08-07-19 | Day Eight- A Little Taste of Heaven

The US Team once again had mixed results. Unfortunately Michael in Standard Class landed out in the Tisza River valley of death. The Club Class team finished solidly in the middle of the pack, having done nothing spectacular or disastrous on course. This was a strong improvement relative to the previous two AAT tasks. But given all that, we had a very fun day, getting to play around in wave before start.

The weather forecast looked quite reasonable in the morning, but apparently not for the task-setter. When the task is not ready at briefing, this is usually a big worry! By the end of the briefing, they revealed another 3 hour AAT. It looks like they want us to get home today for the Hungarian evening, even going so far as stating it explicitly.

We went out to the grid early to fiddle with the Kobo, my secondary flight computer. It was kind of odd being around 80 gliders without a soul present. They kind of looked like a big herd quietly grazing on the grass.

After we launched, the weather improved quite rapidly. We had no trouble getting established up at 1600 meters, under rising Cu. What a change!

Looking around, it was clear that there was wave working over the building cumulus. In some blue areas there was smooth, weak lift. If we can only connect…

And then under a beautiful Cu and with a big gaggle, we were propelled in front of the cloud. And it worked so well! A solid two knots at the transition point into perfectly smooth air. About 20 gliders had the same idea and we were all ridge soaring the front of the cloud in one big conga line. I have never been around so many gliders wave soaring at the same time!

It is funny watching gliders wave soar. They typically waffle along at minimum sink, with their nose way up in the air. The image that comes into my mind is that the pilots are sitting on their turtle deck, trotting along in their glider like on a horse, reins in one hand and waving with the other.

Being above the clouds, with my team and with a whole bunch of other contestants to share the experience was one of the most fantastic experiences I had ever had at a contest.

We climbed a good 600 meters above the clouds. The start was open and we watched the British team go. We were drifting downwind with the cloud, so if we wanted to use the height advantage we had to do it now. We would be starting early, but man was this tempting or what? We went for the task.

In retrospect, this was a mistake. Even having a height advantage at start does not outweigh the advantages of starting with a group. But in any case, it was really fun crossing the start line above the clouds.

We went chasing after the Brits and the early starters, trying to stay in good air along the way. The wind was vicious, 15-20 knots. The thermals were all torn up early on and we all struggled to keep moving along. We all got down to 550 meters in the first turn, took it relatively early and shot off downwind.

Heading downwind to the second and third sectors worked out reasonably well. We stayed high to milk the tailwind and to stay connected with the good air up high. The lift strength was tapering off at 1600 meters, although the cloudbase was easily 2000 meters. It paid to be higher downwind, taking slightly weaker climbs but taking advantage of the strong tailwind.

Going into the third turn we had a choice; turn early or go deeper down a street. If we got slow going deep, on the way out we would have the gaggle crashing in behind us. If we went fast down the street, we would smoke everyone. It felt like a good gamble.

Unfortunately, the street failed to deliver us a thermal. We had a great run in good air, but then had to turn around low and into the headwind. We ended up getting stuck for five minutes, just staying airborne in a 1 knot thermal. The gaggle caught up. We lost a bit on that one.

But now we had company and this was great news. The conditions were deteriorating ahead.

The whole mass of gliders struggled along into the 1-2 knot thermals and in the strong headwind. And ahead was the Tisza River of death. We had to get high before crossing it.

The herd limped along and we dutifully stayed with it. They were going along the only line of wisps that had any chance of working.

Slowly but surely we worked our way up to a MC 3.3 final glide. On crossing the river it dropped down and we got a bit worried. But then we found a fantastic wind line. The glide kept getting fatter and fatter, going up to MC 5 200 meters over! Many pushed on over and nipped the final turn and finished in a blaze of glory. Instead of burning off the height, we extended up the wind line into the final turn area and made a more efficient glide. I think we easily gained 20 points on this decision.

The three of us were content, but not thrilled with our performance. Strategically, we gave up a lot by starting too early. Tactically, we lost a bit on the downwind run. However, we are happy that we had a respectable performance on an AAT for once. Flying AATs in the Worlds is very different from back home. The typical theory is that AATs split people up such that the gaggle more-or-less dissolve. And that you *should* start near the optimal start time as flying the peak of the day is the right thing to do when you don’t have other people to work with.

However, AATs in the Worlds still have a good bit of gaggling and start-gate roulette. Perhaps with tracking being as sophisticated as it is nowadays it is not possible to disappear into the ether. In the end, the same rules apply as in Racing Tasks; you have to go with the group and stay with the group. Rolling your own is a bad strategy.

Later in the evening, the organizers invited everyone to a Hungarian evening. It was a wonderful event with great food and music. We spent quite a bit of time with our Danish and German friends. The Juniors are very friendly and these contests are really fun. The attitude and camaraderie is very unique.

One especially interesting note that came up in conversation with our German friends is when we asked how they qualify to represent Germany at the Junior Worlds. They said they have to fly a qualifying regional or two to get invited to fly in the Junior Nationals. The Junior Nationals have 80 contestants between Club and Standard Classes. The highest performing pilots in both classes earn their spots to fly in the Worlds.

Quite a different world!

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See my flight here.

See our scores here.

Thanks to all our supporters back home who have given us the opportunity to represent our country at a World competition!

08-06-19 | Day Seven- Train wreck

The Club Class team had a rough day today. JP did better, finishing respectably in the middle of the pack. Noah and I tanked. We completed the task at a very slow speed after having made a lot of tactical and strategic errors. It felt like a day we pinballed ourselves into the worst solutions. In the end, we came in 25 minutes under-time with a 500 point loss for the day. At least we didn’t land out and do worse.

I was exhausted from the marathon the previous day. I didn’t get a good night’s rest and pretty much staggered out to the airport. The day was trickier and the task-setter settled on a three hour AAT. I think it was a Mea Culpa to try to get everyone around for the day.

High cloud cover, slow starting and blue conditions made it tough early on. The gaggle kept waiting and waiting and waiting to start. We miscalculated on the weather this day. We thought it would collapse considerably earlier than it did and were very antsy in the start.

