2011 USA Open Class Nationals

Dave's Blog from Uvalde, Texas

Last Update: Monday PM, 15-August-2011


Prologue

0Uvalde is one of the great soaring sites in the world. Classic Uvalde weather features fabulous cloud streets, energy lines you can follow for literally hundreds of miles without stopping to thermal - you circle you lose. Evil days can feature thunderstorms and/or over-development. Weak days can be blue, and don't go north over the rugged Texas hill country low. From the south, the sea-breeze front off the Gulf of Mexico can intrude late in the day, sometimes reaching the hundreds of miles inland to Uvalde. The sea breeze front can provide great lift if you're following its path, or put you on the ground if you get behind it where there's no more lift.

In 2012 Uvalde will host its 2nd world championships, and in 2011 we have the pre-world practice contest concurrent with the USA open class national contest. First world championships at Uvalde was in 1991, and 15-meter winner Brad Edwards from Australia is back here for another go. An all-star cast of volunteers is running this contest: Ken Sorenson director, Linda Murray manager, John Good tasking, Dan Gudgel and Walt Rogers weather, Dave Coggins ops.

This year we have a drought, and enter the competition with a massive high pressure system over Texas and less moisture than needed for classic Uvalde cloud-streets. Sure was great during the practice period.

I'm racing my Antares 20E electric-powered glider (20-meter wingspan). Open class has 15 entries, including several former national champs. Another 40 gliders are flying in the pre-world contest with 15-meter and 18-meter classes.

Travels

I drove to Uvalde straight from AirVenture at Oshkosh, where Gary Boggs and I spent the week promoting soaring. EAA invites me to Oshkosh due to popular interest in electric-powered aircraft, and I gave a talk on challenges of electric power for aircraft and flew the Antares in the airshow. There are hundreds of thousands of spectators at Oshkosh, and hopefully the sight of Antares whooshing by dropping water ballast, plus our week of talking to hundreds of visitors, inspire a few to try soaring.

The drive down was uneventful. Took the western route south through the Texas hill country, stopping at the great Hard 8 barbecue in Brady Texas, and avoiding the traffic jams on I35 through Dallas-Fort-Worth, Austin, and San Antonio. Its a bit surreal up in the hill country, passing tall fences enclosing all manner of African animals, raised on these huge ranches for hunters to come shoot...

Favorite barbecue stop in Brady, Texas, and welcoming cloudstreet.
Hard Eight Barbeque Welcome to Texas cloudstreet

Practice Period

Pre-practice had good weather with great clouds, especially north over the hill-country. Pre-practice triangle task. Practice day 1 there was some streeting north and cumulus in the northern part of the task area. We had a MAT with mandatory turnpoints north to Concan, south-east to Hondo, north back into the hill country to West Kerr, then choose-your-own turnpoints. I had a decent run around the mandatory TPs though stumbled a bit heading into West Kerr. Fabulous clouds beckoned north and I turned the furthest north-west TP Eldorado-Schleicher. Climbed to cloudbase a bit south of the turn and flew the remaining 112 miles home without thermalling (except two turns when I couldn't restrain myself). Practice Day 1 flight on OLC. Practice day 1 winning speed was in the low 90s, my flight around was around 86-87 mph. Practice day 2 I repaired the trailer, got the oil changed, did laundry, and took the day off...

Its great to see many of my Australian friends I've flown with down under. Back in the 90s I flew four Australian nationals, but haven't been flying there since, save for a brief visit last November for FLARM test-flying (and getting heavily rained upon).

Saturday August 6 - Race Day 1

Preparing the gliders at dawn, made all the more surreal by the packs of coyotes howling.
Dawn glider

Big high centered just north of us. Max temp of around 100 F, with forecast thermal tops 7k AGL (8k MSL), as usual a bit higher over the hill country.

I got drafted to give the morning's safety briefing on avoiding midairs. Main points to remember (other than the usual heads out and scan technique):

Assigned (racing) tasks) to the north for all classes. Open gets a 305 mile assigned task west 25 miles to Anacacho, way, way, way north to Menard, then a couple steering TPs near Uvalde (Coyote, Batesville). At launch a hard inversion capped us under 5k, only 4 thousand above ground (4k AGL). Mill around til almost two hours after launch before the lift finally has got a bit stronger and broke through the inversion.

