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Logan Contest - Day 4

My flight trace is here

Scoresheet is here

Today was predicted to be a day of high, moderate thermals with a decent amount of westerly wind...  In short: A good "Logan" day.  It turned out to be somewhat better than I expected, and made for a very fun task!

We were assigned a task that ran up to Afton, WY (with a 20 mile circle), then down to Cokeville (also with a 20 mile circle), then on to Sedgewick Peak (with a 30 mile circle).  This gave us a lot of different possible paths and a huge variance in possible distances to travel, setting up a lot of strategic decisions.  Luckily, Tim Taylor continued to share his extensive local knowledge; and Peter Alexander also helped point out a few critical items to me...  One of the great things about soaring is that experienced competition pilots don't try to hoard their knowledge - they share it and really help out newer pilots like myself.  It is very much appreciated!

Things started off pretty straightforward with my flight.  I managed to climb up out the top of the start cylinder (12000 feet) and proceed up north.  The ridge didn't seem to be working well when I tried it before my official start; so despite my earlier vocal musings with other pilots about running the ridges down low, I decided to treat the day like I would in Ephrata - bouncing rapidly between the strongest thermals I could find, and watching the winds to see if thermals were "streeting" at all in lines that I could use.  It turned out to be a strategy that worked, as I won the day in my class - huzzah!  After taking 7th the day before, it was a big relief! Bruno and Adam did well again (4th and 3rd, respectively); and HoUdino took second on the day in his PIK-20D... nicely done!

The flight itself didn't have too many interesting or scary moments - I basically cruised at about 80 knots between thermals, and tried not to take anything that was weaker than 6 knots up.  The clouds were not abundant, and they were cycling quickly, so you had to really think about the distances between thermals and plan ahead a bit.  But they were also spaced nicely and they worked reliably (in addition to some "blue lift" on occasion), so I never felt worried about falling down low.  After my first few thermals I established that the 11000 to 13000 foot band of altitudes seemed to work well; and later on cloudbases rose and thermals stayed strong up to 14000 or even 15000 feet.  

The terrain at the corner of Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho is both beautiful and severe!  It was interesting to look down on, and it also had important effects on the lift - so care was taken to avoid certain areas or to directly overfly specific points (especially high-ground and sun-facing ridges, even though I wasn't "ridge-soaring").

The first leg was fun because Bruno Vassel (the previous day's winner and another relative newcomer to competition) and I started at about the same time.  We had no intentions of following or "leeching" off of each other, but we both evaluated the day in almost the same manner, and that led us to the same part of the sky repeatedly... It was fun to head out on slightly different courses or different times, only to rejoin at the next thermal!

The last leg was the only nail-biting section of the flight:  I was going to be under-time, but the area near Sedgewick Peak was blue (no clouds), and the thermals nearby were weaker than what I'd encountered earlier in the flight.  So I took a few turns in 2 weak thermals to ensure that I had final-glide home to Logan, and headed south.  Unfortunately, my flight computer only calculates wind when I'm circling; and the winds down low were out of the south!  I and my computer both though I was flying across the wind; but in reality I was flying straight into a 10+mph headwind!  This caused all of my glide calculations to be wrong... I headed for home from 33 miles out at 85 knots - with the computer telling me I'd arrive at Logan about 500 feet above the minimum finish altitude.  When that bled away I dialed the speed back to 80 knots, re-establishing a 300 foot margin.  When that bled away, I started to get nervous!  I was now looking at my altimeter and furrowing my brow heavily.  My glider should fly about 31:1 at 80 knots.  Instead I was seeing 22:1!!  I dialed the speed back even more, to 65 knots... then a few miles out, down to 60 knots.  I did a lot of quick mental math as the miles ticked down and the altimeter kept unwinding.  I was sweating bullets the last mile - I knew I was under-time and I didn't want a low-altitude penalty in addition to the time issue!  I finally crossed the finish circle with a whopping 60 feet to spare, let out a huge sigh of relief, and made an immediate landing!

After that, gliders began returning to the airport and I ducked out to help retrieve Kerry; who'd also gotten smacked down on the way home.  He landed just 6 miles from the airport; argh!  But to his credit, he made a safe and wise landing; rather than trying to skim rooftops and trees to make it home (and quite probably having an accident).  Kerry and I disassembled his glider in the field while the farmer's wife and pre-teen daughter looked on in amazement.  The girl was all kinds of curious and energetic; and had fun posing in the cockpit for a few photos.  Once we got back to the airport, we headed over to the Thai restaurant in town and joined up with about 16 other pilots and family members for a huge dinner and detailed recountings of the days' adventures.  The shared passion and joy among glider-guiders (and their patient spouses) is always a treat!  

It sad that there are only two days left in this contest - I intend to push hard in the air, but savor the time on the ground with these people and this amazing place!

--Noel

Posted: 7/23/2010 By: Noel Wade


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