Friday, February 1, 2013


The 32nd World Gliding Championship in the Standard, Club, and World Classes is over.  Our Team is back home in Texas, California, Tennessee, Michigan, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.  The two Standard Class gliders are at sea, expected back in Boston any day now.

The results are on Soaring Spot. Congratulations to the new World Champions Sebastian Riera, Santiago Berca, and Sebastian Kawa, and to Team Cup winner Netherlands.

We made so many friends, you couldn't fit them all into a big hangar.

Standing room only

So, we're signing off now.  The next World Gliding Championships will be the WWGC in France (July) and the JWGC in Poland (August). See you then.

Special thanks to the US Team Committee for their leadership and support: Rick Walters, Ken Sorenson, Peter Deane, Sarah Arnold, and Blogmeister John Godfrey.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Good report - Dieciocho

WGC2013 report – 19 January - Final
WGC2013 ended around 6:30 this evening on a distinctly high note: today’s tasks had 100% completions and the best overall speeds of the contest.

The big news today was that local favorite Santiago Berca (SI – Argentina, and a great friend to the US Team here) was with a superb flight able to overcome a 125-point deficit to win the Club class, giving the host country two of the three titles awarded here.  His teammate Sebastian Riera (IG) had little trouble holding his lead in World class. In Standard class, no one should have been surprised that wily veteran Sebastian Kawa was able to hold his lead and add another world championship to his trophy case.
Phil and Peter in Standard class had their best speeds and daily placings (9th and 10th) of the contest.  Their comments were along the lines of “This is the weather we all came for.”  Sean Franke did not have quite the day he hoped for in Club class, but his final placing of sixth overall is highly commendable.

Everyone is happy that after a run of very tough weather the contest was able to finish with two good soaring days.  A band is now warming up and we are soon off to the closing ceremonies, followed by a farewell party that starts at 10:30 and will likely last until around dawn (though I do not plan to be there especially late).  We expect that our Argentine hosts, who have been hospitable throughout, will be especially so tonight as they celebrate a successful contest and a couple of popular champions.

Stop sending us money, please

We tried something new at this competition: direct fundraising for the Team. We had a lot of fun doing it, and we are grateful to the donors who played along.

Because it's over now, and because we don't plan to incur any more direct expenses as a Team, we have shut down the donation channel and removed the "Donate" button from this blog.

We return you to your regularly scheduled program, which, of course, is SSA.  Please support our Teams at future international competitions by contributing to the US Team fund.

Sincere thanks from Peter, Phil, Sarah, Sean, Tom, and Bill.


Good report - Diecisiete

WGC2013 report - 19 January

In yesterday's battle between good and evil weather influences, the good won: we wound up with a mostly blue day with thermals that were neither high nor particularly strong, but were consistent enough to produce a good rate of task completions, mostly at reasonable speeds.  After a stretch of grim weather, the improvement in mood at WGC2013 was palpable.

US Team pilots all got home, with good scores.  In World Class, Tom McKnight had his best day of the contest, a speed that had him just 73 points out of first on a 173-km assigned task.  The other classes had area tasks, and there was a wide range of opinion about when to start and which turn areas to exploit.  Peter and Phil got it about right, finishing 10th and 11th in Standard class.  In Club Class, Sean and Sarah also did well, finishing 8th and 10th.

With a day to go, it's appropriate to look at the races for all classes.  In Standard class, multiple world champion Sebastian Kawa (Y) of Poland has surged into the lead with a win yesterday, but Mario Kiessling (AK - Germany), who held the lead much of the contest, is just 42 points back.  World Class looks as if it belongs to Argentina: Sebastian Riera (IG) and Jorge Tartara (ST) hold the top two places with a margin over third that, in a class where big point swings at the top are unusual, seems reasonably safe (barring something strange today).  In Club Class, Roman Mracek (IF - Czech Republic) has solid 125-point lead over Santiago Berca (SI - Argentina).  Sean Franke (VN - USA) stands fifth, with a shot at a podium finish if he can make up 96 points on Tobias Geiger (G4 - Austria) who currently stands third.

We've had a mostly safe contest here at Chaves.  The only significant reported damage was to a glider that landed in tall corn after finishing.  At this morning's pilot briefing we were told that yesterday two pilots had a mid-air "touch", resulting in no damage.  No details were given, but it's easy to believe that this happened in a crowded thermal (of which many have been reported throughout the contest).  We hope this relatively good record can continue for one more day - it's worth noting that the final days of a big contest tend to produce a higher-than-average rate of safety issues, as some pilots become willing to take chances they shouldn't in quest of scoresheet gains.

