Living, Learning, Dreaming – The Best is Yet to Be

Editor's Note: We are grateful to Frauke Elber of the Women Soaring Pilots Association (WSPA) for giving us permission to re-publish this story by US Team pilot Sarah Arnold from the May, 2013 issue of the WSPA newsletter, Hangar Soaring.

Sarah at 2013 WGC in Chaves

Sarah at 2013 WGC in Chaves

This is the story of my experiences at the 32nd World Gliding Championships at Rolf Hosslinger Aerodrome in Adolfo Gonzales Chaves, Argentina. It was possible because of tremendous support from my gliding family. I would like to thank all who contributed time and money to this cause, and especially recognize my husband Jason for the sacrifices he made as my crew.

Preparation

From the moment in May 2011, when I became the US Sports Class National Champion and secured a place on the US Soaring Team, I attached to every soaring endeavor the condition which it must in some way prepare me for the worlds. Fortunately I had the rare opportunity to compete in not one, but two pre-world championships, attend the Uvalde WGC as a tow pilot, be coached by former World Champion and world class coach Brian Spreckley, and in the process study the art of team flying.

Recently there has been much discussion in this country as US pilots have awakened to the challenges and rewards which come with a good team flying pair. Much has already been written about details of how to, why to, when to and if to team fly: I see no need to repeat such mechanics here. With over 140 hours logged in the last year-and-a-half team flying, first with Francois Pin in the pre-worlds, and then with Sean Franke in team training, regionals, and the worlds, I have learned a few less obvious things.

Team flying is like a marriage. You have nothing if you don’t have mutual respect, and you are wasting your time if you don’t communicate effectively. Two good pilots don’t always make a good team, and some pilots will never be part of a team. There are many different types of teams, all of which can be successful. No pilot through team flying will become better than they already are. In the best teams, each pilot can fly with the same amount of focus and intuition as if that pilot were alone. And most importantly, you have nothing without complete trust in your partner.

Often I hear comments to the effect that team flying is great when done well, but that it takes years and hundreds of hours with a partner to learn how. This has not been my experience, especially when one pilot has previously been part of a successful team. In my first pairing, Francois Pin taught me, and then I brought that knowledge to my next partner. Sean Franke and I made rapid progress because of Brian Spreckley’s skilled coaching, during the US Team training camp at Chilhowee in April 2012, and later by much honest post-flight analysis between us.

Challenges

I’m at a loss as to how I might describe the highs, lows, challenges, triumphs and the people of Argentina. Oh where to start! Some things come to mind. Crazy driving experiences, riding a horse in the field of my second landout, 24 gliders and their pilots all landed out together, struggling through a nasty flu-like illness, and my dear friend Gabriella Repicky who brought me “cumulus seeds” after many windy blue racing days. What an amazing, difficult, lovable, quirky place.

Having been to Argentina a year prior for the pre-worlds we arrived armed with local knowledge and a plan. We brought towels and coffee, rented a car, and took our friend Joaquin up on his offer of a small caravan camper to live in. I brought a suitcase of tools, my own parachute, instruments and spares of every imaginable sort; of course we were not prepared. Illness struck the second day, a flu that turned to laryngitis; I could not speak for three days. During this time I installed instruments, replaced pneumatic tubing, repaired wiring, fixed a loose gear door, and test flew the glider. John Good installed missing gap seals, and team captain Rick Sheppe created a necessary cable seemingly out of thin air. I didn’t notice the problems with the radio (detuned receiver) until the first day we flew, or the Cambridge 302 logger until the day after. By the third official day everything was working, I was feeling better, and we were flying well. Then disaster struck.

What Happened?

One the fourth competition day I landed out at the first thermal on course while Sean climbed away and came in second for the day. After careful analysis of the traces, it turns out that as we moved from a small climb to the next a short distance away, although we were wing on wing, I hit a little sink while Sean flew through a little lift; the small difference in altitude was enough for him to catch the thermal bubble and me to miss it. Luck can be a greater than usual factor on very windy and very low days, as was proved on Day 5 when he missed the last climb, and I was able to continue on.

I learned some things that day. Early in a competition flight is a poor time to depend on the absence of bad luck. More importantly I realized something about sportsmanship. I remembered times when I was secretly happy when some other pilot’s misfortune gave me a higher overall placing. I realized I have no less respect for pilots who experienced similar misfortunes, and that the pain of my fall offered me an opportunity to grow as a pilot and competitor. In the words of Gabriella I had “the opportunity to train some mental areas you don’t have the chance to train when you have to defend your position in the podium.” I am proud that I was able to come back, fly well, and be a good teammate.

Highlights

As I think back little snapshots enter my head highlighting some favorite memories. Soaring along a sea breeze for the first time on day 3, where we flew so fast that we wound up alone, in the blue, headed home. Two sailplanes alone over desolate and beautiful country, rolling into a thermal, and looking down to see the most beautiful whitewater river below. I felt like a pioneer, an intruder in a wild wilderness, and at that moment if I could have, I would have stepped out of the sailplane to rest near that amazing river. I’m smiling as I remember the first landout, meeting my fellow competitors in a field filled to overflowing with sailplanes, my Canadian friend Branko sharing his in-flight snack with me, “since you’re the only girl”, and how proud I was to see my crew, winners of the ground race, the first to arrive. My wonderful, wonderful crew! Jason and Eduardo, anticipating my needs, encouraging at the appropriate times, wisely silent at others, driving many miles to many fields, washing bugs and mud and cow patties, sensitive and kind, my world was made wonderful because of them.

All too soon the competition was over. At home I’m accustomed to spending the whole race among friends. By the last day at the worlds, I was just beginning to know my peers. I lingered at the farewell party, reluctant to leave, because I knew that the moment I walked out the doors it would really be over. The whole experience opened my eyes to how big and beautiful our sport is, and yet how small and close is the worldwide family of soaring.

Looking ahead to France

My attention has shifted yet again; in fact I felt the shift on my disaster day 4. It is now all about the Women’s World Gliding Championships (WWGC) in Issoudun, France, this July. Every soaring decision now is made based on “how will this prepare me for France”. Tickets are bought, I’m thinking about what instruments to bring, and realize that soon it will be time to pack. I feel optimistic about the upcoming season and honored to have so many supportive friends. I wish that each of you will feel as fulfilled in your individual soaring adventures as I do in mine. Thank you for making my dreams possible.

  1 comment for “Living, Learning, Dreaming – The Best is Yet to Be

  1. June 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Sarah:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! You will forever have fond Argentine memories. You do a great job representing our country. Keep up the stellar flying.

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