10-30-21 | God’s Magic Carpet

Once in a blue moon, and when the tides, stars, and a continental low-pressure system all align just right, something magical happens on the Kittatinny Ridge. The magic begins with a breath of warm, moist air seeping in from the ocean at just the right angle and strength. Upon colliding with the ridge, this laminar air deflects upward into a narrow band of lift, no more than a wingspan and a half wide, creating lift so smooth that it is almost wave-like. These days are so rarely soarable because the weather patterns that create these conditions usually coincide with heavy rains that cloud over the whole ridge.

The weather setup for this late October day was no exception, with the preceding day sparking flood warnings throughout the neighboring states due to the torrential downpour. This resulted in the kind of cold, damp air that permeates your house and sinks right into your bones, making you shiver from the inside out. Nothing felt better than to crawl under the bed covers. It seemed improbable, maybe even impossible that tomorrow could even be a flying day as the rain pelted the roof and the gusts of wind howled against the windows.

The forecasts for the following day had shifted wildly, with the wind direction fluctuating from 090 to 180, at all sorts of varying velocities, and predictions for clouds and rain at different times over the day. I could hardly believe it when I saw the model soundings suggested that the skies would part in the afternoon elevating the clouds well above ridge top and the wind swing around to a southeasterly direction. Nonetheless, I cautiously sounded the klaxon for my fellow club members, hedging my bets that I’d take another look at the forecast in the morning before committing to the day.

The following morning, I couldn’t contain my excitement when the forecast had improved. It was so electrifying because this was going to be the perfect day to bring Jen, now my fiancée, to experience her first time soaring the ridge. This kind of smooth day is ideal, plus there’s no need to do all that nasty circling that serves to continuously churn the contents of one’s stomach as we thermal. Doubly so, the fall foliage had just peaked in our area, so the whole ridge was going to be a beautiful palette of yellows, oranges, and reds. Triply so, this was around the peak of the bald eagle migration, and we know how much Jen loves bald eagles!

I promised her that this was the day. We would go up on the ridge, fly maybe 60 miles or so, do some bird watching, and enjoy the fall foliage. I’ve been waiting for these conditions for over a year, and it was just so perfect. Jen said I looked and sounded like a five-year-old on Christmas! All the while the outside sky looked dreary and grey, not the kind of conditions that inspire racing out to the airport.

We had a nice and slow morning as the soaring conditions would only improve in the early part of the afternoon. As we drove through Pennsylvania, we admired the beautiful countryside, rolling fields, and rustic barns. We stopped by the scenic waterfall along Slateford Creek near Portland, PA. Thanks to the recent heavy rains, the creek overflowed with torrential, muddy water gushing over the ledge. Jen said it was quite a different sight compared to last time, when the small steady stream was so peaceful and clear.

We trekked back to our car and proceeded to the airport, arriving just a little after noon to be greeted by the convocation of glider pilots huddled together protecting themselves from the damp easterly wind coming down along the runway. Guido, our energetic and excitable Italian, eagerly awaited my arrival. He was going to take the first flight of the day with me, hoping for a chance to experience some ridge conditions. He had the club Grob Twin Astir, affectionately known as Greta, preflighted and ready to fly.

Closer to 1pm, the sun started searing holes in the grey blanket of clouds above. We basked in the warmth and watched expectantly as the outline of the ridge appeared in the distance. In mere minutes, the clouds lifted above ridge top and we signaled Tommy the tow pilot that it was time to give it a go. Guido and I launched, experiencing the strong wind blowing us toward the ridge. At 1500ft above the airport, we popped off tow, right over the mountain. We nestled right into the ridge lift, which pushed the glider higher and higher, such that we were maintaining 60 knots at 2100ft MSL. The clouds were at all sorts of different levels, with some wisps even forming below ridge top on the downwind side of the ridge. But on the upwind side, the clouds were rapidly rising, the sun was shining, and the day was looking beautiful. I called Philip back at the airport to let the folks know that the surf was up and it was time to fly!

After a couple beats back and forth the local ridge in the high band of the local ridge, I finally couldn’t take it anymore. By the Upper Reservoir, I asked if I could take the controls. Guido let out a long-excited gasp as I made a very steep turn, peeled over and dropped onto the trees cruising at 100 mph. The lift was rock solid, so I gave it back to him with instructions to slow down and float up a bit higher. I was going to give him a taste of ridge cross country soaring was like, so we kept going southwest bound.

