We got a day in today, but I wouldn't have given you a plugged nickel for our chances before things started cooking around 2pm.
The master weather guesser Richard Kellerman (QV) told us at the morning meeting that the airmass was about the same as yesterday (and the day before) so he wasn't all that confident that we were going to do any better than yesterday (which was at times appalling and at other times terrifying), except with winds from the north rather than from the southeast.
At grid time, there wasn't a breath of wind on the ground, and not even the buzzards were flying. First you see buzzards soaring, then you see hawks, then you see gliders - pretty much in that order. You don't see gliders, then buzzards, at least not for long! ;-). At about 12:30 or so, CD Jackie sent up Hank Nixon (UH), over on Jacks Mountain, and he almost beat the towplane back down. He landed opposite direction on runway 6, stopped in front of the grid and we turned him around to go again. This time Jackie sent Hank back to Jacks mountain, and Andy Brayer (HH1) to 7 mountains. As Andy towed out, he dropped all his ballast, leaving twin water streaks down the runway -- neat! Round 2 was over almost as quickly as Round 1, so, we sat around on the grid for another half hour or so at which point Jackie decided to launch another 6 gliders, 3 to Jacks, and 3 to 7 Mountains. I was number 4 on the grid today, so I got launched in this group. I was fully ballasted, so I decided to drop half on tow. At the time I wondered to myself why I shouldn't drop it all, but something told me to keep some of the water. As it turned out, I hit a 2-3kt climb right off tow, and was soon near 4000' msl, still climbing, even as all the other gliders in that group were calling downwind for landing - go figure.
Soon thereafter, we started to see Q's popping, first way away out over the Nittany valley, and then wonder of wonders, right there over Stone mountain. By this time the general launch had started and more gliders were coming up to join me. It was still a struggle, and it seemed to be sort of the luck of the draw whether or not you found a thermal quickly enough off tow to avoid grinding around forever below 3000'. If you *did* find a good thermal quickly, then it wasn't hard to get all the way up to 7000' under the rapidly cycling Q's.
The gate finally opened on the task at about 2:20 or so, and those of us that were up at the top of the working band took the opportunity to get the heck out of Dodge while the getting was good. The start was kind of interesting, because the only good climb was about 5 miles south of the start circle, and there was absolutely nothing happening inside the start circle. So the procedure was to climb to 7000', then dead glide out to the start circle, making sure to get your 2 minutes under 5000', then (hopefully) gliding back to the good climb, before the cloud and the lift dissipated. Once back up at 7000 or so, then the first leg, consisting of a lot more dead gliding, was sort of do-able. Interestingly, there were some clouds on the task line just a few miles away from THE BIG CLIMB, but there the cloud bases were about 500-1000' lower. So we left THE BIG CLIMB, and then found completely smooth air for the next 500-1000 vertical feet.
The task was first southwest to Kettle Reservoir (basically Altoona) - 20 miles, then more or less due east to Honey Grove - 15 miles, then due north to LockHaven - 20 miles, then home. The first leg was the aforementioned dead glide for about half the distance until we got down to below 4500 or so, where we started hitting some fairly weak climbs (which we took with gratitude). I managed to get started with a good group, including Chip Garner (CG) in his DuckHawk, John Seaborn (A8), and Jerzy Szemplinski (XG), and let me tell you, being surrounded by National Champions in every quarter helps A LOT! ;-). Anyway, we all kind of furballed our way down to Altoona, and we happened to find a decent climb to almost 7000' right at the eastern edge of the city, right over the reservoir and over the high ground. This allowed us to glide basically all the way to the high ground at the Raystown Dam, where we found a crappy 2 kt climb to about 4700'. This allowed us to glide across Jacks Mountain and the Shade mountain valley to just nick the Honey Grove circle, and then glide back to the high ground over Jacks Mountain. This was where a lot of gliders got in trouble, as there was almost no lift to be had at all in this area. We managed to escape Honey Grove with our lives, and eventually made it over onto the high ground over Stone Mountain, where we once again started hitting good lift, to 6000' and above. Once we got this far, then the rest of the task was fairly easy, as we simply flew along the high ground northeast toward and beyond Woodward to run out the time. My experimental borrowed portable FLARM unit worked very well today, and as we begin to get some experience with it, I think it is going to be viewed as a net positive for XC racing, quite independently of the safety and collision alerting aspects. However, there were a few surprises. On the way back to Mifflin on the final glide, Chip Garner was flying with me at about my 5 O'clock position, easy to see with the FLARM. However, I also saw some FLARM hits out in front of me (looked like someone thermalling) but I couldn't see them, and that had me a bit worried. About the time the hits at 12:00 were getting close, Chip decided it was time to pass me close on my right side, setting off the collision alert. Just for a second I thought it was the glider in front that had set off the alert, and so I pulled up and to the left to avoid, giving Chip a bit of a fright as well. Never did see the glider in front, but I guess FLARM can't do everything. The moral of the story is, when you get close enough to another glider to get a collision alert, be aware that the other guy is getting one too, and it just might freak him out! ;-).
More on the DuckHawke: I flew with Chip for basically the entire task today, and that in and of itself is a message of sorts. Chip of course is a perennial Standard Class National Champion and former U.S. Team member, so he could probably fly my trailer and still beat me. However, it is a brand-new airplane that he has not had the chance to tune up or prepare in any way, so that maybe balances out. Bottom line - the DuckHawk isn't an immediate ASW-27/V2bx/ASG-29 killer, but neither is it giving up any ground, despite the lack of winglets and its odd profile. So, if you can fit (I don't) in the cockpit and are tired of sending all your money and your first-born son over to Germany for a modern 15m racing glider, I believe there is now an honest-to-gosh made-in-the-USA option - YAY! (note - I have absolutely no affiliation with Windward Performance, except for the fact that I'm an American and they are an American company that I think is doing something cool)
Popular weather for tomorrow shows sunny with a high near 84. After the last 4 'sunny' days with wildly varying soaring opportunities, I have no idea what that really means. Whatever it is, it just might be the last day of the 15m Nationals, as the forecast for Monday and Tuesday is decidedly gloomy. Stay tuned!