Friday, July 12, 2013

Notes on yesterday

Just a few notes to explain the anxiety that you probably noted in my last post yesterday and that pervaded over the field during the arrivals and "finish" yesterday: It is not evident from the daily score sheet, but only six of the Club Class gliders actually made it back to the field. Their last leg was straight upwind with a wind at altitude between 17 and 20 kt. When the first arrival calls began, a few 15m crossed the finish ring, 4 Km out, and reached the field, followed shortly by the two British LS4 that have the longest reach of the Club Class gliders. All eyes then turned toward the Southwest from where the finishers would come. The last 3-4 Km before the runway threshold are fields, about 30% of which are now harvested, and before that about 10 Km of forest along the arrival course line. It was a blue day, so the entire fleet was flying in gaggles, 5 or 6 "packets" as they call them here. We heard a lot of "10 Km out" calls and saw waves after waves of gliders reaching over the edge of the forest and landing in the fields between it and the runway, some low enough over the edge of the forest that they must have been very relieved to see something else than trees under their wings and be able to land in a field. You can imagine that the sight generated some anxiety among the waiting crew.
Sarah, the two German Libelles, and Magali were in the last packet/gaggle; and obviously we were able to alert them. They elected to climb a little higher in a weak thermal, which drifted them back in the 20 kt wind, so required more altitude, etc., to insure a safer arrival to the field, and that of course cost them many precious minutes. Although they were a bit disappointed about what it did to their scores for the day, there is no question that it certainly was the right decision, as several others got unlucky in their landings. Among them our good friend and neighbor in the glider parking lot, the Australian Kerrie Claffey, who had a rough touch down in a field and had to be checked for a sore back at the hospital. She is around the campground and all fine this morning, although still a bit sore. The other is the russian pilot, Nina Shalneva, who had to be lowered down from her glider that luckily got caught in branches high in trees rather than percolating down through branches and impacting the ground. We heard this morning that Nina is also fine.
By the time of my post last night when we left the field, we had not yet heard about all the pilots and what resulted from the mass landings. The scores were not out yet either because it was unknown which pilots had crossed the finish ring high enough to get speed points, and which did not. I guess you all found out an hour or so later just like we did.
In retrospect, the day was clearly difficult but perfectly flyable. The wind was strong but the top of lift was about 4000 ft, and they all basically went around the whole task. The final glide in the strong wind was the key to the day's task. There was still plenty of lift to make it back to the airport, as several who elected to take a bit more margin demonstrated. Others either fell to a bit of sink in the headwind or just went for the finish ring altitude with insufficient margin to reach beyond that all the way to the runway. Those really are pilot's decisions.
We had a Team Captains meeting this morning, and all opinions basically were along the above statement. The weather today is expected to be similar as yesterday and a task will be called. The main goal of the meeting was to agree on a reasonable set of thresholds of time, altitude, wind, and lift strength that would support gate opening. The main issue is safety of course, including the need to have them well gone on task by the 3:30 - 4:00 PM time at which the cyclists of the Tour de France, and the associated low-flying helicopters, etc., will be in near proximity of the airport.
I'll try to post an update before going to the line if possible, otherwise talk to you mid-afternoon. Everything can still happen at this point. Stay tuned.

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