I started with DB at 2:14 at just under 6k. Nothing much til northbound past Anacacho, where a thermal was marked by a few earlier starters. The terrain rises to over 2k and gets very rough as we head into the higher hill country, with significant distance between places one could land. Gets a bit frightening when max height is below 4k above the terrain. I spent a lot of mental energy making sure I always had safe glide to a field - ILEC SN10 helps with managing alternates. Lots of pilots detoured very far west towards some wisps hinting of lift. I detoured to the next marked thermal but decided to head more on course after that. As I tip-toed north the day got stronger and thermals higher, and I met up with Dick Butler DB just shy of Menard in a 6kt thermal that took us to almost 10k. Dick was heading out of the turn as I headed in, so he was about 2 minutes ahead of me. We had an average speed of 66 mph at the turn, aided by a tailwind on the long leg into Menard.

The long leg south had higher lift, but it was weaker at the top of the thermals. Though I know better, I wasted time taking climbs too high and chasing a couple wisps that disintegrated by the time I reached them. Blue skies over the Uvalde area worried me into taking a 3 knot climb almost to final glide, where I promptly hit a 6 knot thermal and forming cu at the Coyote turn. Took it on up for a 6 knot final glide, finishing at around 66mph.

Ron Tabery wins in SS at 77 mph, followed by Garret Willet and Dick Butler. Ron says the detour to the west was not too productive - lots of extra distance and not such strong lift under the few cus.

Sunday August 7 - Race Day 2

Low clouds early in the day show more moisture and promise more cumulus during the soaring day. 7 knot climbs expected to 8k bases. Tasks are south today, Ken says enough rock polishing in the northern hill country yesterday. Open has a 3:40 area task (a bit short for these conditions). South to La Esperanza down near the Rio Grande, back up to Hondo, then back to a big area south before running home. This gives us a bunch of legs nearly aligned with the south-east cloud streets.

By launch the sky is starting to look like classic Uvalde, with well-developed cu and streeting. I self-launched into a 6kt thermal just off the end of the runway and climbed to bases near 6k. Looked like a no-circling day. Went out on course a bit to choose the cloud line I'd take, came back and started around 2:30, a bit too early for a short task. There were gaps in the streets, and I had to take a short 6kt climb a 25 miles out to get back up and on the next street. Rounded La Esperanza at the end of the streets (bluing out with only isolated smaller cu to the south), and topped off with a 9kt climb to get connected with the next street. Only 20 miles from Mexico, the Rio Grande seemed just below.

Great run north until the Hondo vicinity, where the streets stopped and I had to take a few thermals, knocking my speed down. Past Hondo southbound things improved and I ran strong lift down to the back of the last cylinder north-west of Freer. I should have run almost straight home bouncing up to glideslope without turning, but wasted time with a couple poor detours, then over-cooked the final glide, for a finish 356 miles at just over 90 mph.

After wining day 1, Ron Tabery smoked us again at 100.68 mph, upholding Uvalde's reputation for screaming tasks and making Linda Murray proud. Ron reports he made a mistake and turned a couple of times on the 90 mile run home, and also flew one or two tenths of a mile out the back of the last two turnpoints (I guess when you're going that fast its hard to get that big bird turned around). Day 2 score on SSA site. Rumours are swirling about a "truly manly task" tomorrow...

Cloud street on day 2. Note how the cloud shadows show the cloud street.
Day 2 cloudstreet

Monday August 8 - Race Day 3

At dawn, low cloud north over the hill country but not south. Unlike yesterday. Forecast is a bit confusing but should be good if a bit weaker. Open gets a 4 hour area task with a short run north to a small cylinder around Leakey, then south, south-west to Callahaghan (20 miles from Laredo), jog north, then a north-west to Medina Lake (25 miles from San Antonio), then return. Yikes. Nominal distance 375 miles, minimum distance 265 miles, maximum 490 miles. This means minimum distance in 4 hours requires a speed of almost 70 mph. Now, where are those promised beautiful cumulus clouds ?

Some pilots had trouble climbing out, and an inversion at 6k kept us well below the 7k max start altitude until after 2PM. No cumulus in the Uvalde area though small cu over the hills north. I started soon after the task opened and ran a line of clouds to the northern boundary of the first area. Blue and difficult after heading out of the hills to the south. Clouds much further south, so I pressed to the south-east part of the 2nd cylinder and turned on the third leg with clouds in front. Widely scattered clouds marked OK thermals, bit of a slog. Leg back east to Hondo was very slow, smart money detoured way south to clouds while I went direct under decaying wisps. As usual, took a 3-knotter to final glide and then immediately hit strong lift in the blue for another over-cooked final glide. 15 minutes overtime at 75 mph.

