Saturday, May 21, 2011

2011 MidWest comp

Finally writing something on the MidWest comp! The comp didn't have the same luck with the weather as it had last year. We did get 2 tasks, the first one started with very light lift under an almost overcast sky. I had troubles with an entry circle which I incorrectly entered in the instrument and happened to take the second start at a perfect location, by coincidence. The lead gaggle had taken the first start, but lost a lot of time at the first turnpoint. They left that one just before I arrived there. That motivated me very much to join them. But a bit too much, since I was on the ground soon after skipping a thermal to catch up... First task, short distance and only one task to follow. I knew the comp was over for me.
The second task started with high expectations regarding the flying conditions. A 134 km task was set. I launched early, trying to get rid of the previous day's frustrations and climbed out nicely. 45 minutes of flying around before the first start, hopping from cloud to cloud. But from the moment we started, things were much more difficult. We had to fight a headwind and the thermals started to be disorganized. The second turnpoint was completely overcast and only Carl and Larry managed to really escape out of there, be it low. I landed at the turnpoint. Carl won the comp. Congrats Carl!
One of the Chicago guys made two really beautiful video's about the comp:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The US experience - Vehicles

Vehicles. Different in the US as well. They use planes to spray the fields. Crop dusters with powerful engines. Here's an old one with a piston engine, but we've seen one in action at the ridge which had a turboprop. Quite spectacular!

And the trucks of course. Monstrous cabins and they overtake you at 75 mph… Remember Joy Ride?

I drove Davis' truck and trailer on the trip to Illinois. You don't want to mess up when your pulling someone's house on the freeway, turnpike, interstate, … (they have a lot of names here for the 'autobahn')

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dolly launches with tail

Dolly launches. I have limited experience with them and I don't like them. Of course, you'll think, you're writing this after Julia's incident. But Jamie, Dave and others at Quest will know I've expressed my preference for foot launches before. And I've written about my concerns about dolly launches with the tail before. So why am I writing about it now? Because I have pictures of my tail and because I am reflecting on my first serious series of dolly launches. Of course the second reason may well be triggered by the incident.
So why don't I like them?
First of all, because they introduce a number of risks. I feel comfortable foot launching and my hang gliding instructor, Tom Haagdorens, always told me to keep things simple if possible. And I think that is a really good advice. Don't get me wrong, dolly launching is a matured way of launching. The risks are well known and there are procedures to deal with them (check AOA, check for loose wires, check connection to tow cable, use weak links, …) Still, I prefer not to have to deal with those risks at all. Of course I have to deal with the risks involved in foot launching. That includes not tripping and stabilizing the glider while running. But these are the things I'm used to deal with and I feel I have more control over those.
So, first of all, I want to keep it simple. Next to that, I feel uncomfortable when the glider is rolling on the dolly on a grass field. There are always bumps, sometimes quite violent bumps. My base bar is not made for that, I don't feel what the glider is doing anymore because I am having a real firm grip, the glider is getting a beating (think about the A frame, the harness, the jesus bolt and so on) and I don't want that. It was revealing to have 2 launches from the runway during the race and rally. I felt what the glider was doing then. I had no doubt about when to leave the dolly. I felt comfortable with the situation then.
And, the dollies are not made with gliders with tails in mind. People told me not to worry about that. Just make sure you leave the dolly late, when the glider is flying and there will be more than enough clearance for the tail. I never felt comfortable with the "do not worry" advice. And as it turned out, the day before Julia's incident, my tail got stuck to the dolly pretty badly (see the picture below). I always left the dolly late, made sure my keel had left the dolly. Yet, my tail got stuck for what seemed to be 2 to 3 seconds. I was happy to feel it launch after all, looked back and saw that the tail was partly disassembled. I immediately released and landed to check the damage. Alex rolled me back into the line after I made sure the tail was fixated again and seemed to be in good order.

We know that the dolly may jump up when the rear wheel hits a bump. I am quite convinced that that caused my problem that day. But I have no eye-witnesses…
What I know is that dollies are not designed for tails. If the tail gets caught by the keel suspension, it will not release because of the forward force applied to the glider and the backward angle of the keel suspension. You might think that we could solve that problem by making sure that the suspension is tilted forward, but that is not true. If that would be the case, a tail hitting the suspension would rise and thus possibly introduce negative pitch with a bad crash as the result.
The best solution I've seen so far are dollies with just a minor V-shaped cut-out for the keel. But you can imagine the glider to jump out of that on a bumpy field.
So, please do take care when launching with tails on dollies. I always put the AOA as high as I can, knowing that this makes me more vulnerable to crosswinds. But I need to clear the dolly with the tail.
So, now you know why I feel uncomfortable with the situation. Even with a high AOA, which you don't want to have for safety reasons, I have the safety issue of maybe not clearing the dolly with the tail. In the future, I'll ask to do foot launches if the terrain we're launching from is bumpy.

