A Day Win at the Club Class Nationals

Published in the 1-26 Association Newsletter | Spring 2014

Bill Vickland asked me to write about my longest flight for the 1-26 Association display at the SSA Convention. Instead, I thought it may be more interesting to mention the fable of the Red snailplane in a sea of glass flying over the rolling hills of Pennsylvania….

As 2013 rolled in, I was planning on flying in two contests; the 1-26 Championship in Moriarty and the new Club Class Nationals in Mifflin. Initially, I figured I would try my hand flying Aero Club Albatross’ 1-34R in the Mifflin contest as it was figured this is more representative of “club” class sort of gliders which I assumed was better for getting on the Junior Team. However, when I flew the 1-34R in January, the glider and I did not jive too well and I was not looking forward to flying it in Mifflin, especially since it would require completing a trailer project so that the other club 1-34 is not left trailerless in my absence. Then, through indirect correspondence, Dan Mockler expressed how he was “puzzled” why I intended on flying a 1-34R as opposed to one of my club’s 1-26s in the contest. After giving it some thought and especially since it seemed at the time that the Junior team deal was not going to be viable, I figured showing up in a red beat up 1-26 to a glass contest would be much more fun. Everyone, (including Schwartz) with the exception of Mockler thought it was completely insane, but my club gave me its blessing as they figured if this crazy kid was going to land out every other day, it would be better in a 1-26 anyway. I figured that it was doable since my soaring was quite fruitful in the Spring. Four substantial thermal cross country flights were flown on the Governor’s Cup South inter-club contest that were around 150 miles and on two tasks facing headwinds over 20 mph. I figured if it was possible to go 40 miles into a 25 mph headwind, then there is nothing that Mifflin can do that will really surprise me. So in early May, a day after completing my finals, Sweet Red (563) was whistling on his trailer, heading deep into Pennsylvania looking for trouble and adventure.

Five days before the contest began, this day was looking very promising. The winds were progged at 280 degrees with sufficient strength for good ridge lift. This was very good for me since I was much more familiar with the ridge system for to the southeast of Mifflin as this is where Blairstown pilots tend to fly on their longer ridge missions. Furthermore, this would not require crossing the daunting and unlandable “seven mountains” to the Northwest.

The forecast held true and the task was a four hour MAT with a choice of one of three first turnpoints, then any others on the task area without repetition. There were two fairly distance turnpoints, though one only thirty or so miles away. The task advisers probably took pity on that poor little snailplane… little did they know what was coming their way! I had the task completely figured out almost a week in advance and figured out the most optimal route with the least transitions. However, I did give a call to Ron Schwartz asking, “How well does Honey Grove (the most distance NE turnpoint I would go to) work with 280?” He responded, “Oh it should be fiiiinnnneee.” Thanks Schwartz, and I strapped on in, telling the wingrunner that today if things go according to plan, I will win the day. Off we launched to Jacks Mountain, in strong unstable conditions with a stiff wind blowing against the ridges.

Once the start gate opened, I got going fairly quickly. Immediately, I jumped onto Shade Mountain, the first ridge downwind of Jacks. Once established, it was evident that the ridge lift was very strong as the ASI read 85-90 mph while 300 ft above the ridge. I could not physically go any faster since the hits were so hard from the turbulence. Every mile or two, there would be that insane 10 knot up gust that would catapult me a couple hundred feet, probably incurring at least 3G or more in the process. It was necessary to ease off the stick just enough so that once the sink was hit on the other side to try to avoid getting my head implanted on the canopy. As I was approaching the first transition at the end of this ridge, it became worrisome that I had not seen any other gliders… where were they!? Was I flying the wrong ridge? I even checked the task sheet again to make sure I was going the right direction! However, within short order, the first glass birds started to pass underneath me, though they were probably surprised that the Red snailplane was moving along…

The first downwind jump went by pretty easily and I continued heading toward the turnpoint at Dickey’s Mountain, the farthest first mandatory turnpoint. Once on the Tuscarora, many gliders started to pass me from the Club class. Once close to rounding the turnpoint, the ridge became a bit weaker, which was a bit scary crossing over the Vee that is at the tip of the Tuscarora. I decided to come back along the front part of the ridge after hitting the turnpoint a bit before coming back to the Tuscarora to not go through the dead spot. As I joined the Tuscarora again, I saw Karl Stredieck and the choo-choo train of gliders was coming straight at me. Twenty gliders from “Modern” class were following Karl to the turnpoint! I slowed down a bit and hoped for the best as they were all zooming underneath.

At the next jog in the ridge, I was surprised that the choo-choo train was going upwind, back the way we came… the best turnpoint was to the NE at Honey Grove on the Tuscarora! Oh well dumb-dumbs and I jumped downwind a bit lower than was prudent and raced along the Tuscarora. Honey Grove is a bit upwind of the ridge, and I thought it was a bit closer than it really was. When the turnpoint was rounded, it became apparent that I was too far from the downwind ridge, so I pressed on the “transition” to the continuation of the Tuscarora in order to catch a thermal. In short order a thermal was found and I started heading back SW bound. At this point, the wind was starting to shift really far west, which was concerning. I was still going at a good a great clip, though it seemed the best course of action would be to slow down before the jump upwind at Burnt Cabins.

As Burnt Cabins was approaching, my Garmin 60CSX batteries died, so there went my navigation! After jumping across past Burnt Cabins, I took the map out from underneath my seat of the Mifflin task area and turnpoints (going really retro now) and located McConnellsburg, my objective. I noticed that it was placed over a crossroads, which I approached as close as possible and then darted back, hoping for the best. At this point, my objective was to head back to Mifflin airport. The first upwind jump back to Shade was pretty easy as there was a great thermal street there. Flying along along Shade, something did not feel right. The ridge just did not feel solid anymore, although I was barreling along like a bat outta hell in terms of ground speed. The first thermal that was hit, I started turning and realized that my drift was practically parallel with the ridge! I chose to stick with thermal and work my way back up high. This worked out just fine and I arrived at Mifflin at maybe 4000ft, and still another 15 minutes left to go until minimum time. I peered down to the airport and saw that the airport windsock was perpendicular to the ridge, so it seemed best to give a turnpoint on the near Jack’s Mountain a try. I floated up high since the ridge did not seem trustworthy as it had failed me on Shade, nipped the turnpoint and headed home. Jumping off of Jacks back to Mifflin, I lost a tremendous amount of altitude heading back to the airport, which was a mere two and half miles away. I barely made it to the 700ft AGL one mile cylinder and just enough to do a safe base to final turn onto the runway!

In the end, the day worked out very very well as my raw speed was 55 mph, which was around 88 mph handicapped . It set back the nearest competitor in Club Class to 867 points, putting me and my Red snailplane solidly in the lead on the first day! For the first four days of the contest, the weather was strong and fairly consistent which kept me in the top three places in the ranking, with another day win on the fourth day. However, on the fifth, sixth and seventh days were weak and all resulted in landouts on my part. The fifth day was not too damaging, however as I came in fourth for the day as all but three pilots had landed out! That day, unfortunately I landed five miles short of the finish having flown a very satisfying flight in weak weather to a mandatory turnpoint and most of the way back. Unfortunately, the last two days took me out competitively as sufficient pilots made it around those days. In the end, I finished the contest in 6th place overall out of 17 pilots with 85% of the winner’s total points with two day wins, well ahead of my objectives which was to win one day and get at least 65% of the winner’s points.

Never let it be said it can’t be done!

Find the flight log here.