It’s cold and dry this morning. Sitting outside at 6AM for the daily Skype check in with spousal unit, I am bundled up in fleece, jacket, and balaclava.
Cold morning means active air. Dry, active air means a task. And a task there will be.
Inland flying comes with a certain degree of predictability weather wise. In Manilla, Australia – if one sees altocumulus forming at sunrise only to see them disappear as the sun clears the horizon – there is likely overdevelopment come afternoon. The same sort of weather guesstimate can be done based on the ‘feel’ of the air around sunrise
Cold, dry – flyable, mostly clear skies. A fizzy day.
Cold, moist – flyable, overcast. Possible overdevelopment.
Warm, moist – thunderstorms.
Warm, dry – flyable but inverted. A sticky day.
Grabbing a quick nap before the daily 0930 briefing wasn’t the wisest of ideas, as I manage to miss the briefing within which they said there would be a task. Jet lag still taking its toll.
I grab kit and rush downstairs to join the herd waiting for the large bus that will drop us off at the base of the mountain while the shorter buses shuttle folk from the base to top.
At the mountain base, a cloud bird omen.
Heeding some great advice while departing the bus, I quickly snag a spot in the little shade present. It is going to be upwards of a 45 minute wait and I am not keen on baking anymore than needed.
With my shade inching away into oblivion, the shuttles arrive to ferry us up the 25 minute climb.
Once dropped off, it is a further five to ten minute hike to the launch area where everyone has selected individual spots to set up. Half an hour passes before the task is posted.
It is an elapsed time task to an air field about 30 km to the north. I personally have come to prefer elapsed time tasks both because it staggers the field and because it forces a higher degree of planning on the part of the pilot. In comparison, race to goal tasks devolve into simply follow the gaggle and hammer the speed bar from the last turn point into goal. Risk taking in terms of selecting flight path along the course (lead out points) is still insufficiently rewarded in race to goal. In short, elapsed time is strategic flying, RtG is tactical.
In any case, this task will have us fly west along the south facing launch ridge into a 3 km radius exit cylinder (B01). The clock for each pilot then doesn’t start until they leave that 3km radius. The astute pilot will realize that this radius comes rather close to the 1 km cylinder surrounding the first turn point across the small valley to the north (B06).
A glide east across the main river valley is then needed before connecting with the southern ridge of the volcano (it resembles one, but actually is not). Flying further east along that ridge, one hits the 1 km cylinder of the next turn point (B33).
Then it is combination of climbs and glide to the final turn point/end of speed section to the north (B02) before landing in goal (A05).
‘Easy-peasy’ as Jocky would put it.
The launch window opens, unleashing the veterans who know how to work the weaker climbs and the overeager who do not. It takes less than half an hour before the ridge becomes a crowded flying conga line. The organizers pop on the radio and declare the launch window closed, waiting for the airborne circus to either climb out or sink out and land. A few minutes pass and pilots begin to clear out of the airspace in front of launch. Launch window reopens.
The strong conditions switch gets flipped and the ridge lights up like a Christmas tree. A pilot on what must be a newly purchased Peak 3 tries to launch but doesn’t quite have the wing stabilized. They lose the right side and gets unceremoniously dumped onto the turf. A Rush 4 next to me has a beast of a time trying to manage their wing in the thermal gusts.
This is newbie contradiction – they don’t want to be the first to launch, but if they wait – it typically gets too strong for them.
My turn to give it a go.
This is where that kiting practice in Vanier mid afternoon during the summer pays off. A+C’s the wing up, a few steps to dampen the surge, turn, two steps and off. No drama.
Kiting your Wing is the PG equivalent of Eat your Wheaties. Remember that kids.
I launched from the eastern end of the hill with the start cylinder to west. A quick run of the gauntlet, dodging the odd ridge soaring pilot still unsure of where the thermals were and the slowing stream of launchees, and I make my way past the house thermal into the start cylinder (the Flymaster’s garbled chirping confirms I am in).
In the start cylinder, looking west at B01.
Hugging in tight on the hill, I find enough lift to get above the ridge and push out front to there the real thermal meat was to be found. It doesn’t take much time or effort to hook a climb up and over the Chabre spineback and begin a drift towards the first turnpoint, B06.
