25 August 2012
Nick's post-contest performance analysis
After an important contest, it is important to do a critical review of performance to determine what went right and what went wrong with the goal of improving for the next time, and passing information to other pilots considering contest flying. There are two aspects to review, the glider performance and the pilot performance. Prior to the contest, preparation was very important, and preparation of the glider included proper polishing, a review of all control surface seals, and installation of proper intrumentation, software and loggers. Because of the heat, I asked Christine to make me some light white cloth covers for the PDAs I was using, to keep direct sunlight off the units and minimize overheating problems. I normally fly in 18m configuration and for the pilot preparation, I flew all year in 15m configuration to be "at one" with the glider. I flew in 3 contests and did some record flying.
I knew going into this contest that I would be at a slight disadvantage with the LAK-17a, now an older design, limited to 500 kg all up weight. It is an 18m design with a compromise shortened wing in 15m. Newer gliders are limited to 550 kg in 15m and 600 kg in 18m, and with the strong conditions in Uvalde, a high wing loading is crucial. In 15m class, the contest rules limit the maximum weight to 525 kg, so I was only down 25 kg and with a high aspect ratio, the wing loading deficit was not very large, but was, nonetheless, a deficit.
I had an overheating problem with my main logger early on during the practice days. Although this logger was not in direct sunlight, the ambient 42 C temperature caused it to fail. Everyday, I put an icepack on it an hour before flying and removed it before take-off and had no further failures. Dan Daly had brought his Volkslogger as a spare which I installed as a third unit, just in case. I also had a problem with my mechanical vario where the needle would get stuck on the stop when the thermal strength peaked above 10 knots. I had to vigourously tap on it to free the needle on a regular basis during most flights, a real annoyance that I hadn't prepared for because it never happened before getting to Uvalde. Other than that there were no other issues with instruments, radio or flight software.
At the beginning of the contest it became obvious that I wasn't climbing as well as other pilots and was constantly getting out-climbed. On successive days, I changed the CofG from 75% to 85% to see if I was better able to climb. No change. I tried halfway at 80%. No change. I then tried the other way at 65% but still no real difference. By the middle of the contest, I noticed that in some cases, I could climb just better than the Dianas, at par with the ASW-27s and slightly worse than the Ventus-2s, but in most cases, I was outclimbed by all. I finally figured out that the difference was related to the smoothness of the thermal. In relatively smooth thermals, I could climb as well as others, but in broken and turbulent lift, I fell behind badly. Now that I knew what the problem was, I tried some solutions. First, I tried flying faster in turbulent lift and at higher bank angles. Then I tried with a flap setting of +1 instead of +2 because of the higher speeds, and I also tried reducing the electronic audio from 2 second damping to 3 second damping, to reduce the amount of corrections I was making for centering thermals - perhaps I was falling off the edge of the narrow thermals. All attempts had limited success, and I was frustrated by the issue. By the end of the contest, whenever I encountered a turbulent thermal, I would skip it if I had reasonable height to proceed, and take only the relatively non-turbulent ones, and this resulted in much better average speeds, and a 10th place finish on the last day. Now, is the problem glider or pilot related? The only way to find out is to swap gliders with another pilot and fly in close proximity in turbulent conditions and see what happens...
On glides between lift I also noticed that when the airspeed was 90 knots or less I would end up at the same relative height to other gliders at the next thermal, but at 100 knots plus, I would lose a few hundred feet. The 25 kg deficit was probably the cause, although on the last day I flew against a Ventus-2bx at 120 knots on final glide and lost virtually nothing. But then again, polars for gliders at 120 knots are very close. There is no question that choosing your path between thermals is crucial as I've lost hundreds of feet on gliders 1000' away to the side and have gained the same at other times. Consistently choosing the best path results in significant height recovery and higher average speeds.
I prefer and normally fly by myself in contests but the flaw with that is that you may not find out about a performance problem and therefore cannot address the issue. In a contest with lots of pilots, you can get to fly with other pilots in close proximity for long periods and learn from the experience.
24 August 2012
Team Captain’s closing notes.
Now that we are back home again, but details are still fresh, I should add some thoughts to the blog.
As some of the pilots mentioned, the trip was long indeed and with all the driving around at the contest site we added about 6000 km to the Santa Fe’s odometer.
The contest was well prepared and plenty of US volunteer staff were at hand to get the job done in an orderly fashion. Some issues always surface last minute, but overall it ran pretty smooth.
The practice week proved that indeed practice is very valuable for pilots, crews and contest personnel.
The Canadian team had its own glitches as our pilots had their own ideas about practice flying.
Some preferred day on/day off, others 2 days flying and 2 days off etc.
