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.

08-10-21 | Day Three- A Scratchy Blue Day

Greetings from Montlucon! Today was a long slog. The day took a while to cook off and all of the classes flew shortened tasks. There were many landouts, JP and I included. I managed to make the finish sector, though I did not have enough height to comfortably make the airport. Instead, I landed at a pre-scouted field at the edge of the sector, where JP landed at yesterday.

The day took a while to get going, so we all did the grid squat again today. The most exciting moment was when Sean Murphy (XC), another one of our US team members came back for a relight during the 15m launch. He sat and sat on the edge of the grass runway, and the club class team watched him for a while. Without his crew, we figured he might need help, so the Club Class team and our crew came out to him. We then pushed his fully loaded glider over to the runway and he managed to get back into the air right at the end of the grid.

When we launched, it was a struggle to get solidly connected. There were few thermals in the local area, so attempts to leave to get into a better position in the starting area were fruitless. JP and I got separated for a bit due to some radio issues, so I ended up switching to my handheld for the day. We got reconnected before the start and started toward the back of the gaggle, just where we wanted to be.

The thermals were painfully weak. A solid 1 m/s thermal was a real treat. The gaggles were busy, especially after the first turn. At that point the Club Class started converging into a single furball, slowly lumbering along into the headwind. JP and I got to the front end of the gaggle, though struggled to climb up to the folks controlling it at the very top. We led out a couple times as the folks above left ahead, trying to get work our way up in a thermal ahead. Rounding the upwind turn, this tactic seemed promising, although we were hindered by mid-level clouds casting a shadow ahead. The gaggle found very weak lift at the edge and struggled mightily to climb. The folks who climbed higher behind us did better and now JP and I found ourselves in the bottom third of the gaggle.

After the thermal petered out, we headed into the shade. Once across in a sunnier spot, I hooked into zero, though JP was just a bit lower and did not find the bubble. He promptly landed and I kept scratching at 270 meters above the ground. Finally the gaggle coalesced around me and we started climbing. The thermal slowly but surely got us up to a marginal final glide. I needed another 150 meters or so in order to make a solid finish, yet the thermal petered out. I figured there was one more final thermal out there.

There wasn’t.

After leaving and scratching around with the Brits and other gliders, we simply sank lower and lower. Several km from the finish, I was below the finish altitude and found a weak thermal. The Belgian Libelle and I managed to sustain in it, but not climb. I had enough height to make the edge of the sector and land in a nice field, so I bagged the effort and went for the finish.

In all, today worked out fine, but we did not work the gaggle ideally toward the end. Instead, if we were a bit more patient earlier, we would have been in a better position once the conditions got very bad. A good lesson learned!

Tomorrow looks a bit better than today, so hopefully we won’t have to work milliknot level lift again.

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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.

08-09-21 | Day Two- Chasing Down the Gaggle

Greetings from Montlucon! Today had all sorts of unexpected surprises, most notably that we flew at all. The day started with thick mid-level and high-level clouds which totally blocked out the sun. And yet, the skies parted and the thermals kicked on, and the cumulus clouds developed, and the Standard and Club Class flew their shortened B tasks. JP and I started late, ran down the gaggle mostly, though JP and I unfortunately separated about 2/3 into the task. I succeeded in catching the front of the gaggle, hitting the final glide first and making it home, for a third place finish. JP landed safely just within the finish ring, 5km short of the airport.

This morning, among our surprises was seeing a 1911 replica of a Bleriot airplane being put together in front of the main hangar. Apparently Thierry our Contest Director is an airplane aficionado, with all sorts of interesting contraptions and toys in his hangar at Montlucon. I’d love to see this airplane fly sometime!

After the normal administrative elements of the briefing, everyone listened very intently to Aude, our weatherwoman. She noted that the high cloud cover would eventually burn off and we had the prospects of a pretty decent boundary layer.

Once we made it out to the grid, the sky only seemed to darken more and more. We talked to our Swiss, Italian, and Slovenian friends about our respective countries and glider clubs. We know Mark Travener from several Junior World Gliding Championships and enjoyed his company. It turned out his teammate Vojko Starovic is a member of the Slovenian parliament. I was surprised by this, considering the improbability of a US congressman being in our sport. But then further in our conversation we concluded he was no more than two degrees of separation from the President of Slovenia. When a country has a population of two million people, it’s amazing how everyone kind of knows each other.

