Sunday, July 6, 2014

Competition Day 7: Team USA Club Class Pilots are First and Second for the Day!

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
5 July   (last day of this contest)
by John Good

 Today we received something pretty much everyone at WGC2014 would agree we’d earned: a truly first-rate thermal soaring day in Finland.  With warm temperatures, light winds, no rain, honest cumulus clouds, and good lift to altitudes that sometimes exceeded 6000’, this was the kind of day we all came here hoping to find.  About the worst that could be said it that the good soaring conditions were not uniformly spread across our task area – some sections were a bit short on cumulus clouds.

US Club Class pilots took advantage of the good conditions with impressive speeds that put them at the top of the score sheet: Sean Franke was first (at 96.8 kph) and Garret Willat was second (96.2 kph).

The champions are now determined.  In Club Class, steady flying put Eric Bernard of France on top, just ahead of teammate Killian Walbrou.  Give a large measure of credit to team captain Eric Napoleon, who for years has been able to take a stable of young, eager, talented pilots and turn them into champions.

Standard Class produced a surprise.  Many-time world champion Sebastian Kawa from Poland led this contest for several days, but fell into second on the next-to-last day.  He’s a formidable competitor when he needs to come from behind, and many here expected he’d be able to do this again.  But Bert Schmelzer of Belgium turned in an excellent flight that kept him ahead of Sebastian, and gave him the winner’s trophy.

20-Meter Multiplace class produced no surprise yesterday.  The “Jones Boys” (Steve and Howard) were close to perfect in this contest: they won every day but the last (on which they were second by just 6 points) putting them first overall by an improbable 871 points.  It shouldn’t really be possible to fly so well that pilots such as Antti Lehto (Finland’s ace) and Janusz Centka (Poland’s multi-time world champion) are contending only for second place.

I’ll note that I got to fly yesterday, on the best day Finland has seen in the past 6 weeks or so.  Jose Otero (crew for Phil Gaisford) and I were packed into a club ASK-21 on rather short notice.  The lift was excellent (7 kts to 6000’), the views of Finnish countryside (through characteristically clear Finnish air) were grand, and we had to use a lot of divebrake to be back on the ground ahead of the first finishers (as we’d promised).   While signing the logbook, I learned that this ASK-21 (which, as is typical of equipment in Finland, is kept in first-rate condition) is the veteran of 6500 hours in the air, over the course of 17,288 (!) flights.

We take leave of Räyskälä now, impressed with the site and the quality of the contest organization, and pleased that the weather “came right” at the end of the event. It’s worth noting that despite difficult weather, occasionally crowded skies and many outlandings, the worst damage seems to have been a gear-up landing at the home airfield.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Competition Day 6 and July Fourth celebration

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
4 July   (next-to-last day of this contest)
by John Good

USA Fourth of July Slide in Daily Briefing (above)
Another good-weather day: warm (at least by Finland standards) and with plenty of sun.  Today’s tasks were long, but all pilots who started were able to get home - the first time that has happened.  And no pilot found any need to fly through, or even near, rain – another first for WGC2014.

To be fair, the conditions weren’t really as good as they looked (and were predicted to be), so speeds were well below what was confidently expected by those looking at the cumulus-filled skies of late afternoon.  Fortunately, the lift lasted late into the evening (as you might hope at latitude 61 north, in early July): the last contest landing was after 7pm (the pilot had been on task nearly 6 hours).

By that time, the US Team was hard at work grilling various meats and veggies for our celebration of Independence Day.  It was a fine feast, enjoyed by all.  One treat worth special mention was Finnish strawberries.  Finland’s strawberry plants seem to make up for a short growing season (and no doubt rather low yields of fruit) by packing remarkable taste into each berry.  Those who haven’t encountered one will surely be thinking the taste can’t be much different from fine strawberries elsewhere; those who have will think otherwise.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Competition Day 5: a beautiful windy flying day

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
3 July   (a flying day!)
by John Good

