Groundhog day at New Castle – almost, but not quite a flying day

Woke up this morning to the sound of rain on the roof of the Micro-Castle.  I gotta tell you, rain is a LOT nicer than walnuts hitting the roof.  Overcast skies and light rain, so (I thought) no possibility of flying today.

I had gotten permission from CD Hank Nixon to sit in on his task committee meeting, and so I was curious as to how that would go in the face of a “certain” (see below) washout.  When I spoke to Hank before the others arrived, he showed me a sheet of paper with ‘8H’ on the top, and a hand-drawn picture of a fish on the bottom, explaining that this would tell everyone his plans for the day (For those few people in the soaring world who don’t know Al Tyler (8H), he loves to fish almost as much as he loves to fly).  Anyway, Hank went on to say that he planned to “follow the normal process”, even in the rain.  The result of this was a decision to wait until noon to call the day, just on the off chance that a miracle was in the offing.

So, along comes noontime, and the weather is looking a LOT better.  The rain has stopped, the low clouds are almost above the ridge tops, and there is occasional sun peeking through the clouds.  A check of the satellite weather images shows the back edge of the weak frontal system just to our west, and slowly heading our way.  At the noontime pilot meeting, Hank tells us that its a long-shot, but not impossible that we could get a task in if we are prepared and ready to go.  The call is for us to assemble and grid, with a grid time of 1:00pm.

At grid time we are (more or less) ready to go, and  things are still looking possible, but not probable.  John Good (X) is flung aloft, and he reports cloudbases in the 3500’msl range, with barely sustainable lift, and he eventually comes back and lands.  Dave Cole (A) is sent aloft a little later, and he stays up longer, and has one nice climb right off tow to 4000′ msl.  However, he reports that that one climb was a bit of an anomaly, and he too lands after 30 minutes or so.

As all this is happening, I’m dogging Hank to learn as much as possible about how his decision-making process works in the face of time and weather pressure.  This is great for me, as I get to see a laboratory exercise in CD’ing without being on the firing line myself.  Hank tells us all that he won’t call the day until he can no longer get in even a shortened (1.5 hour) task, and or it becomes obvious that we can’t even stay up.  At about 2:30, conditions have improved to the point where he launches the standard and 15-meter classes, but leaves the 18m guys on the ground.  We all mill around the general vicinity, sometimes getting as high as 4500-4600′ msl – still not quite high enough for cross-country racing at New Castle.  At 3:00 the CD cancels the day for 18m, but keeps the door open for std and 15m.  At 3:30 it’s decision time, and the standard class task adviser Dave Cole (A) tells Hank that he doesn’t feel that conditions are sufficient for a fair and safe task.  15m task adviser Roy McMaster (1) concurs, and Hank calls the day.

After the day is called, some of us mill around some more, but nobody goes anywhere, and one by one the gliders succumb to gravity and land back at New Castle – by 4:30, everyone is back on the ground – a much better outcome than having 10 or so gliders scattered all up and down the Maggie and Craig Creek valleys.

I have to say, this day highlighted Contest Directing at its finest.  I was privileged to observe the process from beginning to end today from the point of view of a CD wannabe and a contest pilot.  Hank could have sent us out on the task, but he held true to his pre-set weather criteria of 5000′ msl and steady and/or improving weather conditions.   It was a tough call, especially since the weather forecast for the next few days at least is for even worse conditions, meaning this day could wind up being the critical one for getting in the two days required for a successful regional contest.  If I can do half as well next year at CCSC, I’ll count myself lucky.  Way to go Hank!

Got to get this report posted, as it is getting toward time for dinner.  I’m told it’s southern grilled chicken tonight, with all the fixings – yum!



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