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Region 5 North - No fly day at Perry

When I struggled awake and got out of the Micro-Castle this morning, one of the first things I noticed was that there were no open trailers, and no glider fuselages on ramps.  Only then did I actually look up and check out the skies, where my initial impression was confirmed – a thin overcast, thickening to the west.  Basically no chance to fly today.

The morning pilot meeting was much more relaxed than yesterday, as everyone and their brother knew were weren’t going to be flying today.  Andreea Alexandrescu, owner/operator of the famed Seminole Gldierport gave a short talk about running the Seniors contest from her point of view, and then Henry Retting (R) gave a hilarious rendition of a thunderstorm retrieve of Roger Buchanan in a previous Perry  contest, complete with a pantomimed demonstration of Roger attempting to don his rigging apron in a 30mph wind.  By the time Henry was done, he had the entire tent in stitches, making us all temporarily forget the doom and gloom outside.

Then we were “treated” to Francois Pin’s account of how he beat us all SO badly yesterday, flying 78+mph, almost 10mph faster than the next guy in 15m, and 5mph or so faster than the fastest guy in 18m.  However, instead of telling us how he mastered the day, Francois proceeded to tell us about all the MISTAKES he made, and how he thought he could have broken 80mph if he had just been a little smarter – yikes!!

After the regular meeting, all of the pilots here flying with FLARM had our regular update meeting with Dave Nadler, who is the FLARM representative charged with figuring out the problems with FLARM implementation here in the U.S.  I have to say that the poor performance of the units at the Seniors  people has apparently gotten the FLARM team’s attention, and they are serious about getting the problems worked out.  Dave showed up armed with instrumented FLARM firmware that records detailed diagnostic logs ‘on the fly’ (literally), and Dave has been burning the midnight oil analyzing the take from each day’s flights.  Each day after the pilot’s meeting Dave would gather the 15-20 FLARM-equipped pilots and give us a rundown on what he has found out so far, and suggesting remedies for problems like poor antenna placement, etc.  He has also been quite candid about the fact that there IS a sensitivity issue with an as-yet-unidentified cause (and hopefully a cure).

Having said all that, it is clear that FLARM does work (albeit with less sensitivity than anyone would like), and it is clearly improving in-flight safety.  Yesterday for example, we flew a 2 hour MAT task with two mandatory turnpoints.  Most pilots from all classes finished the two mandatory TP’s and headed right back to Perry, and then spent the rest of the time cruising up and down one or two conveniently placed cloud streets.  So there was lots of opposing direction traffic right up at cloud base, essentially the identical situation that claimed Chris O’Callahan’s life two years ago at Uvalde.  However, this time many of us were FLARM equipped, and even with the reduced sensitivity problem we were given enough warning of unseen oncoming traffic that we could then see and avoid the other glider.  I myself experienced two or three different opposite-direction collision alerts, with an unseen glider headed right for me within +/- 100 feet of my altitude.  In each case, I was able to either pull up or push over a bit as needed to increase the vertical separation, and waggle the wings to increase my visibility.  In one particular case the oncoming glider didn’t see me until I started waggling my wings, and then passed within a hundred feet, waggling his wings in turn.

I am willing to go on record at this point to predict that the current sensitivity issues will be solved in a timely manner, and (assuming this happens), within a couple of years FLARM will become as much a required part of competition flying as the required parachute.  I would also like to commend the SSA rules committee for not getting stampeded in the initial ‘lets do FLARM right now’ rush, as their stated concerns about potential start-up problems proved to be quite prescient.  Moreover, If there were already a FLARM-or-else mandate in place, the FLARM team might have felt less pressure to address initial problems promptly.

After the meeting broke up, we all went our various ways to do the things we have been putting off since we got here.  For some strange reason, the town of Wagener SC seems to be hard on restaurants, and there are basically no sit-down restaurants left in town.  However, there is a delightful but small bakery/deli, and glider pilots pretty much took over all three tables for the entire afternoon.  One of Richard Kellerman’s (QV) many hobbies is cooking, and so he stocked up on shish-kabob makings at the Piggly Wiggly for a small dinner party, including scratch-baked bread – can’t wait!

As I wandered back to my micro-Castle to write this post, Andreea Alexandrescu came up and asked if she could bum a ride into town to do some grocery shopping.  I pointed here at my big red F-150 truck and said “keys are in it – the seat might take a little adjustment”.  She looked at me like I had two heads for a few seconds until I explained that this is how things are done in the glider racing community.  Last I saw, there was a pretty woman with a huge smile on her face, driving a big red truck out the driveway ;-).

Tomorrow’s weather is a bit iffy as well, so we aren’t real sure what is in store for us for the rest of the week.  We’ll just have to take it one day at a time and see what happens – stay tuned!


Frank (TA)

Posted: 4/18/2012


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