This site is best viewed in a modern browser (Chrome 10+, Firefox 3.5+, IE 8+, Safari 4+).
How to Prepare and Fly Your First Contest
How to Prepare for and Fly your First Contest By Hank Nixon
This will be a short article about how to get ready to fly in your first (or first few) contests. It is focused not on how to win, but on how to avoid many of the most common mistakes made by beginners. My objective is to guide you to a safe and rewarding result. That means having fun! Winning can come later.
Glider: The type is not important entering in the Sports Class, which is handicapped by glider performance. Anybody can play. Understand, however, that tasking is based on the middle of the handicap range, so lower performance gliders can be really challenged on weak or windy days. It should be a glider you are very familiar with. Racing is enough new without a strange glider.
Make sure it clean and in good basic shape. Add some seals if you know how, and make sure you center of gravity is in the right place. Save the racing preparation for the off season or when you are being held back by the condition of the glider. If the choice is prep or practice - PRACTICE!
Make sure your instruments are leak-free and the total energy system is working well:
Navigation instruments: Modern electronic GPS-based navigation instruments, including displays, are a part of our sport. A graphical display is almost mandatory for effective navigation and to ensure that you avoid forbidden airspace. On a scrimpy budget, this can be as minimal as a $50 PDA running free software. There are many options in this category, but make sure you know how to use what you have.
Flight recorders: Buy or borrow one from a reputable supplier. The rules are fairly liberal, but you need to bring one that is approved. Look at the appendix to the rules for guidance. Know how to download your flight to provide to the scorer at the end of each contest day.
Trailer: It needs to be functional, have working lights, and new tires within the last few years. Tires more than about 5 years old are junk, even if low mileage. Have your registration, any required instructions, and any tools needed in the trailer.
Crew Car: Full-size cars and vans seem to work best, but every combination has been used. See comment above about tires. Have your car serviced before the trip.
- Circle all turn points about 1⁄2-inch diameter (about 4 miles) and color in yellow for contrast. Label each with the turn point number.
- Circle starts about 3/8 " diameter, and mark in orange or blue to differ from turns. Label all.
- Draw dashed-line circles around the finish at 5-mile increments, out to 20 or 25 miles. Highlight for visibility. This helps identify critical obstacle crossings relative to the required height to get home (roughly 5 miles/1000 ft).
- Add retrieve and crew phone numbers on a label.
- Cover with clear contact paper for durability.
Pre-Race Practice and Prep
Before the contest period:
- Study: Read as much as you can. Streckensegelflug by Reichman is a classic. Winning by George Moffat is another. Read the rules and especially the Guide to the Rules.
- Read the Guide to Soaring Competition available by download from the SSA/sailplane racing/rules and process. This will tell you how to do things the right way.
- Fly with the equipment you will race with. Learn how to use it in practice so it is not a distraction at the race.
- Fly as much as you can and fly cross-country every flight, even if not far away. Fly on the poor days. Getting a good flight out of a crummy day is a big confidence builder.
- Go to turn points you haven’t been to. This will help you learn to relate terrain to lift. If you don't need a chart, you probably aren't far enough from home.
- Log your miles - not just hours - keep track of the speeds you make. I score my speeds from release to finish, and always release in first usable lift. This gets me a very realistic idea of achieved speed for the day. It also puts an emphasis on climbing well right away, with no goofing off.
- Fly flights of at least two hours, and preferably 3 to four hours, because this is what you will be doing in the contest. If you are used to flying long flights, they won’t be as intimidating when the CD calls them.
- Try mostly to fly MAT tasks and do not repeat any turn without two others between. Moreover, don’t just try to fly to the next easy place. For a better challenge, task yourself with not repeating any turn. This will force you to figure out how to use the task area.
- Race with other pilots part of the time, but fly by yourself so you can build your independent decision-making skills and confidence. Being worried about flying alone will not make you fly well. Most of the best pilots I know like to fly by themselves a lot.
- End every flight with a final glide back home with the finish at about 800 ft and a mile from home. This is what you will do in the race, so practice it until it becomes familiar.
- Make every landing a precision landing, with a steep approach such as over obstacles, applying proper energy control so you could stop short if needed. Is your wheel brake working?
- Try to have at least 1000 miles of cross-country before your first contest - more is better.
You don’t need a “high dollar” ship like this Ventus to get into sailplane racing. Handicap ratings for gliders in the Sports Class make a variety of sailplanes eligible and competitive. Photo by Frank Toriello
The Contest Practice Period
Take advantage of the full period of contest practice time. You need to learn the area and get up to your best natural skill level.
- Find a mentor who is experienced and ask for help in becoming familiar with the area. Try to do as much of this as possible during the practice period when it is less distracting to your mentor. Most well-known pilots will be willing to give you a hand. Just introduce yourself and ask. If not sure who to ask, introduce yourself to the competition director and ask for a suggestion. Remember to ask your mentor when is a good time to get this help.
- Try to see as much of the contest area as you can, with emphasis on places known from history to be popular.
- Fly final glides from as many directions as possible to learn what the viewing angles look like, and especially what the fields look like in case the final glide should go wrong. • Drive out to those fields you picked from the air and see how good they really are.
- Fly contest-length tasks each day, but don’t wear yourself out. The last practice day should be a bit shorter so you can rest up and be fresh for Contest Day 1.
- This is also a good time to get yourself and your crew working together as a team. Make sure your crew has learned about local retrieve information and procedures.
How do we accomplish these goals? Here are some hints:
- Read the Rules, and NOT the night before the race. You can avoid many dumb mistakes by doing your homework. This especially applies to airspace regulations, where breaking the rules has very harsh penalties.
- Pay close attention at pilots' meetings. Those folks are not talking just to vent excess air pressure. Take notes.
