05-11-21 | It’s Raining Gliders in Chilhowee!

Yesterday we made a valiant attempt to get day three in, but yet again we have come short of six pilots going 100km to make a valid day. In the morning, Sarah and Mark Keene ominously noted the possibility of extending the contest through Friday in case this day and Thursday turn out non-soarable. The weather has been particularly uncooperative these past two weeks, but nonetheless spirits are quite high. We have been having so much fun simply being here, together. Many of the younger folks are camping on the field and are having a blast spending time with real human beings again. It’s really been wonderful!

In any case, we gridded, we squatted, we bantered, we had three task ideas and we kept trying and trying. David McMaster, our sniffer in the ASW27 (1) was put to work. The folks on the ground cast bets on how long he would stick on each launch. Nonetheless, persistent mid-level cloud cover refused to go away. There was blue sky and some lone cumulus clouds just out of reach, perhaps 5-10 miles north-northwest of our location, but it remained cool over Chilhowee Airport. Jacob Fairbairn noted that the temperature was such that you got hot if you assembled gliders, but got cold sitting around on a lawn chair. We needed sun!

I felt the day developing by virtue of first taking off my leather jacket and an hour or two later, my warm fleece underneath. Now in a short sleeve shirt, 20 minutes later we had first launch begin at 2:45pm. I was at the very back of the grid and sauntered over to the LS-4.

I really don’t like being at the very back of the grid. I’d much prefer to be in the front, or in the middle! But nonetheless, I geared up to go and was happy to get airborne.

Upon release, I found myself *above* the gaggle! I watched the altimeter through exactly 2800ft and pulled the plug, gladly joining in above the herd. Not such a bad way to start the day!

And so we went round and round over the ridge in 0-0.5 knot lift. After the start being delayed somewhat and climbing to a princely altitude of 3200ft MSL, our thermal cycled down. I tried to go over the ridge, closer to the start line above 5 km away and see I could pick up another thermal, perhaps one drifting over the ridge from the cement plant. It would be very nice to be positioned to start near the line, ready to go once the gun went off.

I found good, bubbly air, but nothing that was solidly organized. Back down to release altitude, I turned back toward my first thermal, to see the gaggle climbing above 3,500ft! No worries, I’ll slide in underneath them; the day is cycling in and then I’ll climb up to them and start behind as I planned anyway. But under the group, the bubble cycled out; nothing. Searching here and there gave only 0-0.5 knots as before. I ended up sustaining as the group climbed up to about 1,400ft above me. 15 minutes later, they filtered out on course.

I kept at it, going back and forth along the ridge. The day is bound to cycle in! But it was only good enough to keep me at 2,800ft. Then high cloud cover reemerged and started cooling off the ground. Gliders started to land back at the airport. Looking ahead, most of the course was starting to go into shadow.

I’m not going to lawn dart from release altitude into a field.

So I kept trying, now watching my altimeter slowly unwind. Now flushed off into the valley, taking a turn here or there. And finally, I followed another glider into the pattern and landed at 4:20pm.

For a couple minutes I thought about relighting, and I watched the high cloud cover to see if there was any hope of the day recycling. More gliders came in to land and the high clouds were only thickening.

I figured that the day was going to shut down and we were all going to come up short anyway. Better to put the ship into the box.

For the folks that made it out in the gaggle, they did just fine for a while, finding 1-2 knot lift to 3,500ft or so in the valley. They struggled along, singing:

9 gliders going ’round in the gaggle, 9 gliders in the gaggle

Should one fall off and land in a field, now there are 8 gliders in the gaggle….

8 gliders going ’round the gaggle, 8 glider in the gaggle.

Should one fall off and land in a field, now there are 7 gliders in the gaggle…

This persisted through 2/3 of the task, when Sarah Arnold and Tony Condon landed about 74 km in at an airport. They did an absolutely fantastic job! Another honorable mention goes to David McMaster in the ’27, who managed to go most of the way around and land at McMinn, perhaps one thermal short of making it home.

With everyone down safe, the next challenge was to get the flock of gliders back to Chilhowee. I retrieved JT McMaster flying OH, who was about 40 minutes away. He was on his way to Decatur before landing in a hay field.

The field was tricky and rolling, with all sorts of obstacles. JT successfully navigated between all the challenges and made a good landing. When I arrived, he had become good friends with the farmers, having already consumed several beers with the whole clan. Randy, the elder farmer pulled the glider out with his Kubota and we had the ship apart in no time. On the way back, JT told me about all the trials and tribulations of being a regional jet captain and his dreams of working for UPS. I’m sure it’ll work out for him just fine!


Thanks again to Aero Club Albatross for supporting me at this contest!

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