2018 Sports Class Nationals- Nephi

Closing Thoughts

by Daniel Sazhin, July 8, 2018

(Picture taken Leigh Zimmerman)

The contest having come to a close, I’ve collected my thoughts as to what worked to allow me to have a successful run. Fundamentally, my goal was to perform consistently. This has been a challenge on multiple fronts and Nephi has worked out well in this domain.

I achieved consistency through good preparation, strategy and execution.

To prepare for the contest, I did the following things:

– Acquired local knowledge from past Nephi pilots such as John Good.

– Reviewed flight logs from previous contests and OLC to understand the task area.

– Reviewed landout options and notable turnpoints and put them on a Google Map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/2/edit…

– Flew the local area in Condor to get better situational awareness in the mountains.

– Flew the 1-26 championship in Ohio.

Strategy

My goal at this contest was to perform sufficiently well to get on the 2019 Junior team. I estimated that a ranking of .95 would be a reasonable bottom threshold. In order to determine a target level of performance, I chose to use pilot placing on contest days. I felt that this would be psychologically easier to work with on a daily basis. In flight, I felt it would be easier to let myself drop down a couple places, as the point spreads don’t always remain constant day by day. Basically, getting 900 points can feel crappy, but if you’re in the top 5 for the day, you’re actually doing great!

I studied about 12 contests and used composite scores of the 10th, 9th, 8th, etc place finisher on all of the contest days. Stated differently, it’s like asking if I’m in 8th place every day, how would my ranking look at the end? Statistically, I found that the 10th place finisher on a daily basis in a reasonably sized contest gets about .95. Furthermore, the composite score of the 5th place finisher usually wins the contest.

As a result, I defined a goal to be in the top 10 every day as a must. Top five was a plus. This was a guiding feature in my decision making. Whenever I approached a tricky area, I said I can afford to drop a couple places to stay in the top 10. And this worked very well.

As an aside, at Nephi, the composite score of the 9th place finishers was .95. So I was pretty close in my analysis!

Gear shifting

John Bird and I have done a lot of work on quantifying risk in thermal flying and modeling it to define when and how to gear shift. We showed that statistically that there are really two gears: Optimization and Risk Minimization. Colloquially, they are Racing and Survival, but I believe these terms are a bit too loaded and less accurate. Our paper is almost done and will be submitted to OSTIV shortly. We will also write a less technical version for Soaring magazine, so stay tuned!

We essentially quantified the number and reliability of thermals one must have on a consistent basis in order to fly consistently over a competition. I applied this research effectively and saw it as the counterpart to MC theory in my decision making.

Cognitive/affective decision making

Simply stated, tactics generally are most optimal when done intuitively and strategy must be done more analytically. I pushed myself to reassess the big picture analytically. “Should I take this line or that line? What’s the risk of going deeper for those clouds? What is the lowest I should go in the band?” However, I let the affective black box tick away at the tactics and did not second guess it. That cloud feels right! I felt like I had the optimal balance between both thought processes.

Weather

I used Skysight religiously during the contest. I found it did a good job of predicting the weather, especially convergence lines. This greatly influenced my pre contest day planning.

Execution

In terms of flying the glider, I really got dialed into the LS3. It handled beautifully and performed well too! One of the more interesting aspects of flying this ship is that it has a very good flap actuation system. The flaps have a long throw on the handle and the forces are light. As such, I was able to manipulate the flaps quite actively.

I flew the flaps like how I saw the computer work the flaps in the Duckhawk. Whenever I pulled back and loaded up the glider, I was also pulling the flap handle. Vice versa when unloading the wing. As such, the flap handle essentially mimics the movement of the stick. Done correctly, this saves a lot of energy.

Furthermore, I used this in conjunction with some dynamic soaring techniques. Especially when flying in weak ridge lift in blue, I made sure to work the gusts as effectively as possible. In doing so and actively working the flaps, I meaningfully increased my L/D which allowed me to keep up with the heavier and higher performing gliders.

Overall, I think that these are the more interesting and/or innovative themes in how my contest turned out and I hope that these insights will be useful for pilots in the future.