Approaching 3pm, the skies parted and little cumulus clouds formed in the distance. The organizers finally got the gears of the operation going and told everyone to clear their gliders off the runway. We were going to fly!

Going into the short 150km task, it was clear that the soarable window was going to be short. We needed to get up and get going. However, predictably, the gaggle refused to go. The time ticking past 4:30… 4:45…. even 5pm, and only then did the herd charge off on task. We hung on for a little while longer to start just past 5:03pm. I don’t think I have ever started a task this late at a competition ever before.

JP and I were on high gear, chasing after the British, Germans, and the rest of the gaggle. But as we got going, the lift only got weaker and weaker. Going into the second leg into a quartering headwind, we got low and slow, the antithesis of the maxim “get high and stay high”. At one point we were down to 750 meters, totally rolled by the gaggle. We worked our way up, got to the turn and managed to merge in with the bottom of the herd. I connected and started fighting my way up toward the front of the gaggle. JP unfortunately did not connect with the bubble and struggled mightily for the rest of the task.

It was 6:30pm at this point and the day was dying. There were many gliders content to park in 0.2 m/s, just simply to avoid going down. There were many gliders in the fields below us. But we kept plodding along, slowly and surely. I kept my energy and pace up, slowly working further and further up and past many gliders.

My last thermal was a real surprise. Well after 7pm, we found a 1.5 knot climb for final glide. This sucker was perfectly smooth and solid and it took us up and away. I left first for final glide, at MC 1 m/s, 50 meters over the finish ring. I nursed the ship home, but the air was smooth and so the glide stuck just fine. I crossed the line, landed direct at 7:45pm and was content to watch all the gaggle streaming in behind me.

JP landed short, but just within the 5km finish ring in a field we pre-scouted for the contest.

In all, the day worked out very well for us, especially considering that about half of the class had landed out. For once, we manage to control the gaggle and the start and go when we wanted to go. The ASW20s worked very nicely for this strategy for the day, doing excellently on the glide and very well on the climb as well. Hopefully we can keep this going over the next upcoming days.


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.

08-08-21 | Day One – Singing In the Rain!

Greetings from Montlucon! Today started with pessimism and then high hopes for flying, followed by pessimism again. As we rolled into the airport, the sky became more and more gray, with ominous showers lurking in the distance. When we arrived at the meeting, we were told by our wonderful weatherwoman, Aude Untersee not to worry as the day would have a drying trend into the afternoon. Alas this was not the case as the showers simply developed more and more over the day and resulting in the tasks being cancelled for all classes.

The morning briefing was a bit chaotic. When the tasks were unveiled, there was confusion over the complicated airspace in this region. Unlike in the United States where you could fly pretty much wherever you want *other* than the couple places where you cannot, in Europe it’s fair to assume you can’t fly in a given area unless you are absolutely sure that you can. There are many prohibited and restricted zones over antennas, nuclear power plants, and military zones. These zones get opened and closed at various intervals, making it challenging for pilot and task-setter alike to account for them. We even have a maximum ceiling of 2,100 meters (6,100ft), kind of like Class A airspace back home. In any case, when the tasks were unveiled, there was some doubt over which airspace was open and which was not for the day. The pilots at the meeting were expressing their fears and concerns over the sporting implications of accidentally entering certain airspace, which were promptly addressed by Thierry, our Contest Director.

Subsequently, I hurried to get my glider on the grid prior to the 11:30am deadline and went to meet with my teammate JP to talk strategy for the day. Our team forecast by weatherman Walt Rogers agreed with Skysight’s pessimistic forecast of extensive showers in our task area. If we managed to launch at 1:20pm as the organizers hoped, this would suggest that we should get going on the 150 km task lickety split as the gate opened. On the other hand, Aude Untersee’s forecast suggested that the showers would dissipate as the day went on, with good soaring conditions later in the afternoon. Note that Aude is an excellent glider pilot, having flown several Junior and Women’s World Gliding Championships, and works for the Geneva weather bureau. She is certainly to be trusted as an expert in her field! Given her forecast, the thing to do would be to start late, even as late as 4:15pm for the 1:45 hour task. The big question was determining whether this was a “Walt” or an “Aude” day, and JP and I bounced off ideas as to how things might develop. We even leaned that the day was developing more optimistically as the forecast radar showed the showers dissipating earlier than expected, just as Aude predicted.

