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!



07-27-19 | Opening Ceremony

In international competitions, the day before the first competition day is reserved for the Opening Ceremony. All of the teams get together, don their uniforms, march with the flag, and get welcomed by local dignitaries. It is a no-fly day; a good time to relax and get fully into a racing mindset.

In the morning, we worked on getting the team radio working at the team house. This will be the US team headquarters for the team captain and crew during the competition days. One of the challenges was making a sufficiently high antenna that would receive over long range. Noah and John Good were up for the task, fashioning an antenna and coaxial cable to mount on the roof of the house. They wanted to make the antenna mount even higher and looked for material to do so. It seemed like the bamboo growing on the grounds nearby would do well for this purpose. But before cutting anything down, John asked Akos, our Hungarian crew, to check in with the owners if this would be okay to do. Akos came back 15 minutes later and said it would be fine so long as they didn’t cut down the whole bamboo grove! Images of John Good with a chainsaw entered our minds and we had a big laugh!

Later we went out to the airport and did some final checks on the gliders. Everything is now perfect. We are really happy with the gliders! Usually it takes half of the competition to get the avionics and equipment working right. This is the challenge of having borrowed gliders on another continent. But all of our equipment is exactly where it needs to be on Day One and this is very satisfying.

We are very happy with Glider Rent, the group that owns the LS4s in the Netherlands. They got the ships nicely tuned and ready to go. Couldn’t ask for a better set up and we really appreciate that we have such nice gliders to race!

Later we went off into town to get stocked up on supplies. We now have enough water and oatmeal to survive an apocalypse! Afterwards we ate lunch at the local Hungarian burger joint. Surprisingly nice burgers!

We came back to the team house to rest and await John’s return from the Team Captain’s meeting. Once he returned, we met as a team and discussed final logistics and strategy. In the end, John conveyed several simple messages.

1) Stay safe.

2) The game is to fly with company; both as a team and other competitors. Don’t get cute.

3) It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Ups and downs don’t count toward much; consistency is what matters in the end.

Afterwards we were off to the Opening Ceremony. Here we got together as a team and marched as a group with all the other teams doing the same. Luke had the honor of being the US Team’s flag holder!

We listened to speeches by the local organizers, airport authorities, head of the Hungarian air-sports federation and the IGC representative. For entertainment, they had a fantastic aerobatic routine flown in a MDM Fox. The ceremony was well done and got across the desired effect. This is an international event where all the competitors represent their country at the highest level of their sport. It is an honor to be here.

Here are our crews! From left to right: Luke, Jacob, Jonathan, Alex, and Akos.
Thanks Jacob Barnes for the picture!

07-26-19 | And We’re Ready to Race!

Today was the fourth and final practice day. All of the team members are up to speed and are ready to go. The equipment is tuned and ready to race. The pilots are 100 percent race ready. We are really excited!

Since Noah need to scrutineer his ship in the morning, only JP and I were going to fly together today. Our wonderful crews, Luke and Jonathan did a great job prepping the gliders and getting them out to the grid. We had our morning briefing and headed on over to our ships.

The weather did not pan out as forecast. High cloud cover from precipitation to our SW came quicker than expected and kept the conditions from triggering locally. The organizers delayed launching the grid and then changed to a new task. This gave Luke a great opportunity to practice changing the task for the LX 9050 on SeeYou while on the grid. We were ready to go in no time!

While the grid was being postponed, it was a wonderful time for socializing. I met the Norwegian team with their ASW-15s. Noah and I flew with them quite a bit on the second practice day. We also got to hang out with the Australian juniors. They put their best pilot into the cockpit today, but unfortunately he won’t be flying in this competition. He aged out from racing in junior contests, at least in kangaroo years. He’ll be acting as their crew and moral support!

A little after 1pm, the Contest Director cancelled the launch. JP and I launched anyway since we wanted to keep fiddling with our equipment and found a couple thermals to scratch in north of the airport. We had no trouble staying up, though couldn’t climb much above 800 meters.

I was content to simply stay up, relax and enjoy the view. It is much less stressful being up here than on the ground. The LS-4 was flying so exquisitely well. It thermals like a dream. You can’t do wrong in a turn. It is happy going slow, it is happy going steep and fast. Some thermals need a little bit of finesse, but the glider works with you. It is said that the LS-4 is the black Labrador of sailplanes. This ship is especially friendly and affectionate.

