Thursday, March 30, 2017

Green Swamp Sports Klassic 2017 - Task Five

Morning or Day 5
Day five of the competition brought stronger south winds that were supposed to turn more west later in the day. The task committee decided not to get too creative and just repeat task from previous day - Quest to Leeward Air Ranch. Same task but potentially much faster.

Tom and I discussed what I've done not optimally on that route, so I was very excited to try and fix it. An opportunity like that was a nice gift.

Our team was second in line. Jeff launched first, and I a few minutes later.
Jeff Curtis ready to take off
Launch director, Spinner, running along with the cart on take off

With winds 10+mph it was a bumpy ride. We rolled through strong lift, but I decided not to pin off, and get everything a tug pilot would give me.

He finally waved me off, and I went up like a rocket - solid 500 fpm.
Lucky climb. First team to launch (seen below) wasn't as lucky.

6 minutes later I was in the wispies, radioed that I was going on course, and set on a long glide to the next cloud.

Initial climb is done. Ready to race. 
After a few clouds lined up for me without need to take a detour, I started to think of going for time. I was racing! I would leave climbs as they were getting softer, without waiting to get all the way to the cloudbase.

This time around, I also went over the villages. This option that seemed a bit intimidating yesterday was just fine today.  When I approached that junction, I could see that there were actually LZs I could use. And a few clouds were forming over the housing development anyway. I recharged a few times flying over that town, never getting low.
Recharging over the villages
On the last leg, I freaked out a bit and stopped to recharge even though I had plenty of altitude, losing some time. It wasn't necessary as I arrived at the goal with 3k altitude to spare. Actually, for the last 3 miles I had the bar to my knees and was I still going up. Ama-freaking-azing!

Flying fast
I arrived first, flew around for a bit trying to lose altitude. It required some effort. I could have easily flown farther than the task called for.
Monkeying around... because I can...

A U2 pilot beat my time by 2 minutes, but with 6% handicap that sport2s get, I still won the day. Felt good. It didn't improve my comp standing all that much, but hey, cannot get it all, right?


Jeff also made the goal, and because he was very consistent he moved into first place in the comp. Day 6 is blown out, so we probably have only one task left. Jeff has real shot at keeping his first place. Congratulations, Jeff! A job well done.

Task results:

Comp results:

Recording of my flight:

Green Sport Landed
Goal gets filled in.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Green Swamp Sports Klassic 2017 - Task Four

After a nice flight a day before, I was more relaxed and ready to enjoy a new day. It didn't matter much how it would turn out. I now got an idea how mentoring worked for me. I was going to report my position, if it was relevant to the group, and I was going to take route suggestions from the mentor, if we got to that point. Otherwise, I was going to fly my flight, my pace, filtering everything else out.

The task was set to fly to a private airstrip - Leeward Air Ranch. No other waypoints - just a straight line between Quest and the goal.

Team One on launch. John Blank is taking off in front of me.
On tow to yummy looking clouds
We launched, and got the whole team into one thermal. Michael directed us a few times trying to get the whole team to leave at the same time. We switched thermal a couple of times, and eventually, Jeff and I were at the cloudbase.

Going up!
Michael is joining the fun
Banking hard into a thermal. Jeff Curtis a few hundred feet higher.
Jeff reported that he was going on course, and he set on a glide (he was higher than I was). I made a few more circles to maximize my altitude before leaving.
At the top. Time to leave.
As soon as I felt there was nothing else to gain here, I went on course as well. Michael stayed behind to help the rest of the team.

I was about a mile behind Jeff and saw him flying into big sink. I looked at the sky in front of us, it seemed like a good idea to change my glide a bit to get to a different cloud. I lost sight of Jeff after that.

