Today is the beginning of the Region 5 North contest. There are about 65 gliders launching each of the 6 days. This day, the launch began at 12:30 and all gliders were airborne in just over an hour. The operations officer, Larry Travers says, he wants to launch one per minute. I thought they did great but then I was at the front of the grid. By the way, the grid here is 3 across. To put that many gliders together without crunching one, requires the participants to help each other and do it carefully.
The race starts at the time specified by the Contest Director (CD), Ray Galloway. He is a very kindly, but sharp-witted southern gentleman. Opening the “gate” is the term used to start the race. One of the rules in contest flying is that the CD), will not open the start the race¸ “open the gate”, until the last glider in the class is launched.
At Perry, each class had its own start gate. Once the gate is open, deciding when to start is always a challenge for me. What I naturally want to do is head out on course as soon as I get the altitude but that is not always the smart thing. Sometimes it is better to wait. One line of thinking is, delaying the start puts me in more active thermal conditions; but delaying too long could also put me trying to get back after the thermal activity has ended. Another consideration is that since I am flying sports class, it might help to wait and let the slower gliders start out and catching them later while they act as “markers”. It is the term contest pilots use for those gliders, which are ahead of you and turning in a thermal. They make a great guide to finding lift.
Today’s task took me to 4 turn points, Barnwell county, Aiken, Don Bells, and Bamburg airports. A “Turn-area Task or TAT”, consists of up of circles of various radii centered on the named turn point. In this case, the least distance was 102 miles. The distance to the turn points was 149.8 miles, and the max distance was 205.8 miles. I realized that since my handicap was .8744, I was going to have to fly near the max or I would come back too early if I flew well. My distance was 174 miles, which was just what I had planned. I made a slight error in my timing and came back 45 seconds early, which cost me a couple of knots on my speed. Although it did not affect my standing on this day, it might on another.
Such considerations might seem a bit tedious but they represent a second level of skill over just “going cross county”. I find that adding this level of complexity challenging and I enjoy it. Flying with precision has always been my goal and I believe it makes me a better pilot.
Overall, I was pleased with this flight. My course lines were generally straight. The exceptions were to fly around blue areas or to find lift. I got low near the second turn point and spent nearly 15 minutes working my way back up. My speed dropped to about 30 miles an hour for that stretch. I had planned my turn point near a nice grass airport and I was in a good position to work a low save. After several poor thermals, I found a good one and climbed 3200 feet at 4 kts. I felt much better. Did I mention that it was much hotter at 2000 ft? I could have been just “working” the situation, but it was gratifying to work it out and get back on course. After that low point, I was able to stay high and finished the task before the high clouds moved in. Although I did not see another glider until approaching the third turn point, it served as a good marker for me and saved me some time in getting into at least 2 good thermals.
On a slightly different aspect of flying here, I will mention one thing that might be of interest to a reader not familiar with contests. Although some participants come with ground crew, usually friends from home, others show up “crewless”. Those of us who are so are expected to make ourselves available to retrieve other crewless pilots. Although this day started out good, if you were long on the task, the high clouds that moved in shut down the lift, which resulted in a few gliders landing out. I got to go get my buddy, Frank Paynter. I was happy to serve as his retrieve crew since he has helped me over these past weeks. It was also an interesting thing for an old navy buddy, Bob Lomba, who helped us. He had never seen such an operation as contest flying and enjoyed watching the gliders return to Perry.
Tomorrow is an other day and BZ will be back in the air.