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The Sparrowhawk and I

My incredible Sparrowhawk adventure started in May when Chip Garner called me at work and asked if I’d be interested in flying a Sparrowhawk at the 13.5 Meter Super Regionals in August. Well, of course! I had given a little thought to the contest but up until that point had pretty much decided against going due to vacation time constraints. However this offer was just the motivation I needed to make it happen anyway.

I read everything I could and talked to everyone that I knew that had Sparrowhawk experience, including locals Richard Boone and Gary Osoba. After helping Richard rig his glider and sitting in it I knew that comfort would not be an issue. The cockpit is large and easily accommodates my 6’1” height. Gary spent a lot of time discussing the gliders performance with me and how its strengths can be used to get the most performance out of it.

My month with the Sparrowhawk started a few days after Jerry and I returned from Region 10 South as I started the drive to Bend, OR to visit the Windward Performance shop, Greg Cole, and to get the glider. I really enjoyed the views offered by the western half of the USA and visited a few friends on the way. In Bend I spent a day oogling over the Perlan and a couple of Duckhawks that were in the hangar. I tried to make myself useful around the shop and

Photo #10652 | First flight in the

Greg gave me the rundown on flying the Sparrowhawk. I launched late in the afternoon and enjoyed about an hour and a half of local flying. My impressions were all positive, with quick control response and rapid roll rate, the glider never gave me a feeling of being unstable; A highly desirable combination.

The next day, Ol’ Blue and I had the Sparrowhawk in trail and were headed back south to Moriarty. I was set to arrive several days before the contest started, which would give me plenty of time to get used to the glider and re-acquaint myself with Moriarty.

Contest Manager Pete Vredenburg helped me rig the first day. First, when he went to lift the wingtip he nearly threw it into the top of the trailer. He’s used to lifting the wings on his 1-26. Shortly after when we had the wings on he noted that “if we all flew these, our wives would still crew for us”. Each wing weighs just less than 40 lbs on the Sparrowhawk. For the two weeks that I was flying, we never could avoid a chuckle every time we took it out of the trailer.

You can’t let the size and weight fool you though. Fullly loaded and ready for takeoff I was flying at about 420 lbs. That works out to 6 psf wing loading, not much lower than I fly in my Standard Cirrus dry. It can’t circle as tight as a 1-26 even though it weighs 200 lbs less, however I found that I was able to climb even with most of the 1-26’s at the contest. Between thermals the glider doesn’t mind speeding up. It is incredibly clean and picks up speed fast. I was often running about 70 knots between thermals and flew most of my conservatively high final glides at around 80. So, even though it is light, working into the wind is not an issue.

Moriarty at the end of August is not the same as Moriarty in June. I had flown Region 9 in June and was really hoping for a repeat of that weather. Something really strange had been happening in New Mexico. It had been RAINING. The entire Estancia Valley was green. Dust Devils that marked every thermal in June were completely missing early in the contest, and only hardly made an appearance by Labor Day. Outflow boundaries were no longer kicking up the walls of dust that got us all excited in June. Cloudbase was lower too. A lot lower, 12 or 13,000 feet instead of the 16 to 18,000 we had found in June. Moriarty is at 6200 feet and considering the terrain, 12,000 really isn’t that high. Four days of flying before the contest really helped me get more comfortable with these conditions. While cloudbase was low, I eventually learned that the thermals were much more closely spaced. I also got really familiar with how to find the few landable ranch strips and farm fields in the valley.

Contest Day 1: Two big circles, one south and one north, and two lines of clouds within sight of Moriarty. One is on the west side of the mountains. The other is tangent to the east edge of the start circle and goes to both circles. I decide that the clouds by the mountains are too far west and stay in the valley. Everyone else goes to the mountains and has a pretty awesome day. I struggle in the valley as the clouds aren’t working well and are dissipating. I land out at Zorro Ranch. No one is there but a ranch hand and his family. Very friendly though and the retrieve is easy. Only 2 others stayed in the valley. The only reason I’m not at the bottom of the score sheet is that two went a bit too far west running the clouds and got airspace penalties from Albuquerque.