- Be early for meetings and gridding so you are not rushed. Rushed is stupid.
- Perform your critical assembly check with a selected helper. It is easy to get out of routine when in a new environment.
- Finish your checklist early without distraction. Many accidents are due to rushed, interrupted, or forgotten check lists. This is an easy mistake to avoid.
- Arrange an agreeable time for your mentor to spend a few minutes reviewing his sense of how the weather is shaping up, where might be the places to go if a pilot-selected task is assigned, and answer questions you may have.
- Fly much like you do at home. Trying to make big changes in your style doesn’t work. Fine-tune your flying skills as you get experience.
Start a bit early. George Moffatt will tell you this is not the way to maximize your score, but it does improve your chances of finishing the task — especially if the weather turns poorer — which it does more often than you think. It also gives you an option to fly longer on timed tasks, giving you a way to dilute the effects of a mistake like getting low. Later, when you get more experience, you can start to be more aggressive with starts.
Thermalling is obviously an important skill. Most pilots don't circle tightly enough, and or do so at excessive speeds. Slow speed means small circles. You must fit in with the other gliders in a gaggle. The following are some tips:
- Enter gently from the outside to join on a tangent to the established circle. No big hairy pull ups into the “core. "
- Match your turn rate with the other gliders. If they are catching you, tighten up. If you are catching up with them, you need to open up.
- Watch for re-centering. It is likely to happen as much as every circle. Try to sort re-centering from aimless wandering by others.
- Do not fly directly over or under another glider if at all close in height.
- There should be no diving through the core on exit, even if you think you are alone. You may have a shadow you don't see. A smooth, accelerating exit will do just fine.
- Look around a lot and NOT just to inside of the circle.
Stay High. Try to find the height band where the lift is reliable — not necessarily strongest — and stay in this band. This avoids costly lost time down low, and minimizes the likelihood of landing out. Deviate a lot for good-looking clouds; 30 degrees commonly is worthwhile to get better lift and line up more continuous lift. Fly the wind line whenever possible to take advantage of cloud streets. It is just as important to do this on blue days also, just harder. This is very significant on MAT tasks, where you may be selecting where to go next. Try to fly upwind and downwind as much as possible. It pays to think one or two turns ahead if you can. Fly with other gliders when appropriate, like on blue days, but don’t get fixated on this. Be your own pilot. Avoid the temptation to turn short in the first turn of an area task - you may box yourself in later with not enough room in the last cylinder. Fly your final glides conservatively-about 25:1 (5 miles/1000ft) for Club Class, and not much more for modern gliders. This will waste some time, but ensure that you get home for speed points and avoid problems and safety issues with blown final glides. As you get more experience, you can gradually refine your final glides. There are many points to be made with well-flown final glides, especially when the lift is weak, but the risks rise faster than the rewards, particularly for beginners.
If you blow the final glide, quit soon enough to use one of those fields you found in practice safely. If you can’t make the finish cylinder, but have enough safety height to make the field, accept the fact and start planning a safe pattern and landing. The danger point is too low for a proper pattern, and too high for a direct landing. This is pretty obvious in the last couple miles if you are looking for it. If in doubt, bail out to a safely executed landing off the airport. Remember, under current rules, if you don’t finish above the minimum finish height, you are earning distance points only, so there is no incentive to take excess risk.
My term: After a save — or finishing — it is natural to relax. When you relax after stress, your body goes into recovery mode, and your decision-making skills drop way off. Don't relax until the glider is stopped and is off the runway. Turn in your flight documentation promptly. This gives you time if you have a problem, makes a friend out of the scorer, and lets the organizers know you are back safe.
We said we were not going to do this, but guess what? We all do sometimes. An important process here, in my view, is compartmentalizing. By this I mean to have a firm point where you STOP SOARING AND START LANDING. You must not violate this. Most contest landing accidents are a result of breaking this rule; the exception is damage from field surface condition that can’t be seen. Write those off to bad luck, but understand that most of those incidents are pretty minor. I’ll leave off field landings for another time as the topic is way too big for now. When making a save, if you haven’t been able to get up and going for the last 10 or 15 minutes, what makes you think you can get away from 400 feet? So give up on soaring, and get to your best game to make a safe landing. A call over the radio simply announcing you are landing near XYZ is a good idea, followed by turning the radio off to avoid distraction. A call after landing like, “Bunky Bozo down safe” is a good practice also.
This is an important element in improving. Ask the opinions of those you respect about what you did right and what needed improvement. Use your mentor. Try to differentiate honestly between good performance and good luck - and the opposite. You can have what is a very good flight for you, yet not score all that well.
Sailplane racing is a lot of fun, even more so when you start to master it. The people in racing are second-to-none. For many of us this is our second family. Come on in and join the fun.
About the author: Hank Nixon has been a frequent soaring contest participant for several decades, notching at least six wins at Regional contests, and too many podium finishes to mention. He is the current chairperson of the SSA Contest Committee, and has been mentoring new competition pilots for several years.
|The SSA website has additional information of value to new (and experienced) competition pilots. Resources include a complete calendar to all the upcoming contests, online contest registration, complete SSA and FAI contest rules and updates, contest forms, contest scoring programs, turn-point information, pilot rankings, Sport Class Handicaps, the contest number application process and more. It’s all available by clicking the Sailplane Racing button on the SSA’s homepage: www.saa.org|
WGC 2012 Uvalde
By Gena Tabery WGC 2012 Uvalde: Legendär/Legend Air Photos by Paul Remde Like many, I traveled to Uvalde, Texas on Highway 90, the longest east-west highway in the United States, towing a glider trailer while following another trailer in front of me. All was fine with our caravan until we arrived at a Border Patrol blockade about 20 miles outside of Uvalde on Highway 90. Border Patrol agents had re-routed all traffic onto a Farm to Market road that was wide enough for one-way traffic, but not for a highway’s worth of eighteen-wheelers and glider trailers. To accommodate oncoming traffic, everyone had at least two wheels in the dirt, kicking up a storm of red dust. One ought not to have been allowed to drive in that dust cloud without an instrument rating. A harbinger of things to come: one of the driest and dustiest contests in anyone’s memory.
