coming in in the morning from their overnight experiences).
Boyd did a great job yesterday. He managed to stay connected with the lift along courseline after the turnpoint and managed to limp home. He was the only finisher. He is striking distance of third place today, so it is our objective to do everything we can to make that happen. The conditions today are going to be blue, but moderate altitudes. We are somewhat tired, but our competition is completely exhausted from yesterday. We will see how it plays out!
12/13/15 Day Eleven and End of the Contest
Sorry that I did not get a report out yesterday as I was quite busy, exhausted and had spotty internet access. The last day of the contest was a blast. It was a blue day and we were going for broke. The goal was to get Boyd Willat on the podium and we pulled all the stops out. We started in front of the gaggle, toward the more optimal part of the day and shot out of the gate. We were flying very aggressively, not turning for any junk. We took the couple guys who started with us on a hell of a nantucket sleighride. Things were working very well, we were flying very well together. However, after the second turnpoint, after getting the best climb of the day, all three of us and a straggler plummeted down to 800ft AGL. We barely dug out of a field and had to take a really weak climb just to stay aloft. Looking back at the flight, if we had not had that bad piece of luck, we would have had a serious chance of getting Boyd in third. We were smoking along! It all was a matter of making it back home at minimum time at that point. However, it was not meant to be.
But we dug out! It was the most fun low save I ever had. It was amazing seeing four gliders scratching in .5 knots.
Yesterday, we had the closing ceremonies and the winners were presented their medals, trophies and prizes. Yes, there are in fact prizes in the Junior Worlds! The winner got a whole bunch of stuff, including an all inclusive trip to the South African Nationals and a free JS1 to fly while there. I made a lot of friends, learned a huge amount about flying at the world level and team flying. JP and I are very much looking forward to flying together in Lithuania in 2017 and feel like we know what we need to do to perform a lot better. Special thanks to our fantastic team, John Good, Patrick McLaughlin, Garret Willat and Tony Condon for helping us make this happen.
I am currently writing up a report for future junior (and senior) pilots flying at the world level. Once I complete it, I will send it to y’all as well.
Now off to travelling in Australia.
Over and out