Thanks to Our Sponsors!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Evening report

It wound up a better day than most anticipated: thermals were stronger and somewhat higher than predicted, cumulus clouds were mostly “honest”, and the cirrus never got thick enough to seriously damp lift until nearly all the fleet was home and dry. Thus, the widespread grid wisdom that it was a good day to start early was inaccurate – some early starters did okay, but there was no penalty for later starts and indeed most of the best speeds came from this strategy. US pilots were included among those whose early-start strategy didn’t pay off very well.

I thought it would be appropriate to give some information about the sailplanes being flown here. I’ll start with the 18-Meter class – the one with which I’m most familiar, as I’m crewing for Doug Jacobs. This is also the newest of the three classes, and (significantly) the largest, with 50 gliders entered. Based on numbers and the current overall standings at WGC 2008, the state of the art in this class is either a Schempp-Hirth Ventus 2cx or a Schleicher ASG-29: I count 19 and 13 of these, respectively, occupying the top 16 positions. The newest sub-variant of the Ventus is the 2cxa, which has a slightly narrower (and some say sexier-looking) fuselage. We also have three LS-10s and one example each of the new JS-1 from South Africa, the non-motorized Antares, and the Glasflugel 304s.

I haven’t heard any strong sentiment that there’s much performance difference between any of the gliders in the top half of the scoresheet. All of them clearly go astonishingly well – they are probably the equal of a good Open-class glider at speeds above 90 knots, which is where they cruise on anything resembling a strong day. If you look at results from this contest, you don’t see a big difference between the best speeds in Open and 18-Meter class (today, the speed that won 18-Meter class would have placed a very solid third in Open class). A maximum weight of 600 kg (1323 lbs) is a big part of the reason – with modern airfoils, these aircraft can climb well even at that weight, and when they run their high wingloading (which significantly exceeds what’s possible in Open class) makes them happy at impressive speeds.

Schempp-Hirth is now fitting a main wheel to their new gliders that contains a very effective disc brake derived from motorcycle technology (Doug’s Ventus has one). It weighs less than previous styles, and the brake seems to be considerably more effective, as well as being easy to modulate. So in 2008 it can at last be said that for your $100,000+ glider it’s possible to order a brake better than that of the typical moped. (To be fair, Schleicher gliders have had effective disc brakes for many years).

Late in the day and well after most pilots were home we were gratified to witness a finish by YY – his first complete task of the contest. His speed was not impressive (68 kph on a day when the winner did not much under twice that). But a finish it was, and we were not the only ones pleased to see persistence rewarded.

Afternoon report

The airshow is behind us and we are back to glider racing at Lüsse. This morning’s weather was clear, which we’ve come to recognize as the sign of impending difficulties. And indeed the weatherman is calling for a tolerably tricky day: some good lift under cumulus clouds (though not especially high ones) with cirrus overrunning us from the west, threatening an early end to soaring.

We have heard that the towplane fleet is short a couple of Wilgas: one suffered some sort of mechanical trouble; another had a prior towing engagement. At a meeting of team captains, concern was expressed as to what this would mean for a launch that has consistently been longer than most (especially pilots in the last class to launch, on a day of tricky weather) would wish. It’s not clear what changes (if any) were made as a result of this, but today’s launch was completed in around an hour and 15 minutes – not stunningly fast, but a significant improvement.

At 2:30 pm the sky looks good and pilots are reporting no troubles, but a cirrus deck is indeed marching in from the west and the general sentiment is that it’s a good day to get out on course without delay. All classes have turn-area tasks; most include a final turn area well west of home (which by the time they get there will have been shielded by the cirrus for several hours) so we expect some struggles.

Yesterday’s airshow seems to have been a success, despite deteriorating weather that at the end of the day was marginal for both pilots and spectators. The launch and landing of 20 gliders was one highlight. Most notable was a “beat up” by Steve Jones of Great Britain. He brought his Nimbus in at high speed and low altitude, pulled up sharply, then dove down out of sight behind the trees south of the runway. Spectators were wondering what had become of him when he popped up into view, lined up with the runway and landed. As a rule, if you give any British pilot license to do this sort of maneuver you can expect to get your money’s worth. (If his name is Jones, good value is almost guaranteed).