Finally finding a few moments to write another post. Time surely flies when you’re having fun flying. The 2014 Flytec Americus Cup has ended and I am back in San Diego with wonderful memories and tons more experience. I’m sad that it’s over, but all good things must come to an end I guess.
So what can I say about competing? How about simply woohoo!? The competing community is truly a huge asset to the sport. Our shared passion pushes us each individually to succeed, to learn, to grow. Though there were certainly a few days near the end when I asked myself whether competing is for me (oh the nerves associated with being near the top), once in the air I was competing with myself and flying for fun. I enjoyed thermalling with friends and toasting a drink (ok drinks) at the end of each day.
In the end I placed third, made goal twice, should have made goal a third time, and came disappointingly close twice more.
Before day one I asked Zippy to summarize the prior week’s competition camp in five minutes. Instead he abridged it to three words, “Turn in lift.” Thanks Zippy, it worked!
My goal for the comp was to get up, stay up, and stay high. For the most part I succeeded. The first few days tested my patience thermalling in very light lift, however in time I realized patience would lead to longer flights.
My week in a Nutshell:
8 Days Flying
15 hours of up
165 miles flown
1 Superstar Squirrel
A bunch of awesome people
3rd Place in the Sport Class
The logistics of getting me and all my accoutrements actually turned out to easier than expected. I sent my glider and harness ahead of me on the Moyes trailer from LA (Thanks Kraig, Konrad, and the other drivers!). Delta had a direct San Diego-Atlanta flight which got me in early afternoon and with enough time to get to the hotel and relax. My flight landed on-time but, long story short, never had time to relax.
The hardest part of preparing to go was trying to fit all my stuff in a carry-on, which I eventually gave up on. Why I tried in the first place is a good question. I always overpack, however for this trip it was a good thing. I never had the opportunity to do laundry during the week and having tons of clothes helped during the marathon of flying eight days straight.
The practice day gave me an opportunity to get back into towing. The last I towed was with Jonny Thompson at the Santa Cruz Flats Race, 8 months ago. Though I was nervous, I arrived at the airport early and called on the awesome Jim Prahl to help setup my towing system and ultimately tow me up. Ready in the cart and all hooked up to the tug, a hesitant me gave the “Go Go Go!” and into the air I climbed. I think I may have popped out of the cart a bit aggressively, but to be towing again felt great. The second tow that day went very well. I was comfortable towing again and, gulp, ready for the comp to begin.
On a side note, the Americus airport is in the heart of Georgia farm country. It’s a huge crop duster hub and the historic site of Charles Lindbergh’s first solo flight. He also bought his first plane there for $500. During the comp we had a few aircraft cause us to scurry off the runway, but generally we had the airport to ourselves.
Day 1 — 66.6km Task
The anonymous “Stig” called a 66.6km task to the east. Lots of high clouds killed the lift, but puffy cumulus clouds marked the sporadic light lift. The sport class chose to launch last after the open class so in the air the topless gliders marked lift on our route. I mainly hung out with them but occasionally would venture out toward a cloud that looked promising. At one point I found good lift and had the gaggle chasing me, but my luck would soon change. The next cloud jump was quite a distance away and top of lift was only 3,800 to 4,000. Most of the flight I ranged between 2,500 and little over 3,000, and compared to the California air I am used to the lift required saintly patience. Nevertheless, I chose to glide toward the next cloud. As I arrived the cloud was breaking up. Spotting a few gliders circling just a bit further and to the south I aimed for them. Luck would have it that when I got to them, they all deserted me to better lift. Searching for a few minutes I found nothing of significance and prepared my tray tables and seat back for arrival. My feet hit the ground only 10.3 km from the airport, but outside of the 10km start cylinder. Bummed on such a short flight, I found relief in learning that no one performed very well. After day one I was fourth in the sport class. I was happy enough with that.