It appears the Argentina flag has been returned, though not yet restored to its pole (lest it disappear again).  The FAI flag is still missing, and there is now thought to be some possibility it has fallen in the hands of someone who doesn't understand the rules of WGC flag-stealing (which basically require that all must be returned by the end of the contest).

Today's weather looks promising.  We still have light southeast winds, and an area of thick mid-level cloud lurks north of Chaves.  But there is lots of sun on the ground, the troublesome cloud looks to be creeping away from us, and the forecast is cautiously favorable.  Pilots are in an optimistic mood - the general sense is that we have a somewhat better version of yesterday.

Update at launch time:  The sky is full of small cumulus, pilots are reporting good climbs to around 1400 meters, and it seems clear this competition will end on an up note.  I'll have a final report when final results are known (probably late this evening).

We've been adopted

Our secret weapon at this competition has been Graciela Gentile, a Chaves resident who met the Sneads in 2008 and has been a friend of US glider pilots ever since. She met the McKnights at the Junin Regionals in 2009, and this year she adopted the entire Team.

She has provided us with translations, food, local knowledge, housewares, supplies, and pleasant company since we arrived, and on more than one occasion has joined the crew for a retrieve.

Graciela Gentile
You can hear Gracie saying good morning at 01:27 in this recording.

More photos

Friday, January 18, 2013

Postflight interview on 99.7

The local FM radio station interviewed Sarah after she landed today. We had the radio tuned to the wrong station back at USA Base, so we missed it. The station promised to get us a copy of the audio.

Scrutineer at rest

The gentleman with the clipboard in this photo is Art Grant, Chief of Scrutineering at the championships.

"Scrutineering" is the method the Organisers use to assure that the configuration, equipment, documents, and weights of the gliders are all within the rules. In the photo on the right, Art is explaining to Allan Barnes that the Australian kilogram is the same as a kilogram in Argentina.

Most of the work of a scrutineer is done before the first official day of the contest. Each glider is inspected, and if found in compliance with the rules, it is admitted to the competition.

Thereafter, it is a "trust but verify" policy. Art and his team have the right to re-inspect any glider at any time. It is said that Art can tell how much you weigh just by looking at you - and the pilots know this.

One might think that the ideal Chief Scrutineer would be an eremitic bureaucrat with a threatening demeanor and an attitude to match.

Nothing could be further from the truth in Art's case.

Art is an old fashioned gentleman with a ready smile. He is polite to all his pilots and discreet with their information. Consequently, he is one of the most respected figures in our sport. He is a fixture at international competitions, and we are lucky to have him at this one.

Art would be the first to tell you that all pilots are honest, and that he's doing the checks to protect them from frivolous claims to the contrary.

Good report - Dieciseis

WGC2013 report - 18 January

As everyone knew they would be, yesterday's tasks for all classes were cancelled around 2pm, in the face of entirely hopeless conditions: low cloud, mist and a cold southeast wind.  Perhaps a dozen gliders were never placed on the launch grid - their pilots had decided that the chance of flying was not worth the effort.

The mandatory improvement in conditions shortly after cancellation was again seen, but it was slight: the sky brightened a bit and the mist stopped falling for an hour or so.  Not the most incorrigible of the second-guessers was able to make the case that we should have waited longer.  There was a considerable body of thought that, with impossible conditions and a weather forecast that offered not the slightest chance of useful improvement, it was a waste of time to put any gliders on the runway.  It's fair to note that contest organizers are ill advised to closely consult crew comfort in making their decisions - this habit often leads to lost flying opportunities.

Our morning routine here usually includes a visit to the Hotel Paris, which is something of a social center in the town of Gonzales Chaves.  Its confiteria features good coffee and reliable internet service, which have made it popular with many at WGC2013.  I expect hotel management will be sorry to see the contest end.

Within walking distance of the Hotel Paris are three food markets that have met our needs rather well, but which require some adjustments in planning.  They open around 8:30, but always close from noon through 4:30.  Beer and wine are readily available (the latter is excellent value in Argentina - $3 buys a good bottle) but are not sold before 10am or after 9pm.  Cheese selection and price are favorable.  Fresh produce is not impressive.  Breakfast cereal - especially low-sugar varieties - seems hard to find; mushrooms close to impossible.  Meat is inexpensive and of good quality, which makes sense in view of the Argentine preference for - and skill at - carne asado (barbecue).

Today's morning weather looked much improved: at 10am, plenty of low cloud could still be seen, but sun was on the ground and seemed to be gaining the upper hand.  The weather presentation at the morning pilot briefing described a flyable but tricky day, with sun, southeast winds (mercifully not strong) and cloudy areas to the southwest all contending for mastery.  The general sense is that conditions to the northwest (where tasks have been set) may be decent, but it will not be wise to plan on a long-lasting day.

