Thursday, July 10, 2008

Good Evening Race Fans:

Despite the rather dire weather prediction for today, we actually got some soaring in. After a tow from Siskiyou County airport to 6500 msl on the top of Gunsite Ridge instead of to the top of Craggy Peak at 5200 msl, pilots were greeted with 4-8 knot thermals to about 10,500 msl. Phew... what a relief. If we were to believe the soaring forecasts, the best we were going to get all day was maybe 3-4 kt lift to maybe 9,000 msl and ending by 4-5 pm local. Still, the winds aloft and on our return to Siskiyou were predicted to be quite strong out of the north and it looked pretty bleak for the short wingers - i.e. me!

So off we set out on a 4 turn TAT with 5 miles circles around each point. The Sparrowhawk continues to prove itself an equal to much bigger, more traditional gliders. Today was no exception as the "little yellow bird" did a great job of extracting energy from the sky on the runs to give terrific interthermal L/D's. Many a pilot has said how impressive this ship has been on side by side runs under real world, competition conditions.

I was able to get out of the start at about 9900 msl for the run to China Start. As has been the case with all the tasks we have flown in the Scott Valley area this contest, Duzel Rock was the place to tank up before going for the turns. if you missed the good climbs at Duzel, your day was done. My flight was made when I was able to get on top of the ridge to the east of Quartz Valley TP and then was able to follow Ray Gimmey (7V) to a terrific climb on Forest Mountain for the run into and out of Grenada.

I missed the climb everyone else got on Antelope Mtn so off I went getting lower and lower as I just squeaked into the edge of China Start to get the last TP. Then it was a very nervous bit of ridge soaring back to Antelope Mtn where I was able to dig a climb out of the rocks and trees to get home. Easy...

I guess despite the winds and unpredictable thermal strengths, the day was really meant to be for me as I brought home a 2nd place on the day for the Sparrowhawk. While not enough to materially change my overall placing, I think I changed some minds about the racing characteristics of the Sparrowhawk over the course of this often difficult weather contest. I will write up a pilot's/racers report of this little machine when I get home from being on the road. So check back.

So Who won? Our 2008 Sports Class National Champion is Rick Walters who used his knowledge of the area to stay out of trouble and to fly a great contest. With yet another new name added to the Hal Lattimore Trophy, Sports class continues to show it is one of the most competitive classes out there.

Good luck to Rick as he goes overseas to go after another title in the next few weeks. Go Team USA!!!

That's it for Team EY for this racing season.

See Ya!

Monday, July 7, 2008

July 7 - Day 6

Good Evening Race Fans:

Day 6 of the 2008 US Sports Nationals has come and gone. After a well deserved rest day yesterday, all competitors were ready to get back to racing for the national title. We’ve lost the Region 11 Sports Class competitors (their comp is over) so the grid is down to 31 competitors. With the very efficient line crew and great coordination with “Siskiyou Tower”, the field is getting launched in well under an hour now.

The weather situation for today was for completely blue conditions with the possibility for some small wisps if the temps got high enough. The west coast is seeing a large ridge of high pressure build in with rapidly increasing temperatures for the next 3-4 days. What this means for us here at the contest site are predicted highs of 100 (today), 101 tomorrow), 103/4 Wednesday, and then upper 90’s for Thursday. As a general rule the locals say that the first day or two of a building ridge make for very stable and erratic flying. But that with the passing of a couple days, the conditions should really begin to cook and get some great soaring in. We’ll see.

Gary Kemp, CD, called for a TAT “A” Task consisting of China Start (5 miles), Dry Lake (15 miles), Butte Valley (7 miles) and Mt Hebron (5 miles). With the day totally blue and many of us experiencing difficulties just getting to around 8-9,000 msl in the start cylinder (and that after many struggles to make the “commute” to Gunsite Ridge), it was looking like the day would be very difficult.

With Rick Walters (88) taking over as task advisor from JJ Sinclair (JJ), both 88 and the other advisor, Walt Cannon (NT), prevailed upon the CD to change the task to the backup – our old favorite this year of a 3 hour MAT, China Start as the first and only turn. This looked a lot more fair from my short-wing perspective.