The US experience - Traveling 1300 km to Chebunse

We had 35 degrees and tropical vegetation in Florida. We flew over forests and grasslands into Georgia and it still was hot. South Carolina was hot as well, but it was already completely different. The conifers had gone and the variety of trees had nice green leaves. The houses are built differently, nice wooden houses with porches and pillared balconies. Tennessee showed us some really green mountains. We went from the summer into the spring. But spring definitely can be violent there. We saw tornado damage. Trees smashed to the ground in all directions and houses without roofs and/or walls. We were told that 10 km from Lookout Mountain, a Mac Donalds restaurant was wiped away. Only the sign on a high post and the cooler were still there. The only survivor was the guy that ran into the cooler to shelter. Another family had 4 cars and couldn't find any of them after the tornado. The next day, they found one car half a mile away in the trees…

So, we headed north to Chicago from there and saw some serious flooding on our way. The Mississippi is threatening populated areas, so they are flooding grasslands along the rivers feeding the Mississippi. Not only is it spring here instead of the summer I've already experienced for a few weeks, it's also a cold spring. We have beautiful clear skies here, instead of the humid, hazy air in the south, but the temperatures have dropped accordingly. Not much above freezing at night and 12 degrees during the day. I'll need to find some warm clothes for flying! This is how the location for the Midwest Comp looks like. Flat and green:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flytec Race and Rally - task 4 & 5

The Flytec Race & Rally is over. We had some great flying with 5 tasks averaging 140 km per task. I had a really bad first task, a good second day, 2 really good days on the 3rd and 4th task, battling it out with the top of the field, but I ended on a low again, not making goal on the last day. This put me in 19th place overall. I expected to do better... But as mentioned, it was great flying. And it is a great concept. We tried to reach Lookout Mountain, Georgia and almost made it. As you can see we went east on the 2 final tasks, because of bad weather in the west. So, we didn't reach Lookout Mountain, but we did travel and flew over unknown, new territory every day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Flytec Race and Rally - task 3

The rally is going great. After 3 days, we reached Americus, Georgia. Souther Field, currently called 'Jimmy Carter Regional Airfield', is a place with history, since Charles Lindbergh learned to fly here.

It was an honor to race into goal here and take 6th place for the day. It was a fast race to goal and one of the better flights I have ever done. We almost did 50 km/h on a no-wind day. You can see I was happy on landing, more pictures in Jamie's albums.

The comp started with a really bad task for me, resulting in 43rd place, but after two good tasks I'm currently 20th. I hope I still can improve on that.
It's great to see Paris Williams fly so well on his comeback. I knew Paris only from reading 'Secrets of Champions' and here he is, showing us how to fly. He was fastest yesterday, but was 2nd in the results because Jonny took the leading points after taking the first start. Still, Paris flew at a pretty impressive speed! Oh, and he's a fellow Aeros Combat pilot :-)
The airfield is one of the busiest crop duster places in the US. Here's one them on the airfield:

Results and news can also be found on the rally's blog.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Flytec Race and Rally - first 2 tasks

The rally started with a blue day and a task taking us from Quest to Keystone. It certainly was an ambitious goal and no-one made it. I was over-aggressive, leading out in the blue. At first, I was finding good lift and worked my way against the wind, but after 40 km, I had to land and saw a massive gaggle flying by. Apparently all the others decided to stay together. I had a really bad score for the task...
The second task took us from Live Oak to Moultry, Georgia. It was a 120 km headwind task, with beautiful clouds along the course. I took the first start gate and was on my own again. Most took the second and I was hoping to get a really good run when they would catch up with me. Sadly, I got low halfway through the course and I saw Jonn flying over me at cloudbase. Damn, I missed that train... Still, 13th for the day is a good score. I'm now 30th overall, so there's a lot of work to do.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Race and Rally starts tomorrow!

