07-24-19 | Practice We Did!

Today was the first official practice day of the competition and the team did very well. We are ironing out the equipment, briefings and overall team process. The flying part is the most solid of the whole bit, with Noah and I doing considerably better than we expected given a very relaxed and not especially performance-minded approach to the short task today. In any case, we’re in great shape!

The principal difference of the “official” as opposed “unofficial” practice days is that a pilot’s performance on the task may affect their points in the competition. This is not to say that the points around the task count. However, airspace infractions or penalties resulting from violating local procedures DO count toward the whole competition. In FAI rules, certain violations first incur a warning, then steeper and steeper penalties for subsequent offenses. It is possible to get a “first strike” warning during a practice period, to THEN get a steep penalty during the actual contest. As a result, we were extremely cautious about avoiding any penalties, especially since the real points don’t count yet.

Noah and I spent the morning working on getting the LX 9050 system to work. Boy what a complicated mess that computer is. I think you need to be a tech wizard to figure it out completely. Noah helped me set up the simplest possible profile we could make, along with the contest registration and adjustments to the Flarm settings. The Flarm audio warnings were not working before, which is a problem for team flying. The collision avoidance system is very useful when you’re spending 60+ hours in close proximity to one another. We don’t count on it exclusively of course, but it is a very useful aid in improving our situational awareness.

We launched at the back of the grid and had a bit of trouble staying up after releasing. The airport is in a bit of an airspace corridor; you can’t go too far south or west or you get into restricted airspaces. The start is a bit to the north of the airport, in clearer air so to speak. But off of release, the gaggle was climbing directly above a zone of airspace and I couldn’t quite reach it without being committed to the thermal. If the thermal didn’t work, I’d bust the top of the 450 meter MSL restricted zone. Instead I headed over to the airport and dug out from a little over pattern altitude.

The lift was pretty reasonable early in the day. It triggered early thanks to the cool northerly flow. This makes for a dry and unstable airmass, much like the good days back home. It looks like in Europe the weather follows the Cookie postulate (Cookie was my flight instructor), which is that it ought to be good if there is an “N”, especially paired with a “W” in the wind direction forecast.

In any case, we milled around for a while, watching the sky develop. There was a threat of spread-out later on and we felt the urge to go relatively early before the day overdeveloped. We started with a group of other Club Class gliders, though most of them disappeared into the ether. With a turn area task in a homogeneous sky, you don’t get the massive gaggles that you would find on a weak, blue day.

Heading west, the terrain got slightly higher and considerably more wooded. We went a good ten miles without hitting much of anything. But when we found a thermal, it was an honest 4.5 knotter. This was the story for most of the day; solid, but with lift that was far apart. We worked hard to stay connected in the higher band.

The middle of this region had few good landing options. There were plenty of places to deviate to and we had plenty of height to do so. However, we made a note to ourselves that this is not a place we would like to get low in during the competition.

As we approached the turn area, we saw the Danube river valley open up before us. What a gorgeous sight! The mighty river snaking through a sea of fields and towns. We were warned that the lift in this area can be quite soft and down-shifted accordingly. However, looking ahead we saw a dust devil over a field, right by the river! There has been so little rain for the past several weeks that even the river valley was cooking off good thermals! It worked out well enough that we flew right over the river before making our turn and heading back to the east.

Heading east, no real trouble for a while other than an occasional lower bit down to around 2500ft AGL or so. It feels a lot lower than it really is. Along the way, we picked up a couple thermals with other gliders.

There are many good reasons to fly with a teammate. Among Noah’s many great qualities is that he has excellent vision. There were several times he would radio to me,

“Tally, glider one-o-clock, 6 kilometers away, turning into a thermal… 150km/h?”

I’d look out ahead and see diddly squat.

Then I’d cautiously reply, “Sounds good to me” and pushed the nose down trusting Noah’s eyes over my own. When we would get half way there, I would finally see the gliders steadily climbing.

Mind you, I got new lenses on my prescription sunglasses before I left; I’m an honest 20/20 when I’m flying. It’s just that some people are part eagle and leave the rest of us in the dust. And it sure is nice to be their teammate!

The clouds got more and more spread-out as we headed east. The Tisa River valley actually was as advertised; somewhat weaker than the surrounding areas. We had to dig out from around 600 meters over a town and finagled our way deeper into the sector. Noah had final glide on me earlier and headed on a bit deeper and I cut the corner. We had a great run into the final steering turn and on to home.

Along the way, my GPS briefly died as I was approaching the steering turn on the final glide. This was rather annoying as I couldn’t see if I hit the little sector! And when it went back on, I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I hit it or missed the edge. I had enough doubt about whether I hit it and whether the penalty would be an official “warning” that I said heck with it and turned around to go through it a second time for good measure. This is why there was a little 2 km jog in my track.

The issue was totally resolved after landing. This is why we have practice days; to iron out the kinks. I will also have the borrowed Nano 3 have a task next time to use as a backup if this happens again.

After we landed, we were amused that our crews were not on the airfield. It turned out that they were watching the OGN Flarm tracking. They saw us screaming around the course, but the tracking was delayed 15 minutes on the website. They were really surprised when Noah called in that he was standing by the trailer, when they saw us on “final glide” heading back! We had a big laugh and it was a lesson learned for the competition.

All in all, a very successful day. Noah came in 2nd for the day and I came in 7th, 51 points behind the winner. Noah was very happy to be second as it is considered bad voodoo in the US to win a practice day. As a result, we couldn’t hope to do much better!

After getting the gliders put away, we went out to dinner and spent the evening getting more supplies and sorting out equipment. It has been a constant effort all the way through 10:30pm, when I sat down and looked through the photos and started working on this report. The flying is the “easy part” of the day, at least right now as we are getting ramped up and ready to go. We’re almost there!

Among other news, Mike Marshall landed out today. He struggled to get away for a while and was having a great day when he finally did. But then the conditions down-cycled over the high ground and it got really tricky. He made a safe landing in a beautiful field and got retrieved by his crew.

Since we had the same task today, Noah and I relayed information about the conditions on course. Having a contestant in another class is a new experience for me as the last two worlds the US only fielded a Club Class team. We are working on ways to see how we could help Mike, both in the air and on the ground.

JP is arriving tomorrow. Also, the gliders are getting “scrutineered” in the evening. This is to say that they will go through a contest inspection to make them officially registered in the contest and ready to go. Between getting JP up to speed and getting our gliders completely ready to go, we will probably stay local again and fiddle rather than go for the task. Everything is coming together!


See our results here.

See my flight log here.

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