Monday, August 9, 2010
The tactics to prevail on task in the very large gaggles in extremely weak conditions must be experienced to understand. Although I had studied these tactics I still could not make myself be patient enough and took too many risks. John Cochrane and I did get the opportunity one day to display our team flying skills in “strong “ conditions ( 3500agl and two knots) and this was my most satisfying day. I was also happy to make almost as much distance as anyone else on the day that the entire 15 meter class landed out in Serbia.
I want to thank my wonderful crew for all their support. I must have worked my crew harder than any U.S. pilot that ever attended a WGC. Thank-you Rob, Rhonda and Wesley. I even forgive you for remarking on a retrieve well after midnight that you had driven more (expletive) miles than I had flown!
Dennis Linnekin’s execution of the Team Captain's job neared perfection. Always upbeat and positive and never failing any pilots request. Dennis even found an alternate Team support group in the staff at the “John Bull Pub”. The entire Team worked very well together and all the crews were ready and willing to assist each other. I would like to especially thank Adnan Mirsa ( unofficial Team psychologist ) for helping me maintain a positive attitude. Adnan is truly one of the most positive and upbeat people I have had the privilege to be around..
The competition suffered in many areas. Organization and facilities were poor at best. The task setter evidently did not pay much attention to the weatherman . Launching 150 gliders into a sky with bases at or slightly above tow altitude was asking for disaster. I think it was a miracle that no one was killed. Having said this I must complement the small group of very young workers led by contest director Milan.
I will remember with fondness all the fun of the opening ceremonies, international night party, closing ceremony and especially the new and renewed friendships. The retrieve stories (especially Serbia) will be retold and embellished for years to come. I would like to leave you with a quote from Rob while leaning against the car that was attached to the trailer that was two feet deep in Serbian mud: “8H if we ever get out of here I am never crewing for anybody ever again !!!"
Saturday, August 7, 2010
The farewell party is over. Many are remembering the good friends from all over the world we have met this week, and perhaps regretting a bit the number of trips we made to the free schnapps table.
A while ago I sent a few friends a picture from the grid with the caption, "the reason soaring is more popular in Europe than the US." I can't post it here, but let's just say it involved the different approach to sun exposure and the number of youthful members of the fairer sex in European glider fields. My wife, Beth, grumbled a bit about it, so in her honor here are two more pictures from the grid.
Let's call the first, the real reason soaring is more popular in Europe than the US.
This little guy was just adorable. Yes, there are lots of families and kids here. Part of that in turn stems from the creature comforts. This airport has a nice bar and restaurant, a great water park nearby (see Gena's post below), and it's close to a cool city with great restaurants. And all the Europeans are complaining about how spartan it is.
And second: For a true pilot, there is only the wind, the clouds, and the sky:
Thanks for all your support, we're coming home
Friday, August 6, 2010
The Slides of Szeged
My favorite pilot briefing took place on the day after the day in which not one pilot in any of three classes completed the task. The contest organizer began with an announcement: "I would like to apologize to the pilots." And then he introduced the task-setter.
Two days ago, on a non-flying day for Open Class, we visited the local water park, which has, according to 9-year-old Alex Cheatham of the British team, the LONGEST WATERSLIDE IN EUROPE. As it turns out, the Szeged water park has not only the LONGEST WATERSLIDE IN EUROPE, but also an entire Crayola Crayon box of swooping, twirling, spiraling, and plummeting slides in an indoor-outdoor, complex of waterfalls, lap-pools, and spas, with deliciously warm water. My co-crewmate, 9-year-old Julius Tabery, particularly loved the green slide, which had a few turns and a steep and rapid descent into an outdoor pool. He also favored the red slide, a generic twisty-turny slide that deposits swimmers suddenly into a funnel, around which one spins several times before being dumped gracelessly into an indoor pool. And there was, of course, the blue slide, which is the LONGEST WATERSLIDE IN EUROPE, accessible only via elevator: a covered spaghetti downhill ride from a four-story height, with skylights of various colors, including rainbows, stripes, stars, and polka-dots. My favorite slide was the open-topped yellow slide, which languorously winds its way from three-stories in the air to a waiting open-air pool, with a lovely view of the sky available the whole way down.
