Sunday, 13 January 2013

Saturday 12th January 2013: How high can you go?

Task 5

It's late again so excuse me if I suddenly face plant the keyboard while trying to update the blog for you! Photos to follow....

Today we had a full compliment of pilots for Team GB. Briefing described what looked like a monster task of 198.6km around a course that went downwind, cross wind, and upwind, just to make life easy... When asked if there were any airspace issues, the answer was no, meaning that pilots could, if the conditions allowed, climb up very high indeed - with the local competition exemption in place, this would allow pilots to go above 10'000 feet without carrying oxygen. 

An interesting sky

Arriving at the airfield shortly after 11am, it was strikingly obvious that the heat was going to be even more extreme today. In these hot and dusty conditions, any breeze turns the paddock (an Aussie term for any kind of field) in to a kind of torture chamber blasting hot, gritty air in to your face. To heck with the face scrubs, just come to Australia for a week! 

The sky was also looking interesting, with a mixture of clouds creating the impression that today was going to be a challenge - cumulus, lenticularis (indicating high winds) and cirrus made for a pretty picture, but what was it going to be like for the pilots?
With military precision the entire team were rigged and ready to fly in time for the 12.30pm launch window. 
Gliders at launch underneath an interesting sky

The ground crew work miracles in these biting, punishing conditions. Not only are they out in the heat for hours at a time, but they are also operating in the wake of the tugs that are continuously blowing up the loose dirt in to their faces. Add in the surface wind of 10mph, and you can start to understand how "uncomfortable" the situation is, but with military precision the ground crew and tug pilots get over one hundred pilots airborne in little more than an hour. Respect.

Trolley retrieve
Water bowser

Michelle Taylor keeping launch organised
Grant at launch

One by one, Team GB got off and away with little drama. That is until Tony, who was the last of the Brits to go, came over the radio to say that his tow release was missing off his harness. I carry spare weak links and water with me at launch, but a complete bridle? Right, with a message from Gordon that he had spare in "the red bag" in the truck, I ran back across the paddock in the searing heat to the parked cars, grabbed the bag, and ran back to Tony who was about to miss his tow place, again.... Steve and I quickly sorted him out, scrambling to get the bridle attached as he was put on the trolley for launch. Seconds later he was up and away, leaving me exhausted but relieved to have the full team away on time.

Dusty conditions

Grant difficult launch

Gordon dusty launch
Dragonfly lands
Dragonfly landing with gliders

Steve checks Kath at TO

Looking at the map Steve had made a great suggestion to get to the high ground of the National Park which was centred in the middle of the course. This would allow us to maximise radio coverage over the 200km course and also be place where we could drive off in different direction towards the various turnpoints if necessary.With the first start gate approaching quickly, and the drift of the gliders showing increasing wind with height, Steve and I were quickly on the road. As I left Forbes for Parkes some 40km away , I could already see  gliders struggling at a few hundred feet, while others were "skying out", climbing to 7000'. Yes, today, was going to be interesting. Carl, Grant, Gordon and Gary seemed took the first start gate (at 1410hrs) late, losing ten minutes to any glider that had left exactly on time. Speaking to them afterwards they had been in such a good climb that they had decided to maximise height before gliding off. Dave, Tony and Kathleen, made the second start gate twenty minutes later but were then not far behind.

