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Region 8 Contest Wrap-Up

Sorry to keep you waiting for 2 days!  As I mentioned earlier, I blew out my back in the middle of the contest and was moving pretty slowly by the end of it.  I've been convalescing at home and am on the mend, so now its time for the thrilling conclusion:

Saturday was forecast to be an average "Ephrata day" - medium lift (4 to 6 knots) and moderate cloudbases (7000 to 8000 feet).  The Cu started to bubble up early on, so we gridded a bit early and launched into good-looking skies.  With only a few points separating the top spots in both classes, the pilots were all in high-gear and the launch proceeded snappily.  I was last to launch in the Sports Class, although Brian Case released from tow early and had to come back for a relight right behind me.

I waffled a bit on start-strategy.  A few of us had been jawing about start-gate roulette and delaying as long as possible (to let other pilots start and be out ahead, marking thermals for us when they stopped to climb).  Many other factors were running through my head as I climbed to cloudbase, including:

  1. I was worried that a couple of folks might try to follow me around the course - and with the handicaps I needed to go farther than others in order to make the same score.
  2. I thought the skies might blue-out later in the day, making it tougher to go.  Especially if a push of marine air made it across the Cascade mountains and shut down part of the task area!
  3. I knew that the day would be warmer at the end than at the beginning, so later starters might have an advantage with better thermals and/or higher thermal tops (with or without clouds).  
But *how* late do you wait to start a 3-hour task (especially if there's a chance it'll turn into a blue day later)?  This is only my second regional so the answer was indeed very unclear.  In the end, I elected to wait for at least half of the Sports Class to call their starts before I'd go.  I also went out the side of the cylinder, called my start, then returned to the cylinder and restarted about 5 minutes later - in an effort to make sure that no one was shadowing me from the get-go.  This all seemed to go fairly well, but I'd failed to take into account one very important thing:  The 15m/Std class that was launching right behind me, on the same task!  Brian Case did not forget this important fact, and it helped him win the day as he smartly shadowed a few of the fast ships of this class through the first leg or two of the task, benefitting from both the later conditions and the decisions of the top pilots.

Meanwhile, I was out on task and through the first leg without a problem.  Although the thermals in the start cylinder were only 3 - 4 knots, out on course I ran smack into 6+ knot climb-rates (including entry and centering turns; meaning the vario was often reading 7 - 9 knots during the climb).  I pushed my speed up to the highest I'd ever cruised - 90 knots.  In hindsight this might have been too fast, and is definitely something I'll have to look at in the future.  The run to Creston was fairly smooth, as was the trip back to Mansfield.  My computer told me to turn just across the west side of Banks Lake, but a beautiful cloud-street had formed out to Mansfield itself.  So I ran that to the end and then jumped a small stretch of dead air to a nice juicy Cumulus cloud over the town itself.  This positive experience would soon lead me into trouble, however...

Turning southeast I rabbited towards the final turnpoint and was still landing on good thermals - even when I got low I would just press on, find a great climb, and continue.  Soon enough, my computer beeped at me and told me I should head for Ephrata.  But by my calculations it would be cutting my time awfully close to the required minimum.  A couple of clouds ahead looked good and so I told myself that I could still make good speed if I proceeded on-course for another 5 minutes before turning back.  It had worked at Mansfield, so why not do it again?  Unfortunately, I made this decision looking out the front of my canopy - not the side or the rear!  Three things were happening that I didn't take into account:

  1. Cloudbase was coming down in this part of the task area - it was up to 8500 over Mansfield, but only 7500 over my present location (north of Odessa); and the top of the lift was not nearly as strong or workable in this area.
  2. The lift cycle was just wrapping up behind me and the area was turning into mostly dying clouds and sink.
  3. The wind was different in this area, and the thermals were reaching the base of the clouds in a new direction - making it harder to locate the lift when at cloudbase.

The upshot of this was that the cloud I went to did not work very well, and then as I turned back westbound I found myself gliding through either still air or heavy sink.  Cloud after cloud did not work  (or I missed the lift, as mentioned above).  Dust-devils were petering out or were not working yet at my altitude.  I ran into some strong surges, but when I turned into them they were not workable.  Mindful of the time I'd wasted on day 2 doing this, I pressed on at high speed towards Ephrata - my altimeter winding down at a rapid rate.  I eventually got down around 4000 feet and had to turn towards Odessa, with only about 500 feet of altitude above the bare minimum needed to reach the airport there.  Finally, at a mere 3600 feet I caught some lift and was able to work it.  The lift wasn't strong, but it provided me with about 800 feet that I used to glide over to better terrain.  There I caught a moderate thermal that strengthened as I climbed, and I was able to head for the finish cylinder from a comfortable altitude; albeit about 20 minutes behind-schedule!  The glide home was through a sky that was blue'ing out, so it was nail-biting to say the least.  Eventually I was able to bump along in some bubbles of lift and make it home without stopping to circle.  My deviation and low save had cost me about 3mph (according to my in-flight computer); but my overall speed for the day was good and I felt pretty jazzed about the flight.

Meanwhile, Brian Case, Tim Martin, and Keith Purves were out on-course alongside the Std/15m class pilots and having just amazing flights!  Cloudbase was indeed higher for them, and they set very impressive speeds over the entire course.  After the scores were tallied, Brian came out on top for the day and for the contest overall.  Big congratulations to him!  His deft skill with the HP-16 proved that the Sports Class is viable and competitive for pilots, regardless of airframe.  He nipped me by a mere 45 points, so I ended up in second place overall.  Kerry Richards flew consistently throughout the contest, and was rewarded with a 3rd place finish in the Sports Class.  Other notables:  on 3 days out of 4, Tim Martin was the top dog; and only a "landout" (use of his motor) on one day prevented him from cleaning our clocks.  And Keith Purves recovered from a disappointing first day with several strong flights, taking 4th place overall.

Over in the Std/15m class, Mike Newgard had a strong flight and won his class.  Again, it was a slim margin of victory, as he beat "the other Mike" (Thompson) by just 55 points.  With Thompson in second place overall, Stephen Northcraft also had a good final flight and took third place.  Notably, fourth place was taken by Branko Stojkovic - who was a first timer at Ephrata in a rented sailplane; and he actually was the fastest pilot on the final day's flight!  A catered dinner and a few words from the organizers and winners finished off another great day in Ephrata.  

Personally, I had a blast and can't wait for the Logan, UT regionals in just 2 weeks' time!  A few of the Region 8 competitors will be there, and it will be fun to see them and fly with them again.  


P.S.  Just for grins, here are some numbers to give you an idea of the margin between Brian and I in the sports class:

  • The difference in points was 1.5%
  • If I had flown 3mph faster on any single day of the contest, I would have beaten V6 (but only by 2 to 5 points - it was that tight).
  • There were over 720 minutes of time that we flew "on the clock" during tasks.  If I had saved a measly 9 minutes (over 4 days), I would have beaten V6. 

But again, my hat's off to Brian.  He flew a great race and he really put the spurs to that HP-16.  I had no idea of the potential of that glider until I saw the speeds he posted with it all week.  It was wonderful to share the sky with a positive, energetic, and gracious competitor like Brian!  

Posted: 7/6/2010 By: Noel Wade

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