Monday, June 30, 2014

A look at the competing gliders...

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
30 June   (no-contest day)
by John Good

 Another rest/rain day.  An occluded front parked in southern Finland continues to bring in low cloud and light rain from the southwest.  Tomorrow is said to offer hope of flyable weather, but today has none and flying was cancelled early.

It’s time for a look at the gliders competing here.  The Club class is intended to provide competition for single-place aircraft found in the hangars of glider clubs throughout Europe.  That tends to mean gliders that were being produced 20 to 40 years ago.  This class is handicapped based on glider performance, and there seems to be some preference for gliders at the lower-performance end of the handicap range (on the basis that if you can stay with a competitor flying a higher-performance glider, your handicap yields a better score).

It’s interesting to note the considerable overlap between gliders of the Club class of 2014 and the Standard class of 1976: Cirrus, Libelle, LS-1, Std Jantar and Hornet are models found in both competitions.  A big difference is the large number of PIK-20s found in 1976 – none is competing here (in the home country of this model).  The reasons aren’t entirely clear, though the fact that this is an “orphan” model is no doubt important: the factory is out of business and spares are somewhere between hard and impossible to get. So you can buy one cheaply, but maintaining it may be formidable.

In 2014, the Standard class (which basically means 15-meter span, no flaps) is dominated by just two models: Discus 2 and LS-8 (both of which designs are around 20 years old).  Very few new gliders for this class have been sold in recent years, and it appears that no glider factory has plans for a new model. Indeed, there is considerable feeling that the class may be withering away (despite good participation here).  Glider manufacturers are devoting their single-seat attention to the 18-Meter class, where sales seem brisk despite rather shockingly high prices.

The 20-Meter Multiplace class is new – indeed, this is the first world championship for this class. Its presence here can be attributed to the huge success of Schempp-Hirth’s DuoDiscus, a 20-meter 2-seater of which more than 600 have been sold.  In view of this model’s popularity, it was fairly easy to convince the IGC (international gliding commission) that a world championship for this class would make sense and attract many entries.  But if you look at the scoresheet, you find it’s dominated by the Arcus, which can be thought of as an improved DuoDiscus (with flaps, and a substantially higher price tag). There was discussion of applying handicaps to this class, which could have made the many Duos competitive; but t

The only truly new glider here is ”32”:  Schleicher’s  ASG-32, a  flapped competitor to the Arcus.  This is the first one produced, and it’s notable that the Schleicher factory was able to have it ready in time for this contest.  It was produced with a motor, but (like some of the motorized Arcus here) this was removed in order to meet the maximum weight requirement (750 kg / 1658 lbs).  The ’32 looks very well made (as indeed Schleicher gliders always do) and sports an interesting retractable/steerable tailwheel.  The early view seems to be that it climbs and glides about like an Arcus.

A further item from The Groundloop (WGC1976 contest bulletin):  On the third day of that contest a plane “landed through the foggy” to deliver a distinguished guest at Räyskälä: it was William Conrad, a well-known actor prominent at the time for his role in the TV series Cannon.  The story notes that he had recently taken up gliding but was an experienced pilot, having flown fighters (including the P-51) during WW2, while based in the “Illusion Islands” (presumably a chain of islands that appears to be – but in fact is not – southwest of Alaska).

(I did some research on William Conrad and discovered that he did the narration for the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series. And it occurred to me that “Illusion Islands” is just the sort of thing the writers of that show would have used.)

Memories from the 1976 World Championships in Finland

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
29 June   (no-contest day)
by John Good

It was too much to hope that our first-rate weather of yesterday would persist.  It hasn’t, and today’s forecast calls for low clouds and steady rain, probably lasting well into tomorrow.  Without the smallest change of soarable weather, today’s flying was cancelled at the morning pilot briefing. 

