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Mini-Nimbus HS-7 Planform Drawing

For the foreseeable future, this website will chronicle an upcoming trip to the 2012 US Open Class National Soaring Competition, a contest in Nevada for sailplanes (also called gliders). This trip begins on the 6th of June. Readers can expect updates on the following topics, albeit not necessarily in this order:


What’s soaring all about? Why is it fun? What’s an open-class sailplane? How does competition soaring work? Who’s competing in the 2012 Nationals?

Who’s writing this, anyway? Maybe it’s best to go over that now. I’m Tom Stepleton. I’ve been flying gliders for a few years. Last summer, veteran competition pilot, teacher, and aircraft mechanic Mike R. invited me to join him as he flew the Nationals in his two-seat Nimbus 3DM glider. I am there as ballast, mainly. Mike will do most of the flying.

Hopefully I will learn something.

Journey to Minden

It’s easy to get to Minden, Nevada from Julian, Pennsylvania. Take US 220 north, then I-80 west, then US 395 south.

The I-80 part is around 2,500 miles long.

Mike and I will haul his glider there behind a minivan. The glider comes apart and tucks into a narrow 35 foot long trailer, which is good since it has a wingspan of over eighty feet. We hope to make good time, maybe approaching the 40 hours Google Maps says the trip will take. There are three of us. We’ll drive in shifts.

You’ll be able to track the journey online, in real time.

The Contest

A Nationals soaring competition lasts ten days. If the weather is good on any particular day, the contest organizers will set a flying task requiring visits to a number of predefined waypoints. Nobody knows which waypoints will make up the task until an hour or two before flying starts, but the choices span an area about the size of Georgia, full of mountain peaks and desert valleys. Not many people live out here. It is arguably the best soaring country in the United States.

Tasks are usually 350 to 450 miles long and take about three and a half to four and a half hours to fly. Each flight demands on-the-spot decision making, planning, keen observations of landscape and weather, and basic seat-of-the-pants flying skill. Some contestants have better planes than our 3DM; others are armed with local knowledge. Some pilots will probably be better than Mike, some won’t. Luck is always a factor.

You’ll also be able to track contest flights as they occur, in real-time.

Return to Pennsylvania

We’d like to bring the glider back after the contest, so this is another long road trip. I’ll probably post more reflective articles around this time, unless I’m driving or sleeping. Both are pretty likely. This will be another one of those trackable journeys.

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