Day -2 at Minden

Yesterday’s strong winds have been replaced with middling conditions—perhaps more reminiscent of Pennsylvania than the west coast. Still, it’s an official practice day, the first of two, and much of the field takes to the air. Before that, Mike spends most of the morning putting an oxygen system in JOY and finishing the installation of new LiFePO4 batteries in the nose. These batteries have slightly higher capacity than the lead acid batteries they replaced, but nearly half the weight.

With these chores mostly done, Mike completes some exciting registration paperwork. The envelope at his left hand contains two complimentary passes to a local hot springs spa, a perquisite of contest participation.

Mike registers for the 2012 US Open Class Nationals

It gets more interesting than batteries and paperwork…

JOY on the ramp at Minden on Practice Day 1

Here is JOY rigged on the ramp at the Minden airport, with engine deployed—Mike had been adjusting the carburetor to suit the higher altitudes here. Adjustments made, JOY is ready for her first flight at Minden, at least with Mike at the controls. This time, Mike’s brother Joe will fly in the rear seat while I spend my time puttering around the SoaringNV hangar, trying to avoid trouble and look seemly. I think I pull it off in the end.

You may wonder why JOY’s wings have to be supported by tripods. Like most sailplanes, the only landing gear wheels are just along the centerline, and even these are supplied grudgingly as a concession to the pilots who wish to land their planes someday. When they do, their gliders eventually tip onto one wingtip or another, as Steve McQueen showed us in the original Thomas Crown Affair. JOY’s wings are on stands while we work so that gusts won’t lift them and rock the plane from side to side.

A corollary of this gear arrangement is that when we want to wheel JOY anywhere, we have to have somebody out on the wingtip keeping the wings level. (Or a stand with a wheel, but we don’t have one.) There is a lot of wheeling to do, since today, today only, JOY will take off under her own power, and she’s getting all the runway Minden has to offer. JOY may have lots of wing, but she also has lots of weight, and the motor doesn’t have lots of oompf. There is a fresh breeze out of the north that will help, so we head off down toward the end of Runway 36, towing JOY behind a golf cart. I film from a trailing vehicle in the procession: the result contains shaky video and some light comedy.

Even standing still, it’s good to keep a hand on the wing to keep the glider from moving unexpectedly. Note, in the following, a hand:

Steadying JOY in the wind during practice day 1

A few moments later, JOY is ready for departure. Motor running, she taxis onto the runway (with me on the wingtip), and soon Mike advances the throttle and she begins the takeoff roll. It is a… stately sight. JOY takes a while to get speed, and a while longer to get off the ground. The wings gradually flex upwards, the tailwheel lifts first, then the main wheel. The runway heat is rippling the image of the plane before it begins to rise up into the blue sky over Tahoe.

The following timeline complets the story for the day:

3:15 PM PDT:┬áMike is flying JOY with his brother in the rear seat right now! Check the SPOT link to track them in the air…

6:30 PM PDT (or so): The R. brothers are back on the ground after a 50-or-so mile flight that took them down to Coleville, CA, south of Topaz Lake. Good job, guys! SoaringNV rolls out the snack table to celebrate the official start of contest events.

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