Photo #10648 | landed at Zorro Ranc

The next day the launch started as a big thunderstorm started to blow up way to the southeast. The anvil cloud was blocking the sun pretty quickly and I was the last to launch before the CD stopped the launch and I landed right before he cancelled the day.

Contest Day 2: Weak weather continues to prevail. A 2 hour TAT is called. I nearly had to land back at Moriarty on the way from the first to the second turnpoint but found a strong thermal over the Sod Farm. I made it around with one or two more low points and was pretty happy to finish, even if it was 15 minutes under.

Contest Day 3: Some really nice streets set up in the valley and everyone had a great time running them. I finally managed to “get high and stay high” which made for much lower stress levels in the cockpit and for the first time I was feeling completely comfortable in the glider and had opportunities to take advantage of its cruise performance. This paid off as I was 2nd for the day! Still 7th of 9 but I was only about 100 points out of 2nd place. The competition was tight, except that Francois’ consistent flying was setting him apart from the crowd, and he had a big lead to show for it.

Photo #10649 | Sparrowhawk over Mor

Contest Day 4: Another 2 hour TAT in the valley. I had another good run, first up north past Zorro Ranch. I once again was able to stay high, although high meant never getting much below 10,000 MSL. I was able to comfortably get east over the high ground with better lift running south. The final glide with a 15 knot tailwind was really nice. Nothing like seeing well over 100 mph on the groundspeed and making over 20:1 over the ground! I was really happy with my 56 mph speed until I found out that Ron Schwartz beat my about .5 mph raw in his 1-26D! Wow! He described his flight as one of the top 3 of his career so that’s saying something. Day 4 was also the first day since I had been at Moriarty that there wasn’t a major overdevlopment and rain shower somewhere in the area. The monsoons and associated moisture seemed to be leaving us.

Contest Day 5: After a good showing I was starting to develop expectations again. My crew Bob Whelan and I had developed a great daily routine and everything was on cruise control. The contest was over half over, I was still in 6th overall but had a good opportunity to move up some more. The task first went east, then north, south, and home. It was a 3 hour TAT. I had trouble getting high enough on the first leg to be comfortable far enough East to get to the good stuff. Those who did were rewarded with much faster flights than mine. Instead I fell off the edge of the high ground and back into the valley up by my old friend, Zorro Ranch. I continued north, chasing clouds and then chasing cloud wisps, insisting on getting some sort of climb before turning south into the wind. Well I ended up close enough to Santa Fe to justify calling the tower there. Thankfully I found a thermal under the last cloud and did not have to land at Santa Fe and started a frustrating and slow flight south. I think I spent an hour below 10,000 feet until I finally got a series of good climbs south of Zorro and was able to knick the last turnpoint and happily come home a few minutes early. Nothing beats the feeling of making it home after you were sure so many times that you would never make it. The fact that I was awfully slow (8th of 9) for the day did not diminish that feeling. I had made my decisions, others had made theirs, and on this day theirs resulted in faster flights. I was still 6th overall but was now 300 points out of 2nd.

