GETTING STARTED USING THE SAILPLANE TRACKER
once you get the hang of it, your friends and family will appreciate knowing your location. So, here's a quick tutorial to start you off. Please read the August 2014 issue of Soaring magazine for more details on this system.
Point your web browser to http://glideport.aero.
On desktop and laptop computers (Windows, Mac or Linux) you need a modern web browser such as Chrome, Safari or Firefox. To get full experience, you also need Google Earth plugin installed. glidePort also works well on mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. there is a short introductory video on the home page.
To see flight tracks go to the “Map” page and navigate to a gliderport. To set time of day, click on the timeline, or click and drag to animate the day’s progression., To go to a different day, click the previous/next day or the calendar button in the timeline on the bottom.
More functions are available when you register as a user. If you are flying with a SPOT or inReach satellite tracker, enter your tracker’s URL in the “Settings>Tracking” page and click “Save.” Your tracks will then be displayed in near-real-time. But that’s so last year. Better yet, if you have an iPhone or an Android phone, download the GlideTrack app and configure it by entering your email (i.e. your GlidePort user name). Then, next time you fly run GlideTrack and tap the “START” button. The spectators will then be able to fly along with you and watch your flight in hi-def.
Even if you do not fly with a tracker, you will find GlidePort extremely useful as your flight analysis and visualization tool. You get a great insight into what was happening during the flight, and you can see why certain decisions were made. Reviewing flights of top pilots is an excellent way to learn what they do and how they do it.
to upload your IGC flight track, once you are logged in, click the “Upload” button, drag-and-drop your IGC file, enter flight description if desired and click “Save.” You can then re-live your flight in GlidePort.
When you see a noteworthy flight, click the button next to the track. In the window that appears, enter a comment and/or click thumbs-up to give praise. You can also click thumbs-down when appropriate, e.g., if the pilots busts airspace, flies after sunset…Hopefully that will discourage unsafe behavior and further increase safety of our sport.
Record Flying in the Great Basin in the Summer of 2013 How Did This Happen
By Mitch Polinsky
My flying ‘took off’ last summer in a way that delighted and puzzled me. Although I had never set a record previously in twenty-five years of soaring, I achieved eight U.S. national records over a period of six weeks in the summer of 2013. I did flights that far exceeded what I thought I was capable of doing. It made me wonder how this happened. I offer here some of my analysis of the factors that led to this outcome.
First, the facts — U.S. national soaring records in the single-seat motorglider category:
6/29/13: Free triangle distance: 1157.2 km
7/2/13: Triangle speed 1000 km: 133.77 km/h [not submitted b/c surpassed on 7/18/13]
7/18/13: Distance up to 3 TPs: 1070.67 km
7/18/13: Triangle distance: 1070.25 km
7/18/13: Triangle speed 1000 km: 138.99 km/h
7/20/13: Triangle speed 750 km: 150.72 km/h
8/6/13: Triangle speed 500 km: 156.87 km/h
8/6/13: Triangle speed 300 km: 156.87 km/h
8/14/13: Out-and-return speed 500 km: 155.77 km/h
All of these flights were done from Ely, Nevada, except for the last one, which was done from Parowan, Utah.
The reason this list seems a bit unbelievable to me is the following. I started flying gliders in 1979. Except for a nine-year hiatus, I’ve flown every year since then, a total of twenty-six years of soaring. In 1985 I joined a partnership to buy a DG-400. In 2008, I started flying an ASH 26E, and in 2012, I transitioned to an ASH 31Mi. My ambition was to someday fly a declared 1000 km triangle. My first 1000 km flight didn’t occur until the summer of 2011 in my ASH 26E, but it wasn’t a triangle, and it wasn’t declared. In the summer of 2012, I flew four more 1000 km flights, now in my ASH 31Mi, including my first two 1000 km triangles, but none of these were declared either. In the summer of 2013, I flew ten more 1000 km flights, including eight 1000 km triangles, three of which were declared, and obtained the eight records listed above. I hope this explains why I still have some self-doubts about whether this past summer was real or a fluke.
I’ve never thought of myself as among the top-tier Great Basin thermal pilots. For example, until last summer, I never did better than Ramy Yanetz, flying his ASW 27, in terms of OLC (On Line Contest) points when flying from the same airport on the same day. The same was pretty much true with respect to Gordon Boettger, Bill Gawthrop, Uwe Kleinhempel, Russ Owens, Mike Parker, Jim Payne, and others. I was solidly in the second-tier, even though I aspired to fly like these guys.
