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Monday, August 4, 2008

Evening report

Soaring conditions continued to improve today, and didn’t end especially early (as the morning weather forecast had warned they might). Despite troublesome winds (at times over 30 knots at cloudbase) most pilots were able to complete the short turn-area tasks. Speeds were not amazing, but generally better than yesterday (and certainly far better than anyone would have been willing to predict at 9:00 this morning.

The launch was only a little quicker than yesterday’s – around 1:45 to get all gliders airborne. High winds and occasional strong lift and sink led to some exciting tows. Turbulent thermals and areas of strong sink caused some pilots to have to land and re-launch – in some cases these returns home were marginal and dangerous-looking. In a couple of cases (one described below) pilots didn’t quite make it back.

It was an OK but not a great day for the US team. In 15-Meter class, Gary Ittner fell into a hole and landed on the second leg. Karl Striedieck had a very late start after a relight, and did well to complete the task in the face of weakening conditions. In 18-Meter class, Doug Jacobs and Rick Walters decided to start early, which proved to be not the fastest choice, but they got home with reasonable distance and speeds. In the Open class, Heinz Weissenbuehler did 109 kph, good for 11th place; Garret Willat managed 100 kph.

Georg Theisinger (LT) of Germany had real trouble today. He released from tow in sinking air and soon found himself low and out of reach of the home field. He landed in an unharvested wheat field where, unfortunately, a mother deer and two fawns were hidden. The deer, alarmed by this strange bird rushing toward them, leapt to their feet and the mother was struck (and killed) by the wing. A groundloop ensued, which caused some damage to Georg’s ASW-27. By special dispensation (and not without some measure of controversy) he will be allowed to continue the contest in a different glider.

When gliders fly, they routinely smash bugs, whose remains collect on the leading edges of the wings and tail, degrading performance. At certain sites during certain times, the problem can be severe. Thus you can now buy “bugwipers” for your glider. These typically consist of spring-loaded devices that live at the root of each wing, connected to what are basically fishing reels. When the pilot notices an unacceptable collection of smashed bugs, he unwinds each reel which causes the bugwiper to spring open and, driven by airflow, travel along the wing dragging a fine wire across the leading edge. The theory is that this wire scrapes off most of the bug remains, and thus restores the smooth laminar flow that all glider pilots prefer. When the bugwiper has made its way near to the end of the wing, the pilot then reels it in, causing it to again stow itself at the wing root, ready for the next hour’s bug collection.

There are often complications: Sometimes bugwipers get hung up somewhere along the wing; sometimes they fall off entirely and trail behind until landing. Each of these disasters of course leads to more drag than bugs ever would have caused. Here at Lüsse, bugwipers are reckoned to be a necessary accessory, but thus far at WGC 2008 bugs have been tolerably scarce and today (no doubt in part due to strong winds) they seem to have been scarcely flying at all. Many pilots have removed their bugwipers, and many crews are hoping that these troublesome devices need not be re-attached during this contest.

I had a measure of ornithological success this morning, though I still haven't seen a Great Bustard. On a morning drive we spotted some large birds in a field, which proved to be Eurasian Cranes, with an appearance and voice similar to that of the Sandhill Crane. In the small town of Baitz (“Bites”), about 3 km north of the airfield, we also spotted a stork nest, with White Storks both perched and flying nearby. The elegant Red Kite is seen nearly every day, wheeling and soaring low over the airfield. Its flight style is reminiscent of the Swallow-tailed Kite routinely seen at the Senior Contest in Florida – though no bird ever hatched can hope to equal the in-flight grace of a Swallow-tailed Kite.

An interesting point at World Gliding Contests is that the official language is English. This causes some complications in a country whose native language is different (and more so in eastern Germany, where English-speakers seem not as common as in the west). We have found that at this contest the pilot briefings have been generally very good, though sometimes the accents are tolerably thick.

One complication is that the Germany word for “launch” is “start”, but at a glider contest it’s usually important to distinguish between launching (when you leave the ground) and starting (when you set out on your racing task). The precise meaning of announcements such as “First start is scheduled for 13:15” is not always obvious.

We also note that wind reports can be a bit quirky. When you are used to “Wind on the field is 290 degrees at 12 knots” it’s a bit strange to hear “… with 12 knots” or “ … from 12 knots”, though in this case the meaning is perfectly clear.

The Australian party at the Event Hangar was a big success this evening – that’s pretty well guaranteed at a soaring contest when you offer free beer, wine and grilled sausages. A dramatic sunset helped. Unfortunately, there proved to be no truth to the rumor that barbecued venison was a last-minute addition to the menu.

Afternoon report

We awoke to rain and gusty winds this morning, which convinced essentially everyone that we’d do no flying today. This apparently included the contest organizers, who had prepared no tasks for the morning pilot meeting. But, despite rain that drummed on the hangar roof as he spoke, the weatherman said we’d again have an afternoon window of weather suitable for racing. And he was right – at 2pm the launch is underway under beautiful cumulus clouds with bases near 5000’. Once again the sandy soil in this area gets credit for swallowing the rain and allowing good soaring without the typical 12- to 24-hour drying period.

But the wind is definitely a problem – it’s 20 knots on the ground, with gusts well above that. At cloudbase it’s at least 25 knots. The plentiful clouds show lots of streeting. Just how long this will last is a big question – the weatherman (who now has a good reputation for accuracy) says pilots should not expect much help after 5pm, and (no doubt for this reason) all classes have short turn-area tasks. There is less evidence of overdevelopment than we saw at this time yesterday, but I’d be surprised if this day remains trouble-free.

It appears I spoke a bit quickly about the excellent waterballast facilities here. Each day 130 gliders take on a total of something like 5200 gallons of water (that’s around 21 tons), all of which must flow a long ways through half-inch hoses. And when everyone is scrambling to prepare gliders for flight, it flows at a rather pitiful rate. The Ventus sailplane that I prepare each day takes around 45 gallons of water, which today required about 40 minutes to dribble out of the hose. I doubt there’s much help for this (though I have toyed with the idea of some “midnight engineering” in the form of restrictions placed in water taps upstream of ours).

Launches remain a concern. We were told that a couple more towplanes would be added to the fleet today, an acknowledgement that organizers concur with the notion that tows should proceed more rapidly. But today’s 18-Meter launch required around 40 minutes for 50 gliders, which is not much of an improvement.