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Friday, August 1, 2008

The practice period at Lüsse ended with a day that was about 1 part bang and 3 parts whimper. Despite various forecasts calling for overnight gloom, we awoke to another cool morning with clear skies. At the morning pilot meeting we heard predictions of good soaring conditions ending early. Short tasks were set.

The problem was a front marching in from the west, from which we were told to expect rain, strong wind, and possibly hail. In the face of this, at least half the pilots decided not to fly. Those who did found the forecast was reasonably accurate, and that an early start (which nearly everyone used) was sufficient to get home, mostly with reasonable speeds (albeit generally slower than on previous tasks here).

The predicted savage late-afternoon weather didn’t materialize. There seems to be an effect at Lüsse which causes troublesome weather to pass either south or north of the field, but which often spares the area within 15 km of home. This claim is a bit puzzling to newcomers, as there is nothing in the local terrain that looks anywhere near prominent enough to control incoming weather, but we have been told of this and we may have seen an example today. For whatever reason, the incoming front produced afternoon thunderstorms nearby, but not at the field itself.

Since I’m reporting on a gliding contest I probably shouldn’t say this, but we could use some rain here. The area is seriously dry. Small ponds are nothing but baked mud, and we see field fires every day. The wheat field just north of the airfield burned again today. This was much less dramatic than the fire of 3 days ago, but it still managed to get everyone’s attention. The local fire department, no doubt now sensitized to the problem, was on the scene rapidly, though there was again little they could do. There is no further danger to the contest – all the wheat anywhere near the airfield has been turned to ashes.

We are told that this area is one that can handle rain well – the soil is quite sandy and unusually well drained. Apparently, good soaring can be had within a few hours of a significant rainfall.

Tomorrow will be a non-flying day. The big event will be the Opening Ceremony, scheduled for 4pm in the town square of Belzig, about 4 km from the airfield. We don’t yet know quite what to expect from this. Such events are usually held on the airfield itself, where pilots and crews dressed in their team uniforms march in formation (or at least attempt to), listen to speeches by local politicians (these are often not translated, for which most of the assembled are grateful) and then watch an airshow of varying quality. Here, the airshow will take place about halfway through the contest, making tomorrow’s events harder to predict. From having visited it we do know that squeezing everyone into the Belzig town square could get interesting.

Further to the subject of restricted airspace, I must mention the Great Bustard, a giant bird with the appealing latin name of Otis Tarda. The male of this species is among the heaviest birds in the world actually capable of flight. This is important to WGC 2008 because a bird sanctuary devoted to preserving breeding habitat for Bustards is located just north of the Lüsse airfield. Flight below 1800’ there will lead to a severe penalty, and pilots of motorized gliders must not start their engines while over this area, regardless of height (the Bustard is apparently held by wildlife authorities to be particularly sensitive to the presence of large flying objects overhead). I’ve been out early on several mornings hoping to spot a Great Bustard. Karl Striedieck has seen several on his morning runs, but I’m still looking.

As is my habit, I’m writing this report from the US Team headquarters hut. It’s 10:30 pm. Perhaps in response to my opening paragraphs, the skies have opened up here and heavy rain is lashing the airfield. I expect the airfield campgrounds (always well populated at these events) are suffering just now. I will likely be soaked before reaching my car, but I’m going to end this report and make a run for it. (Heinz Weissenbuehler has just appeared to inform me that water is standing 5 inches deep on the field – that theory of how the ground drains quickly will apparently now be tested.)