Thursday, 17 January 2013

Wednesday 16th January 2013: The bigger the better

Task 9 Day 10

Well there you go - the Worlds organisers are reading the blog - Kath was awarded the prize for most eventful tow  - if you missed it take a look at yesterdays blog.

So you think a 200km is challenging, do you? How about a 270km closed circuit flight, just to mix things up a bit?
I have to admit, I really felt for my pilots when the task was announced at briefing. From what I can understand, I think the premise of a task like this is to "sort out the men from the boys" so to speak - no offence ladies, you know what I mean. There had been comments from pilots that the previous tasks had become a game of follow my leader, without the usual decision making associated with gliding, allowing some pilots to piggy back off the more experienced field.  And with exhaustion already creeping in to Team GB, another five hour plus flight was going to be punishing. Right, boys and girls, this is it: there are only two more days of flying to go, so dig deep and keep on pushing. This is where you earn your stripes. You know you can do it...
Hopefully my words of encouragement might have helped.
Manfred Ruhmer - the man to beat

The return moony from the marshals

The launch window had been brought forward to 12pm midday, so by 10.30am we were en route for the airstrip.Our team was split at launch with Grant and Dave on Red launch and Gordon, Gary, Carl, Tony and Kathleen on Green launch. Today we were going to attempt to get some inflight photos and videos using Grants Muvi and GoPros belonging to Gary and myself. Once the gliders were rigged I set up Grants camera on the keel, a GoPro on Carls upright to get a mixture of angles, and unfortunately Gary's camera still refused to work. Oh well, two out of three isnt bad - lets hope they record something spectacular and  truly reflect the hustle and bustle of the gaggles.

A great looking sky

Carl gets his lucky hug from Michelle
Everyone got launched well and we were expecting to make an early departure from the airstrip when the radio crackled in to life:
Gary: "Any ideas why my glider has suddenly developed a serious left turn?"
Ben: "If in any doubt, please land immediately. We will sort it out on the ground and get you a relight – you have time to make the first start gate".
Gordon: "Stand up in the a-frame, unzip the under-surface and check nothing is caught on hangie bit..." 
With the skies above the airfield as crowded as ever, and the chance of a pilot slipping irreversibly through the a-frame in his harness, I would not necessarily recommend that particular manoeuvre! Thankfully Gary went for the first option.

Gary adjusting wing tip
As soon as Gary landed Trudy was there, Leatherman at the ready, to help check the glider and make some adjustments. Very quickly he was ready to fly again and I got him a tow slot ten places back from the front of the queue as per the competition rules. Getting on the launch trolley Gary suddenly asked "Did I adjust the right wing tip?". Eeks, I hope so. As he towed away and then released he came over the radio to say that all was well. Good, on to the task then guys...

Carl on tow
Carl climbing above Forbes Airfield
With such a mammoth task, it was highly likely that the first gliders would not be back until six hours later, landing around 7pm. Based on the experience of the last week, if our pilots got a half decent start then there was a good chance that the vast majority of them would make goal - driving after them around the whole course would be a complete waste of time and resources, with Steve's truck doing the same miles per gallon as a tank. So, Steve picked a place somewhere in the middle of the course circuit near Bogan to maximise radio coverage, with instructions to telephone me with any news,  while I based myself in Forbes town, catching up with some organisational issues - and no, that did not include going to the pool! 

As I busied myself with the various Team Manager tasks first at the Mezzanine Coffee Shop, and then later at HQ.  I was getting the occasional crackle of information over the radio from the pilots - it seemed that everyone was still flying. Good. 

Carl climbing in company

A small gaggle
Later in the afternoon, I could see from the live tracking (some of the pilots were carrying the tracking devices) that Jonny Durand had made Turn Point 1 and 2 and was on his way to 3. Time to go back to the airfield then, with only Turnpoint 4 and a final Goal leg to go. With a quick call to Trudy who was having a relaxing time at the pool (me, jealous?) I arranged to pick her up so that we could wait for the goal arrival at the airstrip clubhouse.

By 5pm I was sitting on he clubhouse veranda, sipping a cool drink, and now listening to intermittent transmissions from the team. Everyone was still flying, with Gordon making excellent progress in the lead gaggle with Manfred Ruhmer and Christian Clech. Carl, Dave and Grant were not far behind, with Tony and Kath just a few more kilometres back from them. Once again the anticipation started bubbling away. Dare I believe that today was going to be the day that we got a task win? Come on Gordon, you can do it.... It was certainly looking likely that a good team result was on the cards.

