I’m writing this final ‘Seniors’ post from home on Monday morning, after slogging the 1000 or so miles home Saturday and Yesterday. Sure was nice to sleep in my own bed!
Day 5 started out much warmer than all the rest – almost like I was in Florida! Temps were mild in the morning, with very little wind, so assembling was much more pleasant. At the morning meeting, illustrious (runner-up suggestions for my final adjective were ‘lustrous’ and ‘radiant’) weatherman Richard Kellerman (QV) gave us the good news that we could expect good lift to maybe as high as 6000′, light winds, but again no clouds (we haven’t seen any clouds in so long that we are all beginning to think they have gone away permanently).
Out on the grid, I was minding my own business when I was accosted by two guys in “Daytona Beach Biker Bar” T-shirts – maybe Al Tyler wasn’t kidding! Fortunately, these guys were a) older than me (which was saying a lot), b) appeared to have more than one beer on board (at 11:30am!) , and c) were polite and friendly. Turns out it was a setup, and the guys were really just locals who had come out to watch the launch. So, we posed for pictures, and I hope whoever took them will email me a copy ;-).
After having had WinPilot go AWOL on me on two straight days, I banished it from my cockpit. I have heard from others that WP Author Jerry Plaszowiecki “is concentrating on the IOS platform (Apple iPhone/iPad)” and that is why he isn’t supporting the PNA port. Here’s a message for you Jerry. Why in the world would potential IOS customers trust you to support their platform when you have already demonstrated your lack of responsiveness and support for other current and past customers? You have consistently blown off emails and pleas for help from long-time WP users (I have been a consistent supporter of WP for at least the last 6 years). Why you think you can compete against free nav systems with far superior product support is beyond me. When I encounter ‘best of breed’ products like SeeYou or Condor, I hope the developers make lots of money, because they deserve it. In the case of WinPilot, I think Jerry has abandoned his customers and deserves to go broke.
As one result of my bitching about WinPilot on previous posts and my wish to find some other nav system with the same or better thermal helper ‘bread-crumb’ display, another Condor user mentioned that XCSoar had something very similar. I was able to get XCSoar up and running on my PNA in just a few minutes, and after some fumbling was able to get it connected to my PNA’s internal GPS engine (but alas, not to my Cambridge 302). Also, I discovered once out on course that for some reason XCSoar hadn’t started the task automatically and I couldn’t figure out how to get it to start manually, so I had to basically ignore it for the rest of the flight. This points out one of the main problems with today’s very powerful, but very complex, nav systems – you can’t really expect to just put them in your cockpit and take off – these systems take lots of time and effort before they are usable for cross-country racing.
The task for the day was pretty straightforward. A 2.5hr TAT Southwest to Blackwater Creek with a 10-mile radius, then east to Winter Haven with a 10-mile radius, then north to Ocala with a 25-mile radius. Winds were out of the southwest at less than 10kt. As usual, we all milled around in the start circle until the gate opened, and then we milled around some more waiting for a good time to leave. Many pilots, including BZ and myself, started out the top as we were able to get good climbs to about 5000′, and the max altitude for the day was 4000′. The run into Blackwater Creek was pretty nice, with lots of markers, so we continued almost to the southeast edge of the circle (or as far as we could go without running into the Tampa Class B airspace), and turned to follow the bomber stream into the Winter Haven circle. Going east toward Winter Haven with the sun behind us, we could see at least ten other gliders headed east into the circle, and then another half-dozen or so in the distance headed north after making the Winter Haven turn. We went about to the Winter Haven airport for nominal distance in the second circle, and then started the long slog up to Ocala, still with lots of marked thermals as we proceeded. North of Seminole it seemed to be getting softer, and we were having trouble finding a good climb, and the pucker factor was starting to rise as we went below 3000′ msl. Then just north of Tex Merrit we pulled into a thermal with KS at about 2500′ and thought “We are saved!” but as we pulled in, KS pulled out with his minnow fleet and we thought the thermal was going to die on us momentarily. However, we were able to find a better core, and actually took this one up for a 3000′ gain with a 5.5kt bottom-to-top average, while watching KS and others struggle below and ahead of us – nice! ;-). That was our ‘killer thermal’ of the day, as we had to settle for 3 – 3.5kt average climbs for the rest of the task. After my disastrous final glide on Day 4, I wasn’t at all interested in anything even remotely marginal for today, so of course we got lift all the way home and wound up doing a very inefficient 100+ kt for the last 10 miles or so. BZ and I wound up 6/7 for the day, and BZ (who managed to squeak in on Day 4 with just a finish penalty rather than a home-field landout) finished a very respectable 11th overall in his second Seniors (and only his 3rd or 4th real-life contest). Karl Striedieck placed 9th for the day and held off Chip Garner and Baud Litt to win the 2013 Seniors, with Chip in 2nd and Baud in 3rd overall. We got in 5 contest days, although several were of the ‘blue, low, windy, and weak’ variety.
