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.

Photos from today's grid


Hola, Estados Unidos

Good morning!
AGC 171232Z 26002G03KT 2SM -RW SCT002 OVC008 18/18 A2981 RMK INFELIZ

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Clowns with water balloons

I was among the victims yesterday when a roving band of clowns with water balloons and buckets of water attacked the outdoor diners at the Cantina.

I was about to file a complaint with the Organisers when I realized that three of them were members of the US Team.

Photo from today's grid

Manfred and Sean

Good report - Catorce

WGC2013 report - 16 January

Yesterday proved almost as good as the beautiful sky at launch time suggested it would be. The amazing altitudes promised at the pilot briefing did not materialize - pilots had to be content with 6000 feet instead of 8000.  The best lift was close to the forecast - most pilots found some 8-knot climbs.  But there were holes to step into, and many pilots wasted at least some time digging out of one or more.

The forecast of overdevelopment and thunderstorms late in the day was spot-on: these grew into formidable obstacles south of Chaves (i.e. just where predicted), and by 6pm a shelf of blowoff had covered the airfield.  But even late-arriving pilots were mostly able to find enough altitude north of home to cope with problems on final glide, so the result was lots of finishers and good speeds - the best of the contest so far.

My prediction of a modestly devalued day in Standard class was about right:  the best time on course was 2:53, giving the winner (Christophe Cousseau of France) 958 points.  A slightly longer task could have worked - but thunderstorms are hard to predict, and I give the Met Office here good marks for coming close yesterday.

All US Team pilots got home.  In Standard class, Phil and Peter reported good lift but some long glides under fine-looking clouds that took longer than expected to produce useful lift.  Their speeds (just over 102 kph) were good for 15th and 17th place.
Sean and Sarah had good flights in Club class (which in Sean's case included an uncomfortable low point followed by an excellent climb) finishing 11th and 12th.  In World class, Tom got low a couple of times and thus was slow, but did manage his first finish of the contest.

A couple of finishes yesterday were noteworthy: two pilots managed a valid finish at a height and speed that left them unable to reach the runway.  It appears that one pilot managed this well, with a safe landing into a field of acceptably low crop.  The other pilot had difficulties - it appears he almost reached a good field, but with a fence looming in his path came to earth in rather tall corn, producing a groundloop that caused damage to his landing gear.  With the attention of some clever local repairmen, he was reported to be ready to fly this morning.  (As you've no doubt gathered by now, I find it strange that the finish geometry at a world gliding contest should be arranged to routinely result in risky landouts). [You're not the only one. Ed.]

As I've noted, we've found roads in Argentina to be generally good, and the "relaxed" enforcement of speed limits well suited to efficient retrieves.  There are some differences of note.  The normal range of speeds is considerable: big trucks (which are plentiful) do around 80 kph, whereas cars, theoretically limited to 130, may be doing 160.  Outside of towns, everyone is supposed to have headlights on (to facilitate safe passing) and to cooperate with overtaking vehicles which includes allowing space for them to duck back into the right lane when passing can't be completed.

In and near towns, watch out for speed bumps, none of which resemble the wimpy US variety:  Any speed above about 10 kph risks serious discomfort, derangement of passengers & cargo, and possible suspension damage.  It's normal to find that an impromptu detour (itself none too smooth) has been carved out through the dirt shoulder to bypass these.   And at city intersections, stop signs are scarce.  In rare cases you'll find a traffic light, which may have a surprisingly - not to say painfully - long cycle.  More typically you'll find no sign at all - you must negotiate a safe passage with crossing traffic: the nominal rule is that the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way, but the real rule is that the more confident driver in the older vehicle goes first.  Fortunately, Argentina drivers in general seem both competent and reasonably courteous.

An interesting feature of glider contests at Chaves is real-time coverage of the finishes by the local radio station.  The announcer is good at spotting the oncoming gliders and gets quite excited as they cross the runway threshold and touch down: think of the way a soccer announcer's voice rises as the play gets near the goal and you have the idea.

Here's a sample.