Photo #10650 | Bob and I at Moriart

Contest Day 6: Well so much for expectations. I had hoped to be doing a lot better than this! Perhaps I had put a little too much pressure on myself. Had learning a new glider quickly compounded with my desire to do well not only for myself but also for the guys at Windward been too much? I felt like I really was comfortable in the glider and flying it pretty well, just not making the “right” decisions to keep me up on the scoresheet. Oh well, it was time to play the hand I had dealt myself and enjoy the end of the contest. I would continue to make my decisions and see how the cards fell. If I could move up a few spots, that would be even better. The task was a 2 hour TAT, first to the southwest towards Manzano Peak, then east towards Clines Corners, and back. The challenge today was that some high cirrus was moving in from the south and was going to affect the task in a big way. “Start early and pray for rain” was modified into “Start early and pray you can stay out of the shade”! On the way to the first turnpoint the shadow had already started to enter the southern part of the task area. There was a really awesome looking cloudstreet heading right to Manzano and beyond but also right into the shade. The problem the way I saw it was that it was 20 or 30 miles through solid shadow from the peak to the next sunlight in the 2nd turn area. No way, Jose, I will not be tempted. Instead I went only 5 or so miles into the first circle and then tried to stay a few miles in the sunlight as I went back east. I had help from several of the 1-26ers who were following a similar course. The plan was working well. The only problem was that because I had cut the first area short I had to go as far as possible into the second area to avoid being overtime. No problem, I’ll just stay in the sun and take what I can get. Eventually I am east of Clines Corners 10 or 15 miles, at the extreme northeast “corner” of the second circle, and since I can’t go any further I turn back. I had been thinking that the worst possible thing that could happen would be that the shadow would block my return to Moriarty, and sure enough, it had creeped north and a direct route did not look like the best route.

At this point I started to wonder if I was even going to make it back to Moriarty. I had heard at least one landout at Estancia. I stayed with the sunlight, running more northwest than due west. The shadow was still moving north. About the time I was north of Clines 10 miles, well off course, I started to wonder if I was going to end up at Zorro Ranch again! I heard the aero retrieve back from Estancia talking about how smooth the air was! Yikes!!! I keep heading west/northwest and finally found a climb that gives me a comfortable final glide to Moriarty. The air was certainly smooth on the way back. Sometimes the fastest route between two points is not a straight line. It turns out that I handily won the day! Pretty much everyone else went for the cloud street and struggled across the shadow. I was amazed that any of the 1-26’s were able to make it across the expanse although I heard about quite a few low saves. In the 13.5 meter contest, only 3 of us were scored as finishing, as many of the 1-26 finishers were too low for speed poinits. The 1-26 rules don’t have a minimum finish height. There was a pretty big mixup in the scoresheet as a result and I was now up to 4th even though the day was heavily devalued. I was now about 120 points out of 2nd and it was starting to seem like a real possibility again. I was over 1000 points out of 1st thanks to Francois’ consistent flying.

The following day was the last day of the 1-26 Championships. 13.5 meter had one more day following that. The day was looking a little iffy and it was pointed out that SSA recommends no more than 6 consecutive contest days. It would’ve been our 6th and the following day was looking better so 13.5 meter stood down and 1-26 flew. The 1-26er’s ended up having a good day and finished off a memorable championships. I personally was happy for the day off as I had flown 11 days in a row at that point. I enjoyed watching the launch and spending the day with the crews.

Contest Day 7: The final day of our contest was held in parallel with the 1-26 “Champion of Champions” invitational where all past and present 1-26 Champs raced for bragging rights. The tasks overlapped. They had a 150 mile assigned task. We had the same task, but as an MAT. First turnpoint was north towards Lamy Junction, then Clines Corners, Willard to the south, and the last assigned turnpoint was about 15 miles north of Moriarty. I was looking forward to the task as it was set up nicely as a “Long MAT” which would allow those of us with similar performance to fly together for most of the task. It worked out that I started side by side with Bill Snead in his PW-5, 6W. Our handicaps are just 1% different so I decided it would be a good idea to try to keep up with him around the task. On the way to the first turn he got out in front of me far enough that I lost him. At that point I figured that was why he was a former US Team member and I wasn’t. Well after nearly lawn darting at Zorro Ranch and just before getting to the first turnpoint I saw a flash of PW wings as he turned the turnpoint. I wasn’t too far behind! I think I saw him once or twice on the second leg but mostly felt alone on that leg. Coming out of Clines Corners there was a really nice looking cloud right on the courseline. I figured that if I was going to find another glider on course, it would be there, and sure enough I saw Bill ahead and below, thermalling. We joined together at the point and essentially flew together the rest of the task.

