08-13-21 | Day Six- Driving Into the Dirt

Greetings from Montlucon! Talk about a day with surprising weather. In the morning, there was a solid overcast layer and a hazy mist down low from the recent rain. If there was a day that screamed “not-flyable”, this was it. So we can be forgiven for being skeptical when Aude and Walt suggested a reasonable boundary layer in the afternoon, with cumulus clouds and decent soaring conditions. We kept our minds open, but weren’t exactly optimistic either. Especially frustrated were the Standard Class, who were first in line to go fly today on a pretty long task into the weaker part of the task area. Sarah pleaded, “What have we done wrong to deserve this?” Rumors were that they renamed the Standard into the Satanic Class. In the end, all but Tom Holloran (MY) on the US Team made it around on a pretty decent soaring day, though JP and I felt we could have done a lot better if we had avoided some rookie mistakes.

As we waited around in the team tent, we planned out our task. The area task took us north into a narrow wedge between airspace and we had a couple contingencies if the weather got better or worse. After we fininished our planning, I talked to our Ukrainian neighbors next door. Their team captain, Valentina, won a Silver Medal at the 1991 Women’s Worlds in Britain. She told me all about soaring during Soviet times and how the clubs got developed in the Ukraine.

Nonetheless, the day started slowly heating. The high clouds started to dissipate. The launch window got delayed and delayed. But by 2pm the sky looked good enough to launch. The Standards went and so did we.

Getting above tow height was a real struggle. The lift was painfully weak and yet no one seemed to be doing better around us either. We finally limped across the airport to a gaggle on the other side to dig out. We finally willed our way into starting position not long after the start opened.

We started with the Poles a little before 4pm and headed on task. The clouds were only around 1,200 meters high, 800 meters AGL. We drove along, looking for lift. We finally connected with around 1 m/s and a gaggle formed around us. As we went north, the lift slowly got better and higher and we started going faster. One, to two, to even three m/s were found under better defined clouds. At this point we started driving faster and faster, even finding streeting ahead. I saw my speed push over 170 km/h, flaps fully negative, racing as hard as I could. At this point JP and I separated as he struggled with a climb behind me and was working hard to catch up.

That lasted well into the turnpoint and then back along the street. And then I started dropping out of the height band, though I kept my speed up, refusing to admit that it was time to tank up. I drove lower and lower, finding crappier and crappier air. Down to 500 meters, I finally gave up and started flailing in some zero. After some searching around, this developed into a reasonable thermal, which finally developed into 3.5 m/s at the top. My average for the climb was around 1.7 m/s, not great, not terrible. But it got me back into the business of racing again.

Still not having learned my lesson, I drove hard to the south, getting lower and lower as the clouds decayed in the later afternoon sky. JP and I were hopelessly split now as he took the western line about 6 miles away and I was on the eastern edge of the second turn sector. I saw gliders ahead under reasonably defined clouds and braced for my next climb. My first thermal was weak, about 1 m/s. I hung for a bit and as it started petering out, I figured the next clouds over a little forest should work better. I drove out, got down to about 250 meters AGL, hunted around for a while, and finally connected with a solid 1.5 m/s after some flailing and struggling. One more climb closer to the airport and I got home.

I ended up in the middle of the pack with regards to my score, though there were a couple major missteps today. The first was that we lost about 3-4 minutes on the start by being a little impatient. That was forgivable, but suboptimal. Getting split up with JP especially heading north bound hurt both of our respective performances. If we stuck together then, we both concluded that we would have been 3-5 minutes faster on either line. This was because it was hard to find and center the thermals under the big clouds and sampling aggressively with two gliders would have helped a lot. Given that we were separated, we needed to stick closer together to other gliders. Kamikazing alone into the dirt (twice) is just not very smart. And finally, I really should reread the paper I wrote with John Bird with tactical risk management with unreliable cloud markers ahead. I was out for blood, but the only one that bled was myself.

But in any case, today is another day and we didn’t get penalized too much for our suboptimal judgment and execution yesterday.


Thanks to my friends at Aero Club Albatross, who have given me all the resources, mentoring, and opportunities to grow as a recently aged-out junior pilot. Thanks to the many people who support me and the US Team to make flying at a WGC possible.

See the daily scores here.

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