The conditions slowly kicked off and we slowly worked our way to the north with other gliders. Much to our surprise, we managed to eventually climb up to 1600 meters and a cloud shelf opened up ahead.

I was pretty leery of taking much sporting risk, especially on the practice days. I didn’t want to deal with a retrieve and tire myself out when the points don’t even count. And my first reaction looking at the rain and cloud shelf was ugh. I didn’t want to get in there and then have it build into a storm and deal with thunderbolts and lightning. But upon second inspection, it was holding steady. The CAPE forecast in the morning was not very energetic. It shouldn’t blow up into anything ridiculous and so I joined JP in running the line.

And it worked great! We managed to maintain our altitude and bump along several smooth and wide thermals without much difficulty. No worries there at all. We went a ways into the turn sector, got to the edge of gliding distance from home and headed back.

We had no intention of going to the second turnpoint today. But it was clear that if we were racing today, there would have been a lot of strategic decision-making. Is it possible to make it around the shower to the other side? Would we need to hold and allow conditions to cook? For how long until the day collapses? Or maybe accept it’s a distance day and max out the first leg and do the best we can on the second? We discussed this with John Good, our team captain and worked on how the team can benefit from such information in flight.

After working our way closer to home, JP and I parted ways. He wanted to fly for longer. I tested out flying the ship at high speed and the vibration in the tail came back at 165 km/h. I wanted to get back home and diagnose that.

I practiced a final glide along the way. To my surprise, the MC4 glide completely fell apart. I ended up about 150 meters low at the steering turn and had to dig out from about 300 meters AGL near Szatymaz Airport. I was perfectly content to land there if I needed to; one of the nice things about the fact that we are taking gliders apart every day is that landing short is of not much greater hassle or consequence. I dug out in a weak thermal and got myself on a fat glide and slid on home on a straight in final. Along the way, I inspected the fields on the approach path for future days.

In world competitions, they prefer to use straight-in finals as their default landing procedure. This lines everyone up in a predictable fashion. Each country teaches circuits their own way and each pilot has his own idea of how to do it. But if you give the pilots just enough energy to make it home, the thought is that there is little else they can do other than manage their energy, drop the gear and land straight ahead. For pilots in lower level competitions, this might sound crazy. But it actually works very well. If you scout out the fields short of the airfield and have a plan for each step of the final leg, it is a safe way to do it. And this really is the best way to manage getting 70+ gliders down on an airfield in a short time span.

In any case, it wasn’t busy today. JP joined me shortly thereafter and Luke pulled us back to the trailers to disassemble.

We think we figured out what was making the vibration in the tail! The tailwheel rotates very freely and is slightly out of balance. At 165 km/h, it would start to free wheel, causing a real racket. We put a little pad to provide a bit of friction on the wheel and we suspect that this should solve the problem.

Afterwards, we went off to a team dinner. The Hungarian folks renting out the houses to the US and Australian teams threw us a little party and made wonderful Goulash soup. The teams commingled and we had a wonderful evening.

Tomorrow is the opening ceremony and Sunday is the first contest day. We are now resting, and getting a couple more team things done in the morning. It’s almost time to race!

____________________

See my flight log here.

07-25-19 | Getting Pulled Over

Today was an exciting day for the US Team. JP arrived and got up to speed. He took a flight to get settled into S5, his LS4 for the competition. Noah flew to get a bit more thermalling experience in his ship. I flew to fiddle with the equipment some more. The flying wasn’t terribly exciting because we had to be at the airport at 5:20pm for “scrutineering” or the official contest inspection or weighing. We had no interest in going cross country and risking an off-field landing. That said, our afternoon and evening were more exciting than any of us expected.

We launched after the grid took off because we weren’t interested in doing the task. Among the useful lessons we learned was that we found that the local area tends to cycle down after the grid launches. Getting up and away from release and over to the start sector is non-trivial when the day starts drying out and the thermals get farther apart. It didn’t really matter for us today; we weren’t racing. But this was an important lesson for the competition, at least when it comes to high pressure days with a northerly wind.

