30 June 2008

Winds, clouds, and a couple of good flights

The last three weeks pilots in Finland were pestered with unstable weather with over development pretty much every day, and on top of it strong winds prevailed. Nevertheless, at times there were some areas with clearer weather and last week saw a couple of good flights.
On Thursday Ari "303" Sahlström was reported to have flown some 140 km from a private winch field in Vampula to Hämeenkoski. Winds were really strong that day and rumor has it that the in the upwind part of his thermal circles Ari was flying backwards (relative to the ground).
Next day hangglider pilots Kari and Vesa flew almost 200 km, from the Kauhajoki airfield to Hankasalmi. Kari told us that the first 80 km were flown in string winds with broken thermals under a blue sky, and that they were mostly only between 700 and 200 m above the ground. They then reached another airmass with good clouds and with a base of over 2000 m. He thinks that with a slightly different route for the last part they could have gone a bit further still.
I myself did only fly on Saturday at the Yötä Myöten ("throughout the night") event organized by the hang- and paragliding club in Jyväskylä, Pitkävuoren Liitäjät. Luckily I arrived early in the day and could fly for a good hour. I tried to fly to the North where the sky looked good but was to slow and got locked in between cloud streets that rained on both sides of me. With no landing possibilities in the open corridor north and a cloudbase of only 1100m the only option was to land on the last nice field and pack up quickly, just in time before the rain (see track).
Later this week a high pressure system is expected and that should give us some better conditions. Also this week the European Championships (in paragliding) commence in Serbia. As far as I know without participants from Finland, but I'm keen to follow the results from the Dutch team, as well as various other friends. Wish you all good flights!

07 June 2008

A Screaming Finish

The last day of the British Open in Pedro Bernardo offered all the excitement and drama that one could hope for. A northerly wind over the mountains and the forecast of cloudcover in the late afternoon prompted the organization to set a task of a 63 km with a first leg south into the valley system followed by an out- and return leg along the valley. The idea was to keep the pilots closer to the village for a quick retrieve to ensure a timely prize giving ceremony.
Today the launch conditions were much better than earlier in the week and soon after the window was opened most pilots were in the air. Only to find that one had to struggle quite a bit to get and stay up. The northerly winds caused turbulent, broken, thermals that were not easy to catch. The start line was some 10 km from the mountain and in due time people glided across the valley. Where they soon found out that lift was very hard to come by. I myself had left the mountain a bit low and had decided to go for the small hills a bit east of the route, whereas most people aimed for the village that was baking in the sun. I arrived very low on that hill but did find some lift and carefully drifted with it up the hill where it gradually gained strength. Fellow scandinavians Mads and Tor flew into "my" thermal some 150-300 meter above me and got up quicker. The pilots over the village were really struggling low with people landing every now and then. Some tried to come over to us but from that low altitude could not make it and landed too. One even had to land in between the trees on the slope and had to spend the afternoon clearing the glider out of the tree. Meanwhile we had drifted into the start cylinder a bit early so after the start time, once we had some safe altitude, had to fly out some 100 m and come back. The gaggle over the village still had to focus so much on staying in the air that several forgot later to get out of the start cylinder. These poor fellows flew for hours to find out around the first turnpoint, at 32 km, that their instruments didn't automatically switch to the next turnpoint, which made them realized they'd missed the start....
My little group had grown to 6 with 3 more pilots joining us from above and together we made it quite quickly to near the first turnpoint (picture above). In that neighborhood we had to search a while and that gave the fastest 15 or so pilots from the "village group" a chance to join us. From then on it became a furious fast race to goal with everybody trying to do only the minimal amount of thermalling. Just before the 2nd turnpoint we were all a bit low and the pace slowed down somewhat; an opportunity for a few more pilots to catch up from behind. But the thermal we found there turned out to be pretty much the last one of the competition. Once our instruments showed that we in theory could glide to goal we started to glide to the goal.
I carefully kept an eye on my estimated height of arrival. For most of the time it showed some 60 m, but at some point it started to drop to 0 and then -70 m. When I then hit a small but good thermal I decided to do 3 turns and to gain some 60 m height. I actually gained 80 and then screamed on to goal at full speed. Like many other I made it (see track), but barely with only 20 m to spare! The whole group landed closely after each other, I was 19th with a very good time for 801 points. Below Joakim (SWE) welcomes Stein-Tore (NOR) into the goal field. Many of the pilots that were very low early on eventually made goal, but as said several of those had missed the start. But even these admitted that they had a fantastic day flying over 4 hours in the sun; the predicted overcast was nowhere to be seen.
Several people that had trouble earlier in the week made the goal this last day which made up for all the frustration from before.
Craig Morgan won the week in convincing manner, he had been leading out most of the time. I ended up at the 23rd place overall, a good result. More importantly I learned to fly with the leading group several times and for short periods even managed to pull the field. This racing in the flats, combined with the level of the other participants, was the perfect setting to gain competition experience and confidence. Let's see if that shows in the Nordic Open this July.
The evening was characterized by speeches, lots of free beer and small amounts of food and various announcements that the minibuses for the airport were to leave 6 AM, no make that 3 AM!