15 minutes later, we all reported our position, and I made a slightly better progress toward the goal. Jeff turned off-course to find a climb and was low. I was pretty low as well... I actually was ready to land. There was a big field across the prisons. I was about 1000' AGL at the end of my glide. I unzipped the harness - started boxing the field, but still making a last ditch effort to find any air that wasn't going down.
Low next to prisons/construction area.
I flew along the road to an intersection (thinking about ease of retrieve), as I finally felt air pushing up. 10' up - gentle circle, 20' up... 30'. After a few circles, broken, weak lift started to get more organized, and I was able to complete a few full circles in lift. I started thinking I could save it. As I approached 2000 MSL, I saw another glider going through my weak thermal but continuing farther over the construction area - hitting some faster raising air in the process. I moved over in the same direction and went up faster as well. Phew! I saved it. Now I had a chance to beat my personal best for distance. Ha! Each day was getting better and better!

Very soon I was approaching cloudbase, but not quite making it all the way to the top. A low save was still fresh in my mind, and I wasn't pressing on. Also, there was a choice to make - huge blue hole if I go straight toward goal; a close line of clouds to the left way off-course but with many LZs; a farther looking line of clouds to the right going over dense housing development with no visible LZs from my vantage point. Decisions, decisions.

Other gliders started to show up in my thermal. Pete (our first day mentor) and his group started circling around me. I thought following Pete to see what decision he makes, but he wasn't going anywhere, just circling around. I figured he was waiting for the rest of his team.
Then Tom and his flock showed up. This place was getting too crowded, and I also realized I was just wasting time. It was time to leave. I was on my own and I had to make my own damn decision. Be brave, eh?

I went with a lots of LZs and closer clouds option. Tom later told me that one of his mentees was about to follow me, and Tom radioed - "Don't follow that green glider". I wish I was on that frequency! Apparently my decision wasn't optimal.
Time to leave
And so I was pretty much flying alone. Only after 20 minutes or so, another glider caught up with me, apparently making the same decision. This glider rushed through my weak thermal and went on a glide to the turnpike truck stop. When I got there I was plenty high but saw that other glider very low. Oh well, sometimes it is better to wait, I guess.

Other glider joining my weak thermal close to turnpike
Going toward truck stop

After I topped out thermal over the truck stop, my instrument started showing that I might be able to make the goal. I set on a final glide.
On a final glide
I had to stop one more time to recharge for another 300 feet, just to be safe. And I arrived to the goal with 800' to spare. Not optimal, but safe decision.

On final glide. Checking my instrument for L/D progress toward goal.
I finally made a goal! I beat all my personal bests in the process, too! 63.5 km, or 39.5 miles. I actually flew for 78km with all the detours I had to take.

Fast thermals, slow thermals, low save, good decisions, bad decisions - all 3 hours of it. It was awesome! (my course time was 2h35min, but total flight time 3 hours)

I didn't really race,  just tried to get to the destination for once. My result for the day wasn't great - 8th. That 90 degrees detour I took, cost me plenty of time. But it didn't matter, I was happy as a clam.

One more note about NOT racing, - when I was just a few km away from the goal, Jeff radioed that he had the goal on glide... My non-existent racing mode immediately switched itself on. I checked my vario and it told me I had a glide with a small margin. I started racing, gliding as fast as I could. Made it to the goal 2 minutes before Jeff :-)

Many people made goal this day, so it didn't improve my competition standings, but I already got what I came for. The icing on the cake was that I completed the flight on my own from start to finish. Michael actually landed out while helping other team members...

Tom Lanning posing for a photo in goal

Day results:

Anyway, I had an awesome flying day. My best flight to date so far! A lot more to learn, a lot more to practice.

Flight stats/tracks:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Green Swamp Sports Klassic 2017 - Task Three

After a second disappointing day, I was determined to fix it. I wasn't sure how, but I gotta do it. Well, at least I would integrate thermalling suggestions that I got from day before.

Our team in setup area
We launched and I got established in a nice thermal. At least I thought so. But it took me to 3500 feet, and then it turned into zero. Jeff Curtis had a better luck elsewhere, he soon was at cloudbase and went on course.

Meanwhile, everyone else, including other teams, joined me. Our new mentor, Michael, as well. He directed us a few times trying to optimize the climb, but we couldn't punch through 4k. I remained on the top of that gaggle.
Michael joining thermal below

Our mentor, flying topless glider, went exploring farther away, and he found 600 fpm thermal. He called to join him there.

Since I was at the top, I figured I might be able to reach it. The truth was, if I didn't get that radio call - I wouldn't have went. Use the force, Luke!