The slide I absolutely did not want to try was the purple slide, a quick and nearly vertical 10-meter descent into an indoor pool. Of course, everyone insisted. I tried once and backed out. The second time, I closed my eyes, took the plunge and then, after violently bumping my head toward the end, forced a whole lot of water up my nose while skiing across the pool on my back.
Back at the airport the next day, I kept thinking about those slides and my contest experience as crew. When you tell people you are going to Europe for a glider competition, they envision the yellow slide—a lovely tour of European countryside, with blue skies and good food. On a good day, the pilot gets the blue slide. But for the crew on the ground—at least for the emotionally involved crew—the contest is the purple slide: a terrifying, gut-wrenching I've-faced-my-worst-fear-and-survived-it, but-it-wasn't-all-that-much-fun kind of ride. And yet we keep going back.
In other news, more than one U.S. pilot is disappointed today. WE crew Carol Elliot says the best remedy for a bummed-out is pilot to throw him into the hangar with 150 other pilots, each of whom has a story to tell. In that milieu, you just have to get over yourself. Says Carol, "It's like socializing your puppy."
So tonight we attend the final banquet, visit with the other pilots and crew, and hear the other stories. We'll eat and drink and socialize, and after a while, we'll forget the purple slide. It will seem like yellow, all the way. Or, for some of us, THE LONGEST WATERSLIDE IN EUROPE.
Gena Tabery, SS crew
And with that radio announcement ended the World Gliding Championship of 2010.
Now, as the thunderstorm pounds down on the office, here are the results of our efforts:
Ron Tabery: crewed by Gena and Julius Tabery and Peter Fuss: 7th
Garret Willat: crewed by Ant Bilsev: 19th
Bill Elliott, crewed by Gary Carter and Carol Elliott: 30th
Tom Kelley: crewed by Mathias Ignacz: 48th
John Cochrane, crewed by Adnon Mirza: 27th
Al Tyler, crewed by Rhonda and Wesley Tyler and Rob Ware: 45th
Thursday, August 5, 2010
15 Meter Race
Today everything clicked. I was in the right place at the start, and saw a huge gaggle leave including all the big names. I waited a few minutes, and then it was time to go. Alas, my teammate Al was too low, but with the main gaggle gone in 2500’ cloudbases, late in the day with a long task, I couldn’t wait. The scoresheet is interesting for the start times. You’ll see how vital it was to go with that group.
I dumped all my ballast on the first glide, and was getting worried, as the clouds looked even worse and even lower and I didn’t see any gliders. Have I missed the gaggle again? Then as I got down to about 1500’, the clouds parted, and there in front of me was the entire 15 meter class, spinning around. I came in underneath them at about 1000’, and instantly connected with 4 knots. It tailed off, and I moved to a second group and again connected, this time leaving most of the first gaggle behind.
The next two legs were really pleasant. I was dry. Everyone else was carrying a full load of water. I was able to easily outclimb them, but at 70 knots with 3000’ cloudbases nobody is running away from me. It took 3 thermals to work to the top of the stack. Then, I was able to stick with a fast group of 5-10 gliders pushing forward. There were some patches of spreadout and a low moment, but otherwise we were working from cloud to cloud with good vertical development.
As we approached Szeged, I was in the position we all dream of. I’ve caught the fast gaggle, and I’m just behind and a few hundred feet higher. I’m ready to pounce and blister home on the final glide. And we’re approaching Szeged…
Except, we have two more legs to go. And everything behind Szeged is covered with thick high clouds and no cu. I floundered a bit in a thermal, then went on to a group of three gliders working under the last cloud. ….Then they turn back and go to the place I was floundering, where now there is a big gaggle.
The worlds is about changing gears, and now we changed big time. All that ground gained against the gaggle goes out the window. I turned around as well, and patiently ground up to cloudbase. Leaving again with a group of 5 at the top, we glided across the dead zone at 53.000 knots, to start connecting with weak lift on the other side. The next two legs were very slow work with a group of excellent thermal piltos, stopping for every 1 knot thermal along the way.