I welcomed the opportunity to write this article as a form of self-analysis, to try to figure out why I did so much better than I had any reason to expect last summer. I’ve got a few thoughts about what caused this to happen.
For about two weeks before I showed up in Ely for my summer soaring encampment in 2012, I started noticing on the OLC some flights by two pilots flying out of Ely in really-big-wing open class gliders, John Bally in a two-seat EB28, and Bandar AlFaisal in a single-seat EB29. I had previously heard a little about these gliders, but not about these pilots. They were doing remarkable flights from Ely during the first half of June, a period of time that the regular Ely soaring pilots considered too early in the season. Between June 6 and June 17, John had three flights exceeding 1000 km at speeds between 160-165 km/h, as well as a 910 km flight at 173 km/h. Bandar also had two long flights exceeding 150 km/h.
How was this possible? These were speeds comparable to wave-flying speeds, and done during a period of time generally thought not to be the best part of the Ely season. Luckily for me, John and Bandar were still in Ely when I showed up around the third week in June, and I eagerly sought them out to talk to them about their flying techniques. After a few conversations, John asked me whether I’d like to ride in his back seat the next day, an invitation I quickly accepted. The weather turned out to be quite weak and we couldn’t do a long-distance flight, but I observed for four hours how John could just keep scratching and tip-toeing along just above the ridge lines and make steady — but on this day, slow — progress. I came to the conclusion that what he was doing wasn’t rocket science, but “simply” the superb execution of the same lessons I’d been taught over the years by my cross-country soaring instructors and mentors (e.g., stay over the high ground, search over slopes with sun and wind on the same side, etc.). I was inspired to think that if I just concentrated on doing better what I knew I should be doing, I might be able to significantly improve my flying outcomes. A week later I flew the longest flight of my life (1244 km on the OLC), including the longest triangle of my life (1157 km), and broke my first record (more on this flight below). Thank you, John.
(2) Friendly competition
Although I don’t fly in real competitions, I love the friendly competition promoted by the OLC, where everyone has a real chance of winning due to the handicapping. One of my best glider friends is Uwe Kleinhempel, who is as gung-ho about soaring as I am. He used to fly a PIK 20E, and did surprisingly well with it in the OLC, given that it was a generation or more behind modern gliders in performance. But then he got a Ventus 2cM motorglider and his soaring really took off. In his first full summer with this plane, he ranked second in the U.S. and fifth in the World OLC rankings. On July 9, 2012, we both took off from Ely on a strong day and attempted the U.S. single-seat motorglider “free triangle distance” record. I landed just before sunset, having flown a 1083 km free triangle, and breaking the prior distance record by 75 km. Obviously, I was very happy. After tying down my plane, I found Uwe to see how he had done, and he reported that he had flown a 1131 km free triangle, breaking the prior record by about 125 km. Obviously, he was very happy too — about 50 km happier than I was. He clearly deserved the record, and got it, because he flew further in the same conditions in a lower-performing glider than mine (and he flew faster).
I spent the rest of the summer of 2012 trying to beat his record, without success. Uwe’s performance inspired me to try harder. Throughout the winter, I thought about how I could do better. In prior summers, I always seemed to be one of the last pilots to launch at Ely. I vowed to get ready and get off sooner during the summer of 2013.
On June 29, 2013, the forecast was strong, and I got a reasonably early start. I flew north first and went 25 km past Jackpot, Nevada, into Idaho before turning southwest towards Gabbs, NV. If I could make it to Gabbs and get back to Ely, I would have enough distance to break Uwe’s record of the prior summer. When I was about 75 km short of Gabbs, there was a big blue hole. I started across it and hit sink. After a while, I abandoned Gabbs as a target, and went into survival mode, heading for the hills west of Hadley, NV, keeping Hadley as my safety airport, in case I needed to start my engine and couldn’t. As you’ll see from the accompanying trace, I got really low in the hills near Hadley, heading for the only visible lift, some clouds just west of Hadley. I barely got there, but recovered good altitude once I did. Now getting back to Ely wouldn’t suffice for a free triangle distance record, but the day was starting to overdevelop, and I would be grateful just to get back home. I headed east toward Ely and got eastward faster than I expected, with an hour to spare. So instead of heading straight to Ely, I headed southeast of Ely, thinking that if I could go far enough southeast of Ely and still get back to Ely, I just might make enough distance for the free triangle record.
