The "Eh-Team" Rules

Tony Burton, Cu Nim

ASCent Magazine, Summer 1999, pages 5-7

I HADN'T BEEN TO EPHRATA since 1992 when the US Sports Class Nationals were held there. So, when Mike Thompson, an HP-14 pilot in Vancouver, asked me in an e-mail if I was going to attend this year's Region 8 contest (due in a couple of weeks), I thought - okay, why not. I had passed up the Canadian Nationals this year because it now required the use of GPS for scoring and, still being a bit of a Luddite about this gear, I wasn't about to learn how to use it in the middle of a Nats gaggle.

It was a well-attended contest, with fourteen in Sports class, eight in 15m, and the minimum five in Open. The Open class contest was unusual since there hadn't been enough entries for years and the local Nimbii were usually relegated to Sports. This year, Helmut Gebenus of VSA was persuaded to fly his ASW-20 in the Open class for an undisclosed inducement. Canadians were very well represented in Sports with five pilots from BC, me, and Paul Tolson, an itinerant Brit. Open had Helmut, and the 15m class added Rudy Rozsypalek from Pemberton Soaring.

Ephrata is an airport in central Washington which I commend to any soaring pilot - the area is simply magnificent. Located in the Columbia Basin, a semi-arid countryside sitting on about 5000 feet deep basalt lava beds, it's a thermal and dust devil generator par excellence. There are huge grain fields where there aren't vertical columnar basalt cliffs (up to 800 feet high in places). Half the fields are fallow any year so outlanding is no problem. There is a large elevated plateau to the west and north, also with grain fields, which starts convecting as early as 9 am.

Ursula and I arrived at Ephrata after a ten hour drive from Claresholm on the Friday evening before the contest. It was to be a six day affair with practice on Sunday. It rained most of the way through the mountains, but once we were west of Spokane, the Basin opened up before us and so did the sky, and the further west the drive, the better the sky looked for soaring. It didn't appear that the traditional soaring conditions were going to abandon pilots.

After shaking a few hands around the clubhouse, the word to the wise was, "Get rigged early and grab a spot on the tie-down line". Ephrata is a second home to several western Washington glider clubs. The ramp of the former WWII bomber base is enormous and holds two very long tie-down cable lines and it is also where gliders marshal, launch, and land. A lot of the campers look like fixtures, and some cars parked by the trailer line also look like permanent retrieve-only vehicles judging from the faded paint; they've definitely been out in the sun too long. The pilots who had stayed overnight were shocked that it had rained hard the night before. The poor sods from the coast had hardly seen the sun for months on end. The joke running around Seattle was a visitor asking a kid on the street when it stops raining around here and he answers, "I don't know, I'm only six years old."

Saturday Unlike Cu Nim, pilots are awake and lined up in front of the washrooms at the Seattle Glider Council clubhouse at 6 am! At 6:15 two pilots were making out 500 kilometre declarations on the clubhouse deck (they made it too).

I got EE rigged and washed and had a 2-1/2 hour flight after lunch to refamiliarize myself with the territory. On the way back to the field I passed a Russia AC-4 and stopped to join it in a couple of thermals to how it looked and how it climbed - it's an elegant little ship (12.6 m, 300 lbs) - and two of them would be competing in the contest. The soaring was good with the only problem being some mid-level spread-out that was to be a concern on later days.

Sunday Practice day. The forecast is for the same moist airmass but with a little more drying so any spread out areas should be avoidable. The only problem during the day was a lot of fake clouds which would not leave when their lift did. Norm Ellison called them Cumulus Non-Liftus clouds. Cloudbase was a quite low 7000 feet asl (5700 agl) but the 7-8 knot lift and some streeting allowed lots of choice. The task was a three hour PST and I flew a big loop to the north and then east visiting Mansfield, Electric City (near the Grand Coulee Dam), Davenport, Odessa and return which totalled 293 kilometres.

I felt I had wasted time on the first half of the flight due to those Non-Liftus cu, but the day started dying at an early 4 pm with the result that the cumulus that did persist were honest, and that allowed good progress home into wind from the east (being able to progress well into wind is always a big plus in cross-country flying).