And then it got really bad. I ended up with a group of 5 down at about 1,000’, looking for anything. It was an interesting experience. We wound up basically parked in a bubbly zone. The thermal would surge to 1 knot or so, and we’d gain 500 feet. Then it would die, and we’d lose about 200. And on and on like this. I must have spent 45 minutes with these guys patiently grinding around. I was frustrated that there seemed to be another gaggle down course ahead of us, but I couldn’t get to it.
Eventually our thermal surged just enough to get a final glide, so I closed the vents, and set of at 53.000 knots towards home. It all worked out ok and I finished uneventfully. I expected to make it home with awful speed, but it turns out the gaggle ahead of us all landed out, so I was one of the first finishers.
It’s been a long contest and a huge learning experience. Today everything clicked, and I think I played this WGC game and all its new tactics well. There are few flights where you don’t come home with some regret for some mistake. My wife emailed and said “hey, if this contest goes on another month you might do pretty well.” Adnan recommends a steady pace of 930 points per day, which is pretty much how it worked out except for my stupid lawn-dart on the first day.
Once again, this has been a team effort, and I owe thanks to lots of people. Dennis (captain) Adnan (crew and coach) were right there today as in the whole contest. My clearnav has been working great, and the whole clearnav team has been wonderful about answering my testy emails about small issues here and there. The support we’ve heard from home has really helped keep our spirits up and enthusiasm going. And I shouldn’t forget my mom, who took me out for glider lessons all those years ago (1972!) I don’t think we ever dreamed it would end up at a world championship.
The weather to the west is ok, but soaring conditions north of Szeged are not as favorable. We have a metar report of scattered cumulus at 3,300' 80 miles west of Szeged. At Kecskemet Airport, 47 miles north, the report is of broken cu at 2,400', with additional broken layers at 4000' and 8,000'.
Open Class has a 374 km Assigned Area Task. 18 Meter has a 289 km Racing Task and the 15 Meter Class is flying a stange-looking "bowtie-and-a box" Racing Task of 294 km.
Our thoughts are with the Callaghan family.
15 Meter Day
Everything really clicked for Al and me yesterday. Cloudbase was only 2700’ above the ground, and we left 5 minutes after the gate opened at 3:00, both because the day ends promptly at 5 and we had a 2 hour task, and because the start gaggle seemed pretty dangerous to us.
We were able to click along, working from 2,500 to 3,000’, doing a lot of long straight glides. We worked together very well, each finding the core about half the time.
We had a bit of a low point after the first turn, but with a few minutes of fishing got right back up again. The gaggle caught us at this point, but we led out and never saw them again.
The last leg was a beautiful street, still 3,000’ MSL but right on course. Our twin clearnavs set us up for a perfect finish exactly on time. The street was clearly soft and the sky was bluing out however. We took two one knot thermals to build a little cushion on final glide, closed the vents and came on home in formation.
There were only one or two gliders on the airport, the sky was totally dying, and for a moment we let ourselves dream that we really had smoked the day. It was not to be. The winners somehow flew far over time, going to the back of the turnpoint that we nicked, and finding an even better street to come home on. Oh well, our speeds were still pretty good and 15/16 is still a decent performance. Yes, we probably could have saved several minutes with a more aggressive final glide, but on the other hand we’ve seen enough Hungarian and Serbian farm fields to last a lifetime. All in all a really good day.
John Cochrane (BB)
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
The 15 Meter Class will fly an Assigned Area Task with three areas. Minimum time is two hours with a nominal distance of 223 km. BB and 8H crews are gridding the gliders now. Take-off will be no sooner than 2pm...just over an hour from now.
Well, finally we had a good solid Midwestern day. It was mostly 3 knot thermals with the occasional 4-4.5 in the middle of the day, with cloudbases to 4,500.
Al and I decided to ignore the gaggle and fly US style, since there would be good cloud markers. Our first leg was a bit weak, or rather a bit too full of water for the 2 – 2.5 knot conditions. With water it’s hard to center, but that’s part of the game. You have to struggle a bit early so you have the water in the heat of the day. We worked together well and kept going in the punchy lift.