One thing I tested was a vibration I felt in the stick on the previous day. Above 170 km/h, I would hear a buzzing coming from the back of the tailboom and a very slight shaking of the stick. It wouldn’t go away until I got the ship very slow and nose pushed down. This was a bit disconcerting on the previous day’s final glide and I tested it out today with several fast glides. The vibration came back every time. It is still unclear what is causing it. I suspected that it was the elevator gap seal; but they look perfect. The rudder gap seals look a bit more suspicious as they are looser at the top of the rudder… but how would this cause a vibration in the stick? In any case, this is something we are chewing on. If any readers have any ideas, feel free to drop me a line.

After flying around for an hour, the whole team finally linked up in a thermal near the start line. We ended up parting ways shortly thereafter; Noah and JP went off sightseeing and I headed back home.

As I was rolling to a stop, Luke was already on his way to pick me up. We had the glider back at the tiedown area and then headed back to the team house for a short respite. Just as I was about ready to fall asleep for a short nap, Noah called me up. He had just landed and his tire went flat.

We’ll be there in ten minutes!

Turns out that taking a spare tube and tire and buying a tire inflator at the local store would be quite handy today!

We came on over and tried to inflate his wheel to get the glider off the runway. No joy, it didn’t hold air. We had to bring the trailer over and disassemble the ship on the spot.

All of the crews were on deck. We had the ship apart in less than ten minutes and back at the tiedown. John Good arrived shortly thereafter and the team got to work changing the tire.

At the same time, JP and I got our ships through scrutineering. The process was pretty much painless. They weighed me and the glider and asked about several safety features. They calculated my handicap and I was done. They didn’t even ask for the aircraft and pilot documents, which they are liable to do. Hey, I ain’t complaining, the easier the better!

With JP scrutineered and Noah all squared away for flying tomorrow, we headed off to dinner. Mike and his crew joined us shortly thereafter; he had a great flight today! He made it around the tricky task; most pilots abandoned it. Unlike the previous days, they set a truly World’s level task in both classes. They are not afraid to land people out and most pilots chose to bag it rather than take the chance. But Mike kept going and made it on home on a very nice 350km flight!

After dinner, we headed on back to the team house. It is a very nice place to stay, several miles south of the airport. Each pilot and crew has a separate room and bed. There are several bathrooms and a kitchen for cooking breakfast. And even a swimming pool! The Australian team is also staying on the same grounds, in a house across from us.

After we got back, I decided to take a short walk around the area. I like to walk in the evening, especially after dinner. It gives me a chance to spend some time alone and collect my thoughts. It helps me recharge a bit.

In any case, as I headed out, it felt a little bit off. There were hardly any cars around and certainly no people. It’s not exactly a pedestrian friendly area. But in any case, I strolled on the side of the road, content with just walking for the sake of walking.

About 15 minutes in, a police car stops by and asks me, “What are you doing?” I said I was a US team member staying in a house nearby, enjoying the fresh air. He seemed content and drove away. I suppose that being several miles from the Serbian border makes these guys a bit antsy about some random people wandering around this area.

When I was on my way back, about 200 meters from the team house, another police officer told me to stop. I walked on over and went through the same spiel. This fellow insisted that I show him identification, upon which I showed him my driver’s license. Then his partner comes out and they wouldn’t let me go on my way. Then another unmarked police car shows up, with two armed police officers. Oh joy.

They asked me a bunch of questions and asked me for my passport. I told them it was 200 meters away. After lots of radio chatter and arguing back and forth, they told me to take a ride with the police car over to the house and show them the passport.

Upon arriving, I retrieved said document and had John Good come over as well. I figured it was safer to have him there in case there was any further trouble.

Another 10 minutes of bantering, asking me where I was born and my mother’s name. Finally they said I could go and they went on their way.

I’ve been pulled over a couple times in my life. This is the first time I was pulled over for the act of walking.

It turns out you have to have a passport on you at all times in Hungary. Moreover, they are extremely edgy about migrants coming in from Serbia. As a result, half of the vehicles in this area are police cars, marked and unmarked. They have a policy of pulling over any person walking after 6pm. Akos, our local Hungarian crew said that houses in the area along the border are occasionally raided by police if they are suspected of harboring migrants. Serious business.