Optimistic that we would race, we got back to the gliders just before 1pm. At this point a heavy shower passed overhead, drenching all the gliders on the grid. We stayed in our cars to let it pass and Aude wrote a cheery WhatsApp message showing a webcam of beautiful skies 70km upwind of our location, encouraging us with better weather to come soon. Once the immediate rain passed, we got our flight computers and gliders to go.

Then we waited and waited. The clouds refused to go away and the angry showers still seemed to linger off in the distance. At this time we took the opportunity to talk to our Ukrainian and Italian friends on the grid. We commiserated and bantered with regards to the weather, our sailplanes, and our home gliding clubs. The Ukrainian fellow, Misha flies a Jantar Standard 3 and took a lot of interest in our polypropylene towropes. They don’t see these kinds of ropes in Europe very much, generously provided by Sarah Arnold for each of the six team members. Writing this, I realize that it may seem unusual that each team has its own ropes at a contest. Well at this meet, each glider has its own rope, hooked up and ready to go to the glider prior to launch. The ground crew then attaches the rope to the towplane and the glider gets launched. The ropes are then released at the end of a tow to be retrieved by the team crew.

It’s also worth noting that JP is also flying an ASW20a in this contest, allowing us to team fly very effectively together in gliders of the same performance. That said, I have to be very careful to always stay wingtip to wingtip with him over the meet. If I were to get ahead of him, the IRS would be after me! For our European friends who don’t appreciate the significance of JP having “IRS” as his call sign, in the USA the IRS is the Internal Revenue Service, responsible for collecting our taxes.

In any case, we kept waiting and waiting and the weather refused to improve. Finally just shy of 3pm, the organizers told the Club Class that our day was cancelled. We proceeded to return our gliders back to the trailers, getting drenched by heavy showers along the way. Standard and 15m classes were cancelled about an hour later as well.

If nothing else, all of the 95 gliders at this meet had a very nice “glider wash” courtesy of the Montlucon skies. Poor Donat had wiped down my ASW20A two times today

In the end, today was a great “trial” run of a real day, for everyone at the meet. Thanks Walt Rogers for his excellent forecast! Everything got ironed out that much better and we are raring for an honest soaring day to do some racing!

______________________

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.

08-07-21 | Stop, Take a Breath and Enjoy the Show!

It’s been a heck of a year. We have seen our lives upended in ways we couldn’t have even imagined. In the midst of all this, any illusion of a future we envisioned for ourselves collapsed in the face of overwhelming uncertainty. We took a moment to reexamine our priorities as the day to day busyness of our lives turned into silence. Writing this, I am amazed to be here at all, in Montlucon France, on the eve of a World Glider Championship. It seems to be an illusion of relative normalcy while at the same time feeling somewhat peculiarly off. Like the initial feeling of confusion when you’re vividly dreaming, before you realize that you’re in fact in a dream. And then, the following feeling of delight when you grasp that you can let go of your grip in your confused reality and embrace the fleeting moment of freedom in your dream world.

I’ve been very lucky during these difficult times. I thankfully did not lose any family and friends to COVID. Personally, I have been greatly fortunate to be in a Ph.D program, which successfully retooled to conducting research remotely. If anything, I have had so many projects recently that I have had hardly enough time to remember to breathe! Leading into the competition, I was working days and nights to get everything squared away with hardly enough mental bandwidth to get packed and prepped for a glider contest. This was followed by a long journey from Philadelphia, New York, Paris, Le Mans, Zurich, and finally to Montlucon, lasting a full exhausting four days, employing all sorts of trains, planes, and automobiles.

A key character in helping coordinate these logistics was Alain Daumas, a fellow Aero Club Albatross club member who lent me his car and a place to stay on my first night in France. He even arranged for his friendly neighbors to invite me for dinner, feeding me a full course meal of oysters, crabs, steak, shrimp, and a variety of vegetables and cheeses. None of them spoke more than a few words of English, and I certainly was unable to speak French, which made the evening all the more entertaining. Later we used Google Translate on a phone, which worked splendidly. They asked me what I thought of Biden and Trump and I in turn asked them about Macron!

