So long, Soaring

This is (probably - you never know for sure!) my last Soaring Cafe post.

Last month, at the Minden 18m Nationals, I was disqualified for 'unsafe thermalling' in response to a written complaint from Dennis Linnekin (DL).  In addition to being disqualified from that event, I was prevented from competing in the 15m Nationals at Montague.  Now, a month later, the SSA has decided that my crimes against soaring were so heinous that I am to be barred from competing in any SSA sanctioned contest for the rest of this year, barred from competing in any Nationals in 2015 (including the Sports Class Nationals at my own club), barred from the 2015 Seniors and 2015 Perry, and barred from any future SSA contests unless I can convince the SSA powers-that-be that I have been sufficiently 'reformed'. I have had basically no input or recourse to any of this. I have to say that I am amazed and awed by the actions the SSA leadership has taken in the name of safety.  Apparently the concept of 'cruel and unusual punishment' has been embraced by the SSA as 'a good thing' instead of an abhorrent practice!  As Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said when referring to the practice of being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail; "If it weren't for the honor of the thing, I'd just as soon walk".

Even though the SSA 'remedy' as presented does, at least theoretically, provide for a way for me to worm my way back into their good graces by being sufficiently remorseful (and, implicitly, less critical in my public utterances), I have simply lost any interest in continuing in a sport where so few people can exercise so much unfettered power.  At this point, no matter what I do I'll always have this 'sword of Damocles' hanging over my head, waiting to fall at the slightest infraction or official displeasure. I have better things to do with the rest of my life than bow and scrape for the chance to participate in a sport where, as I have said on a number of occasions, 'there's no money and no babes', so I choose not to play that game.  For those who find the above too incredible to believe, I have provided the as much of the documentation chain as I have, in more or less chronological order, at the end of this post. As you read the documentation, you might want to keep the following in mind:

  • At the 2013 Seniors, both the current SSA chairman and Ken Sorenson had issues with my Soaring Cafe posts concerning the SSA's decision to preempt our little Hawke Tracking SPOT tracking effort with a 'free' version offered by a foreign company.  The then SSA chairman went so far as to 'jokingly' state at a morning pilot's meeting that he had hired some motorcycle thugs to 'beat the shit out of me', and in fact did arrange to have some appropriately attired motorcycle 'thugs' to show up at my glider the next morning on the grid.  All in fun, of course.  Just coincidentally I was hit with a "9.13" sanction at that contest, even though there were no written complaints against me.  Apparently, actual documented facts are not required for this.
  • At the 2014 Minden contest, John Godfrey, (the Minden CD who disqualified me) was the same person who I had criticized for not updating the Minden waypoint database to remove missing/abandoned airports, even though I had provided much of the necessary information months before.
  • The SSA officer who reviewed and approved the disqualification was Ken Sorenson - the same person who instigated/reviewed the 2013 Seniors 9.13 rule procedure without recourse to actual written complaints.
  • The officer who would have ruled on any protest I might have made regarding my disqualification (after the fact - as the disqualification itself was done overnight without any input from me) was - Ken Sorenson
  • The officer who made sure that the Montague contest management knew they had an 'unsafe pilot' heading their way was - Ken Sorenson
  • The officers responsible for reviewing the 9.13 action instigated by Ken Sorenson and CD John Godfrey was - Ken Sorenson and John Godfrey
  • The recommendation to the ExComm was presented by - Ken Sorenson and John Godfrey

It occurs to me that I now have the unusual opportunity to write (and read in print) my own obituary - that's got to be a first!  So,  here it is :-)

I started soaring in 1994 after retiring from government service, and soon fell in love with cross-country soaring and soaring competition.  In the last 5 years or so I have gone to every soaring contest I could reach, averaging about 10 contests per year.  I regularly posted Soaring Cafe articles about these contests, trying to share the joy and humor I experienced with readers around the country (and, I am told, around the world too).  Unfortunately for me, some of these posts were viewed as being critical of the current SSA's leadership, and, in my humble opinion, contributed significantly to my abrupt and untimely 'death'.

Somewhere along the way (in 2005, I think) I started using the Condor Soaring Simulator as a trainer to improve my XC racing skills, and I fell in love with it, too.  As I learned more about Condor I realized it was the perfect vehicle to not only for personal practice, but to help others 'break the apron strings' and/or improve their XC skills.  As a result, I started training XC pilots remotely using Condor, and in the last five years or so I have trained dozens of pilots from all over this country and in several foreign countries.  As part of the general effort to promote Condor as a viable and effective XC training tool, I co-authored the popular 'Condor Corner' column in the SSA 'Soaring' magazine, contributing articles to something like 26 separate issues of "Soaring" over 4 years.

