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Day 3 at Logan, 2011 - A little bit of Redemption

So after yesterday's disheartening events and weak weather forecasts, I was seriously considering dropping out and going home - something that's never even crossed my mind as an option, before.  But luckily the weather turned out to be flyable and we got a decent day in.

[NOTE: No photos today, but I got a bunch of video that I'll post in the coming days]

Cooler, drier air (in the wake of the cold front that brought yesterday's Thunderstorms) made for a much more pleasant morning outside; but it also came with lower expectations for thermal development.  As a result, a "MAT" (modified assigned task) was called for our class, with a 3 hour minimum flight-time.  This is a "choose your own adventure" kind of flight, with certain rules and restrictions to prevent a pilot from simply bouncing back and forth between two waypoints.  We were required to go up north beyond the end of the ridge and hit Sherman Peak, then we were free to pick up to 11 other waypoints.  Everyone sat on the grid until about 2pm when we finally got the launches underway - and there was enough activity for most everyone to get up on top of the ridge.  I had a bit of a struggle and was starting to get flustered when I managed to find a thermal out away from the ridge and work my way up in a succession of weak climbs.  There were only a couple of thermals active in the area, so all the gliders ended up circling in the same place - at one point I had 12 other gliders in the same thermal as me... It was crowded and busy; I was within a couple-hundred yards of 4 of them through several turns, which really kept us all on our toes!  Finally I broke off from that group and found a stronger, better thermal up on the slopes.  Of course, a few turns later everyone saw me climbing and ran to join me.  The scene (which I only partly caught on video) of a swarm of 8 sailplanes all headed straight towards me (though at different altitudes) was quite impressive - if a little nerve-wracking.  

After a few more turns I dove to the ridge and was able to start running it.  Things were bubbling but it wasn't particularly strong...  Still, I heard some folks call their start at about 3:15pm and I wanted to have some markers out in front of me (to help me find the lift) - so I flew through the start gate at 3:20pm and began my run to Sherman Peak in the north (about 40 miles away).  Things went well until about the Mink Creek turnpoint, where the ridge mostly disappears and you have to scratch across some high ground to try to find thermals.  Many of the early starters either turned back and restarted (damn you, Bravo-Kilo!), or stopped to take thermals on the ridge (not a great strategy usually) - so I'd passed most of them and was out on my own; exactly what I'd hoped to avoid!  I managed to bump along and try a couple of weak climbs (none of which really worked well) until I was a mere 2 miles from Sherman Peak.  I could see its high, rocky ground as I struggled down on the treetops in front of the peak.  I tried to roll the dice and get a little closer, hoping to find a thermal (for no good reason).  Sadly, I hit some sink and had to dive out to the front of the slopes west of Sherman, and spent 15+ minutes finding a thermal and climbing my way back up high enough to go to Sherman Peak.  As I did so, I saw Bravo-Kilo (my friend Mike Reid in his classic Libelle) circling over Sherman Peak.  While I'd been struggling, he'd restarted the course and had a monster run out to Sherman.  I had enough altitude that I immediately dove for the Peak and climbed up with him for a few turns.  Eventually the lift weakened and we both departed - me staying 1 extra turn to gain another 100 feet (with the idea that I'd blow past Mike's older ship)...  

But I'll be damned if our ships aren't more-closely matched than I realized - I spent the next 5-7 minutes hot on Mike's tail, but sinking too much when I tried to speed up to pass him!  Eventually I ran into a strong thermal and stopped to core it while Mike flew on.  I had lucked into a great one and had a good climb to 12,800'!  I used this altitude to push the nose forward and make an 80-knot speed run to the spot where the ridge typically begins to work again; and in doing so I passed Mike low down, trying to tip-toe his way south.  Still he ended up only a few miles behind me and I was unable to make any distance on him the rest of the flight!  I believe he finished 2nd overall on the day; a great achievement.

The rest of the flight turned out to be a hoot - though it was stressful and hard work at times.  The ridges were cooking by this point in the afternoon, so I was able to spend the next ~3 hours flying without using any thermals.  Three turnpoints line up on the ridge (although 2 are at the weaker northern end of the ridge), so everyone was making "laps" along the ridge and having a good time.  Its a high traffic environment, so you're moving to pass other gliders (often head-on), trying to stay out of the rocks & trees, and still maintain a high speed.  But when its all working, its a blast!  The northern edge of the ridge drops several-hundred feet, so everytime you do a lap and head back south, you have to jump a gap at "Sugar Creek" and climb next to the ridge as it rises in elevation...  If you don't climb along with the ridge, you often end up having to come out of the mountains - and possibly land! So this requires some tricky management of airspeed and your flight track (to stay in the best air coming up the side of the mountain) - but again its quite a thrill when it works!  

Given my poor first leg, I stayed out an extra 30+ minutes and made one extra "half-lap" of the ridge to raise my overall speed.  By that point (7pm) the ridge was starting to weaken, so I peeled off and dove for home.  The final bit of excitement/tension was the massive sink I hit in a canyon coming out of the mountains... What started out as a fast and furious final-glide home became a 60-knot crawl as I'd lost all my excess altitde in the first 7 miles (and I still had 10+ to go).  But I crossed the finish with 200 feet to spare (above the minimum altitude to avoid a penalty) and had a nice, uneventful landing.  

Upon turning in my flight-log I found out that I'm sitting in 3rd place for the day - woo hoo!  That's subject to change as they continue to process everyone elses logs; but I'm hoping it'll stand up.  If so, it'll be a little bit of redemption for yesterday's mess!

--Noel "Kilo Romeo"

Posted: 7/21/2011 By: Noel Wade

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