During this whole episode, I had a couple thoughts and feelings. As far as I was personally concerned, it was actually more interesting rather than stressful. When traveling in most places around the world, being an American gives you a huge amount of leverage. The local police district does not want to deal with an angry American embassy, or worse yet bad media coverage. This is especially true in a country that is part of the European Union. I felt protected by the full force of my country.

But in broader terms, it was interesting seeing firsthand how political questions and problems translate into daily life. Whatever one’s political leanings regarding undocumented migrants, few see how this actually gets enforced. And for the people who visit and live near the border, the government operates at the boundary of infringing their personal rights. Police have the discretion to stop anyone and demand their papers. Any house can be raided pretty much at any time. It is a tense environment.

In all, it was pretty enlightening.

And most assuredly, I won’t be taking evening strolls in this neighborhood again.

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07-24-19 | Practice We Did!

Today was the first official practice day of the competition and the team did very well. We are ironing out the equipment, briefings and overall team process. The flying part is the most solid of the whole bit, with Noah and I doing considerably better than we expected given a very relaxed and not especially performance-minded approach to the short task today. In any case, we’re in great shape!

The principal difference of the “official” as opposed “unofficial” practice days is that a pilot’s performance on the task may affect their points in the competition. This is not to say that the points around the task count. However, airspace infractions or penalties resulting from violating local procedures DO count toward the whole competition. In FAI rules, certain violations first incur a warning, then steeper and steeper penalties for subsequent offenses. It is possible to get a “first strike” warning during a practice period, to THEN get a steep penalty during the actual contest. As a result, we were extremely cautious about avoiding any penalties, especially since the real points don’t count yet.

Noah and I spent the morning working on getting the LX 9050 system to work. Boy what a complicated mess that computer is. I think you need to be a tech wizard to figure it out completely. Noah helped me set up the simplest possible profile we could make, along with the contest registration and adjustments to the Flarm settings. The Flarm audio warnings were not working before, which is a problem for team flying. The collision avoidance system is very useful when you’re spending 60+ hours in close proximity to one another. We don’t count on it exclusively of course, but it is a very useful aid in improving our situational awareness.

We launched at the back of the grid and had a bit of trouble staying up after releasing. The airport is in a bit of an airspace corridor; you can’t go too far south or west or you get into restricted airspaces. The start is a bit to the north of the airport, in clearer air so to speak. But off of release, the gaggle was climbing directly above a zone of airspace and I couldn’t quite reach it without being committed to the thermal. If the thermal didn’t work, I’d bust the top of the 450 meter MSL restricted zone. Instead I headed over to the airport and dug out from a little over pattern altitude.

The lift was pretty reasonable early in the day. It triggered early thanks to the cool northerly flow. This makes for a dry and unstable airmass, much like the good days back home. It looks like in Europe the weather follows the Cookie postulate (Cookie was my flight instructor), which is that it ought to be good if there is an “N”, especially paired with a “W” in the wind direction forecast.

In any case, we milled around for a while, watching the sky develop. There was a threat of spread-out later on and we felt the urge to go relatively early before the day overdeveloped. We started with a group of other Club Class gliders, though most of them disappeared into the ether. With a turn area task in a homogeneous sky, you don’t get the massive gaggles that you would find on a weak, blue day.

Heading west, the terrain got slightly higher and considerably more wooded. We went a good ten miles without hitting much of anything. But when we found a thermal, it was an honest 4.5 knotter. This was the story for most of the day; solid, but with lift that was far apart. We worked hard to stay connected in the higher band.

The middle of this region had few good landing options. There were plenty of places to deviate to and we had plenty of height to do so. However, we made a note to ourselves that this is not a place we would like to get low in during the competition.

As we approached the turn area, we saw the Danube river valley open up before us. What a gorgeous sight! The mighty river snaking through a sea of fields and towns. We were warned that the lift in this area can be quite soft and down-shifted accordingly. However, looking ahead we saw a dust devil over a field, right by the river! There has been so little rain for the past several weeks that even the river valley was cooking off good thermals! It worked out well enough that we flew right over the river before making our turn and heading back to the east.

Heading east, no real trouble for a while other than an occasional lower bit down to around 2500ft AGL or so. It feels a lot lower than it really is. Along the way, we picked up a couple thermals with other gliders.