Quite a change this morning.  After another night of more or less steady rain we awoke to clearing skies, sun and temperatures that were almost pleasant (some short-sleeved shirts were in use!).  The forecast was not without issues: the sun was due to a rather narrow slot between two fronts, wind was predicted to be strong (20 kts) throughout the day, and by late afternoon high clouds and then some chance of rain and thunderstorms were likely.  But after four days of sitting on the ground, this felt like a huge improvement.
Tasks were certainly bold for the conditions.  All classes had long “Racing” tasks that require pilots to pass within half a kilometer of the assigned turnpoints.  This scheme is well suited to days with uniform good lift, but can be a problem if, for example, a rainstorm covers a turnpoint.  The alternative is an Area task: pilots must enter large cylinders (radius might be 20 or even 30km) centered on designated turnpoints; distance is measured to the most favorable point they reach within each area – they can thus avoid flying in areas of unsoarable weather (provided these do not blanket an entire turn cylinder).


There was some uncertainty as to what tasks would be used, and not long before launches were scheduled to start team captains were summoned to collect new task sheets.  The drill is that they are given the new sheets and required to sign a sheet acknowledging the new tasks – which then makes the captains responsible for informing their pilots.  In the midst of this a radio call to the CD asked whether the newly distributed tasks were to be considered in effect (something the signature sheet had clearly stated).  The CD’s response was very direct “Yes: always read what you are signing for” – which seems like sound advice well beyond the confines of a soaring contest.

The wind (more than 20 kts at flying altitudes) was a problem all day.  Tasks took all classes through a notoriously wet and weak area west of Räyskälä, where more than a few pilots ended their flights: fortunately, this area has some of the best fields for outlanding anywhere in our task area.  Those who managed to struggle through this area soon encountered the high cloud, overdevelopment and rain that had been predicted.  It was a struggle all day, speeds were low, and those who were able to stay in the air were rarely out of sight of those who weren’t: gliders littered the ground most of the way around the tasks.  But the varied and consistently difficult conditions produced enough lift to keep some gliders in the air until after 7pm, so even low speeds produced decent distances.

Against expectations, we actually had a few finishers: 7 in Club Class (the first to launch) and three in Standard class.  But it’s worth noting that under IGC rules, finishing on a day where most pilots don’t isn’t worth much: in Standard class, the finishers earned only a few more points than they would have received for flights that ended just short of the airfield.  Consider that on a good racing day with many finishers, the speed difference between first and third place would have produced a score difference around 230 points; yesterday, it was 13 points.

Another curious aspect to the rules here is that there is no control of start height – you may start at whatever height you are able to climb to.  This can give an advantage to early launchers who are able to explore for unusual lift.  And it apparently did yesterday – some pilots were able to find weak wave lift, which allowed them to climb upwind of cumulus clouds and start several thousand feet higher than others (a big advantage on a difficult upwind first task leg).  It’s a very puzzling thing that in the year 2014 – perhaps 75 years after the need for it became evident – the IGC has no acceptable and effective rule available to control start height.


 With only 10 finishers, the day involved many retrieves, mostly from wet fields.  I saw lots of trailers on the road, and plenty of mud being cleaned from landing gear in late evening.  But I’ve heard no reports of damage. 
Some pilots noted that when you get low you must carefully avoid large forested areas, even when these are on course and look as if they might produce lift: Clearings in these forests look from a distance like agricultural fields, but they are mostly clear-cut areas that would be close to hopeless for landing.


Our weathermen were sent to North Korea!

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
2 July   (another no-contest day)
by John Good

Our last two weathermen are in North Korea.
Hopefully they will learn they must please their audience!

Just a short report today – of yet another valiant but failed attempt at a soaring task.  We gridded all gliders, waited patiently, and actually saw enough narrow bands of sunlight to give us hope that the low clouds and rain showers might give way to something better.
But the low-pressure system just north of Räyskälä continued to swirl new moisture into our area, and rendered hopes forlorn – around 2:30 all tasks were canceled.  By evening, gaps between clouds were larger, occasional sun was seen, and we even enjoyed a brief bright rainbow – which we’d like to think is an omen of something better on the way.  We are running out of days at WGC2014 (just three remain) and we need to do more flying.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Racing karts when we can't race gliders.