10km from Turn Point 4.... 5km from Turn Point.... Turn Point 4 at 6000'.... 25km from goal.... Here we go, the last glides and climb before that all so important decision - when do I start my final glide in to goal? When the instrument indicates that a 15:1 glide ratio? Or perhaps a 12:1 glide ratio? Depending on what air is thought to be like on that final glide, a pilot may choose to go on the glide needing a higher glide ratio if the air is thought to be bouyant, but if he wants to make sure of making it in to goal, then a lower number will mean that if you hit bad air, then you have a better chance of making it in.

Gordon: "10:1 indicated at 9 km out - on final glide..."  Oh my goodness. This is it. Ground and support crew were arriving in the goal field, all staring north west towards the last turn point at Bogan. Nail biting stuff. 7km out... 5km... 3km... 

The waiting ground and support crew
"GLIDER!" One of the support crew yelled out, pointing to a glider that looked low just above the trees, and about 3km out. No-one could see the colour or markings. Who was it? Someone said Gordon.... another said Manfred.... the tension was unbearable. The pilot must also have been having a bit of a moment. From where we were all standing it looked like, after six hours flying and 270km covered that the pilot was going to land short....

Ground effect

Whoever it was, everyone in the goal field. whatever nationality,  was willing the pilot 
on, desperately wanting him to make goal. It was clear now that it wasn't Gordon, but Christian Clech from Italy. As he approached the final fence line in to the paddock at around thirty feet (yes, you read that correctly) and with 100m to go, he suddenly hit some bad air and lost a few precious feet, just skimming over the top of the fence. Pulling  more speed towards the ground he then got down in to ground effect, gliding on just about two feet off the deck towards the goal line, squeezing every last drop of performance out of his glider. To a huge roar and applause from the waiting crowd, he just about made it over the line with inches to spare, landing only a few feet further on. Wow! What a finish! I have never seen anything quite like that in all my time flying - quite  remarkable! Bravo Christian!
Christian just males it over the line to win the day

Looking back North we could see two further gliders coming in very low. Gordon came on the radio:
"Very low - not sure I am going to make it..." 
As the first of the two made it over the line, I could now identify Gordon coming towards us one field away and at about fifty feet above the ground. All he needed was some good air to keep making it in.

Gordon approaching the paddock low
"WInd South West, less than 5mph". With a slight cross headwind I advised him to head for the left edge of the goal line, which would effectively making the wind more of a crosswind which would help him  over the line. Go on Gordon, you can do it!
As a cruel blow to his valiant efforts, the wind picked up just as he came over the fence to the paddock.

Gordon down less than 100m from goal after 270km
And that was it. Within a stones throw from the goal line and he was down. I could not believe it, and nor could anyone else witnessing his heroic attempts to. We were all gutted for him - everyone watching had been urging him over the line. Goodness knows what he must have been feeling at that moment.

As a few other gliders made it in to goal, Gordon was straight on the radio: "Gordon down 100m from goal line. Left last climb with a 10:1 - you need better to make it in".That a boy, Gordon, helping to get your team mates in. Grant and Carl were scrabbling for lift a few kilometres away, trying to get the required glide ratio to goal.

"Carl on a 10:1 glide to goal". Uh oh.
"Grant  on a 9:1 glide to goal - better here Carl". Yes, yes, yes!
The two of them were flying very close together. I could now see them some 3km out gliding in. 
"Looking good guys - you re going to make it in from there..."

Grant (left) and Carl on final glide

A formation finish
As they approached the edge of the field flying in formation I could hardly contain my excitement. Pulling on speed towards the line, the boys came screaming in together over the line. Fantastic! As they both banked sharply to the left I thought they had misheard the wind speed direction.
"Land towards the sun, land towards the sun..." Turning back in to wind they made a perfect landing just a few feet away. I ran over to them to congratulate them on their superb achievement - man-hugs all round! I will go and get the goal beers then...

Carl and Grant celebrate with a goal beer
Unfortunately the rest of the team, like anyone else coming down course a little while later, could not make a any further progress. The conditions had switched off. Tony was down at the last turn point, Kath was about 25 km from goal, while Gary and Dave landed near to each other some 22km from goal. Still an amazing performance on an incredibly challenging task.

Scores are now up.
Grant has made it up to 8th overall, with Gordon 16th, Gary 21st, Carl 25th, Tony 47th, Dave 53rd and Kathleen 73rd. One more day to go. I am pretty sure it will be a big task again. Come on Team GB, we are now 4th, lets get a podium finish....


  1. thank you again Ben 'Fantastic' photos

  2. Thank goodness it finishes tomorrow (Today) can't take much more of this! Great job by all

  3. Go Team GB!! Lets get that podium finish!! xx

  4. Crying with excitement joy frustration. Great work team GB. Good luck today.