Kath in dusty TO
Arriving at Parkes, the news came through that Kath was down. Its not tuning out to be the best competition for Kath, but with her long track record of pulling good results out of the bag in previous international competitions, hopefully it will all come good soon. Dave was also struggling today and was soon low just a few kilometres ahead of Kath. A few minutes later he was on the radio saying he was about to land but then I did not get confirmation he was down. Maybe he had got a low save. As I left Parkes to head up to the hills, I could see a glider with Dave's colours circling low above the road. I zoomed underneath it, turned round and did the same, trying to stir up the air to"release" what ever was bubbling above the hot tarmac, and not going on the radio to allow the pilot to concentrate on centring the thermal. Whether it helped or not, I don't know, but the glider was soon climbing out. Then the telephone bleeped with a message. "Dave down at ...." Fantastic. I might have just helped a competitor get back up again.
Spot the gliders...
Steve was now going to be busy for the next hour picking up the two downed pilots early on in the day. I was faced with keeping track of the remaining five pilots over a huge course which had high ground running through the middle of it. Steve's idea of getting to the central high place was looking like a very good call. I stopped at Baldry, and parked up   in the shade. Over the radio I could hear that Carl was getting incredibly high. Gordon reported back that wave conditions had set in, meaning that there would be large areas of heavy sink, but also larger areas of smooth lift with the potential to take pilots very high. The radio crackled in to life:
"Carl, getting hpyoxical, climbing through 14000'". Uh oh. With prolonged flight above 12000, and not carrying oxygen, any pilot is susceptible to hypoxia, which then leads to inconsistent decision making as the pilot's brain suffers from oxygen starvation. Gordon came back over the radio:
"Ceiling of 14000'. Ceiling of 14000' ".
There is one-warning policy for a minor (less than 100m) infringement of airspace, followed by a DSQ for a subsequent infringement or any major violation (over 100m). Carl was pushing it close to the mark, and with the chance of hypoxia, might not make a good decision to pull out of the climb.
"Ben to Carl. Ben to Carl. Please confirm that you are not exceeding 14000." 
Radio silence.
Repeat the message. 
Still radio silence.
As I wondered what was going on, other retrieve cars started pulling up in my well chosen spot. Speaking reasonable French and German, I can pick up information from their radio communications, while I always where an earpiece to keep our comms private. Well, it is the World Championships after all - why would I give anything away that might help another team? Me, competitive? 
It became clear that other pilots had been pushing the limits too, with Manfred Ruhmer and Christian Voiblet also getting very high. 

As the task continued. Tony had made up some good time and was now catching up with the leading Brits. Carl and Gordon made TP1 high and ahead of Grant and Gary. Grant had got very low but managed to get a climb, with Tony now joining the merry throng. As the field made TP2, Carl was once again storming ahead of the lead gaggle. Looking at the map, it became apparent that TP3 was going to be reached, but the final leg to goal was going to be into an increasing head wind - Kath had earlier reported surface winds of 20-30mph. I decided not to go to goal but to drive a route that took me near the track between TP2 and TP3. Wtih Grant once agian pulling himself out of a hole, I had five pilots all looking good for TP3 so that is where I headed, navigating along gravel and tarmac roads.

A wave cloud near Turnpoint 3

Arriving in the town of Tomingley, I found a a parking spot on the east side of the waypoint 400m radius (the most likely point where the pilots would track to). As soon as I got out of the car, the high wind speed was blowing the tops of the trees.  There were an increasing number of calls from Gordon asking for updates. Then:

"Where are you Ben in relation to the line of dust being blown up by the gust front?" Gust front? A serious indication of dangerous winds. Looking to the south I suddenly saw what looked like a wall of dust approaching, just as the wind picked up to about 30mph on the surface. 

Quickly relaying the conditions to the pilots I was on the phone to the competition safety director Bruce - it was highly likely that the task would be stopped to enable the pilots to find a safe place to land instead of gliding towards goal and the lethal gust front. Some 25 minutes later the text came through "Task stopped". Immediately relaying the message over the radio the next issue was to get the pilots down safely.  Gary, Tony and Grant were already on the ground further back down the course. The remaining airborne pilots, Carl and Gordon, still needed to land.

Luckily the gust front eased as theyu made an approach to some huge fields just off the main road to the south of the town, with Carl directing me in to their exact position. I arrived in time to see Carl on finals, struggling to penetrate forward in the high winds. As I used my arms to indicate the wind direction, the wind dropped off quickly just as Carl was 50' off the deck - luckily wiht enough height to pull in speed, he managed to keep the glider flying and touched down safely. Next to Gordon who was 200' above and just on finals. With a warning from Carl over the radio about the wind  shear, Gordon too pulled on lots of speed to make a good landing. 
Phew. All pilots down safely. 

Back at base the instruments were playing there usual tricks of not releasing their track logs to the scorer, but after a bit of jiggery pockery, and Tony using his back up, all the socres were in. Thankfully Carl got away with his first and final warning for airspace infringement to score 8th on day with Gordon in 10th and Gary 41st for the highest Brit scores for the day.

A long day - another 400km driving day and midnight before I could get back to the house and start the blog. But everyone is safe, and thats the main thing....

1 comment:

  1. Well done guys and gal, sounds like a tough day, hope it gets easier for all :) Phippsy