Benalla Storm

Benalla Storm

Friday, April 8, 2011

Club Class Nationals - Days 4, 5, 6

I am always surprised when people comment that I haven't updated my blog for awhile.  I never realised how many people looked at this!  I am sorry that I have not been keeping up-to-date with my flying adventures, and will be endeavouring to have everything updated within the week.

Day 4 - January 19

The task for this day was set as a triangle task with Rennie and Balldale Silo as the two turnpoints.  The nominal was set as 210 km.  It was another low day and several groups of gliders met up at various points along the flight.  Once again I encountered difficulties getting over the Murray River, getting caught up low and north of the river for quite some time.  I was very pleased this day to make it home and enjoyed a relaxing poolside evening with friends.

Day 5 - January 20

As the task was being set at the pilot meeting I began to shake in my boots:  the task for this day was by far the biggest task I have ever encountered in a contest (nominal set at 417 km), and that was not even the scary part!  The first turnpoint was set at Mt Buller, a mountain known to be difficult to find a direct route towards.  At this point I had not yet flown in the mountains at all! For a flat-land pilot this was quite intimidating.  Luckily for me my mentor is an avid mountain pilot, and took the time to go over the map with me before we left the briefing room, highlighting safe routes and outlanding options.

The first leg into the mountains went surprisingly well.  Although cloud bases were quite low, I found a nice street going down along the range above Mt Samaria, just enough to clip me into the first turnpoint!  As I turned towards the second turnpoint towards Euroa things quickly began to slow down.  I got caught low just west of Mt Strathbogie, and was not confident that I had enough altitude to get safely over the peak (although in retrospect, I definitely could have made it).  This portion of the flight cost me quite a bit of time and made me determined to become comfortable in a mountain flying environment.  However, as I came safely out of the hills I realised that this challenge had been an incredible learning experience!  Although the task into the mountains had seemed intimidating when it was first set, I had conquered it!

From this point the flight going back into the flats seemed quite straight-forward.  I caught a pretty good run between Euroa and Tocumwal before turning towards Corowa, Winton, and home!  Although my standing in relation to other pilots was not particularly great this day, looking introspectively I was quite stoked with my performance!

Day 6 - January 21 

Ahhh! The last day of the contest!  What a bittersweet kind of day!  The task was set Oaklands-Rand-Moyhu (Yay! No Winton!) with a nominal of 294 km.  Given the conditions of the day, it was quite the task.  We sat on the grid for a long time and I truly did not believe we were going to be launched.  The sky started to over-develop early.  Eventually we were flung into the sky, and the last day of the contest got started!

I travelled slowly along the first leg of the task, being cautious of the conditions and aware of the growing storm to the north.  I did not want to repeat a mistake from Canadian Nationals where I under-estimated the energy a storm sucks in and the amount of sink encountered in rain.  As I approached the first turnpoint I had to make a decision to turn upwind along a cloud street or downwind along another.  I opted to turn upwind, which for a good portion of time truly seemed like a poor decision as I got stuck in one place for a time without gaining a significant amount of altitude.  However, eventually I realised that the winds had pushed me into the area I would have flown directly to had I gone downwind, and I realised again the importance of turning upwind.  

I flew as deep into the first turnpoint as I dared before turning towards Rand.  At this point I was flying away from the storm and was determined to go as fast as I possibly could!  I came to the conclusion afterwards that I should always fly as though a massive wall of rain and lightning were coming towards me!  I flew very fast along this leg, and kept complete focus on being very selective about which climbs I took: anything less than 4 knots was not good enough!  At the same time I found energy lines which allowed me to stay within the working band, and relatively near cloudbase.  Along this leg I spotted a few other gliders, but no one was really near enough to join up with.  I realised I was flying further and further south away from Rand, but due to the wall of rain did not have many options!  At one point I tried to make a turn towards Rand, but a huge burst of lightning in the storm convinced me to keep tracking a bit further south.

Eventually I decided I was high enough to make a quick mad dash into the circle.  I mentally marked my thermals and flew in and out of the rain (and turnpoint) as fast as I could!  Although I got wet, I felt that I was in fine form!  However, as I went south away from the storm I encountered dead air and then sink sink sink.  Once again I found myself scraping above a field just north of the Murray.  I was determined not to land out!  I fought and fought and eventually caught a climb strong enough to get me over the river.  With the help of some other gliders I found the good parts of several clouds and had a good run to the Moyhu turnpoint.  Worried that I would encounter a strong headwind on the way home I took more altitude than was perhaps necessary.  I really didn't want to land out on the last day!  I finished with a solid run home.

Contest Summary:

Overall I thought that the Club Class Nationals was a great contest!  Although it was disappointing not to fly in the first few days of the contest, it gave me a great opportunity to make some great friends and have a few adventures.  The rest of the contest went well and I learned an incredible amount about flying both by myself in the air and through my mentorship and instruction from Tobi.  I did a much better job at pacing myself mentally and physically through to the end.  Nats also gave me a very clear idea of what I wanted to work on to improve my flying during the rest of my season.  Thanks to everyone who made this contest a blast!  And lastly, to everyone who shared their wine on the final night : )

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