The day wasn’t without a welcome dose of aviation, however.  At about 9:30 the roar of round engines was heard, and out of the grim sky appeared a DC-3, which landed, taxied in and parked.  Glider pilots may act unimpressed when contemplating a sleek modern composite sailplane with a glide ratio of 60 to 1.  But land a 70-year-old rivet-encrusted aluminum ship with a glide ratio around 7 to 1, and they will rush to inspect it, oblivious of light rain.  

This example is owned by an aviation club near Helsinki; they apparently use it for weekend jaunts and are on the lookout for excuses to fly - a gliding competition is just the sort of event worth a visit.  This DC-3 is in top condition – perhaps a bit short of museum perfection, but about as nice a flying example as could be found anywhere. Unfortunately, the rules of the club allow only members to fly in it, and one-day memberships are not allowed.  If not for this, I expect they could have made some decent money hauling 20 or so soaring pilots on 15-minute rides.   

I’ve been given an interesting (and obviously rare) book to read: it’s a bound collection of all the daily bulletins published at Räyskälä's last World Gliding Contest, held in 1976.  Back in those ancient pre-Internet days, it took a lot more effort to put out stories about the goings-on at a big soaring contest.  It was normal for contest organizers to assemble a group of volunteers tasked with creating a sort of daily newspaper for the contest.  At WGC1976, this was done properly: a staff of seven worked hard every day to generate and type up stories, and take, develop and print photos. All this was then laid out and run to a print shop about an hour away, printed at night, and copies hauled back to the airfield for (free) distribution the next morning, under the saucy name “The Groundloop”. 

Thirty-eight years later, it makes interesting reading.  The two competition classes were Open (with 39 entries) and Standard (46 entries).  Open Class entrants favored the ASW-17 and the Nimbus 2, with a smattering of Jantars and one highly-tuned Glasflugel 604. The most popular ship in the Standard class was Finland’s own PIK-20.  Others included the Cirrus, Jantar Standard, LS-1f, Hornet, Astir CS, and DG-100. 

US pilots were Ross Briegleb, a young Tommy Beltz, Dick Johnson and Dick Butler (owner of that ‘604 and the only pilot among those 85 entrants still competing at the World level – he’ll be flying at the contest in Poland in just a couple of weeks).  Listing all the notable pilots’ names would be difficult (there are many world champions), but included are soaring legends like Klaus Holighaus, Ingo Renner, and Helmut Reichmann.  One 1976 Standard Class competitor has a unique connection to the 2014 contest: Ralph Jones is the father of Steve and Howard, who have a tight grip on first place in the 20-Meter class.   

The bulletins make it clear that closed airspace simply wasn’t an issue in 1976.  A total of 32 turnpoints allowed good use of southern Finland (the 2014 turnpoint list has 327 (!) entries – though at the rate we’re going 32 would have been enough to meet our needs). Score sheets were obviously produced by computer: each one says “Results computed by Wang System 2200”.  Weather was an issue: one article mentions that “it is the coldest June in Finland for 100 years.”  Plus ça change

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Competition Day 4 and International Night

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
28 June   (Fourth actual competition day)
by John Good

This morning’s sky was again beautifully clear, and this time the day delivered something close to what these attractive morning conditions promised.  The result was the best racing day yet, with excellent speeds and only a little rain to dodge.

The tasks were the longest yet, though just a bit short for weather this good.  The Competition Director noted that the initial idea was for a “grand tour” task that circumnavigated the large controlled airspace area surrounding the city of Tampere, located about 50 miles north of here.  (Why a city of 150,000 needs an area of closed airspace worthy of Philadelphia is a bit of a mystery.)

Such a task would have been about 500 km, and probably within the capabilities of the 20-Meter and Standard class gliders.  But the forecast for some chance of rain led to a decision for shorter tasks that stayed closer to home.  The winners in those two classes completed their 350-km tasks in a bit under 3 hours, which causes the winning score to be reduced below 1000 points – a trifle disappointing for what could prove to be the best day of the contest.  But enough pilots dodged enough rain showers late in the day to limit the grumbling about undercalled tasks.

