Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Experience….

... it gives you the ability to recognize a mistake the second time you make it.

After two crappy, high pressure, windy days we were all looking forward to a change. The forecast was calling for light north winds. North isn’t the best direction here, but light sounded good, and there was even a possibility of clouds, so maybe the inversion had broken.

Naturally this morning the wind was strong and north. I headed out to Godfrey’s anyway, and as expected no one was too excited. Heikki, Pedro, and I decided to go for a drive to check out the Sky Ranch and the sailplane operation over by Lake Keepit. Naturally, as soon as we headed off the clouds started to build and things looked a bit hopeful. After making the rounds we skedaddled back to Godfrey’s and up the hill. It didn’t look too bad, but the strong north cross cycles had most of the paraglider pilots grounded. We set up our hang gliders and I launched first, turning right into a nice climb that had me 800 feet over in no time. I was just getting comfortable, zipping up and settling in. By this time Pedro had launched and was scratching in front. He started to turn in a weak one about the time I was committed to going over the back with my climb. Instead I pushed out front to join him and in no time at all I was flushed into the bailout LZ. Pedro soon joined me, and then we watched Heikki launch, fly straight out, and make a valiant attempt at a climb above the bailout before joining us. Why was this vaguely familiar? Oh yeah, this was basically the same flight I flew at Mystic when I ended up in the bombout. I had the day in the bag right off of launch and I blew it. What are the chances I’ll make that mistake a third time? Stay tuned……

Monday, January 29, 2007

Waltzing Matilda

I’ve been back in Manilla for the last couple of days. Bob and Jill have been here with Eric, a visiting pilot from Aspen. It’s been high pressure and inverted for these two days with a fair amount of wind. Not the best flying days, but the best they’ve had here for the last week or two. Most of us have been flying and happy to get in the air. I haven’t found the motivation to try and go XC since the conditions are marginal and it’s just not worth landing out and having a long retrieve for what would likely be a short flight. I’m feeling a bit lazy as I recall that we would have been happy with these days during the Bogong Cup. That’s one of the best things about XC competition – it motivates you to try and fly the best flight you can for the day. The competition here starts on Sunday, so hopefully we’ll pay our dues with these days this week and have some nice conditions then.

Last night I took my turn cooking dinner for the four of us, and then we retired back to the campsite where Jill brought out her guitar and we attempted some sing-along. I got Jill to play a few Australian folk songs and Bob sang along. It brought back memories of how I had imagined Australia when I first heard these songs as a child. The evening was clear and pleasant. We were serenaded by the corellas, and a marsupial possum came by to visit and look for handouts. All in all it was a pleasant evening spent with good friends.

These are the best of times.

Once a jolly swagman camped by a Billabong
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?"

Down come a jumbuck to drink at the water hole
Up jumped a swagman and grabbed him in glee
And he sang as he stowed him away in his tucker bag
"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me'".

Up rode the Squatter a riding his thoroughbred
Up rode the Trooper - one, two, three
"Where's that jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?",
"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me".

But the swagman he up and jumped in the water hole
Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree,
And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the Billabong,
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?"

You can find these lyrics some translations of the slang terms here

Friday, January 26, 2007

Australia Day

I’m staying with Andrew and Anna in Port Maquarie . It’s been a fun change to get out of the comp rat race for a few days, and stay in a real house with some real people.

While I’ve been here I’ve had a chance to see some Aussie TV, read the paper, and pester Andrew and Anna with questions about Australian culture, customs and speech.

Today is Australia Day, a day when the Australian people celebrate their genuine and deep love of their country; a fact which here is quite separate from the details of politics and government. Regardless of national origin it gives one pause, and makes one think about the true meaning of pride in ones country.

I’ve also managed to see one of Australia’s oddest creatures while I was here. The Tawny Frogmouth is by far the strangest bird I have ever seen. It is nocturnal bird which spends its days posed in a tree doing an uncanny impression of a dead limb. He’s a bit hard to pick out of the photo, but I’ve also taken a movie where a lorikeet manages to disturb him and get a small reaction. If I can figure out how to snip out a section to post, I'll add it in the future. Definitely a very odd bird.

And, of course there has been flying. Yesterday I had a nice little flight from Middle Brother, and today we flew from North Brother. The Three Brothers were named by Captain Cook when he first saw them. Coincidentally the local aborigines also called them the three brothers before the arrival of white men. They are three very distinct mountains in the otherwise rolling coastal plains.

On the way home from flying today we picked up a kilo and half of fresh prawns – what better way to celebrate Australia Day than to “throw a shrimp on the barbie!” Then to top it off Australia beat the bloody Poms at cricket with 9 wickets and 20 overs to spare. How good is that!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It has its moments

Sunday brought a steady downpour of rain. I finally got the message: It was time to leave Mt. Beauty. I had toyed with the idea of hanging around the local area until the flying improved, but this was too much. If I was going to fly in these mountains it would have to be during a future trip to Australia. Now it was time to move on.

Even leaving was difficult. The fires had many of the mountain roads closed, and unless I wanted to backtrack through the flatlands there was really only one way to go. I headed North up the Kiewa Valley, then East along the Murray Valley to Corryong. From Corryong I went Northeast through the Kosciuszko National Park to Kiandra, then through the Snowy Mountains to Cooma. From Cooma I had a choice of the inland route north through Canberra, or continuing to the Southwest to the coast at Tathra. I decided on the coastal route. I had seen plenty of smoky, rainy mountains and hot, dry flatlands. It was time to go to the ocean and recharge. From Tathra I had a pleasant and scenic run up the coast, avoiding Sydney, but still battling my way around the outskirts. From Sydney north I took the old Pacific Highway which wound its way through National Park before dumping me onto the coastal road at Gosford. I stayed the night at Norah Head, and today I will continue up the coast to Port Macquarie where Andrew and Anna have invited me to come and stay and fly.

This morning I was having my breakfast looking at the ocean from the cliffs at Norah Head and an older gentleman strolled past. “I’m Impressed!” He said. “Why’s that?” I asked. “The lifestyle” he replied. “It has its moments,” I countered. A few minutes later he ambled by coming from the other direction. “What’s that blue object?” He asked. “A hang glider.” I told him. “Awgh!” He cried, “Wait’ll I tell me mates!”

Yes, I thought as I looked out at the South Pacific crashing on the rocks; it does have its moments.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Awards

This morning the sky was clear blue and dotted with puffy cumulus. I felt a momentary shock. Would we fly today? I hadn’t really planned for that eventuality. Our retrieve team had disintegrated and Kevin had left with the truck. My gear was all packed up to travel.