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
1 July   (another no-contest day)
Edited from reports by John Good and Garret Willat

This morning offered another overcast sky, but no rain.  After 2 days with no possibility of flying, we were willing and indeed eager to spare no effort trying for a task today, so we dutifully assembled and gridded all gliders.  The forecast mentioned the possibility of clearing to the west by mid-afternoon, and indeed the clouds looked brighter and higher in that direction (the ones near the airfield were dark and looked to be at about 800’).  

But it was not to be.  There is plenty of good weather in Europe just now: satellite photos show fine conditions in Denmark and southern Sweden.  One Dutch pilot said a couple of his soaring friends at home had launched early on an attempt at a 1000-km flight.  Even Lapland (northern Finland) looks pretty good.  But southern Finland remains beset by grim weather, and by 1:30 all tasks were cancelled.

So what better way to unload some pent up energy then a go-cart track. After discussing with the Germans, Brits, Ozzies, and Romanians we gather 17 drivers on the track. Chaos, destruction, and a complete disregard for the rules ensue, and - to the surprise of no one who knows our nature - organized competition became quite serious.
The lap times improved on every trial, partially because we learned how to four wheel slide versus slamming into the 150 euro barricade. The second more important factor was the track was drying...
After qualifying runs, and three heats, the field is winnowed down to eight finalists - with Garret Willat and Bob Fletcher representing team USA in the Championship race.  It was a wild event, partially due to an unknown driver who rearranged the course by getting the barricade to explode on impact... That ended the races.... and Garret claimed a podium position - third!
The track workers, initially happy to entertain so many paying customers, apparently lost much of their enthusiasm for this crowd.  Many trackside barriers will have to be repositioned, and some kart dents repaired.  The general sense is that it might be unwise to return there soon wearing anything that could identify you as a glider pilot.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A look at the competing gliders...

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
30 June   (no-contest day)
by John Good

 Another rest/rain day.  An occluded front parked in southern Finland continues to bring in low cloud and light rain from the southwest.  Tomorrow is said to offer hope of flyable weather, but today has none and flying was cancelled early.

It’s time for a look at the gliders competing here.  The Club class is intended to provide competition for single-place aircraft found in the hangars of glider clubs throughout Europe.  That tends to mean gliders that were being produced 20 to 40 years ago.  This class is handicapped based on glider performance, and there seems to be some preference for gliders at the lower-performance end of the handicap range (on the basis that if you can stay with a competitor flying a higher-performance glider, your handicap yields a better score).

It’s interesting to note the considerable overlap between gliders of the Club class of 2014 and the Standard class of 1976: Cirrus, Libelle, LS-1, Std Jantar and Hornet are models found in both competitions.  A big difference is the large number of PIK-20s found in 1976 – none is competing here (in the home country of this model).  The reasons aren’t entirely clear, though the fact that this is an “orphan” model is no doubt important: the factory is out of business and spares are somewhere between hard and impossible to get. So you can buy one cheaply, but maintaining it may be formidable.

In 2014, the Standard class (which basically means 15-meter span, no flaps) is dominated by just two models: Discus 2 and LS-8 (both of which designs are around 20 years old).  Very few new gliders for this class have been sold in recent years, and it appears that no glider factory has plans for a new model. Indeed, there is considerable feeling that the class may be withering away (despite good participation here).  Glider manufacturers are devoting their single-seat attention to the 18-Meter class, where sales seem brisk despite rather shockingly high prices.

The 20-Meter Multiplace class is new – indeed, this is the first world championship for this class. Its presence here can be attributed to the huge success of Schempp-Hirth’s DuoDiscus, a 20-meter 2-seater of which more than 600 have been sold.  In view of this model’s popularity, it was fairly easy to convince the IGC (international gliding commission) that a world championship for this class would make sense and attract many entries.  But if you look at the scoresheet, you find it’s dominated by the Arcus, which can be thought of as an improved DuoDiscus (with flaps, and a substantially higher price tag). There was discussion of applying handicaps to this class, which could have made the many Duos competitive; but t

The only truly new glider here is ”32”:  Schleicher’s  ASG-32, a  flapped competitor to the Arcus.  This is the first one produced, and it’s notable that the Schleicher factory was able to have it ready in time for this contest.  It was produced with a motor, but (like some of the motorized Arcus here) this was removed in order to meet the maximum weight requirement (750 kg / 1658 lbs).  The ’32 looks very well made (as indeed Schleicher gliders always do) and sports an interesting retractable/steerable tailwheel.  The early view seems to be that it climbs and glides about like an Arcus.