Pre-Practice Day

Today was a very nice soaring day at Nephi and a good day to get the ‘3 up and running. I took a leisurely start, expecting to do a simple systems check and a pattern and come back.

This was dashed when I released in a 7.5 knot thermal, which took me to cloudbase at 13,000ft. The sky was simply too inviting to pull the brakes and land, so I took off south-bound.

As an aside, people like to say “awesome” for all sorts of things. But Nephi truly is a place that fits the bill as an “awe inspiring” site. The mountains are colored in all sorts of purples, oranges, greys; all from millions of years of building and erosion. Nephi is at the edge of the “great basin” which extends out to Nevada. To the East, you have several big mountain range, 10,000ft or more in places. The valleys are largely landable, planted in hay. It’s truly a soaring paradise.

So anyway, I shot off over the San Pitch mountains, trying to stay away from a fire TFR. I found good air, good convergence lines and bodacious air. It was a bit windy and since we weren’t all that high for this area, we were getting spill from the adjacent mountains. The air was really chopped up.

But man, the LS3 was cookin’! I have ballasted the glider up to get to reference weight and I can really tell the difference. The ship just jumps right up to 80 knots at flaps zero and has no hesitation going 90 knots. In sink, no problem going 100. Hit a thermal, crank back at the flaps and it will still thermal 45-50. I’m lovin’ it! This ship goes.

So anyway, I ended up driving along the San Pitch mountains and cruised on over to the Wasatch Plateau. I drove on lower into the Sevier Plateau, just to see how the ridge would work.

The mountains in Utah are very different from the ridges we fly back home. It is quite turbulent close to the ridges and the thermals really overpower the local wind-flows. It was not surprising to get 10 down right up against the ridge! I was going along at 80 knots indicated, not feeling particularly confident to slow down. I managed to console myself to get down to 70, but no slower. Furthermore, at 10,000ft, the ground speed goes up a lot. It’s a little spooky.

But anyway, that worked for a bit until I got flushed off into the valley. 2000ft AGL feels freakin’ low here. But a 4-5 knot thermal picked me right up back up the hill. And floating along for another 20 miles later, figured 100 miles from home is good enough for today and head back. After 3.2 hours in the air, I was back on the ground.

Day 1

Today was a successful day at Nephi. The task was quite interesting and challenging, taking us across the various ridges and valleys in moderate conditions for this area. To add even more spice, the wind was more or less perpendicular to the ridges, which served to organize the thermals along the mountains and certainly strong sink on the lee side. This made the transitions quite interesting.

I started at 2pm, largely because I wanted to make absolutely sure that the gate was indeed open. The radio speaker connector came undone before takeoff, so I couldn’t hear when the gate opened! (Easily fixed when I landed today). At 2pm, I saw Bruno Vassal take off south bound and figured it was time to go. I had a very nice run, caught up to a number of gliders and embarked on the task.

Flying along the Wasatch, the challenge was to get high above the plateau and stay there. The band was quite thin since the clouds were only 2-3000ft above the mountain. Get low and you’re in trouble, having to go around the spurs and spines and possibly into a valley with few or no thermals. We all tiptoed into the high ground to connect with the good lift.

Speaking of the lift, it was rather funky today. A number of us thought that the thermals were “rolling” because you would hit really strong lift and then be pummeled by various sink on the other side. Centering was a real challenge today, especially due to the many different cores and bubbles under each cloud. This served me well later…

Anyway, after the first turn, a small group coalesced into a gaggle. Seeing Danny Sorenson coming out of the turn and heading toward a nice cloud enticed me to also make my turn and join those guys. For the next two legs, we flew together, along with several other gliders.

The LS3 did an absolutely marvelous job staying with the gaggle. I had no problem flying 90-100 knots and staying abeam of the Discus2a, DG800, LS8s and more. Every once in a while when I would fly a bad line, I would tuck in under a group of circling gliders and find a better core and work my way back up in no time.

After the second turn, I turned alone. This was probably a mistake, as I botched the next transition. The nicer clouds were just a little too far to reach for comfort. The trouble around here is that if you’re not in lift, you’re in really strong sink. Doing a whole transition in 5-10 down is routine. And when you’re going away from fields, this creates a rather stressful situation. How much sink will you get if you actually have to glide out to them?