As it turned out, there was always flying during the practice days, resulting in no rest days for the crews,
tiring them out even before the contest started.
Observing the first few practice days, I came up with a routine for all the crews and this was tested at the one day during the practice week that all pilots were flying.
It worked quite well and was maintained until all suffered from the heat at the field and it was decided that the crews spend the waiting time at our air conditioned motel room.
Scruteneering was as serious as it gets, with the FAA looking at all the glider and pilot’s documentation.
As it turned out this eliminated FAA checks on the grid.
All our pilots were flying their own gliders with familiar equipment, flight computers and back-up loggers. They still experienced glitches with SUA files and outright logger failures.
Jerzy’s ClearNav failed on the first contest day and his Cambridge back-up did not start until after take-off. Nick’s EW logger failed.... All this was due to extreme heat and added a lot of stress and distraction, costing valuable points.
As I mentioned earlier in the blog, pilot’s responsibilities have shifted. More attention is required during flying, but technicalities such as reporting start times and turning in flight logs is the Team captain’s responsibility.
Issues with procedures, changes and concerns are dealt with at the team captain’s meetings, which simplifies and shortens the morning general pilot’s meetings.
With all the up-to date available weather info it is also very important to have this passed on to the team pilots.
A good ground station with a tuned antenna that was erected at the Motel 6 resulted in an acceptable range. This worked quite well.
I was able to talk to most pilots up to about 120km out and this proved to be a big help.
On the first contest day heavy T-storms developed on course and I was able to advise the pilots of their locations, helping to avoid slowdowns.
On many contest days I advised on blue holes and cloud situations that the pilots could not observe from their own locations.
We have proven that the Canadians can and will be at the top and it was disappointing that during the closing ceremony no mention was made of the last day when Jerzy and Dave finished 1, 2 in the 18M, the best Canada has ever had at any previous WGC’s. Nick finished a very respectableble 10th for the day in 15M,
Dave and Jerzy flew together on several occasions, but on the last day it worked quite well, resulting in the top 2 spots in their class.
I am sure that with some more practice in team flying our pilots will be at the podium in 2014.
In closing, I would also like to recognise the volunteer crews. They showed up paying their own way to look after the pilots, relieving the pressure of the pilot’s spouses.
Joe Laposnyik, Dave Springford’s crew. Dan Daly, looking after Jerzy Szemplinski, skilfully updating the team blog and taking care of some team captain matters in my absence when I had to pick up Annemarie in San Antonio.
Sonia Hildesheim, looking after Nick Bonniere in her own quiet but very efficient way.
I am glad that Annemarie was able to join us during the contest and share some of the load.
Her observation from the 1991 contest was very valid...Bloody hot!
As a matter of fact, one of the local politicians admitted that if he owned both Texas and hell, he would rent out Texas and live in hell... but the flying is the best in the world!
23 August 2012
To start, I would like to thank Virginia and Joe Laposnyik who suffered through the heat on the grid each day making sure my glider was as clean and ready as it could be before the flight. Having two dedicated crew was a real asset and saved me from having to over-exert myself and tire before the flights. I often sat in the car while they were toiling away on the runway and thought - wow - how lucky am I! I could not have done it without them.
Our Team Captain, Ed Hollestelle and wife Annemarie were also of tremendous help. Each day Ed would look after all the little details and be on the grid to help us prepare for the flight and offer words of advice and encouragement. While it was Ed's job to look after us, it was Annemarie's job to look after Ed and both did a super job.
Before the contest, I set a goal for myself to earn at least 90% (usually 900 points) on each flying day. Doing this would guarantee a good placing. I missed this goal on 5 of the 13 days, but overall achieved 92 % in the final standings.
The 18 meter class was an extremely competitive class as 90% of the winner's score would have landed you in 21st! By comparison 90% in 15 meter was 9th. Jerzy finished at 94% and that 2% made a difference of 8 places!
The biggest take-away for me is to fix what went wrong on the 5 bad days. On most of these days I started too early because I didn't have the patience to play start gate games. On some of the days there was a threat of storms coming in, and then they didn't, so those who gambled and started late were able to take advantage of the better conditions. On my worst day, (day 6, 692 km @117.9 km/hr) I had some bad luck but also became much too conservative at the end. I think I climbed almost 1000 ft too high in a 1 kt thermal and that 10 minutes cost 8 places and 50 points on the day. And, that 50 points would have moved me up 3 more places in the end.
Overall, I am quite happy with my result, but of course would be even happier to have done better.
From an administrative perspective, I think we have learned a lot over the last few years. We had a large contingent of people on the team that allowed for a good distribution of work, in particular, away from the pilots so we could concentrate on task preparations and flying. We had a very good ground radio and antenna that allowed us to talk from as far as 150 km away, thus allowing Ed to relay weather and tactical information to us while on course. Jerzy and I were able to effectively team fly several days and push each other around the course.