By the time I got southeast of Ely the sky was definitely overdeveloping and there was a dark layer of cloud covering the area I needed to get to in order to achieve the record distance. I headed toward it but got steadily lower. About 15 km short of the turn point I needed, I gave up and started back toward Ely. Approximately 2-3 km later on the way home I encountered strong lift, stopped and climbed a couple of thousand feet for an extra margin of safety getting back to Ely. But then it occurred to me that maybe I could actually make my turn point, and still get back to Ely with enough daylight to land safely. I decided to try, with the knowledge that I could land legally after sunset if necessary because I had position lights. I made it to the turn point and then put my MacCready setting on zero to tip-toe home. I landed four minutes after sunset with my lights on, having flown a 1157 km free triangle, beating Uwe’s record by 26 km. And best of all, my wife forgave me that I wasn’t home that day for our 38th anniversary.
(3) Declared flights
The excitement of that flight really whetted my appetite for record attempts. But most of the records that seemed possible required a flight declaration, and I had very little experience flying declared tasks. In the latter part of the summer of 2012, I finally learned how to enter declared flights into my flight computer, but failed to complete any of my five or six attempts to fly a declared task.
One of my best glider friends at Ely, Marek Malolepszy, grew up in the Polish glider environment where people almost always flew declared flights. Every time I told him about a long flight I did, including the June 29th free triangle record flight, he’d ask me skeptically, “But was it a declared flight?” In his mind, it didn’t count as a real flight unless it was declared. I promised him that I’d relearn how to enter declared tasks into my flight computer and started doing so shortly after my June 29 flight. Two days later, on July 1, I completed the first declared task of my life, a 1011 km triangle at 128 km/h. I was surprised at my speed, which was only a few km/h short of the U.S. single-seat motorglider record for speed over a 1000 km triangle. The next day I got a late start — old habits creeping back in — and afraid of losing out on a good day, decided to just get off the ground and try the same task as the day before so as to not to take the time to plan and enter a new task. Luckily, the weather on July 2 was even better than on July 1, and I was able to complete the 1011 km triangle task faster than the day before, at just under 134 km/h — fast enough for the speed record for a 1000 km triangle. Thank you, Marek, for “encouraging” me to declare tasks.
(4) Focus on soaring
Another factor that I think contributed significantly to my leap forward in soaring last summer was my decision to try to structure my summer so that I could really focus on soaring without distractions. I’m a university professor (teaching economics at Stanford Law School), so I have few professional obligations during the summer, other than continuing to do research and writing. However, in order to finance my soaring and to pay for the ASH 26E in 2008 and the ASH 31Mi in 2012, I’ve done a fair amount of work as an economic consultant to law firms and corporations involved in major litigation.
The summer of 2012 was especially distracting due to this work, leading me at one point to put on a headset so that I could put water ballast in my glider while I participated in a business conference call with lawyers on the east coast. I took off about forty minutes after everyone else that day because of this, and flew about 950 km while several people flew well over 1000 km. That call clearly cost me a 1000 km flight. I vowed to try to arrange things to be free of this work during the summer of 2013 so that I could focus more intensely on flying and taking off earlier. I turned down two consulting opportunities last spring and, for the first time in several years, didn’t have any litigation-related consulting obligations during the summer. As a result, I got a little more sleep and I found time to study weather forecasts more thoroughly than I had in the past. I flew more days and more hours — 261 hours between mid-May and mid-August. The 24/7 focus on soaring while I was at Ely was exhilarating, and I believe made a big difference to the outcomes of my flights.
(5) Risk “management”
This last factor is a euphemism for risk “taking.” I consider myself a very conservative pilot in terms of safety. Until last summer, I had only one scary mishap in a glider in twenty-five years of soaring. It was in my DG-400 in 1989 when, after three days of cross-country soaring training from a champion glider pilot, I set my sights too high on my very next solo flight and got myself in trouble. It turned out to be a “fender bender,” but it came close to being much worse for both me and the glider. That was a sobering experience and ultimately resulted in my taking a nine-year hiatus from soaring. I resumed soaring in 2000 and, flying conservatively again, didn’t scare myself for the next thirteen seasons. But last summer was different. I scared myself twice.
