Glider pilots are a curious bunch. Yesterday, when everyone was pessimistic about the soaring conditions, it seemed like it was an all out race to get the gliders on the grid. Almost every ship was in its assigned spot by 10am! Today, on a day with evidently good soaring conditions, many gliders were hardly even assembled by 10am, let alone ready to fly.
But in any case, Mark Keene echoed the optimistic prognosis at the pilots briefing and quickly geared everyone toward the prospects of a long and enjoyable soaring day. Tony predicted lift pretty much all day, with a possibility of high cloud cover at the end of the day. In turn, the task advisors set a 3 hour AAT with small turn areas, which made the task much more of a race with its 200km minimum distance.
With an early grid time, everyone scrambled to get ready. There was mayhem as pilots hurriedly pawed the turnpoints into their flight computers in time to fly. By 11:40am, the sniffers were up reporting good lift and the launch was under way.
Once airborne, we were delighted with excellent thermals. The cumulus clouds formed nicely at about 5000ft or so, beaming the contestants up with little effort on their part. As time went and the gate opened, the clouds got thinner and thinner. Eventually, it became almost completely blue and folks started to get antsy.
I was expecting the long slog of start gate roulette. In fact, I figured that hardly anyone would go much before 2pm! So it was very much to my surprise when a little after 1pm I saw the herd stampeding through the start line, heading right for me in a weak thermal 2km up the course. This made me proverbially drop my sandwich, put my sunglasses on, push over the nose, and bolt toward the line. The race is on!
I hooked the line and raced back after the gaggle and caught them right at the top of the thermal. This put me in a good position to restart, but sure enough folks were streaming out on course. Looks like the gaggle has spoken; it’s time to go.
And indeed we went. It was a 75 knot affair, chasing the herd and trying to stay connected in the 2-2.5 knot thermals. I found myself getting lower and lower in the lift band, working hard to stay in the stronger part of the thermals before they started to taper off into the inversion. Mike Brooks in his Genesis and I drove to the foot hills and found solid lift, chasing after some Discii ahead.
Around this time, the conditions to the east-north-east started to improve. The wisps became better formed clouds, certainly easing the pressure of finding the thermals. Some marked occasional stretches of 4-5 knots, but the bubbles were generally fairly broken up after 500-1000ft stretches of climb. But nonetheless, the lift was reliable and the gaggle drove into Ferguson and later south into Corntassel with little trouble. Things looked a bit more complicated looking southwest toward Eton. While there were a couple clouds and wisps forming over the Chilhowee ridge, off the end of the mountain did not look pretty.
In any case, the gaggle coalesced on this leg, with many gliders marking thermals along the ridge. Folks worked fairly well together, though got somewhat low and spread out going into the Eton sector. I found myself down at 3000ft with Dieter in his Discus 2, watching the power gaggle including Tom Holloran and Mike Westbrook climbing away. Worse yet, flying underneath the gaggle did not reveal a thermal. Much to my distress, this forced me to turn into the wind, low.
After struggling up to around 4,300ft, I chased after the gaggle hoping to hook a reasonable climb. As I approached the scraps of another thermal they left, I watched my altimeter unwind. Now down to 2,800ft, I absolutely categorically had to find a thermal. The terrain ahead looked marginal, so if this area did not work, I would need to deviate 90 degrees along fields. Considering I was already in a somewhat lifty line, this would near certainly put me in strong sink. As such, I fumbled around in the weak, disjointed bubbles, looking for a reasonable thermal to climb in. This would put me in 5 knots of lift on one side and 3 knots of sink on the other, for a frustrating 1.5 knot average climb. After several minutes of this agony, I hooked into a solid core. This sucker went up to 5-7 knots and I felt both the earth dropping away underneath and my anxieties washing away. Sometime shortly thereafter, Tony Condon joins me with his Standard Cirrus and we shared the climb together up to 6,500ft; the high point of the day.
Looking ahead, I couldn’t see the gaggle anymore. There’s nothing that puts out a lust for blood like knowing there is a gaggle ahead that dropped you. I looked over my right shoulder and saw the ridge well below me. It should be little sweat to head the edge of the next sector at the Cleveland Y and then hook back to the ridge and ride the thermals and maybe weak ridge to the steering turn and back home. I figured most would stick with courseline, so this was my chance to hit the gas.
Nose down to 80 knots, let’s go for it. After waving goodbye to Tony, I zipped over to the turn, banked hard and dove for the ridge. It looked best to arrive around 500ft above ridge top, so I took two short climbs to make sure I got high enough that I’d definitely stay connected. And upon arriving, I was greeted with well formed bubbles in close proximity to each other, just as planned. The ridge really didn’t work all that well, but the high part near the Microwave tower felt like on solid thermal for a good mile. In all, I ended up gaining around 1,500ft for the final glide and only needed a couple turns before Etowah to make a safe and comfortable MC4 glide back home.
Sure enough, I caught up to Mike Westbrook and passed Tom thanks to my little detour, probably making up ten minutes I otherwise would have lost. However, it turned out those guys, plus Tony Condon who totally smoked everyone, had a much better and later start. That was the right decision for the day as they hit the peak and the clouds smack on the first leg. That said, I was happy with my decision to go when I did. Too often I’ve tried to outsmart the gaggle to find myself alone in the blue and in all sorts of trouble. For the most part, things worked out for me today, which was very much helped by being with company most of the day.
In the end, most folks made it around and we finally have Day 1 in the bag. Among the exciting things that happened on the ground included Karl Striedieck showing up with a SGS 2-33 on a trailer. It turns out that a microburst destroyed the glider last year and she sent it up to K&L to get repaired. They did an absolutely superb job; the glider might as well have been new and just came out of the factory. A large crew volunteered to help put the ship together and it’s now ready to soar for many more years to come.
And lastly, folks enjoyed another great dinner at Chilhowee Airport. We had trout, rice, squash casserole, and sweet grapes for dessert. A great time was had by all, who were thoroughly beat after a solid contest day. Now we’re looking forward to another ridge day tomorrow, this time with excellent thermal conditions. Our eyes are turning toward the Sequatchie valley, with hopes to be making a nice long ridge flight. Tomorrow should be a spectacular day!
See flight log here.
Thanks Aero Club Albatross for supporting me at this event with their wonderful, restored LS-4!