After a good high downwind turn, we got separated on the second leg. I got busy fixing the latest software issues, and didn’t hear Al stopping to climb. Still, we had a nice looking sky ahead of us and the best part of the day. Both of us had a very good run back to the Tiza river. The Italians came about 1,000’ over me, pair flying beautifully in their Dianas. I have learned not to even try to follow them. The Dianas have a huge performance advantage and just walk away from me.
The Tiza river produced a big blue hole. No problem, stop in the last few clouds, take 3 knots to the overlying SUA, and go. (Unlike the US, we often fly under airspace in Europe). After a long quiet glide, I connected at 2,000’ under the first cloud, to a solid 4 knots. Now the fun part started. Clouds with good vertical development had wide swaths of 3 knots with 4-5 knot cores. I got a 97:1 glide in here. Going in to the second turn over Romania, the big clouds ended, and cloudbase went down about 500’. Time to dial back 70-80 and take those 3 knottters. It also had the look and feel that it would work under the clouds but not low. Alas, due to software glitches and my miscalculation I took about 10 km too far in this turn area. It wasn’t a disaster, it was just slower than otherwise.
Time to go home. We had widely separated clouds with good vertical development, producing smooth 3 knots with bigger cores. I happily took the 3 knots, thinking that it would be terrible down low.
That was right. Al, unfortunately did get low over Romania. He did an absolutely amazing job of working up again, but by then the day had died and he ended up landing out. Fortunately, he got out of Romania and didn’t suffer another border crossing!
Passing under the gaggle, I saw it only going up two knots, and chose instead to bump up under a nice street going home. I bumped form 600 under to 600 over and floated home.
The end of the day was very interesting. Ron went through first, and radioed back that it was booming on the way home. Bill finished later with a bit less enthusiasm. Garrett radioed “it’s getting a bit soft”. I found only 2-3 knots and very mild lift under the street. I looked back 10 minutes after I landed and the street was gone. When the weather gods turn the switch off, they turn the switch off!
It felt really good. Every flight has a few regrets –not either starting 10 minutes earlier, or starting 5 minutes later to gaggle down the first leg; not doing a better job of the final turn area; disconnecting with Al, and a little slowness on the last leg. But even though I’m not high in rank on the scoresheet, all but the Dianas went about 106 and I went 104, so it’s pretty good overall.
It’s back to rain and weak weather. However, that’s not a big disappointment, we’re here to race. I learned a big lesson from Doug Jacobs on the grid one day with looming thunderstorms. Everyone else was moaning. Doug was licking his chops, “I can really make up some points today!” It’s all about maintaining a positive attitude.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Sorry did not write yesterday the internet died a sudden death last night. Now it has all blended together, and honestly I cant remember too many details.
But today, the start gate was so much fun, at cloudbase with people starting and bumping the gaggle on the way out, with people heading to the gate, in near IFR conditions FLARM is quite a nice toy. SS and I were on the fence about an early start, the 2 german winners did that. But we had a reasonable start, I got a little anxious and started, SS went back and started about 8min later. I had the great idea of driving hard straight on course and take a good climb. It was wonderfully executed for the last part...a good climb. I was reporting back to SS, at least telling him where I was, and seeing if the grass was greener on the other side, which it normally is. I caught up to a nice pack, which I new I started after, but eventually lost. Then had the Brits come in under me, which was fine, but they started after me and a few thermals later I was looking up at them.
So I shifted gears and tried to push for a stronger climb, but it never really worked, I just marked thermals for everyone. I was pushing too fast for the climbs I was achieving. I did have a good final glide that I started below glide and bumped home. The 18meter boys were with me in the last thermal and went to cloudbase. I just bounced along, finally got a 2.5knt final glide, then found all the lift I was looking for the last 60km and had to push to near the yellow arc. I know which is not the worm burner final glides one might be used to. I have been practicing the normal cruise speed final glide, but unlike the multiple people we have seen short of the runway with a safety margin. Its late and we have to go Mosquito hunting before lights out.
Al, Rhonda and Wesley Tyler along with stalwart crewman Rob Ware, (Mayor of Cave Spring , Georgia) had an epic retrieve from a very muddy field in Serbia. I will leave it to Al and his crew to tell that amazing story. I think it would make great article in SSA Magazine.