So instead of heading to the better clouds, I went for the mountain range with several of its own prospective Cu and much better fields at the base if I got in trouble. The problem was that the line was recycling and I didn’t connect with a thermal. This was very frustrating, especially since I had to then double back to a cloud. I lost ten minutes on that one decision.

At this point, I was rather agitated. Going backwards in a glider competition is perhaps the second most frustrating thing you can do short of landing out. I found a six knot thermal and tried to calm myself down and avoid making a stupid mistake. No need to screw up the first contest day!

Subsequently, I had a very good run to the last turnpoint and a good climb for final glide. Looking ahead, I could see that I would have to go through a lot of sink and lose a lot of my margin. I decided to go on the upwind side of the mountain range, which worked out very nicely. I ended up gaining back almost all the time that I lost.

In the end, I was dumbstruck that with all that, I managed to pull off 4th for the day! My goal is to be in the top 10 every day. If I’m in the top 5, I’m especially happy.

Off to sleep and another race day tomorrow!

Day 2

Greetings from Nephi! Here’s to another successful contest day. Today was a tricky, blue day due to the high pressure that domed us in. With the low inversion and light westerly winds, today was an IFR (I fly ridges) kind of soaring day.

We all milled around the start, but found stronger conditions than forecasted. So here were a bunch of us at 12-13,000ft, figuring at some point we’ll have to get into the weeds down at 9,000ft, not far from the rocks. The gate finally opened and a bunch of us dropped down. It was a bit harder than expected to find the climb to make the start and my first attempt did not work out all that well. The group that I left with decided to turn around and looking ahead, I did not have any promising markers. Left with the choice of kamikazing into the blue or flying with company, but late, I decided to go late.

So I started about 20 minutes after most, with the 20m/ open class gliders. Not such good company for an LS3! But with the weak conditions, those guys were happy with any and all help, so they let me play.

We ended up gliding out to the little mountains with not many thermals to work with. I ended up tucking right onto the trees, finding generally good air. It took some time to figure out how the ridges/thermals work on a day like today.

We all struggled for a while, though I kept moseying along. Finally, at the end of the Canyon Mountains, I found a reasonable climb to transition to the Pavani Range. At this point, I got into a better rhythm with the conditions and started moving more consistently. The gaggle was working well and I was catching up to folks that were falling off the day, marking thermals ahead. The trick was to stay above ridge top. Furthermore, the thermals were feeding along the spines. I ended up flying along the top and once I hit a thermal, worked about a half mile away from the ridge to find the strong bubble.

Anyway, the next couple legs worked out in a similar fashion. The Nephi valley was gorgeous! Crossing over the valley from Mt.Nebo to Williams Peak was a bit exciting, though the thermals worked well. Getting back out of the turn and making my final glide climb was a bit trickier than I would have hoped. I got down to 3000ft AGL and pretty much at the final place I expected to find a thermal. Getting flushed off into the valley at the end of the day is usually a sure landout. But I found some good air, tensed as can be and flailed around. And then BB joined me, relaxed and comfortable-lookin in his ASH-31. We cored that 5 knot sucker and away we went.

Soaring is a manic-depressive sport!

Day 4

Sorry for not posting about Day 3. Dave Nadler’s accident took the wind out of my sails. Luckily, he and his passenger parachuted to safety and they are OK! Dave is a bit banged up from his landing, but otherwise discharged from the hospital and okay. The air force kid was totally fine. It seems it was some kind of structural failure, with the rudder control failing in some fashion. Details are quite murky and speculative, but it seems bizarre.

Anyway, today was another day. It was a challenging, blue day with high pressure dominating over the task area. After tow, I realized my radio wasn’t receiving and once again I decided to go with my “wait until the regional guys takeoff” plan to estimate when the gate opened. The thermals in the start sector worked well and it seems folks were itching to go. Once the gun went off, the horde charged off. I dropped down to get my two minutes in before start and then went out the top. But wait, did I actually get those two minutes in? Doubt settled in. Maybe, maybe not? Let’s try again. Down I go and do another two minutes. Looking up, I see the folks streaming out. Man, looks like I’ll be at the back of the pack today!