I had a unique problem with the compass, which I have used perhaps twice in twenty-two years. Its seal decided to give up the ghost and alcohol dripped steadily onto the hot instrument cover where it evaporated, and the fumes were quite potent, especially when I had occasion to close the air vent. Intoxication aside, I wasn't sure how I had done relative to the other pilots and was very surprised to find that I had won the day at 97.6 km/h, well ahead of the second place DG400M at 82.0 km/h. That earned me 1190 points. Just to bring you up to speed on the scoring system the presence of "Aliens" (hence our scoring designation and the pun in the title) is not supposed to effect the scores of the home-grown pilots. The highest placing American pilot is to get the "maximum" points for the day, and then us "A's" get proportionately more if we beat them. I think it's a fine system.

The long range forecast for the next few days was pretty bad. Ephrata was to be in a warm sector following a frontal passage with a lot of cirrus and alto stuff to cut off the lift. And that's how it was for the next two days which featured a sky full of wave clouds off the Cascades. It was unstable enough to produce a little cu under all the clag but nothing useful for tasks. Some pilots launched for local flying and one or two connected with the wave and got to 12,000 feet. On the second day (Monday) we actually gridded in hope of enough convection, but the sniffer didn't get more than a knot or so to about 2400 feet agl so we all tied down again. Two consecutive days of no soaring at Ephrata had the locals in mild shock!

Tuesday (and Day 1) We woke up to altostratus again at 7 am and by the pilot's meeting at 10 it was almost solid. The pilots were actually beginning to wonder if we might not have a contest if tomorrow was also a dud. The forecast was the same as yesterday and the satellite photo showed a broad zonal flow of cloud upstream right out over the Pacific with the jet stream flowing west to east just over the Canadian border. Minimum tasks were set and we gridded again, more in desperation than hope, that's for sure.

Then, as if by magic, the sky cleared completely and the cu looked promising by 1230. Everybody but one got around. The Open class flew their short task and were finishing before all the Sports class had gone through the start gate! The sky to the east looked fantastic at 4 pm, and one of the 15m pilots relaunched at 4:15 and completed his task 15 km/h faster than on his first try. Again, the early part of the task had fake cu, but there was 7 knot lift if you could find it and cloudbase rose to almost 7500 agl. I came in third with 954 points. Paul Tolson (HP-18 mod) was first, and Jerry Plaszowiecki (whom a few of us named Mr. Microsoft for want of our ability to pronounce his surname and his debugging skills for the scorer) was second in his lovely and expensive ASH-26E.

The "magic" that had occurred was the jet stream taking a short detour south over the Basin. This produced subsiding cool air at altitude which warmed on sinking and completely evaporated the mid-level cloud. The timing was absolutely impeccable.

Day 2 The morning started blue and good cu developed to the north and northeast. But the airport blue hole persisted for about 30 kilometres all around Ephrata. Launches began at 1215 when heating finally got local thermals going, although they stayed blue. The 15m pilots had Ritzville (87 km east) as a turn point way out in the blue and they had a struggle in the soft lift and were slow. The Sports class had a good time of it once most pilots made the long glide north to the excellent looking cu over the high part of the task area.

There was 6-7 knot lift even in the blue on my way north to Wilbur. Once there, there was beautiful cu along the north edge of the plateau all the way WNW to Anderson, 90 kilometres north of Ephrata. My intention was to then double back to use the same cu to another turn point before heading home. Unfortunately, the day started going blue early again and those clouds were then too far off course to use. All the cu disappeared from the track home south across the plateau, and I was stuck with about 70 kilometres to glide with little hope of making it since dust on the ground was now blowing straight out of the west indicating a marine flow. I got low about 40 kilometres out and flew off the plateau to the east at about 3000 agl towards an airport and over the (drum-roll, please) Channeled Scablands - yep - the surface looks as bad as it spells. A bit of a climb and I was in range of some big fields to the south. Finally, a big six knots coming off the vertical sun-facing basalt channel walls got me home.

Way back at that 70 kilometre mark was the last cu, and a Standard Cirrus that I had been flying with for quite a while was about 300 feet higher when we reached it. He cored its thermal and then pulled it up behind him! He had a final glide from cloudbase while it took me twenty minutes longer the hard way back which cost at least a hundred points. I was 6th for the day but still not too badly off. Mr. Microsoft roared around the course and moved to first overall, but Paul Tolson had an unrecognized start and got a significant time (hence point) penalty, so I moved to second overall.

