Flying the Sports Class Nationals at Montague

By Bruce Patton

Polly and I drove up to Redding on Friday and picked up a motor home rental to live in on the airport. The last hundred miles through the mountains to the Siskiyou airport were slow, I towed the glider with the Caravan, she drove the motor home. Having the RV-6A has made us forget how miserable an eight-hour drive up the Central Valley can be.

We picked a tiedown between Dick Mockler and Roy Cundiff. Roy was competing in the 18 meter with his 15 meter Ventus, Dick in Sports with a LS-8A. Before the end, there were 23 ships in the Sports and only 10 in 18 meter. The Sports included a Ka6E, a Russia AC4, two Duo Discus (Mike Green/Bob Klemmendson, the dynamic ARPA team flying one), my HP-18, 7 Ventus', three LS-8s an ASW-20, two ASW-24s, a ASW-27, PIK-20, Mini-Nimbus, DG-400M (Dick Van Grunsven, the designer of my RV) and a PIK-20B. Quite a mix. The Ka6E, despite my prejudice to HPs, was the best looking glider in the contest, recently completely restored with a major handicap factor.

Saturday was a day to just go flying, official Practice started Sunday. Roy Cundiff spent some time with me pointing out what to look for and where to avoid in flying in the area. He was a great help and right on the money.† His advice can be boiled down to ďStay out of the valleys, donít go to the east side unless the task makes you or there are cumulus, and when in doubt, head for Duzle RockĒ.† I flew about 4 hours Saturday, covering the west side of the contest area from end to end, closing the flight by confirming one thing Roy said: donít go in the Siskiyou valley.

Sunday was a three hour modified POST Practice day, including weighting and measuring winglets for handicap adjustments. My handicap, due to weight and winglets was 1.033.† I spent the whole time flying on the on the west again, exploring the various mountain ridges and visiting most of the turn points in the area. Didnít turn my GPS box in for scoring, there was no reason. Monday was the second Practice, with a Modified Assigned Task (MAT), three-hour minimum with assigned turn points at Callahan (west side) and Three Sheds (east side). This makes you cross the Siskiyou valley right in front of Mt. Shasta. I did Callahan and didnít stop to thermal before leaving the mountains in the west to cross to the east side. The valley was either sink or dead flat. As a result, I struggled near Shasta and finally got back up and turned north. Turned my GPS box in to make sure it worked.

The contest started July 3, Tuesday. All Sports Class tasks were a MAT, modified assigned task, with a minimum of three hours on task and the first and sometimes second turnpoints established at the pilots meeting. We flew one four hour MAT, the rest were three or three and a half. The contest was strictly GPS recorder with a Start cylinder of five miles and 8,000 ASL (the airport is 2650 and release altitude is 5,150) centered over a ridge (Craggy) about three miles west of the airport. Finish was a one-mile cylinder, centered at the Siskiyou airport, you had to enter the cylinder at a minimum altitude of 200 agl.† This was my second time flying the GPS start, and first with a GPS finish.† The start can be a nervous time with 30 gliders packed in one thermal, all trying not to climb.† I discovered the value of being a loner, just leave the mob, find your own thermal.† I went out of the top of the cylinder at 7 knots one day, didnít see another glider for an hour.†† Finishes are a breeze, everyone communicating and plenty of altitude to make decisions.†

The first contest day had a very strong inversion over the area at about 6,500 feet with a whole bunch of cirrus preventing heating. We gridded up and launched into a mess. If you missed the only thermal near the release, it was all over. About half the Sports landed before the start gate opened and the day was called off. I flew the ridge at Craggy until the crowd landed and went home.

The next day was completely different. The day was a three hour MAT with Quartz Valley, (west side) as the first turn. I played start cylinder roulette for about fifteen minutes after the gate opened and then went out and hit a 9 knot boomer to around 13K. The entire day was spent on the west side, going around eight turn points and never remembering being in trouble or much time spent in thermals. Looking at my GPS flight log, there were only four clear thermals. I thought it was a good flight, but didnít hang around the scoring office to get the results. The next morning Roy showed up after the task advisors meeting and told me I had taken second, 212 miles at 68.12 MPH for 973 points. (Here we go again; at Avenal I was second in 15 meter on days two and four, and dead last days one and three).