DB wins today with 86 mph, his only comment was "just standard open class weather and flying"...

Tuesday August 9 - Race Day 4

Forecast says 7k max altitude and 4-5 kt climbs today, a bit lower and weaker than yesterday. Maybe a bit higher and stronger late in the day. Early clouds dissipating to blue just after start, with maybe some haze domes late in the day. Tasks mostly south, assigned for all classes. Open gets a East, south, north up into the hills, east again, then final glide west back to Uvalde. 315 miles with good but not classic Uvalde conditions.

Open class was off first, to low bases but reliable clouds. I self-launched and found a thermal at a thousand feet next to the runway, running the motor for 2:30 (a bit longer than usual, but there was some sink at the end of the runway and full water). Bases were around 5500 MSL at start time, hence our low start cylinder top of 4500 (only 3500 AGL). I started early, as lift seemed reliable and the clouds were already dissipating, thought it better to take marked lift and lots of folks started earlier. But at 1:46 it was too early...

First leg was not bad with some good climbs, wisps, and some gliders in front marking thermals. Had a very slow second leg, clouds dissipated, no markers in front until down near La Esperanza. Had a fast run northbound with 2XX and HW, until I managed to get a bit too aggressive and low, struggled a bit until past Uvalde. Better lift and clouds up in the hill country to Leakey, then a line of wisps worked weakly south directly towards the Yancy TP. A couple thousand feet below glideslope entering Yancy, I hit a thermal just before the turn. Can't start turning and drift away from the turn, so marked the position on the ILEC SN10B GPS page. I was joined by Ron Tabery SS entering the turn, and we returned to the thermal drifting generally towards Uvalde while climbing 4kts. Ron departed a few hundred feet below glideslope planning to bump up, but I was overly conservative again. I followed some haze domes homewards, hit strong lift, and bounced up to 6kt final glide, continually expecting to hit the sink. Never did hit the sink, and Ron beat me home by a minute. Awfully slow today - 64 mph.

Ron Tabery wins again at 73 mph - 3 days out of 4 now.

Dave landing YO - Photo by Bob Rasa - click for Bob's gallery.
Bob Rasa photo of Dave landing YO

Wednesday August 10 - Race Day 5

Forecast: Heavy low cloud will delay heating and start of the soaring day before it dissipates. 5500 bases expected at 2PM start time, hence another low start cylinder cap at 5k MSL. Max 7-8k convection with some cu, thermals slightly stronger than yesterday. Where there are cus, bases at 6.5k up to 7.5k later in the day. Not a classic day but more cu than yesterday. Assigned tasks for all classes, south first then up into the hill country.

Before launch we were already on the backup task, with the same turnpoints but large turn areas replacing the 1 mile radius cylinders of the assigned task. This due to the day starting really late, weak lift, and awful visibility. Open launched last, and I used fully 25% of my battery power before I finally found a thermal and climbed out - normal is more like 15%.

I was worried about the day finishing early (as often when it starts late), and started fairly early out the top to a whopping 4300 AGL cloudbase. Couldn't see far enough in the soup to pick a good street, bounced along and eventually got down to 2500 AGL after crossing a blue area with wave suppression. The bases and thermal strength continued to improve, along with the visibility. Decent but inconsistent climbs, but at least I could see far enough to line up likely clouds and had no real difficulty if not great speed. I certainly didn't press too deep into the first two turn areas ! Once up into the hill country things improved with reliable 5-6 kt climbs. I probably should have detoured way off course to follow some stronger cloud lines, as the stuff along the nominal courseline worked OK but not great. I pressed north until a line of clouds and wisps showed a likely path cross-wind to the last turn area around Kerrville. Unfortunately this line didn't work and I took some 3 kt climbs to avoid frightening myself unduly over the hill country - slow ! Finally found a good climb where I was again joined by Ron Tabery in SS. I took it to near cloudbase around 2000 below glideslope home, then followed a great street southbound. Ron says this street was 40 degrees off course but it allowed running at 100-110 knots into wind, and turning for Uvalde at MC 6 final glide with clouds on the line home. No circling the last 50 miles for a finish at a bit over 70 mph. After pressing a bit deeper into the Kerrville turn area, Ron followed the same street home.

Dick Butler wins the day at 79.6 mph, but only one point ahead of Ron Tabery. Ron mentioned he went up in the wave prior the start and was able to get a decent view of where the clouds were working as well as an idea of where there was wave suppression.