Day 3 The atmosphere was cool and very unstable, but more mid-level spread-out prevented the day from blowing up. The high would only be 21C (70F) and the freezing level was 6000 feet - it's not often that you have to close your air vents here in July. As it was impossible to predict where all the usable lift was going to occur out on course, the task committee called a PST for all classes.

During the gridding and launch, a huge build-up developed directly to the west of Ephrata on the edge of the plateau. Pilots who didn't find lift immediately on release had a hard time climbing out and there were several relights. Everybody split to the east and the sunshine on starting. Many used Odessa for the first turn, and the natural place to go after that was Ritzville to the southeast because it opened up future course decision possibilities. However, Ritzville was under the spread-out and there was not too much obvious lift in the sun in that direction. Pilots who elected to try it early had difficulty, and a couple landed out at the airport there.

I started that way too and was five miles on course when I decided that it was not a smart move and did a 180 to a westerly turn point at Wilson Creek. Once there, I flew back east along good cu. By then the prospects for Ritzville had improved a lot so I headed there again. By the time I arrived it was only a short glide in under the overcast and back out to the sun. After that, the return home was a northerly arc under good cu which took in two more turn points.

Mr. Microsoft was slower this day (65.4 km/h) than all the Canadians, coming in sixth, and the first place pilot of yesterday was only tenth. Mike Thompson was first in his HP-14T with 1036 points (92.3 km/h, 263.3 km), and I was second with 1001 (89.2 km/h, 276.5 km) which moved me to first overall with a margin of 61 points over Mike.

Day 4 Saturday, the July 4th holiday. The forecast was for typical great Ephrata soaring but the tasks were moderated to get everyone back in time for the awards dinner. Cu started at 9:30. There was just a little lingering spread-out that was easily avoidable. Good lift up to 9 knots, and equally strong sink in places. My goal was to stay focussed, not make a mistake, and not mess around in weak lift

I had a very scenic first leg north to Electric City airport up the east side of the basalt escarpments which border Banks Lake. Then it was southeast to Wilbur and back to Ephrata for the first triangle, followed by a smaller one to fill in the remaining time. I got into trouble going into Wilbur in very strong sink crossing a cloud street to its southern sunny side. The sink was continuous 8 knots down, and I lost 5500 feet in short order. Flying west out of Wilbur while S'ing around looking for help, I could feel turbulence indicating that there was strong lift somewhere along the edge but I was flying past it all. By 1300 feet agl, 1 was heading for a landing area and flying over all the sunny fields available when finally there was that thankful surge and I rolled right into 5-6 knots. That was my contest-winning thermal

I was second (63.0 km/h, 298.6 km), staying ahead of Mike (62.0 km/h, 283.0 km) and gaining another seventeen points on him, and I had the contest

The five members of the Sports class "Eh-Team" along with Paul Tolson of the UK wound up taking 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8th places. The organizers thought that they would have to approach the SSA rules committee to include the BC pilots as "semi-official Americans" so the scoring formulas wouldn't be abused so badly. Why the Eh-Team? Well, because we're Canucks. Gerry Pomeroy, an Ephrata fixture, spent the contest writing groaners of limericks which included our good taste in beer if not in our insistence on attending.

The final 1999 Region 8 Sport class scores were:


Total Points

Contest Number






Tony Burton





Mike Thompson





Paul Tolson

HP-18 mod




Jerry Plaszowiecki





Chris Klix

Std Cirrus




David Wright

Ventus B




Lothar Schaubs





David Burgess





Richard VanGrunsven






Std Cirrus




Eric Greenwell





Tom Udd





George Cserfoi





Roy Clark


Craig Jurgens, the contest flightline chief, was quite impressed with the performance of the home-builts, and versified on the subject:

The racers are faster than snot,
And we like to launch them a lot!
But its nice to see
That the brand called HP'

Are so fast they must be red hot!
For airplanes so old and home-done,

Its a treat to see how they run,
With their tails in a 'vee'
(except two have a 'tee)
Theyre cheap and have four times the fun!