Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Task 3 - Decided to land

I've aborted task 3 after 20 minutes in the start cylinder. There are many contributing factors, but the bottom line is that it didn't make sense anymore to me. To be more specific:

  • The terrain is too high to my liking. We land our gliders at 1800 - 2500 m if we are in goal and possibly at 3000 m if we need to land out. Our gliders are not made for those thin air conditions. Many landings will be perfect, but I feel that if I continu to fly here, the chance for an accident is too high.
  • There had been talks about cancelling the results of task 2 after the double goal fiasco. So, what was I doing up there, competing while not being 100% OK with the safety situation and on top of that, the results risk being thrown away? (I fully support the organiser's extended goal cylinder solution, this is the solution which provides the most accurate results for the competition.)
  • I've got Rudy's very severe accident of 3 weeks ago in Belgium in my mind.
  • I'm not in a financial situation where, if I wreck my glider, I can just buy a new one.
  • What actually triggered the landing were two bad turbulences.

So, I'm taking it easy now. I'll just be a tourist for the next few days. And I won't forget the views of the volcano from 4500 m (with the business jet passing by on it's way to Toluca), or the view from straight above the town of Valle de Bravo with it's lake.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Busy days - 2 tasks done

It's busy here in Mexico. We head for launch at 9 AM and yesterday we were back at 8 PM, so it's hard to keep you updated...

But, we had 2 tasks until now. The first was a 108 km out and return task which took us to the foothills of the Nevado de Toluca, which is a huge volcano. We launch at 2400 m, but as the terrain rises towards the volcano, you find yourself flying over 3000 m high landing fields. I really don't want to land there, because the thinner air seriously increases your landing speed. It's hard enough at 2500 m already.

Anyway, the first task started well for me, but the whole middle section was slow. I lost half an hour on Christian, but ended up 7th, which was way better than expected.

Yesterday we had the second task, which took us around the volcano. Cloudbase was at 4400 m and that really gets to me. I actively remind myself to breathe deep and hold my breath for a short while to make sure I get enough oxygen in. It is special flying here.

Sadly, they made a huge mistake with the goal coordinates yesterday. We ended up with 2 goal fields 2,5 km apart: one defined by GPS coordinates and another with a physical line on the ground, Red Bull tents, music and a whole crowd. I made both, but a few only did the physical goal line. I fear there's always going to be somebody unhappy with whatever compromise we could get for the result and that the day will be canned after protests. It's a shame.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mexico - First days

Glider transport is always a bit tricky and I'm happy to report that my glider has arrived well and without major issues in Mexico. I feared the worst when they instructed me to go back to the departure hall after I had already been waiting for half an hour at the gate. But in the end, all went well. In Frankfurt, I met Johnny Nilssen and Genna Markhov, and we saw 7 gliders being loaded into the plane. This is how it looked at baggage claim for us:

Sunday started with carefully inspecting and unpacking the gliders, followed by a nice evening flight. It's a different world, here in Valle de Bravo. To start with, we're at 2000 m. There's also a non-stop procession of cars through the village, almost at walking pace, because of the uneven cobblestones. It makes me a bit short of breath. But, the city is very relaxed. There are food shops/stands everywhere you look and the central plaza really was alive on Sunday.

Back to flying. The altitude plays a role there as well. We launch at 2500 m. So we need more speed to take off. A good breeze or a good run is required. But we also land at 2000+ m. And that's more tricky. The extra speed requires a nice flare.

I tested my drogue chute on both landings and twice, it didn't open, which never happened to me before. On the first landing, I held my chute in my left hand for quite a while before releasing it. Because I flew with it for 2 minutes, the lines got entangled and created a number of knots. Of course, it didn't open anymore. But the flare was a beauty and I didn't have to walk the glider far ;-)

So yesterday, I wasn't going to make the same mistake and pulled the drogue way later. But I didn't pull it all the way out of the pocket before releasing it... So that didn't do anything either. The field was a bit downslope and it all ended in an unstable high flare, followed by a hard landing, just as Laurent did a few minutes earlier. Me and the glider are ok, but it's not the way I want to continue landing here.