Today's weather started out grim, and stayed there.  The few patches of sun on the ground at 8:30 were entirely gone by 9:30.  It looked more or less hopeless for soaring, and the weather forecast at the morning pilot briefing said that the only change likely was deterioration: gust fronts and thunderstorms are apparently possible later today and tomorrow.  In the face of this we still gridded all gliders and assembled on the runway at 12:15 under leaden skies for the expected series of first launch time postponements.  The Puchacz sniffer was unable to stay aloft, and the inevitable day cancellation came around 1:30. This timing proved just right for PG: we towed the glider the short distance from grid to trailer and were sliding the fuselage in the box just as the first raindrops began to fall.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Photo from today's grid

Agustín and Peter

Estancia Hounds

There are a bunch of dogs at the estancia where we are staying. The collies are still just puppies and have been very entertaining. Pat thinks they are not getting enough to eat so she has been feeding them up.

Part of the collie collection


Bruno assesses the chances of a supplemental ration

Good report - Trece

WGC2013 report - 15 January

Compared to the day before, we got just a bit farther yesterday.   By 1:30 the low cloud layer had entirely dissolved and sun was on the ground everywhere.  The first launch was delayed a couple of times, but by around 2pm World class gliders were on tow, and for the first time in the contest, all were able to "stick" - I saw no gliders relaunch, and indeed none that looked particularly low.  This no doubt had a lot to do with winds under 10 knots - the friendliest of the contest thus far.  Pilots reported altitudes around 1000 meters, and best climbs of better than 1.5 m/sec.

Tasks for Standard class and then Club class were soon cancelled, presumably on the basis that there would not be time to complete these launches and then a task in what was predicted to be a short soaring day.  But pretty much everyone assumed that the World class would now have a chance at their fifth task in conditions that looked well short of booming, but definitely friendly.

So more than a few eyebrows were raised when, with World Class gliders hovering near the start line waiting for the flag to drop, their task was cancelled.  One report had it that this was done because the latest weather report suggested there would not be time for completions, and thus another mass landout day would ensue.  But, while most pilots chose to land, some stayed in the air and one was seen in the landing pattern after 5pm, which suggests the day may well have been long enough.  And we've certainly seen that in this task area lots of landouts can be done safely.  The result of all this was our third straight day without a task for any class, and a general sense that time is running short with more flying needed for this contest to be considered a fair test.

We continue to enjoy good wildlife sightings.  The pond just west of the Chaves runways has shrunk a bit in the recent dry weather, but still has an area of several acres and a good amount of bird life.  Yesterday's included Franklins Gull, White-cheeked Pintail, South American Stilt, Southern Lapwing, Cinnamon Teal, Plumbeous Ibis, Great Grebe, and Maguari Stork. Seven Chilean Flamingoes made a low approach in tight formation, but - perhaps deterred by dozens of strange white birds camped on the lawn nearby - pressed on east toward quieter neighborhoods. In the campground we've discovered the nest of a pair of Whistling Herons, which so far seem undeterred by a high level of human activity 40 feet below.  A less welcome critter is the armadillo, unadmired for his habit of digging holes in runways, glider parking areas, fields, and elsewhere.

Fortunately, we have a much better looking day today: sun, a few high clouds, light northwest wind, cumulus likely.  The marplot [? Ed.] seems to be a chance of afternoon thunderstorms creeping in on Chaves from the southeast.  Because of this, the first launch is scheduled for 11:30 - the earliest we've yet seen.  Tasks (of which each class has been given four possible) mostly head north, where conditions are forecast to be very good: climbs of 3+ m/sec to over 2500 meters.  The general thought among pilots is to try to carve out the best 3 hours of flying that the day offers (that's about how long the announced tasks should require), aiming to be on final glide before encountering problems with late afternoon overdevelopment or storms.