And, predictably, I didn't make it into that thermal. As I was on a glide, I saw Michael going up like a rocket, but I wasn't even half way there. Too late to the party...

And, just like a day before, I was presented with a choice - keep exploring farther away (clouds too far for me to glide to at that altitude), or go back.

I looked back,  and the airport was still in my reach. I opted for that. I'd rather try again from higher altitude. While gliding to the airport, I got under my old gaggle - not a beep. Sigh. Over the airport - there was plenty of thermal activity, and I played with it for a few minutes, hoping to get out on my own. It didn't happen.
Circling low over Quest
I landed in a few minutes. Turned my radio off as that chatter wasn't relevant to me anymore. Another tow. Another scratching at 3k. And suddenly I realized that I enjoyed this flight way more. I was on my own. I wasn't rushed or distracted by all that radio noise. I started flying much better.

After an hour and 30 min, a couple of trips to cloudbase, one low save, and 16 miles - my patience finally disappeared, and I went for something that wasn't there. There was a big overdeveloped area farther south. I was a bit too low to look for anything there, but I went anyway. At least I registered that I was making this mistake while I was making it... Progress, right?

Then just for fun of it I picked a very questionable lz. Landed ok.

Where is he going to land?
Not a very prudent decision. I promise not to do that on purpose anymore... maybe.... Anyway, it was a most fun day in the comp so far.
A few discussion with mentors definitely improved my flying. Just a tiny bit. I didn't enjoy competition part all that much, and wasn't not doing well points wise, but flying with a purpose was pretty cool.
Here is a video of my landing

Monday, March 27, 2017

Green Swamp Sports Klassic 2017 - Task Two

Day two was starting pretty much the same as day one. Early lazy morning. Natalia and I went for a breakfast to a local restaurant, and were back to Quest before 9am, leaving enough time to setup the glider before pilots meeting at 11am.
Set up and ready to fly

My anxiety was dramatically reduced after day one, but it wasn't completely gone. I needed a few more launches to get into the groove (note to self: if I do a comp event again, I should come a couple of days earlier for practice runs). Plus, my poor performance of day one was still fresh in my mind. Not from points perspective, but from self-reflection - it went wrong somewhere for me, and I still had no idea how to fix it. I got no in-the-air help, and I felt that this kind of help wouldn't really work for me. I just couldn't see how someone would be able to tell me what to do in the air. Things happen too fast, and I am the one that has to make the decision anyway...

Eventually it was time to launch and put all those self-reflecting thoughts aside.

Launch went ok, and I got dropped in a decent thermal. I started circling left (my preferred direction), and realized it was a right-turn day (everyone should turn right inside of the start circle). While changing the direction, my teammates were climbing through me. I turned around, and couldn't climb as high as they were. After a few circles, I got frustrated. I couldn't figure out why it wasn't working for me. Thing was, there was no rush to start flying to the goal in this particular competition as my time starts when I cross the start circle - 3 kilometers radius. But instead of waiting and looking for better lift, I went after my teammates from much lower altitude. I saw a few gliders circling a mile away, much higher than me, and I started chasing from below. It's never a good idea as lift can be long gone by the time you get there.

Impulsive and stupid decision. It was just one glide, and I landed in a field a few kilometers away. A very short XC.

While I was on my terminal glide, Richard radioed that he was at cloudbase and he was starting on course. As I landed and carried my glider toward the edge of the field, I heard someone landing behind me. I looked over - it was Richard. I was very surprised. Apparently he got into the same sink as I did, and even though he had another 1500 feet over me, it didn't help much. I guess, things can go wrong quickly no matter your altitude...
I felt like I needed to take a step back and figure out what was happening. I was pretty confident in my thermaling skills, and I wasn't happy they failed to deliver. There was something else at play - my head wasn't in the game, I guess.

In the evening, I talked to our next day mentor Michael Williams. We discussed thermaling techniques. Especially, for broken lift with small strong cores. Always good to get a different perspective on what can be improved. Tomorrow is another day... We'll fly again.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Green Swamp Sports Klassic 2017 - Task One

For sometime now I wanted to try competition flying. Not so much for competition itself, but to have a target to fly to, some kind of measure of progress, and people to help me figure out how all that is done.