On closer examination I realized that those puffy cumulus clouds were racing out of the north at 60 miles an hour. I headed for the briefing on automatic pilot. I didn’t even bother to sign up for alternate launch. There would be no launching today. Belle, our driver, text messaged me asking if she should show up for the briefing. Yes, I replied. I still needed to pay her, and I wanted to do it soon so that if I finally cracked and had to bail out of town I wouldn’t have any obligations unfulfilled.

There were quite a few of us die hards left, all things considered. We had a very short briefing and then the awards ceremony was scheduled for 1pm. There were a pile of awards to give out. Heather and Carol work very hard to sign up sponsors and get complimentary merchandise for awards. Since there had been so little flying some of the awards had to get a little creative. There were only three women flying in the comp and there was only one competition day. Two of the three landed in the bomb-out that day, but they got 2nd and 3rd place nevertheless. Similarly, there was only one glider in floater class, and two in kingposted. They were in the bomb-out as well. In the open class at least the top ten had all made goal, but you could tell that everyone knew that the results really weren’t a realistic measure of the pilots. First second and third still took home sizeable cash awards. The whole event seemed very surreal. It was like a pretend award ceremony for a competition that never occurred.

There was a new award this year at Bogong. Heather’s brother had died in a helicopter accident last year, and her family put together a memorial sportsmanship award. The intent was for it to go to the one pilot that the others felt made the comp better for everyone. These things tend to be extremely subjective, and so often end up being more of a popularity contest than anything else. Of course the award has special significance to Heather, and although she is usually very tough and composed, she had a hard time maintaining her composure as she went through the preliminaries.

The result of our vote was the award went to Joerg Bajewski. I couldn’t possibly think of a more deserving recipient. Joerg isn’t the best pilot out there, and he rarely shows up in the top ten, but he always has a smile and a great sense of humor. Through all the frustrations of the week Joerg kept us smiling. It was ironic and fitting that in the end this award that had many of us cynically rolling our eyes when we first heard about it became the most real and appropriate award of the competition.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rain Magnets

This morning when I looked out the window I saw blue sky. Then I got up and looked west and saw a dark line of cloud headed our way. By the time I was walking to the pilot meeting it was raining. I went in and signed up for alternate launch anyway. Heather just laughed. It’s bad when one of the pilots manages to muster more optimism than the meet director.

Today they didn’t even mess around. The day was called at the morning meeting. The weather radar showed lots of rain headed our way. We hung out and watched a movie, and rearranged gliders as those who had finally given up packed up to leave. I went outside about 2pm and damned if it hadn’t cleared up. It looked like a perfect day – just what Heather had been worried might happen for the last couple of days. I decided to cool off in the river and do some laundry, and then I got word that some folks were going to be towing at the airport. I decided to go over and watch. No sooner was a glider set up than a huge band of cloud appeared to the west. Soon we could see rain to the north and the first few drops started falling. Unbelievable! I hurried off to retrieve my laundry off the wash line. Tomorrow is the last day.

A Plague of Locusts

That’s what Heather figures we will have tomorrow. A meet director has a thankless job at the best of times, but this has been a comp to test the best. So far we have had just one task. Everything from smoke, wind, fire bans, thick overcast, and today, rain has canceled the flying. There are only two days left and tempers are wearing thin. Many pilots have already left, and if we don’t fly tomorrow I’m sure many more will follow. I even considered leaving, but the current trough of slow moving low pressure would probably just follow me wherever I go. I’m better off to sit tight and let it pass and maybe get in some flying after the comp. It is such a contrast to the great weather that we had at Forbes, and a reminder that a large part of a great flight is luck at getting great conditions.


After the task was cancelled this afternoon I headed back to the caravan park to settle in with the computer. Jeff Remple, a pilot from Canada, was on to my plan and stopped by to tell me he was going to go and rent a bike and ride up to the ski area at Falls Creek. “That’s nice, have fun.” I was planning on cultivating a good crop of lethargy. It soon became clear, however, that part of Jeff’s plan was that I was coming along. Well, with some effort he shamed me into going to the bike shop and soon we were getting fitted with rental bikes. Somehow he ended up with the one with all the gears. Falls Creek is 30km up the road, and when I say up I mean UP. It’s a steady climb the whole way on a twisty mountain road. We each had on shorts and cotton t-shirts and had one bottle of water along. I had already driven up to Falls Creek so I knew what the road was like. I was fairly sure we wouldn’t go the whole way. What I hadn’t counted on was that Jeff is much like me, and once we started there was no turning back. About 20km into the ride it started to rain, then a few km up the road we were both out of water. Fortunately Andrew and Anna came by and filled our water bottles, which is probably the only reason we made it to the top. Once there we were exhausted and drenched. It was after 6pm by this time, and we knew we would probably miss the dinner at the Cricket Club, so we hunted down a cafĂ© where we got a superb hot chocolate and a porter house steak. We were still soaking wet when we finished and I knew it was going to be a cold and uncomfortable ride down the hill. When the proprietor asked if we wanted anything else, I took a long shot and said “You don’t happen to have T-shirts for sale do you?” Well she didn’t, but she loaned us a couple of staff uniform shirts. Nothing has ever felt so warm and cozy. We had an exhilarating glide down the hill, and rolled into town just about sunset. The warm shower felt great, and we stopped by Andrew and Anna’s campsite to thank them for the refreshment and ended up staying for drinks and conversation, culminating with an invitation to come by their place and go flying on the way to Manilla. It’s now on my calendar.

I’ve added a link on the right to some picture taken at the Forbes Comp by a local photographer. There are a few of me in there, including a couple on tow launching out of the cart. Look for a grey black and blue glider and a black helmet and black harness with a red stripe.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Opti-Mystic

Last night was hot and humid. I slept on top of the covers with the van doors open, but still found myself tossing and turning most of the night. I must have slept some, however, since others reported thunder and lightning overnight. I never heard nor saw it.

The sky was overcast this morning; certainly not a day I would expect to fly, but knowing how the game works I figured we would go through the motions nevertheless. Sure enough, at the morning briefing we were sent to the bomb-out at Mystic to meet again at 11:30. Things didn’t look much better there, but we were sent up the hill to wait. Looking to the north and west, things looked even less encouraging. There was light rain falling towards Mt Buffalo and the sky was a uniform steel gray. Heather was determined to wait it out, though. Apparently in years past they had called off overcast days only to have it clear in the early afternoon. It really didn’t look to me like that was going to happen, and even the task committee was still at the bottom of the hill.