The big challenge was locating the narrow ridge band. The sweet spot in the lift band was very elusive with such a steep mountain face that is constantly changing shape, bending around and rising and falling in elevation. I find that going a fair distance in a straight line is both fun for the student, but also instructive in really learning how to find that best part of the lift. So Guido and I cruised past the Bangor Offset, and had to bear with my coaxing and admonitions geared at making minuscule corrections in pitch, roll, and yaw, constantly adjusting for the slight gusts on one side or the other of the glider that hinted at the best lift. Guido did a wonderful job and we were at Lehigh Gap in what felt like a heartbeat. Looking over our wing, I pointed out that Slatington Airport is a Silver Distance away from Blairstown. Guido was shocked and amazed at how fast we made so many miles!

As we turned, I glanced at my watch and saw it was 1:35pm. I texted Jen that we’re 30 miles out and we will land at 2pm. By all accounts it should work exactly as so, but what an amazing thought that one could be in a glider and expect to time an arrival like so. Sure enough, Guido and I flew on back, made our landing pattern for Runway 7, landing long on the clear runway in perfect position to launch for the next flight. Jen came on out and sure enough, it was exactly 2pm. I grinned as I announced that Aero Club Albatross Airlines was ready for the next customer.

We launched straight to the ridge and sure enough it was still working perfectly. We hung a left on the Appalachian super-highway and had no trouble floating along at 70 knots 400-500ft above the ridge. The air was smooth and the glider felt like it was on rails. Jen marveled at the glorious array of colors all around us, as far as the eye can see. The sun shined through patches of clouds in the distance in a radiant and delightful glow. Even the trees beneath looked like they were celebrating, gently dancing to and fro to a steady beat as the breeze kneaded through the forest below, the amber colored leaves shimmered in the sunlight.

Jen remarked that the ridge looked like God’s carpet, with the gentle rolling colors mimicking a plush carpet beneath us.

The radio was turned down, along with the usually noisy variometer. No need to listen to the crazed manic-depressive beeps and boops that are symphonious only to the ears of the equally crazed soaring pilot. The glider quietly hummed in the breeze.

Silence.

We kept floating along peacefully, until Jen giddily exclaimed that she saw bald eagles ahead! Sure enough, there was a group of three of them thermalling together. Seeing that Jen was so excited to go play with them, I made a hard reversal and joined these glorious birds. I circled with them and we made a couple passes less than a wingspan below. Jen couldn’t contain her wonder and joy, grinning from ear to ear. I saw that they were heading north bound, and figuring I’d give her a break from all the unexpected circling and maneuvering, I levelled off and kept heading along the ridge. When she expressed disappointment that she wanted to soar with our companions some more, I said, “Don’t worry, we’ll see them again soon on our return trip!”

After turning back at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Tunnel, sure enough we spotted the bald eagles again! This time they were a little below us, so we made a couple of closer passes. Once we had one just off our wingtip. It felt like my arm was extended, my hand reaching out and inviting our feathered friend to join us in a dance.

Sometime around this time, Jen remarked that I delivered on everything I promised that day. Beautiful foliage, ridge soaring, and even bald eagles too!

I replied that would be true, only once I safely brought her back to the airport. So, we headed back home along the ridge. As we returned to the local ridge, Jen reported that she still felt wonderful and fresh, so I figured I’d end this flight with some excitement. Upon crossing the Delaware Water Gap, I pushed the nose over and dropped the glider down on the trees. The airspeed just over 100 mph, the glider was now in the rough and tumble of the gusty air right above the ridge. You had to take care not to focus on the crisp individual branches whizzing by as your head would snap around to keep them in view. The glider was jostled a couple times by thermals rolling over the ridge. Jen asked if this was what a violent ridge felt like. Nope, trust me this is light! A violent ridge feels like you’re inside a laundry machine, set on high spin!

Now abeam of the airport, I pulled up to gain a little extra height for our return trip. Jen was really surprised that we had been flying over an hour and fifteen minutes, her longest flight to date. After we landed, she remarked that it felt like the flight went by in a flash!

With the ridge still working, I felt up for one more flight. Operations were winding down and Tommy had put away the towplane. With no one around the flight line, I was wondering who I could take for a ride. At this time, I saw Tommy’s truck heading toward us and he felt like a great victim. When I offered to fly with him, he eagerly accepted, saying it was his first time flying the ridge in a glider, and his first flight in the Grob. We quickly strapped him in and Aaron gave us a quick tow in the Pawnee to the ridge.

Sure enough, the ridge was still working! Nonetheless, the conditions were softening up, now becoming difficult to float above 1900ft. As we crossed the Water Gap, I saw the trees more in the slow dance phase of the afternoon, and we settled down to 1800ft. The ridge was still consistent and smooth, though we turned at the hang glider launch as it was prudent to stay closer to home.