Thursday August 11 - Rest Day

Laundry. Mark Keene has organized an expedition for dinner at Neal's on the Rio Frio and then a trip to watch the bats. 10-12 million bats come out to feed from a cave - 2nd largest bat population in the world. And of course some of them get eaten by hawks on the way out. The traditional rest-day tubing expedition on the Rio Frio is canceled on account of extreme drought - hiking down the riverbed is not considered fun.

Renee called while we were admiring the stream of bats exiting the cave and swirling about us. I told her I wished she could be here as she would greatly enjoy being in the middle of all these creatures swirling around us with their gentle rustling noise as they touch wings. Renee opined that despite a decade of marriage my ideas about what she would greatly enjoy might be flawed. Dick VanGrunsven snapped this photo.
Dave talking to Renee amidst the bats
Dick VanGrunsven enjoying the bats. Dick VanGrunsven and bats

Mark and Conrad Huffstutler spent the rest day improving their odds in the Open Class contest, Texas style.
Huffstutler armed ASH-25

Friday August 12 - Race Day 6

We had thunderstorms and significant rain in the task area last night, especially quadrants west and north. This morning there is lots of mid- and high-level cloud remnant from the storms. Doesn't look good. At briefing, risk of thunderstorms prompted a review of the safety finish by John Good. John Seaborn briefed us on the hazards of some of the landing points in our database. Kinda sets the tone for the day. Dan Gudgel briefed us on the weather: 50 mph gusts and 4 inches rain at Del Rio yesterday, lots of moisture aloft in the entire area. The area to the southeast looks a bit clearer, but the late day seabreeze will initiate thunderstorms inbound from the southeast. 5k to 6k bases later in the afternoon - right around the beginning of thunderstorms.

Open goes first with a short 3 hour MAT, first turn chosen from a set of three. Other classes AATs. Hopefully we can get up, out, and back before storms. At first launches, cloudbase was just above release altitude just over 3000 MSL, 2100 AGL - not great fun. Sat in .5 kt for a few minutes to stay clear the traffic and wait for the bases to slowly rise. At gate opening time bases were up to a whopping 4200 MSL around 3300 AGL. Frightened by the weather prognosis I started early, bounced along to Dilley following streeting and stopping for 5 kt when I got low. Followed a lift line north up to Devine, then Medina Lake Dam, then followed a line of stronger clouds starting to tower towards Batesville (just south of Uvalde). Considered staying out longer to improve my speed as the day was getting much stronger, but rain-drops on the canopy from the towering cu over me disuaded me. Extremely slow speed today of 66 mph, starting way too early and cruising slowly to avoid getting low. Winner Bill Ruehle started 45 minutes later. Thunderstorms never materialized in our immediate area, though it did rain and over develop a bit in some areas. Former GBSCer Eric Nelson won 15-meter today !

Saturday August 13 - Race Day 7

Much less mid-level moisture above us today at dawn. There's a big line of rain way to our north from Dallas west, lots of moisture to the north, slowly heading into our area. Quadrant south-west has wet ground from heavy rains a day ago. Seabreeze into the southeast edge of our task area late in the afternoon. Forecast says we'll achieve 450 to 500 fpm climb to the east and southeast, maybe 7k. Heating may be slowed by cirrus and mid-level cloud. Looks like we'll task east...

Assigned tasks for all three tasks. Open starts east to Devine then south for 257 miles. Fairly dismal at launch with thick cirrus and some small scruffy cu, with nothing in the direction of the first leg. Open was off last, to gradually improving conditions as the day heated up. Faint wisps became firmer and almost real clouds as we waited for our task to open. Before the open class task opened, 15m and 18m competitors streamed out on task, worried about the cirrus thickening. But as we waited, we could see it was thinning and looking better and better on course.

For once I was disciplined and sat in 1 knot, waiting for a line of wisps to build along the first leg. First starters headed on course, but I waited and took a blue street towards the first clouds a bit right of course, and caught them as they detoured to the first cloud. Bounced wisps and cruised fast, catching Ron Tabery SS about half-way to the first turn. Reliable clouds and wisps for the second leg, so pressed on as the day brightened and strengthened. By the the 3rd leg circling was optional, and by the 4th it was ill-advised. Faster, follow the lift lines, slow up and climb straight ahead at 7 knots then push over to 115 knots. Classic Uvalde ! A bit softer on the leg home as the cirrus thickened, and I slowed up and took a 5 kt climb for a couple thousand to stay connected to the clouds - too conservative. Weaved and bounced up to a MC 6 final glide with reserve, then blasted home for a finish at 84 mph.