Having nothing else to do, I reached in deep to find some reserve of optimism and joined the five or six other pilots who had decided to set up. Meanwhile Heather and Carol brought out some hedge loppers so anyone who wanted could have a go at the low shrubs growing in front of launch. I took my turn and then settled in to wait. Finally it was decided that a spot landing contest was all that would come of the day. Heather offered a pot of $250, and if more than 15 pilots took part the pot would be $500 – winner take all. That generated a flurry of enthusiasm, and pilots started setting up. About then it started to drizzle, and I decided to fly down rather than risk getting stuck in the rain. I would forego the contest, but I’d be on the ground to see the landings.

My launch was not my best – I started with the nose a bit high in the light wind, and a small gust turned the glider slightly to the right as I was launching. I corrected and pulled it off, but I’m sure it was not pretty. It annoyed me, because I usually have a strong and consistent launch. It was a good reminder not to get complacent. The air was surprisingly turbulent out front, and I had a fairly hard wire twang straight away. Hmm… I didn’t like the way things were working out. I decided to make a beeline for the bomb-out and at least try and set up a good landing. When I got there, naturally there was a thermal going off and the wind was light and switchy. I soared in the light lift at the end of the field waiting for things to settle down. After 5 or 10 minutes the thermal drifted away from the field and the wind sock settled down. I set up a fast and tight approach and made a perfect landing. That was a welcome relief!

It was fun to watch the landings. Conditions were quite difficult, and for much of the contest the wind was light cross, changing from quartering one way to the other. Competitors ended up landing both ways, some in light tailing conditions. Of the twenty that competed there were three that landed on the spot, and most had good landings, with only a couple of mild whacks and no broken aluminum. It was quite a graphic demonstration of the skill of these pilots.

Mt. Buffalo

The forecast last night was for northerly wind today which would suggest launching at either Mystic or Mt. Buffalo. The forecast also suggested that Mystic would be closed, however, due to extreme fire danger. Skipping Mystic wouldn’t break my heart after yesterday’s disappointing flight, and I was keen to see another launch. Buffalo is a spectacular cliff launch set back into a broad sweep of granite wall. The only problems were that it isn’t a great competition launch due to limited glider setup area, and it isn’t particularly safe if the wind is strong. The wind was forecast to be strong.

Sure enough in the morning briefing we were told that Mystic was closed and the winds were forecast to be too strong for Buffalo. Our only hope of getting in a task was to get to Buffalo early and get off launch before the wind picked up. Due to the limited space there would be no alternate launch, and because of my position far down in the order there would be virtually no chance I would be able to launch before the wind shut us down. In spite of all this, a show of hands indicated that most everyone wanted to give it a try. We raced up the hill, but when we got there we found it was already blown out. It was a pretty place nevertheless, and after milling about, posing for group photos, and various other shenanigans we all went on our way. Our carload decided to hike around the mountain for a bit before driving down to the town of Bright, where we cooled off in the river and sampled the selection at the local Brew-pub.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bomb-out!

Last night the smoke was so thick you could see the haze across the room in the pub. I awoke this morning with stinging eyes and a dry throat, but the sky appeared noticeably clearer. The weather report indicated that the wind had swung around to the north, which would hopefully move the smoke out as the day progressed. Because of the north wind we headed back to Mystic. As we crossed the pass into Bright the smoke became noticeably thicker. Damn! Hopefully it would clear.

The mood was a bit brighter on launch today, and there was lots of activity setting up gliders. I had number 11 in the alternate launch, which seemed just about perfect to me. A few free flying paragliders and hang gliders launched and had no trouble climbing out. The haze started to clear, and a task of just over 100km was called. It was a nice run up the Ovens Valley, across Happy Valley, and up the Kiewa Valley about 20km before returning down the Kiewa to the Mt. Beauty Airport. It seemed quite doable.

When I launched there were already a few gliders milling around to the right of launch, so I went left along the spine and was rewarded with a strong smooth climb. Soon several others joined me, and we climbed nicely as we drifted behind launch and to the south. The wind seemed fairly strong, and I didn’t want to get too far behind launch, so when I saw a couple of gliders turning out front I went to join them. Things seemed smooth and easy, and I was in the groove. I zipped my harness and got comfortable. Just about then the bottom fell out of the climb. I looked back, and the three gliders who had stayed in the climb I left were now 500ft higher, and the rest of us were struggling in front. Several went right to explore, so I headed left along the spine that had worked earlier. Nothing. The guys on the other side weren’t doing any better, so I pressed on along the spine. I figured with the north wind the knob at the end of the spine that was sticking out in the valley was sure to be triggering a thermal. I got there with hardly a bump, and nothing! Now I was low, and if I wanted to make the landing field I needed to head that way. Several of the others were struggling low in that direction. It didn’t look good. Sure enough, I got to the bomb out with enough altitude to set up a landing. There were already several gliders on the ground, and several others followed me in short order. I couldn’t believe how quickly things had gone sour!

By the end of the day about a third of the field had ended up in the bomb-out, a third made goal, and a third were scattered along the course. Seems like I’m always holding up the bottom third! It was quite a frustrating end to a day that seemed to hold a lot of promise. By the time we drove back to Mt Beauty the smoke had cleared and we had a nice view of the Kiewa Vally with Mt Bogong and Mt Emu on the other side. We could see the gliders landing at goal at the airport.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mist-ick

Today we awoke to more smoke than yesterday. The wind had changed yesterday afternoon and the valley filled with smoke. From the general lack of enthusiasm it was clear that most people felt we wouldn’t fly. I knew we would go through the motions anyway, and I made sure that I was ready and that I signed up for alternate launch. Surprisingly, (or perhaps due to the general pessimism) not many chose to sign up. I had a launch position of 7, but no one was in slots 1-3, so effectively I would be 4th in the launch order. Much better than yesterday’s cliff-hanger!

The pilots meeting started with Heather reading some quotes out of the Oz report. She was obviously miffed, and it became clear that the reason was that she had taken some flak for canceling yesterday’s task. Apparently Davis was critical of the decision, as was Gerolf. Others, including Jonny Durand Jr., were in favor of canceling the task. Apparently Heather had talked to the safety committee (which included Gerolf) and they had all felt that the task could be completed safely. Heather had decided to cancel it anyway after talking to others. Gerolf seemed to feel that she had no right to cancel the task on safety grounds if the safety committee said it was OK. This seemed ridiculous to me - the meet director has the ultimate authority to cancel the task. The safety committee only has the power to stop a task on safety grounds – they can’t force it to go on or override the meet director’s safety concern. Certainly the conditions were deteriorating, and were below local visual flight rule minimums when the task was canceled. Davis and Gerolf argued that because visibility is often worse in the LA area or in Basano, Italy that there wasn’t a problem.