I gave the controls to Tommy, who was delighted to feel what riding the ridge was like. He was smooth and solid on the controls and had no trouble staying in the lift. We flew up to Catfish Tower, and then looped back to the local ridge. The wind kept weakening and weakening, with the leaves hardly moving at all. I took the controls again and we kept floating along the weak ridge, with every beat getting a little lower. We were finally level at ridge top, with Tommy exclaiming amazement at how little wind it took to sustain the glider in the air. After a little over an hour, with the wind giving its dying breath, we headed back to the airport, landing just shy of 5pm.

We were the last ones down. After Jonathan and Bobby stopped by to announce that they were heading on a retrieve for Chip, who had fallen off the ridge near the Bangor Offset, the airport became completely deserted. We cleaned the glider and tucked it away for the evening, watching the mostly overcast sky with crepuscular rays in the distance shining through holes in the clouds like a shower of gold. Right as we had everything tidied up, Ron and Betty Schwartz stopped by to invite Jen and me for dinner. After we all enjoyed the beautiful sunset, we had a delightful dinner together in the town. Unlike Ron, Betty had plenty of answers when I asked her, “What lessons have you learned after 58 years of marriage?” We spent a whole evening trading stories, watching Ron shrug helplessly as Betty gleefully shared stories when they were dating back in Iowa (including one scandalous story about how Ron dared to wear jeans – Levi’s, no less! – when they were in college).

The only other person I know that radiates joy and happiness like Ron is Jen. I don’t know how people earn that ineffable quality, and there is nothing more delightful than surrounding yourself with such wonderful people. I felt the tingling warmth in my heart the whole way home, warming both my bones and soul.

08-21-21 | Closing Ceremony and Concluding Remarks

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.

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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.

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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.

08-20-21 | Day Eleven- A Final Field Foray

Greetings from Montlucon! Today was the last competition day and we were expecting ground hog day once again; weak, blue, tricky conditions. Early on it took a long time to cook and the launch once again was delayed and delayed. I took the opportunity to walk up and down the grid to talk to a couple folks I hadn’t had a chance to during the contest. Among the interesting things was seeing the Finnish tow ropes, which looked like they can haul a beached cargo ship out of troubled waters. Those tow ropes never break!

When we launched, everyone struggled to stay aloft. The gaggle milled around in the blue just under release altitude. One pilot in 15M even landed out just outside of the start line! We struggled and struggled, trying to stay alive both in soaring terms and in the busy gaggles.

We expected that with the tricky conditions that our class would go in one big group. However, this was not the case. The class instead trickled out on course and we missed our first good opportunity to go. Returning to starting position took a while, though we linked up with Thies (IV) and Robin (RSM) from the Dutch team. We really like the Dutchies and were really happy that Thies was in contention for Silver. We were happy to aid them along on this final day.

We started as a gaggle and chased out on course. The thermals were still painfully low and weak, though the ground slowly dropped off heading north. I pushed out ahead as I was higher than the group, finding a thermal down at 600 meters at the edge of a field and a forest. No use hanging back in the gaggle today, if I mark thermals ahead then I am doing better work for the group.

JP and the Dutchies caught up and we were flying together. Thies greets us on our frequency and we start team flying as a group of four. The day got a bit better, with some Cu and 1.5-2 m/s thermals. We were driving hard, chasing down Robin who was a bit higher in his LS4.

On the second leg I led out a bit too far and diverged from a cloud that the group ultimately took off to my side. Rather than sidestep and latch into the group, I drove forward, again looking to mark a thermal. I had to take a large deviation to do so, but found 2 m/s. JP joined me, though the Dutchies took the straight line and got a little ahead.

We linked back up at the second turnpoint, though a little bit lower, perhaps 150 meters or so. We kept with them and when one bubble did not work for me, I kept going ahead. I found a weak bubble at 600 meters and the Dutchies and JP joined above. This gave the Dutch pilots almost enough for final glide, though the thermal weakened for JP and myself such that we deviated toward a baking field with a tractor, hoping to get a final climb.

It didn’t work. Other than a weak thermal down at 600ft that hung on at zero for a while, the day just simply gave out on us a little too early. I landed first in a cut wheat field and JP joined shortly thereafter. We were a little over 10km short.

We were very happy to hear that Thies and Robin made it back and that Thies managed to keep his second place position for the contest and we felt that our little group did just fine for the day. We started a bit too late which caused troubles at the end, but ce la vie. JP and I were happy that for once we managed to stay together the whole day.

The retrieves went well. We met our first farmer during the whole contest and this fellow actually spoke excellent English. Apparently he did business in Delaware in a past life and traveled quite a bit to the states. We thoroughly cleaned the gliders and brought them back home.

