What a roller coaster of a day! The morning started out with a big storm that totally drenched the airport. The mulberry tree just outside my camper van got shaken up, dropping many berries to get squashed under foot. Puddles submerged sections of the concrete pads making the ramp look like a collection of many little islands. When we arrived at the pilot’s meeting, none of us were expecting much from the day.
Mitch, though was unflappable. He put a short assigned task together and insisted that it’s a Nationals, we will grid, and we will attempt to fly. Here we fly as much as we can, even when there is not much to work with. Mitch also pointed out that there should be improvement in the weather soon, with Sunday promising hot and windy conditions. He said it will be like pointing a hairdryer at your face on High.
Despite Mitch’s beaming confidence, we all retreated and lingered around the airport like bums. Though around noon, the overcast burned off and the sun started hitting the ground. The northerly wind ripped through, slowly drying out the soaked earth. Gliders started to emerge from their boxes, and covers started coming off. By 2pm we were all gridded up on the south end of the runway.
With still little enthusiasm on our part, Noah and I parked in the club house, with its excellent air conditioning. Mike Westbrook’s son, Alex, was roaming around and caught me in front of the foosball machine. Alex is a good kid, eleven years old, eager to learn and to fly and certainly happy to socialize with the adults. He challenged me to a foosball match, so we played to the best of ten. Then he wanted to play monopoly, even though there was no chance of completing the game before launch. I obliged him anyway and he was thrilled getting to play his aquatic version of the game. Never did I get so excited about acquiring an octopus, or a shark. The railroads were instead oceans, and I was lucky enough to have both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
But then the sniffers launched and reported 2 knot climbs through 4000ft MSL. Noah and I looked at each other and got a ride on the golfcart to the grid. We got into the mindset of racing, got ready and were airborne by 3pm.
The conditions were sunny, mostly blue, and windy. Occasional wisps marked the better climbs. It was a challenge getting to the start line, a good 10km west of our release point. By the time we got there, the Standard Class gliders were starting and the 20M motorgliders were 1000ft above, in a good starting position. They left and we were not in a position to give chase. That said, we saw Mike and Jacob in TX (we call them Tex), Biff, and Piet (Quack Quack) lining up near and below us. With the Duo power gaggle formed up, we figured that we could wait until the group decides to go. We drifted downwind of the start and set for a restart. Everyone followed. Since we had a bit of a height advantage, we pulled a little trick out of our hats. Instead of immediately hooking the line, we just simply kept going north. When Biff and Tex hooked the line, we turned hard over and gave chase 20 seconds behind.
We pushed over and got off of Tex’s wingtip. In the blue, if you can’t beat em, join em. Mike has a lot of team flying experience, so we set up station on the right and focused on making good use of the air. Sampling is everything in the blue as it is so easy to miss thermals. Two 20M gliders bludgeoning the air 200 yards apart does a lot better.
We made good work going into the first turn and even started seeing wing flashes off in the distance. We were making ground on the Standard Class gliders. Halfway into the second leg, we got lower and lower going into lower, wet ground marked by a snaking river. We got on the upwind side, figuring that the cooler river would be a good trigger. Noah and I hooked in a good bubble, though the Duo gaggle just below failed to connect. Quack Quack rolled out and was charging off into the wild blue yonder. Biff and Tex were struggling below. After climbing up, we figured we might merge in with the standards ahead and stepped on the gas. Sorry guys.
After the turn, it became an obvious struggle. No one was set up well in a climb, so we slowed down and considered our options. Finally one marker well downwind of course looked like they were climbing, so we joined them in their measly one knot. The sky ahead looked blue and it was folly to be out there alone. So we ground around the turn, just waiting and waiting while slowly getting higher.
At this point Dave McMaster flying Item joined us. Good going Item, nice to see you! Dave is going to the upcoming Junior Worlds and he is joining us for some coaching in our morning strategic planning sessions in the camper van. So far so good, we’re happy for him!
After the thermal finally gave out, we headed back upwind toward course line, covering Tony Condon and Tex. We found another good climb, which we took for all it had. Noah started struggling as the climb tapered off at the top and the thermal started rolling in the inversion. I encouraged him to stick with it; it’s better to be in 1.5 knots up here, than 1.5 down there.
The next glide took us to the turn and near the airport toward several wisps. We were alone again, looking for the main climb that will anchor our final legs and most of the final glide. Unfortunately, the lifty area was very weak, and we largely floundered in half a knot, though ahead looked even worse. If nothing else, the group behind us will catch up and help us out later.
The thermal strengthened and the Standards plus Tex caught up. We left for the turn, with Tex leading the gaggle, charging ahead looking for the final climb. We gave chase, now in high gear hoping to mitigate the difference. Tex found a thermal and we merged in about 350 feet below. You gotta beat ’em in the climb Noah!
The Standard merged in and the thermal got blown up by too many gliders. Our climb rate fell off and we watched Tex climbing up and up. We got a marginal glide and I prodded Noah to go, figuring we might gain on the glide, or at least looking for something better to climb in.
When we left, we fell off the glide. We’ll need one more climb!
Sure enough we hooked in a solid 2 knotter. We left it at MC 2.8, 600ft over.
Good air, we are gaining on the glide. Several gliders circling at the steering turnpoint, more good air. We are cooking in hot.
Noah, looks like we will have enough for a solid finish.
Roger that, Noah replied.
Airport in sight and we start pushing over. 80, 85, 90 knots. Tex emerges on the Flarm behind us, coming in hot. We sure surprised him being ahead, didn’t we?
Noah keeps looking over his shoulder.
We gotta beat him to the finish!
Nose pushes over to 100 knots.
Aim for the cut in the trees, don’t give him the inside line!
Tex passes on our left and slides in just in front.
Mitch gets on the radio, Standby…. Standby. Good finish!
As we scream over the finish line, we pull up just behind Tex and follow him for the landing.
We beat ’em by eight seconds for the day. The time was so close that we tied them for first for the day.
We thank the Harris Hill club for supporting us at this contest by letting us use their Duo Discus. This glider is an absolute marvel of performance and it has made it possible for us to compete at the highest level among the best pilots in the United States. We really appreciate all the work it takes for clubs to make these opportunities happen.
See race results here.