Monday, May 13, 2019

20m Multi-Seat National Day 2

I might have mentioned before, that I kind of suck at competition soaring. Another day, another "DFL" -- dead freakin' last!  But I'm taking it all in stride. Imagine how bored I would be with soaring if I were some sort of prodigy, able to master all aspects of soaring with one trip around the pattern!
The morning briefing started with yesterday's winners Sarah Arnold and Karl Striedieck. Karl deferred to Sarah, taking only credit for the first two turnpoints.  He mentioned how they dumped their water when they got very low. Indeed, the long cloud street at the end of the day is how they got their speed back up to win the day. The safety message of the day was a stress about the importance of a "hard deck", a lower limit of how low you should be willing to attempt to find lift.  Once that hard deck altitude is reached, it's time to land.  The lift isn't very well organized at low altitudes, and it's quite possible to have low level turbulence upset the glider, causing it to spin. With a low altitude spin, there isn't enough room to recover, and the glider crashes.  "Know your personal hard deck limit, and stick with it!"
Mine is about 800 feet, and I'm pretty serious about it.  The LX-Nav flight computer has a nice way of finding out what the field elevation is underneath you, so there's no guesswork needed. I got to use that feature on the flight computer a few times today. More on that later.
The weather forecast was excellent; but the conditions were better to the west, better to the north. The conditions were forecast to be great even until 18:00 in the day
Forecast charts for Day 2

After the morning briefing, we pulled the gliders out to the runway for an 11:00 grid time.  The first three places for yesterday's flying were put on the scales, to ensure that they weren't overweight. I was in the fourth position for takeoff, but because of my embarrassing showing yesterday, no need to put my glider on the scales. For the record, the maximum weight for my glider is 1543 pounds, and my back of the envelope calculations make my glider about 1515 pounds at the absolute heaviest.

Paul Remde has an odd position for programming the task into his computer

On "The Grid"
We launched and it was already excellent.  You can see perfect soaring clouds over my shoulder in the above picture.  Immediately off tow, I was climbing comfortably.  It's gonna be great!  The contest started at 12:35, and I was on task a few minutes after that.
The first part of the course was easy soaring. Once we got to the first turnpoint, things started looking difficult.  I slowed down and eeked out the tallest thermals at less than optimal climb.  Ahead, I saw an overcast covering the ground and shutting off the surface heating. A few weak looking clouds in the distance hinted that there might be something to work with once I got there.
Again, because I left early, I think I was ahead of the pack. A bunch of the more experienced pilots caught up with me as I was working some weak lift.  I diverted to a thermal where three gliders were circling and appeared to be gaining altitude very quickly.
By the time I made use of that thermal, they were gone. I made the second turnpoint, and things looked much more promising ahead.
Things may have looked great, but this is where I really lost the day.  Getting low was a terrible mistake.  The line-up of clouds that I thought was a street turned out to not be a street, and I got down to about 4000', about 2500 feet above the ground.  This low, I'm starting to take any sort of lift I can find; and I settle for a knot or two.
I saw other gliders heading past me, bopping along in the clouds, while I'm struggling down low. The gliders that passed me were able to hang out at cloud base and keep flying at speed. I finally climbed out of the bottom of my flight, and got up to cloud base. When I got right under the clouds, it was much easier.  The gliders that passed me called in for their "four miles out" while I was at mile 22 from the end of the course.
When we got to the end of the task, we made it back to the airport where we started.  The conditions were perfect-looking.  All of the clouds were perfectly-shaped.  All of the clouds to the northwest looked much better than the clouds we just flew through.

Lessons learned for today:
  • I sure do like AT more than MAT.  When the CD decides what course we should fly, I can spend a lot more time trying to fly, and a lot less time trying to be creative in unfamiliar territory. 
  • There were two different times that I was sharing a thermal with another glider, and instead of following him, I took an extra turn.  By the time i finished that turn, he was gone.  This isn't always a recipe for success (leaching on somebody), but it certainly would have been better for me today! 