There are many good reasons to fly with a teammate. Among Noah’s many great qualities is that he has excellent vision. There were several times he would radio to me,

“Tally, glider one-o-clock, 6 kilometers away, turning into a thermal… 150km/h?”

I’d look out ahead and see diddly squat.

Then I’d cautiously reply, “Sounds good to me” and pushed the nose down trusting Noah’s eyes over my own. When we would get half way there, I would finally see the gliders steadily climbing.

Mind you, I got new lenses on my prescription sunglasses before I left; I’m an honest 20/20 when I’m flying. It’s just that some people are part eagle and leave the rest of us in the dust. And it sure is nice to be their teammate!

The clouds got more and more spread-out as we headed east. The Tisa River valley actually was as advertised; somewhat weaker than the surrounding areas. We had to dig out from around 600 meters over a town and finagled our way deeper into the sector. Noah had final glide on me earlier and headed on a bit deeper and I cut the corner. We had a great run into the final steering turn and on to home.

Along the way, my GPS briefly died as I was approaching the steering turn on the final glide. This was rather annoying as I couldn’t see if I hit the little sector! And when it went back on, I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I hit it or missed the edge. I had enough doubt about whether I hit it and whether the penalty would be an official “warning” that I said heck with it and turned around to go through it a second time for good measure. This is why there was a little 2 km jog in my track.

The issue was totally resolved after landing. This is why we have practice days; to iron out the kinks. I will also have the borrowed Nano 3 have a task next time to use as a backup if this happens again.

After we landed, we were amused that our crews were not on the airfield. It turned out that they were watching the OGN Flarm tracking. They saw us screaming around the course, but the tracking was delayed 15 minutes on the website. They were really surprised when Noah called in that he was standing by the trailer, when they saw us on “final glide” heading back! We had a big laugh and it was a lesson learned for the competition.

All in all, a very successful day. Noah came in 2nd for the day and I came in 7th, 51 points behind the winner. Noah was very happy to be second as it is considered bad voodoo in the US to win a practice day. As a result, we couldn’t hope to do much better!

After getting the gliders put away, we went out to dinner and spent the evening getting more supplies and sorting out equipment. It has been a constant effort all the way through 10:30pm, when I sat down and looked through the photos and started working on this report. The flying is the “easy part” of the day, at least right now as we are getting ramped up and ready to go. We’re almost there!

Among other news, Mike Marshall landed out today. He struggled to get away for a while and was having a great day when he finally did. But then the conditions down-cycled over the high ground and it got really tricky. He made a safe landing in a beautiful field and got retrieved by his crew.

Since we had the same task today, Noah and I relayed information about the conditions on course. Having a contestant in another class is a new experience for me as the last two worlds the US only fielded a Club Class team. We are working on ways to see how we could help Mike, both in the air and on the ground.

JP is arriving tomorrow. Also, the gliders are getting “scrutineered” in the evening. This is to say that they will go through a contest inspection to make them officially registered in the contest and ready to go. Between getting JP up to speed and getting our gliders completely ready to go, we will probably stay local again and fiddle rather than go for the task. Everything is coming together!

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See our results here.

See my flight log here.

07-23-19 | And We’re Flying!

Everything is coming together. The gliders, crews, and equipment are all trickling in. Today, Noah and I had our ships together and had very nice flights. Our goal today was to have a low stress equipment check out. We hadn’t flown these ships before and haven’t used their avionics. We wanted to see how they flew and work out the kinks before attempting a cross-country task.

Luke and I got out to the airport early and worked out getting M8, my LS4a together. I took a step back and let him work through the whole process, offering guidance only when he requested it. He’s a really sharp fellow and is learning quickly. He’s doubly motivated because he will be flying the Aero Club Albatross LS4 soon; learning all the ins and outs of this ship will serve him very well.

Checklist completed, we headed on over to the pilot’s briefing. Notice the word briefing as opposed to meeting. In the Worlds, they have a short presentation on the local procedures, weather and contest announcements. There are no questions allowed from the audience. If a contestant has a complaint or a request for the organization, he must let his team captain know, who then follows up with the Contest Director (CD) or Stewards accordingly. All the contestants have crews and they are expected to do all the ground handling; the organization does not run wings or anything like that. It’s a different and much more professional environment than a typical regional or even a Nationals in the US.