I knew I was pushing myself harder than usual in order to have a chance at accomplishing the record flights, but this consisted mainly of taking “inconvenience risks,” where I might have to motor home a long distance (I did a couple of times) or land at another airport. Several times, however, I got low when the only safety field was a farmer’s crop circle or a plowed field. I didn’t consider this dangerous to me physically, but I knew that if my engine didn’t start and I had to land there, I was putting my glider at greater risk for damage. Then, one day, coming back to Ely from Wells, NV, I was struggling a bit in weak conditions. I tried to gain height in a range of peaks southeast of Wells, while keeping the Wells airport in safe gliding range. I did gain some height and kept proceeding south toward Ely. Eventually, I was out of range of Wells but still within what I thought was within a safe range of a marginal field in the high desert. As I headed in the direction of this field, I hit unexpectedly severe and sustained sink that quickly put me out of safe gliding range to that field. I wasn’t going to make it, but there was one small cloud building between me and that field. If it worked, I’d be ok. If it didn’t, I’d be starting my engine over very unpleasant terrain and praying that it didn’t fail (it never has, so far). The cloud worked, I got high enough to switch to another, better field as my safety field, and I made it home, feeling a bit shaky.
The second scare occurred on my last day of flying last summer. It was my last day because of what I’m about to describe. I was flying out of Parowan and trying for a 300 km out-and-return speed record, having achieved the 500 km out-and-return speed record a few days earlier. The forecast on August 17 was for thunderstorms to the north of Parowan, but conditions appeared better to the west. I set up a 300 km out-and-return task to the west and took off mid-afternoon after it looked like the overdevelopment was starting to dissipate. I rounded my turn point, though not making great speed, and discovered when I looked back in the direction of Parowan that the weather there had gotten worse, not better, with widespread thunderstorms and lightning. As I got closer, it became apparent that Cedar City, about 30 km south of Parowan, was a much safer place to land, so I landed there. I expected the stormy weather around Parowan to clear and planned to take off from Cedar City about a half hour before sunset and land back at Parowan. I did take off again, but when I got to Parowan, it was clear from the windsock that the cross-wind component far exceeded the capability of my glider, and I’d be landing on a 75-foot wide runway, with a 69-foot wingspan. So I returned to land at Cedar City for a second time and spend the night there. However, by the time I got back there, the same winds that were problematic at Parowan were problematic for landing on the 150-foot-wide main runway at Cedar City (23 kts gusting to 33 kts, essentially perpendicular to the runway). The only option then, now that it was sunset, was to land on the auxiliary runway, which only had a 30-degree crosswind component. I knew it was much narrower, but didn’t learn until I was on the ground that I had landed on a 60-foot-wide runway with a 69-foot wingspan. The landing was in very gusty conditions, and I bounced hard, but remained in control. Near the end of the rollout, a gust caused my right wingtip to go down just off the runway, scraping the bottom of it. Luckily, the only damage was cosmetic and easily fixed, but this was a wake-up call — two scares in one summer after thirteen summers of no scares.
This flight drained me emotionally, and my body and mind were unanimous that it was time to call it quits. I packed up the next day and drove the glider to the Williams Soaring Center for an inspection after the hard landing (no damage) and the cosmetic repair of the scrape. This was a disappointing way to end the most exciting and satisfying soaring season of my life, but I knew that I’d come close to having too much excitement. I learned a lesson again about the psychology of flying and risk-taking that I’d first learned twenty-four years ago in my DG-400. This was a refresher course that, happily, I passed. I’ve got a new goal for next summer: No more scares.
* * *
So, in the end, my soaring success last summer made a little more sense to me. It was the culmination of things I’d been working towards for many years. I hope the magic will continue this coming season and beyond.
Acknowledgements: In addition to the people already mentioned above, several others were instrumental to my soaring enjoyment during the past year. The three FBO’s in the Great Basin where I fly have all been wonderfully helpful: James Adams at the Ely Jet Center, Laurie Harden at SoaringNV at Minden, and Dave Norwood at Parowan Aero Services. At Minden and Ely, my friends Darren Braun, Terry Delore, Buzz Graves, Eric Greenwell, Craig Melvin, Michael Mitton, John Morgan, Dieter Reuter, Ed Salkeld, Tom Seim, and Tom Stowers all provided moral and technical support of various kinds. A special thanks to Rex Mayes at the Williams Soaring Center for his excellent maintenance of my glider, and to Paul Remde at Cumulus Soaring and Richard Pfiffner at Craggy Aero for help with instrumentation and equipment. Lastly, I dedicate this article to the memory of Doug Armstrong, a great meteorologist and cheerleader for Great Basin soaring.
