And with the snap of a finger, it’s all over. Eleven days of some of the most difficult flying with the best pilots in the world. The weather was weak, but we pulled every single ounce of soarable weather out of the Montlucon sky. Yesterday we crowned the champions of each class. Sebastian Kawa unsurprisingly won 15M with another superhuman performance. The Germans had an especially good go, with two teams winning the contest, with Uwe and Stephan coming in first and third in our class. Uwe and Stephan flew an excellent race, consistently flying very well. The most pleasant surprise was Thies (IV) from the Netherlands earning Silver in our class. He is a class act, an excellent pilot, and we are thrilled with his excellent run at this event.
I felt that the US Team flew well, even if the scores didn’t always reflect it. Flying here was like walking a very thin tightrope every single day and even the slightest mistake would lead to disaster. A couple hundred feet in a typical contest is peanuts, a handful of seconds, maybe a minute or two of performance. Here it meant all the difference between connecting with a bubble, or landing out, or making it home on a zero glide, getting penalty points, or coming up short. I don’t think any of us had flown an event which demanded such persistent execution with such thin margins all the time.
JP and I debriefed and we reflected on things we did and could do better. Overall, we felt that after three Junior worlds, we understood the FAI and gaggle game reasonably well. For once, the errors we made were less because of being from a different continent, but rather details in tactical execution. We fundamentally understood that these contests are about flying with and managing the group and we successfully flew with this mindset throughout most of the event. Further, the level of flying was actually not all that different. The top junior pilots were the ones doing well here too. We flew with them before and we felt no different facing the gaggles and the strategy and tactics than what we have done before.
We also discussed several points that dragged us down. These included:
- When starting late on an AAT, you MUST come back on time (or early).
Flying AATs in the worlds is different than back home as the group still matters a lot and is actually harder to keep track of. Further, the pilots are more willing to go deeper if the conditions are improving far away from home. However, we underappreciated this gamble as the conditions decayed rapidly at the back end of the day. So if starting late on an AAT, you must be willing to come back early if your last leg is reasonably quick to minimize the risk of falling off the back of the day.
- Never give up.
No matter how bad it looks ahead, you can probably go another 60 miles farther, or even complete the task. On one blue, windy day, it was getting late and I got demoralized and didn’t work as hard. The gaggle flew another 100km! The next day, I shifted my mindset and drove hard despite the conditions and won the day. It’s as much a mental game as one of talent and execution.
- In weak conditions, take an early start with the first viable group, even if you’re not in perfect starting position.
In the worlds, the start game decides a lot over the day. We did better here than in past events, though we tended to start too late in weak conditions. The challenge is that you are not always in a position to go; the day cycles in and out and you have to take your chance when you get it. Sometimes we were ready to go earlier, but we talked ourselves out of going and then lost our opportunity for another 15-20 minutes. The reality is that in weak conditions that gaggle is likely to hit a brick wall at the end of the day anyway. With so many landouts and such thin point spreads, getting “rolled” by the gaggle if you get stuck on the first leg is not costly. However, “falling off the back” of the gaggle at the end of the day is disastrous. Starting earlier is a better bet in short tasks in weak conditions.
- Get in a controlling position on the gaggle in weak days.
Several hundred feet makes all the difference. The pilots that did the best were the ones that managed to climb several hundred feet higher in the weak thermals and stay connected at the top of the thermal. Their bubble would die a little later and the pilots underneath would be forced out. They would be able to stay higher, a minute or two behind the poor folks underneath doing all the dirty work.
On weak days, that’s where you want to be to do well.
- Hardware issues.
This one was much more on JP’s side than mine at this event. I was lucky to fly an excellent ship restored by Ross Drake, so for once everything worked! JP though struggled with his CG, Flarm, and variometer, which caused all sorts of grief. He had a hard time getting the glider to climb much slower than 90 km/h, whereas I was able to slow down WA to 80 km/h. JP wasn’t the only one on the US Team with issues with their rented glider at this contest. It’s just a reality that we’re somewhat handicapped at these events through the necessity of flying different, rented gliders. Uwe, the Club champion owned his LS3 since 1987. We simply don’t get the luxury of tuning everything to perfection and getting super comfortable with our equipment. That said, I felt very good in WA.
I hope that we acquitted ourselves reasonably for the US team. I certainly had a wonderful experience in Montlucon and can’t thank everyone enough for giving me this amazing opportunity to fly with the best pilots in the world. First, I’d like to appreciate the organizers at this contest, who pulled off the most unlikely event with the most difficult challenges facing them in many years. Thierry and Beatrice were amazing and did a fantastic job simply making this event happen at all, and then did a tremendous amount with the little weather we had.
Colin Meade, our team captain did an outstanding job. Despite the logistical challenges, he managed to get everyone and everything together. For the past two years it has been really touch and go, with highs and lows in planning this and negotiating the COVID circumstances. Colin did a great job at the event keeping the pilots focused on flying. I also appreciated his kind words of encouragement on the radio, which worked outstandingly well at this event and helped provide important information for us when we asked for it. Thank you Colin and Cindy for all your hard word; you were the keystone in having the US Team represented at this contest.
Thank you Donat-Pierre Luigi for being an excellent crew and friend. After we synced up and kicked into gear, you did an excellent job managing the glider and its equipment and keeping me focused on flying. Thank you for your interpreting services, both for me and the team as a whole. We had a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to seeing your name in the French contest circuit in the near future.
Thank you to the team crews. Jacob, Raul, Holden, Cindy, Paul, Rob, John, and Jason, you all were an amazing bunch! At one time or another, you helped me assemble the glider, borrow equipment, retrieve me in a field, or listen to my tales of joy and woe in the sky. Thank you for all your help!
Thank you Alain Daumas for lending me your family’s car and helping with all the logistics of coming into and out of France!
Thank you Jen, for supporting me going to the Worlds. I really appreciated you coming and joining us in France and I am so happy that we could share this experience together. These memories will live on for our whole lives!
Thank you to my club, Aero Club Albatross back home, that have supported my flying for my whole soaring career. It’s the folks back home that coached and mentored me, retrieved my sorry butt out of many fields and otherwise kept me honest. It was an honor representing ACA at a World Gliding Championship.
And ultimately, thank you for all the folks back home that support the US Team to make this possible for us. Your sponsorship and contributions allow people like me that cannot afford spending $10,000 for a glider contest attend these events, race hard, learn, and help develop the team into the future.
And with that folks, the FAI flag has been furled and the contest is over. Thank you for following along and I bid you adieu.