The improvement in weather has encouraged Finland’s insects: all gliders returned today with a good number of them smashed on the leading edges of wings.  It may soon be time to carry those troublesome bugwipers.  On the ground, mosquito repellent is starting to come out of storage and into use (a bright side to our cold weather has been the suppression of what can be a major nuisance at this time of year).

The evening’s big social event was International Night: all teams are encouraged to serve food and drink typical of their country.  This was a huge success here at Räyskälä – hundreds of people attended (but there was plenty for all); no one left hungry, and few 100% sober.  The US Team served grilled hot dogs on buns, with all the trimmings (they were seriously popular).  Team Australia offered wine and also Vegemite, a yeast extract that is spread on bread or crackers.  This has the appearance, consistency and some say, the flavor of road tar, but I happen to love it.

 Team Brazil whipped up a dangerous concoction known as caipirinha, which includes limes, sugar and cachaça (sugar cane distilled into fire water).  And if you plan on operating machinery or even walking a straight line, be careful when a smiling Janusz Centka (several time world gliding champion from Poland) offers you a small quantity of clear liquid.  At WGC2010 it was some variant of Slivovitz; here it was vodka. 


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Morning preparations...

Competition Day 3

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
27 June   (Third actual competition day)
by John Good

This morning offered the most promising sky we’ve yet seen: nearly clear (which in Finland means crystal clear), with some high clouds receding to the southeast.  It looked as if it could be the start of a classic soaring day (a species rather rare in Finland this year). 


But it didn’t really work out that way.  By launch time cumulus clouds filled the sky and several were towering to heights that portended problems.  All pilots found some good (occasionally excellent) lift, but all had to pick their way around rain showers, wet areas, and spreadout cloud.  A memorable radio transmission from Garret Willat to Sean Franke illustrates some of the complexities of flying in these conditions: “Maybe we should try to stay above the freezing level, so we can fly in snow rather than rain” (the point being that dry snow readily slides off wings and thus doesn’t degrade glide performance as much as rain).

Some very good speeds were recorded, especially in Standard class.  This apparently involved running a shelf of cloud close to a line of towering cumulus clouds.  Such a shelf can offer terrific lift, but also severe gusts, lightning and possibly dangerous hail. Today, it worked well for those whose timing allowed them to find it in the right state of development.   

The more conservative approach was to detour away from the approaching rain.  This was the strategy employed by the Finnish pilots, who tend to be very savvy about the vagaries of Räyskälä weather (some of them are professional meteorologists).  The US Team followed their lead, but it didn’t prove to be the right way to bet today.  Three of our pilots got home, though not with impressive speeds.  Phil Gaisford wasn’t able to climb away from 1200’ in rain, and landed in a good field.  Heinz and Karen flew through extensive rain and eventually had to use the “iron thermal” (their glider’s sustainer engine) to get home.

Continuing the theme of things that are different in Finland, I’ll mention towropes.  In the US these are typically polypropylene of 3/8” or 5/16” diameter, generally held to have a breaking strength around 1200 lbs.  Here at Räyskälä, the material is the same, but the diameter is around an inch, yielding a rope that would serve to moor a fair-sized cruise ship – I’d be surprised if the strength when new is less than 15,000 lbs.  (A mechanical weak link at both ends protects towplane and glider in case of problems.)  A towrope like this weighs a good 20 pounds or so, which yields an evident “sag” in level flight.  

The Finnish language is a major curiosity for visitors.  It has an interesting and not unpleasant sound, but bears no detectable relationship to any other language.  (Linguists are said to discern similarities with Hungarian, but native speakers of these two languages apparently don’t see any.)  For most visitors, this makes problems: Finnish words have nothing in common with any word you can recognize – indeed, if you find any connection at all, it’s probably because the word is one that Finnish has borrowed from another language (e.g. “kahvi” is that drink you enjoy with breakfast).

