Today was yet another surprising day at Montlucon! In the morning we were greeted with solid overcast skies. The forecasts suggested a wet airmass, which would only add more fuel to the overcast skies in the event that the sun managed to hit the ground. But then a switch clicked and the skies parted, and the ground heated, and we actually got a pretty solid day in. JP and I had a reasonable finish, in the top third and had a good day.
We had low expectations going into the briefing, to the point that the pilots were half expecting the day to be cancelled. Yet optimistic Aude suggested that we should get reasonable thermals to 1,400 meters and that it should be better to the east. We received an Assigned Area Task and humored the organizers by dutifully gridding and being ready to fly. But then everyone retreated to the team tents and simply socialized. We talked to the Ukrainians, Dutch, Swiss, Slovenians, French, and more. JP was quoted as saying, “Today is a much better day for riding a bike than flying!” The whole bunch of folks went out and then played frisbee.
But closer to 1:30pm, it was time to head out to the grid. The air around us finally felt like it was heating up. And then Aude launched and she stuck just fine! And then the day rapidly started developing. Looks like we will fly today!
After launching, we reassessed the weather, noticing that the temperature was higher than expected and would stay higher through 6pm than forecast. This suggested that the 2 hour task was eminently doable, though it would require starting promptly after the task opened. JP and I positioned ourselves on the east side of the line, where the lift was higher. Several minutes after the line opened, we spooled up under a cloud and charged out on course.
We found good air under the clouds, bumping along at cloudbase. We took a northerly route, staying connected with the immediate line. A gaggle formed from the earlier starters, though they weren’t climbing well, so we moved on. We flew gingerly, stopping for 1-1.5 m/s before we got too low. We had no troubles going deep into the first sector, right up to the edge of the airspace.
Coming out of the turn, we found a thermal marked by the 15m class. These watered up gliders seem to be in an orbit around the thermal, rather than in it. We parked inside, making sure we weren’t in anyone’s way and climbed up. At this point, the lift was getting solid, though the thermals were getting farther and farther apart. Next we met up with the Germans, though I caught the stronger part of the bubble. JP dropped off and seeing he was in good company, I asked if he would be OK with me leading out. With an affirmative, I headed to the middle of the sector.
My next glide was unpleasant. There was a nice cloud in the distance, though nothing in between. The ground rose up along the way, so I arrived not much higher than 300 meters above the ground. The thermal was marked by gliders, but the bubble was weak underneath. Worse yet, some of the Standard Class gliders above were dumping water in the thermal. Their ballast rained down on me, which caused the wing to get wet and not climb as well. After some patient adjusting and readjusting, I finally rolled into 2 m/s. Now we’re back in business.
JP took a considerably more southerly route into the turn, so we were now completely separated. We reported climbs to each other to see how the day was cooking along. Heading west now, the day started deteriorating. A gaggle converged on the near side of the Montlucon hole and we climbed up in 0.5-0.7 m/s. There’s gotta be something better here, but leaving now would be too committing. I stuck with it for a while and finally left when I heard Sean Murphy (XC) had 1.5 m/s on the other side of the hole.
However, I found little as I arrived low across the hole, under a nice set of clouds. Sean’s climb did not work, and I turned the sector early and parked in 0.5 m/s again. Now it was just a matter of struggling up to final glide. After flailing around for a while, I left downwind along the line toward some windmills. I picked up a 1 m/s climb there for final glide and slid on home.
As I arrived at the finish line, I debated whether to stretch my glide to make a pattern for Runway 35 or land downwind on the pavement. Either way is perfectly acceptable for the organizers. I opted to have a safer pattern and land downwind. After landing, I watched many gliders coming in, some really freakin’ low. One glider must have made his 180 turn at about a wingspan above the ground. Crazy business.
After landing, we put our gliders away, got our scores sent in and set up for the Movie Night hosted by the American team. Of course we screened the Sunship Game to illustrate all the crazy things we Americans liked to do in the 60s and 70s.
Moffat wisely told us to not let our judgment get tainted from the objective of winning just because we’re scared or tired.
Gleb suggested how the Open Cirrus is perfectly suited to land in the yucca plants of the Marfa bush.
All sorts of valuable advice for the US team!
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.