We were patient and waited along with everyone else. Noah found weak wave and was having a great time up at 1700 meters. JP and I fell out of the band and struggled to get back in starting position a little after 2pm. Finally the herd went and I was close enough to Noah that we started together. JP was still struggling to get up, but we couldn’t wait at this point. He managed a good start with the Germans.

Noah and I left with the Czechs and connected with a solid first climb under a Cu. I climbed well and caught up to Noah, minimizing the 500ft separation on the start.

We limped along into the first sector and had a big decision to make. There was a line out in the distance and we pondered whether to go. It was decided that it was too much of a gamble and we turned at that point, along with the Czechs.

This was a big mistake. It cost us 200-250 points as it worked out well for those who went there.

Approaching the Tisza River, the conditions softened up. We climbed up, though not quite to cloudbase. The Czechs left above by about 400ft and headed for the turn. When we left, it was dead smooth. Not climbing to the top was a tactical error. When we got to the turn, we were too low to comfortable make it back and parked in half of a knot to get a bit higher. The Czechs turned though there were gliders ahead. To compound the tactical error, the gliders ahead found three knots for a solid climb back across.

We climbed up maybe 100-200 meters and that got us back across. We found a weak 2 knotter and worked our way up. We deviated north, heading downwind of the airport toward a promising Cu. It did not work.

Now we were falling out of the band. The guys who did better went double or nothing; heading further north toward a line of clouds. Seeing how our day was working out up until this point, both of us agreed that this was a bad bet. It was approaching 5pm and the clouds had not worked out all that well this late in the day. We thought others were struggling as we were and decided to climb at all costs.

We fell down to 550 meters and dug out. At this point we had one more opportunity to head west and passed. Between these two opportunities, we lost another 250 points. We were boxed in; we could either head west or south back home. We chose to go south, came in way under-time and accepted a meager performance for the day.

As Ned Kelly said, such is life.

When we got back, we got the gliders back in the box, had a quick dinner and collapsed in bed. I had well over 12 hours of rest after this one and I’m in much better shape to fly. Wednesday looks like a much more straightforward day. We have four more contest days to perform well and we are looking forward to doing so.

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See my flight here.

See our scores here.

08-05-19 | Day Six- A Thermal Too Far


It looks like a task-setter or two watched the Sunship Game the previous night when they implemented the tasking philosophy for the day.

Today’s task will be a speed task!

The audience gasps with nervous laughter when they realize it is a 550km plus triangle.

Well today the task was a 500km racing task all around southern Hungary, right up to the Romanian border. The effect on the contestants was the same.

The troubling features of the day included high cloud cover moving in from the west. Since the task took us across the Danube River, this could pose a serious problem early in the day. Moreover, the high cloud cover could suppress heating enough to make it really problematic to get home. As such, the contestants expected to get on course fairly promptly, though with the hope that they would have others to work with in the tricky bits early and late in the day.

On the grid, I remembered the fellow in the movie who said that the task was like signing up for an eight hour long formal ball and whimpering he didn’t want to go! I was excited; I like distance tasks. But others seemed to have this reaction.

The conditions triggered and developed early for once. There was no trouble staying up and several gaggles converged near the start area. Noah and JP launched early whereas I was in the back of the grid. This made it trickier to get connected

When our start gaggle started streaming out, we decided to go. There was a miscommunication as to which direction to go, with JP and Noah heading north toward the middle of the start line and the gaggle heading on course. I was intent on going with the group and started after them.

We separated for a while but got reconnected further on the first leg, with me three minutes ahead on the start. I was finding solid lift along my line; easily 5.5 knots. We were in perfect position behind the gaggle.

Going into the Danube river valley, we shifted down while the gaggle still kept driving along. Climbing up in 3 knots to the top of the lift made a big difference for us; it put us in a covering position on many gliders ahead, struggling low.

At one point they veered toward a cloud. The three of us looked at it and thought it wasn’t working and kept going straight. And sure enough the gaggle got burned by that one.

Lured by a gaggle, 60 seconds. Not this time.

Coming out of the turn, we limped along downwind, though managed to stay connected. Once on the other side of the river, five knots.

Now it’s time to hit the gas guys!!

We were near the front end of the whole group, charging along at MC 6. It’s time to make a break. The cirrus is moving in behind us and the gaggle is getting hammered hard. If we keep the pace up and manage to avoid falling off the back of the day, we might make it around when most won’t!

Approaching the second turn, the day started softening up. This is not good, we still have a long way to go. After getting down to 600 meters and climbing up, we found ourselves with the Slovaks and Hungarians. A good group to work with for the trouble awaiting us ahead.

The clouds started fizzling out and the lift was getting weaker and farther apart. We were working hard to still keep the pace up; every minute here will count at the end of the day.

The scenery was beautiful. It was the flattest, most open country I had ever flown over. It is just one big open expanse of fields. There are hardly any trees except right over the little towns. It was surreal; almost like a video game. Down at 2000ft, you still felt like you had all the height in the world.

Approaching the third turn, things got really tough. We shifted down and worked on finding a climb at all costs. This meant deviating along a line of clouds, which did not work. Finally we dove out toward the turn, getting lower and lower. On the outbound leg, we were struggling in 1-2 knots in the blue. Luckily we had company to work with.

We limped our way, way off course to a nice set of clouds. Bang! 4 knots!

Well established in the band again, we worked our way along the clouds, straight west. This was way off course, but this seemed the only way to make the task work. Everything else was blue.

Now we found ourselves gliding toward Szeged, getting lower and lower. Our little gaggle fanned out wide to find anything that would work.

Nothing.

When we crossed the Tisza, there were a handful of clouds ahead to work with. By this time, I looked over and saw JP and Noah 200 meters higher than me! They totally killed me on this glide.

I was in sink and sped up. And then the group found something behind me and I was too low to go back. That darn thermal was a solid 5 knotter and here I was charging off toward Szeged way freakin’ low. By the time I found a thermal, I was down to 500 meters and hanging on to 2 knots. The gaggle dropped me like a set of car keys and climbed to 2200 meters in no time.

This was very, very, very frustrating. Looking at the sky, I thought I totally blew it. These guys will surely make it back and I’m totally screwed.