This was actually a pretty fun task for me as I got to get a great view of the mountains in the western task area AND I was actually able to see the terrain out ahead of me for leg planning purposes. My day was pretty much a three lap race of China Start, Duzel, Lefko, and then back to China Start. I threw in one extended leg to the Scott Valley airport after a 6-8 knotter at Duzel, and then eased out of the mountains to get Grenada and then Montague to add a few miles before coming back to the field. The day was basically spent shuttling from the thermals at China Start (on the ridge) and the thermals around Duzel Rock. For me, the thermals just appeared at the right places at the right times and I never got stuck and just flew fast all day.

After taking a quick glance at the score sheet, it looks like the Sparrowhawk, or to quote Roy Cundiff “the little yellow rabbit”, took 3rd for the Day. That will earn some points back!

In a recap of Day 5, once again I gave up another 93 points by missing a TP - only my second penalty I’ve ever gotten in a soaring contest, the first being a couple days ago. Winpilot apparently does not use attributes given to turnpoints in a logical way. One would think that the waypoints designated as FINISHES, would be the only ones to have a 2 mile radius drawn around them. Ah… but one be wrong about that since apparently if you have any TP as the last TP in the task, then that will be marked as a finish, and therefore Winpilot will draw a 2 mile ring around that TP. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!

Gee, if I had the 204 points for missed TP’s back, then add another 300-500 for my boneheaded Day 1 landout, where would that put me???… and the Sparrowhawk???

And in closing, Team EY’s thoughts are with our US Club Class Team (and Standard Class/World Class) competing on Day 1 of the World Championships in Reiti, Italy.
GO Team USA!!!

See Ya,

Friday, July 4, 2008

Video of fire bomber

Susan took this video and managed to send it directly to the blog. You can hear her talking to line crew about our weak link during the film.

Day 4 - Fourth of July

Good Evening race Fans:

Well that one was tough! For only about 4.5 hours in the air and a 3 hour TAT, I don’t think I have ever had to change gears so drastically, so many times in one task.

The day dawned a little less smoky and with cu all around by about 10-11 am. However, the high temp of the day was still forecast for only 83 degrees. Lucky for us the trigger was to be about 77, and this happened early on in the morning. But the rub here was that the cloudbase by launch time had only risen to about 7700 msl.

But we still launched into the best looking cu of the contest with all hopes of a great flight. The task call was a 3 hour minimum, TAT (Turn Area task) with the first turn China Start (5 mile radius), way out east to Dry Lake (20 mile Radius), then back in to radar (10 mile radius), and finally, Restaurant (10 mile radius) then back home … to the welcoming arms of ATC (Air Traffic Control).

For a short winged Sparrowhawk, and even some of the “big wings”, making the “commute“ from Craggy to the Gunsite Ridge was very difficult. I, along with Boyd Willat (JP), got into some shear wave that let us get above cloudbase at Craggy and then transition over to the Gunsite Ridge.

I thought I had it made… until I was unceremoniously flushed off Gunsite and into the valley for a very probable off-field landing at Montague. At least that was how it looked for a while. I was able to dig out very slowly and eventually work into the start cylinder and up to a little less than 10,000 msl (the top of the start cylinder). But this was still 2 miles short of the cylinder wall with nothing much in the way of clouds until Antelope Mtn (slightly off track to the first turn) ahead. Time to get out of Dodge for the little yellow glider.

Interestingly, I think I make the tower controller’s day when I come into the pattern because they can actually identify me. “Are you the yellow one st midfield on downwind?” Otherwise they are pretty limited to viewing all gliders as “the white one over there, the other white one over there” etc. It’s kind of funny despite the weirdness of it all.

Just remember all you glider pilots out there: Study up on your proper radio phraseology for when an FAA Tower drops in on your contest.

Back to the task…

The run to China was alright but hardly anything to crow about. But at this critical transition point, the highest I was able to get was about 8500 msl. But in keeping with my former status as the CSA (Colorado Soaring Association) “Duck Head” Award winner, I struck off across the valley into blue skies. By poking my way across the valley I was able to transition onto the best looking clouds of the day running from Whaleback Mtn (just in the lee of Mt Shasta) into the turn area at Dry Lake. While bumping along the cloudstreet I was able to work thermals, shear wave, and convergence up to about 12,500 msl to get into the turn area and then strike off toward Radar where Rick Walters proclaimed to me that “there is always a thermal there to get you back up” Hmmmm.

