Day 3 at Montague

A tough flight for JOY on the second official contest day. We learned a lot.

Picking up JOY at the end of Day 3

Picking up JOY at the end of Day 3

No, it’s wasn’t quite as tough as the picture makes it seem. We didn’t land in a field; instead, that’s the side of the gravel secondary runway at the contest airport.

The weatherman served a somewhat dour forecast this morning: weak thermals to 8,500′ or maybe 9,000′ or so—this in comparison to the 12,500′ we reached on the first official contest day. High altitude is gas in the tank for sailplanes, and having that energy in abundance means speed and distance. The air is cooler, the view is better, and the cannula puffs out reassuring, cool oxygen with every breath—a little “atta boy” right up the nose. By contrast, struggling along atop weak thermals, low and close to mountaintops, is slow, sweaty work.

Contests don’t just fly on the good days, though. If it’s soarable, you go. The gliders assembled for launch:

and pilots waited their turns in informal conferences:

Attendees (L to R): Mike Robison, Pete Alexander, and Rick Walters

Attendees (L to R): Mike Robison, Pete Alexander, and Rick Walters

With the iffy forecast, the task committee set a MAT task (review) with just two turnpoints and a minimum time of two hours (very short): another survival mission in the valley next door to the airport.

But launch reveals stronger conditions than anticipated! JOY climbs rapidly to the top of the start cylinder (a volume in which all gliders must begin the day’s task) in the company of about a dozen other ships. The MAT task is extended by 30 minutes.

Here’s a glider I spotted with the help of my head-mounted computer:

(The red arrow isn't part of the Glass display)

(The red arrow isn’t part of the Glass display)

In reality, there were many more ships nearby; my Glass app displays only the nearest one. A display program running on an Android phone shows how the area was a hive of gliders:

Each dart icon is another glider.

Each dart icon is another glider

Having arrived so readily at the start, Mike and I still had to wait for the contest director (CD) to open the task—figuratively lifting the gate for gliders to begin racing. We decided to pass the time with a quick sneak peek along our course, sniffing out lift to use once the CD let us go.

But then, we fell out. A couple thousand feet lower, we struggled to pull ourselves back up to where we had been before. We heard nearly all of the other open class ships announce their starts on the radio, and by the time we were underway, it was twenty minutes later. This was a psychological blow at the least, and, we later learned, a tactical setback. The strong winds present that day were very gradually wearing down the good lift. The time to start had been sooner, not later.

We rounded the first turnpoint, a rocky outcrop called Duzel:

then northeastward, eventually slipping into Oregon and tagging a radar facility south of Klamath Falls:

Radar Installation turnpoint

We saw other gliders from time to time, even circling with some of them:

But few were going the same way we were. We couldn’t really shake the feeling that we’d missed the hunt.

On a hunch, we returned to the general area of the start. The clouds were gone; the weatherman had told us to expect that much. We thought lift would still be there. It was, in bubbles, shards, and narrow columns. Sink was abundant, too. Struggling for altitude in this area cost us precious time.

At one point we had to dodge a… crew relief receptacle jettisoned from another ship. Seemed fitting enough for the day:

Pee bag

Click to zoom in if, uh, you want…

We eventually plopped back into the Shasta Valley amidst more sink, nabbed a few easy turnpoints:

and that would be it for the day. Our showing was not as well as we would have preferred: we wound up in the back of the peloton.

Reflection and conversation with other pilots back on the ground yielded some valuable lessons. Strong winds erode thermals in the western US. Be flexible: change flying strategies to accommodate weaker lift later in the day. Know the influence of coastal air flowing inland on lift generation. And so on.

We overheard that it takes 20 years to learn how to really soar proficiently in the California-Oregon border region. There is still time and opportunity for JOY.  Six more contest days remain. Stay tuned.

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