Thursday, June 19, 2014

Flying in the rain...

WGC2014 – Rayskala, Finland      
19 June   (First official practice day)
by John Good

Yet another tough weather day – a good example of the kind of weather we hope we don’t get during the contest.  We had a substantial mid-day “window” of good soaring conditions that allowed all gliders to be launched, with just a few landing back.  Tasks for all three classes opened about the time that – as morning forecasts had predicted -  thick overcast (with some embedded rain showers) was leaking into the task area from the west. 

For a couple of hours, pilots found decent lift under thickening clouds – and sometimes in rain - but in the end it went as the forecast had suggested.  The key to a good result was to start early and fly not much more than the minimum distance allowed by the short Turn-Area task.  The Club Class (first to go) had 11 finishers; Standard class had just 5, and no 20-Meter glider was able to get around.  Many of the non-completions were pilots that gave up while in a position to glide home, but the day saw a decent number of outlandings, in fields that were uniformly soft and wet.

Bob Fletcher was among these – he achieved about as much distance as any Standard Class pilot, but flew the last 40 minutes in rain and ended up in a good field about 10 miles north of home.  He reported having about a thousand feet more than what would ordinarily be needed to get home.  But sailplanes don’t achieve their normal performance when gliding through rain, and he was (quite sensibly) unwilling to leave an area of good fields to face the dubious landing options on the way home. 

The retrieve was straightforward except for dirt roads with names that bore no relationship to what Google Maps claimed they should show, and which covered the trailer with a good layer of mud.  On arriving home, we spent 20 minutes washing the trailer (in steady rain), leaving it cleaner than it has been since arriving by ship 2 weeks ago.  This was surely an extravagant waste of fresh water, but (as everyone here at Rayskala can testify) that’s not a commodity in short supply just now in Finland.

As I write this (at 10pm) the rain continues.  Our record of just one day without the use of windshield wipers persists.  Yet the forecast of better conditions seems to be holding – here’s hoping it’s accurate.

One thing Finland rain is good for is growing trees.  The forest here is “boreal”, featuring a small number of species that like conditions near (and to some extent above) the Arctic Circle.  Four species make up 97% of the forest here: Scotch Pine, Norway Spruce, Downy Birch and Silver Birch.  These are notably good at using long hours of sunlight to pack a lot of growth into a short growing season (which in Finland averages 100 days a year).  An interesting Finland forestry website notes that the Finland forest products industry harvests around 100 million cubic meters (that’s 42 billion board-feet) – which is the result of a million cubic meters a day of growth.  For a soaring pilot, this adds up to a lot of unlandable territory, both in the form of extensive forest and (even worse for landing) clearcut areas that look from a distance somewhat like farm fields, but are full of branches, stumps, rocks and other horrors.   

I’ve noted that the Scotch Pines in our airfield campground bear little relationship to the trees of the same species you buy and decorate in early December.  Here, they’ve shot up to an impressive height (some exceed 80 ft) with an even more impressive “aspect ratio”: the tallest are not much more than a foot in diameter at chest height.  I’m on the lookout for a recently cut stump so I can check the age of one (the local consensus seems to be around 50 years).

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