Ironically, when I talked to some local pilots later, they commented that based on Davis’ description of his flight, he had taken a course line that took him far over the back of the ridge into an area that would have been very difficult to get out of had he gotten low. Those who know the area never get in that position. Presumably he wouldn’t have either if he had seen where he was.

I think most people agreed with the canceling of the task. Certainly based on what I saw in the air, and at the airport later (the intended goal of the task), it was very appropriate. Presumably as a result of the dispute, Gerolf resigned from the safety committee.

With that bit of drama behind us, Oli gave a weather report. He said it was going to be another good day like yesterday – that got a chuckle from the crowd. The wind had gone northeast, which held some promise of clearing out the smoke, so we were sent to Mystic launch in Bright in the Ovens Valley - about 20 miles to the west.

When we arrived at launch, the visibility was terrible. It didn’t look good, and most people left their gliders on the cars. Because of my position in the launch order I knew that if it cleared up and they called a task I had to be ready, so again I went through the motions of setting up and getting ready. By the time they called the pilots meeting, however, things had gotten worse. There seemed to be three possible courses of action – wait and see if it got better, have a spot landing contest in the bomb-out as the task, or call the day. I was in favor of either of the two options that would have given us a chance at a task, but most people wanted to call it a day. A few people flew anyway, with a couple of the guys trying to go to the Porpunkah Airport just 5 miles down the ridge, and the rest flying around for a bit and then landing in the bomb-out. I rarely pass up a chance to fly if my glider is set up on launch, but conditions were so poor I was concerned that I would lose sight of the ground if I attempted to climb to make the glide to the Airport. Breaking down on launch seemed the smarter thing to do.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mt Emu

Today was the first day of the Bogong Cup. I enjoy mountain flying, but I have never flown a competition in the mountains. The added logistics and pressure of having 90 pilots launching one launch in variable conditions under competition pressure certainly cranks up the adrenalin a notch or two.

I discovered that in this competition the launch order is again determined by WPRS rankings, and since I don’t have a ranking, I didn’t even show up on the launch order. I asked about this, and was told I would launch last. Several others were in this position – we couldn’t all launch last could we? I definitely felt a little miffed at this, but I guess somebody has to launch last. Then I learned that there is something called “alternate launch” where you can sign up to launch before the main competitors. A certain number of slots are available, and whether you get in and your order is determined by lottery. This definitely sounded better than last, so I signed up. I ended up 16 out of 18 in the alternate list. There is only 30 minutes allowed for alternate launch. Any alternate still on launch when the time is up goes back into their original position. We were sent to launch, but told not to set up until the task and safety committees had had a chance to evaluate conditions.

When we arrived on launch the smoke was thick and the wind was light. Most of the fires from late last year were out, but some new ones had started to the southwest, and a southwest wind was bringing smoke over the back of the mountain. The back of the mountain was completely obscured, and the valley was barely visible. We could not see the mountains on the other side of the valley. Slowly things appeared to clear, a task was called, and launch open approached. No one seemed too anxious to launch, but I really wanted to get off in the alternate window. It would be close with only 30 minutes and 15 pilots in front of me. Fortunately someone ahead of me called a push, and that got things started. Things weren’t going fast, though and the clock was ticking. Davis got 11 in the alternate and when he got on launch it started to tail lightly. Damn! He was there for a god 10 minutes. When he finally launched there was only 4 minutes left and 4 pilots ahead of me. They all went in pretty short order and I got up with a minute left. It was coming up ever so slightly, so I did my best power launch and sailed off the hill. Those who had launched before were struggling to the right, so I went left following a spine out from the hill. About 200 yards down the spine I hit a light climb and was soon turning and above those who had launched just before me. They joined me and we took the snaky climb to 8000 feet above and behind launch. We were just at the top of the smoke – you could still see the valley, but everything to the west and south was obscured. I decided to work my way north along the front of the range on the edge of the smoke. It was an eerie feeling never having flown here before, and not being able to see the countryside to orient myself. I just followed the course line towards the first turnpoint. Just inside the start circle I noticed the smoke getting noticeably thicker. Now I couldn’t see anything to the north on course. About then I noticed a couple of pilots coming back. That was a bit suspicious. I contacted our driver on the radio and she confirmed that the task had been canceled. I let her know that I would fly back to the airport to land to make the retrieve easy – most others would do the same. Flying back was odd, just following my GPS. I could see a couple of towns but had no idea which was Mt. Beauty or where the airport was. I was happy for that little arrow on the flight computer!

At the airport there were already a few pilots on the ground. The wind on the ground appeared to be light north even though it was south aloft. I came in with lots of speed and saw the windsock hanging limp. My last couple of landings I was just a touch slow, and if it was no wind or slight tail I couldn’t afford to do that now. I jammed the bar and the glider rotated with a snap, popped up a bit and then dropped with a jarring “thunk!” on the keel. Not real graceful, but it worked. I got to see many more landings, some very “interesting”, as the other pilots came back to the airport.

It was too bad that we didn’t get a task in, but it was nice to fly and get a little orientation, and get some of the intricacies of mountain competition sorted out.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mt Beauty

Yesterday we drove from Forbes to Mt. Beauty. The temperature was well over 100 degrees and the wind was strong and west. I was glad we weren’t trying to fly. We had been quite lucky with the weather at Forbes. Of the eight competition days and one practice day only one was not flyable. The temperature was warm but not unbearably so, and the flying was epic. I think everyone wants to go back next year.

Driving to Mt Beauty the landscape changed dramatically. We left the hot dry plains around Forbes and traveled south. After crossing the Murray River into Victoria we followed the gently rising Kiewa Valley. Soon there were mountains on both sides and a wide valley of green irrigated farms. The mountains here remind me or the Appalachians of the Eastern US, but the vegetation is more similar to central California. It’s an odd mix of familiar and unfamiliar.

The town of Mt. Beauty is a ski destination, but it is also quite busy in the summer with vacationers escaping the heat. The Kiewa river runs right past the caravan park, and it was full of kids (young and old) inner tubing, splashing in from a rope swing, and generally having a good time. It was certainly a welcome and cooling break after the long hot drive.