An example of the possible confusion came during a broadcast of one of the World Cup games: early in the second half the Finnish announcers were frequently heard to refer to “Ooksi Ooksi” which sounded as if it might be the name of one of the players (later on, his brother “Cocksi Ooksi” was apparently on the field).  But no – this was the score: Ooksi was actualy “yksi” (one) and Cocksi was “kaksi” (two).  (The first five numbers are: yksi, kaksi, kolme, nelja, viisi.)

To be fair, Finnish pronunciation is regular and reasonably familiar – an English-speaking visitor can say place names without much embarrassment after only a little practice (try that in Polish – or better yet, don’t, if you wish to avoid confusing both Poles and English speakers).  A helpful rule is that the accent invariably goes on the first syllable.  The sounds don’t precisely match, as we guessed from a sign on a Rayskala water tap that said “Do not trink”.

Smoking seems to be tolerably common but declining in popularity.  Just a few years ago rules changed such that smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants and public buildings – so the sight of smokers huddled outdoors is as commonplace as in the US.  Finland smokers unfortunately seem to share the view of those elsewhere, that “the world is my ashtray”: cigarette butts are a common form of litter in a country that is otherwise notably spic and span. I haven’t checked the price of cigarettes, but I expect it is quite high: Finland is not shy about taxing what are perceived as vices (the cost of beer here is evidence of this).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We are racing!

WGC2014 – Rayskala, Finland
26 June   (Second actual competition day)
by John Good


Our patience has been rewarded with weather that allowed a couple of days with genuine soaring tasks. 

 It would have been far too much to expect that the flying be trouble-free, and it certainly hasn’t.  Finland’s “summer without a summer” continues.  We’ve had much cloud and low temperatures – pilots have had to pay a lot of attention to the problem of finding lift under a solid overcast, and sometimes in rain.

Yesterday’s tasks went well for three US pilots, and not so well for three others.  The unfortunate ones were Bob Fletcher (who encountered little but rain after his start and landed only about 25 km out), and Heinz and Karin (who made several relaunches and thus got out on the task far too late to complete it). Phil Gaisford got around a troubled Standard Class task.  Sean Franke had an excellent flight and finished second in Club class; Garret Willat had the best distance among the non-finishers, which earns a respectable score on a day when many pilots don’t get home.

Garret’s outlanding was in a good field that he’d scouted (on the ground) during the practice period.  This “homework” allowed him to press on into an area that otherwise offers very unattractive landing options (of which the best is a lake).

Today’s weather was just a bit better.  There was still plenty of cloud  and rain showers to dodge, but lift – often under near-solid cloud layers – was consistent enough to get most pilots around their tasks.  Sean and Garret had decent flights (at 90 and 88 kph).  Sean’s 13th place for the day, puts him in second place overall, just one point out of first.

Most pilots in Standard Class delayed their start for quite some time, in view of trouble evident at their first turn area to the south.  When they did finally set out, It seemed that the chances of many complete tasks was small.  But the class generally stuck together, found the lift they needed, and mostly got home, Bob and Phil included.  Bob finished 13th – a big improvement over yesterday.  But Phil got very bad news: in a pre-start thermal he’d made a short excursion into closed airspace, and thus receives no points for the day.

Beyond the nature of Finland’s summer weather, some differences are notable here: You’ll look long and hard for a pickup truck. When Finns wish to move stuff around, they use utility trailers (which explains why a high percentage of vehicles have tow hitches - and not just those found at glider contests).  In deference to the climate, these trailers often have large molded plastic covers.  This very practical approach is no doubt in part a response to gas that’s currently costing us $8.50 / gal – an amount that would make a vehicle with the mileage of a pickup an extreme indulgence.