12:30 update:  Launch is now complete (a large fleet of towplanes consistently achieves this in around an hour) into an absolutely gorgeous sky, dotted with cumulus whose bases are above 5000 ft.  Winds are around 10 kts.  Looking southeast we see thicker cloud and some tendency toward vertical development that could prove troublesome later.  But for now it's easy to think that we at last have the conditions we came for, and that today will yield a high rate of completions and brisk speeds.  In view of this, tasks may not be quite long enough: in Standard class, for example, the task distance is 339 km which a fast pilot on a day like today should complete in around 2:45 or so - whereas a minimum of 3 hours is required for an undevalued day.  But perhaps this can be seen as a buffer against possible bad weather late in the day.  In any case, this day looks to produce distances and speeds to make pilots smile.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Photo from today's grid

Phil and John

They look so relaxed after the Task has been cancelled, don't they?

Good report - Doce

WGC2013 report - 14 January

Chaves did not see a favorable weather trend yesterday.  The low cloud layer that had broken encouragingly by noon began to re-assemble itself by 2pm, as southeast winds continued to bring in moisture off the South Atlantic.  The sniffer was able to stay aloft, but apparently did not find conditions suitable for a launch, and thus the day was cancelled for all classes.

I thought perhaps the World Class, first on the grid, might be given a chance to try their luck in winds that were about as low as we've seen during the competition.  As I've noted, this class has suffered gravely from difficult soaring conditions and rules that require formidable distances for a valid day.  Over eight scheduled contest days, they have achieved just four valid tasks during which the class leader has accumulated a total score well under 1600 points.  But by late afternoon it was clear that even if they'd been able to stay aloft and start a task, no completions would have been possible, and the decision not to launch was the correct one.

I may have to take back some of the nice things I said about Juan Mandelbaum.  He was indeed unfailingly helpful while here, and has done an enormous amount to help the US Team - but after departing yesterday morning he couldn't resist sending an e-mail to which was attached a photo of the beautiful cumulus-filled soaring sky he apparently encountered only an hour or so north of Chaves, and which persisted all the way to Buenos Aires.

Today's sky at 10:00 looked grimmer than yesterday's.  Southeast winds continue to bring in marine air.  No sun was on the ground anywhere, the ceiling was around 100 meters, and light mist was occasionally falling.  Nonetheless, a grid time was announced, and crews dutifully towed gliders to the north edge of the airfield. By 11:30, some breaks in the overcast had appeared, the ceiling was up to perhaps 200 meters, and optimism was beginning to gain some ground.

Task sheets were distributed that call for short tasks to the north, where perhaps pilots can connect with some of those elusive good conditions.  A puzzling quirk is that every task for every class has the same small final steering turnpoint about  5km from home - which means that all finishers (always assuming we have some) will be funneled into the same small area toward the end of their final glides.

At the pilot briefing, the weather forecast - prefaced with apologies - called for decidedly tricky conditions: a southeast wind, backing to east, will continue to bring moisture, and a strong inversion means that even with good solar heating climbs much above 3000' may be hard to find.  But by 12:30 we see enough sun to feel encouraged that today might not be the third straight no-fly day.

[Update at 1420: Club Class and Standard Class Tasks have been cancelled.]

[Update at 1440: World Class Task cancelled before the Task opened. This was a questionable call. Tom reports that the Task was doable, and his class really needs more valid days...]

Sunday, January 13, 2013


We've reached the halfway point in this competition. We've had 6 flying days, 2 no-fly days, and we have 6 days left on our Championships calendar.

We occupy a variety of positions in the place standings, and all our pilots expect to move up in the second half. It is generally agreed around here that all three scoresheets are still somewhat volatile. The next six days will tell the story.

The story of that story will be told in this blog.

Peter, Phil, John, and I would be greatly encouraged to keep writing if our readers would put a little something in the tip jar. We use the donations we receive to purchase essential items that we didn't bring with us in our luggage - things like tarps, plastic chairs, lumber, a printer, a bicycle, and bizarre power strips.

A bizzare power strip and a plastic chair

Also, gasoline is up to almost 7 pesos per liter, and (thanks to the difficult soaring conditions) we've been burning a lot of it recently.

We'll do our best to continue to acknowledge every donor. Thanks.