Flying together with someone can really benefit the two, even if you aren’t communicating, which we weren’t. However sometimes you can push each other a bit too much and that’s what happened to Bill and I coming out of the Willard turnpoint. Not wanting to give up an inch to each other, we both left lift too early or rejected some weak lift that we probably should’ve taken, and pretty soon I found myself low headed for Estancia and had lost sight of Bill. I was at about 1500 AGL over the town of Estancia trying to find some lift off town and was about to make a right turn towards the airport when once again I saw the flash of PW-5 wings, off to the left. A quick turn reversal and I was happily climbing under Bill at about 1.5 knots. Saved! Thank You Bill Snead!! We both were a bit less picky after that and worked back up to a respectable altitude in a series of thermals as we drifted north towards Moriarty and the final turnpoint. We found a good line of clouds leading into the last turnpoint and arrived there with plenty of extra time on the clock. I decided to work back down that line to pick up some extra turnpoints while Bill went a different direction. Adios, Amigo. I grabbed a few close in turnpoints west and southwest of the airport and finished 48 seconds early. Bill landed a few minutes after me. We both shook hands and enjoyed recounting the flight on the ground. It was a fun flight to end the contest.

I ended up going on a retrieve and we made it back just in time for trophies to be presented. Bill and I had essentially tied for the day win; with me beating him by .02 handicapped mph. Due to some scoring glitches it was thought at the time that Bill had won the day so he gave the speech. He deserved the recognition anyway since if it hadn’t been for him I probably wouldn’t have been nearly as fast and may have been sitting at the Estancia Airport! As a result I managed to move up to 2nd overall for the contest and brought home a very nice trophy. I was, and still am, incredibly pleased. After struggling early in the contest I was really happy to be able to mount a comeback on the last two days and end up with a good finish.

Photo #10651 | Two Sparrowhawks hav

The day after the contest I had one more mission to attempt with the Sparrowhawk. I had noticed that the Ultralight 300 km World Record Triangle Speed, which was set by Gary Osoba in Ulysses, KS, was in the low 50 mph range. It seemed that I had been averaging better than that on average contest days so I had arranged to make an official attempt at the record. Billy Hill in Moriarty is a Senior Observer and I purchased a sporting license from the NAA. Bob was sticking around for the weekend so I would have crew. A bunch of the locals were out flying that day and I tried to get a fairly early start as some overdevelopment was predicted. I started towards Ortiz Mine, my first turnpoint to the north, and immediately started what seemed like it would be a fantastic lawn dart. I got relatively close to the turnpoint but much too low and was unable to find a reasonable climb. I did claw my way up but as a result my speed was so low that I decided the best choice was to come back and restart, which I did. The second attempt was much better so I continued on course to my second turnpoint to the southeast of Manzano. I turned it with an average speed well on pace for the record. However my 3rd turnpoint, Duran, had been and still was being affected by a large rain shower to the south and the associated outflow. I had to divert off course to stay with the Cu and ended up due north of Duran on the edge of the cu field. I waited for cu to start to form again in the blue and tip toed my way to the turnpoint but the time spent was too costly and my speed was now far too low to have a chance at the record. I switched focus to just trying to get home, and ended up having to take quite a diversion on the way north to make it to Moriarty, but I did. I completed the triangle, just not nearly fast enough. For me, just having the opportunity to make the attempt was awesome, hopefully next time I find myself with a glider and weather capable of a record flight, the outcome is better. The next day, fellow Sparrowhawk pilot Morgan Sandercock attempted the same record but also came up short. Next time.

In closing I cannot thank Greg Cole at Windward enough for giving me the opportunity to fly his glider for two weeks. It showed great confidence and generosity. I’m glad to have earned a trophy as a result and can only hope that next time the trophy has a 1 on it instead of 2.

Posted: 10/11/2013 By: Tony Condon


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