I turned off the radio and worked hard at climbing up. The thermal only took me to 1200 meters and I kept going up the line to the west. My priority is to climb up, preferably to cloudbase, no matter the cost. Except that there wasn’t a thermal to be found.

Now I turned north-bound, completely desperate. I got lower and lower, heading toward Szaytmaz. Down to 500 meters, just upwind of the lakes, I found 1.5 knots.

I worked that sucker up several hundred meters until it would peter out, go upwind and do it all over again. An eternity later, I was established again in the height band.

After turning on the radio again, I reported,

“8M is not dead yet! 1700 meters. How are you guys doing?”

Noah reported trouble ahead. The day was softening up and they were getting very low at the fourth turn.

Duly noted, I continued in my quest to find one more solid climb to cloudbase. This quest took me way off course to the west. At this point, speed doesn’t matter. If I found that climb, it’ll take me home. If not, I’ll be landing out with everyone else anyway.

Alas, the day was nearly dead. JP and Noah had already landed just south of the 4th turn. The leading gaggle converged on the final thermal, sitting in .5 knots. This got me to 1200 meters and I slid out into the ether.

The air was almost perfectly smooth. This got me to the turn and some ways back on the fourth leg. I saw JP and Noah’s gliders in the fields and kept gliding along.

The fields in this area were more sparse than out east. But they were quite nice and I kept a watchful eye on my options as I slowly sank back to earth. The options dwindled in front of me. Down to 600 feet, I hooked back to a beautiful cut hay field. This field was 10/10, best field I had ever landed in. Hardly any obstacles to clear, smooth, flat, long and just perfect. It was better than most airports I had landed at.

What a feeling it was to land after having flown for 7.5 hours and having given it your all. And then to open my eyes in this paradise. The sun was setting but still gave off a warm glow.

Luke was well on his way to pick me up. John Good saw the writing on the wall a long time previously and had the crews hook up the trailers and head north. Luke arrived just before sunset and we got the glider into the trailer in no-time.

It was dark when we arrived back at the airport. And the tiedowns were almost empty. Every contestant failed to complete the task this day. A couple abandoned their effort and landed back at the airport. When we ate dinner at the local cafe, we saw trailers slowly trickling back from their adventures in Hungarian countryside.

The US team did well this day. Noah, JP and I finished high on the scoresheet thanks to having been the leading elements of the gaggle at the right time. Michael finished in the middle in what was basically a big tie in Standard class.

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See my flight here.

See our scores here.

Thanks to our supporters back home who have given us the opportunity to represent our country at the Worlds!



08-04-19 | Day Five- As Ned Kelly Said…

There was once a bushranger in Australia by the name of Ned Kelly. He was their Billy the Kid, a fellow who got in trouble with the law by robbing banks and the like. When his gang killed a sheriff, the public stopped supporting him and the law came crashing down on him. When he was caught, he was tried and sentenced to hanging.

When he was led onto the gallows and asked if he had any final words, he said, “Such is life.”

I’ve thought about that expression many times since learning about it four years ago at my first Junior Worlds. It often crosses my mind when things don’t work out as expected in soaring.

Today was a tough day for the US Team. We had mixed results, with Noah and JP coming up short of the airport on the final leg. I made it home with a good performance. Michael Marshall was several points from winning the day in Standards.

Our expectations were somewhat low in the morning. The ground was wet from rain the previous day, but the airmass was quite good. The organizers were optimistic calling a 340 km task taking us right up to the Danube. We adjusted our expectations and were open to a drag race.

When we launched, we were happy to see that the conditions were steadily improving in the start area. We waited for a while to let our class go and started at 1:30. This ended up working out nearly optimally. The folks that won the day were in a group close behind.

We were on fire. 160 km/h in good air, driving as hard as we could. We were rewarded with good lift by hooking right along a little shower. Several 4-5 knot thermals and we ran down a lot of the early starters on the first leg! Approaching the first turn, we were up ten minutes.

The second leg was on hyper-drive. 7 knot thermals, 170 km/h in between the lift. Harder, faster, harder, faster. We were driving on the east bank of the Danube River, charging along in the good lift, trying to get as far along the course before it started cycling down.

Approaching the second turn, I started sputtering. I couldn’t connect with a bubble as well as JP and Noah. I let them lead out and took several more turns and worked like mad to get reconnected with them. After the second turn, again I dropped off the bottom side of the bubble.

I watched them 400 meters above, leaving the thermal. No way I can stay with them. I left as the lift started tapering off.

From this point on, I was riding the back-side of the cycle. The more I tried to catch up, the worse I made the separation between us. I let out a yell in frustration.

Finally down at 850 meters well off course, I decided that it would be really stupid to land out here. And I shifted down, accepted a 2.8 knot climb to cloudbase. I was totally washed out. JP and Noah were smoking along, 20km ahead of me. But they reported that things were not going well at the third turn. I deviated, found a solid 4.5 knotter to cloudbase. Much better now… let’s see how much I can catch up.

Things were starting to clamp down on the third leg, but there was still some solid lift out there. I was finding good bubbles lower and was staying in the best lift, chipping my teammates’ lead. Finally I saw them 150 meters higher, hitting their final thermal maybe a km further.

As I joined in, they reported that that they were in trouble. The next two clouds did not work and they are in the blue and the air is disturbingly smooth.

I took that thermal all the way to the top to a MC 3.3, 100 meter final glide.

Noah and JP kept sinking and sinking. A .5 knot thermal in the blue which petered out after 100 meters. No joy over the infrastructure and towns. The air was just totally dead.

I glid out, finding worse than neutral air. My glide slowly got worse and worse. I duly reported this to Michael who was going to go through similar air soon. He tanked up accordingly and had a very efficient glide as a result.

By the time I rounded the steering turn, all of my extra margin on the glide evaporated. I hit the finish at minimum sink and made a straight-in, landing with the seven knot tailwind.

Noah and JP reported that they landed at Szatymaz Airport, a gliderport right under the steering turn.

As Ned Kelly said, “Such is life.”

We were all disappointed with the result. Even though my score was among the best for the contest, I felt I was disconnected with the day. I didn’t feel like I was flying well. And we are all bummed that Noah and JP couldn’t get home. It didn’t look like they were taking a massive gamble or anything like that. There were several clouds to try and the sun was baking on the ground. The odds of finding a 1-2 knot thermals somewhere, somehow in that sky felt nearly assured. But they flipped tails on every single attempt. Soaring can be that way.