Good report - Once

WGC2013 report - 13 January

Though there will no doubt be some dissent from "Monday morning quarterbacks", the decision to declare a rest day looks like a good one.  The predicted good soaring weather did arrive yesterday afternoon, but the fat cumulus clouds at least had the good grace not to appear over the airfield until around 4pm - just late enough to support the belief that there would have been insufficient time for a decent task.

Popular rest-day activities included beach excursions (the closest is about a 75-minute drive from Chaves), and a quiet day near home.  My day included a visit to an interesting shop in the town of Tres Arroyos ("Three streams") about a half-hour southwest.  In a building that may once have been a small warehouse is an improbable collection of merchandise mostly - but obviously not exclusively - pitched to tourists.  This is the place to go when you need hay, bracelets, dogfood, gas grills, grains, cured ham, cutting boards, tables, gaucho knives, cheese, wine racks, sausages, small swords, or leather belts.  All of this is locally produced and to the extent I could judge (i.e. omitting such items as hay and dogfood) showed evidence of good craftsmanship.

Some additional tales from Friday's flying have filtered in.  A few pilots landed in fields just short of the airfield, and not all of these had done their field-scouting homework - at least one came to earth in a soybean field, which when plants are small is okay for the glider, but will reliably lead to an unhappy farmer.  So we surmise that the Otto Ballod gliding club is now in line for some neighbor-relations problems that may persist past the end of this contest.  And one story had it that among the short-landers was a pilot who'd released just a bit early from an aerotow retrieve and who compounded his problems by failing to extend his landing gear (a detail not infrequently overlooked during a no-pattern, straight-in landing).  Fortunately, in a smooth field this rarely produces much worse than an acute case of embarrassment.   (Because I've already expressed my wonder at rules that make the nature of fields just short of home so significant, I'll avoid this subject here.) [Thanks. Ed.]

Today we awoke to a low, solid overcast that by 10:30 had dissolved into low cumulus clouds - rather like the beginning of many good days at Uvalde.  At the pilot briefing we learned that this had much the same cause as at Uvalde (sun acting on a layer of marine air) but by no means the same result.  It seems the good soaring conditions of yesterday have retreated some ways north.  If these can be reached, pilots should find strong climbs to good altitudes under cumulus clouds.  Unfortunately, it seems likely that wind from the ocean will keep our local weather difficult and free of cumulus.  Wind - which as launch time approaches is agreeably light from the southeast - is predicted to strengthen, perhaps to troublesome velocities.

[Update: all Tasks were cancelled at 2pm. It's another rest day.]

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Teamwork, USA style

As a gliding country, we may have turned the corner on this pair-flying thing.

For many years, the US competition rules did not allow cooperation by pairs of pilots. As a result, the US Team has been at a disadvantage in international championships, where pair-flying is allowed.

Done well, pair-flying gives both pilots an advantage. And doing it well requires practice, something that is hard to come by back home. Done poorly, pair-flying tends to slow down both pilots, and we have a few examples of mediocre team performance attributable to trying to figure it all out during a WGC.

Our efforts to reverse this situation seem to be paying off, finally.

We had pretty good results at Uvalde, especially in the Open Class - and here at Chaves, we have had so much success that it's being noticed by our European friends.

Sarah and Sean flew together at the 2011 Sports Class Nationals and finished first and second. They invested a lot of time on the ground talking about pair-flying techniques, and last year they were students at the Team Training Camp (hosted by Sarah at Chilhowee) taught by Brian Spreckley.

On two of the days here, they placed high on the score sheet, together, and they both credit pair-flying for their good results. They were well on the way to doing it again on Thursday when they fell into a trap that nearly got them both. By sheer serendipity, Sean escaped and Sarah didn't.

In the Standard Class, Peter and Phil have been practicing together since before last year's Nationals, in which they essentially tied for first. They are doing so well together that on the overcalled miserable days (of which we've had more than our share), they can pretty much count on each other's company aux vaches.