Day 2 — 47.0km Task
After such a short day 1 for many pilots, the task called for day 2 was a relatively shorter 47km dog leg. Clouds were bigger and a little higher. Due to the sport class deciding to launch last, me having tow release issues, and not finding much lift, I dove for the ground to get a re-light just before the launch closed for the day. This was my only re-light of the comp. The second tow did the trick and I finally found lift, and a few other sport class pilots hanging around the airport. Climbing to cloud base no one chose to glide on course. Not yet fully learning the lesson from day one, my patience got to me and I took off on glide. No one followed.
Following the clouds, I found enough lift to keep me up. I was happy to find climbs to cloud base a couple more times, but soon I was well north of the course line and running into a line of rain. As the rain moved closer the lift weakened. Turning back toward the waypoint and hoping to find lift I could only stay aloft a little while longer. Eventually the rain caught up with me and with a few drops splashing across my face I found a field. A national park ranger pulled over to watch me land. Just a minute after parking my glider the rain started pouring. The ranger walked over to me with curiosity. As if not even realizing it was pouring rain, he asked me questions. Happy to answer his questions, but not so happy to be drenched, I invited him out to the airport some time the rest of the week should he want to see more of what we do.
Next thing I know a farmer’s truck approached me. Two guys were inside. One rolled down the window. “Care to sit in here out of the rain?” he asked.
Ummm. I’m not the most trusting person, in an unfamiliar city, but a dry seat surely sounded nice. I told him my glider made a great umbrella, but he insisted. Grabbing my harness and electronics I jumped in the truck. I don’t remember your names, but thank you for the dry seat and the conversation while the rain passed. Matt, another sport class pilot, just a mile or two down the road fared less well. Already packed up, he didn’t even have a glider to duck under. Such a hard life it can be flying XC. Fun memories though.
Day 3 — 35.3km Task
With still no one making goal on day two. An even shorter 35.3km task was called for day three, to the Buena Vista Georgia airport. Today the sport class chose to launch first. Despite the tug pilot finding me a super thermal (thanks Jim!), after topping out I failed to stick with it and sunk down to about 1,000 above the ground. I’m not sure where I would have gone had I stayed in lift as there were still few pilots in the air. Scratching for a while I finally climbed back to cloudbase. With a few open classers enroute, I began to glide toward the mega gaggle a cloud or two away. It always seemed as though as soon as I arrived to the gaggle, they all pushed onward. A few stuck around for a higher climb and I found a good balance between aiming for the scattering open class pilots ahead of me and areas where I decided good lift would be. If one area failed to pay off the other area kept me in the air. Hopping cloud to cloud I soon was pleased to see my goal, a small airport just a thermal away. Would I be the first to goal?
Out of the corner of my eye I spotted another kingposted glider beginning to overtake me. It was Mark in a U2 and he was speeding past me. Maybe I could have raced him in. Maybe not. I didn’t care. I just wanted to make goal, and the best way to ensure that was to find more lift. One last thermal and I had more than enough altitude to race into goal.
After reaching goal, and sadly not hearing the rewarding beeps of my 6030 (wind noise is the sound of freedom), I climbed back up in a great thermal over the airport. The open class goal was back at Americus airport after a second turn point so I planned to either meet them back there or at least save some time on the retrieve. The clouds were dissipating, and after three hours I was waning. About five miles into the return I both was tired and losing lift. I saw another glider on the ground and landed with him. It just happened to be Rich with the U.K. team., joined by the property owners, a grand daughter, and a teeny tiny puppy—swell company for a post-first-time-making-goal LZ celebration (and yes I did just use the word swell).
Day 4 — 37.1km Task
I should have made goal for the second day in a row, but instead I learned a valuable lesson on racing. A few of us sport class pilots were sticking together. One raced ahead and I later learned he made goal flying alone. Knowing I was in second by only a few points, I thought that I could make up some points by racing ahead of #1. Gazing ahead I saw a few inviting clouds and knew that with the tailwind all I should need is one more thermal. Moreover, my vario said I should arrive at goal with 800 to 900 feet altitude. I left our little gaggle and pulled in for goal planning to slow up in any lift ahead.