It turned out that the host, Claude, was a recently retired masterclass butcher. He invited me over to the neighboring billiard room to reveal all the medals and food trophies he won and a mural on the wall of his former butcher shop in the middle of the town. His face beamed with such well-deserved pride and dignity of an expert having spent a lifetime to become the master of their craft. It was such a delight to spend an evening with such wonderful folks!

The following two days consisted of a long journey to get the rented ASW-20a owned by Ross Drake in Switzerland to Montlucon, the site of the competition. The 15 hours of driving were complicated by my lack of a working phone, which I thought would be easily resolved by simply finding a SIM card at the airport or in a town. Beyond communication, getting my phone working was necessary to get Google Maps set up for the journey! It turned out this was not as easy as it used to be in the past years, and I was delayed some time finding a SIM card. As I crossed the border into Switzerland, it stopped working again and I repeated the process in the evening, in a large mall not far from Zurich.

After locating another SIM card in the mall, my excitement was not over yet. When I came back to the car and proceeded to drive toward the exit of the mall, I realized I had lost my parking ticket. The parking lot was completely empty for the mall had closed and I was stranded in this massive underground cavern, with no way out! After 20 minutes of frantic searching, walking to the payment machine, and back to the boom gate, and back to the car, I realized that there was an info button on the kiosk near the boom gate and pressed it. Thankfully a friendly Swiss lady answered and I words gushed out of mouth as I explained to her my predicament. She didn’t speak much English, but hearing the my fretting voice, she opened the gate and it simply stayed open. With that signal, I sprinted back to the car and drove out of there as quickly as I could!

Later that evening, I met with Ross Drake, who rented me his wonderful ASW20a. This glider is absolutely gorgeous, perfectly prepped and ready to go. He just got it out of his shop after a laborious refit, resealing, and polish. The glider hadn’t even flown this year! He gave me the rundown of the ship and the trailer, wished me good luck in his friendly New Zealand way and left me with the parting words of wisdom, “Fly it like you stole it!” And as if to reiterate the point, he noted that there was a sticker on the middle of the panel to remind me of this advice on a daily basis.

In the next days, I arrived in Montlucon and spent the time prepping for the contest. All of the US Team were already present and upon arriving I was greeted by all of their grinning faces. Colin Meade, our team captain was glad that I arrived safely and was relieved that all of his cats were in at least some semblance of a herd. JP Stewart, my now four time teammate gave me a bear hug. I cannot tell you how excited I am to fly with JP. We have known each other since we were 15 and have flown in many contests as teammates. When we are flying, I can look at the sky in front of me and know almost exactly what JP is thinking. Every time I look over my shoulder, he is always there, right off my wingtip. There is nothing more comforting than knowing for the next two weeks I will be sharing the sky with my good friend and long time teammate.

At this time I also met Donat-Pierre Luigi, my crew for this contest. He is a very interesting fellow, a Frenchman who spent 20 years in America, doing work related to biophysics and quantum computing. He recently started soaring actively after flying extensively in Condor. We spent the following couple days mastering the rig and working out the squawks in the ASW20.

The glider is working out very well. Other than some of the avionics requiring some tweaking, which were promptly addressed after my first flight, the aircraft is a total sweetheart. I can see why these gliders are as loved as they are! The ship thermalled beautifully with its generous flaps and climbed very well. The Maughmer winglets made the stall characteristics very benign, with no tendency to drop a wing at slow speeds. The 20 absolutely GOES on the cruise, with the negative flaps giving it excellent glide performance. It took no time at all to dial into this glider and I am very excited to fly it.

Unfortunately, on the same practice day my teammate Tom Holloran had a midair collision. Thankfully both pilots are fine and landed safely. Tom had minor damage on his wingtip trailing edge and a big paint mark on the underside of the wing. The other glider literally “traded paint” with Tom. Aside from a very scary big “bang” in flight, Tom was fine and his glider is flyable for the competition. The other glider hit Tom with his horizontal stabilizer and was extremely lucky that it did not come off both at the collision and in the time when he had landed. This was a very rude introduction to WGC flying for me. In my three Junior WGCs and all of my flying in US National and Regional competitions, I have never seen anything like that before. I hope that this is the only such incident during this meet.

