This May, I participated in the 20 meter multi-seat national soaring competition held in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. I drove the mighty QQ to Mifflin on the evening of Mothers' Day. I drove to Pennsylvania with Uwe Jettmar. Erik van Weezendonk arrived on the following day. The contest was scheduled to take ten days in total.
Monday was a practice day. that meant that all of the participants had the option to fly their glider at the airport where the contest was about to take place. The contest director determines task, and all participants arrive at the runway on a first-come-first-served policy. The conditions were weak, but I decided to attempt the task anyway.
|Practice Day Task Layout|
|QQ getting towed out by rope|
Today was Erik's turn to fly. The task was originally set to be a 3 turnpoint assigned area task, but once the fleet was airborne, the task advisors suggested we move to the stand-by task. This task had a 15 mile turn area to the south, Orbisonia, and a 15 mile turn area to the northeast, Shade Mountain.
The beginning of the task had strong lift in thermals. There were no reliable marker clouds to work with, and there was a pall of overcast over most of the area. Once we got started, I climbed to what felt like wave lift above 6500 feet. Unfortunately, the start line had a maximum altitude of 6000 feet. I flew at high speed to the start line, got just under the maximum altitude for the start line, and couldn't get back into the wave lift. For the rest of the day, I spent it hoping to get high enough into the wave.
We tiptoed too much. I ranked 13th out of 15 contestants for the day. The winds were lined up to work the ridge to the southern end of the task area. I never made use of ridge lift. That definitely could have helped my speed on task. We never got low, and I never got desperate, but the pain of how poorly we showed up on the scoresheet reminds me that everybody at this contest knows how to fly faster than me.
Day 2: Ridge Mission #1
This is the day we were all waiting for, and the reason we drive to Mifflin. Central Pennsylvania has an intricate network of mountains that are perfect for glider racing. Depending on the wind direction, you can zoom along at treetop height, connect with other mountains to cover hundreds of miles.
Day 2 was one such day. The winds were predicted to be coming from the north for the whole day. The winds were not so strong that thermals would be disrupted. The weather-guessers predicted all kinds of adventures with good ridge, good thermal lift for the whole area. The task advisors came up with a suitable task that included a trip across the Susquehanna River into Northumberland, PA.
I started across the start line near Lewistown, PA. I set out to the first turnpoint from the maximum altitude, cruising at 110 knots until I got down to ridgetop height along Shade Mountain. Karl Striedieck and Sarah Arnold passed me on the way to the mountain. I kept them in sight as we both zoomed along Shade Mountain. The northern part of Shade mountain is more rounded than the area where we started. We had to slow down to maintain position on the ridge. We found a great thermal, and got enough altitude to make it across the Susquehanna river and to the next set of mountains near Northumberland, PA.
Karl was gone, but a speck of dust in the distance. I could barely see that he had enough to get to the top of the mountain across the river. Uwe quietly watched me cruise across the river and intercept the next mountain ridge with just the right amount of altitude. I went into the turnpoint as far as I wanted to venture, and turned back to jump across the Susquehanna River again. I passed a dozen gliders travelling on the ridge. Since both gliders were going more than 100 miles per hour, the closing speed was about 200 miles per hour. Jim Frantz of New Castle, VA was flying his Ventus 3. It was equipped with a strobe light on the nose which made him quite conspicuous! I need one of those!
When I got to the Susquehanna river, there wasn't a good enough thermal to make it out of there. I hung out with one of the Standard class guys for a while, as I saw other 20 meter gliders show up and try to dig out.
Eventually, I found a nice enough thermal to get away from the ridge. I headed directly to Penn Valley airport just-in-case. Strangely, I found a thermal right over the river. It was enough to get us the altitude we needed to get back to Shade Mountain.
I followed Shade Mountain until just after Lewistown, PA. At that point, the ridge turned unfavorably, so that the winds would no longer support ridge soaring along that part of the mountain. I headed back upwind to get back to Shade Mountain (the third turnpoint). Heading south again, my next challenge was to find a thermal to make it upwind to Jacks Mountain, near Mifflin. It took me longer than I wanted, but I made it with plenty of altitude to spare. Once on Jacks Mountain, I took the ridge as far as I could muster. Jacks Mountain will work with a northerly wind, but not much past a point called "Mill Creek" It was there that I turned around and headed back home.
I was proud of my accomplishment until I saw the score sheet. I placed 11th. Man, I suck at this racing thing. Maybe I will enjoy this contest more if I just stop looking at the score sheet.
Day 3: Slow Start, Backside Jacks
Day 4: Backside Jacks Mountain
Day 5: Long Ridge Flight
|Day 5 covered the most ground|
Day 6: Racing Task
Day 7: Another Racing Task!
Day 8: A Two-Thermal Day
After getting off tow, I couldn't find any lift. We scrounged around for a morsel of lift, but found nothing. I landed at Mifflin, came to a stop. Within 30 seconds we were back in the air behind the same tow plane as before. "Don't tow me to where you dropped me off last time." He dropped us off where we released last time.
The image above is a view of SkySight's predicted winds at 2000' MSL (approximately the top of the mountain). The lines indicate a wind from the west. Each barb is either 5 knots or 10 knots of wind. Our flight track along Shade Mountain is shown with the black line. Our path was from the bottom left of that diagram to the top right of the diagram. I've marked my opinion about how well the ridge was working for us along the way. "Working", "Kinda working", and then finally, "Definitely Not Working"
Day 9: Wrapping it up
Unbelievable! We had 10 days available for soaring, and we flew on 9 of them.
The only way we're going to place in this contest is if we are the only ones to make it around, while everybody else lands out. This isn't going to happen. Instead, I decided to have a lazy fun day, and my average speed showed it. We came in dead last (11th place) for the 20 meter multi-seat class. This flight wasn't particularly remarkable, so I won't go into much detail.
Strangely enough, we had come in sixth place overall. All of the other competitors who ranked lower than us had made more mistakes than we did.