Yesterday's flight was the first bit of XC flying here. Flying at 3000 m is low and I exited thermals at 3800 m, about 200 m below cloudbase, because I'm not adapted to the height yet. Let's see how it feels today! Competition starts on March 1st, so we still got a few practice days here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lufthansa takes gliders

Not a lot of airlines take gliders. The British are regularly using Virgin Atlantic and I just found out (thanks to Gordon and Regina) that Lufthansa takes them as sports equipment as well. Not cheap (400 Euros for an intercontinental out-and-return), but at least it is a way to get it across the pond!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

No 2014 Euros - what a shame!

Today, the FAI announced that the 2014 European Championship is canceled. What a shame! We lose an opportunity for a great comp. Not sure why it has been canceled.

On the other side, it seems that we will finally be able to pick a week for the Belgian Championship, now that the uncertainties about the Euros are over. I was looking forward to flying in Lumbier again though. Seems I will have to re-arrange my calendar for 2014.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Flying the Moyes Litespeed RX4

I've now flown a season with the Litespeed RX4 after changing from the Combat and I love flying it, so it was about time to write about the glider. Where to start?

Well, the obvious bit: the RX is quite different from the Combat. Less span, less aspect ratio, less sail tension, less weight. It's all screaming 'great handling' at you. And that's the way it is and that's also why I love flying it so much. Of course, there's always a compromise to be made. And it's definitely trading in handling for a bit of glide ratio and minimum sink. But for me, it for sure is a change for the better.

The light, predictable handling helps in many ways. But the most significant thing is the pure joy of flying it provides. I had such a lot of fun flying it this year that I am seriously considering not sacrificing all my holidays on comps in 2014. I really hope I'm going to be in the Alps for some of the magic days each year has to offer. But that's for 2014, now back to the RX.

Apart from the shear joy, the light handling obviously provides better reaction times in turbulent thermals. And speaking of the trade-off, for me the improved handling is much more important than an optimal minimum sink, because most thermals we encounter are at least somewhat turbulent and fast reactions usually keep you on top of the stack. Turbulent thermals are especially what you find low down, where it is important to be able to use every surge of lift. I can think of quite a few out-landings where I believe the RX would have allowed me to stay aloft (especially the last task of the 2010 Euros).

Handling helps you in so many other ways too. It's better in terms of safety and allows you to chose smaller fields as landing opportunities. It's surprising how short your landing field can be, without any VG (although I usually land with around half VG because that produces cleaner flares). Being able to use smaller fields gives you more freedom to chose flying routes. The improved handling is also safer and more fun when flying pretty close to terrain or in crowded gaggles. The more relaxed, the better you fly, so handling does really help you with that.

The other amazing thing about the RX is the feedback it provides on what's happening in the air while gliding. Maybe this is what took me longest to get out of the RX, because the RX flies so differently compared to the Combat, but it sure helped me during the pre-Euros. I had much greater confidence there, that I was able to find the lift around me. And I really hope to retain that feeling for the next season!

This great feedback might be linked to not having a tail anymore. To be honest: at first it scared me a bit. Before the RX, I'd been flying a Combats for 3 seasons, with tails. So, on glides, I was used to cut through rough air like a knife through butter: the glider didn't really pitch up or down on bumps. The RX has a lot more pitch reactions to whatever is going on around it. So you sense more of the air, initially more than I wanted to feel. But by now, it feels completely natural. Those pitch reactions also help you a lot in turbulent thermals. Whenever you hit a surge of lift, the glider tends to pitch up and turn in, which is exactly what you want.

Pitch stability obviously bring us into the territory of sprog settings. And I didn't change a thing there. At first because I wanted to know how it felt coming out of the factory and I didn't want to change anything while having Combat references in my head. And later because I got to like the behaviour of the glider more and more. So, until now, the glider still has the factory settings and it seems to be very competitive, although it is not an absolute final glide hero. Compared to the Laminar of Alex and Primoz's Combat, it's definitely lacking efficiency, especially in the high speed range.

Hmm, I almost forgot: it flies perfectly straight. Didn't have a single issue with a turn yet. So I absolutely love my RX the way it left the factory. No doubt about that!

It's been a great year, flying the RX! It got me back to the top 20 and it even ended up on a postcard :-)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

RASP model for Pyrenees

Anyone planning on flying the Pyrenees? Good to know there's a RASP model!