It’s fall season, and like every year the youngest pilots and students have been practicing their accurate pattern work during several weekends to compete in the annual fall contest. Early in September they competed at regional contests, to find the best three glider pilots from each of the 16 States, who are then allowed to compete in the German Championship. This fall the 30th “Bundesjugendvergleichsfliegen” was scheduled in Breitscheid, Hessen and a young member of my club was lucky to be invited to participate:
Melvin had finished his license in the spring of 2014 and during a wonderful northern German summer he was able to enjoy some extended cross countries. His finished his first "real" soaring season with the regional contest in Schleswig-Holstein where he “landed” on second place.
I have to explain, this is probably not the kind of contest you are thinking of: The competition task is easy, or at least it sounds easy? Perform an accurate winch launch, fly an accurate pattern, where you do some circles, left and right of course, demonstrate how to enter a thermal, but don’t use it… After all a well done side slip and a spot landing will be necessary to earn points.
So, the young competitors, who do not yet have to be licensed pilots, simply must perform two perfect flights. That’s easy. Isn’t it? But imagine, even if on your home field everything would work out as desired, with a little bit of excitement flying over an unknown airfield, maybe using a different glider than the one at home, this kind of “easy flying contest” can develop into a bit of a challenge.
Melvin started his 400 mile journey already two days in advance, as before Saturday’s contest he wanted to get to know the airfield and the K 8 he would be allowed to fly. 400 miles of driving for just three patterns and only one competition day… But when his crew arrived a day later he was well prepared.
At 6 am on Saturday morning, 46 pilots and their crews crawled out of their tents, breakfast at 7 am, then a briefing, gridding… But where was the sky? Somewhere behind the thick fog. So, time for another nap on the grid. A good way to learn how “adult competitors” would manage to survive a ten-day competition?
When finally the sun had found a way through the fog, the day was still long enough to launch everybody for two patterns. During his second pattern flight Melvin accidentally caught a tempting thermal: "My first thought was to use it, to simply soar higher and off and let points be points..." The young pilot was wise enough to pull the air brakes instead without anybody noticing. In the later afternoon, unfortunately the daylight did not last long enough to also launch the contest helpers. The Northern crew was probably the largest of all. More than 20 youngsters had decided to cheer for their three competitors. My club had sent only one car with cheering boys and girls, maybe that's why Melvin could not beat the two Northern contenders? "The most important thing is not to win but to take part!"
Indeed, even if only one guy is actually flying, activities like the annual youth contest do create club spirit. Fireworks finished a fun competition day, and exchanging their flags, having a beer together (German laws allow 16-year olds to drink beer.) Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern crews found new friends in soaring. Adults – not needed. I wonder what kind of tradition other countries keep up for their youngest glider pilots?!