Even when separated, our pairs know how to cooperate. Yesterday, Phil was not in a position to start when the fast group departed. Peter went with them and relayed tactical information back to Phil, who was consequently able to catch the fastest moving gaggle in the world and rejoin his partner.

Postcards from Glidertown, Argentina

Good report - Diez

WGC2013 report - 12 January

Yesterday's weather turned out just a bit better than the pessimists expected, but still fell well short of what the optimists had hoped for.  The wind did increase, but only moderately - pilots reported about 55 kph (30 knots) which is rugged but, as we've seen, not extreme for Chaves. The cirrus cloud did intrude from the west, but did not smother all lift.  Yet the day died around 5:30, and that left most pilots short of home - mercifully, in most cases within a 30-minute drive (we've come to think of a retrieve that ends back at the airfield before dark as an easy day).

Phil and Peter were with the leaders most of the day, but needed one more climb to get home.  A dozen Standard class pilots found that climb and were able to finish, with modest speeds.  The Club class had just 5 finishers; Sarah and Sean were among those with decent flights that ended about 20km short of home.  Tom McKnight has his best flight of the competition, and landed with the fifth-best distance.  Unfortunately, the requirement that 25% of pilots achieve at least 100km was not met, so this will not be a valid day for the World Class.  It really seems unjust that this class should have the same distance requirement as all others (including Open Class) - surely this should be at least to some extent scaled by glider performance.

Today we have a welcome rest day.  The decision on this was promised by yesterday afternoon, but around 7pm it was announced that the final decision would be made this morning.  An approaching cold front was predicted to bring low cloud, then possibly some good soaring conditions - perhaps including cumulus clouds (!), of which only a handful have been seen during the past week.  The morning view was that the chance of good flying today wasn't great, and after so many landouts the troops are more than ready for a day off.  Few dissenting voices were heard.

No fly day

The flying day was cancelled this morning at 0745, due to a forecast of an all-day overcast. The Team will spend the day resting, shopping, and being thankful we're not in Brazil.

Learn the code

I own a cell phone. It sits in my sock drawer most of the time, because there is no cell coverage where I live. When I travel, I usually remember to take it with me, and I find it to be a very handy item at glider contests. I am not into texting.

That phone doesn't work in Argentina, of course, but the Organisers have given me one that does. I use it to stay in touch with the US pilots, crews, other Team Captains, and the Organisers.  Surprisingly little of this communication takes place by voice. It's all texting, or "SMS," as they call it here.

Before I arrived in Argentina my total lifetime experience in texting amounted to about a dozen messages. Now I send about 70 messages a day, and receive about 50.

It all works pretty well, but today I started receiving complaints from the Team that I don't use the proper abbreviations in my text messages. Suddenly, I realized that I am the oldest member of the Team, and I haven't got a clue about the accepted conventions when it comes to shortening words and phrases in my digital expectorations.

I fully accept the need for brief messages. After all, life is short, and I have better things to do than to worry about spelling with my thumb.

I have a background in radiotelegraphy, and I naively assumed that the international Morse shorthand (in use for over a hundred years) would be understandable by my correspondents on the Team. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the abbreviation for "message received" is 'k,' not 'R,' and that the shorthand for "thanks" is 'ty,' not 'tnx.' Nobody here understands what 'iff' means, and of the dozens of useful Q-signals available, the only ones understood by my Team are 'QFE' and 'QNH,' and those only barely.

What's a Team Captain to do? Capitulate, of course. I hereby commit myself to learn the new code. Tomorrow, I'll let LG Crew know that he has some new instructional duties.

73 es QRT

P.S. The only person here less skilled in texting than I am is John Good.

Finish follies

It is tempting to describe the behavior of the pilots in the vicinity of the Finish Ring as amusing, if it weren't so dangerous.

In my previous post on the topic, I left out the "other" penalty to which pilots are subjected when all they want to do is to get on the ground, get out of the way, and relax for the first time in five or six hours.

I am referring to the "hazardous flying" penalty imposed for crossing the airport boundary at a height of less than 15 meters above the ground. The airfield abuts a busy highway, and it makes sense that you want to have some clearance between you and the cars and trucks passing by.