I originally wanted to go to ECC (East Cost Championship), but that got terminated together with Highland Aerosports that was running it. Then I learned about Green Swamp Sports Klassic that was twice as far, but still reachable in one day of driving. Plus, I've already flown at Quest Air a few times. 

And so I decided to give it a try. It was going to be at the end of March. Florida has pretty good flying weather this time of year.... and it is not super hot yet either. Natalia went with me, and graciously agreed to retrieve me when I needed it. 
Driving to Florida

I didn't know what to expect exactly. Not knowing rules of the game, I was a bit anxious. But the atmosphere was pretty laid back, and from morning to launch I had plenty of time to do everything without rushing.  

At Quest. Camp Skymax.

The way this event is organised is that all participants are split into teams, and each team is assigned a mentor. Each team is assigned a radio frequency, and mentor then provides in-flight guidance - whatever each team member needs help with.

From points in the competition, the teams are not really teams - each participant is scored separately. So team members do compete against each other, but then again, this competition is not a part of larger Hang Gliding championship, so if points all you care about - these ones don't go anywhere else.

I wasn't too concerned about points, I just wanted to get my flying to the next level. For a year I got stuck in that 1-2 thermal mode that would get me to 10-15 miles range. I wanted to break that loop. 

By the way, any type of glider is welcome in this training competition, but you will have either a penalty or handicap comparing to a baseline sport class glider that is WW U2). Since I was flying a WW Sport 2 - I got 6% handicap.

Also, the cost of this competition is really low comparing to "real" ones, - you pay a small entry fee, you pay for tows ahead of time, and you take care of your own retrieve. There were a few people doing retrieve for a small per-pickup fee. 

Flying the course part is pretty straight forward, but does require an instrument with GPS and ability to set waypoints. I bought Flytec Element last year. It is a very basic competition vario. It doesn't have sophistication of more advanced models (like route optimization, speeds to fly, etc), but it get the job done. It beeps, points to the right direction, and plays happy music when you reach the waypoint.  

So, with organisational details out of the way, how was my first day?

It was pretty good, but not better than all my XC flying I've done last year. 

I was dropped in a good thermal, and got to the cloudbase pretty quick. One of my teammates (Richard) was already there. He radioed that he was going on course. OK, I guess, I was going, too.

We hit pretty significant sink, and Richard turned 90 degrees off the course line. Hm... I figured, I'd keep going. There was a chance I would lose altitude either way. But there was a chance another thermal was ahead of us.

A few minutes later, I was at 2K MSL, and when I looked back, Richard was doing much better, he was in a climb. Damn! I should pay more attention where the clouds are, I guess.

I didn't give up. I found broken, weak lift, and started working it. Being rather rusty (I haven't flown for the last 3 months), I kept losing those elusive upward air streams. But I kept flying... I saw a highway going in downwind direction, I instinctively started flying along this road. It kept me afloat for a few kilometers (all competition distances are in kilometers, but hang glider pilots in US still measure lift in foot per minute... it's as confusing as it gets).

While flying along the road, I noticed that waypoint arrow was slowly moving to 90 degrees. I wasn't flying toward my target. Without any additional information or experience, turning now was as good as ever, and started flying crosswind toward the turnpoint. 

I didn't make it too far. Another weak thermal, another glide, and I was on a ground. Right next to a pilot from another team (Sara Weaver).

One of the local residents came out to greet us. He was very friendly. We chatted for a bit, and then he helped Sara to move her glider from the far end of the field (she landed far from the road).

So it was a pretty good XC day. Flight time 1 hour.

What about mentored part of competition? I wasn't sure how that would work when I signed up. And aside from one thermal location broadcasted on team's radio, I didn't get any decision making tips,  so I flew the way I knew how, and got similar results. 

We discussed my flight with my mentor in the evening, and he gave me a few good pointers on how the day went, and decision process for the conditions. I guess, this is the way mentoring would work for me, but I was still willing to give it another try the next day. Maybe I'll get some in-the-air help.