06 June 2008

Waypoints and launches

Today we walked to the briefing of the British Open under a completely blue sky. It looked to become an epic day and to that end the organization had created two new waypoints; that could be used to set an interesting task. All pilots had to enter the GPS coordinates of those points manually into their instruments. Which already contained the 101 waypoints that were downloaded at registration.
Once we were up the familiar west launch the new waypoints were used to set a spectacular 108 km triangle task. Unfortunately, the light easterly winds didn't allow for the launch window to be opened in time, so a new shorter task was set: a 63 km zigzag course southwards.
When a bit before 3 PM we still couldn't launch the organization decided to move us to the eastern launch. Once we were there the winds were no longer favorable there either and word came in that now it was good at the western launch. So we packed up once again and moved back. Back at the main launch the opportunities to take off were still a bit slim but the window was opened and after some more minutes of waiting Danish Mads Syndergaard showed how to get off the hill. His perfect launch meant that the organization now no longer could make changes to the task and timing. Pilots started to take off in bursts whenever a good cycle came through.
The first part of the task turned out to be tricky, working through scattered areas of lift against a headwind. Once out in the valley beyond the first turnpoint things improved. Two pilots made a brave move and went far ahead of the main leading group. Their move payed off and Craig Morgan (UK) and Cecilio Valenzuela (ESP) arrived in goal in just 2 hours, some 18 minutes before the slightly drawn out main leading group.
I myself had managed to catch up with the main group, then lost them a bit but in the end catched up again (see track) and ended up 14th, a personal best!

04 June 2008

Over the plains

Today the task in the British Open was to fly 75 km over the plains. The previous days were characterized by over development over the mountains, with rain showers in the afternoon. Hence it was a logical decision to try a task out into the plains to the south.
The task was changed once before the launch was opened but due to a clear headwind and a more organized take-off procedure all 100 pilots were in the air earlier than before. The sky look good with plenty of nice cumulus clouds, but over the mountain the now familiar dark monsters were already building up. After the start time a bunch started gliding southwards, while many were still working their way up close to the launch.
The field spread out quite quickly; I myself took a route close along the lower hills to the east which worked quite well. Over the plains the thermals were weaker and at times not well defined. Combined with a bit of cross- and head wind lower down the going was a bit slow. Typically small groups of gliders that got a good thermal would rise to over 2000 m and then overtake a lower struggling crowd. Those would then hit something and overtake the overtakers. The bottom of the large shallow valley was a tricky area to cross. Many were grounded close to the lake and most others had to work for a long time to get out of it again.
I'd gotten a very nice strong thermal a bit before the lake and our group glided out towards the lake, but spread out. I took the east-most route which looked promising, but I ended up a bit alone there. Eventually got up quite well there, but the pilots that flew along the western edge of the lake got up quicker and earlier. From there on flying to goal was fairly straightforward; essentially hopping from thermal to thermal along cloudlines and along a ridge of smaller hills (see track). The fastest pilots made goal in approx. 2.5 hours, I managed to get there just before 3 hours, in 24th place.

03 June 2008

Clouds against the clock

Update: managed to upload my tracks, day 1 (task canceled), and day 2 (61st place). The results for day 2 are also online now.

The first two days at the British Open were all about timing. Yesterday the launch was clouded in early but it looked like it would open up later. And indeed after a long wait a task was set and the window opened at 15:45. It was easy enough to stay up and to make the start and soon a small group of pilots led in front of a larger group. However just when the leaders were about to start their final glide it was clear that it was raining heavenly in the goal area. From a very ugly looking huge black cloud. So the task was wisely stopped and everybody had to land as soon as possible. As nobody had made goal yet the day was unfortunately invalid.
I was in the large group, we all landed some 10 km before the goal. That was the beginning of another long wait, as the organization had some problems with the retrieval system. But in the end we all came home fine.

This morning we were welcomed by a beautiful sunny sky. Much nicer to wait at launch in the sun, as opposed to could windy fog. The clouds were also clearly higher and we could launch much earlier, the window was opened at 13:45. Launching was a bit difficult for some as there were only brief periods with a clear headwind. I myself was luckily to get off the hill amongst the first dozen or so. At the actual start time of 14:30 most of use were close to cloudbase at 2100m and started to race to the first turnpoint, some 17 km to the South. Some brave, and better, pilots went for a very long glide and got low. But this fast opening was clever as only those were in time to make the goal before the clouds again won the day, and caused shadows and even rain.
I flew quite fast up to turnpoint 2, but around there made the mistake to not use a decent thermal but pushed further. The promising area I'd targetted wasn't as good as I'd expected so I lost valuable time when climbing up slowly again. In the end I just made the 3rd turnpoint for a 58 km distance, some 14 km from the goal. I landed in the rain, and the complete final leg was in the shade; many pilots landed between turnpoint 3 and the goal. Luckily the rain stopped while I packed up so I could walk and hitchhike in the sun. Today the retrieve system worked well, but I was happy to get a ride from a very nice local person that took along 2 more pilots a bit further down the road. Thank you! Back home I enjoyed dinner with the Dutch team, who had 2 pilots in goal today.

See Tom's post for a report from the leaders point of view and some good pictures.

01 June 2008

Flight planning

Planning is an important ingredient for a successful flight. It is always good to think a bit about the "road" ahead: what weather, type of landing places, airspace restrictions, etc., to expect. And about some alternative routes at various points. I'm thinking about this on the day I arrived in Pedro Bernardo, Spain, to participate in the first round of the British Open 2008. So how did I get here ?
Well in similar fashion one should plan a bit on where to go flying. What weather and conditions to expect in a particular time of the year, the possibilities to get retrieved, etc. Competitions are good in that usually experienced people have this all sorted out for you. But it just so happened that I left Saturday a picture perfect Helsinki (see picture above) to arrive in rainy Spain. This Sunday was reserved for practice and quite a few people flew a bit before the rains made them hurry for the landing field. Several gliders are now drying in the competition centre (picture below).
I myself didn't fly today. As usual my glider my glider didn't make it to the conveyor belt. So I spent the night in an airport hotel and picked up my glider in the late morning. I missed the window today by a small margin, but didn't miss a great flying opportunity and my glider is still dry. Not really planned for that though...