Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Launching into snow at Räyskälä

17 June - Unofficial Practice Day Two 
WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland      
by John Good, Crew '90'
Today’s weather was … interesting.  We awoke to mostly clear skies, wind and cold air – the overnight low was around 37 degrees.  It looked like a good day to rig gliders early and go flying, but quickly developing low clouds caused most teams to wait a bit.  This proved sensible, as around 9am we had not rain but snow – reasonably heavy for just a couple of minutes.
‘Snow’ is something of a stretch here, as what fell was actually graupel, defined as “precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake”.  But it looked and felt wintry, an impression that continued well into the afternoon, with winds on the ground of 20 – 25 knots and temperatures in the mid-forties.  (It reminded me of dawn preparation for long March ridge flights out of Karl Striedieck’s Eagle Field.)
Yet it turned out to be a pretty good flying day, in a rather narrow wedge of good air between large masses of cloud both east and some ways west of Rayskala.  Cloud streets aligned roughly NNW-SSE offered good lift to over 6000’.
Distracting many pilots from the job of practicing was “scrutineering”.  This is the process of measuring glider dimensions and weights, and checking paperwork and instruments to ensure that every glider and pilot meets all requirements of the rules.  Scrutineering time slots were rather optimistically set to last 15 minutes, and by mid-day the process was a good hour behind schedule.  Bob Fletcher and Phil Gaisford got caught in this, and thus were launching around 3:30 - about the time that difficult soaring conditions were overrunning the field.  Phil got away (and had a good flight) but Bob was towed into rain and snow showers, and had to return after a short flight.
Southwestern Finland is an area of many small to medium-sized lakes, plenty of forest, and some reasonable areas of agriculture (providing decent landing possibilities to glider pilots, given reasonable care by task setters).  The area close to Rayskala is something of an exception, as friendly fields are rather thin on the ground within about 10km of home.  As is our habit, the US Team has spent some time scouting fields to identify possible refuge fields for gliders that are low and trying to get home.  We’ve had some success, and have mapped several good options.  We’ve found that fields here tend to be on the small side (few are much over 1000’ long) and fast-growing trees form an unwelcome barrier to a glider pilot trying to use a field’s full length.  We’d like to see more hay being cut – glider pilots prefer crops as short as possible (anything over about 14 inches can be a problem).  We feel that Finnish farmers should be a bit more active in cutting their crop, though it’s had to withhold a measure of sympathy for a farmer trying to cut and dry hay in the weather we’ve seen thus far.
Finland is the least densely populated country in Europe: 5 million people live in a country just a bit smaller than Montana.  This yields a population density less than a twelfth of Germany’s, but (perhaps seeking not to be left out) Finland has what is surely more controlled airspace per capita than any large country.  Our task area covers pretty much the entire southern half of the country, and it is 100% controlled airspace: by default, all areas are closed – glider can legally fly only in areas that are announced to be open on a particular day.  In practice, this is workable: contest organizers are able to declare as open enough airspace to accommodate tasks appropriate to the weather (though considerable care is needed: tasks routinely take pilots close to closed airspace, and a moment’s inattention chasing a promising cloud could be fatal to your score).  Typical maximum altitudes range from 5000 to 9500 feet above sea level (over a largely flat task area little of which has an elevation above 500’).  But it’s rather strange to be told “Here’s where you can fly – everything else is off limits” rather than “You may fly where you wish, with the exception of these few areas that are off limits.”
The “longest day of the year” (more accurately described as the day with the most daylight - they all last 24 hours) is approaching, and we’re told that the Finns celebrate June 21 (the summer solstice) in a big way (no stores will be open and wise people stay off the roads).  We’ve also been told to expect warmer and better weather, something we’re fully ready for.  I hope to be able to report more about good flying in the days to come.


  1. Enjoying your wonderfully descriptive blogs!

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  3. Thanks John - great reports from you and others in the US team about Räyskälä #WGC2014
    We're following what's happening with great interest.
    Twitter: @GlidingInMelb