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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Evening report

At breakfast today the weather was beautiful – cool with clear skies. In view of recent experience, we naturally assumed this would lead to trouble – and it did: by 8:30 a mid-level overcast covered the sky. At the morning pilot briefing the weatherman suggested that there was some hope of clearing around noon, with the possibility of a short task. Accordingly, we gridded 130 gliders and stood around hoping for improvement.

It was painfully slow in coming. By 1:30pm the task for the 18-Meter class (at the back of the grid and thus scheduled last for launch) was canceled. The other two classes hung on grimly. Quite a number of spectators were on the airfield, and the cynical suggested that the delay in cancelling all classes was due to the need to sell a certain quantity of bratwurst and beer. Persistence is often a virtue, but not always. Around 4pm organizers bowed to the inevitable and scrubbed the day. Naturally, skies began to clear shortly after that, but it would certainly not have been possible to find time for a launch and a task.

With the prospects of flying looking dubious even at noon, my mission for the day was to liberate a base-station radio held by German customs. In a moment of excessive optimism before leaving the US, Doug Jacobs packaged this and mailed it to himself. The whereabouts of the package has been for a good while undetermined, but Doug two days ago received notice that it was being held in the nearest customs office, located in Brandenburg (a mere 35-minute drive north). Picking up a package such as this is not a simple matter. We required the expert help of Natalie Lübben (our highly competent deputy contest director) to prepare some documents, and Jacob (a bilingual contest volunteer) accompanied me on this mission - which would certainly have failed had I depended on English. Having arrived and unpacked the radio for inspection, we then waited for about 30 minutes while forms were filled out, stamped, signed and copied. We were instructed that certain of these forms must be filed when the radio is transported out of Germany. After the payment of a 45-euro fee (for a radio worth perhaps 200 euros) we were on our way.

The drive to Brandenburg leads through typically neat and bucolic German countryside. Roads are of good quality, though due to frequent villages it’s hard to make great time (for that you need an autobahn). In many areas the roads are lined with large trees growing within a few feet of the pavement. This is agreeably scenic, though such trees apparently take a considerable annual toll of errant drivers; a sign that seeks to address this problem shows a small drawing of a car hitting a tree, implying this is something you don’t really want to do. The speed limit is generally 80 kph (50 mph) in the countryside and 50 in town; most drivers seem to be about 10 to 20 kph faster. But speeders must take care – speed cameras are by no means rare, and there is apparently little defense against an automated speeding ticket received in the mail.

Giant windmills are a common sight throughout Germany, which now derives something like 18% of its electrical power from the wind. They are typically found in “farms” of a dozen or more. The towers appear to be at least 50 meters high; each of the three blades looks to be about 25 to 30 meters long. For glider pilots they provide a useful indication of the local wind direction, and can thus be thought of as the successors to smokestacks, which 40 years ago served the same function.

The FAI flag has been found and restored to its exalted place at Lüsse. The parties responsible have not been identified, though suspicion has fallen on both the Dutch and the British teams (both of whom deny all involvement, but who clearly posses both the spirit and the skill to pull off a stunt like this). The most interesting aspect has been the appearance of a document known as “Annex Z” to the Sporting Code (the rules by which international gliding contests are conducted). Annex Z deals with the sanctity of the FAI flag and specifies that if it happens to go missing, it must be returned, and that those responsible must both apologize and supply a case of beer to contest organizers. Perhaps the most interesting provision specifies that the flag is fair game during the 24 hours preceding the contest closing ceremonies. We await developments.

Yesterday’s flight by glider YY was a bit more eventful than my report suggested. It was one of those good news / bad news situations:
Good news: The soaring flight was around 100 times as long as on the previous day.
Bad news: It ended more than 100 km short of home.
Good news: The plane has an engine capable of bringing it home.
Bad news: The engine failed to start.
Good news: The pilot had taken care to be near an airfield.
Bad news: The pilot failed to extend the landing gear.
Bad news: The landing was on pavement, which ground away a meaningful amount of composite structure.
Good news: At a World Gliding Competition, rapid repairs of damage such as this are a routine matter.
The result is that YY is again airworthy, and ready for further soaring adventures.

Karl Striedieck’s problem yesterday was traced to an instrument programmed in miles for a contest where tasks are defined in kilometers. It’s not quite as simple a mistake as it sounds: Karl apparently re-set the units to km, but was unaware that it’s necessary to turn the device off and then on to get the change to take effect. The result is that he’s scored as if he’d landed near the second turn – a tough blow on a day when his actual speed was quite respectable.

Afternoon report

Various issues including a power interruption at the airfield have interfered with timely posting of my report today. I'll note that it's now 3 pm, the weather looks grim (a near-solid overcast), and the 18-Meter class task has been canceled. The other two classes remain gridded, but their hopes of any flying look forlorn. I'll have a full report later.