A further item from The Groundloop (WGC1976 contest bulletin):  On the third day of that contest a plane “landed through the foggy” to deliver a distinguished guest at Räyskälä: it was William Conrad, a well-known actor prominent at the time for his role in the TV series Cannon.  The story notes that he had recently taken up gliding but was an experienced pilot, having flown fighters (including the P-51) during WW2, while based in the “Illusion Islands” (presumably a chain of islands that appears to be – but in fact is not – southwest of Alaska).

(I did some research on William Conrad and discovered that he did the narration for the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series. And it occurred to me that “Illusion Islands” is just the sort of thing the writers of that show would have used.)

Memories from the 1976 World Championships in Finland

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
29 June   (no-contest day)
by John Good

It was too much to hope that our first-rate weather of yesterday would persist.  It hasn’t, and today’s forecast calls for low clouds and steady rain, probably lasting well into tomorrow.  Without the smallest change of soarable weather, today’s flying was cancelled at the morning pilot briefing. 

The day wasn’t without a welcome dose of aviation, however.  At about 9:30 the roar of round engines was heard, and out of the grim sky appeared a DC-3, which landed, taxied in and parked.  Glider pilots may act unimpressed when contemplating a sleek modern composite sailplane with a glide ratio of 60 to 1.  But land a 70-year-old rivet-encrusted aluminum ship with a glide ratio around 7 to 1, and they will rush to inspect it, oblivious of light rain.  

This example is owned by an aviation club near Helsinki; they apparently use it for weekend jaunts and are on the lookout for excuses to fly - a gliding competition is just the sort of event worth a visit.  This DC-3 is in top condition – perhaps a bit short of museum perfection, but about as nice a flying example as could be found anywhere. Unfortunately, the rules of the club allow only members to fly in it, and one-day memberships are not allowed.  If not for this, I expect they could have made some decent money hauling 20 or so soaring pilots on 15-minute rides.   

I’ve been given an interesting (and obviously rare) book to read: it’s a bound collection of all the daily bulletins published at Räyskälä's last World Gliding Contest, held in 1976.  Back in those ancient pre-Internet days, it took a lot more effort to put out stories about the goings-on at a big soaring contest.  It was normal for contest organizers to assemble a group of volunteers tasked with creating a sort of daily newspaper for the contest.  At WGC1976, this was done properly: a staff of seven worked hard every day to generate and type up stories, and take, develop and print photos. All this was then laid out and run to a print shop about an hour away, printed at night, and copies hauled back to the airfield for (free) distribution the next morning, under the saucy name “The Groundloop”. 

Thirty-eight years later, it makes interesting reading.  The two competition classes were Open (with 39 entries) and Standard (46 entries).  Open Class entrants favored the ASW-17 and the Nimbus 2, with a smattering of Jantars and one highly-tuned Glasflugel 604. The most popular ship in the Standard class was Finland’s own PIK-20.  Others included the Cirrus, Jantar Standard, LS-1f, Hornet, Astir CS, and DG-100. 

US pilots were Ross Briegleb, a young Tommy Beltz, Dick Johnson and Dick Butler (owner of that ‘604 and the only pilot among those 85 entrants still competing at the World level – he’ll be flying at the contest in Poland in just a couple of weeks).  Listing all the notable pilots’ names would be difficult (there are many world champions), but included are soaring legends like Klaus Holighaus, Ingo Renner, and Helmut Reichmann.  One 1976 Standard Class competitor has a unique connection to the 2014 contest: Ralph Jones is the father of Steve and Howard, who have a tight grip on first place in the 20-Meter class.   

The bulletins make it clear that closed airspace simply wasn’t an issue in 1976.  A total of 32 turnpoints allowed good use of southern Finland (the 2014 turnpoint list has 327 (!) entries – though at the rate we’re going 32 would have been enough to meet our needs). Score sheets were obviously produced by computer: each one says “Results computed by Wang System 2200”.  Weather was an issue: one article mentions that “it is the coldest June in Finland for 100 years.”  Plus ça change