The retrieves went smoothly and they were back in no-time. The US Team hosted a movie-night at the main hangar. We played the Sunship Game and a good group of folks came by to watch.

I think that the Bee Gees, George Moffat and Gleb Derujinsky were never as loud as they were in that hangar with their enormous speakers. When I went outside for a moment, you could hear them and all the movie’s sound effects emanating from the whole metal frame!

It is always a blast watching that movie, especially at a competition. It captures so much of what makes the sport and competition flying so beautiful and exciting.

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See my flight here.

See our scores here.

Thanks to our supporters back home who have given us the opportunity to represent the US at a World Competition!

08-02-19 | Day Four- It Looked Impossible

The US Team had a great day. All four pilots made it around in dicey soaring conditions. A third of the Club Class fleet landed out and two thirds of the Standards. Several more teams got washed out of the running and we are managing to hang on in there. It was one of those days that you are simply amazed that you flew your way home to the home airport.

The organizers were unsettled with the weather forecast. The air mass was good, but there was a lot of high cloud cover to contend with. Depending on where and how little holes appear would greatly affect whether pilots could complete the task. The organizers delayed setting the task until the last minute, and when they did they made three tasks just to be sure. They weren’t taking any chances, that’s for sure.

I wore a Dutch team shirt today and later found their flag under my wheel!

On the grid, it looked reasonably promising. That was until you looked west at the grim high clouds moving right on in. When we were launched, the goal was to get up and connected as soon as possible. There was a chance that it would cycle down hard once the shade swept over the airport. Everyone had the same idea and converged on a mega-start gaggle. There were easily 40 gliders in it at any one time and that Standards hadn’t even launched!

As the start time rolled through, the strong third of the gaggle managed to slip away without us noticing. I am still befuddled by this, that 15 gliders just went off into the ether. This was a big error on our part because this was definitely the group to go with. And when they slipped away, we couldn’t start until another group decided to go. It was blue ahead and there were major high clouds to deal with. This is not a day to be caught out there on your own.

30 minutes after the first group went, the second group decided to go. A sunny band opened up into the first sector and we found good soaring conditions. The goal today was pretty much to nip the sectors and make distance in the safer areas closer to home. After nipping the first, we climbed up for the long glide across the Tisza River. The whole group floated out at 125 km/h or so. The air was absolutely dead smooth. Wave smooth. We held our breath as we crossed the other side and went many miles without feeling a single bump.

Down to 800 meters and the group connected with a climb. We worked our way up and now we were off to the races. There were Cu ahead and the conditions were improving. Now is the time to hit the gas; we don’t want to fall off the back.

We were pushing the gaggle hard. We didn’t mind the group being with us, so long as we were in a commanding position. They might come in handy later.

No trouble getting into and out of the second turn. The conditions peaked and we were driving at 160 km/h in the solid lift. But halfway toward the third sector, the menacing overcast moved in. We were in trouble.

John Good was very helpful with his reports today. He reported the positions and speeds of the competitors on the tracking. At this point he reported that there were a lot of folks getting low and desperate on the other side of the river. We climbed up every foot of the last cloud before the hole and floated across.

Dead smooth as glass. There were a couple clouds under the dark deck, but it looked really miserable. There was little hope of making it back.

But then a gaggle appeared ahead. There were gliders in fields underneath. Somehow some pilots were hanging on to weak lift. Doesn’t hurt to join them now, that’s for sure.

We were climbing at anywhere from .5 to 2 knots. Just clawing our way up, inch by inch. It looked futile; the conditions will collapse in any second. We have another 3000ft to climb in order to get on final glide! But little by little, the gaggle worked its way up. After nipping the third sector, we were less than 1000 ft from a low MC glide.

Sure enough, the conditions kept at it. Everyone fanned out and was sampling here and there. We went forwards, backwards, and sideways to any scraps of lift that could be found.

And before we knew it, we were approaching a MC 0 glide. And then two knots!! Slowly it weakened down to a half a knot. And by some miracle, the glide computer said MC 2 to 0 over for a 55km final glide.

I think we’ve got it!!

Noah replied pessimistically, “Ohhh-kaaayy…?”

The three of us led out and the high elements of the gaggle slowly trickled out behind us. The air was nearly dead other than a couple little areas of ever so slightly lifty or sinky areas reminiscent of wave.

We closed the vents and hardly touched the controls. 110 km/h mostly on the glide, hardly breathing.

A hard turn at the last sector. We were losing a bit on the glide, down to 50 meters low. I dialed my computer back and it showed MC 0, 0 feet over.

US Ground, looks like we will probably going straight-in, probably into the fields short of the airport.

As I hit the steering turn, the airport was well up off my nose, but it looked doable. And going into the wind we found a liftier line, for a 45-1 glide. We managed to make it work, with Noah and I squeaking over the finish line. JP took a little penalty for being a hair low. Most of the gaggle behind us came in a bit low too.

When I made it across the line, I yelled out YEEEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAA!! Damned if we made it back!

Gear down and a straight in for landing. The survivors streamed in behind us. When they opened their canopies, we all expressed our wonderment at being home. We all congratulated each other and were just absolutely thrilled for each other.

We survived this day while many did not. The result of being consistent is that we are in a reasonable position on the cumulative score, slowly clawing our way upwards as pilots drop off. The next couple days look tricky. Tomorrow is a rest day due to rain and storms. The following couple days will probably have more of this survival business. But then the weather opens up, with temps in the mid 30s Celsius. At that point we will be ready to push.

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See my flight here.

See our scores here.

Thanks to all our supporters back home who have given us the opportunity to represent the US at a World competition!

08-01-19 | Day Three- Chasing the Germans! | International Night

Having recovered from a difficult preceding day, we were really eager to race! The US team did well today, having made it around at a solid pace with some of the strongest teams at the competition. Today also featured international night and the US team was well represented with ‘Smores and Coca Cola. We had a great day!