So I streamed out on course in good air. There was a lot of energy in the start sector and I drove along. 5 knots and we’re really in business. At this point, I though the day was really cooking; time to drive hard.

Looking at the markers ahead, I clicked into negative flaps and went 90-100 knots. The first thermal didn’t work so well, nor did the second. Down near Scipio and that area wasn’t so hot either. Looks like I will need to ridge soar the Pavani Mountains again.

Going upwind in sink, I started doubting whether I’d make it across the mountain. What a dumb way to lose a competition I thought! But the sink let up and I sailed over the top with plenty of height and speed. A left turn on the ridge and it was working reasonably.

Unlike back home, these ridges are not so well defined. They are quite craggly, with many spines, bowls and spurs. I really wanted to gain some height to get in the better “float” zone of the ridge band. About then, I hit a really big surge. That thermal was incredibly frustrating. I was spiking to 12 knots and then back down to -4, for an average of 2.5. Whatever, it was enough to get me where I needed to be.

The run along the Pavani range worked out very well, until it didn’t. There was good air along the whole run, but most of the thermals were fairly wimpy. More importantly, when we got to Kanush Canyon, a transition point, the thermals were pitiful.

A whole bunch of us ended up tiptoeing into the foreboding terrain. I managed to dig out of there after a while and headed for Delano. That didn’t work great either and I got spit out into the Sanpete valley, looking up at Monroe Peak.

Down to 2000ft AGL, things were getting sporty. Then I reminded myself, 2000ft AGL on a sunny slope with a perpendicular wind would be a wonderful place back home. A bit more relaxed, I tucked into the slope and found a solid climb.

5000ft higher, we’re back in business. With markers ahead, it’s time to make speed.

Except it didn’t work out that well. Each time I would fly under a marker, I would be too low to take advantage of their bubble. And being forced to turn left, I felt like I had to center the bubbles with one arm chopped off. It was really frustrating.

Going into Mount Baldy was tricky for me. I saw the folks tiptoeing up the ridge and didn’t like the looks of the sky or the gliders there. I tried the lower front ridge, figuring that it would be a better spot to trigger a thermal. It really didn’t work out either. I ended up getting as close as I could to the turnpoint on the edge and then death dove to get the corner and out. While making the one mile dash into and out of the turnpoint, I lost 1,300ft in the horrendous sink.

At this point, all I cared about was getting home and cutting my losses. Looking at crossing the valley ahead, I decided to find a climb at all costs. This meant deviating 90 degrees along the ridge and parking in 2.5 knots. Don’t matter, I am not losing this day over something stupid!

As I started my crossing at 11,500ft, I noticed all the gliders off my left wingtip. Trouble was they were 4 miles away; too far to be useful. So I moseyed up my street and found reasonably good air. I still needed 3000ft more to make it home.

At the turnpoint proper, I finally managed to hook a thermal. That got me to within 1000ft of final glide. Don’t lose the day man!

Finally, along the San Pitch mountains, I hooked a 5 knotter and sailed on to a comfortable glide with margin. Big sigh of relief, I’ll be alright.

This was a survival day and I survived! On to tomorrow, with better soaring conditions.

Day 5

Greetings from Nephi! Today was a very successful soaring day, having won the day.

When the task was presented today, the atmosphere in the hangar was similar to the shocked gasp on the last task call in the Sunship Game. We were going to be sent out to the boondocks to the northeast of Nephi, with apparently better weather, but very few places to land. We were told that above 14,500ft, the mountains are pretty and below that they are scary. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated.

The grid was quite early today, as was first launch. However, looking at the sky and the day, I saw no reason to start early. I figured that the best part of the day would be from 2pm to 6pm. The conditions would peak along the NE run into the scary mountains. Later in the day, the western facing slopes would be better exposed to the sun and work quite well.

So when the gate opened, I was in no rush. Yet the Nationals folks streamed out on course. Despite this, I decided to be the contrarian and wait. When the regional gate opened, I went.

My start wasn’t as clean as I would have liked it to be. While playing the start game, the conditions fell apart in the start cylinder. I started about 700ft low and wandered on course. For the first two legs, I flew quite conservatively. Once across Nebo, there were two routes available. The first was a nice street that seemed to go too far South of the cylinder. The second was to traverse 20 miles across a blue hole to get to the clouds, over the scraggly peaks. Gulp. Looks like that’s the only way to go. I worked my way up in the convergence, took every foot and floated out at 75 knots.

