Day 2 at Montague: wet skies, dry lakes

Prevailing weather over Northern California remained moist today, and a few moments of morning sun congealed the damp skies into a lumpy overcast. Despite some clearing in the late afternoon, contest flying was scratched for a second day. So, let’s look at some more photos and videos…

Life would be more exciting if more of our cars, appliances, and other durable goods could sprout a jet engine:

The glider is Steve Nichols’s JS-1C Revelation, a recent South African design that performed well in the last world championships. If Steve ever experiences a revelation along the lines of “I’m not going to be able glide back to the airport”, he can pop out this “sustainer” engine to bid against landing in a field. I say “bid” because even with a motor, your odds of climbing away from a tough spot are never 100%. The engine could fail to start, local sink could be overpowering, you might have forgotten to add enough fuel, and so on. Wise pilots never wait until the engine is the only resort.

Still, a jet engine is a promising new option. Jets are lightweight, sturdy, and fairly simple (not in design or manufacture, admittedly) since there are only a few moving parts. The JS-1C’s engine is computer controlled, mostly, so there’s not much to do besides twist a volume-sized panel knob for the throttle. By contrast, extending and starting the stalk-mounted, propeller-slinging two-stroke Rotax 535c in JOY requires a lively and athletic manipulation of switches and knobs.

Another promising development are electric planes like the Antares 20E, which self-launches with the help of large battery packs in the wings powering a small electric motor on a retractable mast. There are two in the open class contest, belonging to Dave Nadler and Richard VanGrunsven. These systems really only have one moving part, and—bonus—sound a bit like the car from the Jetsons when they taxi.


We were pretty sure we weren’t flying today, but we also didn’t expect much rain. When we saw the contest’s weatherman putting his own glider together, we went ahead and re-rigged JOY:

Mike re-attaches control pushrods while reassembling JOY

Mike re-attaches control pushrods while reassembling JOY. Don’t let the sun fool you: this image comes from before the clouds blotted out the sky.

A little later, I walked a short distance along the ramp and met Daniel Sahzin and Bill Thar next to their DuckHawk. Daniel is racing Bill’s glider in the 15-meter class and, incidentally, is easily several decades younger than nearly all pilots in either contest. The DuckHawk is also renowned for being outside the norm: its extra-strong construction permits flight at 200 knots, a speed that would likely lead to structural failure in most of the other contestants’ ships. We will see what competitive advantage this brings as the contest days continue.

It was very kind of Daniel and Bill to let me check out the view from inside:

View from inside a DuckHawk

In thanks, here is a candid (i.e. not staged) snapshot of Bill adopting a somewhat visionary aspect at the nose of his airplane. I think it’s a nice photo; too bad about my shabby sneakers.

Bill Thar and DuckHawk

The DuckHawk from outside:

BT the DuckHawk

Before too long, the contest director announced there would be no task for the day:

The announcement: the third contest day is scrubbed

The announcement: the third contest day is scrubbed

Mike and I joined Open Class contestant Rick Walters, tow pilot Ben Mayes, and <TBA—with apologies, I’ve forgotten your name!> on a day trip to severely-depleted Shasta Lake, where the receding waterline has revealed some 40 vertical feet of barren shore.

Low water at Shasta Lake

Low water at Shasta Lake

Still, there was enough room for Mike to try wakeboarding. He was a pretty quick study—I think this was his eighth run:

Here’s hoping that the next post will describe some actual flying…

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