About the author: Like many pilots, I was bitten by the flying bug at a young age. My father was a flight instructor in World War II and was in the U.S. Air Force Reserves for twenty-five years after that. While I was growing up, he’d spend every other weekend as a Reserve pilot at a nearby Air Force base flying missions. Around the time of my nineteenth birthday, National Geographic magazine ran a big article about soaring, with beautiful pictures of gliders. I learned that these planes without engines could stay up for hours. That seemed like a great adventure, and much more fun than flying a conventional plane with an engine. However, it wasn’t until twelve years later that I actually started taking lessons to learn to fly gliders, after I moved to Stanford from the east coast in 1979. At that time there was a glider airport a half an hour from my office. During my first year of teaching at Stanford, I took a long lunch break every other Friday to take lessons. After a year, I received my license to fly gliders. During my first six years of gliding I’d rent planes from a gliding school or from the glider club I joined. Then, in 1985, I bought my first glider with two other partners. My two partners were much more experienced than I was, and held numerous U.S. records in self-launched sailplanes and one world record. I learned a lot from them. Until my record-setting year, I had the longest flight of my life in July of 2010, starting from the Ely, Nevada airport. That flight was 975 kilometers, which is 606 miles.
HANGING ONTO DREAMS
Hanging onto dreams
By Ian Nadas
Photo-illustration by Tim Larson
It all started normally enough. I wanted to do my 500K, but the year had been horrible for soaring. I had flown my 300K in 1998 to qualify for entering Standard Class in Region 10. But I also noticed that, there were only two more weeks of decent weather after the contest, and then everything shut down for the season.
So the next year, I was approaching the 500K with the knowledge that at any time, the season can end. Mother Nature only deals out so many 500K days a year and it’s up to me to either act on it or keep quiet. The plan is to stay home Saturday, which almost inevitably results in perfect weather, and then go up Sunday, which should be the same weather since Austin was in the middle of a huge air mass that wasn’t going anywhere. I arrive to hear that Saturday was indeed fantastic. I rig, fill the wings with as much water as they can hold, and push out on the flight line. I am thankful that I am able to cut into line in front of our Grob, but not too thrilled that the instructor is suggesting I should have taken off an hour ago.
Gonzo, an actual human, is already up floating around in his monster Jantar. I take off and find a few nibbles, and return to the east side of the field before the 255 Km trip west to Eldorado. Returning to the previous thermal, I can’t seem to get above 3500 ft agl, and I get somewhat tired of searching. About 12 miles east are some clouds, and a Pegasus is heading that way, so I depart. If I learned anything in competition, it’s that if you don’t like what you’re in, leave. There are decent cu to the west, about 20 miles into the trip. The Pegasus, Jantar and I all stop at the same thermal, at which time Jamie announces that he has no audio vario, and doesn’t want to do 500 without one. About 20 miles out, and 5000 agl, an ASW-27 announces that he is just off tow, and in pursuit. “Ha”, I say. Nothing to worry about here… he’s 3000 ft below and 20 miles behind. I’m staying close to a 23m Jantar. I am somewhat invincible.
A wonderful thing happens when we cross Hwy 281 and head west of Lake Buchanan: the lift gets to 8 knots as timed on a stopwatch, and it doesn’t stop until 7,000 ft. I smirk, knowing that Rich is plunking along in 4 knots. Gonzo decides that the massive blue hole ahead is hardly an issue, and heads right through it. A 50:1 glider makes a man brave. I see strong cumulus on an arc over the north, and take that route. 100 Km into the trip, Gonzo requests location and altitude. We are identical distances from Eldorado, but I have him by over a thousand ft. He suggests I fly south to meet up and continue the journey together. We sync up and I have a rare view of the top of his ship. Usually it is tailwheel-only views for me. I revel. However, I notice that Rich does not announce distance and altitude. Rich is suspiciously quiet, border-lining on stealth. Gonzo finally asks for location and altitude, to which he responds with our miles, plus two, our altitude, plus 3000 ft. Blast. A few minutes pass, and Gonzo and I find ourselves not only surpassed, but flogged by a renegade ASW-27.
