Labor Day weekend 2001 was a dilemma for me. First, I had been invited to bring my old yellow glider over to Tehachapi, California. There was a meet of classic and vintage sailplanes along with a gathering of Dusters. The Duster is a homebuilt wooden glider, along the lines of the BG 12 series. Second, I had been invited to participate in the Arizona Soaring Association (ASA) cross country racing series. They were opening the Labor Day weekend to raw beginner racing pilots (like me) with a special class. There were five or six of us that could compete in this class.
I chose the racing weekend. I applied for a contest number from the Soaring Society of America and was issued "I6" - India Six - this would be my contest callsign. I had completed my Silver Badge cross country flight and was feeling pretty comfortable with the BG 12/16. Also, I am not completely happy with the glider trailer and don't want to take free time away from flying to work on it. That will have to wait for winter.
Sailplane racing is a very good way to hone flying skills. The object is to go fast around the course task. The Contest Director assesses the weather conditions and assigns a task of turnpoints that most of the pilots should be able to achieve. The ASA is running three classes this weekend - A, B, and C. The "A" pilots will have the longest and most difficult task, the "B" pilots will have a challenging but shorter and less difficult task, and we "C" pilots will have a task that is shorter yet, but longer than the Silver Badge distance which most of us have completed.
GPS is used to track the flights, ensuring that the turnpoints have all been reached in the proper order. The turnpoints all have numbers assigned to them. For the start, there is a 5 mile radius cylinder around the airport that is 7000 feet above ground tall. Turnpoints have a cylinder that is 1/4 mile radius. You have to have at least one recorded GPS point that falls within the cylinder to count it as a valid turnpoint. The finish line is a cylinder with a one mile radius around the airport.
Handicaps are applied to each glider to try and "equalize" the performance of the glider and measure the performance of the pilot. The raw speed and distance gets multiplied by the handicap factor to get the final score speeds. The state of the art composite sailplanes might have a handicap that is less than 1 (.9 or so) and my old slow wooden glider has a handicap of 1.349. After all the flights are completed the GPS data are loaded into a scoring program which applies the proper handicap for each glider and produces the results.
Saturday was just about a perfect soaring day. By the time of the 10 am pilots meeting, there were little cumulus clouds forming, showing where each thermal would be. By the 1 pm start the conditions were booming. My task was to go to Bean, Turf North, Luke 2, and Turf. These are all airports and would leave the beginner race pilots with lots of options and never very far from the home airport. The task was 54.14 miles. There was also a time limit of two hours for this task. This is called a Modified Assigned Task - after making the first turnpoints others can be used to make sure that the total flight time is at least two hours. Credit is given for all of the distance flown. This was the part of the rule that I did not understand. I roared around the course in 55 minutes and 09 seconds giving me a raw speed of 58.9 MPH and a handicap speed of 79.46 MPH. Since I was to stay out for two hours, I should have added more turnpoints for further distance. Instead, I was penalized as if I completed the course in the assigned time of two hours. This brought the handicap score down to 35.04 (according to the scoring sheet). I was very happy to have gone around the course in such a fast time that the score did not matter to me, but I did learn from the mistake. This score left me second for the day in my class. Three of the other pilots in my class did not make it around the task.
The track below shows the race task I flew from an overhead and altitude cross section perspectives. The big yellow circle is the start cylinder and the smaller yellow circles are the turnpoint cylinders. The cyan colored circles are other valid turnpoints for the contest (some of which I should have used...). The altitude trace has vertical marks where the turnpoints are located.
Sunday the weather was bad for cross country flying, at least for me. Large clouds formed and cut off the sunshine to the ground. The remaining thermals were weak and far apart. I was the "sniffer" since I was the first one in line to launch. I found enough lift to stay aloft but not enough to get anywhere. My flight was two hours, but I only got 5 miles away from the airport. Only one of the A class pilots made it around his assigned task, no B class pilots made their task, and also no C class pilots made the task. There were several landouts.
Monday turned out to be another fabulous soaring day. My assigned task was Wickenburg, Luke 4, and Turf in that order. The task was 74.61 miles (nearly equaling my longest flight to date). There was no minimum time on course this day. This kind of task is called an Assigned Task. When all of the C class pilots were in the air, the task was opened. I was in a booming thermal near the edge of the start cylinder. My start was actually out the top of the cylinder and I was climbing well. Turning on course, I was able to pick out clouds that looked like they had good thermals feeding them and proceeded at a fast pace. I only stopped to thermal three times before getting to the first turnpoint nearly 30 miles away. At Wickenburg I caught a great thermal and climbed in smooth lift at around 600 feet per minute to 10,000 feet. I only circled to climb twice more on the way to the next turnpoint and really did not need to circle at all for the rest of the flight. I did stop for one thermal. Being a conservative pilot, I just could not turn down a 700 feet per minute climb and did two turns. I finished high over the airport having encountered so much lift. My time around the course was 1 hour 13 minutes 29 seconds. The raw speed was listed as 54.51 MPH and the handicap speed was 73.39 MPH. I won the day! In fact, looking at the scores for all other pilots in all the classes, only one pilot beat my handicap score on this day. Of course everyone else's courses were much more difficult and longer, but I sure went fast!
The combined scores for the weekend put me at the top of the C class. Four of the other pilots in this class did not turn in their flights since they did not make it around the courses and one of the pilots could only fly one day. A small victory, but a victory none the less.
I have not decided if I will participate in the racing next season or not. Soaring cross country is quite fun even on my own. I am a little competetive though and like to go fast, so maybe I will get sucked into this activity again...
Created 27 October 2001.
Updated 18 November 2011
Copyright 2001 by Paul R. Jorgenson