When we finally completed our trip into the Dust Bowl and arrived back at Highway 90, there was another group of Border Patrol cars and officers, carefully examining the cars of a slow-moving train. Shortly afterwards, we arrived at a billboard with the incongruous proclamation, “Uvalde Welcomes the World,” with a gorgeous photo of a glider in flight.
In contrast to the Border Patrol, the town of Uvalde, Texas (population 15,828) went all out to welcome the international community. The longest north-south highway in the United States, US 83, intersects US 90 at the town square, where these highways are called, respectively, Getty and Main. All up and down both Getty and Main sat businesses posting signs of proud sponsors of the 2012 World Gliding Championship. Each business not only had a sign but also flew the flag of that country. Julien’s clothing store sponsored the German team; on one side of it Huntson Clothing Company flew the Austrian flag and on the other, Mi Vida flew the flag of Belgium. The Uvalde Chamber of Commerce flew an Italian flag, and closer to the airfield, the Uvalde Memorial Hospital sponsored the Lithuanian team. Operations from Cassal’s Package Store, to the County of Uvalde, to the Uvalde Leader News, to Country Garden and Seed sponsored and entertained teams from different countries. Dudley’s Ranch House Furniture threw a party for the French on Day 10, which turned out to be a late day at the field. “my buddy and I grilled 30 rib eye steaks at 10:00 at night,” said owner Dudley Ilse. “Afterwards, we played a little guitar and sang for them. They seemed to like it.”
Those of us who have been to coming to Uvalde for years (if not decades) appreciate how much effort went into readying the airport and surrounding grounds for this World Championship. The tie-down field, which often vacillates between dust bowl and mud pit, was green, with more grass than stickers, few mesquite thorns, and ant mounds clearly flagged. There were many spigots for water and there was ample room in the tie-down area for open class ships, which sometimes have trouble maneuvering their big wings around other gliders and trailers. And next to the road, under neatly trimmed mesquite trees, were hopeful wooden picnic tables.
While teams were split according to class, within each class, country pilots were grouped together. Several put up large tents, and a few had swimming pools where a crew could hang out in the shade during the heat of the day, next to empty trailers. French, German, and Belgian crew were spotted floating in hotel swimming pools in daring bathing suits, but U.S., South African, and Australian crew, for whom the sun is not a novelty, tended to head for their electronic devices in darkened, air-conditioned hotel rooms.
Hotels struggled to accommodate the soaring visitors, who operate according to a different schedule. Many participants preferred to ready their ships by the dawn’s early light, which made breakfast problematic. The hotel breakfasts were often not ready before pilots and crews left at 6:30, but then again, what was available was gone before they returned. And the food: it seems Europeans prefer yogurt, fruit, granola, and wheat bread to bacon, eggs, and waffles. To one request for more variety in breakfast offerings, the hotel manager responded, “I am already ordering ten extra crates of yogurt and fruit. You guys are, like, super healthy.” To which a Belgian crew member replied, “We are all sportif.”
Many Uvalde citizens opened their homes to competitors, who stayed for three to four weeks, enjoying their inside peeks at truly Texas houses. One night we saw one such group – pilot and family alongside local family – having their pictures taken together at a steakhouse called “Lunker Peabuckets.” On the wall above them, the flat-screen television showed beach volleyball players competing at the London Olympics.
In Texas, a world competition of a distinctive type was taking off , in a very different climate. As Uvalde began to set record high temperatures (106 on several consecutive days), security at this World Competition began to heat up, as well. Every official pilot and crew car needed a parking sticker to enter the tie-down area. Every glider pilot and crew member had a badge with a photo, and on the back of the badges was this explanation, in case of a landout: “I am participating in the World Gliding Championships in Uvalde . . . Unfortunately, I have landed my glider here and may need your help. My crew will need to bring a trailer to retrieve me and the glider.” British Open Class pilot Peter Harvey remembered landing once in rural southern United States and discovering that he, and the locals, couldn’t understand each other’s English. He handed over a similar written explanation, but it was useless: his new acquaintances couldn’t read.
On Opening Day, Uvalde Chamber of Commerce threw a colorful parade with floats for each team, decorated and donated by their local sponsors. The German team dressed in cowboy hats, boots, and jeans, the Austrian team in lederhosen, and the Polish team sat on a float displaying the largest bar-b-q cooker anyone had ever seen. The U.S. team rode down Getty Street in long-finned 1950s convertibles, with Shriners in go-karts behind them and the Uvalde High School marching band bringing up the rear.
Sometimes called “The Honey Capital of the World,” Uvalde is known for its honey and honey production. Former U.S. Team Captain and Contest Manager Mark Huffstutler presided over Opening Ceremonies at the Honey Bowl, which included welcomes by Contest Officials and the Mayor of Uvalde. Mr. Huffstutler’s son Conrad Huffstutler flew over the stadium in a P51 Mustang. “the challenge of the day will be getting Conrad to stop,” said Mr. Huffstutler.
Afterwards, pilots and crews took advantage of the free afternoon to visit local attractions. Surrounded by ranch land, Uvalde is a major hunting center. Shopping downtown, some participants discovered Texas Cedar Oil, a local delicacy, which at first glance appeared to be a lovely way to refresh your cedar closet and keep moths away from your fine woolens. Closer inspection revealed the fine print on the business card: “Looking for a fresh alternative to traditional scent camo? Successful hunts without smelling like urine.”