Two days ago, a pilot was praised for performing a low-altitude 180° turn to a field landing short of the road. Think about that for a moment: Last minute decision. Low altitude turn. Field landing. Praise.

It happened again today. I heard that four gliders wound up in that field. Tomorrow, the pilots will probably also receive praise for being "safety conscious." In my opinion, they were conscious more of their score than matters of safety.

I also heard that another pilot received both finish penalties: for finishing too low and for crossing the road too low.

So let me get this straight:  the pilot who makes a desperate final glide to a safe landing in a familiar place gets two penalties, while the ones who make similar desperate glides that end in a dangerous maneuver to a sudden arrival in an unprepared place are the heroes.

Got it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Photo from today's grid


Good report - Nueve

WGC2013 report - 11 January

Yesterday's wind actually moderated during the afternoon - one of the few times we've seen that happen.  Against this was the fact that the inversions (there were more than one) didn't break as expected, so lift was both lower and weaker than predicted.   The result was another tough day of low speeds and some landouts.

Among these was Sarah Arnold, who got low shortly after the start and couldn't dig out of that hole.  Sean Franke did manage to recover, and went on to finish second for the day, which has him standing third for the contest, just 4 points out of first.  In World Class, about two-thirds got home - the winner did a bit less than 50 kph (i.e. areound 30 mph);  Tom was again among those who landed out (this time fairly near to one of the good paved roads).  In Standard Class, nearly everyone got home, but speeds were decidedly moderate:  best was just over 70 kph; Peter and Phil did around 63 kph.  (When the best pilots in the world, in state-of-the art gliders, struggle to do 43 mph over tasks of under 100 miles, you know the flying is difficult.)

As is normal at World contests - especially when weather is blue - there has been lots of gaggling at WGC2013.  This puts a premium on the ability to climb through a gaggle and thus tends to encourage a level of aggressive flying that pushes (and occasionally crosses) the boundary of what's safe.  This reliably leads to talks at the morning pilot briefing about the importance of proper thermal etiquette, the dangers of inconsiderate flying, etc.  But it's difficult - perhaps impossible - to enforce safe flying behavior, and no doubt the pilots who are good at pushing the boundary understand this and are not much impressed by exhortations to mend their ways.

Angel Garcia is crewing for Tom McKnight and thus has had some varied retrieve experiences.  As a good crew should be, he's resourceful - as was seen the other day when the gate to Tom's field was locked and the farmer could not be found.  What would be a problem for many was opportunity for Angel - he disassembled the gate, then after the glider was disassembled and the trailer was out of the field, re-assembled it, good as new.  This definitely fits with the Argentine attitude toward life: problems will arise, and then we will work out a way to solve them.

Angel Garcia, our teammate from Texas

This is about the windiest day yet seen during the official competition - we rigged glider PG this morning in a north-northwest wind blowing a fairly solid 25 knots.  This is a job for at least 3 (4 is better) and requires techniques such as stationing one person to manage the canopy while it's open, lest it slam shut and cause injury or damage.  There was plenty of blowing dust (fortunately the major sources of this are not directly upwind of our trailer parking area).  We have learned that on the (today rather long) haul to the launch grid it's important to attach the wing wheel to the downwind wing - we saw several crews that had this wrong and had the wind upset their glider.

Today's forecast calls for more of this: wind is expected to increase, and the only cloud is likely to be cirrus (already visible by 10:00) which may thicken and reduce heating.  If this holds, I'm skeptical that it will be possible for World Class gliders to achieve a valid task today, and indeed both Club and Standard classes may be hard put to fly the necessary distance.

Update at launch time:  The forecast wind increase has not yet happened, so we're still dealing with around 25 knots.  The first two classes to launch (Club and Standard) seem to be doing okay.  The area around home is now entirely blue; to the west we see an area of thick cirrus which may be moving our way, but so far slowly.  So the optimistic among us - now a furtive and dwindling band - can hope that today's rather short tasks are possible.

Scenes from the Opening Ceremony