The organizers tend to set shorter and more conservative tasks to try to get people home in time when there is an event in the evening. This usually does not work out well. The pilots simply play start gate roulette longer. In Lithuania, the gaggle refused to leave until 3pm on a 300km+ task and barely staggered home!

This time, the organizers really pulled the stops out. They launched us at 11:30am as further encouragement to get our butts on course. They had the Standard Class essentially fly the same task as Club Class, basically making the task an 80 glider drag race. In the end, they accomplished their goal; they cajoled the pilots out of the gate and almost everyone made it back on time for the party!

It was a slow starting day. The cloud bases refused to lift much above 1000 meters for well over an hour after we launched. The day was trailing the forecast (as usual it now seems) and everyone was milling around in the start area. The start opened and very few took the bait. Everyone was hoping for a switch to go off and the clouds to lift a lot, but they just barely inched upwards.

As we were touring the start area, we found the German and French teams. It was starting to get late and the British joined in. Good company! The group finally decided to go and we started a minute behind the Germans.

Life is good as a Club Class pilot when the Standard Class task heads in the same direction. They go out ahead, mark and center your next thermal. You pull in and core it on the first turn. You even see the outer radius of the whole thermal! This lets you out-climb them quite easily. Right as you reach their same altitude, they dive off and mark your next one. Rinse and repeat.

The Germans were milking the Standards dry and the rest of us were pedaling hard to keep up. We were driving at 160 km/h chasing 3-4 knot thermals!

This was pretty much the story for the entire day. The American and French teams were working very hard to get into a covering position on the German team and in a place where we could break if we had a good opportunity to do so. But they kept up a very solid pace and we were unable to build an energy advantage on them sufficient enough to make a break. So we stayed with them, driving at the speed of heat. All of us were flying with our hair on fire, trying not to fall off.

It was intriguing watching them fly. They fly in a loose formation, often times chasing the leader who was on the high side. They deviated *a lot*. It seemed excessive at times, but the good energy lines perhaps compensated for this. They flew very well as a group, that’s for sure.

On the second leg, Noah and I tried to make a break for it and almost made it stick. But the lift we found wasn’t so good and we were in danger of falling out of the band. The Germans hardly did any better and we rejoined their gaggle back on course pretty much at the same altitude.

JP stuck with them and did very well. He slowly picked his way up and got into a covering position. Noah and I never fully recovered; we were always chasing from below and never got into a position to reconcile this.

We were driving very, very hard. Falling off the back is a disaster, especially toward the end of the day. As Noah says, “You *got to* stay connected!”. The thermals started becoming more bubbly and we had to drive out low rather than stay in weak lift and watch the gaggle climb up and away. Noah was getting a bit tired and frazzled; I was the one keeping the pace today.

As we approached the third turn, we started getting dangerously low. We managed to hook a 3 knot climb as we rounded to the downwind side which considerably improved our situation. We were now 150-200 meters low on the Germans. JP was fully content to maintain his 50 meter advantage on the group at this point and cover them on home. No use in breaking away now.

I kicked into full gear now. Chocolate bar for some more glucose and water to wash it down. It’s the final leg and now’s the time to make the final mental sprint.

We slowly picked our way upwards. The Germans were getting tired and antsy approaching final glide. This is our opportunity; keep the pace up, don’t slacken off now.

The thermal weakens down to 1.5 knots.

I bark, “Ready!”

Noah pleads, “Where!?”

I assure him, “There’s a better one out there!”

We roll out and drive along… down to 950 meters, 900 meters, 850 meters…

At 800 meters, BANG! 3.5 knots!

We roll in, several kilometers ahead of the Germans. JP has taken his energy advantage and pressed it for final glide. He’s ahead of all of us now.

Noah and I threw every bit of ourselves at making this thermal work to perfection. The Germans joined 100 meters above us. We roll out on final glide when we just had it; they stayed longer.

The glide was doing well for a while. Good energy along the way and we were slowly bumping up on the glide. At one point I was showing MC 5 for the finish. Then it started getting worse and worse. By the time we hit the steering turn, the Germans passed us once more and our glide was down to MC 1.

A cloud ahead after the turn. A good bump! Up to MC3 and we are floating home.

Noah and I finished 15 meters above, 125 km/h.

And we tied the Germans on the scoresheet!

JP finished well ahead of us, but he had a logger issue at the third turn. He missed the turn by 10 feet and had to eat a 50 point penalty. He was flying very well this day and we were bummed that this didn’t get represented in the scoresheet today.

In any case, our goal today was to work with a strong group. This worked out well today and we accomplished our objective.

Now that we were all back, we got to work setting up for International night! This event is a time honored tradition at World competitions. Each team brings its country’s food and drinks to share with all the other teams. They decorate their stands and everyone has a wonderful time. Each team usually brings their country’s best and strongest alcoholic drinks. The crews and team captains usually indulge quite a bit in this tradition as well. The US team did not; we take the flying seriously and none of the pilots and few of the crews had any booze for the night.

To represent US cuisine, we made Smores with Hershey chocolate, Graham crackers and marshmallows. The Germans lent us a camping stove which acted as the heat source. We had lots of folks come by and huddle over the little stove, melting their marshmallows to have their tasty Smore sandwich! Also, the Coke worked out well as we were the only team that did not serve alcoholic beverages. In turn, this gave many folks something to drink when they wanted a break from the alcohol, or for those who didn’t want to drink in the first place.

Our pilots and crews had a great time. We sampled food from all the different teams! The French had the most elegant and tastiest stuff. Their cheese was magnificent, along with their fish and liver pate. The Germans made Spätzle, basically Mac and Cheese but 100 times better. The Dutch had their really tasty waffles; the thin ones with the syrup inside. The Czechs had wonderful sausages. And the Aussies brought Vegemite! It was a real blast. The crews got to interact with lots of other teams and it was a wonderful evening that brought everyone together.

Today looks like another promising soaring day! Off to the races!

___________

See my flight here.

See our scores here.

Thanks to all our supporters back home who have given us the opportunity to represent the US at a World competition!

07-31-19 | Day Two- Playing with the Tisza River

Apologies that I didn’t get the report out last night. It was a tough day for the US team and I was pretty beat from the flying. The Club team struggled around the course. Michael in Standard unfortunately landed out.