I had glide out to the Provo valley, but was a bit unsettled. Looking at the clouds across, they had to work. But there was no other way.

And they did! 4 knots up to 15,700ft did the trick. Looking ahead, I felt no desire to press on into this cylinder. Instead, I turned and headed South, again across a mega-blue hole. And once again, I connected with good lift.

At this point, a beautiful little convergence line set up right into the next cylinder. How convenient! I floated along, didn’t bother to turn.

Now, looking at the Wasatch Plateau, I figured it was time to get the game on. Flaps negative, nose down, 95 knots. There were a couple wispy clouds to aim at and it’s time to drive hard.

Bang! The first wispy worked great, 7 knots! Off to the Wasatch plateau.

Now, the wind was picking up. The first blue thermal on the ridge, I was blowing over at 30 knots toward the TFR. Don’t drift into it!

The gaggle was coalescing along the ridge run. It became apparent that getting home wasn’t going to be a cake walk today. Looking ahead, I saw a line of clouds extending perpendicular, but way into the sector. I figured this was my only shot to make it upwind to the final sector and position myself for the final leg.

10 knots! Thank you very much, I’ll take that to 17,500 please.

That got me across Monroe Peak, though I wasn’t convinced I would have enough to make it through Kanosh Canyon. The winds just rip through that canyon! I was willing to take anything, whatever the cost, just to get higher.

That took a 90 degree deviation over, though it paid off. The final thermal there spit me out around 15,700ft, which was the best it’ll do. Time to make the death dive across the canyon.

I hit a lot of bad air there. Dropped right out of the sky. I went 20 miles in rough, sinky air wondering if this was going to work. The Fillmore ridge is a reasonable mountain and I expected the good air to kick in. I started to seriously consider that my fate would be in a field at the base of the ridge.

But then it finally got better. Now I was floating along at 10,000ft. I was holding my breath. All I need is one more thermal to get over to the San Pitch mountains and I should be okay. One small, 3.5 knot thermal. Not quite. Keep floating along. Bang! 5 knots to 13,500ft! This is getting a lot better. And the good air is working too, helping me float up. MC 2 final glide might even work! Keep floating… and bang! 5 knots! Several turns later, I have a MC 5 glide home.

Yeeeeeha! We’re bringing it on home!

Nose down, 40 mile final glide and the air was getting better. Couldn’t have asked for a better final leg.

Tomorrow is a rest day and then we have four more contest days to go. Thanks again Aero Club Albatross for letting me fly the club’s LS3 at the Sports Class Nationals! The ship is flying really well.

Day 6: Res Ad Triarios Venit

The Romans had an expression which loosely translated to, “Going to the triarii”. Taken literally, this is when in battle they had to deploy their most battle hardened and experienced reserves. Colloquially, it meant throwing everything you’ve got at a situation.

Today, I had to go to the triarii, but not with my flying. Almost every electronic device in the glider had either failed, beeped or not worked the way it was originally intended. The radio quit transmitting, so I went to a handheld. The kobo stopped receiving input from the Flarm, so I had lost my main flight computer. Ended up taking out my trusty Garmin 60CSX. Oh and that thing ran out of battery power, so I had to change out its double AAs. And both of the Nanos did not output a log in the end. And the flywithCE, which is only GPS altitude showed me busting 18,000ft.

I looked at the PowerFlarm and figured that box might have a log. I held my breath for an hour.

And to my relief, it downloaded and the log worked out!

Today was the first beer I drank the whole contest, having had to calm down after thinking I lost it all due to my instruments.

As far as the flight, it was a very interesting day. My TopHat having failed about 15 minutes before the gate opened, I got my Garmin working and the Flarm turned around so I could see the display. Since it was blue and since I was a bit stressed out from all this stuff, I resolved to especially stick with the gaggle. Unlike the other days, this time there really was a start gaggle and the group really did get going as one. I had a good start and went along with them.