Well, all of that occurred two days ago. Since then, we have had serious internet connectivity problems. So, let me tell you a bit about yesterday.
Our Open Class guys continue to work very well together and had another great day. Ron Tabery is in fourth place now and only fifteen points out of a podium position! Garrat Willat is in eighth overall.
In 18 Meter, Bill Elliott finished 33rd yesterday with a speed of 106 kpm over the 330 kilometer task. Bill is currently 25th overall. Tom Kelley flew the task at 99 kph for 43rd place yesterday and is now 47th overall.
15 Meter pilot John Cochrane flew the area task at 103.7 kph for 384 k. placing 16th for the day. John is 30th now, overall. Al Tyler outlanded only 26 k from home, proving that even the best pilots can have a string of very bad luck. Al is 46th overall in 15 Meter.
Gotta run the the Captain's Briefing!
Monday, August 2, 2010
Yesterday the 15 meter class was tasked out to the west over the (relatively) high ground, then across the (wet) Danube river valley, then following the (wet) Tiza river for two more legs, all through Serbia. You can see where this is going. A courageous pilot stood up to complain at the pilot’s meeting, pointing out that if anyone had to go to Serbia, notorious for 4 hour border crossings among other things, perhaps the open class with engines might be a better choice. His complaint produced a slightly shorter task with a fortuitous airport turnpoint.
The task went as expected. We had a very nice first leg, at least by Chicago standards – 3 knots to 3000’ AGL. Then we hit the Danube river, and it was survival mode for the rest of the day. All we had were blue 1-2 knot thermals to about 2000’ AGL. I watched with dismay as the “time required to finish” on my clearnav slowly inched forward towards Thanksgiving. It is amazing actually just how bad conditions one can fly in with the help of small gaggles of 4-5 gliders.
Eventually I got a final glide to the airport at the last turn, where I landed with 16 other gliders including the contest leaders. Yes, there is sanity in WGC pilots! The airport was very nice. The owner, who turns out to be the head of the aero club of Serbia, showed up and brought us all beers and Cokes, and opened up the clubhouse. The decision to give up a few points and land at an airport was looking better and better. We took some pictures of the assembled group which I’ll pass on when I get them.
Retrieve was a nightmare. The border crossing took hours in both directions. 50 glider trailers showing up at a border crossing at 2 AM has very predictable results. We also had a small road accident when an impatient Serbian driver rear-ended Adnan and my trailer. The car being driveable, we just got out as fast as possible. And I had an easy retrieve. Al is stuck in a muddy field somewhere in Serbia. Everyone who landed in fields had to go to the local police station.
The 15 meter class is sensibly canceled for today, since nobody got home before 3 AM. Of course today looks like the best weather we’ve seen in the whole time we’ve been here.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Day 4 "I'm low, but it's time to go."
"I'm low, but it's time to go," said Ron Tabery (SS), and off he went, at 2:00, the absolute last of the Open Class gliders to start on Day 4. Tabery was the second glider to launch, at roughly 1:05, so by the time he landed at 7:10, he had been flying for a while. There is a 10-point penalty per minute for landing after official sunset. Ordinarily, this is not a penalty anyone worries about. Tonight, I wondered.
For the ground crew, this is the Hotel California of contests: we check in, but we can never leave. Either the task is short, because of weather, or it takes forever to launch, because of weather, or no one starts, because of weather, or they finally start and it's not clear whether anyone will be able to stay up or complete the task, because of weather. It was a 438 km. task today. Ron estimated 125 km. average speed, so I figured I had 3.5 hours. But as the day progressed, the gliders did not, and it really does not help the crew's peace of mind to have the tracking devices in the planes and the traces on the screens in the gliderport. Agonizing over each turnpoint is the worst way to enjoy a contest--particularly when there are four turnpoints, and it has taken hours to reach to first one. I believe that SS alone rounded the third turnpoint before joining everyone else in motoring home.
Then there are those crew who must leave. To go to Serbia, for instance. This afternoon, there were at least fifteen glider trailers trying to get out of the airport at the same time. They were stacked three deep, waiting for their turn out the airport gate. Quite a gaggle, and not the start gate you hope to be waiting for.