On August 5, the first official day of the contest, 21 of the 24 countries represented had flags flying from poles placed in a semi-circle in front of the competition headquarters. The big tent stood ready, stocked with snow cones, honey, soft drinks, beer, and bar-b-q, as well as, of course, t-shirts, caps, and bumper stickers, courtesy of Uvalde vendors and the Soaring Society of America. To the side of the tent, a deflated bouncy house lay waiting for start up.
As pilots and crew gathered in the Southwest Texas Junior College gymnasium for the daily pilot meeting, music played in the background. “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane,” selections from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” and “Spirit in the Sky,” set the tone for the day. But when, each day like clockwork, the loudspeakers played Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” it was time to begin pilot meeting. Ken Sorenson, Director of the Championships, began every meeting with introductions of visiting or local dignitaries, contest staff , or contest volunteers. Championship Manager Linda Murray and Assistant Championship Manager Kerry Huffstutler made necessary announcements. Chief Steward Dick Bradley offered sage advice on contest deportment and safety. WGC Medical Director Dr. Hartley Falbaum reminded pilots of the effects fatigue and dehydration could have on decision making. And then Chief Meteorologist Dan Gudgel gave his customary detailed and technical weather briefing, with Assistant Meteorologist Walt Rogers. Finally, Assistant Director of the Championships and Task Setter John Good announced the daily tasks, and pilots headed off to team meetings.
Day 1 was a day of ambitious tasks: 554 km for the 18-Meter class, 577 km for the 15-Meter, and 630 km for the Open Class. A couple of weather issues seemed worrisome: a disturbance in the Gulf seemed to be moving southwest toward the contest area and the usual afternoon sea breeze front. These potential troublemakers were particularly daunting for the Open Class, whose last turnpoint was Yancy, in the southeastern part of the task area. In the 15-Meter class, 27 of 37 pilots, or 70%, finished; for 18-Meter, it was 33 of 35, or 90% who finished. However, in the Open Class, only nine of 26 pilots made it back to Uvalde – just 35%. U.S. Pilot Ron Tabery (SS) flew 588 km of the 688 km task to finish in 13th; his teammate Dick Butler flew 559.8 km before flying back to land at Hondo, finishing in 23rd place. Not an auspicious start for the U.S. team.
Day 2 was again a racing task: 626 km for Open Class, 579 for 18-Meter, and 549 for 15-Meter. 18-Meter pilot Zibgniew Nieradka (LM) achieved the fastest speed of the day at 147.5 km/h, just above Open Class’s Peter Harvey (CA), at 147.4 km/h. Looking at speeds up to 91 mph, Mr. Sorenson joked that the task might have been too short.
Day 3 speeds were even faster than Day 2, with 600-700 km tasks. U.S. Open Class pilot Dick Butler (DB) won the day in his new Concordia with a speed of 154.2km/h or nearly 96 mph, over 714.8 km. Concurrent with the WGC, the research organization Organisation Scientifique et Technique Internationale du Vol a` Voile (OSTIV) was holding its biennial conference, and OSTIV President Loek Boermans was present at the pilots meeting. So, too, were German engineers Gerhard Waibel and Christian Streifeneder. All had worked with Butler for the past eight years on the design and fabrication of this ship and clearly enjoyed witnessing this historic win.
Tasks on Day 4 were Assigned Area Tasks, with another 700+km for theOpen Class, which Peter Harvey (CA) completed at 152.3 km/h or 94.6 mph. 18-Meter pilot Mike Young (57) flew 149.9 km/h (93.1 mph) and the 15-Meter winner Sebastian Kawa flew 144 km/h (89.5 mph). It was, according to Mr. Gudgel, “the best Uvalde has to offer.” For 15-Meter pilot John Seaborn, it was the worst Uvalde had to offer, and a heartbreaker, since, due to programming for a 10km start circle radius instead of the 10k start line; he missed the start by 1.28 km and received no points for the day.
Some pilots considered Day 5 a flying rest day, considering the brevity of the Assigned Area tasks. With afternoon storms threatening Uvalde, task setters established a finish ring of 15 km with a minimum finish of 3,000 ft MSL, so that pilots could safely finish away from the airport, if necessary. If the lengths of the task were unimpressive, the speeds surpassed everyone’s expectations. Director of the Championships Ken Sorenson characterized them as “blistering.” Michael Sommer’s (EB) speed of 159.2 km/h (98.92 mph) was the fastest of the contest up to that point, but it would end up second fastest overall.
Altitudes were also exceptionally high. Those who fly Uvalde often are accustomed to reaching 7,000’ or perhaps 8,000’ on a good day. A 9,000’ day is an anomaly. On Day 5, 11,000’ was not unusual, and some reported going as high as 13,000’. Pilots who seldom even bring oxygen to Uvalde found themselves not only installing it in their cockpits, but using it.
Contest organizers established a few customs for honoring winners at the daily Pilot Meeting. Pilots are seated at tables according to their team country. The team table for the winner of each class sports a flag corresponding to the color of the winner’s task sheet: Green for Open Class, Yellow for 18-Meter, and Blue for 15-Meter. The color-coding, something that Assistant Championship Manager Kerry Huffstutler instituted many years ago, is more than a convenience – it is an important safety measure that assures that no pilot will walk away unawares with the wrong task sheet. In addition to turnpoints or turn areas and task times, task sheets included a map of the task and a comprehensive weather analysis on the flip side.
On Day 6, both Loek Boermans and Gerhard Waibel came to the launch to see U.S. Open Class pilot Dick Butler off . Mrs. Tilly Waibel raised both fists above her head as the plane lifted off the taxiway, while Loek and Gerhard laughed and mimicked the droopy uplifted goony-bird wings of this 28-meter wingspan marvel.