Among several notable traditions at world events are the closing party. After we arrived, we got a quick dinner at a buffet and joined the raucous group at the airport. Here the US Team shared the champagne I won several days ago and reminisced on recent contest stories and some John Good stories from back in the day. Later they turned the runway lights on and apparently the party moved up and down the runway.

Another tradition is trading team shirts. This year I arranged several, scoring Swiss, Italian, and Ukrainian shirts. The Ukrainians were especially fun, giving me a Ukrainian flag while they were at it. I really enjoyed the team and international spirit at this event.

Since I am in a bit of a rush this morning, I will leave concluding remarks for a later post tonight after I spend a bit of time reflecting on the journey while driving my trailer to Switzerland. Stay tuned!

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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.

08-19-21 | Day Ten- Better Than Expected!

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!

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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.

08-18-21 | Day Nine- Fly It Like You Stole It!

It has been a tough contest, with some of the most miserable and difficult weather I had ever flown in. We start the tasks at 800 meters AGL and fly in windy conditions in large gaggles with thermals that hardly exceed 1 m/s. We struggle through suppressed and dead areas, to dig out at 300 meters AGL as others land out around us. We hang on the gaggle as the sun glistens over our shoulders as we park in 0.3 m/s to get on a marginal final glide to the finish sector to finish with penalty points. Or in my case, to get dropped off the bottom and land in a field short. And on other days, nearly all land out as the day dies earlier than expected. In short, it has been tough and brutal flying.

Today was ground hog day; another weak, windy and tricky day. The difference was that the day was post-frontal and the wind was northwesterly. At least these kinds of days are in my wheelhouse from back home, with somewhat more reliable cumulus clouds.

I was the very first to launch today, in both my class and on the grid. The sky was already starting to overdevelop very early on, though after releasing I had no trouble climbing up to the meager cloudbase at 700 meters AGL. As folks launched, I tried to mosey my way over to the starting line and promptly started dropping out of the sky. As I headed back to the airport, with my tail between my legs, I radioed back to US Ground that I may need a relight if I fail to connect with a climb.

But there were several small gaggles on the way and as I rolled into the last one, I connected with a 1 m/s climb. And what do you know, JP was right there and we were easily connected together! With that, we climbed up and slowly picked our way up through the gaggle to get into starting position.

As we were climbing, we looked down and noticed that the launch had stopped. Colin told us that Standard and 15m were changing to their “B” tasks. With that, we had the joy of flying the longest task of the day (264km) into some of the trickier forecasted weather, with the lowest performing gliders. The whole class knew their fate was bleak, looking ahead at a nearly completely overcast sky. Nonetheless, we converged as a gaggle near the start line.

A little after 2:15pm, we finally got up to cloudbase, in a starting position. I egged JP to go on and we left with a fair portion of the gaggle behind us. We floated out into the ether, trying one little cloud and another. The goal today was to “Get Less Low, Don’t Land Out”. We plodded along the first leg, until about 10 km from the turn it looked horrific. We picked up a weak thermal and everyone and their mother started converging on it.

JP at this point got a bit higher than me and, for the first time perhaps ever, our personality roles had shifted. He was now stuck at 1000 meters and raring to leave and I remembered Noah when I responded, “No! Where’s the next climb?” After several more turns, the Poles left and JP went with them. I took several more turns and still left about 50 meters lower than him, along with several other gliders.

As we approached the turn, the usual bump and bustle in the air became glass smooth. This is not good. As we are getting closer, JP and I debate going back south from where we found lift before, or heading north toward a cu and favorable terrain, though close to the Avord airport airspace. The Poles and JP round the turn and headed back from where they came. CP, another ASW20 headed north. After several seconds of waffling, I made a split second decision to go with CP. Sure, I was boxing myself into a corner if it didn’t work, but I was also 50 meters lower than JP. We were both heading for a likely landout early into the task and it was time to go all in on the right gamble.

We found a weak thermal marked by one glider, over the edge of a little forest, about a 1/4 mile from the edge of the airspace. We slowly worked our way up and up, adjusting upwind, and drifting downwind in 0.5 m/s. It petered out after a while and CP left off into the distance. He had gained 100 meters on me throughout the climb (rascal!) so I was not eager to drive out with him. Instead, I went straight up the wind line toward a cloud near a highway intersection.

Down at 550 meters, I connected with weak lift and slowly drifted back. But then I felt bubbly air as the thermal cycled in. 1.5 m/s! And with that, I watched the ground drop away under my wing as I circled up, up, and away. At cloudbase at 1,300 meters, we were back in business. Further, the conditions on the north side of the task area cycled in as the thick clouds thinned just enough for enough sun to hit the ground. JP unfortunately was still stuck in the muck, slowly working his way up. At this point our days completely diverged.