Tonight is the first pilots meeting, and I am spending today exploring and getting oriented. Tomorrow will be the first competition day, so it would be good to get in a practice flight to familiarize myself with the area, but the air is full of smoke carried in by a strong west breeze from the fires to the west. I am still struggling with a low grade head cold, so it’s probably a good idea to take it easy and have a rest day.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Beating Gerolf

Today was the last day of the comp. The awards presentation and dinner is tonight, so there was significant motivation to call a “barbeque task.” It would probably be something that would keep us close so that everyone could be back in time for the dinner. It looked pretty certain that we would do a triangle, since the wind was forecast to be light.

When we got to the airfield the wind was a brisk out of the north to northwest. A tug was sent up to check winds aloft. It was 15knots all the way up – not good for trying to fly up wind. The task was called as an out and return to Grenfell – 40 miles to the south southeast. Jonny’s task briefing was: We’re all going to fly to Grefell, turn around, smile and wave at each other, and then see who really has guts to make it back.”

I was still not feeling 100%, but I wanted to fly, and I felt I was up to it. I took advantage of an early launch, but stayed in the start circle waiting for the first gaggle. It was blue again today, but the climbs were strong and high, though far between – a good day to stick with other gliders. It was a fun run downwind; I made the turnpoint, took a deep breath and turned around. It turned out things weren’t as bad as I expected. I had gliders to fly with the whole way, and the climbs were reliable, though the glides were long. I never got low, and when the glide computer said I had goal I believed I might make it. I cut things a bit closer than I normally would on my next to last climb, then decided to be conservative and get lots of altitude for final glide. My computer said I had it with 2000ft, but I actually made it with 3000, even flying as fast as I could while keeping the glider going (sort of) straight. This time I actually beat a few people into goal, though a lot made it – we’ll probably hear the final number tonight. Definitely some went down on course, including Gerolf. I beat him today – definitely a first!




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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

An Odd Day

I woke this morning feeling a bit out of sorts. I couldn’t quite figure out why. Part of it was certainly the mild earache that signaled the onset of a head cold, and part of it was certainly the mental fatigue from this week of high intensity flying activity. I am finding competition flying particularly stressful, since there is so much going on, and so much of it is out of my control. Being new to competition, every aspect of it seems to demand my full attention, and eventually I just overload. At that point the whole scene just sort of washes over me and I feel a little bit numb just waiting to be told when and where to go and what to do.

At headquarters I checked the scores to see what my position in the staging line would be: 69. The first time this week I had an odd number – appropriate, since I was feeling a bit odd! Everyone seemed to like the earlier launch window, and yesterday was certainly a good test of it since it was not a day people would have typically launched early. “See Davis, it wasn’t so bad”. I just had to throw out that small jab, since Davis was the one who had harassed me the most for suggesting it. He kept saying that I needed to quit blaming the organizers for my problems, and that I had a full ten minutes that I could have launched when no one wanted to on the windy day two days ago. I have no idea why he even cared, since it didn’t affect him at all, but I get the feeling he just likes to make things difficult whenever he can, and he thrives on controversy – real or manufactured.

Things were a bit disorganized out at the field, since the task committee was still debating the task, and the launch crew was trying to determine the best launch setup. It looked like a light and variable day with a slight east to northeast bias. It would probably be blue again today with top of the climbs only reaching around 4500ft earlier and 7000ft later. It seemed like a good day for a moderate sized triangle, but apparently Attilla was still holding out for a long task: 306km downwind to Hay! Jonny Durand seemed to favor a smaller triangle, and Gerolf was on the fence. The crew finally decided to set up launch mid field facing east, with the staging lines running north-south. It was a good choice, as it gave the most flexibility in case the wind picked up or changed direction. It turned out that the wind stayed light and variable, making for some interesting landings by those who bombed out!

We were barely set up and not yet in the staging line when the horn sounded for the task briefing. The task was 176km out and back, with both legs more or less cross wind. It seemed a pretty reasonable task for the day. I entered the route in my flight computer, and suddenly the screen went dark, as if somehow the contrast setting had changed. The same thing happened yesterday, and I was able to go into the menu and lower the contrast to make it readable, and then after a short while it came back and I reset the contrast to the original value and everything seemed fine. I tried the same thing again today, but then the screen went completely black, and I couldn’t see a thing. I turned it off hoping it would fix itself like it did yesterday. I went back to suiting up to fly. I tried to do a radio check with my driver and found that my push to talk switch which had worked flawlessly for 3 years was on the blink. Crap. I turned the vario back on – still black. About this time Davis came down the line yelling my name. “Why aren’t you launching? The launch window is open. You wanted an early launch, get out there!” “Don’t you have something better to do, Davis”, I replied. I can’t remember what he said then, but my reply was “Davis, I think I speak for most everyone here when I say f**k off.” Well, that pleased him no end since what he loves most is to get a rise out of people. By this time I had had enough. I took off my gear and called my driver on the radio and told her I was going to break my glider down and not fly. I certainly could have flown, since I had my back-up GPS for navigation, my flight computer audio vario was still working, and the radio is only marginally useful in the air anyway. I just hate conflict, though, and I hate being baited into it. Coupled with everything else that was going on I just wasn’t having fun, and it was time to back off. Hopefully Davis achieved some feeling of manhood by working his way down to the 69th position in the competition to psyche someone out of flying!

Back at the Vandenburg I got out my radio spares and did some testing. Sure enough, the push-to-talk was bad. I clicked in a new one and everything was working. I cut off the old connector and crimped on a new one and the original switch worked now as well. It was a good test of the easy swap out and repair feature of the system; from now on I will carry the spares in my harness. Next I tackled the flight computer. I switched it on and of course it worked fine. I tried entering courses and doing various things to get it to malfunction again, but to no avail. Perhaps it was sitting in the sun that it didn’t like. Tomorrow I will try and keep it in the shade. I tried to e-mail Steve Kroop at Flytec for some suggestions, but the wireless network was down. Oh well, just not my day, I guess. I headed of to the Chemist to get some Sudafed for my cold, the grocery store for some ice cream, and back to the caravan park for a nap. Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Blue Day