The tasks for Day 6 were, once again, ambitious. For the second time, the Open Class task exceeded 700 km. However, weather for Day 6 fell under one of two headings: Severe Storm or Blue. Pilots’ descriptions of it ranged from “interesting” to “terrifying” to “ghastly.” As a result of what Mr. Gudgel described as a “smile” of a front reaching completely across the state, all three classes had the potential of facing storms in the Hill Country. For 15-Meter and Open Class it was Fredricksburg (Turnpoint 3 for 15-Meter, Turnpoint 2 for Open Class), and for the 18-Meter Class, it was the second turn at Kerrville, just 25 miles from Fredricksburg. The few pilots who reached that second or third turnpoints early escaped most of the drama, which included multiple simultaneous lightning strikes, strong winds, pounding rain, dark skies, and finally, a wall of storm. Rain shredded tape and tore off yaw strings, but most of the damage seemed to be fixable. Mr. Gudgel said thunderstorm tops reached 53,000 feet, releasing energy equivalent to an atomic bomb.
From that maelstrom, pilots flew south to cloudless skies and tried their best to make it home to Uvalde, which was under a tornado watch. Nearly 80% of the 18-Meter class made it home, 70% of the 15-Meter, and 65% of the Open Class. Several pilots landed just before sunset.
Open Class pilot Petr Krejcirik (RX) of the Czech Republic had some trouble trying to self-launch. Unaware that his dive breaks were open, he found himself unable to get off the ground. He taxied off the end of the runway into a ditch and damaged the gear box. He did not fly that day or for the rest of the contest.
The maximum speed of the competition was set on Day 7, when Open Class pilot Peter Harvey of Great Britain (CA) flew 553.4 km on an area task at the average speed of 161 km/h, or 100 mph. That speed had been achieved once before at Uvalde – by Ron Tabery, at the 2011 Pre- World competition. It was also a good day for U.S. 15-Meter pilot John Seaborn (A8), who finished in 9th place at 142.1 km/h (88.29 mph) over 483 km.
Weather in Uvalde is consistent enough that organizers scheduled a rest day for Sunday, August 12. De-facto Entertainment Chair Kerry Huffstutler and her Team Uvalde – notably Nancy Feeley – really blew contest amenities out of the water by providing tubing on a crystal clear, cypress-rimmed Rio Frio river, which deposited swimmers at a Mexican Fiesta, complete with plenty of Mexican food, cold beverages, a Mariachiband, pinatas, a Country-Western band for dancing, a pool for the little ones, and transportation to and fro.
While many contestants and their families were floating down the river in colorful tubes, Wally Scott, Jr. and Gary Evans were soaring the rather blue skies of Uvalde. Mr. Evans had a new ASH- 25 which was stuck at customs, so Mark Huff stutler lent him his -25 so that he could familiarize himself with the ship. Mr. Scott reported that in these mostly blue skies, they flew to 7,000’ with lift of 6 or 7 knots. Where but Uvalde could you schedule a rest day and be glad of its mediocre weather – weather that anywhere else would be considered pretty good soaring?
Day 8 was fluky from the beginning. Before weighing had even begun, volunteers Mark, Sophia, and Austin Keene had found two snakes, both of which appeared to be rattlesnakes, but only one of which was. Austin Keene walked away with rattles cut from the pit viper, and no one was bitten. At the same time, reports began to filter over to the scales from headquarters that there was no power there, a description that belied the personalities and personnel of WGC Uvalde 2012. Power abounded, but that morning, there was a deficit of electricity.
Mr. Sorenson conducted an intelligible pilot meeting without microphones or computers, continuing with team introductions. Great Britain’s team captain Philip Sturley earned a loud round of applause for filling the gymnasium with his booming voice. Mr. Gudgel delivered an impeccable and unabridged report without the aid of maps or notes, divulging that Saturday’s temperature of 106 (F) in several cities had set new records for that day in southwest Texas. The continued heating allowed conflict between north and south Texas, with a moisture boundary slipping southward, creating a definitive thunderstorm threat to the north.
Chief Steward Dick Bradley reminded pilots and crew of a different kind of line: the fine line between an incident and an accident. As the competition progresses, he warned, competitors tend to relax. “You are compromised by familiarity,” Mr. Bradley counseled all present, “Please maintain your safety margin. Don’t drop your vigilance.”
It was a day to be vigilant, with thunderstorms visible to the north at the launch. However, skies to the south, where the tasking was, looked good, and Mr. Sorenson worried about an undercall. All three classes had Assigned Area Tasks to the south, with 2:30 minimum time in Open Class and 18- Meter classes, and 2:15 minimum time for the 15-Meter class. Launching all three classes in one hour and nine minutes, ground crew and tow pilots established a new record for this competition.
Although thunderstorms and even lightning strikes remained visible throughout the day and at landing, the storms never quite reached Uvalde. What Mr. Gudgel called a “gust front cloud ring” set off a gust front that caused winds – and hence landing – to shift from south to north at 5:30 p.m., midway through landings. But the front did not have the high winds one might have expected. And while pilots flew high and forcefully, the short tasks resulted in devalued days for all three classes. Open Class high score was 854 points, 18-Meter 849 points, and 15-Meter only 759 points.
Day 9 was a day of long distances and fast speeds. Germany’s Open Class Michael Sommer’s (EB) speed of 157 km/h (97.5 mph) was the third fastest of the contest. Open Class pilots Dick Butler (DB) and Ron Tabery (SS) finished 10th and 11th for the day on this 633 km racing task.