After climbing up, I read Ross Drake’s decal on the cockpit, “Fly it like you stole it,” and kicked into high gear. The thermals were solid now, though I was making every effort to stay high and stay connected. I took every thermal, though few were marked by other gliders, for the gaggle had fallen behind. It was time to drive hard and make distance while it remained possible to do so.

After rounding the second turn, it got really solid. The climbs averaged 2 m/s and I was able to climb up to 1,450 meters or so over lower ground. Just keep the pressure on. There were three other gliders ahead that I would occasionally come across. Approaching the third turn at Vierzon, the day started falling apart again with a dark ominous overcast layer. A hard downshift, now it was time to get as high as possible to try to get in and out of the turn. 10km from the turn, I tanked up in 1 m/s and gingerly floated out. There was absolutely nothing from that point to the turn and back to the same thermal. Thankfully it still worked and now it was marked by a gaggle coming northbound trying to do the same thing. JP was with them, though somewhat lower. Unfortunately this spot was the end of the road for him today as he landed out underneath after the thermal gave out on him.

This climb only took me up to 850 meters and I rolled out, heading on a downwind track to some better looking clouds. However, despite the overcast, I found several 1-1.5 m/s climbs that I took for every ounce of lift. As I headed southbound, despite the lift being far apart, the air still felt solid to me. Another solid climb over the edge of a forest in a little sunny hole took me up to 1,200 meters or so and on the next glide I came across Thies (IV), the fellow I had been chasing for the better part of the last hour. He was parked in a zero climb, I took a turn with him and left. He left as well, though took a different path.

Looking ahead, there were a couple sunny patches on the ground. The clouds were a solid overcast, so the sky was no longer helpful. There were a couple burbly points, but no clear bubble to climb in. I got lower and lower, finally down to 650 meters. This last large sunny spot ahead was the final area to try; otherwise I was out of energy and ideas. With my field picked out, I floated on ahead and kabang! After a couple centering turns, I went from 300 meters above the ground to rocketing up and away in 2 m/s. The variometer screamed and the glide churned its way all the way up to cloudbase at 1,450 meters, for a 1 m/s final glide back home.

I cannot convey the absolute joy of this moment, knowing that I will make it home. I nursed the glider back and then took a couple turns in a weak 1 m/s thermal just to give a little margin on the glide to make sure I made the finish. Upon arriving at the finish and switching to the airport frequency, I realized that I was the only one at the airport. Not a single glider in my class, or in any other class had made it back yet. The airport was desolate, short of parked glider trailers, and one leaving out on the road.

Around ten minutes after I landed, Thies made it home as well, as the only other pilot to complete the task. Everyone else had come up short as the back door closed on them as the day died out.

Donat and I took the glider apart and I was very quickly on my way back home. Jen spent the afternoon in town, so I was eager to join her. We had a wonderful evening and had dinner in the medieval portion of the town. Say what you will about points, FAI rules, strategy, risk assessment, gaggles, weather, landouts, or whatever; I got to spend my evening with my love instead of standing in a field and coming home dirty, miserable, and exhausted at midnight. That would be more than enough on any day, let alone with the additional icing on the cake of winning this task.

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Today was a very good day for the US Team. Aside from my good fortunes, Tim Taylor (VV) came in second for the day in a Ventus 2ax flying against JS3s and Diana 2s! Tilo Holighaus visited the airfield today and was happy to see his glider do so well today.

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.

08-16-21 | Day Eight- Terrorizing the French Fields | International Night!

Every morning, Walt Rogers sends us a detailed soaring forecast. He has been doing an excellent job and has greatly contributed to the team! Each day he has been pretty accurate. Walt’s key words for Sunday were:

“Both Skysight and TopMeteo are showing soarable conditions by 1300… heights 3600-4800 msl by the end of the afternoon. The day could last fairly late to 1800-1830 CET before strengths drop off. Average thermals 3-3.5 kts… but with the higher cu bases of 5500-6000 msl and “cloud suck”, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 5kts for the best of the day. Overall… Sunday will be good day… and long.”

I, in turn, interpret and calibrate his forecast for the US team. Here was my assessment:

This will probably be the best day of the competition. I agree with Walt’s prognosis, with the notable additions that: 1) The forecast temps at Montlucon are dropping off at 6pm relative to peak, and 2) Expect more of the same heterogeneous conditions in various parts of the task area. The experience over the past couple days suggests that until mid-afternoon the Cu are unreliable. Maybe today with higher clouds things will work out better, we’ll see. To the north by Issoudan looks excellent, even upwards of 2300 meters + at the end of the day. However, to the east and west looks trickier, although there are cumulus clouds predicted over the whole day. With any luck, we will be able to climb up under a reasonable Cu at the end of the day and avoid having to climb up for final glide in the miserable Montlucon hole.