In a sports class contest, it is especially convenient when the leading elements of the gaggle have higher performing gliders. They basically sniff out the thermal for you and you drive along at 100 knots, bang into it and better hope it sticks. The whole first and second leg worked out that way; I had to center very few thermals.

At Delano, the conditions really got cooking. I found myself at 17,000ft, looking at the Wayne Wonderland moonscape. The nice thing about not having a standard glide computer is that you don’t have the arc telling you it’s time to turn. Instead, I decided to dart toward the clouds, way off in the distance. I love clouds. Much like Francois, I hate blue.

Heading along into the turn area, I realized I was alone. Nevermind, this is worth it.

As I was approaching these little, lone cu, I saw the Capital Reef national park off my right wing. Below me was this moonscape that looks like a caldera and off to the left was the San Rafael swell. There were no gliders around me for 20 miles. No people, no habitation anywhere. The air was still for a bit and the ‘3 was humming along at 95 knots. At that moment, I felt completely immersed in this absolute expanse of deep blue sky over the most extraordinary land in the world.

The cu delivered a solid, smooth 10-12 knot thermal.

At this point, I was 110 miles from home and technically an hour left to do it in. I could see Mount Nebo and the San Pitch mountains off in the distance. It’s almost like you can reach over the cockpit and touch it!

But it’s far away. And gliding along, the mountain does not seem to get any closer, but simply rises in the cockpit. It felt like I was flying a 1-26 again.

One cloud later and I was back in the blue. Given my experience heading south bound, I had no reason to expect the conditions to be as good heading back north. My intention was to get high and stay high and ride out these nice thermals and good ground speed. Besides, I am alone. Everyone else streamed home to get home “on time”.

At one point, I saw a cu develop off my left wing. I succumbed to the temptation to make the radical 90 to get there. It worked, but not the way I would have hoped. It probably was more costly than it was worth, but it was in line with my conservative strategy.

The next 60 miles, I was basically “bleeding to death”. I would hit a thermal, but it would never be as high as the last one. Slowly, I was getting lower and lower. Finally, over the San Pitch mountains, I was starting to get concerned. It was getting close to 6pm. There’s gotta be one more good one out there! Thankfully, I connected with a five knotter and rode that sucker up. Then I was going through the calculation… 5 miles per thousand… 30 miles out…. 5000ft MSL airport elevation + 1,500ft finish sector…. okay 11,500ft. But wait, that’s around MC3? Let’s throw in a bit extra. 1000ft should do it, so I leveled out at 12,500ft. The whole final glide, I was going through the calculation over and over. It ended up pretty close to optimal actually!

What an exciting day. Off to tomorrow!

Day 7

Greetings from Nephi! Here’s to another successful soaring day. Today I was one of the last to launch. Looking at the long task that was called today, I figured it was game on once the rope went taut. Off of tow, the thermal was initially weak. Attention National Contestants: ten minutes until gate opens! The thermal picks up to 8 knots. Five minutes until gate opens! I topped out at 12,500ft and dropped the nose to 100 knots, looking for the start gaggle.

And there it was! What a mass of confusion and airplanes! Everyone was in this one massive furball.

I joined in 1000ft underneath. The gate is now open! I thermalled up, right through the start, just underneath the pack at the perfect moment. Couldn’t have asked any better start.

We topped out at 17,000ft and it was off to the races. This was the fastest pack I had ever seen! We were clocking 100-110 knots indicated.

Bang! 10 knots in the first thermal. Perfectly cored.

Bang! 9 knots on the next one!

Every time I leveled out, I saw little white lines all around the horizon in front of me, marking the better air.

We had no problem getting across the Wasatch Plateau and we all drove hard into Carbon County. Good clouds marked the way, so there was no letting up on the stick. However, I didn’t quite find the climb I was looking for. I tagged the turn and headed on the second leg, still looking for a solid climb.

The next leg consisted of 6.5- 10 knot thermals for a while. It was absolutely spectacular. The MC setting was pretty much off the dial. I couldn’t get the glider to go faster than 110 knots at the altitude I was flying. Four to five turns into a thermal and I would have gained 1000-1500ft. It was unbelievable, certainly the strongest conditions I had ever flown in.