Well the run to Radar went really well for me and put me a little bit above the radar dome on the top of the hill… where I found exactly nothing for the next 20-30minutes. The clouds weren't working and the day seemed to be dying off. Oh boy. I decided to hang on until the cavalry caught up with me to give me some help in getting back up. Sometimes the best thing to do is just wait for some more thermal detectors to show up and let everyone save each other. Sure enough here came the main pack screaming out of the good conditions coming out of Dry lake and into the area of desperation.

Many pilots got very low getting into and out of Radar. Many landed out at Butte valley and a few in fields and the airport toward Klamath Falls. The rest of us just struggled in very soft and pulsing lift to get up to about 9,000 msl around Copco Bridge before going out into the blue again to try and get the last turn area at Restaurant.

I was sure glad I took the extra couple turns at Copco, because it was quite marginal getting in to touch the radius at Restaurant before heading for home. Topping up with MH about 8 miles out got me into the finish cylinder without a rolling finish, almost exactly on time, and with some extra energy to comply with Siskiyou Tower instructions.

I do not know how I did but there is a growing chorus amongst the pilots here that “Boy, can that Sparrowhawk climb And go!” Hopefully I can do Greg Cole’s terrific design the justice it deserves as the contest progresses.

See Ya!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Heres that fire bomber.

This message was sent using the Picture and Video Messaging service from Verizon Wireless!

Day 2-3 - 3 July 2008

Good Evening Race Fans:

Well, we’ve got ourselves a race going here in Northern California. We’ve gotten in three out of the first three days and are looking at flyable weather the rest of the next 7 days. The CD, Gary Kemp, told us today that he would evaluate the need for a rest day based on the look in our eyes.” Might we have a 10 day contest?

The weather forecast for the foreseeable future… Incredibly smoky soaring conditions with a chance of spatial disorientation. Seriously, last night’s social and this morning’s pilots meeting were filled with tales of spatial disorientation, incipient spins, and just flat out scary conditions. Only the very professional conduct and very high skills of all the pilots so far has prevented anything other than concern over the situation. We are all here to race and that’s what we intend to do.

With a major fire burning just to our west at Happy Camp, it looks like the western part of the local task area (Scott Valley area and ‘The Marbles’ mountain range) will remain problematic. The days are dawning with flecks of ash on my truck’s hood, somewhat clear skies, but then rapidly going to smokier and smokier conditions as the task opens up about 2:30 pm and then getting worse as the afternoon goes on.

For a pilot like me flying his first contest here (and in a new-to-me glider to boot), it’s been like trying to race/navigate in a foggy phone booth when going even a little bit west into the start area (Gunsite Start). This is a terribly technical place to fly fast in and it is super difficult when you can’t see the clouds and terrain more than 2-4 miles ahead of you. Especially in a 30/1 glider like the Sparrowhawk, if you want to make a big jump into a new soaring area over these wide valleys, you need to have some visual assurance that there is lift working where you are going before you make a major strategic move.

The visibilty to the east of the airport (Butte Valley area) have been better. However, this better visibility has not prevented many a pilot from either landing out or being caught very low and having to laboriously dig oneself out of deep trouble in this eastern part of the tasking area.

We’ve got a cooling period for today and tomorrow (July 4th) with highs going from the mid 90’s to 90 to a forecast high of only 83 here in Yreka tomorrow. The temps should begin to cook back into the mid to upper 90’s by Sunday and Next Monday. Odds are this will improve the soaring – but also stoke the fires.

Steve Northcraft (SN) has won the first two days and is really showing his knowledge of the site gained by racing here over many years. Day Three results are not up yet, and all results are going to be tweaked a little bit as the handicaps have not been adjusted for over/underweight competitors.

I’ll just give you a little feeling for how I’ve seen the days play out:

Day One 3 hour MAT, Gunsite Start, China Start TP, Medicine Lake…
This is an odd contest in that the center of the start cylinder we are using (Gunsite Start) is about a 17 mile “commute” (in the words of one pilot) from the Siskiyou County airport.

The release area is on top of Craggy Ridge. There you can expect to get to between 6-8+ thousand MSL before the start opens. It is then up to you to pick your way over to the start cylinder and then get up over the higher mountains and ridges to the west of Yreka.