Today should be the end of the strong soaring conditions as it will cool down rapidly tomorrow and through the end of the week. Enjoy today as there will be a lot of struggling to come.

Today, all the models and prognostications were wrong. The weather started falling apart on the grid, taking forever to heat up again. After delay and delay, the winds started to pick up. By the time we launched, the clouds started to wither and by the time the gate opened, it was a struggle to stay up. Club Class started huddling in a mega gaggle and the time started ticking away as most everyone refused to go. Approaching 4pm, the gaggle started to lumber out on course, getting lower and lower and lower. We all struggled at 800 meters, limping from thermal to thermal.

JP and I get separated early today in one of those weak transitions. I consistently radioed back to him expectations further along. Aside from a single 2 m/s thermal (woohoo!), it was very scratchy. At one point the clouds stopped and we made a 90 degree deviation along a cloud street to simple stay airborne. The wind picked up to 40 km/h and the thermals were completely torn apart. We kept struggling and struggling, still nowhere close to the first turnpoint.

At this point, I radioed to Montlucon:

“US Ground, US Ground, Whiskey Alpha.”

Colin Meade, our Team Captain replied:

“Whiskey Alpha, go ahead.”

“US Ground, we’re heading for a certain landout today. Tell our crews to hit the road and head north.”

About 15 minutes later, near Châteauroux, I led out of the gaggle a bit too far along an energy line heading toward a nice cloud. The line worked nicely to maintain my altitudes, but attempts to turn in it simply dumped me out of the sky. Coming back to the group did not help as the lift was too torn up to work with at my altitude. The wind was rip roaring through the area and I was not inclined to thermal at low altitude in these conditions. I set myself up for a pattern to an enormous cut wheat field and lined up parallel to the access road. With the 45 degree flaps into the strong headwind, it felt like I landed at a walking pace.

Much to my surprise, the sky closer to the turnpoint cycled in somewhat after my 5:30pm landing. This worked out for the group that kept struggling as they connected and managed to go another 140 km further, but still short of the finish. Everyone in my class landed out today. Only 19 pilots finished the task between the other two classes and none on the US Team. It was a brutal soaring day!

Donat was on his way and arrived in a little over an hour. We had the glider apart lickety split and headed back home. At least landing out early we had the satisfaction of watching the conga line of trailers driving down the small French roads, heading away while we were heading back.

When we arrived at 8:45pm, I linked up with Jen, my better half. She just arrived in France and will stay for the next week. She came at the perfect time, right as International Night started!

International Night is one of the most exciting and unique events at a World Gliding Championship. Here all the teams from the different countries prepare foods and drinks that represent their nation. Each team has a table and serves the crews and pilots of the other teams. Among the highlights were real Belgian waffles, Dutch cheeses and strupwaffles, Spanish paella, and Austrian speck. The Americans made S’mores and red, white, and blue fruit salad.

Of course there was the assortment of alcoholic drinks as well, with German beer, French wine, and an assortment of hard liquors. The US served Jack Daniels and Coke. But I can’t comment on their relative merits. That said, the organizers were shrewd to declare Monday a rest day, so pilots and crews alike indulged accordingly.

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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.

08-14-21 | Day Seven- Ce La Vie

Today I came up short of the finish on a day when most made it back, which was disastrous to my score. It was actually a pretty good day, but we overcooked the leg up to the north and then the day shut down very hard at the end. Alas!

With an earlier starting day, we finally had the prospects of flying a long, 3.5 hour task. Club Class was first today, so we launched quite early. The AAT task consisted of two areas, though the better conditions were to the northeast in the second area. The goal was to maximize the good conditions there and make it back before things started falling apart at the end of the day.

JP and I had a good start. We found a good early climb and got into a controlling position over the group. We stayed together, stayed fast and were having an excellent day. Going into the second sector, we found nice streeting and were driving hard with the good pilots. However, time was ticking and we were now flying somewhat over time. No one in the group wanted to turn, and when they finally did, we were projected to come back around 20 minutes over.

This is not a wholly irrational choice. Sometimes it is inevitable that the conditions will weaken at the end and the gaggle will reform, so it works out well to have cashed in on extra distance beforehand when merging in with the group later. Further, it is nice to run down the group on the run back. However, what we did not anticipate was how strongly the day cycled down at the end. While there were initially cumulus clouds, the day dried out on the way back and the day rapidly decayed. The thermals weakened from 2-3 m/s to 1, to 0.5 and we started floundering with a small group. This was unexpected as the days lasted quite long here, on days that started quite a bit later too.