When we got back home, I was ready to check out and fall asleep. And good sleep is very important at a long contest! Most of the days I’ve been getting around 7-7.5 hours, not enough but I couldn’t do better. Today was a much better 9 hours!

Anyway, yesterday was a tricky day. The conditions were much less certain thanks to high cloud cover and vertical development. Bands of high cloud, rain, over-development, and under-development were all at play today. It looked like a day not to lose rather than a day to win.

The assigned area task (TAT for folks back home) took us to the north and then east across the Tisza River and then back west over the river once more and back home. Geography would pose a challenge to soaring as much as the weather. Gulp! Add to this a headwind on the west-bound leg and you get the full trifecta.

We worked our way to the start area and all got connected reasonably promptly. The gaggling was particularly impressive today. There were few thermals that were working in the start sector and the ones that were had everyone in them. The thermals were relatively narrow and the gaggles were getting so large that they were unable to stay in the lift anymore. It was a game of getting to the 1 knot thermal and stay in it long enough until 30 gliders join you and bolt to the next one with a couple gliders before the thermal gets eaten up alive by fiberglass. All of this at 3000ft AGL and in relatively hazy conditions. In the milky air it was hard to see much more than ten miles away.

As the start time passed, a couple early guys went out on course. High cloud cover was moving through and a band seemed nicely aligned with the course. Looking at the conditions, the possibility of several early markers and a good chance of the conditions cycling down soon, we bolted out of the start. In retrospect, we started too early. This was the first mistake.

The first leg worked out reasonably well for us. We found the up-cycle and drove pretty hard. As we approached the first sector it softened up a bit, but we were able to climb up without too much difficulty. Now the question was how to play the area; go deeper or turn? The glide computer optimization suggested to turn now. Looking ahead, there was a street well out in the distance. The cirrus band was moving in, starting to shadow the ground at the edge of the sector. This was a serious roll of the dice and we chose to pass. We figured that the conditions were starting to cycle down and the people behind us would be nipping the sector as it were. The street worked for the later starts. Mistake number two.

The lift on the other side of the river softened up quite a bit. Along the way we overran the sunny band as we entered the third sector. Mistake number three. This goes back to mistake number two; by not going deeper we turned too early for the cycle in the third cylinder. The folks who went deeper in the first sector were able to go considerably deeper in the second.

In the second sector, we kept getting lower and lower in shaded ground. We pulled the plug on that one and turned, struggling on the way out. Noah managed to stay connected and JP and I fell out of the band twice, down to 1000ft AGL or so. The third leg was a real slog. The conditions cycled down and we entered into survival mode. Ahead there was a storm brewing just upwind of the course line. There seemed a strong threat that the storm would shut down the run into the last sector and make it a distance day.

We plodded along into the headwind and over the wet ground. The nice looking clouds hardly generated much lift at all. Slowly but surely we made it across the river and into the gloomy sky on the other side. It was unpleasant being low under these wide cumulus clouds downwind of the storm. These are clouds that are working well at cloudbase, but you can’t count on them down low. Luckily there were a couple sunny patches ahead if they didn’t work.

At this point Noah had about 300 meters on JP and I. He managed to hook right on the line and JP and I got separated. JP hooked a 3 knotter behind me, but it was a bit too late for me to turn. JP followed Noah’s line, I went for a cloud in the sun at the inside edge of the sector.

Three knots on an upwind-low turn. This will have to do, even if I come in a minute or two under. There’s no where better for me to go upwind.

The climb petered out at 1200 meters, MC 2 for final glide. Looking downwind, there was a bit of street. Maybe I could bump up a bit?

Nope.

As I left the clouds, I got into gentle sink under overcast. This is going to be an exciting glide.

I watched my glide wither away. 30 meters under for the finish. 50… 80! A little bit of good air, slowing down to minimum sink and milking the tailwind. The glide angle kept hovering between 0 and negative 50. There is one cloud ahead and it better freakin’ work.

A gaggle converged on this one thermal. Not much to climb in, but good air nonetheless. Up to MC 4 with 0 feet over for the finish cylinder. This is a bit healthier.

I shot off, “US Ground, 8M, is on final glide, probably looking at a direct landing!”

More sink approaching the steering turn. Dialing down to MC 3…

The angle to the airport looks good, but the air is not great. The ship is slowing and slowing. As I approached the finish, I am down to 100 km/h. I hit the finish 10 meters above the cylinder.

Phew!!!

The air improved on the far side of the finish and I floated my way into a reasonable pattern. I was thrilled to be back on the ground, having survived this day.

Noah and JP did better on their glide, but we all struggled around the course. When we got back, hardly anyone had finished yet. It looked like we might have got around when a good bunch would land short. But the storm wasn’t as much of a factor and the herd managed to struggle around and make it back. Many got down to 1000ft as we were on final glide, under the overcast. They somehow managed to dig out and make it home.

The strategic errors did a number to our scores. We ended up in the bottom half of the scoresheet. However, we live to fight again. And today looks like a promising soaring day! We are ready to race!

_______________

See my flight here.

See our scores here.

Thanks to all our supporters back home that have given us the opportunity to represent the US at a world competition!

07-30-19 | Day One- Flying Hot and Fast!

After much preparation and practice, we were raring to race! And today, the weather finally opened up. Everyone was really excited and the team had a great day.

Since there was rain the past several days, we were not expecting too much out of the weather. The meteorologist was pretty optimistic with the high temperatures and resulting cloudbase. We planned for it to be several notches weaker and lower, which is how it pretty much panned out.

I was the first one to launch off the grid and had no trouble staying up. The lift hardly went to 3000ft, but it was consistent and closely spaced. A gaggle quickly formed beneath me as we tiptoed our way to the start line to the north.

JP, Noah and I didn’t have much trouble getting connected today. We did a very good job staying together and flying efficiently. Once established in the start area, the big strategic question was when to start? On Assigned Tasks, this is hard to optimize and very easy to mess up. The first starters went about 25 minutes after the task opened, though the conditions hadn’t peaked yet. I figured 2pm was the optimal time today. As the time rolled through, the conditions started cycling down in the start and we lost our starting position. We ended up starting with the last solid group, at about 2:15pm. With the German and French teams, this was a good place to be and we drove hard out of the gate.

