Contest Day 1: Finally Day 1 arrived for the 18m Class. It was a 337 km polygon with 5 waypoints.
John Coutts, Attie and I started together at 14:24. (Couttsie was an integral part of the Team JS. He might be a Kiwi but we regard him as an honorary South African. With his Worlds experience, his special ability to interpret the sky and translate it into smart tactical and strategic decisions, then team flying between the three of us was always going to boost our chances.) We decided before the contest not to get locked into in startline roulette games so we started after milling around at cloudbase on the startline after only ten minutes.
The gaggle started approximately four minutes after the JS1 trio. The first leg was good, with climbs averaging 1.8m/s up to 1350m (AGL) and we felt we were slowly pulling away from the gaggle. After the first turn towards Serbia the weather became much weaker and lower. The huge 18m gaggle found a better climb behind us, and by the time we reached the second waypoint, we were swallowed by the gaggle. The leg towards the third waypoint, Mezőhegyes, passed overhead Szeged. Climbs only averaged 1.2 m/s to 1100m in blue conditions with awful visibility. The Open, 15m and 18m Class tracks converged toward Szeged, resulting in gaggles exceeding fifty gliders at one point. The weak thermals were fully packed with glass ships waiting for one pilot to make a false move….all very inefficient. It was impossible to maintain team flying in these over-packed thermals; the trio was split up, while late starters caught up with the slow climbing gaggles.
Overhead Szeged a decision was needed; maintain a heading towards clouds slightly left of the waypoint or go towards a small, single good looking cloud right of the waypoint, possibly inthe restricted Romanian airspace. It was difficult to judge the distance to the isolated cloud. It might have been far beyond the waypoint. The 18m gaggle decided to head on slightly left of track, but I broke free to head towards the lone cloud. Halfway towards the waypoint I found another glider climbing – it was Attie, and Team JS was partly restored.
Reaching the cloud at 750m, we were relieved to find that it was fortunately outside controlled airspace. It peaked at 2.8m/s near the 1600m base, while gently drifting towards the waypoint – exactly what was needed! As we left the climb at cloudbase the 18m gaggle arrived, at least 500m lower!
Flying toward the fourth waypoint required much patience. There were two more clouds ahead, and then a loooong blue stretch towards the control point before the finish line. The first cloud only produced a weak climb of 1.3m/s. After the previous miracle it was hard to keep climbing to the top with the gaggle now slowing catching us up. The last cloud was even weaker, only 0.9m/s and worsening nearer the top. The gaggle now had us in their sights, but still well short of final glide, they also had to struggle in the weak climb.
The final glide felt marginal, with a slight headwind and a glide angle in excess of 55. However thanks to good carrying air and a few weak bumps, we reached final glide and were quite relieved to finish. The gaggle left the last climb slightly lower than us and had to take some very weak climbs to make it back home. Some landed out and others finishing more than fifteen minutes later.
Day 1 was great for the JS1 pilots with Ronald Termaat (Netherlands) second, Uys fourth, Attie fifth, Bill Elliott (USA) seventh, and Russell Cheetham (UK) eleventh. Russell was particularly unlucky as he lost a bugwiper before the start, a distraction for him and affecting the performance. Apart from John who had got stuck on the final leg, all JS1’s finished in the top eleven!
Iain (Baker) had always wanted to use this Worlds as the international launch-pad for the JS1 Revelation. Day 1 achieved this impact in a dramatic fashion and other pilots began to take a particular interest in the JS1. There’s a special aura around JS – the idea that two brothers who shared a boyhood dream of competing in their own design sailplane is truly unique.
Contest Day 2: Day 2 was a 2½ hour assigned area speed task, with the first area a circle overhead Serbia and the second area northeast of Szeged with the centre over the town Békéscsaba. (This was one of the few waypoint names that we would attempt to pronounce. Only Carol Clifford confidently pronounced town names like Hódmezővásárhely.)
The JS1 trio started again together at 14:15 with a respectable 1450m. Climbs towards the first sector were initially weak, around 1m/s, but slowly improved to 1.3m/s, operating between 700m and 1400m.
After turning in the first sector a small gaggle formed including top pilots like Werner Meuser, Reinhard Schramme, Ronald Termaat, Olivier Darroze and Wolfgang Janowitsch, and for a short period we raced hard in respectable weather conditions. The leg towards the second sector became progressively weaker, with climbs decaying to 1m/s. High level cirrus was cutting off all sun on the ground and the clouds disappeared in the second area. It looked impossible to both reach the area and make it back to the clouds nearer the control point before the finish.
We found the first climb only after thirty kilometres at best glide speed in absolute dead air. The gaggle started milling in a 0.3m/s climb for 200m before the rest of them left, continuing a seemingly hopeless glide into the sector. Only Attie and I kept on searching and the climb slowly improved to 1m/s. This extra 400m enabled us to glide to the northern edge of the sector and maximise our distance as we thought it would be impossible to get back to Szeged.
The only clouds near the designated area were almost thirty kilometres north of the Békéscsaba, well outside the area and taking us further away from Szeged. We reached them 400m above ground, desperately hoping for a survival climb. After milling around for more than twenty minutes and only climbing 600m, the thermal suddenly kicked and we climbed at 1.6m/s to 2000m, a mere 300m short of final glide! Bok-Base (the South African ground radio station) was following me on the Yellow Brick live tracking system and they thought the tracker had failed because we were so far off track and going the wrong way!