I came late to soaring, not taking my first glider ride until my mid-forties, and my first contest in my early 50's or so.  I never set the world on fire, but I did manage to win a few small regionals, came within shouting distance of a national championship, and even won a couple of days at Perry - an accomplishment I treasure even more highly than winning a nationals.  I'm also hopeful that I maybe had some positive influence over the upcoming generation of Condor-trained pilots who will ultimately take over the competition, assuming the SSA doesn't find some way of stopping them too.

Hmm, three paragraphs - not much to show for two decades of soaring, but what can I say.  Ah well, time to move on to competitive knitting - watch out for those needles! ;-).

As a closing remark to the remaining 499 (used to be 500) competition pilots in the USA, I suggest you think about this whole episode as a cautionary tale, and to realize it can happen to you too, if you were to be so impertinent as to suggest that the SSA leadership is less than infallible.  I would go further to suggest that my travails cry out for a 'Competitor's Bill of Rights' that would sharply limit the power of the SSA leadership to railroad a competitor right out of the sport. Just something to think about ;-).

Frank (ex-TA)

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Ken,

We reached a decision today to disqualify Frank Paynter from the remainder of the 18M National contest.  Frank has left the contest. Below are the details.

In response to verbal reports followed by the two emails received early today (attached) regarding Frank Paynter’s airmanship during yesterdays flights the Competition Committee met before the pilot’s meeting.

The Competition Committee consists of:

  • Dan Gudgel, DPE (Weather)
  • Allan Coombs
  • Stewart Tattersall (Scorer and SoarNV employee)
  • Myself

Also attending were:

  • Reba Coombs (Contest Manager)
  • Mike Harbison (Minden airport ops, contest ground ops manager)

We reviewed the following:

  1. The two emails describing near mid-airs from Dennis Linnekin and Pete Alexander
  2. Dennis Linnekin’s comment in his OLC post regarding the flight (attached)
  3. Frank’s event earlier in the week where he was observed thermalling in the pattern without proper position and intention communication on CTAF.
  4. My verbal report of my conversation with Frank after he received my first email to him (email copied to you)
  5. My verbal report of a conversation with Tim Welles where he reported Frank entering a thermal that put him on an opposing heading with Tim (already established)
  6. The prior problems at the Seniors and the subsequent successfully completed probation.

Item 1.

These email are notable for the fact that they are written complaints.  Neither Dennis nor Pete are (IMO) given to emotional responses

Item 2.

This post is again notable for its uncharacteristic public criticism

Item 3.

When initially discussed with Mike, Frank’s response was that “he was listening.”  When I mentioned it again today, his response was that although he was initially unaware of this special requirement we should note that yesterday when he returned he was totally compliant with the communication requirements (he was).  I would note that the requirement to announce position and intentions on CTAF at a public airport is not a special Minden requirement.

Item 4.

Frank approached me before the CC met and I explained that this was a serious situation and that possible disqualification was on the table, but that I would not act without the concurrence of the CC. He expressed what I interpret as sincere regret for the situation and his actions and also said that perhaps every now and then (perhaps even at the beginning of a contest) he needed to be “swatted upside the head.” This was of concern to all because a pilot needs to be self regulating about this, not corrected by others after the fact as a matter of normal practice.  The CC noted that since this is a repeat event (twice in the same flight, Seniors), the self limiting has not taken sufficient root.

Item 5.

I was advised that Tim Welles had a air-air communication with Frank regarding a conflict earlier in the week.  I spoke with Tim and he explained that he (Tim) was established in a thermal on course and that Frank entered and set up adjacent circling so that they were on opposite headings at the same altitude.

The CC and others attending were in unanimous agreement that it was in the best interest of safety for the contest to give Frank a “time out” and ask him to leave. Reba and I met with Frank and advised him of the CC decision.

My own personal view is that Frank does not intentionally disregard safety, but that he is somehow unaware in real time of what is proper or is unable to perceive these developing situations in time to avoid conflicts.  Something has gone amiss with his airmanship. I believe this is correctable, but requires more than self-reflection and a desire to improve.

Unfortunately, the pressure of time did not allow us to give Frank (and Dennis/Pete) a full opportunity to explain/respond to his actions.  He is certainly entitled to this.  We believe that in the limited time we had that erring on the side of caution and concern for safety  was more prudent that risking the downside of an incident through inaction.

Our public stance is that Frank left the contest early to get an early start to Montague.  I do not know whether he still intends to attend Montague and leave any communication with that contest organization to your judgment.

One final note is that in a later conversation with Doug Jacobs he told me that he had a private conversation with Frank at the recent Perry contest regarding Frank’s flying near him.

Contests are Frank’s life and I sincerely hope a path can be found to correct this problem. As I said, my belief is that his intentions are good but that something is amiss in airmanship.