The release area seems to have very pronounced cycling and it is not uncommon to have to hang out on the ridgetop for quite some time before getting enough height to get over into the start cylinder. So far this initial climb and transition has been pretty kind to me in the little yellow glider.

The pattern that held true on this day has held true the next two days: Everyone out of the cylinder in good shape at the top of the cyclinder (10,000 feet Msl for this contest so far), pretty decent runs to the China Start TP on the ridges at China Mtn., then get a good climb here to set you up for the rest of the day. Then the decisions…

This day (and the next) a LOOOONG glide across the Shasta Valley in the lee of the mighty giant Mt. Shasta (14,000+feet msl) ensued, hope to hook into a climb at Deer Mtn or Whaleback Mtn, and then off to the next (and last) mandatory TP. This day saw altitudes of up to 12-13K being achieved at China, then glide over into the Lee of Mt. Shasta where a lee side thermal and or weak wave enabled most people to tank up, then a long flat glide into the Medicine lake Tp. Medicine Lake TP is at about 7300 feet Msl and saw many competitors get too low for comfort over unlandable terrain. But it was the last mandatory Tp and there was no option but to go for it. Most dug out a decent thermal just short of Medicine Lake and then were able to get going north onto a relatively good shear line.

I followed the crowd and put my head down in my 11 meter ship and was going along doing my thing when I got caught a little low when the Butter Valley are “cycled” off. For about 40 minutes I searched and searched and searched… and then landed out at Butte Valley airport. Not the most auspicious start to a contest! An easy aerotow back home and I was home for a grand total of 300-ish points. How good is the Sparrowhawk’s handicap???

Day 2, 3 hour minimum MAT, China Start TP, Three Sheds TP…

This day saw pretty much the same thing as Day 1 saw. This time there was a fair amount of high level wave/rotor/rotor induced thermals happening. Most had an easy run to China Start TP, then the long glide to three sheds began for most of us.

I was able to get a good run across the valley and yet still found myself low at three sheds looking for a thermal. Eventually I dug out a one knotter that got better with each ascending thousand feet, eventually ending up as a good 9 knotter on the averager in the last thousand feet of the climb. From there I just played out the lift lines and had a good flight of about 150 miles (raw).

I should mention here that I am flying Greg Cole’s personal Sparrowhawk. In the keeping with my new theory of keeping it simple. I elected not to install my instruments in the plane. Can anyone offer me any hints on how to use Winpilot more effectively???

All I know is that my entire flight was spent doing battle with Winpilot and the Ipaq. So much so that I missed the Three Sheds TP by about .85 of a mile. Ooops! So what was a 924 point, 6th place day ended up a 813 point day for 13th place. I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable with the task area. But it sure would be nice to see the area at least once while I am here.

Day 3, 3 hour minimum MAT, China Start TP first turn.

This day began smoky and only got worse as the day went on. In keeping with my new outlook on contest score sheets (As per Uli Schwenk, multiple time German national team member, who does not look at them), I do not know any of the results since I, too, am not looking at them this contest.

I had a really great flight going on while keeping relatively close in until I ran out of Turnpoints sitting over the home field at 4,000 feet agl. Argghhhh! I should have probably extended a little bit more into the western mountains. BUT, with the smoke, being as bad as it is, the commitment to go for the next mtn range west without being able to see what was going on there would have been a huge gamble. I think I put about 140 miles in the box and we’ll see how that scores

Remember that portable FAA control tower the fire bomber operation requested a few days ago? Well, it showed up while we were out on Task today. So for about 20 minutes this afternoon, the Siskiyou Country airport was a little bit like ORD at rush hour. For me, this was one of only a handful of times I’ve ever had to talk to a tower. And this time it was under the pressure of a contest finish. Fun. There were many looks of utter amazement on the faces of the pilots at tonights social hour.

Stay tuned for more news on the wackiness of the 2008 Sports Class Nationals.

See Ya,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sports Class Day 1 - July 1st

Good Evening Race Fans:

Team EY is here at the US Sports Class Nationals in Montague, California enjoying the “smoky” hospitality of Northern California. Unfortunately, I’ve had to shelve my “Echo Yankee” ID for yet another contest. But fortunately, this time is for a very good reason.

With the Sports Nationals returning to Northern California in 2008, I got an email from Greg Cole back in December offering his personal Sparrowhawk for me to fly. Having heard a lot about the potential of the new technology in this glider (all pre-preg carbon fiber construction, very light weight, brs (ballistic recover system), etc.), I jumped at the chance. So Team EY will be competing as team GC – “Golf Charlie” at this contest.

