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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Low clouds and wind greeted us this morning, as we’d been told to expect. A few breaks in the cloud made it possible to believe we might fly. At the morning briefing the weatherman held out some hope for a small soarable weather window starting around 1 pm.

Not even the most optimistic though this would serve for anything more than a minimal task for the class at the front of the grid (today, Open class). We were asked to re-convene for a weather update at 12:30. With little improvement by then (and indeed with radar images showing areas of rain bearing down on us) the result was inevitable: no flying today.

Nasty weather is a problem for those staying in the Lüsse airfield campgrounds (a considerable proportion of those here). In general the standard for tents seems high, and they appear to deal well with 25- and 30-knot winds. When gusts reach 40 knots (as they did earlier in the contest) trouble can be expected. After that storm I noted several downed tents, and one of the dumpsters on the field contained a mangled bunch of aluminum tubes which had previously supported an awning.

An intense downpour (of which we’ve had one example) turns some areas to muck, and must surely make sleeping hard for many. But soaring pilots are a resilient bunch, and after a couple of weeks of hard use the campgrounds here are for the most part as trim and neat as you could wish.

Those who arrived without tents or campers are staying in a selection of local hotels. The US Team is at a hotel / beer garden near the airfield – a very handy and pleasant if occasionally quirky place to stay. One of the quirks is Gustav the german shepherd who patrols the grounds tirelessly and is prone to bark in response to real or imagined threats at any hour of the day or night.

Another, shared with essentially all buildings here, is the complete absence of window screens, despite a considerable insect population. Mosquitoes are an issue (though they are said to be much less numerous than they were last year). The biggest problem is with a variety of yellow jacket that loves to come and share your food, possessing catholic tastes that lean toward the sweet (you learn to check the strawberry jam at breakfast for yellow jackets that may have got there first). They rarely or never sting, but these little beasts can be amazingly persistent when they discover a tasty morsel on your plate.

I’ll continue my look at gliders here by considering the Open class. Given the cost and complexity of these giant machines, it’s hardly surprising that this is the smallest class here – as it has been for a long time at World Gliding Competitions. (And many observers expect this to continue, now that 18-Meter performance is so close.) Based on overall results, the glider to have is either an ASW-22BL (nine are entered) or a Nimbus 4 (19). It’s certainly notable that the ASW-22BL, easily the oldest design at this contest, currently holds the top 4 places.

In addition to the soundness of its basic design, this is also thought to have a lot to do with the fact that the 22 can achieve a wingloading about 10% greater than that of the Nimbus. Even with takeoff weights up to 850 kg (nearly 1900 lbs), with their giant wings (here spanning as much as 92 ft) modern Open-class gliders are really too light for all but relatively weak soaring conditions. In a world where material strength, runway length and towplane power weren’t issues, gliders with wings the size of those on the Nimbus 4 would like to be flying at 1000kg or more.

Because weight isn’t much of a penalty in Open class, plenty of these gliders include stow-away engines. When soaring conditions aren’t quite sufficient to complete a task, the ability to fire up an engine and fly home under power can look very attractive compared to having to de-rig a giant glider in a remote field, trailer it home, and then re-rig it for the next flight. Of course, these engines aren’t exactly cheap (nor have their records for durability and reliability been exemplary) – but compared to the truly shocking cost of a modern Open-class glider (got a spare quarter-million lying around?), the cost of adding an engine can seem reasonable, and its foibles a worthwhile tradeoff for the convenience it often delivers.

WGC 2008 is now heading toward its conclusion. Just three scheduled flying days remain, and weather forecasts suggest it’s by no means certain we will fly all of them. In Open and 18-Meter classes the races are fairly close; in 15-Meter class György Gulyas of Hungary has a lead of 300 points – comfortable only if he can avoid any serious stumbles.