…and that lift never came. I followed a road below me with trees on the left, and big fields on the right. It was fun cruising at 40-50 miles per hour down the road. At the last moment, as low as I could, I made a 180 and landed into the wind. Soon I was watching my competitors sail over my head and into goal. At this point the realization hit me that making goal, no matter how slow, is much more important than a few seconds, especially only half way into a competition. Who was I to think that I could race a faster glider, in my first competition, on day 4, and in light lift??? Who? Stupid me that’s who.
Day 5 — 71.8km Task
With strong westerly winds, the longest task of the meet was assigned. 45 miles and goal would be mine. After the day we all agreed the lift was strange and difficult to core. For half the flight a few of the sport class pilots gaggled together, along with the occasional open classer. Then one by one a sport class pilot would go off on their own. Still in lift, and drifting well I decided to stick it out with what I had instead of following. Patience. For a few miles more an open class pilot and I kept together, but enough apart to find lift. This worked well, up until he headed back upwind. Still in lift, I watched him leave and determined myself to be independent for a while, which would turn out to be the rest of the flight. Continuing east I found lift often enough to remain above 3,000 feet. Sadly though, my last remaining lift puttered out and a glide toward goal would be my last, landing me about 10km short of goal. Later I learned this would only be good enough for third. Mark was the only one to make goal and won the day, but I gained a lot of points for almost making it…
Day 6 — 71.8km Task (Same as Day 6)
Third place! After the great flight on day 5 I moved up to third. Today the Stig called the same task. The westerly winds were a tad lighter, but the lift ceiling was forecast to be slightly higher. The flight was similar to day 5, except I followed a more southerly track passing over the town of Cordele. Again patience played a key role, that and vigilance for noticing gliders climbing better. On at least two occasions I decided to leave a comfortable gaggle for a single glider climbing well. This paid off.
Once again, however, once on my own away from others the lift played hide-and-seek. With just 2km to go—just a small climb!—I landed.
Thanks to the kind folks who owned the fields where I landed for the cold Pepsi and company while I packed up.
Day 7 — 39.4km Task
Last day. Time to monkey up. I’m sitting somewhat comfortably in third place. We were initially given a 70km task, but with high clouds the sport class pilots met and discussed a shorter 40km task. I voted for the longer flight but was out numbered.
Once in the air, lift proved abundant enough, but again light (maybe I’m just spoiled by the California boomers). Another day of circle circle circle drift drift drift. With enough persistence though our ceiling was the highest of the week. Some of us climbed to 6,000.
And again, sticking with gaggles for half the flight worked well, but eventually we all separated and moved on. Spotting a few straggler open class pilots, I was able to glide to lift when I couldn’t find it myself.
After entering the goal cylinder I looked around for other gliders on the ground so we could all celebrate together. Never finding anyone, I made it my mission to start an LZ. Actually, there were a couple options where I could land next to a gas station and store. One was a tilled dirt filled field, the other a somewhat difficult field boxed in on three sides, but it appeared to offer a nice grassy place to touch down. Going downwind low over some power lines, and then turning over a house and lining up on final everything was going well, until I noticed that the “grass” was really long reedy-like stuff. “Oh well, flare high and plop down” I thought. Executed well in theory, but not in practice my landing was ok but not the most graceful. No whackage however. Just to the side of the field was a great breakdown area next to the store parking lot, and a store claiming, “You never sausage a place!”
Soon enough another sport class pilot, Felix, followed me in and the final day celebration began. All packed up it was bittersweet to stuff the car like sardines for one last drive home.
I never was the fastest pilot but I achieved my goal each day to stay up and go as far as I could. I cannot be more thrilled with third place, and an incredible competition debut.
Thanks to everyone for making the comp such an incredible event, and to the so many people who supported me.
See y’all at the Santa Cruz Flats Race!