The early sunsets and the brown leafs are painting a fail-safe picture: Autumn is coming and the number of reaming soaring days is limited. But even though, or maybe just because of that a number of pilots is gathering especially in that time of the year to celebrate and compete in a very special and unique way.
While the German season slowly comes to an end and the number of flights on the online counter are gradually decreasing, this type of competition is perfectly designed to match the high demands of the next-to-nothing climb averages. The competition, which I am going to present to you has been around for decades and has brought my home club and it's neighbors closer together over the years and the one or other friendship has been started on that particular autumn day... well, that is at least the word of mouth.
In our region, this competition is known as the „Grandpa Wolf Cup“ and is basically something that you could describe as a spot-landing contest, or better said, spot-sledding contest. The founder of this competition, was obviously old Grandpa Wolf (at least in our vicinity), a guy who has always been a member of my home club back in the days. Although being a member in a soaring club, I have been told that he never even attempted to get his own gliding license but rather was fixing stuff around the airfield or spending his time thinking about weird competitions, like the one that I am writing about right now.
Although classified as being a „competition“, Grandpa Wolf's idea behind the spot-landing contest was to basically have a fixed annual date on which glider pilots from all around our region could gather and get to know each other in a friendly atmosphere. Looking back I guess that purpose has been fulfilled multiple times and I hope it will do so for ages to come. Soaring, even in Germany, with its relatively big density of glider pilots and clubs, is still a terribly uncommon thing and a lot of not-so cross-country-focused pilots never really get to see much of the great soaring scene behind the club's own fence, which I guess has probably also contributed to people leaving clubs and turning their backs to gliding rather soon.
This type of gathering is something for almost everyone, every age and every type of gliding enthusiast. In fact it is so much fun that even non-competitors, family and friends are eagerly waiting for that particular day in the year, on which a bunch of weird pilots compete in the most random way, that soaring history could have come up with.
So how does that thing work?
The spot-sledding contest needs three basic things:
- An Airfield: You need an airfield obviously. The way that the southern Hesse clubs are doing it, is basically that the winning team from the previous competition is organizing the whole thing in the next year and therefore will provide the location. In order to cope with the increasing amount of pilots over the years (around fifty as of 2014) winch-launching has been the best way to get the gliders aloft in a timely manner.
- An Airplane: Here starts the fun part! Leave your new shiny Dianas and ASW's in their trailers because 60:1 wont get you far on this competition. What you need is a glider with a skid! Luckily every German club has one of these things sitting around somewhere, with the Schleicher K-8 being the most common in our region, but also non-solo students are competing with their IP's in ASK-13's or K-2's.
- A Team of 3: The whole thing is a team effort! Over the years a solo ranking has been established but the most important ranking is still the team score, so let us find a bunch of brave fellow aviators!
Now that we got everything covered, let us start with scoring:
The competition works in a terribly simple way:
Everybody meets up in the morning at around 9 AM, the gliders are getting rigged and the grid is ready to launch around half an hour later. A morning briefing is held, explaining the scoring and safety rules after that with all the participants and the judges there while check that the mainwheel brakes have all been DISCONNECTED properly.
Around an hour later the first takeoff usually occurs. Launching via winch gives you around 800ft AGL which is all you need. Whatever you do in the air is not scored by anyone, but having said that, a rapid descent or something that results in the latter is highly appreciated ;) So after your 2-minute pattern, it is time to score! Like the name spot-sledding implies, your aim is to sled on your glider's skid as close as you can get to the „landing t“ (simple fabric in our case). Judging your speed, the wind direction, magnitude and the viscosity of the given grass condition is harder than it sounds and even seeing the „t“ while being on landing roll already got some folks in trouble. So here is where the team effort starts. Your pals will usually position themselves on the t, or close to it and scream from the top of their lungs more or less helpfull hints whether to bunt over and stop or not.
Once you stopped, the judges will measure the distance and translate that into points. A distance of zero will result in a „Mäxchen“, the highest score, 60 points. The point of measurement is from the gliders nose-hook to the t, via the shortest connection. Every ten centimeters of the first meter (yeah I know damn Europeans, damn metric-system..) takes 1 point off your score. So the first meter in total equals to 10 points. Every scratched meter above that will ad another point on the subtraction list. Having said that, don't be eager to exactly hit the „t“ touching the surface of it will give you a ten point penalty. Dropping your wing on landing roll in order to steer around the „t“ will also result in a ten point penalty. However arguing with the judges sometimes helps. Again! This is really a team effort overall ;)
Once the score is noted it is about time to get your glider back in the launch grid because the next guy is already approaching. Usually you have 2 or 3 launches to sum up your score, depending on the amount of participants of that day, so even though this is purely a fun event everyone should try to speed things up a little bit. After all, this event takes a whole flying day to finish. The clubs are already well-prepared for this event and offer breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as coffee and cake for the hungry helpers and it also has become a tradition for the young guns to end the day in a big soaring party, with usually more participants here than during the daytime event.
This little story just barely scratches the surface and you should get out and see the real deal whenever you have the opportunity to do so. I am sure you won't resist the drill of trying it out someday! Overall this event is probably one of the most unique things in our club culture and I am really proud to have been fortunate enough to participate more than once. I guess every club has its own great traditions and I think that we could all benefit from each other by sharing our little nutty stories.
By the way, the team from the FSCM Vielbrunn won this year so I guess we'll all be heading to Vielbrunn next year. See you there!