But our lovely cu-filled sky is rapidly turning into a blue sheet with the occasional cotton ball to tease me on. There is much talk about changing the course. But I called Eldorado, and after trying four different routes in my GPS, and losing at least 10 minutes in blown thermals and lost concentration, I decide to try the next cu, and then the next. I arrive 16 statute miles out of Eldorado, with no markers left. But I have 6000 ft. Assuming no sink, I can get there and back and have 2000 ft. But if there is sink, it’s a 250 km retrieve that nobody I know wants to make. Hmmm. But did I learn something at Littlefield, where I and countless others left 2 knot lift to venture out on a 90 mile triangle from 3200 ft. I have 6000 ft, and a 60 mph average speed. This is no time to tuck my tail between my legs and whimper home.
Off I go, make the turn point, and return to a newly developing cu about 4 miles east. It is a few knots, so I grab about 600 ft and continue to the good clouds. I know there’s 8 knots out there somewhere. Gonzo is with me. “Mr. Rocketsled” had decided to not go through the blue, as it would appear as a blemish on his flight computer log. It is now Gonzo and the Jantar versus me and a Ventus. We get to a good 6-knot thermal to 11,000 ft and I decide to fly the McCready setting from here on in. So up to about 95 knots or so, and on to the next cloud. Not much there, let’s try another. A third. A fourth. Hmmm. Maybe the day is getting weaker, the little voice says. Maybe you should stop now that you are down to 6000 ft, it continues, in that annoying tone. I approach the next cloud to hear my vario wail out the arrival of 8 knots. I get brave again, and see what looks like some development a bit north of my bearing. Gonzo stays true to course. I get there to find nothing. Gonzo announces good lift at his thermal, but he is over a mile south, and I would get there and be 4 minutes behind him. I now need to stop repeatedly at some very questionable lift to get some altitude. I know lost minutes are stacking up, and a big blue hole is up ahead. Gonzo asks me for location. “54 miles out, 6000 ft, how about you?” “52 miles out, 8000 ft.” But could that be? Could I be just a few minutes behind? I lost so much time back there. But maybe he has had the same troubles? Unless…
“Nautical or statute?”
“Oh,” is the only reply I could muster, for all to hear. Humiliation broadcast from altitude travels a long way.
And nothing but blue ahead. Cu’s are cycling on the order of seconds, not minutes. I hit lift, look up to see a haze dome forming a cu, only to see it disappear within two turns. I look at my trusty flight computer. I need a thousand more feet and no sink. Take a guess which one I get. Thoughts have long since turned from a 1-2 contest finish with the Jantar, to making it home in the air. I find myself at 2500 ft, 25 miles out, but crossing the lake, things get better – a reversal of the morning. A bump, then a gust, then 3 to 4 knots get me the altitude I need. I hear Gonzo calling 5 minutes out. I am still 20 miles, but I’m going to make it. I am now bitten by the long distance bug.
The following week, there is mid-week flying at the club. And the weather just gets better and better. Cu’s are popping before 11:00 am all week, typically 10:30. The days are strong to 6:30 pm. We all decide to try for some serious distance, and I am pushing for 750 Km, because I don’t know better. We agree on a 656 Km course hoping to take advantage of the huge north-south streets we couldn’t use on the 500K. Thursday, we all assemble by 10:30, with none of the aforementioned cumulus anywhere to be seen. Eat, drink water, wait five minutes, and the sky erupts. We begin launching by 11:15, and I sit at 1500 ft for 15 minutes, before getting the real lift to 8K. 8K at 11:30 am. You just have to love that. At cloud base, Gonzo and I depart, knowing that Rich will catch us soon enough. But we get to Mason, 60 miles, and he is still behind, trying to catch up. Knowing now that Rich is not one to offer his location and altitude without prodding, Gonzo asks at each checkpoint. We head north out of Mason to Smokey Bend. Rich is still about 8 miles behind and about 4000 ft below. I know, deep in my heart that it is not a good thing to enjoy knowing that a fellow glider pilot is behind and below, but why does it make me smile so?
About eight miles north of Mason, I enter what turns out to be at least 7 knots. As I turn around, Gonzo is back about half a mile in what I passed up. Good Samaritan that I am, I radio that there is solid lift just up ahead. As he gets to the thermal, he is a good 300 ft below. As we climb, I am looking for Rich, not paying as much attention to where the lift is centered. Without much warning, I am now looking at the Jantar from the more typical bottom view. Mental note: Before telling Gonzo where the good stuff is, gain 500 ft on him.