Three tasks for the WGC 2012 exceeded 700 km, and three more were between 600 km and 700 km. Speeds and distances like these are what have endeared Uvalde to Americans and made it legendary in Europe. The first glider competition I attended was the 1999 WGC in Bayreuth, Germany. When Europeans found out I was from Austin, Texas, the question they always asked was, “Is that anywhere near Uvalde?”
Although there were some exceptionally good moments on Day 9, it was also a day full of holes into which one could step. Day 10 was forecasted to be windy, dry, and blue. Windy it was: while one of the line crews amused himself by jumping on a pogo stick, a pilot observed that his vertical jumps were not much higher than those of the wingtips bouncing in the breeze. It was windy enough on the ground to shroud the grid in a continuous cloud of dust. John Seaborn (A8) finished 12th for the day in 15-Meter, and 18-Meter pilot Gary Ittner (P7) was 14th. For Open Class winner Oscar Goudrian (OG) of South Africa, Day 10 turned out to be the slowest winning day of this race, at 134.5 km/h, or 83.6 mph. The fastest speed of the day went to Australia’s 18-Meter pilot, David Jansen (4D), at 141.2 km/h, or 87.7 mph.
As for Day 11, it was another day, another polygonal task. Task-calling at this contest featured large numbers of turnpoints, short legs, and acute angles. The contest area was somewhat limited Monday through Friday by restricted military space immediately west of Uvalde. Deputy Director and Task Director John Good explained that he wanted to make use of as much of the contest area as possible while avoiding out-and-return tasks.
On Day 12, Louis Bourderlique (FB) of France and Peter Hartmann (PC) of Austria, both flying ASG-29s, had a midair collision when Mr. Bourderlique’s wing hit Mr. Hartmann’s. After a steep descent, Mr. Hartmann ejected. A shaken Mr. Bourderlique landed back at the airport. German pilots Suzanne Schoedel (SE) and David Bauder (EI) witnessed the incident and stayed until help arrived. When the emergency response seemed slow in arriving, Mr. Huff stutler sent his helicopter to retrieve Mr. Hartmann. In view of the disadvantage at which Ms. Schoedel and Mr. Bauder had placed themselves, organizers canceled the day for the 15-Meter class. For U.S. Open Class pilots Dick Butler (DB) and Ron Tabery (SS), it was a day to celebrate, as they came in first and second at 157.5 km/h (97.86 mph) and 157.3km/h (97.4 mph) on a 685 km racing task. The difference in time between the two was 16 seconds. It was, according to Mr. Tabery, the only classic Uvalde day of the contest, with overcast (stratus) skies in the morning breaking into good cumulus and 100-mile-long streets later in the day.
Traditionally, the last contest day’s task is shorter than usual, to allow pilots and crew to disassemble and pack planes and get to the final banquet on time. This year’s Day 13 Banquet Task became more of an Appetizer Task, when the minimum time for the area tasks was shortened from 3 hours and 15 minutes to 2 and 1/2 hours. 18-Meter pilot Bill Elliot (WE) finished well on this day in 11th place.
Team Flying Compared to other countries, the U.S. team operates at a disadvantage at Worlds-level contests, because its contest rules specifically forbid team flying. Most U.S. pilots have not flown collaboratively with a teammate until they reach the world competition level, and they cannot adequately benefit from the advantages of sharing information in flight.
This spring, many members of theUnited States Soaring Team met in Chilhowee, Tennessee for a week to work on team-flying strategies, coached by former 15-Meter World Champion Brian Spreckley. The team met again in Uvalde for the informal practice period prior to the official practice week. According to 18-Meter pilot Bill Elliot (WE), the coaching was “extremely helpful.” Said Mr. Elliot, “The first thing Brian Spreckley told us is that you always pay a price for team flying. But the benefit you get is worth it.” Both pilots will do better when they share information. But Mr. Spreckley cautioned, sharing must be specific and informative, not evaluative or influential. Mr. Elliot explained, “You can’t say, ‘Hey, Come over here! I’ve got something great!’ Because what you think is great might be less than what your teammate already has. You have to give specific information – like I’ve got a seven-knotter – and let your teammate make his or her own decision.” Absent from both of those training periods were Open Class pilots Dick Butler and Ron Tabery: Mr. Butler was finishing his Concordia, and Mr. Tabery had work commitments. While the rest of the U.S. team pre-practiced in Uvalde, the Open Class team met in Kerrville, Texas, to work the tough hill-country area away from onlookers eager to catch a glimpse of the Concordia. They also wanted to work on team flying. Both Mr. Butler and Mr. Tabery are known for their individualism, and it was a matter of speculation as to how well they would take to working together as a team. All doubts have been put to rest. “Dick is my mentor,” said Mr. Tabery. “there is no one else in the U.S. I would rather fly with. It helps that we think so similarly.” As for his part, Mr. Butler said, “Ron is one of the best pilots out here. I admire his decision-making greatly.” Taciturn on the radio when flying alone, the Butler- Tabery team astonished their teammates by the amount of consultations and conversation while racing. “Those two are like girls at a prom,” said 15-Meter teammate John Seaborn. At one point, Mr. Butler joked, “I’m afraid our teammates are going to kick us off the U.S. frequency if we keep on talking like we have been.”
Other countries vary greatly in the time spent training for a world championship. The German team is famous for their organization, and before each championship they spend two weeks training in St. Auban. This year they spent additional time in Uvalde prior to the official practice period. However, as it is true for other countries, not every team member can get away from work obligations to attend such extended training. And this year they were flying unfamiliar aircraft. One team member reported that he had flown his new Quintus M exactly twice before it was shipped to the U.S. The whole Australian team flew at Uvalde last year in the Pre-World competition. 18-Meter pilot David Jansen came to Uvalde at the beginning of July and spent the whole month flying here. In contrast, the South African team had no formal training as a team and also had new planes to contend with. Laurens Goudriaan reports having flown his JS-1C four times before arriving in Uvalde. However, that team has the advantage of two sets of brothers who have flown together for years. Similarly, the Belgian team does not train, and they are flying ships they had flown only a few times before this competition.