Drifting with a thermal towards B06, the peak to the right of center.
The thermals have some bite despite that fact that my best climb is only 2.5 m/s today. Score keeper Mark who has flown ahead pipes up on the radio through out the task to declare level one conditions (safe to fly) and to reassure everyone one it’s smooth and calm. If this is smooth and calm, I can only image what rough is. Regardless of how lumpy it might be, I have a task to fly and the only way I am going to improve is to just focus on flying.
Today starts to highlight my second Achilles heel in this sport (the first being my patience, or lack thereof) – the rather large disconnect between my ability and my confidence in that ability. Were I flying at home under these conditions, I’d likely assume I am in over my head and look to land, yet today I am managing the wing with little trouble – even when crossing the inversion up top and the layers of valley wind shear down low (not to mention a leeside active flying match later on). Jocky and Chris ask as part of the sign up for the XC course that is running next week what are we looking for – for me, it is the need to be pushed, to close some of the disconnect.
But back to the task…
As I approach B06, the Flymaster screen changes to show my flight path and the outer edge of the cylinder. With mind to that edge I look at the turn point to follow, B33, and plan the valley crossing, knowing that there is a south west wind at my altitude. The Flymaster chirps that I have tagged the cylinder and I start to turn slightly south of the southern ridge of the ‘volcano’. I start my glide and take note of my altitude (2100 m), my ground speed (between 45 and 50 kph from the tail wind) and my glide ratio (15+). I should arrive well above the western end of the ridge.
Time for a few minutes ‘rest’. I hit the play button on the iPad Shuffle and enjoy the view as one of the PodRunner house mixes blares away on the mini iHome speaker. I had gotten the idea for the set up from one of the American pilots at the 2012 Nationals and modified for my needs. The Shuffle can be turned on and set into pause before I launch and because it is not a touch screen, it is easy to control with gloves on. The iHome unit is USB rechargeable in a zip-able case that can hold the Shuffle when not set up on my flight deck. It also comes with a mini novelty karabiner that I use as a second attachment to the securing cord on the Flymaster. A little adhesive hook material on the back of both the iHome and the Shuffle and we have a virtual airborne disco. Great for killing time on glide or taking your mind off of just how lumpy a mess the air is today.
The southern edge of the ‘volcano’ passes below me as I begin my approach towards the B33 cylinder. Jocky mentioned that there is a great house thermal at the rock face occupying the eastern edge of the ridge. This advice becomes critical in my decision making and highlights the need to fly the conditions and not the site.
Word on the radio is that the wind has switched to south east and is increasing in strength. Not long after, my ground speed dips down to 6 kph above the lip of the ridge necessitating some judicious application of bar. Getting pushed back into the crater would be ill advised, as organizers phrased it, ‘There are no sensible landing options in the volcano’ aka there are NO landing options.
Finally having pushed out front of the ridge, I am joined by Jocky’s senior guide Chris.
This is the point where a critical mistake is made.
Chris veers left and begins a climb. I stay on course towards the rock face, expecting the face baking in the sun and S/E wind will make an amazing climb that will drift me along the north east edge of the volcano until it intersects climbs coming from the southern face.
The best laid plans …
There was next to no lift at the rock face. Pushing out in the valley was a possibility, but I stubbornly tried to make the rock face work.
Eventually taking a drifting thermal along the ridge top and ending up in the lee of the north east face. Let the active flying lesson commence.
Highway to the rotor zone.
Ever try to core rotor? That’s how adamant I was about getting back up. Needless to say it didn’t work and I set down in a wheat field in the middle of nowhere. 5 km away was the hamlet of Faye (where I hiked out to) and 10+ km past that was the village of Ventavon.
Start a stampede in one easy word – WOOF!
During the hike out word came across the radio that a blue wing went down in the trees along a ridge to my north. Found out afterwards it was a Maverick. Guess it lived up to its name for not following convention.
The scores have me placed at 62 out of 130. Not bad given that my goal is to end up in the middle third (as opposed to being in the bottom 3 at the Canadian Nationals in 2012).
Tomorrow is not looking promising weather wise, but one can never be sure what the organizers might have up their collective sleeves.