The FAI is the Fédération Aeronautique Internationale, the umbrella organization for air sport competitions around the world.  The FAI flag is always displayed prominently at such events, along with flags from all participating countries.  It was announced at the pilot briefing that two of these flags are missing: the FAI flag and the one belonging to Team Argentina; information as to their whereabouts is sought.  We immediately considered the possibility that Heinz Weissenbuehler had put in a stealth appearance, his presence at a world gliding contest being reliably associated with missing flags, banners, etc.  But a thorough search turned up no sign of this, so the missing flags are a mystery.  One rumor - of dubious reliability - has it that the Argentina flag is missing because someone determined that Team Argentina might have something to do with the disappearance of the FAI flag.  We await developments. [Editor's note: any potentially libelous statements in this paragraph should be attributed to the author, and not to the US Team as a whole.]

Don't cry for me

One of the advantages of being a bright twelve year old kid is that you can take a few weeks off from home-schooling to crew for Dad at a World Championships.

When Alex Franke (VN Crew Chief) isn't out on the grid or running Start Times or delivering Flight Logs, he is making friends.  While the company he keeps isn't always the most respectable sort, you've got to admire his ability to immerse himself in this society.  He has ridden with the gauchos, marched with the guys, and charmed the young ladies.

Last night, when Team VN arrived at the hacienda, they found three notes addressed to Alex from the young ladies. Alex was too much the gentleman to reveal the contents of the letters, but we surmise that they contained a few tearful goodbyes.

Photos from today's grid


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Good report - Quince

WGC2013 report - 17 January

As is often the case, yesterday's grim weather brightened considerably shortly after the decision to cancel the day was announced.  There was enough sun on the ground for just long enough to start the second-guessers speculating on what might or should have been.  Then, as predicted, clouds overdeveloped, some gust front indications were seen in the distance, and it became abundantly clear that a fair and safe task would be impossible.

The US Team decided that the right task for the day was a group meal at the estancia (ranch house northeast of Chaves, where some of us are staying).  Head chef for the evening was José Ignacio Otero, the extremely capable assistant crew assigned to glider PG.  José is a man of many talents, and among them is the preparation of Milanese, which is essentially veal cutlets, pounded, breaded and deep fried.  These made a meal to exceed anything found in a Chaves restaurant.

The multi-talented José
We haven't had a big retrieve day for a while, but the issue is still one for discussion and planning here.  Given the high cost of container shipping and the (now obviously wishful) belief that retrieves would be few, a number of teams decided to bring fewer trailers than gliders. It's safe to say that many have by now repented of this decision - it makes for a late night when one trailer must fetch two gliders, each a 90-minute drive from home.

Our large and capable fleet of towplanes is available for aero retrieves, and the announced cost is quite reasonable.  But so far we've seen only a handful of these:  they are offered only to pilots that land at actual airfields, of which there aren't vast numbers in the Chaves task area.  And when it's normal to have a choice of beautiful agricultural fields within easy reach (many outlandings here don't require a pattern - just proceed on course until your wheel touches the ground) airfields have lower than normal appeal.

Fifty years ago, a more rugged race of men walked the earth and things were different.  At the 1962 pre-World contest in Junin (around 450 km north of Chaves) the Argentina army had helicopters on site, ready for impromptu aero retrieves from most fields.  The glider pilot had to be prepared for an exciting trip home, mostly done at altitudes below 50 meters.  When this became dull, the helicopter pilots decided to liven things up by not taking out slack in the towrope, thus "jerking" the outlanded gliders off the ground with maximum drama.  This came to an end when it was attempted with a heavy Open-class glider which refused to accelerate at the expected rate - the stout towrope thus yanked the helicopter to the ground, and bits of helicopter rotor narrowly missed the glider and bystanders. (Gliding is a lot more tame than in the old days).

Today's weather actually looks grimmer than yesterday's.  At 10:00 we had low cloud cover, occasional light rain, and a cold wind.  (When you're trying to fly gliders at a site 100 km northwest of cold South Atlantic waters, a southeast wind is not what you most hope for.)  The announcement of a noon grid time was met with unfavorable reviews by many pilots and crews, who are less than eager to undertake the considerable effort of preparing 84 gliders for flight when mist is falling and the probability of motorless aircraft staying aloft looks to be around 1 in 200.  But there is a strong sense that we need more competition tasks and must be ready to seize any flying opportunity that comes along.