Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Team Challenge - Day 6 and 7

A strong gusty wind on Friday, day 6, kept everyone on the ground attending seminars, including one I lead.  We enjoyed a catered barbecue dinner and "mostly" enjoyed karaoke afterwards.  ;-)

The day was cancelled early on Saturday but a few people flew mid-afternoon during an unexpected lull.  We watched three pilots launch as we returned from lunch at the Cookie Jar Cafe.  We arrived in time to watch Cliff move to launch and get trashed around on the ramp by over-the-top wind gusts.  Ollie closed launch shortly afterwards.

Just before sunset, as the party was about to begin, our driver Pete wanted to know what I thought of the conditions.  The increasing cloud cover and setting sun allowed a wind gradient to develop, making it safe to play along the ridge.

After a quick consult with Ollie, we (Eric, Randy, and me) launched Pete and then Cliff. Sharon was kind to fetch the late flyers and bring them back for the dinner and party.


I ate, listened and danced to a band, and talked around the bonfire before saying goodbye and hopping into the car around 11:30 PM for the long drive back to Massachusetts with Randy.

I was disappointed we only had one task, but, as always, I learned a lot, caught up with many old friends, made a few new ones, and left eager to try the things I learned.  If you are new to XC flying or want to step up your game, there's no way you can lose by going to the Team Challenge.

Team Challenge - Day 5

We finally had good weather on Thursday as the tightly-wound low pressure over the central plains finally dissipated.  The winds slowly increased to brisk, but useable, speeds by early afternoon.  Cloud streets intersected the ridge about 20 degrees to the right of perpendicular.

"Look, birds climbing!"
The tasks where

  • "C" pilots, south along the ridge to Dr. Dale's airfield
  • "B" pilots, south along the ridge to a water tower on the ridge near Dr. Dale's and back north to the Henson's LZ
  • "A" pilots, south along the ridge to the water tower, back north to Buck's Knob north of Henson's and back south to Dr. Dale's

Mike and John

The New England team launched as a group and soon were above the ridge to the south.  We were the first team soaring the ridge, but the hillside was soon decorated with dozens of bobbing gliders.  It took a bit of effort to transition from ridge soaring to thermal climbing; we had to avoid drifting too far behind the ridge while climbing.

As expected we had minor "first day jitters" and radio issues, but soon settled into the day.  Ross moved south on course while John and I climbed north of launch. Stacy and Nick boated in ridge lift south of launch looking for a thermal.  John took his altitude and moved on, while I circled down to fly with Stacy.

We positioned ourselves where the cloud streets intersected the ridge to improve of our odds of finding a thermal so we could climb and easily cross the gaps to the south.  I wasn't much help; I couldn't get Nick, Stacy, and myself in the right spot at the right time.  Since we couldn't get high, I recommended we move to the edge of the first gap where I noticed gliders climbing.  Nick locked into a climb but Stacy was still trapped on the ridge.  After some floundering, I had to cross the gap to avoid landing and left Stacy to fend for herself.  She was sliding into the valley when she found a climb and slowly worked her way back up.  Great going Stacy!  I found a strong climb on a short section of ridge between two large gaps and decided to grab the water tower turn point with Nick as Stacy climbed with several gliders.

Ross had reached the water tower long before us, but landed at Dr. Dale's shortly afterwards.  Nick and I easily got the turn point and briefly searched for a climb that would allow us to comfortably cross back over the gaps.  Not wanting to linger, I left to help Stacy assuming Nick was following.  By the time I reached Stacy, she was heading into the valley to land with several other pilots.  Although it would have been great if Stacy reached her goal field, she did an outstanding job on her first XC flight and out landing.  Congratulations!

John landed on the way south, so that only left Nick and me in the air.  Nick wasn't there when I turned around and I discovered he was still at the water tower a few miles behind.  I debated whether go back.  Since Nick was flying well and he would have an easy glide into goal if he made it across the gaps, I decided to complete my task before the day shut down.

I quickly reached Henson's where I used three thermals to position myself at cloud base far into the valley.  I had a crossing downwind glide to the northern turn point at Bucks Knob.  Bucks Knob is a point surrounded by trees upwind of the a diminished ridge line.  I was happy to snag the turn point near cloud base, unlike the gaggle of pilots drifting across the tree-covered plateau downwind of the turn point.  I had goal on glide after another climb south of the Henson's but wasn't sure I wanted to land there when Stacy told me they didn't have a ride yet.  (With the team's blessing, Megan, one of our team's two drivers, joined another team after one of their pilots left.  Megan had her first XC and out-landing near Stacy.  Congratulations Megan!)

I thought I could find a ride more easily if I landed at Henson's Gap.  Instead of gliding directly into goal like Ollie did, I searched for a climb along the ridge that would allow me to get high enough to tag the goal at Dr. Dale's in the valley and fly back to the ridge.  I searched the ridge with Jeff but had to leave so I could land at goal.  I was about 1/3 of the way there when I looked back and saw Jeff climbing.  I was risking points for the team, but turned around and flew in under him.  We bounced around in a partially formed thermal and slowly climbed.  Part way through the climb, Jeff strayed too far upwind and lost several hundred feet in under a minute.  I continued climbing and drifting away as Jeff headed out to land.  Bummer.  The climb was weak and getting weaker.  The day was dying.  I easily had goal, but probably not enough to get back to the ridge high enough to fly back to Henson's Gap.  I announced I was going to land at Dr. Dale's.

Although I didn't climb, the glide over the plateau and into the valley was kind.  I reached goal at ridge height.  Um.  If I had the same glide back to the ridge, I might be able to stay up.  If I didn't, I would be landing out and would sacrifice points by not landing in a designated goal field.  I couldn't resist.  I turned around and flew back arriving just below the top.  The ridge offered up gentle lift that allowed me to very slowly climb over the top and float back to the launch at Henson's and then into the designated LZ at Henson's Gap.

Launch at Henson's Gap

Floating around launch

Although I enjoyed the flying, I was disappointed in my performance as a team leader.  I've done this before with better results.  I was lucky to break down next to Mike Barber.  He offered advice and shared his struggles with teaching XC flying skills.  I think I learned a lot and that is what the Team Challenge is all about.

Flights: 1, Duration: 4:02, Distance: 44.8 miles