Getting closer to Wayne Wonderland, it was starting to get overdeveloped. The convergence line was looking messy and I had to get over some serious high ground. I slowed down and worked my way up the street. Once in the street, I slowed down to stay with the consistent good air rather than driving for the thermals. That efficient transition paid off big today.

Once again, this area looked absolutely spectacular. This time we flew over to Bryce Canyon, with the whole land cut across by ancient rivers. No words to describe it.

Looking ahead, the line was thinning out into blue. I had 133 miles to go and an hour and 20 minutes to do it in. Seeing it was 5pm and figuring that the day was going to fall apart, I turned. I expected to come in 5 minutes over time.

But then it was just ripping strong lift. There was a cloud street most of the way to Nephi. The lift was 7-10 knots. I saw the miles clock down at a rate I had never seen before. Oh crap, I am going to be under time! First it was a couple minutes, but then more and more. I was getting anxious. All those other pilots are not going to make this massive strategic blunder! They’re going to be driving into that sector and making good time! And there’s nothing I can do about it, but sit and fly this flight out and hope for the best. I was kicking myself the whole way.

I finished 10 minutes under-time, having averaged 110 mph on the final leg.

I was in disbelief when I saw the scoresheet and saw I came in second place for the day. Absolute disbelief.

Off to tomorrow!

Day 8: The Drowned Rat Look

When I landed today, I looked like a drowned rat. It was a long, difficult day with many, many traps to avoid. I felt like I was walking a tightrope in a gale and somehow made it to the other side.

It started off of tow. Unlike every other flight I had done here, I did not connect with that solid thermal over the “pig farm”. Instead of climbing in 4-5 knots from 2000ft, I found myself sinking lower and lower. I saw gliders circling over the ridge and went for them. Unfortunately, the lift was only good enough to sustain. Down at 1300ft, I headed toward the airport. Right as I was thinking about a relight, I hit a thermal at 850ft AGL. I seriously considered whether it may be faster to land and take another tow. 15 minutes until gate opens!

And then my Kobo died. I guess it overheated or something and the screen froze over. Out came my trusty Garmin. As I was scratching in the weak lift, I was also programming the five turn areas, start and finish and their associated diameters one letter at a time.

Sometime later, I darted toward the start gaggle. Unfortunately, the gaggle was about 3000ft higher than me and they streamed out of the gate as the gun went off. I was in no position to hang on… there goes my conservative plan for the day.

Instead, I found myself with a JS1, Arcus and a DG1000. Hey, I’ll take any company if I can get it. It was blue ahead and I will need their help.

The first two thermals were honest enough and got me high enough to get into Scofield. Looking ahead, there was a beautiful convergence line marked with Cu. I ended up going across through a lot of the blue without hitting a thermal. I made a mad dash to the clouds and ended up going several miles beyond the edge of the sector to do so.

I got across at 10,700ft and slowly worked my way up. Once I did, the convergence was honest and worked quite nicely. I had no trouble going to the edge of the next sector and the following one.

Heading north bound, I wasn’t quite as lucky. The lift was closely spaced and the thermals were strong, but I couldn’t maintain altitude. Despite being high, the optimal lift band was quite thin. The clouds were well above 17,500ft, so to be in “cloud suck” land, you had to be pretty much right up there. I couldn’t quite connect with it as often as I would have liked.

Then there was that nasty TFR. I was paranoid that I might clip it and lose the contest. And then I had doubt whether I programmed the coordinates exactly where the TFR is. I gave it a wide berth, despite the sirens screaming “come here” for the wonderful lift inside that cylinder.

I had some trouble getting over the Wasatch plateau. The wind picked up and the terrain is quite high there. At one point, I had to make a 90-degree deviation to get high enough to make it across. The sink was quite strong!

But then, I was back up to 17,500ft. The cloud street was almost gone and it was time to go home. Totally blue ahead.

72 miles to go! I slowed the ‘3 down to 75 knots and floated on home with the strong tailwind.

Boy was I glad to make it today! And somehow pulled off second place while at it.

[ed: Daniel went on to win the 2018 Sports Class Nationals at Nephi, UT, flying ACA’s raggedy old “44” LS-3: http://www.ssa.org/Contests?cid=2387&display=results ]