The first glide was in good air, but with dismal thermals. The group drove hard, passing everything up. We were happy to oblige, for a while at least. After several weak thermals, we decided to back off rather than go double or nothing and drive toward the dirt. It’s hard to win a contest on day one, but very easy to lose one.

As the group fizzled, we were now simply flying as a team of three. This worked out very well, we were all ON today. We especially kicked into gear on the second leg, catching up to the main gaggle and working our way through it. We never got much less than 700 meters and hardly above 1200 meters above the ground. Most of the thermals were in the 2-4 knot range, with one beautiful six knotter. During this whole time, it was a lot of work. I hardly had enough time to dive in my kit and dig out a granola bar or take a leak.

Approaching the third turnpoint, I fell behind a bit. I pedaled hard to catch up, but to no avail. After the turn, I was 500ft low on JP and Noah. We found a weak thermal, but I was too low to chase after them. Seeing the leading elements of the gaggle merging in with me, I cut them loose.

The gaggle did a good job, eventually coring a 4 knot thermal. This got me connected up high and I dove on ahead. Unfortunately, Noah and JP weren’t lucky in the air ahead and struggled around in 1-2 knot lift. This one strong thermal got me 200ft above, almost on final glide. The line was fizzling out, but it had good air. The last thermal got me to a MC 2 final glide, with a nice line to run and bump up. That worked out great; I went from a MC 2 glide to MC 5, 40 meters over! JP and Noah were close behind and we finished close together.

We flew very well today as a team. We managed to stay together very well and generally made good decisions. We started a little later than ideal, but it was reasonably justified given our situation at the start. Tactically, we were on the conservative side, trying to stay connected with the higher band. This was both to minimize risk and stay in the better lift; it seemed that above 800 meters the lift would often go from 1.5 knots to 2-4 knots. We did a good job staying with the group and avoiding taking much sporting risk. And in the end, we finished well in the top 1/3 of the scoresheet on a tricky day; we’re all happy with the result. It’s a consistency contest, not a sprint.

This is also a good opportunity to point out what team-flying is all about. Most people think it is about simply going faster and this is certainly a part of it. A team of two or three gliders that effectively communicates and flies together can go several percent faster than an individual could. This is because a team can work better energy lines and generally core thermals better. However, this is very hard to achieve consistently. Flying with other people usually requires small compromises in order to stay together. I liken it to canting wheels inward on a car. If you accept a little bit of loss, you stabilize the whole system and make it work consistently. This makes it hard to make the small gains stick all the time.

However, the stronger reason to fly as a team is that it greatly minimizes sporting risk. Flying in formation with two gliders side by side samples much more air than a single glider ever could. Your sampling goes from 15 meters and perhaps 10-15 meters that you can “feel” off the wings to 150 meters given a 100 yard spacing between the two ships. The odds of finding a thermal and centering it effectively is much much much greater.

As a result, a team is a very effective tool to avoid getting into that 15 minute hole, when you’re down to 1000ft, alone and looking at landing in a field. And if you’re lucky, to park in a one knot thermal while the gaggle motors above. Team flying keeps you out of trouble more so than it helps you go faster.

But there is a third reason to do it, which is that it is possible to make much better decisions over the long run. This is very hard to master and requires the personalities to work well together. The risk and reward stuff mentioned previously can work with a dictator and a wing-man. But we don’t fly that way; we fly collaboratively. Each pilot provides information and participates in the decision-making process. Each of us has his strong suits, weaknesses and biases. We know this and respect each other’s skill and ability. We also recognize our respect weaknesses and are willing to trust each other to override them. In short, when we fly together we are greater than the sum of our parts.

One example of this was when we were on the first leg and the lift got weak. I am often on the side of pushing the team harder forward. Given a sporting gamble, I am more willing to go double or nothing. The gain is little loss in efficiency if you do hook the next thermal. The risk is that you get low and stuck. But being a 1-26 pilot, I am used to this and it’s a game that I’m more often willing to play. Often it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But in any case, Noah and JP tend to act as a counterbalance to this. And when we were in a weak thermal, going down to less than one knot, I was quick to say “ready” and advise driving toward the next cloud low. Noah and JP advised patience and the bubble built to 2 knot and we got nicely established in the band.

Left to my own devices, I would have been digging in the weeds another 5 kilometers further ahead.

On the other hand, there are many cases that driving harder is the right way to go. And when picking up the pace is the right thing to do, I’m often the one who contributes more strongly to make that happen.

In the process, we all end up going faster.

Off to tomorrow, another good looking day!

__________________

See flight log here.

See results here.

07-29-19 | Another Cancelled Day; Day Trip into Romania

Another day, and another unsoarable day. Yesterday’s weather system refused to clear and the morning revealed gloomy, overcast skies. The contest organizers clung to hope through a bit past 10am, pushing the briefing back to 11am. They cancelled the day for both classes at 10:30am. The team once again went sightseeing.

The first order of business was to get the team radio working. A little past noon, and it was working splendidly. Noah, the team Ninja did a great job of getting the coaxial cable up to the roof of the house and hooked onto the antenna. We now have a very effective ground station at US Team headquarters!

In the afternoon, the team split ways. John and JP stuck around to catch up on his work, the crews headed to the famous Szeged hot springs. Noah put out feelers yesterday to go to Romania. This morning I asked him if he was really serious. He said for sure, that he had some familial roots in a town 1.5 hours away and wanted to visit it. I said I was totally game to go!

Only in Europe could you just decide on a whim to go to another country.

We had a very nice little road trip and a very pleasant conversation along the way. We share a lot more in common in thought and outlook than would seem to most on first inspection. And we took a lot of interest in the landscape and country around us.

Romania is distinctly poorer than Hungary. The houses are considerably more rundown. Some people still use donkey-drawn carts for transportation. The rural areas have very few services; a gas station here or there and an occasional mart or a pharmacy to buy some basic supplies. It is readily apparent that Romania is the poorest country in the EU.

That said, there are trends toward improvement. The European Union clearly invested in improving the roads. There were signs of new industry, especially near the larger cities. Otherwise, the economy is clearly still driven by agriculture and considerably lags behind.