Finally, even though I already thanked Virginia, I need to do it again. She is an unwavering supporter and worked extremely hard in the hot, humid and dusty conditions to keep both the glider and me in a top performance state. It really is a huge sacrifice for our spouses to follow us around to these lunatic events :)
See you all in Leszno 2014!
22 August 2012
Our Uvalde hotel lost email connection in three two days.
I didn't have full access to tasks results and possibility to
analyze opponents traces for last two days, I just used
information from others. I assumed that weather briefing is
The weather on the last day of flying wasn't very promising as
high clouds were moving in and just couple short lived Cu's were
Before start we had hard time to climb to start altitude as
fast approaching Cirrus from NW didn't work in our favor, I met
with Dave and we started together at the same time.
When we were ready to start most of competitors were on course.
First leg with with low cloud base and fake clouds wasn't good
sign , but deviation made to the North paid off and we had to
thermal just to improve our altitude.
At the end of the first leg, very dark Cumulus clouds under full
Cirrus worked and next leg looked better and better with
beautiful cloud street leading to the next turn area.
Then suddenly our cloud street merged with new cloud street
leading back to Uvalde , flying extra 20 km put us in to perfect
position to make the last turn .
Around 67 km from home I was able to center 10 kt thermal to
which Dave arrived just 1 minute later . Couple turns and I was
on final glide finishing task with average task speed of 150km/h
which gave me win for the day.
It was my second win in this contest, but mistakes in other days
cost me a lot and I finished 8 th after 13 days of flying.
I think it was the best day in history of Canadians flying in
World Championships, two Canadian pilots taking first and
second place of the day.
It was one of the most demanding contests for the pilots and
Pilots had chance to cool down under cloud base, but crews had to
stay on the ground in full heat till pilots were on the course
and then after couple hours of rest in cool hotel room they had
to work in heat and dust to help returning pilots.
Conditions were very harsh on our gliders and cars as well,
picture shows dusty engine compartment after 3 weeks in Uvalde..
Maria my wife/crew helped me with glider preparation and all
daily tasks. In addition I had comfort of second crew, volunteer
Dan Daly who helped me with glider preparation before and after
Ed Hollestelle our team manager took care of all administrative
and team related problems in addition he was working hard to
give the pilots current information about weather and position
of other competitors while we were on course.
Thank you All
Jerzy Szemplinski XG
19 August 2012
Heavy cirrus to the north and over Uvalde and blue sky with CUs 30 km south. After release I climbed to 5000' MSL under a small wisp under the cirrus deck, and seeing some small Cus to the east in the sun, I decided to go have a look. The CU evaporated by the time I got there and I tried another one, same problem, probably just bubbles, and I was now a bit far for my altitude and I headed back to the airport. I was contemplating a relight but found 0.5 kt at 900' AGL. It was hard work to climb out of this hole with full ballast.
I'll follow up with lessons learned later.
We sat outside in the rain for the closing ceremony. The weather cooperated for the duration of the contest and held off the rain until all the flying was done.
According to the CD - we flew over 800,000 km combined this contest and that was enough to get us to the moon and back!
We are packing up and headed for home, so the blog will be quiet until we get home and I'll try to add some closing thoughts when we are home.
The nice thing about the Uvalde area is once the sun hits the ground, it does not take long to kick off a thermal. We launched near the back of our class at 1410 and I was able to immediately climb to 5000 and then moved to another cloud and found 6 kts to 6000. Then the next band of cirrus moved through and we managed to hang in between 5-6. Our gate opened at 1451 for a 2:15 area task, but it looked grim on course and we were in no position to start. I made a run west about 10 k back to our start gate where the sun was shining on the ground again and we found about 4 kts that took us up to 7500 in a good start position with a cloud street heading towards the first turn.
As we crossed I-35 that runs south from San Antonio to Laredo, we started to catch up to the cirrus shade, but were still high and were able to stay relatively high as we crossed the weak area. Just before the turn in the first area, we were down to about 4300 and approaching the sun and found a 6 kt climb back to cloudbase. At this point there was a great street that ran pretty much on course along the transition from the sun to shade area. We ran this line into the next turn, then jumped one street west to make a little more distance before heading home.
The run home had another street running about half of the 140 km distance and we were able to run this line and stop for a 5-6 kts and then race home.
We were fortunate to never get really low and never have to struggle with weak lift - we got everything right from start time to track and turning just deep enough to come home 6 minutes overtime giving us a Canadian 1-2 finish on the day - a great way to finish the contest.