I have copied the other members of the CC and Reba who are invited to comment/enhance/correct as they feel appropriate.

Please let me know any further information you need or questions you have.

Respectfully,
John Godfrey
Competition Director

[email from Ken Sorenson to Noelle Mays of Williams Soaring. This resulted in my being forced to withdraw from Montague as well.]

Noelle,
Please see the message below from John Godfrey.
Frank Paynter was disqualified yesterday from continued participation in the 18M Nationals at Minden per Rule 12.2.5.1 because of his unsafe flying.
Item #6 in John Godfrey's list below refers to a similar problem with Frank last year which resulted in action taken by the SSA Board in response to Rule 9.13 (see attached letter from John Good). This involved Frank being placed on probation for most of 2013 (see Board Letter from me), which he successfully completed.
I see that Frank is on the contestant list for the upcoming 15M Nationals at Montague. You and your contest team may want to discuss this matter with Frank when he arrives. Obviously it is important to all of us that our SSA contests are conducted safely. Rules 12.2.5.1 and 9.13 are available to contest organizers specifically to deal with unsafe pilots.
Ken
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Frank:

Attached is the Rules Committee’s recommendation to the SSA Executive Committee on how to deal with the “Rule 9.13” issue that arose at the Minden 18-Meter Nationals.  As you can see, the recommended steps are severe, reflecting the very serious matter of an experienced contest pilot whose flying has convinced many of his peers that safe thermaling behavior cannot be relied on. We were confident your positive response to the Rule 9.13 letter that arose from the 2013 Senior Contest indicated that you understood the problem and had it under control - but this was incorrect.

The SSA Executive Committee meeting at which action will be taken on this matter is scheduled for July 12.  We’d very much like to see you stay with a sport to which you have contributed a great deal, and in which your overall reputation is very good. I invite you to submit an alternative recommendation prior to the meeting. Any such recommendation should certainly include your understanding of the causes of this problem and your plan to resolve it.

Ken Sorenson, SSA Contest Committee Chair

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[attachments also provided as attachments to this post]

Frank:

Attached is the Rules Committee’s recommendation to the SSA Executive Committee on how to deal with the “Rule 9.13” issue that arose at the Minden 18-Meter Nationals.  As you can see, the recommended steps are severe, reflecting the very serious matter of an experienced contest pilot whose flying has convinced many of his peers that safe thermaling behavior cannot be relied on. We were confident your positive response to the Rule 9.13 letter that arose from the 2013 Senior Contest indicated that you understood the problem and had it under control - but this was incorrect.

The SSA Executive Committee meeting at which action will be taken on this matter is scheduled for July 12.  We’d very much like to see you stay with a sport to which you have contributed a great deal, and in which your overall reputation is very good. I invite you to submit an alternative recommendation prior to the meeting. Any such recommendation should certainly include your understanding of the causes of this problem and your plan to resolve it.

Ken Sorenson, SSA Contest Committee Chair

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All,

Thank you for the opportunity to suggest an alternative remedy.  I would like to propose the following modifications:
  • KS has graciously offered to fly with me in his Duo at the Dansville contest in August, with the objective of identifying and correcting any deficiencies in my thermal entry and thermalling techniques.  I would propose that any final determination of remedies be postponed until after that contest.
  • If Karl's report is favorable, I would request that I be allowed to fly in the Fairfield, Pa regional in October.  This a small contest and I don't believe I have ever received any complaints from other pilots there.  this would also allow me to practice/implement any technique modifications suggested by Karl, in a realistic but relatively benign competition environment.
  • I would also request that I be allowed to fly at the 2015 Sports Class contest, as this is being held at my home club in Waynesville, Ohio.
Regards,
Frank
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Excom,
The Investigating Committee/Rules Committee has reviewed Frank's response below.
The Committee's original recommendation stands, with the additional recommendation that Frank fly with Karl at Dansville, and then - with Karl's input - prepare and submit a document that is his best assessment of the cause of this problem, and his plan to ensure it will not happen again.  Upon receiving this, the Committee will consider whether to recommend that the action taken by the Excom in July be modified.
Ken
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Frank,

The SSA Executive Committee met on July 12, 2014 and discussed the Rule 9.13 recommendation made by the Rules Committee/Investigating Committee regarding your unsafe flying.

The decision of the ExComm was that you will be ineligible as an entrant for all SSA-sanctioned contests for the remainder of 2014, and ineligible as an entrant for the SSA Nationals, the Seniors, and the Region 5N Perry contests in 2015. Your situation will be reviewed by the Rules Committee following the 2015 soaring season to determine if it is appropriate to remove all restrictions after 2015. A key consideration will be a written explanation to the Rules Committee from you explaining your understanding of the cause of the problem and what has been done to correct it.

