Quest Day 7

I just read the list and need to clear up a few comments I made. When Kari moved Rich’s glider, it was still in the bag. I don’t know if this makes it any nicer. Kari has thick skin from years of competition. My wife talked to her for a while and likes her. Most of the competitors have been extremely nice. Especially the top European rigid wing pilots. Even though their English in not that great, they will take the time to answer any of my questions. All of the pilots are very busy. I don’t bother anyone if it looks like they are busy. I have only seen a couple of assholes. When I am back home I might tell a few more stories.

As for the comment about slowing down in sink on the way to goal, I was flying over 60 mph, so I was at the far end of the polar. My total sink rate was over 800 fpm (600 for the glider and 200 was the air). I was quickly falling below my glide path to make goal. By slowing down to 45 or 50 (sink rate 500 fpm, glider 300, air 200), I was able to get back above the glide slope. If this thinking is incorrect, please let me know.

As Davis reported, there was a television crew out on the flight line two days ago. They got footage of me landing and came up to me while I was carrying my glider back and did a short interview. It went something like this: “Well, how does it feel?”, me “How does what feel”, reporter “flying hang gliders”, me “it feels great”, reporter “what’s it like to make goal?”, me “a hell of a lot better than landing out” etc. Luckily I had my helmet on so no one will recognize me.

The turbine tug has been flying every evening. I did not realize it when I first looked it over, but it has an in-flight adjustable prop, just like the big boys. It also has beta range, meaning it can reverse pitch. What this really means is it can back up while on the ground. Something to see: a tug backing up.

As for my slowing down in thermals, a couple of people warned me of the dangers of a spin. I am fully aware of them. I thought I reported that I would not fly like that out west. Here in Florida, I have not experienced any rough air. Maybe the lead gaggle smoothes it out before I get there ;-). I did have to slow down just before goal two days ago because of the trashy air just before Quest, but flying that fast, it does not take a lot to make it feel bumpy. I think back to my first flight at St. John (CA). I was going up at 1400 fpm on one side of the thermal and down at 1200 on the other. I got scared and left after only 3000’ of this. I asked some of the other Sonoma Wings pilots about it after I landed, and the common reply was, "You should have stayed, it smoothed out after another 3,000’". Now it just seems like a good day (true story, it was the St. John fly-in August of 1999, launch is 6,000’).

I placed 9th for the day in yesterday’s task. I passed most of the lead flex wing gaggle. Most of the pilots who made goal were in the gaggle a mile behind the lead gaggle.

The pilot’s meeting was more laughs and prizes. Cristoff, one of the Germans, flew the wrong task yesterday and had the best flight of his life. The task for today was Quest-Cheryl-Quest-474,33-Gator-Quest. The total distance was 70 miles. The committee wanted to keep the pilots close to Quest so we could all get back in time to have the awards tonight.

By 12:00 CU’s were in the sky and the first competitor towed. I towed at 12:15. I wanted to make sure I could get a good start. I found the rigid wing gaggle and about 15 of us all took the 1:15 start time. I was keeping up until the second thermal. It took me two 360’s to find the core, and by then all the top pilots were 1,000’ above me. I slowly fell behind.

I was flying alone again; I swore I would not do that. At several miles from the first turn point, I found a really good one that was 600 fpm+ all the way to 5,000’. I was able to glide all the way to the turn point and a few miles back. I saw a glider turning ahead of me and came into his thermal at about the same height. It was Davis. We worked two thermals together. He went on a really long glide. I was slightly behind and to his right.

Once again, I stumbled on another 600+ thermal. I was back above 4,800’. I lost sight of Davis. I spotted some gliders turning two miles ahead. I headed straight to them, but before I got there, they left; there was no lift there. I spotted them again to my left. They were really low. I came in over them at 1800’ AGL. There were five rigids below me and one above. We worked a lot of zero sink. After what seemed like twenty turns, I and the rigid above me spotted a bird climbing out to our right. We both headed over and found 400+.