John Coutts had selected a different routing into the sector, turned and headed back to Szeged, aiming for a small stubble fire. He arrived at the fire at 300m, just too early for the thermal to recycle and give him the sorely needed last climb to final glide.
I headed back home straight on track, but then deviated with Attie to a cloud street about 45° left of track, in the hope of staying at cloudbase until final glide height was reached. This was a crucial mistake, as this detour only cost precious height and nothing was found under the promising-looking clouds.
We headed back to yet another cloud street right of track – also in vain! The only climb was a 0.2m/s climb drifting us away faster than we were climbing. We decided to throw the towel in and flew towards John’s stubble fire. ‘Let’s see if we can make the fire and land with John,’ I remarked.
We arrived at the fire at 18h15 at 300m under completely overcast skies. I made a few turns and then aimed for an outlanding near Hódmezővásárhely. Attie, staying above the stubble fire, called me back as he believed the fire was kicking again. I reluctantly turned back after wasting another three kilometres and reaching the fire below 200m, started climbing at 0.3 m/s. After more than half an hour, losing and finding a number of small weak bubbles, I managed to climb to 1100m, needing just 300m to complete the task.
Attie had a slightly higher minimum wing loading (due to pilot weight difference according to Uys), and struggling to keep up with me, missed one bubble. Eventually he landed out at near Hódmezővásárhely, still giving him a respectable tenth position for the day and a veritable pronunciation challenge.
It was close to 19h00 when I started flying towards the control point, threatened by a thunderstorm just to the north. Realising the only way to complete the task was to climb near the storm, I headed towards the dark black clouds and was amazed to find strong, smooth lift ahead of the storm at only 400m. The wind changed direction and increased to more than 40km/h and I managed to climb 300m alongside the cloud, probably in wave over the storm. This should have put me on final glide, but after setting off, I flew into heavy turbulence and sink, forcing me well below glide once again. I just thought this task was maybe not meant to be completed, when I encountered lift near some rotor clouds. This time I ensured that I climbed enough to make it back home!
I landed at 19h23 – to the unexpected relief of Bok-Base – having completed the a 2½ hour assigned area task in 5 hours 8 minutes, but still enough to give me a massive 911 points for the day. Only ten 18m pilots got back. Attie slipped to eighth position overall, but I held on to fourth position.
Contest Day 3: Day 3 was another 2½ hour assigned area speed task, with the first area a circle west of Szeged and the second and third areas east of Szeged.
A cold front was approaching from the west, and Iain’s weather forecast predicted that the cloud base would lower in the first sector, especially around the Danube. We discussed tactics with Iain and John, and planned to only clip the first sector to minimise the time in the poorer weather, then try and maximise the distance in the second sector. We also wanted to start early, both to avoid the frontal weather and to escape the gaggle.
Although the JS1 trio planned an early start, we did not coordinate it well. John was much lower at the start, unable to connect to cloud base, he elected to go back and restart.
Attie and I just clipped the first sector, exactly as planned, and gliding slowly out of the sector eventually found the first weak climb at 550m.The sticky patch between the first two sectors only produced maximum lift of 1m/s up to 1000m. The weather in the second sector progressively improved, with the cloud base lifting to 1600m and 1.5m/s climbs. Towards the last sector I found climbs of averaging 2.5-2.8m/s, progressively reeling in and passing a gaggle ahead.
However Attie struggled to climb and complained that the aileron hold-off in the turns was excessive. This misery was only solved a couple of days later, costing Attie valuable points. A main water valve not closing completely after partial dumping resulted in Attie losing all the water in the right tank. Adjusting the valve miraculously solved Attie’s sudden inability to climb to the left!
With the overcast conditions moving in, John struggled to get to start height and subsequently struggled up to the second sector in the deteriorating conditions.
I finished fourth for the day, moving up to the overall third position, while Attie hung on to his eighth position.
Contest Day 4: Day 4 conditions would normally not be regarded by glider pilots as fun! The passing cold front resulted in stable blue conditions. A task was set to the west, crossing the Danube. The second leg ran north over the river valley before heading back east.
The JS1 trio started half an hour after the gate opened. The conditions initially were average with climbs between 1m/s and 1.4m/s up to 1500m. The climbs deteriorated near the Danube river valley to less than 1m/s and the top of climbs lowered to 800m.
Except for a couple of early starters who managed the furthest distance, the rest of the 18m Class gaggled up and battled for survival. It was clear that a finish was not on the cards and all the pilots seemed to progress nervously ahead, using climbs weaker than a 1/2m/s! It was torrid stuff.
I managed to find a climb of 1m/s taking me 300m above everyone else, but made the mistake of flying off-track towards a gaggle ahead, just to find no usable lift.
Attie landed out in a field near Szentes, next to one of the Tisza tributaries, where he received a warm welcome from a million mosquitoes and an extremely friendly farmer and son. After a struggle of 5½ hours I landed 15km further on in a field with Wolfgang Janowitsch and Walbrou Killian from France. While waiting for the JS1 double trailer, the three of us enjoyed a beer in Lapistó, a small town with four houses and a pub. The JS retrieve crew had some challenges to reach Attie, as the river crossing required a ferry – which was too small for a trailer and car! The double trailer only arrived back in Szeged after midnight, where hungry crews and pilots enjoyed food at the well-known 24-hour burger shop.
Uys remained in third position overall, 150 points off the leader and Attie’s eighth position was also unchanged.