In any case, the briefing today was relatively low key as it was an Unofficial Training Day. They set a task, despite the sullen-looking sky outside. But the CD was optimistic and figured that the soaring conditions should improve in the afternoon. The forecast indicated very unstable air; any sun on the ground and the thermals would cook off in no time. Noah and I were indifferent; all we cared about was to get in the air for a short flight and test out our systems.

We got to the grid by noon and had the ships all ready to go. The overcast burned off and the sun peeked out; looked like a pretty decent day after all!

We relaxed for a while. The day took a little while to trigger. By 12:45pm, the towplanes roared into action. The towplanes at this contest are an eclectic bunch. A Pawnee, 182, Zlin, Virus motorglider and several other types. Hardly more than two of the same airplane!

The Zlin was my towplane today. What an interesting machine! This is the first retractable-gear towplane that I had ever towed behind. It climbed quite well up to release altitude. The procedure in the Worlds is that a pilot must stay on tow until the towplane waves them off; you can’t just release in a thermal like you can back in the States. But this particular wave off was even more special as the towplane drops the gear as it starts vigorously waggling its wings!

In any case, Noah and I were quickly connected after release in good lift. I was very quickly impressed with my LS4. The radio was outstanding. I could hear Noah very very very clearly and loudly. I cannot overstate what a blessing this is. I’ve had to deal with subpar radios and microphones in team flying for a very long time. Very often you will say, “Unreadable” or “Say Again”. When you get tired and your diction starts falling apart, it gets even worse. But these radios work! And man what a relief this is.

These LS4s climb very very well. We were able to get them as slow as 80 km/h in the thermals, though they were happy at 85 km/h in a 40 degree bank. This is ~46 knots or so. They are in great shape and fly very well. Noah and I several times stated, “Did I mention that this is a really nice glider!” We were really happy with how these ships were flying.

We weren’t ambitious with our soaring plans today. We headed into the 23 knot headwind and explored the area. The terrain is mostly flat, with short to moderate length fields. The thermals were actually quite reasonable; fairly wide lift around four knot averages or so. Some of the cores were well into 7-8 knots. The airport is situated right next to Szeged, a fairly large city. This also makes it easy to stay up in this area as all the infrastructure is good for generating thermals.

To the west, there is higher, drier and more wooded terrain. The lift was fairly decent there, although the day started to overdevelop. Our near nil motivation to get out of gliding distance evaporated at that point and we headed closer to the airport.

When we went east of the airport, we found nearly dead air. This area is low ground near the Tisa River. The river valleys here are softer lift areas and this showed. We headed back to Szeged as the day started to collapse.

While we floated around near the airport, I tested out the manual bugwipers. They are a pain in the butt! They deploy by extending a fishing line as they sweep across the wing. Then you crank a little knob for about 90 seconds as it sweeps back to the wingroot. It is fairly vigorous work and required quite a bit of attention, at least on my part. I felt that it was a lot more trouble than it was worth, at least with the dry and non-buggy air that we were flying in. It seems a reasonable bet to clean the wings before start while milling around in the start sector and perhaps before final glide if possible. But I can’t imagine doing it the 4 or 5 times that people recommend to do during the course. It seems that the amount of time needed to do it is too distracting and would burn up that much more energy (in the glider and in the pilot) than can be gained from using these devices. But we will see!

In any case, we headed back after a leisurely 2.5 hours in the sky. We made a list of little items to address to be 100 percent contest ready and are well on our way toward knocking off those items. We’re in great shape and looking forward to flying tomorrow!

Among other news, Jonathan Elie arrived with JP Stewart’s glider. We are all anxiously awaiting the arrival of our teammate and we will soon be a complete team!

Find my flight log here.

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07-22-19 | Cruising Along

Luke and I are now in Hungary, humming along the highway, trailer in tow. Nothing really exciting to report; we made it into Vienna yesterday and will be arriving in Szeged soon.

Luke is doing a fantastic job! He’s gotten the hang of driving with the trailer and is a real pro now. It is a pleasant surprise getting to sit in the right seat of a car with a trailer while on a long cross country trip. I could get used to this!

We are now a little less than 3 hours away from the airport. Most of the team is already there, including John Good, Akos (our Hungarian crew), Mike Marshall and his crew and Noah with Jake. Looking forward to the good company!