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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Evening report

The wind continued strong all day, but so did the lift and streeting. The result was a high percentage of completions and some good speeds on the longest tasks of the contest thus far. Based on what we’ve seen in the first three days of competition, the weatherman and the task setters at Lüsse know their business.

The tasks for all classes had a turnpoint in Poland today (which was no doubt one of the milestones that contest organizers had hoped to achieve). The border with Germany is marked by the Oder River, which on some days can be an area of reduced lift. Today, it was little problem for most pilots. Having achieved the turn they were faced with an upwind slog against a wind of at least 20 knots, but cumulus clouds and good streeting got most home with few problems. Some who tried to do this leg late in the day struggled, and a few didn’t quite make it (among them was Rick Walters).

Gary Ittner had a great flight, placing second in the 15-Meter class. He started reasonably late, encountered few problems, and passed much of the fleet, finishing with a speed of 112 kph. The winner was György Gulyas of Hungary (definitely one of the favorites in this class) who posted a truly brilliant flight of 118 kph, flown mostly alone. Karl Striedieck had a good speed, but as things now stand the Scorer has him missing the second turnpoint, which is scored as a landout.

Doug Jacobs had a good flight in 18-Meter class, finishing 6th with 977 points; his steady flying has put him in 5th place overall. In Open class, both Garret Willat and Heinz Weissenbuehler had speeds around 105 kph – respectable, but not equal to the 120-kph speeds posted by the winners.

The Open class was last to launch today, and they did so into a westerly wind that was about at its peak. The Open class has the highest percentage of motorized gliders, and a good many of their pilots choose to self launch (the fact that they are saving a launch fee of 50 euros may be part of the attraction, though given the cost of a motor this is probably false economy). It’s an entertaining spectacle to see the giant birds (most weighing the best part of a ton) lumber down the runway and lift off at a ground speed that with a 25-knot headwind appears little faster than a walk. Few of them seem to have an initial climb rate much better than about 250 feet per minute, but they do eventually climb away.

We were all cheered to see that in the 18-Meter class Joannis Tatsios of Greece, the pilot of YY, managed to get away from the field and achieve a considerable distance. On the first day he used his allowed three launches and came away with nothing to show for it. Yesterday, he made a couple of launches and achieved just 3.7 kilometers (good for 4 points) on a day when most pilots flew around 260 km. Today, he got out on course and achieved 359 km. May his fortunes continue to improve.

It’s an appealing feature of World-level competition in this sport that you don’t need to be a threat to win to be here, and that all competitors have a genuine respect and concern for the “tourists” as well as the heavy hitters. Very few glider pilots have any tendency to scorn those with poor scores and problems, for the very simple reason that they have all been there many times themselves, and know they are likely to be so again soon.

Afternoon report

Lots more wind today. At breakfast time we saw low, broken cloud scudding across the sky at a brisk pace. But the forecast was for good lift to at least decent altitudes (probably 5500’ by late in the day) and the tasks-setters have celebrated with some World-level tasks: 420 km for 15-Meter class, and close to 500 km for 18-Meter and Open classes. With northwest winds frequently gusting above 20 knots, these are likely to be challenging, but it's time for some long-distance racing: of the 6 tasks flown thus far, only one has awarded the winner 1000 points.

At the morning pilot briefing we were told that the contest's official FAI flag has gone missing. The FAI is the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the international organization with overall responsiblity for all forms of aviation record-keeping and sport – including these championships. The organizers made it clear that they are not pleased with this prank and would like the flag returned immediately. But it’s unclear that the pranksters will fall in with this request - they may even find such announcements encouraging.

The towplane fleet has apparently been augmented with another couple of “Wilgabeasts”, in hopes of bringing launch times down to something a bit closer to brisk. And, with plenty of cumulus clouds evident by 10:30, the first launch time was set for an optimistic 11:15 am. Perhaps 8 gliders needed re-launches, but for the most part this earlier schedule succeeded. (Pilots asked to fly 300 miles or more generally like to be in the air by 1pm.)

The issue concerning incorrect motor use in 18-Meter class on the first day has not yet been fully resolved. It appears that just one pilot traduced the rule, and that he later landed and re-launched, which implies that he obtained no competitive advantage from his error. But it was contrary to the rules, and it was announced that some sort of penalty would apply; thus far none has appeared.