We topped out above 4,000 feet and headed for Quest. The next thing I know I am in a thermal with Davis again, along with Ron Gleason and although I did not know it at the time, Mark P. (he was free flying the task). We worked together (with me mostly pimping) to the 474-33 turn point and back to Quest. I dropped behind again, but found a nice 600+ thermal all to myself. This put me on top (except for Christian and Alex who stayed 1,500’ above us all the way to goal).

I took the lead to the Gator turn point and found a thermal. The four of us worked together to about 4,300 then we went on glide. Just as we were passing Gator on the way to goal, Heiner came in over us, stinking high, got the turn point and took the lead. We were all flying as fast as we could to get to goal. We had a 10 mph head wind, but there was a lot of lift on the way back. My arms were aching from stuffing the bar. About ½ mile from goal, I realized that I was going to be under 100’ when I crossed. I had to slow down and fly with one hand to unzip, because I did not think I would have enough time to do it after I crossed goal.

Christian and Alex finished several minutes ahead of our group. Heiner finished two or three seconds before me and I was two or three in front of Ron. Davis was a couple of seconds behind Ron, and Mark P. a couple more seconds behind Davis. It was quite a finish. If no rigids took the last start time and burned up the course, I placed 4th for the day - Yahoo!!! I guess I can rub it in to Davis a little (today is the last day of the meet) that he got beat by a rookie big-air pilot, on a two year old Atos to boot. I was the sixth pilot to cross the goal; the Swifts were one and two. The first flex wings came in ten minutes behind us.

I owe much of my success the last couple of days to Ron Gleason and Rich Sauer. Ron told me how to fly my Atos in Florida (although he waited until I bombed and was not a contender J, and Rich taught me how to find these Florida thermals.

Rich had another string of bad luck. He was low most of the day, I mean really low, like 800’ low. He had many saves but finally had to land on the way back from the Cheryl turn point. It’s hard for me to be so happy and watch him land out.

I am posting this now and am going to go enjoy the festivities.

My vario trace, click on it for a larger version.

Some final thoughts.

The awards presentation was great. Stand-up Dave (Glover) was “on” last night. He told a story about his aero towing lesson with Bill Moyes that had me crying, I was laughing so hard. I hope someone recorded it on video. I was presented with the “Best new competitor” award. I received $100 and a nice plaque (suitable for hanging as Dave would say). I really appreciate the recognition. I was really trying hard to figure out how to be competitive in these comps. Only two pilots made goal on all seven days. It goes to show if you can make goal every day, you can do well.

Me and my award.

I found three things that are required to win. They may seem obvious, but before I came here I did not realize how much.

1>        You need a good start
2>        You have to be able to find the good thermals
3>        You have to be able to work the thermals to the max.

If you have a bad start, it is almost impossible to catch up. These pilots fly really fast and don’t waste much time.

You can try to pimp your way around the course, but at some point you will come in low, the thermal will be gone, and you will be on your own. It took my talking to a lot of pilots to figure out where to find the thermals (I am still not very good at this).

I thought I was pretty good at thermaling. Then on one of the first tasks, I was in my thermal doing great (or so I thought) when the lead flex wing gaggle joined me from below, and in a few minutes climbed up through me and were gone, no hello, no goodbye, no kiss, just left me standing at the door. Boy was that a wake up call. I finally learned how to thermal the last three days of Quest. The only pilots I was unable to climb up to were Alex and Christian. Too bad I don’t have the chance to study them more. I was very frustrated at the end of the Wallaby. I was trying my hardest and could not figure out what I was doing wrong. I was not having much fun until things started to click. Now I’m sorry it’s over.

It is worth it, at least once, to enter one of these comps, just to see how you stack up and where your weaknesses lie. Flying against the best in the world is a very good lesson.

I finally made the OZ report after two weeks here:
“Twenty minutes after coming in low, I’m up to 4,000’ and on my way to Quest with Curt, Paris, Ron Gleason, and some other ATOS'.”
I was one of those ATOS'. I guess he could not see me the last 30 miles in the same thermal 30’ away. And for the last 14 miles (from Quest to Gator and back) he could not see my number from behind. Looking at my down-loaded barograph, I was never below 1,900’ for the task. Three flex wing pilots had faster times than me; they took the last start time.