Supermarkets always provide useful points of comparison between countries.  Take mustard, for example: in Finland, this is commonly sold in large toothpaste-like tubes, which actually work well for spreading mustard on bread or meat.  As with most food items here, the variety is impressive.  Unlike some, mustard containers typically include some useful hints in English as to the nature of the contents.  I bought some labeled “Prepared mustard strong” and have not been disappointed.

At all markets it seems you’re expected to bring your own bags (or pay for the ones you need) and to bag your own purchases.  Carts are reasonably small, and typically have 4 fully castering wheels.  If you select produce, you should weigh and label it before you arrive at the checkout.  Most items are expensive by our standards – to pay the same price here in Euros (at $1.36 each) as you do in dollars at home means the item is fairly cheap.  Quality seems uniformly high.

A final point concerns car models, which in Finland are similar but not identical to what’s found in the US.  Ever run across a Nissan Qashqai?  I saw a couple of these small SUVs today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

We take-off on Day 1

 Phil Gaisford - Discus 2b

Bob Fletcher - ASW-28

Heinz Weissenbuehler and Karin Schlosser - Arcus T

Garret Willat - Hornet
Sean Franke - Cirrus
Preliminary results are available here:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gorgeous skies only 100km south of Räyskälä!

Please enjoy these pictures from our day trip to Helsinki:


We grid and wash the gliders...

WGC2014 – Rayskala, Finland
24 June   (Third scheduled competition day)
by John Good

Rules for today’s report preclude any adverse comments relating to Finland weather.  So I can mention that we gridded all gliders today and made a valiant attempt to fly, but that no actual motorless aviation resulted.  The reason for this is left to the imagination of the reader...

I believe these rules do not enjoin me from taking up such subjects as the relative effectiveness of cloth towels vs. plastic squeegees in removing moisture from smooth composite aerodynamic surfaces.  As it happens, we collected considerable data on this today, and (based on today’s and previous experiments) I’m definitely in the squeegee camp.  Note that quality squeegees are more common than is generally supposed: nearly all motor vehicles have two, in the form of windshield wipers.

I can mention that we had about the warmest weather yet seen at Räyskälä – high temperature was around 60F.  And we are told that this trend may continue.

It’s been noted that I’m behind on reports of bird sightings.  Räyskälä hasn’t yet produced much notable news on this front, though we regularly see a pair of Eurasian Cranes in a field near our eastern lake.  Other common sightings are Wagtails, Hooded Crows, and Cuckoos.  An Osprey was seen flying over the gridded gliders today.

At 10pm, another significant dose of the Precipitation that Must Not be Mentioned is falling, so I’ll end this short report in hopes of being able to report something better tomorrow.

Team waves to soaring fans back home!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Day 2 is Rained Out

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
23 June   (Second scheduled competition day)
By John Good

 Sailplane racing remains on hold here.  The low-pressure system that’s been controlling our weather continues to move at its leisurely pace.  It rained steadily from 8pm to about 9am (considerably worsening the mud situation). The morning forecast said that Finland would actually receive some sun today, but you’d have to be within about 10 miles of the south coast to see it (we are about 60 miles from there).  So at the morning pilot briefing competition was declared to be cancelled, and we were faced with another day of leisure.

But conditions proved better than the grim forecast: by mid-afternoon we actually had some sun on the airfield, and it looked almost flyable.  I think that to launch even one class would have been tough, and any task would almost certainly have led to many outlandings, and scores - if there were any – controlled by luck.  But I expect our contest organizers were squirming just a bit at the 4pm appearance of the sky.  I’m guessing that tomorrow we will rig and grid all gliders, and try hard to do some flying.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Breaking News: Summer 2014 cancelled in Finland

The Polar Vortex has taken up residence over us!


Gliding will become a new Winter Olympics sport.
Team USA is ready!

Views from Räyskälä...