Wiktor Kozlik HW started last, fully 12 minutes after me. Wiktor found thermals as strong as 12 knots, and went roaring past me on the final leg to finish at 91 mph. Bill Ruehle in 2nd, Ron Tabery 3rd, Dick Butler, and yours truly YO in 5th (first decent showing I've had this contest).

Sunday August 14 - Race Day 8

650 to 750 fpm lift, slight chance of towering cu and thunderstorms late. Seabreeze front might come in further enhance by flow around the high pressure, again triggering scattered thunderstorms as it did last night. 4500 scattered bases at launch time, moving up to 8k or 9k late. Open is off first, with a 4:30 5 cylinder area task west, a bit north, east, south-east then way down south, where John Good says we can maybe flirt with the sea-breeze front.

I was first to launch today - self-launched into a 4 knot thermal just off the runway, and retracted the motor at 1200 feet after using 15% of my power. Great looking clouds south and east, not so much west and north - did I mention we're going west and north for a while ? I resolved to immediately go north the minimum possible, planning to drive east and south as far as possible to try take advantage of the better area and the sea breeze front. I avoided the temptation to start too early, and watched Ron Tabery SS trying to stay on Dick Butler DB's tail - looked like a dog-fight in the thermal. Ron just needs to cover Dick to win this championship. As others stream out on course, I finally started at 2:03. After hanging around for 1:40 after launch, on a 4:30 task, this is going to be a long day !

The initial line I picked, near the northern boundary of the clouds, was not strong; should have gone further south as did others with better results. Managed to get down below 2000 feet entering the hill country, and was startled to see the Arcus 1000 feet lower. Slowly extricated myself and connected with decent clouds in the third cylinder north of Uvalde over Leakey, but I've wasted a lot of time and my average speed is down around 60 mph so far. I exited the third cylinder DB was entering from the south, having detoured way south to stay under good clouds and making better time.

Now the day was turning classic Uvalde - run fast climb straight ahead for sections where I could string the clouds together, even running across the streets. Pressed east to Medina Dam, and turned when I had a good line of clouds off my right wingtip for the run south. Because I didn't use much of the first three cylinders, I had to go deep into the last two cylinders to use the entire 4 and a half hours and not come home too early. As I headed south I'm now better aligned with the wind, going ever faster. There's some over-development and light rain towards the western part of the last cylinder, but as I press south I can see the line I've chosen looks free of rain, strong, and augmented by the sea-breeze front.

Day 8 cloud street enhanced by sea-breeze front. Next line south is the low scruffy clouds marking the actual front, sorry I didn't manage to capture this (I need a better snapshot camera than my iPhone). Dan Gudgel says it is common for the street parallel to the front to be enhanced like this. You can tell its the sea-breeze as it is parallel the front rather than aligned with the wind like streets away from the front.
Day 8 sea-breeze cloud street

I ran the sea-breeze street to the back of the cylinder, but I was going to be under the 4:30 time if I turned at the end of the street, so I flew off the street further south-west into the turn area, then back to the street. Climbed for a few turns, then resolved to fly the 95 miles back to Uvalde without further circling. This meant following the sea-breeze street, then turning and jumping to a down-wind street towards Uvalde when everything lined up. I picked a solid line back to Uvalde, though I could see the streets further west not as solid with some decaying clouds and occasional rain. The line I chose gave me a 115 mph speed over this segment, pulling my task average speed up to about 81 over 266 miles and only 2 minutes 48 seconds over time, but my time-wastage in the early stages of the flight meant not such a good showing today.

Ron Tabery SS had a great flight until the street he was following home fell apart, and he was down to 1000 feet AGL dumping water over Batesville. A buzzard showed Ron a 4 knot climb that got him up to final glide altitude and he won the day with almost 90 mph, after thinking he'd just blown the contest. Ron clinches another national championship ! Followed by Dick Ruehle 2XX and then Dick Butler DB in 3rd.

Hope you enjoy this and please email with questions or comments,
Best Regards, Dave "YO"
Dave.Nadler@nadler.com


Links for more information...

Antares 20E Electric Motorglider Information
Uvalde Open Class Nationals contest scores on SSA web site
Dave's Soaring publications, including blogs from past contests
Nadler & Associates Home Page


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