Many others started struggling as well of those that did not make it back somewhat earlier when the conditions were still working ok. We worked with other gliders to go home and I was within 1000ft of making final glide. At one point I gained 600ft on JP, so I went out ahead with a couple other gliders to report back the final climb.

Heading into the final climb, I floundered around in 0-0.5 m/s. Nothing was really working at 6:15pm and finally I saw a wisp just a little off course. That got me a weak climb for a bit, but then it started petering out. The gaggle behind me managed to find something on course that cycled into 1 m/s. JP merged in with the group. I deviated back to this climb, though it did not materialize. The gaggle made the glide home and I kept searching and searching, to no avail. The day simply went kaput.

I made a pattern and landed in an enormous cut wheat field, along with G Dale from the British team. With that marked the end of any prospect of doing well at this contest, as losing 400 points is just brutal. But hey, I have been to many a contest before and it’s just how things roll in soaring. This place has been especially brutal in terms of getting on glide at the end of the day. The conditions in the vicinity of Montlucon are weaker than in other parts of the task area, so getting a solid glide back home is really tough.

Thanks to Donat and Holden for retrieving me today. On a funnier note, I sent the most apt butt-texted emojis regarding my predicament. Everyone got a big laugh out of it!

In terms of how JP and I flew today, we actually were pretty content in relation to the lessons learned the preceding day. We managed to stay together very nicely and had a very good flight. The big strategic lesson here was that when the voice in the back of your head is telling you “It’s time to turn!,” you should listen to it. Flying with the group is really important here, but there are times when the group makes bad decisions. There’s a difference between giving up a couple minutes to stay with the group by making a deviation you don’t like, or sitting in a weaker thermal than you would otherwise take, or a strategic decision that ultimately can decide the contest. Secondly, when starting toward the back end of the group, it is wiser to come back on time, or even risk coming back a little early.

In any case, we’re looking forward to good soaring conditions today. We will keep giving it our best and maximize our scores and keep having a blast flying among the best pilots in the world!

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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.

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.

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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.

08-12-21 | Day Five- We Tried!

Greetings from Montlucon! Today we tried a task, yet the weather did not cooperate. Despite a promising weather forecast in the morning and considerably higher forecast temperatures, the stable air and unexpected thunderstorms building in from the southwest caused the tasks to become impossible to complete. As a result, the contest director cancelled the tasks before the start opened and everyone scurried back to the airfield before the rain came.

The day started with blue skies and the prospect of cumulus clouds. We were expecting 90-100 km/h speeds, 1700 meter bases and had a 2.5 hour Assigned Area Task to occupy our minds during our morning team meeting. After getting to our gliders on the grid and programming the tasks, we noticed that the Cus were nowhere to be found. The day was taking a while to cook.

The organizers delayed and delayed the launch, waiting for the conditions to improve. Finally after 2pm the Standard Class launched. We were in the back of the grid in Club Class, so we had a while to go before our takeoff. And after we made it into the air, we noticed that the air was not quite right.

The lift was really broken apart and the thermals were weak. The wind was increasing from the west, blowing us downwind of the airport. Many gliders were struggling low. We clung on, barely climbing along with the Polish and Germans, drifting rapidly in our weak thermal. After clawing our way to 950 meters, we saw the gliders higher than us head north toward another thermal. This put us well out of gliding distance of the airport and we were looking at contacting this thermal at around 400 meters above the ground. Thankfully it worked, and we started climbing.

However, we were now hopelessly out of position to start. Looking west, we had a strong headwind and the air was getting hazier and nasty. High clouds and rain were rapidly approaching. It was going to be a grueling task to simply nick the line, let along make any serious distance today. And right then we heard our Team Captain announce that the tasks were cancelled for all classes.

At that point, there was a mad dash back to the airport. Gliders were raining back to the airport left and right. The US team hung back, letting the pandemonium work itself out before heading into the mass confusion of gliders on the ground. About 30 minutes later, JP and I landed on the grass, calm and well positioned after landing to get back into the trailers nearby.

Donat did a great job, having prepped the trailer for disassembly. I started prepping the glider by taking the tape off and turning off the electronics right after I landed. Within 20 minutes, we had the glider in the box right as the first drop of rain landed on the windshield of the car. Good team work!

Of the notable stories today, Sarah Arnold landed out after having started the Standard Class task. While Club Class and 15m had their start time cancelled, Standard Class already had their gate opened. We were surprised that they cancelled the task as they did and it’s ambiguous to us whether the FAI rules support this. However, I don’t think anyone disagrees with the decision, or perhaps the very worthwhile suggestion that, “Psst, you will near certainly go less than minimum distance today and land in a field, so maybe just land back at the airport.” The organizers certainly minimized a lot of trouble for everyone by making their decision.