The start sucked, it was less than 1knt and completely blue....so we waited...and waited. Actually SS and I both returned back towards the airport just to climb up again...and we waited. I eventually got a good climb near the start to cloudbase, SS said to not wait up, and I appreciated that, because I really did not want to. I started at near cloudbase, but alone. I went north of track, and advised SS to not do the same, called climbs for him and how conditions were up ahaid. He found the pack, I was very lonely. I deviated upwind quite a bit to practice my Mifflin flying. There was a small ridge, and very little wind, which I did not want to be downwind of. So I floated along, dropped all the water, and limped. I did see 1 two-seater above me once, then another motoring home from the direction of the first turn. SS managed to get ahead of me, and turned the first turn at least 10km ahead of me, interesting doing head-on with the entire open class.
I turned around and now SS was calling climbs, I decided to head out across the valley in the rolling hills, It worked SS was reporting 1.5, and I took a 4....yes a 4knt thermal, I had no idea they were around, I was empty and one of the EB's was not, I climbed right through him....it was great. That got me pretty much even with the gaggle...the remainder of the open class. I then found a 3.7knt climb, which SS came over to visit me with. This got us on top of the pack, which by the next thermal I was the highest with A and 4M (our new radio friend). WE was also reporting weather ahead. We ran along, A flying too fast for me, 4m found a climb and this got us out in-front. N1 eventually pushed out with us, I tried hand signals to change to our radio freq. But we got it sorted. N1, 4M and I pushed along into the bleak unknown....We bumped a thermal...which we should not have, SS centered it and I told him to STAY!!!! because it was really starting to suck. We found a gliderport, and I started the engine on a modified downwind following in about 5 18meter gliders.
So it was a very good day, AST, started late and passed the pack...it was soo cool...but it was a distance day, which SS was able to win. I'll let him write more...I am going to bed, the adrenaline has worn off.
Just had the chance to see some scores! YES! Go check them out!
Now, back to the retrieve story... Adnan finally made it through into Serbia and he must have connected with BB by now. Hoping to hear from them soon. Bill Elliott, his wife Carol and crew Gary Carter just returned to Szeged and are eating at the airport restaurant here. The 8H Crew, Rhonda and Wesley Tyler and Rob Ware have entered Serbia after a long wait at the border and should arrive at the police station to meet Al and his new friends. They may spend the night in Serbia and retrieve Al's glider from the field in the morning.
The tasks are long and will be difficult today. Weak looking cumulus to the west and that's where all the classes are headed first. All classes are flying racing tasks today. The 15 Meter task is 334km, 18Meter's are flying 360km, and the Open Class is tasked with 438km.
At Szeged there are beautiful fields for the last few miles short of the road and barbed wire fence. The only thing separating a landing just shy of the road in a field and a landing 1 cm over the barbed wire fence and road is the substantial number of points offered by the rules for trying to pop over the fence.
We say "pilots will act safely and throw away the contest when safety intrudes" but time and again experience proves us wrong. Put 400 points 1 cm above a barbed wire fence and pilots go for it.
This is a solved problem. A substantial minimum height for finish, coupled with very strong penalties for coming in low, means that for pilots like the one in this accident, racing is over when you're making the life or death safety decision of stopping in the last field or popping over the fence.
Alas, IGC rules do not even allow the safe finish. Yes, they allow a cylinder with minimum altitude, but the penalty for finishing low is a warning the first time, and 25 points the following times. Compared to the loss of all speed points for stopping in the last field, this will do nothing. The US has gradually moved to a cylinder finish with substantial penalties for low arrival, which is helping.
To those who have "never heard" of this type of accident, go read the accident reports. European accident reports are littered with crashed gliders in the last few km of contest flights, driving into the ground in the hope of squeaking over the fence. (Kudos to Sailplane and Gliding for printing them.)
All this is explained in great detail in an article I wrote for Soaring magazine nearly 10 years ago. Here is a link.
I apologize for the harsh tone, but it's sad to see utterly preventable accidents continue, and sadder still that international rules do not even allow organizers to take the obvious corrective action. This is not rocket science.
John Cochrane BB