Midnight Bonfire
Opening Ceremony

Day One Cancelled

WGC2014 – Rayskala, Finland
22 June   (First scheduled competition day)
By John Good

Our contest begins “not with a bang, but a whimper.”  This should have been the first race day at WGC2014, but Finland weather wouldn’t have it.  A large low-pressure system, centered a short ways northwest of Rayskala, is moving slowly – too slowly – southeast.  Thanks to this we didn’t get even a short window of soarable weather today – it was uniformly grim, and seems likely to stay that way for a while.

The first sign of problems came around 5am, when a few minutes of hail preceded about an hour of significant rain. Rayskala airfield features sandy soil, which allows water to drain well.  But it’s showing some strain from all the rain we’ve had: the well-traveled roads within our campground now have numerous areas of standing water, and ample mud.

At the 10am pilot briefing the weather was formally declared hopeless and tasks for the day were cancelled.  This sort of “clean kill” is better than having to assemble gliders in rain and then wait around for a forlorn chance at a task.  But we are being told to expect a couple more days of this - not what anyone wants to hear.

Phil Gaisford reports having inspected a cut log he found near the lakeside cabin where he, wife Pat and Bob Fletcher are staying (about a kilometer from the airfield).  He counted nearly 100 annual growth rings in a log about 14 inches in diameter – which argues that the campground trees that surround us are older than I’d been led to believe.

Opening ceremonies and other adventures...

WGC2014 – Rayskala, Finland
21 June   (Final practice day)
by John Good

Variety was the feature of today’s weather: we had sun, rain, graupel, and even a few flakes of snow - on this the first official day of summer. There were intervals that would have provided some decent soaring, and a few gliders did in fact fly.  But the day before the start of competition is typically seen as a rest day by most pilots, and so it was here.
We did get some serious weather luck for the opening ceremonies, held outdoors at 7pm.  Yes it was cold (around 45 F) and a bit windy, but there was no rain, nor much in the way of dark clouds.  In fact, there was even a little sun.  This favorable interlude allowed a really elegant “airshow”, consisting of a beautiful PIK-5 glider (made in Finland, in 1946) doing a winch launch and pattern, then landing near the assembled competitors to deliver the FAI (international aeronautic federation) flag, signifying the official start of our competition.  This vintage glider is about as beautiful a wood-and-fabric aircraft as you’re likely to find anywhere – someone has restored it to a standard of quality rarely seen.  It was swarmed by pilots of the best modern composite aircraft, and quite obviously impressed them all.
The opening ceremony was good – which is to say sufficiently short that no one froze to death. Flags for all 25 nations represented here were raised.  We appreciated a comment from a representative of the Finnish Air Sports federation, welcoming us to one of the first-ever winter gliding competitions.  We then retired to the briefing hangar for a good meal.  This facility is a bit small for 400+ people (the announced total present tonight) but there was enough food for everyone (very commendable), and that many bodies provided enough warmth for a decent level of comfort. 
The PIK-5 flight was sedate, but some serious aerobatics took place several hours earlier.  A Turbo Arcus two-place glider was approaching for a landing when the pilots decided to start the engine.  This engine start attempt didn’t work, but the two pilots persisted with it until the option to land on their selected runway had gone by.  They then did a frightening low-level excursion of the airfield, scattering several pilots among the parked Club Class gliders and convincing most onlookers that a crash was imminent.  Yet they somehow managed not to cartwheel their glider, nor take out any of the parked aircraft or trailers, and managed to land on the grass and roll to the runway.
I missed last night’s bonfire, but apparently it was a big success.  It was held at the lakeshore (the large lake to the northwest of the field, not the one to the east, south or west).  The festivities wound down around 3am, and some number of folks here emerged in late morning looking as if they weren’t too sorry today wouldn’t involve much flying.  This view of midsummer’s day is apparently standard around Finland – pretty much all stores are closed as the population slowly recovers from the festivities.
For more views of the Bonfire Party please see Team ARC Blog at:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pictures from Finland

Team USA base

Fields near the airport

Fishing at 1:00 am

The team at the opening ceremony

PIK-5 landing to bring the FAI flag

Emergency vehicle in case of a water landing

Jose Otero being crowned by Manfred Franke

Garret in flight on Practice Day Two
 First Leg looks good...


