Monday, July 30, 2007

Hang-On Competition

July 19th Jeff, Kara, Josh and I headed for Medford, Oregon for the Hang-On hang gliding competition. This was a fully sanctioned points meet, so some of the best pilots in the world would be there. Needless to say I was a little intimidated. I had to remind myself that I couldn't compete with the other pilots so I needed to go with the idea that I would work on personal bests and learn as much as I could. After 14 hours in the car we finally got to Medford and crashed out as quickly as possible looking forward to tomorrows practice day.Joshy. Need I say more

Kick'n it by the fire

Jeff and Cosmo

Practice Day
Saturday morning we headed to head quarters to check in and see who of the pilots had arrived yet. After getting formalities out of the way, we headed up the hill. Woodrat Mountain is where launch is. The local club as put a lot of time in to making a nicely manicured launch area which we all enjoyed. We wind was cranking so I was a little nervous, but I thought I ought to stand on launch and check it out. My wing felt balanced so I launched. Launch went well and I was quickly soaring around the hill. Conditions were fairly easy so we all cruised around the mountain for and hour and then chose to land at a winery which provided a much better landing zone than the main one at the base of the hill.
In the LZ we saw that Jeff O'Brien and his wife Amber had arrived. We all said our hellos and headed to the nearby campground to finish our day.

The sky above camp

Checking out the route

The field

Task #1
Sunday started off with what would be our regular schedule for the entire week. Pilots meeting from 9:30 to 10:30 discussing topics that weren't necessarily relevant to the comp. Then we would head back to camp, pack our stuff up and head up the hill. When we got to launch, I saw more gliders set up than I'd ever been around. There were only about 25 pilots, a small group for a comp, but Missoula only has a total of 25 pilots and all of us never fly at the same time. This would be interesting. I set up and joined the pilot meeting. The task called was a for a 87 kilometer triangle. We had a 2k start cylinder and a 400m turn radius around each of the way points. Since there were many pilots, we would be using a single start time. Launch generally opened an hour before the start time and because I didn't want to be stuck in a launch line feeling rushed, I generally launch right after the window opened. This posed an good question; would I even be able to soar long enough to get the start? An hour flight in Missoula is a long one. Here, I would have to pull that off before I could even start the race. As it turned out, it wasn't all that difficult.

Josh contemplating his strategy

Girdy and Amber enjoying the sun

The Jeffs helping me to launch

I soared around for the hour watching other pilots and when the race started we all pointed it for the first turn point. This was wild. We were like a WWII bomber formation racing through the sky. This first leg of the coarse was difficult because it was 29k into a head wind. We needed to maintain our elevation to avoid any rotors. After 28k I had to choose landing over ticking the way point. I felt if I got the way point, it would force me to land in an LZ that was too dangerous for my experience level. I had a nice landing and was very pleased with the flight.

Kara and Amber picked me up and we headed for the Jeffs and Josh. Back at HQ we downloaded our GPS's and partied. A good end to the first day.

Jeff and Dustin assessing the sky

Jeff and Johnny in the launch line

Jeff and Kara

Task #2
Monday we got to launch and the sky looked epic. There were cumulus clouds everywhere. The task called was for 72k. Again I launched before everyone and this time beamed out. Soon everyone joined me in the air and we headed to the start cylinder. As we waited for the race to start we found ourselves climbing to 9000ft into the clouds. It was an amazing experience. Being surrounded by 25 pilots punching in and out of the cloud. When it was time, we punched it heading for the next way point. The clouds were great. We raced from cloud to cloud punching through them as we passed. As we reached the way point, I found myself getting low. I ticked the point and turned down wind looking for lift to jump the mountain range. Unfortunately it never happened. I found myself racing back to the winery to land. I was scored to 38k but probably flew around 45-50k. The way back was off coarse! I spent the next two hours tasting whine waiting for my ride. Not a bad way to kill time!

On the chase

Jeff joining the gaggle

Josh, Cosmo, and I on the chase
Task #3, Task #4
Tuesday and Wednesday proved to be very difficult for me. There was a high pressure system sitting on us suppressing all but the strongest lift. Even thought people managed to make goal each day, I was only able to stay in the air long enough to tick the start cylinders and land in the main LZ. Oh well. That's the way it goes sometimes.

Girdy helping her man

Waiting to launch

Task #5

The high pressure was leaving so we were expecting conditions to slowly get better for the rest of the comp. The task was for 61k this day. The conditions were still difficult, but I managed to fly 18k into the head wind again falling 2k short of the way point. Back to HQ for margaritas! See how it always turns out to be a win, win situation.

$25,000 shade structure

Party time


96k task. Conditions were getting better, but we were stuck with a strong head for the first leg. After fighting the head wind and rotors over every ridge we jumped, I found myself getting force low. LZ's were off to my left, but I thought I should be patient and work the small lift. I ended up loosing more ground that I was gaining. I front of me I saw Shapiro and Zippy very low in the canyon. From my point of view, they looked like they were scratching the tree-tops. I had about 600ft on them and I though t I was low! The lift sucked where I was so the hell with it. I was going for the ridge in front of me. As I approached Jeff and Zippy, I got hammered by the rotor they were fighting. Time to land. I headed for the main valley crossing over a recent burn. BAM! I got hit with strong lift coming off the burn and figured this was my ticket out of here. Unfortunately the rotor was cutting off the lift and forced me to eventually land. 28k out I landed in a nice field, but a rotor made it difficult.

Jeff, Amber, Josh, and Johnny

Task #7 Final Day
64k task. The conditions were better for lift, but we were facing an even stronger head wind. The beginning of the race was very similar for me compared to the day before. Once again I found myself getting low at the burn and figure I gave it my best, but it's time to land. On my way out to the LZ, I thought I ought to check out the windward side of a ridge. Sure enough there was lift! I worked it the best I could and before I knew it, I was back up to 6200ft. The lift petered out. "It's now or never." I pulled full rope and pointed it for the ridge blocking my way to the next way point. As I glided towards the ridge I watched it move up and down, but more often it was moving down in my view. I was going to make it, but it would be close. I passed over the tree with about 100ft. YES! Oh shit, I need to find an LZ. I worked to ridge lift as I headed to the main valley. In front of me was a LZ I used a few days ago. That was my goal. I made it there with enough altitude to set up a mock approach and then landed. I was thrilled that I stuck with it long enough to clear the final ridge. Unfortunately I landed right below the turn point after 23k.

Zippy #3, Jeff #2, and Johnny #1

Kara, Amber, and Josh picked us all up and we headed for HQ to party and for the award ceremony. After it was all done, I can say that I had an excellent time. I set a bunch of personal best and learned more than I thought I could. I feel this competition doubled my experience. I'm looking forward to the next one!