I had thought yesterday’s discussion about an earlier launch open had fallen on deaf ears, but today launch opened at 12:30 with the first start gate at 2:00. Yahoo! I had a chance to get in the air before everyone was gone. The problem was it was a blue day, cool and inverted after yesterday’s frontal passage, with thermal activity likely weak and low until much later in the day. It was quite likely that no one would want to launch early, and if no one did I would surely hear about what a bad idea the early launch was. I had made my bed and was going to have to lie in it. I tried to fluff the pillow a little by asking if I could slide back in line if I sunk out after my first tow. Nope. Sink out – back of the line, even if you never hit a bump. Damn! The Man sure likes to kick you when you are down. Oh well, I had to do what I had to do. When the launch open horn sounded I slid into line and started trudging forward. As it was, I still had two pilots move in front of me, but I didn’t mind. Third was much better than sixty-something. As I settled into the cart waiting for my tow I saw two gliders already coming back to land from weak link breaks. This was not a good sign. My tug pilot did a heroic job of dragging me around to explore, but to no avail. We saw a couple of gliders turning lazy circles and headed that way only to have them glide off before we got there. Several tugs towing in other directions showed no signs of lift. Finally at 2500ft I got the “slow wave” which essentially means “sorry, buddy I did my best but you are on your own now.” In spite of that less than optimistic wave-off I found I was actually in some light lift and started climbing. A couple more gliders joined in and the tugs dragged in a few and pretty soon we had a rag-tag gaggle going. I looked at my clock: 12:41 – just 11 minutes after launch opened - not bad! We were drifting downwind and climbing, eventually topping out around 4500ft a couple of miles downwind of the airport. I was hot to get out on course, and I tried to leave and drag the gaggle along, but no one bit. A few went on glide back up wind and a few just hung in the dead climb. Damn! OK, I went back upwind, and we formed a new gaggle and did it again. This time when we topped out I went on glide again, then turned around to see that I had dragged 3 other gliders along. I let them catch up and we fanned out and started to search for the next climb. We were starting to get low when I hit the slightest hint of a climb. I stopped and hunted for it, but was really just maintaining and drifting. The others pressed on, and were soon really low. One landed, but the other two hung on. Finally my climb started to turn on and I saw the others starting to climb as well. Soon the climbs merged and we topped out together and went on glide. We hadn’t gone a half a mile when we hit another light climb. I kept going, but the others stopped for it. I was now chasing a rigid wing in front, and he was definitely gliding better than me. He started to turn out front and I dove for it, arriving very low in very light lift. He topped out and left while I was still on the deck. After turning for ever at less than 100ft per minute the climb finally got better and got me back around 4500ft. Now I was totally alone. My strategy had been to get out on course ahead of the lead gaggle and have them catch up and drag me along for a bit. Now would be a really good time for them to catch up. There were no gliders in sight. I went on glide, never hitting another thing, and landed. Ten minutes later a gaggle of twenty five went over followed close behind by a gaggle of twenty. It was definitely a day to stick together, and my overly aggressive strategy had backfired big-time. Nonetheless, I was still happy with the day and happy that I had at least gotten the chance to get in the air in time to have a chance.

Tomorrow they are talking about a 300km task, and it’s already late. I need to get some sleep.

See the results here

Get the Google Earth file here

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Launch Lines

As is the case at most Hang Gliding Competitions, there is a wide variety of skill level of pilots represented. Some are here vying for points to get on their country’s World Team, others (like me) are relatively new to competition and are here for the chance to fly with and learn from other much better pilots.

The organizers face a significant challenge trying to serve the full spectrum of pilots and at the same time run a fair and safe competition. Over the last few years of aerotow competitions some de-facto standards have emerged that are intended to help newer pilots enter and learn in these competitions.

One of the most important of these standards is the ability to jump the first start time.

Because launching is a relatively linear process, and because there is some advantage to having pilots out in front to use as lift makers and watching glide lines, competitions have traditionally been designed to start once all the pilots have a chance to get in the air. This decouples the launching process from the start of the race, and gives everyone a more or less equal start. Sometimes there is just one start time, or sometimes there are more; typically separated by 10 or 15 minutes. The default rules are set so that your time starts at the start time previous to the last time you cross the start circle. If you start before the first start time, you get a zero for the day.

Having start times has the effect of grouping the pilots up and eliminating the advantage of having pilots out in front to watch. It also has the unintended advantage of leaving the less experience pilots behind. If they start with the top pilots they are quickly left behind with no one to fly with and learn from. In addition, the top pilots are flying a race, and want to fly in the best part of the day. These races typically start with plenty of time for the best pilots to finish while conditions are still good, but the less experienced pilots often find themselves struggling in weak conditions alone at the end of the day.

By starting earlier, the less experienced pilots can get out ahead of the top pilots who will catch up at some point in the flight; they will then fly together for some period before the top pilots pull away. The less experience pilots also have a better chance of completing the course by starting earlier.

This rule is in effect at this comp as well, unfortunately, it is completely ineffective due to the fact that staging order (and thus launch priority, and effectively launch order) is set by cumulative score. This combined with the fact that there is insufficient time allowed to get all the pilots in the air before the first start time, means that the less experienced pilots have no chance to leave before the first start. It also means that the inexperienced pilots with the lower scores are launching at the very end in deteriorating conditions and flying alone. It has been suggested to me that this isn’t a problem, using the example of two days ago when we flew in windy conditions. No one wanted to launch in the first ten minutes. Any pilot at the back of the line who wanted to launch could have walked to the front to launch. In fact, a couple did. Suggesting that the solution to the problem is to put less experienced pilots in a position where they feel pressure to launch in conditions that the experienced pilots won’t launch in seems ludicrous and irresponsible.

My suggestion was to move up the opening of the launch window in order to get everyone in the air, but there seems to be some resistance to this. Another possibility is to require anyone launching in the first half hour to take the first start (or before). I have a feeling, however, that since things are working well for the top pilots that nothing will change. If this is the way the organizers want to run it, I have no objection, however, I do object to the assertion that the solution is in the hands of the pilots, or that this comp is accommodating to new competitors.

The weather looks spectacular the next couple of days, and I just heard a rumor that they may be considering 350km or even 400km tasks! I hope I can get in the air early!



Saturday, January 6, 2007

Another Day

Today we awoke to gusty winds and high wispy clouds. It didn’t look like a particularly good flying day. I was well rested, but still sore from the long flight on Thursday. Another day off wouldn’t really disappoint me, but I had a feeling we would fly. We would certainly go through all the motions. We had the pilot briefing at 10am, and Len reported that a frontal passage was expected tomorrow. The winds were indeed strong and gusty, and forecast to get stronger. Jonny hinted that a couple of possible tasks were being considered: a 300km (180mile!) task or a “short” 170km (106mile) task.

We headed to the airfield and started setting up. Dust devils were screaming across the field like clockwork every three minutes. I could tell that no one was anxious to fly, as no one had moved from the set up area to the staging area. We could see the high clouds ahead of the front to the southwest.