Other thoughts from the 2013 Seniors:
In contrast to last year, almost every pilot at this contest was Flarm equipped, and more than one pilot had at least one ‘thank you Flarm’ moment here. This was also the first time we had enough Flarm coverage to get a good look at the tactical possibilities for Flarm, and to see what happens in big gaggles. I personally never really had any sense that Flarm allowed me any tactical advantages over the MK I (or in my case MK II) eyeball, but others may have thought differently. In big gaggles we were getting a number of annoying collision alerts as gliders moved around in the thermal and/or entered and exited, but I thought these were mostly more helpful than annoying, and on occasion were truly life-saving. When you think that a Flarm installation costs less than a new parachute and has a MUCH bigger impact on pilot safety in contest, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. There was some talk of ‘stealth mode’ at the rules discussion, but I think we will be well-served to take a lesson from the Europeans and Brits who have mostly tried – and then discarded – ‘stealth’. Assuming that Williams Soaring will continue their wonderful Flarm rental program, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Flarm become mandatory at least at the Nationals level for the 2014 season.
The other big change for 2013 was the elimination of the ban on pilot-to-pilot communications. As a consequence, there were at least two sets of pilot flying as a team at the Seniors. One was ‘Team Condor’ composed of myself and John Mitell (BZ) and the other was the Dennis Linnekin (DL) and Rob Ware (DI) partnership. Dennis and Rob are co-owners of an ASG-29 and an ASW-27, so they were paired up naturally already and presumably had flown together before. Team Condor had done all its team-flying exclusively in Condor, and had never flown before as a team in RL (real life) before showing up for the Seniors. BZ and I will be talking about our team flying adventure in a separate Soaring Cafe post, so I won’t go into much detail here, except to mention how the team flying communication issues impacted, and were impacted by, the rest of the contest. Florida is a very active aviation training state, and our normal contest frequency of 123.3 is almost totally unusable due to heavy and continuous training reports. Every flight school in central Florida seems determined to completely blanket the frequency with position reports, airborne troubleshooting exercises, requests for schedule extensions, and general chit-chat. As a consequence, most contest pilots would turn their radios off completely after starting, not turning them back on again until calling “4 miles”. For the last couple of years this situation has been relieved somewhat by Lee Lauderback and Stallion 51’s generous offer to let us use their dedicated frequency for contest communications, but this too comes at a price – we can only use this for critical contest information like gate opening times and roll calls, and for safety related conversations in gaggles. If we talk too much on this frequency, Stallion 51 might not extend the favor the next time. In recognition of this conundrum, CM Rich Owens procured a waiver from the SSA to allow pilot-pilot communications using hand-held walkie-talkies rather than aviation band radios, and Team Condor showed up at Seminole prepared to do just that. However, we were somewhat disappointed in the audio quality of the ones we used (not the bottom brand, but decent Motorola ‘Talk-about’ systems) compared to good quality aviation radios, so after trying them for a day or so we went back to using aviation frequencies. Another related problem was what to do in gaggles. When I fly alone, I generally turn the radio off going through the start gate and don’t turn it back on again until 4 miles out, but in the big Seniors gaggles I would sometimes turn it back on again for safety reasons. With us operating on a different frequency, it was frustrating for some in the big gaggles to have us in there without the ability to communicate. Needless to say, there are some ‘gotchas’ associated to this whole team-flying experiment, so I think we’ll all have to get some more experience to say where the cost/benefit is going to wind up. One thing I can say for sure though, is that team/pair-flying is FUN, and can really add to the enjoyment of the sport without (I hope) significantly detracting from safety. See our other Soaring Cafe posts for more on this .
Last, but certainly not least, there is the question of the future of the Seniors at Seminole Lake Gliderport. Mihai Tanjala purchased SLGP in 2008, but this year he had to host the contest without the services of his daughter Andreea and her husband Florin. Rich Owens and Virginia Thompson stepped into the breach and did a superb job, including managing the installation of improved electric/water services so more RV’s could park comfortably. It is my fervent hope that this collaboration will continue, and we won’t find ourselves looking for a new Seniors venue.
As I mentioned at the start, I’m writing this post from my home in Columbus Ohio, staring out the window at a cold rain/snow mix and counting the days and hours before the next contest – Perry in April. BZ and I hope to arrive several days prior to the start of the contest to practice, and we are also hoping we can persuade Francois Pin to meet us there for some pair-flying mentoring. Stay tuned!