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Day 1 Ephrata Contest, 2011

The first official day of the 2011 Region 8 Contest launched with a thud... After several great days of practice the contestants were raring to go; sadly, Mother Nature was not!  31 pilots pushed out to the grid and watched as the milky sky churned above them.  With few shadows on the ground and even fewer patches of blue overhead, the day was scrubbed.  I went with Chris Young up to Grand Coulee Dam, in a repeat of last year's contest when I visited the Dam with Keith Purves.  The structure and the engineering behind the dam are just absolutely incredible.  Once again they had a generator down for repairs, so they were spilling water over the dam and we got an up-close look at it as we took the tour and drove across the top (stopping to get out and lean over for a better - read: scarier - look)


My Flight Trace Is Here (non-pilots: look for the "Google Maps (2D)" radio-button to make the flight/map easier to view)


The second day of the contest dawned with many of us dreading another cancellation.  Strong surface winds had been blowing continuously overnight and into the morning hours; and forecasts did not show them abating anytime soon.  Instability was in the forecast; but with the winds getting stronger at altitude and a very warm airmass moving in, hope was in short supply.  A late grid (12:30) was announced, and pilots pushed out to the line.  Surprisingly, the sky brightened a bit and after a sniffer was launched we started to see a few meager cumulus struggling for life out on the plateau.  Eventually the sniffer was able to get above 4500 MSL (about 2500 AGL over the task area), and the decision was made to launch.  We were tasked to fly a 2 hour "MAT" (choose your own adventure), with US-2 (where it crosses Moses Coulee) as the only required turnpoint.  The local area was hard to climb out of, but after failing to get much above 4500' I stuck my nose out to the north.  It was tricky going at first, and I got low as I worked my way up to the first turnpoint.  But I was determined to make a good (fast) flight, or land in a farmer's field while trying!  I was finally rewarded with some decent climbs near the first turnpoint.  I then continued up to Mansfield, intending to run around Chelan, Waterville, and back to US-2.  But the sky looked dark towards Waterville and there was a blue hole over Chelan.  Nice clouds ran back to the SE towards Dry Falls / Coulee City, so I headed towards the turnpoint there.  At first the air seemed bouyant and the going easy; but this quickly turned into an extended period of sink and I began questioning my decision.  Still, the sky ahead looked good so I pressed on.  I got all the way down to about 3800 feet (only 1400 feet above the ground) a few miles short of Coulee City.  Things got very tense as I considered having to put down in a farmer's field.  But luckily the sun was working and a few bits of lift started forming some tiny cloud wisps, and I worked my way around in those until I found solid lift and could make a good climb.  At this point, a cloud-street had built up towards Nilles Corner (a turnpoint midway between Anderson and Grand Coulee Dam).  It was a lot further north than I'd intended to go on this short flight; but with no better options I pointed my glider north and pushed the speed up in hopes of making good time.  I was soon rewarded with some strong lift that took me up to almost 9000' and lots of rising air under the cloud-street as I burned my way up to Nilles Corner (helped along by an almost 20mph tailwind).  This segment of the flight was easy going, although just as I began to pat myself on the back for making a good choice I saw several gliders heading the opposite way.  They'd already been to Nilles Corner and were obviously coming back.  Had I been foolish with my earlier turnpoints?  Was I late to the party?  These things kept popping into my head as I reached the turnpoint and began coming back south.  I was now flying into a headwind, and looking at my instruments I saw that I was going to be cutting it very close for getting home a the right time.  Not wanting to be early (which incurrs a penalty), I pondered hitting the US-2 turnpoint again.  It was out of my way to the West, but a few good clouds nearby gave me hope.  I started to run in that direction; but watched as higher clouds moved in and darkened the skies there.  I finally decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and made a beeline for home.  I had enough altitude in the bank to come rocking in at 80 knots (almost 95mph) over the last 20+ miles; athough I ran into extended sink south of Dry Falls and watched my altitude buffer bleed away as I was relentlessly squeezed downwards by the sinking air.  Finally, a few miles short of the airport, I eased up to 70 knots and even slowed down in some lift - just to ensure that I'd come across the finish above the minimum safety altitude.  Even the landing was exciting as about 6 of us were all coming in to land at the same time - so we quickly sequenced ourselves into the landing pattern and touched down on the runway in rapid succession, rolling off to the side of the runway to clear the area for the next guy.  All in all, it was a challenging-but-rewarding flight!  After the preliminary scores were posted, I was delighted to find that I'm in second place, just 10 points (1%) behind a friendly and talented pilot who's been flying longer than I've been alive...  I don't know if I can catch hiim over the next few days; but I'm gonna give it my best shot!


The landing didn't mark the end of today's fun, either.  Becky & Mike Newgard (along with many helpers) put together a huge feast including BBQ chicken, ribs, corn, baked beans, various salads, brownies, ice cream, and fresh sliced fruit.  The pilots tore into this feast and did their best to pack on “ballast” for tomorrow’s flying.  The evening wrapped up with good camaraderie on the clubhouse deck, and hopes for many more days like today!

Posted: 6/29/2011 By: Noel Wade

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