While you are not eligible to fly as an entrant according to the restrictions listed above, it is permissible for you to fly as a passenger in a two-place glider, such as you are planning to do with Karl Striedieck at the 2014 Dansville contest.

Once you believe that you have identified your problem and corrected it, you may also petition the SSA Board to modify the restrictions. This written petition should be submitted to the Rules Committee with an explanation of your understanding of the problem and your actions to modify the behavior.

Richard Maleady,
Chairman, SSA Board of Directors

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Frank (TA)

 

Frank Paynter

Dr. Frank (TA) Paynter has a PhD in Electrical Engineering. He retired from a successful 25-year civil-service career in 1993 and spent the next 15 years as a antenna researcher at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, retiring again in 2008 to become a full-time soaring bum.He is the author of the book “Cross Country Soaring with Condor”, co-authors (along with Scott Manley) the popular Condor Corner column for ‘Soaring’ magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Condor section at SoaringCafe.com.Along with Mark Hawkins, he is part owner of Hawke Tracking, the company that provides SPOT tracking services for contests and clubs. Before soaring came along, Frank was a national champion skydiver and still holds the record for the most number of consecutive dead-centers in skydiving competition. Frank started soaring in the mid-1990’s at Caesar’s Creek Soaring Club near Waynesville, Ohio and instantly fell in love with Cross-Country racing. Now he goes to as many contests as his wife of over 30 years will allow, and spends his winter months racing and instructing in Condor.

Latest posts by Frank Paynter (see all)

  8 comments for “So long, Soaring

  1. aldo cernezzi
    July 21, 2014 at 8:32 am

    anytime I feel that something is wrong in the flight path of somebody near me, I take a note of the exact time and of the registration of the other sailplane. It’s easy to visualize both/all flight paths in SeeYou after the flight, taking a series of screen pictures or a short movie.
    Then, appreciation of what happened is usually much easier, and available to anyone for in-depth analysis and formation.

  2. Bob Backer
    July 21, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Just wondering if Condor could be part of the problem.

    • Noel
      July 21, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      Yes, blame a computer program for human actions – that’s reasonable… *sigh* Plenty of people have exhibited poor flying habits, with and without any simulator experience! Go back and look at the articles from the 1960’s and 1970’s about people zooming up into the middle of gaggles, or doing any number of stupid things in contests… And that’s before we had GPS’es, flight computers, or any other technology that so many soaring pilots seem to fear or blame.

  3. July 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Frank, no matter what anyones personal opinion is, you apparently caused the problem.
    My advice, take a break from competing and just enjoy soaring for the original reason, the pure joy of it.

  4. Daniel Sazhin
    July 21, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Frank,

    You have most definitely positively influenced many through Condor. We are sad you will no longer be with us, but your impact will most definitely live on. Thank you so much for all of the good you have done for me and many others in soaring.

    Best Regards,
    Daniel Sazhin

  5. July 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Regarding bullet point one:

    “SSA’s decision to preempt our little Hawke Tracking SPOT tracking effort with a ‘free’ version offered by a foreign company”

    GlidePort.aero is owned by Tip Top Software Inc. a Colorado Corporation owned by a Colorado resident residing in Colorado and a member of Soaring Society of Boulder. I don’t want you guys to think we are funding the Taliban.

    • Noel
      July 21, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Before either Hawke *or* GlidePort.aero, a friend of mine and his software-dev colleagues came to Ephrata over a weekend event. In addition to helping volunteer, they built a system that scraped SPOT websites for info and overlaid them on Google Earth in near-real-time. It was wonderful and way ahead of its time; but after the weekend event they decided it wasn’t a big deal and moved on to other hobbies… So none of these entities can claim that they were first and therefore deserve something special. Additionally, “first to market” is not a guarantee of success, and there are inevitably winners and losers in business all the time. Its not pleasant; but its a reality – especially in the software business. Personally, I’m happy to see competition and I hope that they continue to push innovation and improvement in our various flight-tracking & analysis tools – look at what we’re getting as a result: Skylines, GlidePort, and OLC all have a lot to offer, and the soaring community benefits as a whole.

  6. Evan Ludeman
    July 23, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Frank,

    In a friendly sort of way, I’d like to point out that you are spouting total rubbish.

    The much simpler explanation here is that you have in fact been routinely scaring the shit out of other pilots.

    To the extent that this is true (I find the number, source and intensity of the complaints reasonably persuasive), I agree with the contest organizers and committees that corrective action is required. I believe the remedy specified is appropriate, especially “A key consideration [for renewed eligibility at Nats and large contests] will be a written explanation to the Committee from Frank explaining his understanding of the cause of the problem and what has been done to fix it”.

    best regards,

    Evan Ludeman / T8

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