After walking around in a village, we headed to Timisoara. This is Romania’s third largest city, with a population around 150,000. Central Europe has been the site of dozens of wars, resulting in this region being ruled by many empires at one time or another. Dacia, Rome, Ottomans, and Austria-Hungary just to name a few. Every group indelibly left a mark of their presence here. Not all of it is obvious, but the placement of the cities, architecture, culture, language and more is a product of all of these influences.

In more recent times, Romania left the Austro-Hungarian empire in the wave of new countries established after World War I. Following WWII, it became absorbed in the Eastern Bloc as a communist state. Nicolae Ceaușescu, a particularly notorious and brutal dictator ruled this land for almost 35 years, through 1989. He set himself apart from other Eastern Bloc dictators by being the contrarian to USSR policies and rule. This earned him support from the West, who propped up his regime in exchange for him being a thorn in Moscow’s side. Things worked out relatively well for Romania through the early to mid 70s. However, thanks to the collapse in oil prices and massive debt taken by the government to fund heavy industry, Romania nearly defaulted.

The solution in the 80s included severe austerity measures to pay back the loans. This led to chronic shortages in food, healthcare, electricity, fuel and many other essentials to basic survival. Winters were brutal. Imports were almost non-existent. This was coupled with an oppressive regime built around the personality cult of Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was every bit as bad as North Korea.

In 1989, Romania paid off all of its debts. At the same time, the Romanian people were buoyed by the excitement of freedom as the eastern regimes started to fall, one-by-one. They were exhausted and fed up from the years of economic mismanagement and lack of rights. In December and within several days, the people revolted en masse. What started in Timisoara with strikes and protests led to mass demonstrations in all the cities in Romania. During a political rally in Bucharest where Nicolae Ceaușescu tried to rally his supporters, they instead became an angry mob that openly denounced the regime!

Within three days, he and his wife attempted to flee the country and were instead found, tried in a show-trial and executed. During these several days, the country descended into anarchy. Around 1500-3000 people died in the only violent revolution that took place in 1989.

In Timisoara, they had a museum dedicated to the 1989 Romanian Revolution in an old army barracks. Noah and I stopped by and watched a documentary as to how it all unfolded. The proprietor spoke decent English and told us a bit about his own experiences. He was a veterinarian, who joined the mass protests and subsequently got shot in the femur. Upon becoming disabled, he decided to dedicate his life to documenting and memorializing the events that occurred in 1989. He spoke strongly about the need for peace, both within and without. He was a very interesting character and made a strong impression on both of us.

Later we explored the city. The city center was surprisingly well-kept. Clean streets, European boulevards and squares. It looked considerably more genuine than most places I have been to in western Europe. This is a place that hardly sees any tourists; the people restored their city to look this way because they take pride in their country. This was beautiful to see.

A nice Romanian dinner and we headed back to Hungary. We took a more northerly route, passing by Arad. The Carpathian Mountains opened up in the distance, over beautiful pastures and fields. We thought this would be a wonderful place to fly.

The border was surprisingly backed up. Evidently among the border police there was a shift change and the cars did not move an inch for a good 30 minutes. They checked the automobile documents, along with opening each car’s baggage compartment. This was an unusual experience as most borders in the European Union don’t have passport control and such thorough checks.

We got back at 8pm after a thoroughly satisfying day, watching the sun set in a hazy, but considerably clearer sky. Tomorrow looks eminently soarable and we are very much looking forward to flying. There is a good stretch of weather for at least several days. Let the flying begin!

07-28-19 | First Day Cancelled; A Day Trip to Budapest

We came, we saw, and we never made it off the ground. The morning pilot’s briefing featured an optimistic weather forecast that counted on the temperature reaching 32 degrees Celsius. With the high overcast from blow-offs from storms in the area, this never materialized. The organizers called the day for the Club Class fairly quickly and we had our ships back in their boxes by 12:30pm.

It was a very good morning for the US Team. It was never certain that the day would be a bust; we were ready and raring to go fly! It could have as easily triggered and we were ready for a tough task, with showers and strong southerly winds. The crews had the ships perfectly ready to go and did a fantastic job through and through.

Since the day was called off early for Club Class, the team decided to find a fun way to spend the afternoon. Our crews wanted to do some sightseeing at Budapest, so we headed on over to the Hungarian capital.

Before we departed, Jacob Barnes asked if we could head back to the team house so he could change his clothes from his wing-running attire. We all looked at him and said absolutely not! He will most definitely walk around in a US flag onesie all day!

Our first stop was the Hungarian Air Museum. Akos, our local Hungarian crew was a tour guide there and knew the airplanes inside and out. His father used to fly Tupolevs for Malev, the country’s former national airline. His mother was a stewardess. Needless to say, Akos was very excited to act as our tour guide and share his knowledge.

Interestingly, the museum not only had a large collection of airplanes, but also weapons. Jacob Barnes and Noah shoot quite a bit and were intimately familiar with all the guns. The rest of the team was amused with the guns and planes being in the same place. This was a wonderful photo opportunity!

We toured all the former Soviet aircraft on site. I was most interested in the Li-2. It looked exactly the same as a DC-3… because it essentially was. The Soviets built a modified version of the ‘3 during the late 30s. The modifications were locally produced radial engines and all the tooling was converted to work with the metric system. 6,000 of these slightly heavier and weaker-engine aircraft were built. Considering there were 10,000 DC-3s built, this was a huge proportion of aircraft that were almost exactly the same, but yet entirely Soviet. Very interesting!

After we toured the museum, we headed off to city. We parked in the city center and walked along the Danube River. It is a really beautiful place, with its 19th century buildings and wide boulevards. The city is surrounded by hills and is bisected by its illustrious river. We walked quite a bit and enjoyed the sights.

We had dinner in the city, in a place close to Akos’ home and headed back home in torrential rain. The rain was so severe that some sections of road were approaching the definition of flooded. But at least most of the rain was well north of the task area.

Unfortunately, tomorrow does not look all that promising for soaring. The weather system that moved in quickly today is not going to leave until Tuesday morning. We will be ready and eager to go regardless, but at the same time the odds are against flying tomorrow. But following Tuesday, it looks like we will be getting into a good stretch of weather. Let’s fly fly fly!