I've been hiding out and sulking these last few days at Mifflin, and haven't been able to face my Soaring Cafe keyboard. I haven't done as well here as I had hoped, but I guess that's just 'life in the fast lane' ;-).
I had a bit of a close call on Day 5 (the day where most of the field landed out in the Tussey valley). I was stuck on the Tussey ridge at just below ridge top, working back and forth along the ridge trying to get away. While doing this, I went past several areas where buzzards and hawks were circling, but never found anything I could work. Finally I found something that I thought I could maybe climb in, and started working it. The Tussey ridge in this section has a definite shoulder, with the main ridge set back maybe 100-200 yards from the shoulder. At one point I was over the shoulder, and had gained a couple hundred feet, when I decided to move back toward the main ridge, thinking I might find a better core there. As I moved toward the main ridge, all of a sudden I was struck by the recognition of a familiar sight picture from my Condor flying - I was at a very dangerous pre-stall airspeed, heading toward higher ground! I had fallen victim (again) to a very common optical illusion associated with ridge flying; as I neared the ridge I had instinctively raised the glider's nose to keep the sight picture the same with respect to the gently rising terrain, without realizing that the airspeed was dropping. As I had learned to do from countless ridge flying hours in Condor, I immediately rolled away from the ridge and pushed the nose down to regain flying speed, and was quickly out of trouble again. Total time from recognition to recovery - maybe 5-10 seconds!
When I first started flying Condor mountain tasks, I was amazed at how many times I crashed while trying to thermal close to the ridges, for no apparent reason. One second I was doing fine, and the next I was stalled out and irretrievably doomed. It took me a long time to figure out what was happening - how the crash scenario was developing without me recognizing it. Once I understood the sequence, I was able to develop techniques for recognizing the situation while there was still time to do something about it. I still crashed, but much less often, as the recognition/recovery actions became more ingrained and instinctive. So, when the same situation developed in real life on Day 5, instead of falling victim to the almost insurmountable urge to keep the glider's nose UP (which, of course, would have caused me to stall right into the trees), I reverted to my Condor training to first roll the glider away from the ridge and then push the nose DOWN. Once the glider was headed downhill, the optical illusion was broken and I had plenty of altitude in which to regain flying speed.
Over the last several years I have been using Condor as a way of accelerating my journey up the learning curve for glider racing, and as a way of familiarizing myself with unfamiliar soaring areas prior to a real-life contest. I also knew on a gut level that Condor flying was making me a safer pilot, due to the wider exposure I was getting to different risk areas. What I didn't really appreciate until my little Day 5 encounter was how much Condor flying was going to help my real-life ability to recognize and respond to a rapidly developing stall/spin scenario. I think I can safely say at this point that if it weren't for my Condor time, I would probably have been picking myself and what was left of my glider out of the trees on Tussey ridge a couple of days ago.
Today (Monday) looks like another rain day, and while Tuesday doesn't look entirely hopeless, it doesn't look all that good either. Stay tuned!