As we go north, two things are noted. None of the streets that we had anticipated are anywhere to be seen, as there is no noticeable wind at the surface or at altitude; and the lift gets lighter. Rich is on his quiet rampage, as I see a sliver of white go under me about six miles out of Smokey Bend. But I am still above, and he passes by the edge of the thermal, porpoises and continues on. I quietly enjoy my 7 knots and take it until it gets unsettled towards cloud base. Gonzo calls Smokey Bend, heading south on the 148-mile leg to Hondo (the first of two legs on this task that exceed 100 miles). He put 10 minutes between us. Time to press on. Five miles south of Smokey Bend, Rich and I are in the same thermal at the same altitude. He exits first, and heads east of our bearing. I go west, in what looks to me like a better line of clouds. Gonzo is asking for location and altitude again. I start to notice that he is always in the stratosphere when he wants an update, getting Rich’s and my info, and then calling out some altitude that, as far as my flight has gone, has not been invented yet. It looks like this flight is going to be 10% physical, 90% mental, and 30% annoying.
I see Rich circling over San Saba a few miles behind, as I decide to go to the top of this thermal. Things didn’t seem as strong. I head south, noticing that I am getting a bit sloppy after two and a half hours in the air. Taking what each cloud has to offer, I make a pretty good run back down to about the same latitude as Mason, 100 miles out of Hondo, where I notice a reflection. Can it be? Can I still be with Rich after 50 miles of flight? I aim for the thermal and cut through the arc he had just flown, and continue on. Flying through lift that someone else has stopped for, and continuing on course saying nothing, but thinking, “well, I’m sure that lift is good enough for some pilots,” has that two-fold benefit of making you feel great, while making the other pilot mumble curses. It is one of those instances in life where you do more by doing less.
Unfortunately, this single act has a side effect that benefits neither Gonzo nor me. It puts Rich into high gear. As post-flight discussions reveal, Rich decided at this point not to chase anymore, but just to fly at his own pace.
As I approach Hondo, I am now flying at about 70% concentration, if that. We are over four hours into the flight, and I am noticing huge levels of discomfort in areas I didn’t know existed. A fold in that material in my shirt feels like a nail in my back. Squirming and adjusting, I feel better, but I am 200 ft lower. Gonzo turned at least 15 minutes earlier. Rich at least 10 minutes. I limp up to the turn point, to be welcomed by a new GPS distance of 127 miles. I want to get to cloud base. The clouds are fewer and further between. It is getting late, and the lift hasn’t been all that good for the past 50 miles. As I am about to leave, Rich asks Gonzo for an altitude. “4500 ft.” Rich responds with the same altitude. I had not been below 7K since the beginning of the flight. I stay at cloud base. Not much is said for a while. Even though trying to maintain altitude, the time and the conditions required keeping up the momentum. The next thing I know, I am at 4500ft, then 4200. Gonzo mentions something about the irony of it all if we all have to land at Boerne. I have no interest in irony at the moment.
Birds help me center some very weak lift, and I get 300 feet before I decide two things: these birds must be blood relatives of those that were circling in sink at Region 10, and it’s time to go. Enough to get to the next cloud, lift increases from two knots to seven as I pass 5500 ft and top out at over 9000 ft. I need 18000 ft to make final glide, but the day is still working. The weak stuff must have been lake shadow, because it is great all the way home. Amazingly, Gonzo is about 2000 ft above me, somehow losing his 15-minute lead along the way. He takes off first, but marks the next thermal for me. We are close at the top of this one, as he takes it to the top, and I take a chance that the lift goes all the way across the cloud, gaining 500ft in a straight line. I take the line west of our bearing, and Gonzo goes east. It is now down to the final glide. Mostly porpoising, with one more thermal, I finally have a 37 mile final glide, and I point the nose home, taking the lift under clouds, but not slowing. It puts me about a minute ahead of Gonzo, and 20 minutes behind Rich. Six hours and six minutes for 656 Km. I am smitten. The three of us eat red meat for dinner, men that we are.
My ultimate goal was 750Km. Alas, that 656Km flight has been my best distance to date. Through a series of events, I have sold my plane and am on the periphery of the sport until a more appropriate time. I truly wanted a 1000K before selling my Ventus, but that was not to be. It is a perfect example of an experience that you don’t realize until later was the pinnacle of your own achievement. For the time being, I must hang on to the dream.
About the author: Ian Nadas learned to fly in 1976 at the age of 15, later owning an LS-4 and then a Ventus B, both of which he flew in various regional competitions.
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.