The task briefing occurred at 1pm. They had chosen the “short” task. Launch would open at 1:30 with the first of five start gates at 2:10, with 10 minute separations. At 1:30 two blasts on the airhorn announced launch open, but nobody moved. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to fly, but if I did I wanted to get out early. Trouble was, where I was at the back of the line I was blocked from the launch line by all the gliders in the set-up area. Finally someone moved into line which opened a slot for me to slide through. Now, everyone seemed to want to get into line, and just like yesterday I kept getting pushed back as pilots further ahead moved in. I ended up even further back in line than yesterday. As I waited the high clouds started to fill in. There seemed to be a steady rain of pilots landing for re-flights and getting slid into line. Finally I was on a cart and lined up behind a trike. The tow was uneventful. Too uneventful. He dragged me all over the sky and we never hit a bump. Finally, in desperation, he headed far downwind where we could see two gliders turning. If he was willing to take me, I was going to stay on. As we came towards the turning gliders we hit a stronger core than they were in. I reached for my release just as the weak-link snapped. Wow! Two in two days. Usually a weak link lasts me a year.

The climb petered out well before cloudbase, and I was far downwind of the field, so I just picked a line on course and went. The air was surprisingly buoyant, and I had a nice long glide before the next climb. Several more climbs and I was at the first turnpoint, 67km out. My heart really wasn’t in it, though. The last climb had been a screamer: 1200ft per minute on the averager, but it was a wire slapping rodeo ride. Not my idea of fun. The sky had started to get an ominus look to it, and the wind had indeed picked up. I could see pilots turning to the west of the turnpoint, but I couldn’t find the motivation to join them. I was also discovering just how sore I still was after Thursday’s flight. I went on a half-hearted 30 minute final glide and landed.

I sent a text message with the coordinates to the driver, then packed up and settled in to wait. 3 hours seemed to be the standard, so I was shocked when about twenty minutes later I heard Dave on the radio saying they were only a kilometer away. Both Dave and Andrew had landed before me and were already on board. We headed home, arriving at the civilized hour of 7pm. Final statistics: 1:46 in the air for 50.9 miles. More than 50 pilots made goal.

Get the Google Earth file here
See the flight in the HOLC here
See the scores here

Friday, January 5, 2007

Perspective found.

Perhaps you’ve heard by now. During yesterday’s task a pilot somehow became detached from his glider and fell to his death. I won’t go into the lurid details; if you want them, I’m sure you will find them in the OZ report.

As a result of this unlikely and unfortunate accident today’s task was cancelled: Partly for his team members and fellow pilots to grieve and reflect, partly so the police and meet officials could have the resources that they needed to conduct an investigation.

Selfishly I was happy for the time to rest and catch up on chores after yesterday’s late return. I should be elated after my flight to goal, but the somber news tempered the mood. Also, so many pilots made goal (51) that it was clear that it was the spectacular flying conditions and not my skill and cunning that got me there. Making goal was the standard, not making goal was sub-par. In spite of these circumstances, but in a way because of them, today I’ve gained a particularly human perspective on what we are doing.

I spent much of the day doing housekeeping chores, but also spending time with other pilots. While I was having supper at my van Oleg came by to visit. It’s amazing to be involved in a sport where the current world champion drops by your campsite for a visit. I should probably mention that 16 of the top 20 ranked pilots in the world are in this competition, so you are always tripping over top pilots. (From that perspective 60th doesn’t sound quite so bad.) I asked Oleg lots of questions about flying strategy and technique and shared with him my sources of frustration, anxiety and uncertainty in my flying. Invariably his answer was “ya, ya, it’s the same for me”. Talk about putting things in perspective!


Thursday, January 4, 2007

Goal!


After so many pilots made goal the first day it seemed inevitable that the task committee would turn up the heat. Following the same format as the first day, they didn’t set a task until we were at the airfield and set up. Unfortunately, due to my poor performance I was near the very back of the staging line. This meant that when the launch window opened I had to walk my glider the whole length of the line to the front to launch, and on the way, any pilot who wanted to slip in from the side could slide in front of me. The sky was already popping, and you could see that most everyone wanted to go early. My chances of getting out at a reasonable time were slim. The task was set; sure enough, they called a 243km (145mile) task. It was mostly downwind with one turnpoint to keep us out of controlled airspace. The launch window didn’t open until 1pm, and due to my position in line I would be lucky to launch before 2pm. I am pretty slow, and I knew there just weren’t enough hours in the day for me to finish the task. The longest I had flown before was 120miles and that took me 5½ hours. 145miles at that pace would take me 6½ hours. That would put me in at 8:30pm – well after sunset. Finally I got to the head of the line and hooked up behind a trike. The tow was smooth and uneventful until we hit the lift. The pilot flew through it and sped up, causing him to dive out the other side. I quickly found myself high above the tug, struggling to get down. Rather than break a weaklink, I decided to pin off and try to work the lift. It was only about 500ft, and I found myself in the traffic pattern and well away from the airfield. I decided to forego the heroics and go back and land and re-tow. This time I didn’t have to wait long and I was lined up behind a Dragonfly. Well, dammed if the same thing didn’t happen again. This time I decided to try and save the tow, and sure enough the weak link broke. Again I found myself at 500ft in the pattern, but now I was determined not to tow again, so I worked the lift until eventually it got me to cloudbase. I ignored the start times and went on course. After all the delays, if I had any chance of getting close to goal I needed to boogey! The flying was classic and easy at first, then about 4:30pm things started to get weak, and I found myself low with over 60 miles to go. As the day winds down the lift gets weak, but often in the early evening there is a period of smooth buoyant air that can unexpectedly extend a flight – sometimes until sunset or later. If I could stay in the air, perhaps I would get to take advantage of this. It was unlikely to get me to goal, but at least I would be closer. I hung on and drifted in the weak lift. Sure enough, after about ½ an hour things got better and I found myself the highest I had been all day – well over 9000ft. My flight computer said I only needed 4500ft more climb for goal - I started to think it might be possible. About 25 miles out my computer told me that I needed around 2000 ft more. Ahead I was looking at a huge swath of blue sky. To stay under the clouds I would have to divert far to the east or west, and I new that I surely wouldn’t have time to make it if I took that longer course. I took a deep breath and dived into the blue and was rewarded with regular climbs of up to 400feet per minute. Soon my flight computer told me I had goal, but I wasn’t going to trust it. I didn’t go on final glide until it said I had goal with over 2000ft. I’d look like an idiot coming in that high, but there was no way I was going to risk landing short. Two other gliders passed me while I was being conservative, but I didn’t care. I arrived at goal happy but tired. I managed to pound my landing and break a downtube which only served to reinforce my image as an idiot after arriving so high. I didn’t care. Final statistics: 145miles in 5hours and 22minutes; a new personal best.