The British team, also flying new planes, goes through no formal training. “But we are familiar with each other and have flown together before. We fly cooperatively,” says Open Class pilot Peter Harvey. British 18-Meter pilots Russell Cheetham and Mike Young arranged privately to fly for a week together in the spring before coming to Uvalde. The Polish team has no organized training period, but Open Class pilot Wiktor Kozlik reports that at their national competition, they are assigned a partner with whom they will fly at the WGC, and they fly their national competition with that teammate.
The Italian team does not organize a training period for their pilots, but their pilots traditionally have flown all competitions with their teammates. Says Katrin Woetzel of 15-Meter World Champion Stefano Ghiorzio and his teammate Thomas Gostner, “Thomas and Stefano always fly together as a team.” They fly several European competitions before the WGC. “But this year,” said Ms. Woetzel, “so many of our European contests had bad weather and rain, and they could not fly. And the conditions here are so different; the practice was not helpful.”
The French, who appear to have more group cohesion than almost any team on the field, devote at least one week each spring to training at the national center at St. Auban. Other than that, said Open Class pilot Sylvain Gerbaud, “We prepare for competitions by flying competitions.” And when he says flying, he means team flying.
The 2012 WGC highlighted four new Open Class ships, all with exceptionally high wing-loading. At 28 meters tip-totip, Dick Butler’s one-of-a-kind Concordia is the longest of the new planes (at 28.5 meters, Ron Tabery’s modified ASW-SS had the longest wings of any plane at Uvalde). However, while the other new planes featured the same high wing loading, they differed in having gone to shorter wings. In fact, the peak of super-long wings may have been reached by the ETA, which flew at the2003 Lezno, Poland WGC, with a wingspan of 30.9 meters. Tilo Holighaus of Schempp-Hirth noted, “This is the first time for decades that something smaller should be better.”
The Quintus M and the Antares 23- E, 23-meter gliders developed in a joint venture between Lange Aviation and Schempp-Hirth, sport slim wings with high aspect ratio, designed to perform their best at high speeds. Although the Quintus has been in the works for several years, Holighaus said once it was clear that Uvalde would be the site of the next WGC, Schempp-Hirth “concentrated energy” to get the plane ready in time. Holighaus freely admitted to having brought seven “prototypes” to Uvalde, each ready just in time for shipping.
Like the Antares, the South African Jonkers brothers’ JS-1C planes are a logical extension into the Open Class market. With its 21-meter tips, the JS- 1C is the smallest of the new planes. All the new planes continue a fifty-year plus evolution toward higher wing loading. Market desire for smaller gliders, higher wing loading, and anticipation of Uvalde’s famously fast skies seem to have brought three of the four new sailplanes to this WGC, each with significantly shorter wings. After having done well in Texas, it will be interesting to watch the smaller planes in the slightly less ideal skies of Europe. Said engineer Christian Streifeneder, “It is a gamble.”
The 2011 Pre-World Competition in Uvalde helped to make ground operations at the 2012 contest as efficient as those at any WGC. Ground Operations Chief David Coggins, who ran operations last summer, spent three weekends with his crew in Houston making 113 tow ropes. Said Mr. Coggins, “We knew that, according to rules, we’d need a maximum of 120. We had 99 planes in the competition, so we ended up with a few extra, which have come in handy.” Coggins also made seven tow bars for rope retrieval, and a special bar attached to the back of his Suburban for dragging the ropes straight during retrieval and for laying them out in the morning.
The Ground Operations Crew worked not only the generally two-hour, noontime launch shift, but also afternoons getting ready for the next day. After launch was over, they headed over to the two farmers’ fields where the tow planes dropped the ropes. After retrieving all the ropes, they returned to the taxiway and runway to lay out ropes for the next day’s launch. And then they helped with recovery as planes were landing, which on some days lasted until sundown. “We figured we’d just do it all while we’re still hot and sweaty,” said Mr. Coggins. “We sleep in in the mornings, so we’ll be fresh for the launch.”
This contest made the use of eleven tow planes, and arriving at that number involved some arcane complications. Planes towing Open Class gliders can use only Tost tow hooks. Creating tow ropes strong enough for the Open Class ships meant that they were then stronger than the allowed strength for the Schweizer hooks that 18- and 15-Meter gliders use. Ropes for tow planes hauling these gliders required a weak link. Together, these complications meant that towing operations needed to take into account not only which runway needed which plane, but also which runway could accept each plane.
And finally, there were the nine self launching planes, which needed no tow planes at all. In an ideal world, organizers could space the self-launchers between the planes requiring tows, to allow for tow planes launching and landing at even intervals. However, FAI rules require that sequencing of the launch be established by lot. Explained Mr. Sorenson, “We wrote names of countries on slips of paper, and Chief Steward Dick Bradley literally drew them from a hat to establish launch sequence.” The same sequence was used for all three classes, with 2/7 of each class going backwards on the grid each day.
There are no FAI requirements for completing the launch, other than that each class must be launched in one hour. Chief Tow Pilot David Larson said, “We designed launch operations to use the parallel taxiway and runway simultaneously.” At this contest, average launch time per class was about 45 minutes, with the Open Class taking sometimes only 40 minutes. By the end of the contest, with planes launching alternately from the taxiway and runway at one minute intervals, launch was taking as little as 69 minutes.
