08-02-19 | Day Four- It Looked Impossible

The US Team had a great day. All four pilots made it around in dicey soaring conditions. A third of the Club Class fleet landed out and two thirds of the Standards. Several more teams got washed out of the running and we are managing to hang on in there. It was one of those days that you are simply amazed that you flew your way home to the home airport.

The organizers were unsettled with the weather forecast. The air mass was good, but there was a lot of high cloud cover to contend with. Depending on where and how little holes appear would greatly affect whether pilots could complete the task. The organizers delayed setting the task until the last minute, and when they did they made three tasks just to be sure. They weren’t taking any chances, that’s for sure.

I wore a Dutch team shirt today and later found their flag under my wheel!

On the grid, it looked reasonably promising. That was until you looked west at the grim high clouds moving right on in. When we were launched, the goal was to get up and connected as soon as possible. There was a chance that it would cycle down hard once the shade swept over the airport. Everyone had the same idea and converged on a mega-start gaggle. There were easily 40 gliders in it at any one time and that Standards hadn’t even launched!

As the start time rolled through, the strong third of the gaggle managed to slip away without us noticing. I am still befuddled by this, that 15 gliders just went off into the ether. This was a big error on our part because this was definitely the group to go with. And when they slipped away, we couldn’t start until another group decided to go. It was blue ahead and there were major high clouds to deal with. This is not a day to be caught out there on your own.

30 minutes after the first group went, the second group decided to go. A sunny band opened up into the first sector and we found good soaring conditions. The goal today was pretty much to nip the sectors and make distance in the safer areas closer to home. After nipping the first, we climbed up for the long glide across the Tisza River. The whole group floated out at 125 km/h or so. The air was absolutely dead smooth. Wave smooth. We held our breath as we crossed the other side and went many miles without feeling a single bump.

Down to 800 meters and the group connected with a climb. We worked our way up and now we were off to the races. There were Cu ahead and the conditions were improving. Now is the time to hit the gas; we don’t want to fall off the back.

We were pushing the gaggle hard. We didn’t mind the group being with us, so long as we were in a commanding position. They might come in handy later.

No trouble getting into and out of the second turn. The conditions peaked and we were driving at 160 km/h in the solid lift. But halfway toward the third sector, the menacing overcast moved in. We were in trouble.

John Good was very helpful with his reports today. He reported the positions and speeds of the competitors on the tracking. At this point he reported that there were a lot of folks getting low and desperate on the other side of the river. We climbed up every foot of the last cloud before the hole and floated across.

Dead smooth as glass. There were a couple clouds under the dark deck, but it looked really miserable. There was little hope of making it back.

But then a gaggle appeared ahead. There were gliders in fields underneath. Somehow some pilots were hanging on to weak lift. Doesn’t hurt to join them now, that’s for sure.

We were climbing at anywhere from .5 to 2 knots. Just clawing our way up, inch by inch. It looked futile; the conditions will collapse in any second. We have another 3000ft to climb in order to get on final glide! But little by little, the gaggle worked its way up. After nipping the third sector, we were less than 1000 ft from a low MC glide.

Sure enough, the conditions kept at it. Everyone fanned out and was sampling here and there. We went forwards, backwards, and sideways to any scraps of lift that could be found.

And before we knew it, we were approaching a MC 0 glide. And then two knots!! Slowly it weakened down to a half a knot. And by some miracle, the glide computer said MC 2 to 0 over for a 55km final glide.

I think we’ve got it!!

Noah replied pessimistically, “Ohhh-kaaayy…?”

The three of us led out and the high elements of the gaggle slowly trickled out behind us. The air was nearly dead other than a couple little areas of ever so slightly lifty or sinky areas reminiscent of wave.

We closed the vents and hardly touched the controls. 110 km/h mostly on the glide, hardly breathing.

A hard turn at the last sector. We were losing a bit on the glide, down to 50 meters low. I dialed my computer back and it showed MC 0, 0 feet over.

US Ground, looks like we will probably going straight-in, probably into the fields short of the airport.

As I hit the steering turn, the airport was well up off my nose, but it looked doable. And going into the wind we found a liftier line, for a 45-1 glide. We managed to make it work, with Noah and I squeaking over the finish line. JP took a little penalty for being a hair low. Most of the gaggle behind us came in a bit low too.

When I made it across the line, I yelled out YEEEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAA!! Damned if we made it back!

Gear down and a straight in for landing. The survivors streamed in behind us. When they opened their canopies, we all expressed our wonderment at being home. We all congratulated each other and were just absolutely thrilled for each other.

We survived this day while many did not. The result of being consistent is that we are in a reasonable position on the cumulative score, slowly clawing our way upwards as pilots drop off. The next couple days look tricky. Tomorrow is a rest day due to rain and storms. The following couple days will probably have more of this survival business. But then the weather opens up, with temps in the mid 30s Celsius. At that point we will be ready to push.

____________

See my flight here.

See our scores here.

Thanks to all our supporters back home who have given us the opportunity to represent the US at a World competition!

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