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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Evening report - Heinz wins the day!

It proved to be a better day than most thought it would. The early tendency toward spreadout had little effect (except to induce pilots to get out on course). The threat of the day turning blue never materialized. Though the bases weren't amazingly high by Lüsse standards, it was a good soaring day, with speeds above average for this contest.

With one exception, it wasn't an especially good day for the US Team.

In 15-Meter class, Karl Striedieck fell into a hole about 70% of the way through the task and had to land; Gary Ittner finished 23rd, with a speed of 105 kph. This class is currently being dominated by Gyorgy Guylas of Hungary, who has been displaying both brilliance and consistency. In 2006 in Sweden he was "pipped at the post" by an absolutely brilliant last-day flight by 3-time World Champion Janusz Centka. This time he seems determined to put that sort of possibility out of reach.

In 18-Meter class, Doug Jacobs and Rick Walters felw together for much of the flight and finished with speeds of 107 and 105 kph, but this did not match the excellent speeds of the winners (best was Olivier Darroze of France, with 125 kph).

In Open class, Garret Willat and Mike Robison had a decent run in their ASH-25 until the final turn where conditions were weak and they had to use the engine (which is scored like a landout). But it was a big day for Heinz Weissenbuehler in his Nimbus 4. He had few troubles around his turn-area task. He landed in a great mood, feeling he'd done well. He was thus a bit discouraged to see himself in listed 16th place on initial score sheets – in view of the many excellent pilots flying here, he was prepared to believe it, but the flight had felt much better than middle-of-the-pack. It turns out that initial score lists are based on the assumption that all pilots flew the same distance, which in the case of a turn-area task makes little sense.

As flight logs were analyzed, HW kept rising on the score sheet. When all had been processed, Heinz's flight was found to be the best of the day: 405.8 km at 118.22 kph for 1000 points.

I was just a bit surprised at the outpouring of good spirits in Heinz's direction. WGC pilots tend to be generous, but this seemed a bit beyond what's typical. Heinz obviously has a lot of well-wishers here, and they were genuinely pleased with this result. As for Heinz himself, at the "halfway party" tonight he could be instantly recognized from a long way off as the one with a grin a mile wide, walking about a foot off the ground.

The halfway party was deemed a success by all present – food quality was well above what's typical for such events. As I write this, a band is warming up on the stage, and no doubt there will be dancing and carrying on until who knows what hour. (I have a guess as to which US pilot will be most prominent among the revelers.) We don't know what the second half of this contest will bring; the first has gone off well.

Other aircraft have arrived for tomorrow's airshow. There is an Extra 300, a top-of-the-line powered aerobatic aircraft. We've seen a Slingsby T-21 "Sedburgh", an open-cockpit side-by-side 2-place glider of the early 1960s. A Swift aerobatic glider has been spotted. If the weather will cooperate, we expect quite a spectacle.

But let the record show that on August 9, 2008 Heinz Weissenbuehler was the best Open-class pilot in the world.

Afternoon report

We have a flying day today. A cold front has passed and it is decidedly cool – jackets highly recommended. (More than a few folks are sporting shorts – out of habit, I suppose – but they don’t look especially happy about their choice.) The weatherman is calling for decent lift (though to only about 5000’) with a chance of spreadout, and also some chance of the day turning blue in the late afternoon (something of a contradiction there).

At launch, the spreadout possibility was taking most of the bets. Winds were at least as strong as forecast, cloudbases were 4000’, and the Open class had been switched to Task B (a turn-area version of their assigned Task A). But we saw far fewer relights than has been typical here, and at 2:30 all pilots are on course and seemed to be enjoying good soaring.

Yesterday’s report was wrong about the timing of the grand airshow – it will not take place today, but rather tomorrow (Sunday). This is not to say that we are unaffected by it – all sorts of preparations are underway. A beautiful Ju-52 (Junkers Tri-motor) in Lufthansa livery showed up yesterday and is today hopping rides (it has so far been smoothly mixed in with the contest launches). Fifteen-minute rides are a bit expensive at 150 euro a pop, but with three big radial engines each probably burning 30 gallons an hour and avgas at something over $10 a gallon, I doubt they are making a huge profit.

Considered against a background of state-of-the art 21st century gliders, the Ju-52 is remarkable. Almost nothing resembling drag reduction can be found anywhere in its design. It’s probably little exaggeration to suggest that half of its horizontal tail offer more drag than an entire Nimbus 4. Yet it’s a grand sight and a welcome guest here.

We have just seen a Wilga go by, towing three Lo-100 aerobatic gliders, no doubt practicing for the airshow. The Lo-100 is a 1950s wood-and-fabric glider with a short (10-meter) cantilevered wing that is popular in Europe for just this purpose. (Let’s hope the glue holds up well.) Also present is a Messerschmitt Bf-108 “Taifun” observation plane from the late 1930s. This one has an inverted V-8 engine and looks very slick and well-cared-for.

I should note that the Lufthansa strike is reported to be fully resolved and should have no effect on our contest. A sizeable Lufthansa VIP tent has been erected for tomorrow’s airshow – no doubt all sorts of airline bigwigs will be here. We have been told to expect a narrow “start window” tomorrow – pilots will have to start within about an hour of the time their class’s task opens. This will have the effect of clearing the skies around Lüsse of those pesky gliders so the airshow can proceed safely, but if soaring conditions are tricky, it could lead to problems. And the indications at this morning’s weather briefing were that tomorrow looks as if it could be a tricky day.

Klaus Ohlmann’s talk last night was indeed well attended, and few were disappointed. We saw some spectacular images of gliders in wave high over the Andes. My favorite was a view from 20,000’ of the Straights of Magellan. It seems almost beyond belief that motorless flight can have extended so near the ends of the earth.