Mr. Larson said, “The tow strategy at the WGC was to have all powered aircraft going in the same direction, always below 2000’ AGL. Tow planes flew a tow route, rather than randomly following clouds into lift, although some minor deviations were made in order to take advantage of lift.” Over the course of the contest, up to 20 pilots flew tow, coming to Uvalde from as close as Austin, Houston, and Dallas, and as far away as Tennessee, Arizona, Nevada, and Minnesota. Said one pilot, “We have a lot of practice changing tires.” FAA Official Bob O’Hare said of the operations, “We’re impressed.”
Director of the Championships Ken Sorenson said, “I have two statements about this contest that seem to apply to almost every facet: There are a lot of moving parts. And at times, it’s messy.” To keep those moving parts going, Mr. Sorenson met twice daily with Chief Steward Dick Bradley to go over what Mr. Sorenson called Mr. Bradley’s “Squawk List,” issues that needed to be addressed. “He pulls out his notebook from his shirt pocket, and we look at the entries, one by one.”
In addition to the 98 planes from 24 countries, Mr. Sorenson said, “We have over one hundred volunteers who have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to be here. Besides the eighty plus local people on Team Uvalde, we have volunteers from California to Virginia, Florida to Vermont. The tow pilots get paid for their perhaps ten tows daily, but then they spend much of the rest of the day working on a volunteer basis for the contest.”
Each pilot also has a crew; on average about three per plane. At the beginning of the day,—sometimes at dawn—they get the planes ready for staging. Many of the 18- and 15-Meter gliders go into their trailers each night, which means the crew have to assemble them anew each morning. Crews which are not assembling gliders are busy putting in water for ballast, cleaning, installing loggers and GPS, and towing the planes to the weigh stations which each day weighs every plane. Crew and pilots push the planes onto the grid at grid time, and ensure that plane and pilot are ready to launch; with instruments programmedand working properly, water and oxygen installed for the pilots, tracking devices and SPOTs turned on, cell phones off but in the plane, maps and task sheets in the plane, and planes and canopies cleaned. At the end of the day, they recover the planes in a whirlwind of activity – as opposed to the literal whirlwinds that coat those on the ground with fine burnt orange dust, redden their eyes, and make raw their throats. On days ten and eleven, the dust was blowing so furiously, officials stopped launching more than once, because no one could see to fly.
In Alice Munro’s short story, “Runaway,” a character muses on a recent vacation in Greece: “At first I was bewildered. It was so hot. But it’s true about the light. It’s wonderful. And then I figured out what there was to do, and there were just these few simple things but they could fill the day. You walk half a mile down the road to buy some oil and half a mile in the other direction to buy your bread or your wine, and that’s the morning, and you eat some lunch under the trees and after lunch it’s too hot to do anything but close the shutters and lie on your bed and maybe read. At first you read. And then it gets so you don’t even do that. Why read? Later on you notice the shadows are longer and you get up and go for a swim.”
It’s much like that at the WGC in Uvalde. At first, you are bewildered. It is so hot. But it’s true about the flying. It’s wonderful. And then you figure out what there is to do: you drive a mile down the road to Walmart to get a new tube for your wing wheel and another for the bicycle, because both have thorns in them. Then go a mile in the other direction to HEB to get water and cheese, and that’s the morning. And then you eat lunch, and you launch, and then it’s too hot to do anything but pick up your laundry, go back to your hotel room, and lie on your bed and maybe read. At first, you read. And then, you don’t even do that. Why read? Later, you notice the gliders will not be returning for another two hours, and you go for a swim.
Meanwhile, you watch SPOT, and you listen to the radio, if you can, and you try to discern when the gliders will return. You rush back to the airport, grab your tail dolly in one arm and the wing wheel in the other and watch for your plane to hit the runway. You stand near the taxiway and try to distinguish your plane from all the others. You are crewing for one often or more planes landing at once. You are all trying to do this, and you are all trying to get your plane off the taxiway at this point, without impeding anyone else, and without impairing your chances for making it safely to your tie down area. Meanwhile, it’s still 100 degrees.
So it’s a little like a vacation in Greece – except for the dust devils. During the contest, I asked Christian Streifeneder what they call dust devils in Germany. He shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing. We don’t have them.”
The Rains Came
As pilots, crew, and spectators gathered for closing ceremonies, the farmers finally got their rain. For the first time of the contest, umbrellas were used to ward off rain, not sun. At 11,062 points, Sebastian Kawa of Poland was the 15-Meter class winner. Zbigniew Nieradka, also of Poland, won 18- Meter class with 12,170 points. For the Open Class, it was Laurent Aboulin with 12,084 points. In addition to individual winners, the WGC awards a Team Cup, calculated by dividing the total score of team pilots by the number of pilots. The 2012 WGC Team Cup winners were Poland with 11,842.61, Russia at 11,778.58, and Great Britain at 11,757.50 points.
The winning scores at the 2012 WGC in Uvalde, Texas were the highest cumulative scores of any contest ever held. The second highest winning score was from the 1991 WGC in Uvalde. In the Open Class, the slowest winning speed (134.5 km/h on Day 10) was higher than the highest winning speed at the last WGC 2010 contest (122.2 km/h). The total distance flown including the official practice period was almost 800,000 km, more than the distance to the moon and back. It may be that there is no word for a dust devil in Germany. But there is a word for Uvalde: legendaÅNr, or perhaps, in English, Legend Air.
About the author: As crew for U.S. Open Class Pilot Ron Tabery (SS), Gena Caponi Tabery has attended four WGCs. She specializes in bug removal, pilot care, wing tape, and checklists. She is also a cultural historian and the author of five books and many articles. She and Ron live on Barton Creek in Austin, Texas with the youngest of their four boys and their two dogs.
Complete daily and final scores can be found on the WGC website: www.wgc2012uvalde.us.