I took the next day off. After completing scrutineering, the mandatory competition inspection, and addressing a couple final squawks in the avionics system, I came back to Montlucon early and rested. The day was beautiful for a walk and I enjoyed the medieval city. Presiding over the city is a castle and chateau of the old House of Bourbon. These dukes later went to rule a large part of Europe, having climbed up the aristocracy out of their humble beginnings in this region. The castle was notable as is now a museum of pop music in Montlucon. This felt somewhat incongruent in the majestic walls of this military fort, hearing disco music played on a continuous loop. Europeans can be a strange bunch indeed!

Today JP and I, along with Donat and JP’s crew Jacob, scouted out fields along the five km finish cylinder. The fields in Montlucon aren’t that great and having landing options thought through is very important for safe finishes. We scouted 30-40 fields for the team from every quadrant in the finish cylinder and are satisfied that we have good landing options thought through for the competition ahead.

The big event today was the opening ceremony, which precedes the official opening of the contest. As the teams marshaled together in the middle of the city, among the noteworthy things for me was getting to interact with the Ukrainian team, my first time at a world gliding event. My family is from the Ukraine, so I got to speak with them in Russian and learn about their glider clubs. Later, all of the 23 teams attending the contest assembled in front of the town hall, wearing our team uniforms and holding our team flags as the local dignitaries gleefully addressed the pilots and crews, noting how the competition is such a huge event for the town. We were all excited to see the FAI flag unfurl, signaling the beginning of the competition.

And now, in a moment of self-reflection, I pause to take in this unlikely moment. It is hard to believe that I am saying this, but tomorrow I will fly my first day at a World Gliding Championship. After the joy of being selected, to see the world then fall apart, the competition postponed and for a while on the precipice of being canceled, and through all the trials and tribulations of simply getting here, tomorrow I will fly at a World Gliding Championship. After over 1700 hours of soaring and 16 years of being involved in this sport in one way or another, tomorrow, I will represent the United States of America at a World Gliding Championship.

______________________

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.

03-28-21 | The Masters of the Sky

When Jen and I strapped into the Grob, we were looking forward to a short enjoyable soaring flight, like the ones we had last autumn. The most memorable of those was where we flew with a bald eagle. Jen loves eagles; the eagle has been her favorite animal since she was four. As a soaring pilot, it naturally makes it my mission to find eagles whenever I take her flying.

Yesterday we had pleasant soaring conditions at Blairstown Airport. We took off a little after 12:30pm, when the soaring conditions peaked. The lift and streeting were wonderful, folks easily got up to 6000ft before the wind shifted around to the southwest and the cirrus moved in later in the afternoon. I climbed up from 1900-3400ft MSL and than ran a street for about six miles from Blairstown Airport to a little beyond the Tocks Island Golf Course to find a solid 10 knotter. Jen noted that the glee in my voice seemed to match the ecstatic tone of the variometer.

As we headed back, Jen spotted two bald eagles below us. Naturally we needed to swoop by them for a closer inspection.

Up until this point, I had been flying very smoothly, completely attentive to making the ride as pleasant as possible.

Seeing the eagles, I got a little… target fixated.

I banked firmly and pushed the nose over. Jen hadn’t experienced partial weightlessness in a glider before and quickly became as white as the bald eagle’s head. The clean Grob accelerated rapidly, the airspeed needle ticking through 60, 70, 80, up to 85 knots. The wind noise got louder and louder and the little speck of bird in the canopy getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger! We swept in several feet above the eagle, who did a hasty split-S and dove away. I proceeded with a climbing turn, converting the airspeed back into altitude.

I anticipated that this maneuver probably scared the bejeezus out of the bird, but I didn’t expect the level of adrenaline I put through my poor girlfriend.

After a couple moments to regain her breath, she clearly conveyed to me her preference to experience eagle watching using more gentle maneuvers.

I spotted the pair of eagles again, and this time I slowed the glider down and pulled out the boards. I slowly tucked Greta into formation with one of them, as close as he would let me go. Jen caught this one on an amazing video. It felt like you could reach your arm out of the canopy and touch his feathers.

After we landed, Jen said that I must be careful with all these eagle soaring flights she has been experiencing, for it may set expectations that every flight results in an eagle encounter. I told her that is true for in the summer time we don’t see them as often as in the spring and fall.

She also said that the poor eagle I dove on will probably be forever traumatized by the vision of an enormous, bone-white pterodactyl that almost turned it into a feathery lunch. His confidence as the master of the skies will be forever questioned by the presence of such monstrous predatory creatures in his midst.