I was one of the last in to goal, just an hour before sunset. Again I found myself waiting for retrieve for three hours. Everyone else had left and the sun had set. I carried my gear off the airfield and closed the boundary gate and settled in to wait. I saw a spectacular rising moon – just one day past full, and a huge shooting star. Beautiful scenery to wait, but coupled with the four hour drive we weren’t back until 2am. I’m in no shape to fly today.

See the results here

See the flight in the HOLC here

Get the Google Earth file of the flight here

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Perspective

What is it and where do you get it?

Today was like one of those bad movies: The Prom Queen heads for the tool shed where the guy with the hockey mask and the hedge loppers is lurking. “Don’t go there!” The formula is always the same and you can see each bloody murder coming from a mile away.

The first day at every comp always seems to be a mess. Everyone including the organizers is still trying to figure out how things should work. Inevitably there are things that weren’t thought of, and things that were thought of, but don’t quite work as expected.

We were supposed to get waypoints at check-in, but they weren’t ready. The waypoint list was from a comp held here years ago, and there was no altitude data, so they wanted to add that before uploading waypoints. That ended up taking all day, so finally it was decided to upload in the morning before the pilots meeting. In the morning we found that the waypoints had somehow gotten lost transferring between computers, so we would get the old waypoints as they were. That took a couple of hours, and then we were sent out to the airfield. Apparently they wouldn’t choose a task until we were all set up. The staging was organized into three lines. One for odd pilot numbers (the “A” line”), one for even (“B”), and one for pilots with limited tow experience (“C”). The pilot numbers are determined by your cumulative score, and on the first day since there were no scores yet, they use pilot WPRS ranking as the pilot number. Well, since I have no WPRS points, but lots of towing I ended up at the absolute end of the even staging line.

We were set up facing east, as there was a fairly brisk east wind. The limited experience line or “C” line was closest to the airport north boundary fence, the “B” line (the one I was in) next, and the “A” line farthest to the South. Eventually a task was chosen as evidenced by pilots starting to squint at their GPS and push buttons. I left my set-up glider and went looking for the task. It was a 97mile downwind task to the west with no turnpoints and a 15km start circle on the airport. The only problem was that there was no waypoint for the airport, since these waypoints were from a comp held on the other side of town years ago. No problem, I’ll just use distance from launch to figure the start circle. I had a waypoint for the goal, but I had no idea where it was, and now I was in the middle of a dusty paddock with a set-up glider and no way to find it on a map. As I am trying to figure out all of this I notice that the “C” line is moving. They are shifting the whole line to the south and east, since the wind has shifted and is now coming from the northeast. The other two line stay put. “A” and “B” will tow crosswind, and the “C” line will tow at a right angle in front of both of the other lines. Once I figure out where I am going, I start to suit up to go. I turn my glider around and start walking it toward the front of the launch line, but now the wind has shifted some more, so they swing the launch line around a bit, and a bunch of pilots who hadn’t moved into the launch line now move to the new location, and in front of me. This happens three more times, and each time I move further and further back in the launch order. Now our line is towing directly towards the boundary fence with the “A” line towing from behind us to the left and the “C” line towing from behind and to the right. After an hour and a half of this, I am finally on tow. The first two start times have already passed, including the mandatory start for the top 30 pilots. Conditions are weak, and a line of high clouds has moved in from the east, starting to shade things out. There is a huge blue gap to the west, then some pretty good looking clouds further out on course but tantalizingly out of reach. Virtually everyone has already gone, and I found myself sniffing around the airport scratching for ever bit of lift I can find. I eventually clawed my way up to around 2500ft, and a rag-tag gaggle of about half a dozen stragglers forms. Here’s where my latent mediocrity came to the fore. No matter how much I tried to tell myself to just fly my own flight, I kept getting sucked into following one or another glider in obvious poor tactical moves. Finally, I found some reserve of focus, centered a weak climb and topped it out. The others joined me lower, and I waited for them to top out, and then went on glide along course line. No one followed; they all just sat burbling in the top of that climb, presumably watching my progress. Eventually, I found myself low and to the east of a low ridge. I didn’t have enough altitude to safely cross and make it to the next landing fields to the other side, so I hunted around to the east of it, then landed in a field next to the road with another glider. About that time I saw the rest of my gaggle glide overhead after finding a better line than I did. As it was, they all ended up landing just east of the ridge. Total distance: 8.5 miles, about a mile inside the start circle.

The frustration didn’t end there, however. Communication is always an issue when trying to get retrieved, but it seems like there are more than the normal number of issues here. Obviously, with an international group like this there are language issues, but also there are incompatibilities with radios and cell phones. Fortunately I had acquired a radio that could operate on the Australian UHF CB frequencies, so all of our retrieve were on radio. The only reliable cell phone service outside of town here is CDMA – an older format from the US. Most city dwellers and international pilots have the newer GSM phones that are worthless outside of town. Again, fortunately, I had a CDMA phone, but the rest of my team did not. We practiced sending text messages, and that worked between me and two of the phones, including the driver’s. The plan was that we would text in our landing coordinates and our driver would acknowledge receipt, so we knew we would be picked up. I sent the text message as soon as I landed, but got no reply. I tried phoning, but got a “out of service area” message, so I had little confidence that my message got there. Eventually I was able to raise one of my team mates on the phone, and one on the radio. I got word that the driver was on the way, so I settled in to wait. After many phone calls, innumerable radio transmissions, significantly fewer radio receptions, and three hours I was finally picked up. We then picked up our other team mate just down the road. We had all landed within 10 miles of the start. Finally, we could head home! But no! Our Australian team mate decided we needed to stop and visit with the farmer where we had just picked up a pilot. After chatting with a woman in the garden for a good twenty minutes we were finally going to leave, but then her husband showed up, so we had to go through the whole process again. It was about here that my carefully cultivated “go with the flow” philosophy started to back up behind the hairball of my frustration. I wanted nothing more than to just get back in my own space and decompress. It didn’t help that this particular team mate also was unreasonably happy with todays flying, and decided that telling us all about it was the way to lighten the mood. He was particularly nervous about towing, so he was very happy that he took three tows. After each tow, he flew around a bit, then landed and towed again. Of course all I could think about was how long I was sitting there waiting for my one tow while he was having fun! Anyhow, we finally made it back to town - seven hours after I got in line for my 8 mile flight. Back at headquarters we found out that 37 pilots had made goal.

See the results here