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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.

08-11-21 | Day Four – A Banquet Task?

Greetings from Montlucon! Today, I report back as a senior competition pilot. In fact, when a friend of mine learned that I was selected for this Club Class team, he sent me a walking cane to signal my advancement in years. I appreciated the good humor, but this morning I almost could have used it. After having assembled the ASW20A every day for seven times, my back muscles have started giving out. The wings on this glider are freakin’ heavy. And this morning, I woke up with a sharp pain in my shoulders and lower back.

Until my back muscles heal up in the next couple of days, I have resolved not to lift anything heavy. Thankfully, the US crews and teammates took pity on me and helped me assemble. It was a bit embarrassing to have to ask Tim Taylor if he could lift the wing root and my crew lift the tip, but he gleefully obliged. All that said, this kind of stuff is no joke. A good junior friend of mine recently herniated his back bottom discs and recently had surgery after experiencing severe pain for many months. Phil, thank you for giving me the courage to swallow my pride and ask for help to avoid getting hurt.

Tonight was “French Night”, with appetizers and drinks for pilots and crews alike, so the organizers figured they would set a short task to get everyone back early. However, in all of the events that have tried using this rationale in task-setting, this never worked. Instead, pilots simply wait longer and longer in the starting area in huge gaggles. In Lithuania, I remember milling around for three hours on a “banquet task” because no one in the gaggle was willing to start. The Club Class safety pilot successfully cautioned against this eventuality, so the organizers promptly came back with a new task that was somewhat 50km longer than the original one, for a respectable 166km in Club Class.

Anyway, with the late finish yesterday and less restful night, I was a bit lethargic and grumpy. We had blue skies and the day was getting *hot*. JP and I were just somewhat unsettled in the morning, but things slowly ramped up for us as we headed toward our gliders for an earlier launch. Colin in the meanwhile helped work out a microphone issue in my glider. JP has had a hard time hearing me on his radio and Ross Drake advised us to increase the microphone sensitivity on the Becker radio. With Colin’s help, I followed Ross’ instructions and now the radio worked!

Today we were launching in the front of the grid, so we had to prepare for a *long* flight. We were fully prepared for the prospect of milling around for a long time until the gaggle got its act together and decided to go. After launch, JP and I were pleasantly surprised with stronger than expected thermals. The day was cooking off faster than expected and we were able to climb to 1,500 meters in reasonably coherent lift. This is a treat! In the past days it was wholly rational to soar in -0.2 m/s down. Today was a *real* soaring day.

After positioning ourselves in the starting area, we were surprised to see that some Club Class gliders were actually streaming out on course. For once the gaggle was going to go closer to the peak time! It turned out that the Germans snuck away and enough gliders chased after them that the race was on. We left toward the back end and rode the Nantucket sleighride.

When you leave late, the big gamble you take is falling off the group in front of you, so we drove hard. Our first real climbs were after the first turnpoint, and we really drove ourselves a bit lower than we should have. It took a while of digging around in 1 m/s to get reconnected.

However, on the second leg we started catching up to folks. The leading gaggle was almost in reach, so it was just a matter of keeping the pressure on. After a good climb before the second turn, JP and I managed to get connected with the main gaggle and start working our way into the hazy mess to the west.

For a while, going toward the third and fourth turns brought survival conditions. Gliders were landing below us and we struggled to climb even at 700 meters altitude. Some gliders dug out from very low altitudes here. The gaggle slowly lumbered along, until we hit 2 m/s (!) approaching the turn. After skyrocketing back up, we tagged the turn, came back to the climb and were in a good position to set up for final glide.

Team flying wise, after the second turn JP and I separated. I caught a bubble that JP didn’t catch and I went chasing after the gaggle. However, I radioed back information ahead, helping JP catch up. After I left for final glide, JP was set up solidly in a thermal and managed to then finish only three minutes behind me (20 points). On my part, the team flying helped me catch up to the gaggle and get established in the first place.

JP and I had a pretty good day, finishing in the top 1/3 of our class. We were happy with the day, intent on trying to stay consistent especially on the trickier blue days. As far as the other classes, pretty much everyone landed out. The banquet task concept did not work again. Standard Class did not get a valid day because almost everyone landed short of the 100km minimum distance. 15M did get a valid day, with Sebastian Kawa making it around with a handful of other folks. Everyone on the US Team in Standard and 15M landed out, with Sean Murphy (XC) having to carry his JS3 out of a field piece by piece. Everyone made it back safely to the airport one way or another.

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Thanks to my friends at Aero Club Albatross, who have given me all 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.