Some stats for the two weeks I was here: My GPS trip log says I flew 1,596 miles (this includes circling in thermals); My vario totaled 39 hours and 6 minutes of air time; I climbed 322,281 feet; I made goal 5 times; My highest ground speed was 85 mph.; my best climb (5 second average) was 800 fpm. Total tows: 11, lifetime 18. Weak link breaks: 0. Re-tows: 0. Times caught my privates in my zipper: 0. Beat Davis: twice. Motrin consumed: 24. Downtubes broken: 0. Injuries: 0.

We made the trek over to Wallaby today to repair my crate and get the glider ready for shipment. Rich had to crate 3 gliders for Rich Burton. I figured that since I was not going to be in the sun very much today, I would forgo the sun screen. Oops! Fixing the crate took longer than I thought and I got my first Florida sunburn.

Malcolm has been extremely helpful in receiving and shipping my glider. He goes out of his way to help us pilots. I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to know everyone's name, and there were almost 100 pilots here for his comp. I can’t thank him enough.

Both Wallaby and Quest have been great places to fly. They seem different in personality, but I can’t say which is better. I think each pilot will have to make a choice (or not) as to which place better suits them. If you are planning a trip to Florida to fly, I would suggest flying at both parks.

Death gaggles: they were not as bad as I was told they could be. Flying in them was a Zen-like experience. As I was going around I would be aware of the pilots around me, but at the same time I'd be feeling the air and trying to adjust my position without cutting off other pilots. I don’t know if I ever cut anyone off, no one ever said anything to me. Tish did give me the finger once on glide. I wanted to go to my left (where she was) and she wanted to go to her right (where I was). Of course she did not want to change her glide. I figured in a minute she would be below me and I would cross over her. I was willing to wait. She did not want to wait that long.

The Exxtacy sucks as a comp. glider. It climbs well, but drops like a stone on glide. Same can be said for the La Mouette Top Secret. If not for Andy’s exceptional ability, that glider would be at the back of the pack. The Atos-C is not the next generation glider after the Atos; it is just a very small step. What the German pilots liked most about it was not the performance, but the lack of slop in the control frame, which gave them better handling on landing.

The cost: Kevin is correct when he talks about the high cost to come to these meets, especially if one has to travel a long distance. I do not get vacation time and neither does my wife. If I factor in lost wages (the bills don’t stop just because I’m not there), the total cost is above $7,000. This does not include the cost of the equipment necessary to be competitive. If I lived close enough to drive, camped out, didn't need a rental car etc, and got vacation pay, my cost would have been closer to $1,200. I worked 250 hours of overtime last year to save up the money and come here and compete. In comparison, for me to go to King for a week probably cost $3,500.

One of the pilots mentioned to me the cost of the gliders and tugs over Quest just after they had all towed up. It worked out to $1,825,000 for 85 flex wings, 25 rigids, 21 tugs/trikes and all their equipment, harnesses, etc.

Most of the pilots/gliders I saw were trying to be competitive with very few round base tubes, draggy harnesses, etc. All the effort to clean up the drag would not make much difference on a normal XC flight, but at the speeds you need to fly to keep up (I typically flew 38 to 40 mph between thermals), drag becomes very important.

I felt very uncomfortable for the first week flying in Florida. There were no mountains to help me determine the direction I was flying. I soon learned the major roads around here and used my GPS more to determine direction. Driving around, it looked like there were very few landable LZ’s. After that first week, I never worried about LZ’s; they always seemed to be around when I needed one, though I was very careful about swamps, forests, locked gates etc. My glider seems to float more in this thick air than what I am used to, therefore I have been using up more ground on landing than I like. I still had to bundle up to fly. I wore a T-shirt, heavy alpaca sweater, XC skiing jacket, balaclava, and insulated gloves. The heat was comfortable, and the humidity bearable. It never got hot enough to wear shorts.

It was nice to meet so many pilots that I know only from the list. One of the best pilots I know of is Mark Poustinchian; he is also one of the nicest people I have ever met. I want to thank him and Samantha for letting me use their phone line all last week, and letting my wife entertain Oscar, the parrot. I hope to see many of you out west this summer. See you at launch and in the air.

Vince