Friday, July 4, 2014

Competition Day 5: a beautiful windy flying day

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
3 July   (a flying day!)
by John Good

Quite a change this morning.  After another night of more or less steady rain we awoke to clearing skies, sun and temperatures that were almost pleasant (some short-sleeved shirts were in use!).  The forecast was not without issues: the sun was due to a rather narrow slot between two fronts, wind was predicted to be strong (20 kts) throughout the day, and by late afternoon high clouds and then some chance of rain and thunderstorms were likely.  But after four days of sitting on the ground, this felt like a huge improvement.
Tasks were certainly bold for the conditions.  All classes had long “Racing” tasks that require pilots to pass within half a kilometer of the assigned turnpoints.  This scheme is well suited to days with uniform good lift, but can be a problem if, for example, a rainstorm covers a turnpoint.  The alternative is an Area task: pilots must enter large cylinders (radius might be 20 or even 30km) centered on designated turnpoints; distance is measured to the most favorable point they reach within each area – they can thus avoid flying in areas of unsoarable weather (provided these do not blanket an entire turn cylinder).


There was some uncertainty as to what tasks would be used, and not long before launches were scheduled to start team captains were summoned to collect new task sheets.  The drill is that they are given the new sheets and required to sign a sheet acknowledging the new tasks – which then makes the captains responsible for informing their pilots.  In the midst of this a radio call to the CD asked whether the newly distributed tasks were to be considered in effect (something the signature sheet had clearly stated).  The CD’s response was very direct “Yes: always read what you are signing for” – which seems like sound advice well beyond the confines of a soaring contest.

The wind (more than 20 kts at flying altitudes) was a problem all day.  Tasks took all classes through a notoriously wet and weak area west of Räyskälä, where more than a few pilots ended their flights: fortunately, this area has some of the best fields for outlanding anywhere in our task area.  Those who managed to struggle through this area soon encountered the high cloud, overdevelopment and rain that had been predicted.  It was a struggle all day, speeds were low, and those who were able to stay in the air were rarely out of sight of those who weren’t: gliders littered the ground most of the way around the tasks.  But the varied and consistently difficult conditions produced enough lift to keep some gliders in the air until after 7pm, so even low speeds produced decent distances.

Against expectations, we actually had a few finishers: 7 in Club Class (the first to launch) and three in Standard class.  But it’s worth noting that under IGC rules, finishing on a day where most pilots don’t isn’t worth much: in Standard class, the finishers earned only a few more points than they would have received for flights that ended just short of the airfield.  Consider that on a good racing day with many finishers, the speed difference between first and third place would have produced a score difference around 230 points; yesterday, it was 13 points.

Another curious aspect to the rules here is that there is no control of start height – you may start at whatever height you are able to climb to.  This can give an advantage to early launchers who are able to explore for unusual lift.  And it apparently did yesterday – some pilots were able to find weak wave lift, which allowed them to climb upwind of cumulus clouds and start several thousand feet higher than others (a big advantage on a difficult upwind first task leg).  It’s a very puzzling thing that in the year 2014 – perhaps 75 years after the need for it became evident – the IGC has no acceptable and effective rule available to control start height.


 With only 10 finishers, the day involved many retrieves, mostly from wet fields.  I saw lots of trailers on the road, and plenty of mud being cleaned from landing gear in late evening.  But I’ve heard no reports of damage. 
Some pilots noted that when you get low you must carefully avoid large forested areas, even when these are on course and look as if they might produce lift: Clearings in these forests look from a distance like agricultural fields, but they are mostly clear-cut areas that would be close to hopeless for landing.


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