What was amazing was the Ka6E was in first with a raw speed of 58.23, handicapped to 72.38. Those of you who know the Ka6E know that 58 is damn good flying, and a well deserved win. More on this bird and pilot later.

Second day was a 3.5 hour MAT with the first turn at Callahan. I made a totally dumb decision after doing Callahan and R-Ranch. I looked to the east and saw some Cu and a couple of ships heading across the valley. I decided to be daring and headed for Radar facility. Got blown down, chopped up and my mind totally put into slow. I finally got back up and did 197.3 miles at 56.58 mph, for 17th place.

The damn Ka6E had a raw speed of 62.56 mph for handicapped 77.76 and first by over 4 mph, all on the West Side. We started talking about finding some termites or woodpeckers to even out the handicap, but the fact is that Scott Gradwell, the pilot, was winning by great flying. When Scott went through the finish, he asked permission from the Contest Director (JJ Sinclair) to extend his documentation interval so he could fly an additional half hour to complete a five hour flight for his Silver badge. The next day at the pilots meeting, JJ told us that Scott did finish his five hour flight and now has over 100 hours in gliders! (Who was this guyís instructor?)†† I flew with him on one leg one day.† It was kind of amazing, we were going down a street, he was in the good part and I was behind him.† I went around one side to pass him, got out of the lift and pressed up to about 90K.† Hit the turnpoint about 5 minutes later, and as I turned, there was the Ka6E, about 100 yards behind me and higher!†

Day three was a 3.5 hour MAT with assigned turn points of Callahan and Three Sheds. I went bombing down to Callahan, visions of victory in my head. Climbed up in the mountains near Weed and headed across the valley towards Mt Shasta and got real low near Shasta. Immediately put my brakes on and spent about 45 minutes getting up. Finally got to Three Sheds where there were two clouds over a ridge near Butte Valley airport. Most of the Sports ran straight to these clouds and immediately up to 14K and ran races around a local triangle back to the same thermal. I went on a 30-mile triangle around Tennant, Tennant South and Three Sheds returning to the same thermal. Climb back to 13K and then a long, slow 55-mile final glide to home. Total distance 186.26 at 56.58 mph for 18th place and 747 points.

The next day, July 7, Sports Class launched after the 18 meter. The sky was covered by high cirrus that shut off heating mid way through the Sports Class launch. The 18 meter boys managed to climb out at the Start and move into the mountains where some cumuli were developing. JJ changed their task to a POST and raised the Start cylinder to 9K, which allowed them to come back to the start and then go the 10 miles or so to get back to the lift. JJ raised the cylinder for us, however only two of the first launched Sport pilots found a thermal. By the time I hit Craggy Peak, the top of the lift was below 6K and getting weaker. JJ cancelled the Sports Class day. The 18 meter boys had a hard day in the west side, none were very fast.

Day four was a 4 hour MAT with Callahan as the assigned turn point. In a 4 hour MAT, the limit of 11 turn points and the ability to keep good records of turn points achieved while flying becomes a consideration. I did the following: Start to Callahan (32 miles) to Weed Airport (22 miles) to Etna (22 miles) to Callahan (10 miles) to R-Ranch (43 miles) to Scott Valley Airport (29 miles) to Callahan (16 miles) to Weed Airport (22 miles) to Etna (22 miles) to Siskiyou Airport (29 miles) to R-Ranch (12 miles) to the finish (12 miles), or a total of 271.2 at 66.43 MPH. This was good enough for 6th for the day and 945 points.

Each leg was chosen based on the clouds or other gliders. You need to make legs long enough to not exceed 11 turn points before the 4 hours are used. The end of the day was interesting. After leaving Etna, the ninth turn point for the day, I had a final glide made to Siskiyou, but needed more time to complete the 4 hours. About 5 minutes after leaving Etna, I hit a boomer, over 9 knots. I programmed in a final glide of R-Ranch to finish and told the Cambridge to calculate glide for finish at a McCready of 3. As the climb progressed, I advanced the McCready to 6.0 (this gives me yellow line speed of 120 MPH). When that glide was made I was still far below the cloud, so I reprogrammed the computer to Siskiyou to R-Ranch to Finish. Then when that glide was made, plus about 500 feet, I went out at yellow line for the last 45 miles. Made a big difference in the overall speed.