Second Leg Dodging Rain
Third Leg Landouts

Friday, June 20, 2014

De-icing with bug wipers...

WGC2014 – Rayskala, Finland 
20 June   (Second official practice day)
by John Good

Today’s weather did in fact match the forecast that called for improved soaring conditions.  The catch was that our window of good weather lasted from about 9am through 12:30.  Had we been launching at about the time of the daily pilot briefing (10:00), a respectable short task might well have been possible for all classes.  As it was, the launch began at noon, and the early pilots in the first class (Club) found good lift.  But the sky steadily darkened, light rain fell on the airfield even before the launch was complete (with plenty more visible to the west and northwest), and for most pilots the hoped-for good soaring conditions never materialized.

A pattern is emerging.  The good lift (there has been some most days) is largely a product of very unstable air.  Little solar heating is needed to get this going, so even the day’s early cumulus clouds can keep gliders in the air.  But unstable air and even moderate solar heating readily leads to overdeveloped cumulus clouds, spreadout, and rain.  Until this pattern changes, I think we can expect conditions that “cycle” rapidly – within half an hour, good lift can change to rain and put gliders in trouble (or on the ground).  For success, pilots will probably need to fly patiently, anticipate problems, and make plenty of detours.  Crews will probably be doing multiple retrieves.  Task setters will need to take care that pilots are sent into areas where safe landing fields are available.  The patience of Finnish farmers may be tested.

An interesting pair of devices seen of most gliders here are “bug wipers”.  In normal years, Finland produces an impressive crop of small flying insects, the remains of which steadily accumulate on gliders’ wings, increasing drag and compromising the normally amazing performance of modern composite wings.  A bug wiper is a spring-loaded device that spends most of a flight “parked” at the leading edge of its wing, next to the fuselage.  When the pilot decides the number of smashed bugs warrants attention, he cranks a sort of fishing reel that releases the bug wiper, at which point air flow causes it to track along the wing.  It drags small wires along the leading edge, which scrape away some portion of the bug remains, restoring (at least in theory) smooth airflow.  Once the bug wiper has reached the limit of its travel a short distance from the end of the wing, the pilot reels it in, back to its parked position.

If this all sounds to you rather Rube Goldberg-ish, you’ve formed an accurate impression.  These devices are expensive (a set can easily cost over $1000) and prone to failure (they get hung up partway out the wing, fall off, etc.).  But pilots hate the idea that they might have to suffer a handicap a competitor could avoid.  In my view, this issue would have been best dealt with by a rule that bans such devices in competition – that way, all pilots would face the same problem and manufacturers would have an incentive to design airfoils that tolerate contamination without losing much performance (something that would benefit all pilots).

Of course, this year isn’t normal in Finland.  The bugs have responded to abnormal cold by laying low, waiting for better weather.  Wing contamination hasn’t yet been nearly enough to justify the nuisance and drag penalty of bug wipers.  But most pilots have been carrying them during the practice period, if only to get used to them.  And today, Garret Willat found an unanticipated benefit: in the cold air under an early cloud he noticed a light accumulation of rime ice on his wings, and found that his bug wipers (okay, make that “ice wipers”) could deal with it.

Tonight we enjoyed the first big social event of the contest:  the contest organizers and Team Finland hosted a “Midsummers Eve” party.  This marks the summer solstice, and is a big deal in Finland.  We celebrated with salmon soup, schnapps, beer, sausages, and ice cream – all very good.  I’m not sure the dress code – which was basically “wear every warm thing you brought” – conformed to tradition, but the mood was certainly good.  A giant bonfire is promised at midnight – I’m not sure I’ll last that long, but perhaps.