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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The third official practice day at Lüsse saw pilots and crews return to a racing state of mind. A weak cold front passed yesterday; this morning we had what we have come to expect: clear skies and cool air. At the morning pilot briefing the weatherman seemed a bit equivocal about the day’s prospects, and the tasks were commensurate: a Turn Area task of around 320 km for 15-Meter and 18-Meter classes, and an Assigned task of 344 km for the Open class. The day stayed blue until noon, so it was easy to believe conditions would not match what we’d seen earlier in the week and that these short tasks were about right.

But at 2pm a very different face of things was seen. Sparse cumulus were evident, and their bases looked impressively high. On course, pilots reported mostly trouble-free flying with occasional 7-knot climbs to over 8000’. Winning speeds were notable: 144 kph in Open class, 140 in 18-Meter class, and 138 in 15-Meter. That’s about as good as it gets.

In view of these conditions and the resulting speeds, tasks were far shorter than they should have been. This may have had something to do with expectations for the launch operation, which today took around 2 hours and 25 minutes to put something less than the full WGC 2008 fleet into the air. Contrast this with WGC 2003 at Leszno, Poland where 128 gliders were launched in as little as 40 minutes, and you can see that some work is needed here. We are told that an additional 6 towplanes will be present when official competition starts; they will certainly be welcome.

It’s worth noting that during five days of first-rate soaring, the wind at Lüsse has consistently been from the east. We are told that this is a normal pattern for this time of year here. But there can be few places in the world where an east wind is associated with good soaring weather,

The normally efficient morning pilot meeting encountered some snags today. The first was minor, as the weatherman struggled to get his Powerpoint presentation to appear on the giant screen (this nearly always proves challenging). Then, questions were raised about the task for 18-Meter and 15-Meter classes, which originally specified a maximum distance that looked to be easily achievable in the specified minimum time (3 hours), a situation that leads to a big tie on the scoresheet and thus a more or less meaningless task. The response was to reduce the minimum time to 2:30, which made a limited amount of sense but raised the question as to whether future task changes would be initiated by public outcry (pilots would much prefer the notion – at times perhaps illusory – that task setters understand the weather, pilots’ capabilities and the rules, and can set tasks that don’t need last-minute adjustment).

Other slightly discordant notes were struck by the absence of any grid list (we are still on the do-it-yourself system), the announcement that crews would have to both run the wingtip during launch (expected) and hook up the tow rope (almost always done by contest staff). In the event, hookups were provided.

A source of some controversy has been the requirement that all gliders carry large adhesive signs bearing the name of the contest sponsor, Lufthansa. On the one hand, it’s highly commendable that the contest was able to secure this sponsorship, and that Lufthansa was willing to offer it. On the other, pilots are averse to putting much of anything on their gliders not directly related to aviation, and especially if it has a detectable edge (about 0.008” in this case). The pill in this case can be swallowed because the requirement falls equally on all pilots (though it was notable that only about 80% had the stickers affixed as of today’s launch). A complication is the news that Lufthansa employees are now apparently on strike. A rumor is circulating to the effect that one of the “sponsor events” was to have been a party catered by Lufthansa, so we may now be on our own resources for that.

The big event this evening was a party hosted by the British, Dutch and Italian teams. I arrived a bit late and was surprised to find that some food still remained (the ability of the pilots, crews and hangers-on associated with 130+ gliders to suck down food and drink is something that must be seen to be believed). The Dutch national color is orange, and the Dutch team members were serving a fiery orange liqueur whose color perfectly matched their T-shirts. They apparently also stocked the rest rooms with orange toilet paper (much of which was quickly seized by souvenir hunters). Paul Weeden and Gary Ittner have just stuck their heads in the window of the US Team hut (where I compose these reports) to inform me of this, and the fact that it’s late and I’m one of the few relatively sober souls left on the airfield. So I will conclude this report and head for bed.