Day 5 I made a major mistake in the air. Turns out I would have won the day, without the error. The assigned turn point was Lake Siskiyou dam (34 miles) and a three hour MAT. The day was slightly worse than previous, clouds at about 11K. I bombed down to the first turn and went back a cloudstreet to Restaurant Exit (53 miles) to R-Ranch (10 miles) to Callahan (44 miles). On the way back I was looking for that great thermal to allow me to repeat the fast run of the previous contest day. I didnít need the time, but the speed would help. I passed about three miles east of the Scott Valley airport turn point and didnít ďcatchĒ it in the GPS recorder. I found a 4 knot thermal that quit too low to allow the Siskiyou to R-Ranch to finish grand ending. The day was quitting, about 90% overcast and some rain and lightening. I punched in R-Ranch to finish and discovered I had the altitude to do it at a McCready of 3. So I slowly did it. I actually didnít realize until I filled out the landing card that I had done Callahan to R-Ranch to Callahan to R-Ranch to finish. The rules say you have to have an intermediate turn point. If I had deviated the 3 miles and done Scott Valley, the R-Ranch would have been valid. I had to turn in the landing card without the final R-Ranch. With R-Ranch, my speed was first, hoverer I ended up with 199.6 miles at 65.35 for 8th and 900 points.

JJ declared the next day a Rest Day. Some Sports Class pilots were a little ticked off because we had missed a day that the 18 Meter had flown a task, but the weather was heading south. The lightning the previous day had started some small fires and the Borate bomber base on the field was opened. JJ was right, the rest day was un-flyable, major over development by 11, rain and lightening by 3. Unfortunately the next day was almost the same, except it dried out in the evening. We had three Borate Bombers on the field by then, all going up and down after small single tree type fires. If you think an Open class glider full of water is impressive, you should see a borate bomber take off with a full load! Those pilots earn their money.

Day 6 looked marginal at the start. We had to grid on the taxiway and then push out to launch to avoid blocking the runway for the bombers. They never did fly that day. The task was three hours and Quartz Valley (21 miles) as the assigned turnpoint. Major clouds formed by launch; fortunately it dried out somewhat and never did over develop until after we landed. I was in 12th overall, out of my goal of the top ten by only ten points. I did Quartz to R-Ranch (29 miles) to Callahan (43 miles) to Etna (11 miles) to Restaurant Exit (44 miles) to Pinehurst State Airport (12 miles) to finish (24 miles). The run up to Pinehurst was slow, but it got me over the minimum time. Results were 181.9 miles at 57.77 MPH, 11th and 847 points.

Steve Northcraft won the contest by 8 points. He won the last day to move into the lead. Scott Gradwell in the Ka6E ended up in 8th. Kind of an amazing performance for a 100-hour glider pilot in a wooden glider. He said his father wouldnít let him use the Ventus because of his low time, so he flew the wooden wonder. I ended up in 10th, just barely, but at least I met my goal of the top ten. Right behind me was Chad Moore with the Russia AC4.

Gary Ittner won the 18 meter, Roy Cundiff was second, Chip Garner third.

Some lessons learned:

1.     Turn point picking strategy is half the battle flying MAT or POST tasks. If there is a cloud street, use it. Donít go exploring. Find a fast triangle and fly it, again, and again. Final glide turn points can be selected to gain a whole bunch of time.

2.     The weather has nothing to do with anything. Gary Ittner won both the very strong and very weak days in 18 meter. I finally figured out why he was so unresponsive when people talked to him about what the day looked like before the launch. He does not care. He is thinking about his strategy to get the best out of the weather the day delivers; good or bad have no importance, the conditions are the same for each pilot.

3.     If you are getting low, keep pushing, but with a lower McCready. Read and understand Johnny Cochranís ďJust a little faster, pleaseĒ. Follow his approach to the letter. I flew most of the contest with a McCready of 2-4, on one very low situation, lowered it to 1. When very low (1500 feet over Callahan), I used a 2 knot thermal for 1,000 feet and moved on. The next one was 4 knots for another 1,000 feet, the next was 10 knots plus. I normally would have stuck with the first, but when to leave is one of the important things Johnny talks about.

4.     If you get low and dig out, forget it. If conditions have changed, slow up, if the havenít, keep doing what got you in the hole, you can always dig out again, especially if you have read Johnny.

5.     Listen to Roy Cundiff. Thanks Roy.

Bruce Patton