I’ll have more to say about the Sparrowhawk, and maybe even about its much-anticipated big brother the Duckhawk, as the contest goes along. But so far, I am enjoying the ship very much.

So what’s going on here at Montague?

With the very active wildfire season here in Northern California, the Air Tanker base at Montague is quite active. With 2 ex-Navy P-2 Neptune firebombers and a couple of turbo commander “lead planes” based here, the contest is definitely prepared for the possibility of conflict. Rex and Noelle Mays had done a lot of prep work for this contest which specifically included working out a plan to work with the firebombers. Well on practice day one, the plan went out the window and the firebomber folks both would not work well with us AND made an official request to the FAA for a portable Control Tower to be brought in here. Argghhhh! With the fires stabilizing a little bit in the past couple days, the threat of us being run out of here has gone down. But you never know.

We’ve got a great field spanning the full gamut from quick young hotshots, to really quick old wiley veterans. Add in US Team members tuning up for Lusse, Germany next month, ex-US team members, those pushing for the US Club Class Team, past US National Champions in many different classes, and you have the makings of a great race.

We flew both practice days with pretty good weather as long as you could deal with the effects of all the wildfires here in Northern California. Practice day one saw few pilots flying the task and many taking local familiarization flights. The smoke was so bad that I was over Duzel Rock (well known local thermal source) at about 10K msl and I could not really see it!

Day 2 saw better conditions, especially to the Northeast (Klamath Falls area) and more pilots starting to sharpen their racing skills. Unfortunately, my loggers had some “issues” and I was not able to turn in a score for day 2. I pushed the little yellow Sparrowhawk pretty well and probably won or came close on the day. In the end, Practice Day 2 was won by Ed Salkeld (5S) followed closely by Seam Franke (HA) at around 58 mph (handicapped).

Today, the first official contest day, dawned a little less smoky, but with the threat of quite a bit of cirrus moving in off the Pacific Ocean throughout the day. Today’s Day 1 task was a 3 hour MAT with China Start (53) and Medicine Lake (?) the first two called turns. Then we were free to go wherever.

One thing that the reports about flying at Montaguie do not make much of is that cirrus is a VERY big factor in contests at the coastal (or relatively so) sites like Montague. Today was a perfect example. When the sun was able to hit the ground the day really cooked. I got one terrific 10 knot climb around the China Start turnpoint enabling me to tank up before setting off across the Shasta Valley to Medicine Lake.

But before then the day was very slow getting going and the gate did not open until 14:21 pm local. The very smoky skies, combined with the cirrus shelves movingo into the area had drastic effects on the heating of the day. The run to China Start was pretty straight forward. Then the fun began as the field crossed the Shasta Valley in the lee of 14,000+ foot Mount Shasta going for the Medicine Lake TP. With hints of wave in the upper atmosphere, the field slowly got across and pulled into turn at Medicine Lake quite low. From there, the most logical thing was to run the convergence going up toward Radar facility (40) and the Klamath Falls. Oregon Area. Then some ran back down the convergence south before heading home.

That’s what I tried to do as well. I found myself on a marginal on a glide from Radar to home, with 1 hour 20 minutes left to go and I went back to Butte valley airport hoping to work the convergence line I had used to get there, get up and then go home. But with the sun angle catching more and more smoke and the bands of cirrus coming and going, I found myself stuck and had to land out at Butte Valkley Airport. The day just died where I was and that was the end of Day 1 for me. A very expensive aerotow back to home and GC was returned to its box safe and sound.

It seems the day was none too kind to the Sparrowhawks, with Bill Thar (G8) also landing out on the strip at Longbell Ranch coming out of the first turn.

I have not looked at the score sheet, but I am hoping that a combination of many people under time and the new scoring rules making landouts less of a total disaster will enable me to stay in the race to some degree. We’ll see.

That’s it from Montague.

See YA,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New soaring podcast

There's a new soaring podcast by Boulder, Colorado pilots Doug Weibel and Colin Barry. They interviewed me about the GP experience for their second episode. Hear it here.
There's also a comprehensive article about the contest in the Feb/March issue of Soaring NZ, Jill McCaw's new magazine.