Here's a video of my flight track:

Now QQ is parked outside, tied down and covered against the elements.  It's forecasted to rain tomorrow. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

2019 20m National Contest Day 1

I kinda suck at glider racing.  I'll be quick to admit. I'm here at the 20 meter multi-seat nationals contest, and I'm among a group of pilots who have a lot more cross country experience than I do.
I convinced two Skyline Soaring club members to come with me to Minnesota for the contest.  This involved taking QQ in a trailer for 2 straight days of driving; twenty hours of driving time.
Yesterday (Saturday) was the practice day.  It was grey and yucky, and I didn't fly the glider.  Today (Sunday), and it looked like one of the better soaring days I've seen in over a year.
2018 was a terrible soaring year. I had only one or two really good soaring days among all of the practical tests I administered, and all of the rainy weekends.  Maybe this year will be slightly better.
The morning started off with blue skies with only a little bit of overcast.  We assembled the glider and got to the grid by 11:30. I was the fifth to launch. I haven't put water in the glider very many times, so that was kind of new for me, too. Our ramp weight was somewhere around 1500 pounds.
I didn't really understand that the weather was just going to get better and better as the day went on, so once the task was open, I was off on the course.  The task started with a 5 mile start cylinder north of the airport.  I exited the start area on the backside of the course.  I made OK time north to the first turnpoint. I didn't see any gliders, so I assumed I was in the back of the pack.
Here's me leading the pack (in yellow)
I made it past the first turnpoint and still didn't see anybody.  The conditions didn't look that great; the clouds were getting big and I thought that the conditions were getting slightly overdeveloped.  At this point in my flight, I got to the lowest altitude, and started getting desperate for any sort of lift I could find.  I found something terrible, and limped up to a better altitude.  I saw the rest of the pack catch up to me at that point. 
Still ahead of everybody, but things get worse quickly
After the second turnpoint, the remainder of the day was the pilot's choice.  A type of task called a "MAT".  The pilot chooses which turnpoints he is going to fly to. All turnpoints are 1 statute radius circles.  Repeat as much as necessary to get the minimum time in the air.  Today's minimum time was 3 hours. 

I was rather overwhelmed with the task of finding new waypoints.  I also struggled with the flight computer, coming up with turnpoints that seemed OK, given the current conditions.  I thought the conditions to the north looked terrible, and it seemed to me that there were better-looking clouds to the southeast. 
We went south, and just kept going east to Austin MN.  I kept going upwind, east.  The conditions were getting much better now.  Anywhere I went, the thermals were at least 4 knots, and sometimes as strong as seven knots. 
Way out to the east, all by myself
I had a nice tailwind on the way home. I was the first to get back from the task. 
After dinner, the scores came in, and I'm not surprised, but also disappointed.  Seventh place out of seven.   Well of eight contestants.  The eighth guy hasn't started yet.   Well... at least I'm in the top ten?!

Areas where I feel I could use some improvement: 
  • I really suck at MAT tasks, and I need to get better at this. 
  • I'm not very good at figuring out which turnpoints are best to go to on a MAT day. 
  • I need to do a better job of flying faster when I've got water ballast. 
  • I need to spend more time cloud-streeting, if possible.  The winner for the day had one point where he had an average L/D of 159; and I never approached anything higher then 60. (He was flying under clouds and didn't have to turn). 
  • I shouldn't be impatient about starting.  There is a lot of strategy for choosing the best time to start, and I've never paid much attention to that. 
  • I should be more impatient with thermals that aren't giving me what I need; especially when I'm high and don't really need the lift. 
  • I should understand that the minimum time doesn't mean that the task has to be that time.  if there are opportunities for flying fast later in the day, then I should take those opportunities to increase average speed. 
  • I need to make sure that the water in my Camel back doesn't come from a hose, because that water tasted disgusting. 
  • Use more often and make better use of the subscription that I've paid for.