Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Tuesday 15th January 2013: Crowded skies

Task 8, Day 9

Waking up to blue skies and light winds I wondered if maybe we would get the closed circuit flight that we were all hoping for - perhaps a triangle flight landing back at Forbes? It would certainly make life easier for both retrieve drivers and pilots if after a long flight, the journey home consisted of a ten minute drive back in to Forbes town, rather than three hours of driving along tarmac and gravel roads, with the threat of kangaroos jumping out in front of you.

 Briefing started with the much anticipated summary of the Task 5 airspace issue which had caused some pilots to be disqualified for that particular task. Davis, the Meet Director, summarised the situation and then asked for John Aldridge, the CIVL Jury Member, to explain the correct process for protests. Apparently CIVL had received a protest from a pool of countries , where as an individual or a country can make a protest, but not on behalf of other individuals or nations. The Italian team were obviously unhappy with the process. Passions were running high, as can be expected when sportsmen and women are competing for the highest accolade - it will all come out in the wash once the proper protest procedures are followed.

After yesterdays goal-fest, none of the British Pilots wanted an "early bird" launch lottery for Task 8. With light southerly winds forecast in a "blue day" (ie no nice fluffy Cumulus to mark the lift), a 184km triangle flight was set: first a 57km South West leg to Marsde, then a 51km leg South East to Bribar, before turning North back to Forbes Airstrip some 85km away, making a total of 192.3km. That's better, no long retrieve.

Our post-briefing team discussion touched on the fact that we are getting incredibly close to winning a task, often leading out in the front gaggle, thereby winning lead points, but frustratingly not pulling a win out of the bag.  Analysing the situation, the pilots agreed to try a change in tactic to see if things improved.

As we arrived at the airfield, I stopped to say good morning to our sign-bearing gate marshals - Carl had suggested the previous day that we could perhaps display a message back but what got in to Gary's  head to make him drop his trousers and press his cheeks against the window I will never know. I just wish I had the camera pointed the other way to catch Trudy's face. Moving on swiftly.

Like a well oiled machine, all my pilots were rigged and ready to launch by the window open time of 12.30pm, with the first start gate at 2.15pm. Carl and Dave had kindly agreed to have GoPros mounted on their gliders so I set them up, ready to capture the busy skies. As Carl was third off the tow, he was quickly on the trolley and about to launch - unfortunately the GoPro wouldnt fire up in to life, something which also happened to the second camera on Daves glider. What a shame - I will try again tomorrow (a subsequent check found that Gary's GoPro was minus a memory card, and the battery of mine had become misaligned - all fixed now).

The ground crew were, as usual, fantastically efficient in getting everyone airborne quickly and safely. The conditions were less turbulent than the previous day which Tug Chief Steve McCarthy had described as the most challenging he had ever towed in. Soon all our pilots, bar Kathleen who had a late launch slot, had successfully towed and were now climbing well above the airborne.

And then it was Kathleens turn. 

True to the run of bad luck at launch that Kath had suffered on previous days, something just had to go wrong. If you have a weak stomach, turn away now. This is what happens when you get towed up through a Dust Devil. I don't know how she hung on to the tow - in fact, I genuinely thought the weak link had broken. Take a look at the video - at the end you will get a glimpse of the Dusty swirling near to the camera....

How about a Day Prize for the most entertaining tow?

And so the task began. As a closed circuit task, there was no need to send two vehicles down track to chase our gaggle of gliders. Based on their current performance, it was highly likely that all our team would make it round the course. Steve drove off to find a position in the middle of the triangle where he could maintain good radio communications and be placed geographically where he could reach the turn points easily. 

I had a few errands to run in town before I was to make my way back to the airfield for the Goal Line finish. I dropped past the tyre garage where Tony and his crew had already put a new tyre on the wheel which they swapped for the space-saver spare that I had been driving on for two days. With a couple of hours to kill before the gliders anticipated return, I took a leaf out of some of the other retrieve drivers book, and went for a quick refreshing dip at the local swimming pool. Me, feel guilty, leaving Steve to swelter in his truck? Ok, just a bit, but as someone who normally flies competitions (and thankfully has one of, if not the best retrieve drivers), I was merely learning from more experienced retrieve drivers than myself... honest. 

Listening to the radio as I ate my Maccy D lunch it was, like yesterday, clear that the course was being flown very quickly, especially by the Brits. I also heard several comments about how busy the gaggles were, even 150km down track - normally by this stage of a task the field has spread out enough for there to be ample separation between pilots. Unbelievably, Grant had a wing tip collision with another glider, leaving him shaken but not stirred.

Gary was making excellent progress along with the rest of the team, so I quickly texted Trudy, his partner, to see if she wanted to come out to goal.
"OK, am at pool. Will run back to motel. C u there".
Right, off to pick Trudy up and then on to the airfield.

With an estimated twenty minutes before the first pilots arrived back, we dropped in to the Forbes Soaring and Aeroclub clubhouse where all the ground and tug crews were having a well earned break after their tireless efforts during the hottest part of the day.

 As Gary radioed that he was 15km from goal we went out in to the paddock to perform the usual retrieve routine of staring down track, hoping to glimpse one of our gliders first.
A few kilometres away we could see a huge gaggle of gliders getting a last climb before going on final glide to the airfield. Soon enough the sky was filled with gliders racing towards us.

The lead gaggle approaches goal

Two gliders race for the line
Once again,  I was willing one of our team to be the first in, but, as has happened on so many occasions, it was Manfred Ruhmer (AUT) who came swooping in first.  Two other gliders were having a spectacular race, just about making it over the goal line with enough height to turn back in to wind and land.

Gary crosses the line...

Gary (13th) was the first Brit to come steaming in, again with only just enough height to make a safe landing. A great effort! All we needed now were two more pilots to come in quickly ahead of the competition to make up a good team score...
.. and lands
...turns in to wind...

Carl (27th), Grant (29th) and Gordon (31st)  were the next Brits in, followed by Dave (51st) and (Tony (56th). With only Kathleen to go, we were looking good for a "full house" once again. After a while, Gordon spotted what he thought was a glider with the right colours coming in. Sure enough, it was Kath (63rd). After such a roller coaster start on the tow, it was really good to see her come in to goal for the second day in a row.
Tony landing

Carl in goal

Dave landing 

Gliders in goal at Forbes Airstrip

Forbes Airstrip at sunset
 With only two more tasks to go, it is going to be increasingly challenging to make up individual and team places. But, it is not over until it is over, and with the team scores showing that we only need a few hundred points on our competitors to make up some positions, it is all to play for.

I have funny feeling that tomorrow will bring even more fun and games concerning protests, airspace and crowded skies....

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