The Flytec Race and Rally is pretty special when it comes to hang gliding competitions. As far as I know, it is the only rally. We start it at Quest, near Orlando and we hope to reach Huntsville, Alabama. It all depends on the weather of course, but I'm really looking forward to fly in a new place every single day.
And it is a new comp, so anything is possible again :-)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rob Kells Memorial - Final task

Day 6 of the comp was canceled due to strong winds and day 7 looked really good when we started the task we had an out-and-return to the NNW. But that took us into the shade caused by overdevelopment in a front just north of us. I was in the leading gaggle with Curt, Zippy and Paris, but I lost height in a very weak thermal where the other managed to maintain altitude. So I had to go out alone in the shade, heading for the dark storms (still far away) and I knew I probably just was going to glide as far as I could. And that's the way it turned out to be. I landed 700 m short of the turn point.
Paris managed to work the thermal best and managed to return 6 or 7 km and won the day. Jonny flew just a few meters less and won the comp from Dustin on the last day.
This picture was taken after task 5, landing back at the ridge.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fast day until it shut down

For the first time this comp, we were having goal at the place we launch (Florida Ridge). Here's a picture while towing:

A 111 km diamond shape task was set going in the direction of Fort Myers and back. I had a really fast run with Zippy and Shapiro until I failed to gain anything from a cloud street. That made me miss the last thermal with Zippy, who came in goal 20 minutes before me. I had a really slow leg after that missed thermal, but it was even worse for others. 3rd in goal and 4th for the day. Jonny took a later start gate, but was 7 minutes faster than me. My best performance in this comp. I think I'm back in the top 10 :-)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why is Jonny that much faster?

Yesterday, Jonny was way faster than anybody else. While talking about start gates and people out in front who could be his thermal markers, he told me that they didn't help him, because they where all circling in weak lift. I compared our track logs and indeed, Jonny's vario profile is completely different than mine. His vario averaged 1.9 m/s, mine averaged 0.9 m/s and the glides where comparable...

Jonny only turns in good stuff, I have to learn how to find that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Trying to be smart - failed

Yesterday's task was a 120 km mostly crosswind task. I had a difficult start, almost had to land and relaunch, but had a low save and could make the 3rd start gate. I was in a nice gaggle with Dustin, Andre, Davis, Julia, ... Just before the first turn point I was looking at the clouds and I thought the gaggle made a strange move going that far west. I decided to take a slightly different route and 2 minutes later, I saw the gaggle coming my way. I thought I had just done a nice move. Not so, I stupidly missed the first turn point and realized that 5 km later. I tried to turn around, but had a strong headwind heading there and had to land a the turn point. What a stupidity and what a missed chance!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rob Kells Memorial - Day 2

Strong winds today, with rowdy thermals as a consequence. Quite a roller coaster ride. We had a 122 km task with a 15 km start cylinder and everyone was convinced it was going to be a late, but fast day. Which it was. I saw a nice cloud developing on the edge of the cylinder short before the 1st start gate and I got very high there, but my timing was off and I had to return because I was going to lose to much time if I started then.
I took the second start gate, which was probably early, so I was alone during the first half of the flight. About halfway, after the first turn point, I got low and lost a lot of time. I feared I would have to land and had to work broken lift for quite a while before it really turned on again. That was also the moment that I saw a whole armada of gliders (well 7 or 8) come my way. They took the 3rd start gate and caught up with me. One thermal later, I looked like a complete rookie when Jonny and Jeff Shapiro outclimbed me in a spectacular fashion. I somehow didn't catch it and they were right in the core. Still a lot to learn...
I came into goal 6th, having started a start gate earlier. In the provisional results I'm 7th for the day and I don't think that's going to change. That also puts me in 7th overall. A good day :-)
And Jonny made a video about yesterday's (where I had the rare opportunity of seeing him come into goal) and today's task:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rob Kells Memorial - Day 1

Today started with a windy sky and difficult conditions after launch. Low, weak thermals under an almost overcast sky. We had an 80 km task and I managed to jump the 3rd startgate, so I'll have a 13 or 14 minute time penalty because the start gates were 15 mins apart.
We had to cross some 'unretrievable' terrain after the start and I didn't really want to do that with the low altitude we had. Only after drifting far enough to the west, I could see the road on the other end of it and I decided to go. Just to soon, as you know. Anyway, the day got better and I had a really good climb 15 km out. I had 9/1 to goal, but hit sink on my way to goal and was seeing 6/1 numbers. I needed a few turns in a thermal 2 kms out of goal to make it. I was happy to be there. To my surprise there were fewer gliders there than I expected. I think I was 5th or 6th in goal. We landed next to a prison and the sheriff wasn't really happy about that...
So with all the difficult conditions and apparently also other people with bad start times, it's waiting for the scores to have any idea where I ended up.
Click the map screenshot to see more flight details. We were low for a large portion of it...