2005 15-Meter Nationals

Uvalde, Texas

Last Update: PM Saturday 13-August-2005

Practice Period

We've had gradually improving weather during the practice period. I flew a couple hundred miles Saturday with one band of excellent lift stretching East-West south of Uvalde and continuing well past 6PM. Blowups East and North, blue further south. Sunday we had the first official practice day and task, but late starters (we had limited tugs) couldn't penetrate the blowup around the second turn. Lots of excellent lift with blowups scattered around Uvalde, so I did about 180 miles MAT style.

Monday we had a full-fledged practice day, with a complete complement of tugs, and classic Uvalde weather. Short 187 mile drag race to get us all back in practice and home for the mandatory evening meeting and BBQ. Out West to Anacacho, down to the Los Angeles turn south of San Antonio, and return. Winner did 94mph ! I did 80 after variously misreading clouds and zigging when I should of zagged, took some weak climbs, tried to bounce home from below final glide, got disgusted and took a thermal, then hit huge lift and flew the last 25 miles in excess of 150 mph ground speed. OK, its just a practice day...

The flight analysis program shows that 33% of my straight flight was climbing, with an average L/D of 75 in cruise; so at least a good chunk of the flight I stayed in lift. The fast pilots did far better - Uvalde weather is astounding.

Brief and concise mandatory meeting, everyone's done this before. And the usual excellent BBQ ! Tuesday is race day 1, and the weather is looking fantastic - should be good for 350 miles and over 90 mph.

Race Day 1, Tuesday 2-August

Charlie tasked us on a 4-hour AAT with a short run up to Leakey in the hill country, across to Eagle Pass on the Mexican border, down to Callaghan (near Laredo), then home. The range of possible distances was around 300 to 360 miles. The day developed a bit slowly with plenty of cloud, especially North in the hill country.

I got nervous about possible over-development and rain, and started a bit early. Bounced along near the bases a good ways towards Leakey, pressed on past the center of the cylinder for a decent cloud, but went quite a bit slower in this area then those who started 10-25 minutes later. Got hit with a surprise rain shower near Anacacho and had a brief plummet complete with the cartoon-motion altimeter unwind, but flew into good air after a couple of (long) minutes.

Classic Uvalde weather later and further south. Some streeting but not super well-organized, so I did a lot of detouring to stay high and follow the clouds and their well-marked strong lift. Turned back towards home near Laredo, but should have turned sooner as I ran 20 minutes over the 4 hour target. Turned in a measly 74 mph, while Doug Jacobs DJ blew our doors off at 87. Liz Schwenkler was second at 85, with Ken Sorenson 3rd at 84 even without flaps (Discus 2A).

Race Day 2, Wednesday 3-August

A bit too much moisture. Always a clue when my glasses fog up leaving the hotel room... Weak atmospheric motion is gradually pulling more moisture into the task area, so the isolated thunderstorms are progressing to, um, not so isolated. I got drafted to be a task advisor, so I'm trying to pay attention to the weather in all quandrants and help out Charlie. Today right off tow I could see some pretty big build-ups to the Southwest, even at 1PM. Got rained on a bit just 10 miles West of Uvalde, rain reaching the ground at Batesville. Clearly the pilot's meeting task (Hondo, down to Laredo, up the Rio Grande to Anacacho and home) is toilet paper.

Mark Keene in 7K and I looked around as best we could and suggested Northeast into the hill country, then South, and return: Hondo, Fredricksburg, Uno Mass, and home. After the usual airborne task-change commotion we got rolling around 2PM. As usual I started a bit early. Dick Johnson used to say "go early and pray for rain", but I don't remember him saying anything about lightning...

Fast run east towards San Antonio, circling in 7 knot but mostly just fast run-and-bump under the solid cu. Hard left and up into the hill country. Got stupid and drove across a big blue hole low, then wasted a good 10 minutes getting up and running again. Oh well, at least starting early provides plenty of markers as the faster pilots wiz by. As we head south we're into serious classic Uvalde drag-race weather; even without well-defined streets you can still line up the clouds and avoid a lot of circling.

Nasty business as we get 60 miles out of Uno Mass. Big blow-off from storms to the West has the area in shadow. Swinging a bit East there's still decent lift if you stay high and connected to the clouds. Out past Cotulla its again glorious. The sight of these gorgeous cumulus and the contrasting storms as we emerge into the sunshine is just breath-taking, as we run south in a big herd. Round the turn and - now what ? The direct line home is blocked by storms. Looks like there's sunshine on the other side of the storms and a gap through, but I'm discouraged by the lightning strikes and rain in the gap. East there are cumulus that are clearly working though not inspiring, looks less risky to stay further East away from the storm. Our big gaggle swings a bit East through the gloom and gradually works up to an MC 3 final glide about 40 miles out. I head out and hit an unexpected 5 knotter 20 miles out, tank up and finish at max warp.

14 pilots didn't make it around, but Liz managed 81 and moves into first place overall. Dave Mockler won the day a hair faster. I turned in 74 (again, I seem to be stuck). Tomorrow might be some kind of pilot selected task as the storms will likely be more numerous and in more of the task area. Day 2 Spratt Report

Race Day 3, Thursday 4-August

Very discouraging forecast and deep overcast at dawn, calling for overdevelopment in most of our task area. There's a narrow band forecast without OD running North-South to our east, so we task East to Devine (10 mile radius), South to Uno Mass (25 mile radius), North to Kerrville (25 mile radius), and home. The big circles give us plenty of leeway to adjust for weather, but still keep us all in the same area to keep the race fair. A big blowup is visible to the North from the gird, Uvalde's in a hole, we launch too early and suffer some relights. After release I ground around low out west for 30 minutes before I was even high enough to get back to Uvalde...

Bases gradually increasing though still weak and widely separated thermals before the start. Like clockwork the lift picks up around 2PM and we head out. I had a good first 20 miles bumping and running, then picked a bad cloud line and went slow into Devine. Looking south, the clouds hooked a bit East and seemed to stop. Stop they did, as the area around Dilley and south was in darkness and without cumulus. Tank up to 6k with a big gaggle staring into the darkness. Head out at best glide, looks like it will be possible to nick the edge of the cylinder and glide back out to the sunshine.

16 miles of dead calm glide. I was briefly tempted to press on south to clouds visible on the other side of the overcast, but thought better of it and turned around shortly inside the cylinder, as did the gliders ahead of me and behind me. Max glide out to the sunshine to a 2 knot thermal from 1800 feet AGL. Climbed a whopping 800 feet and had to press North as it died. Down to 1600 until the next one went slightly higher. Good thing there were a lot of gliders searching the area ! Couldn't dump the water ballast because every time I looked there were gliders under me.

Took me forever to get up and running, mostly by myself, clouds kept promising 7 knots and delivering 3. Shoulda just dumped the water ! Went so slow I hardly had to go into the north cylinder before I was on track for 3:30 on course. Returned with 3:31 on my computer (though the scoring computer has me fractionally under the 3:30 target). Just 217 miles at 62 mph for the day.

Gary Ittner in P7 crossed to the clouds in the south and won the day at 73 (267 miles), pulling into first place. Liz also crossed but went a bit slower and slipped to 4th place. Only 8 landouts, so fortunately there was no call to lynch the task advisors despite the, uh, challenge on the second leg. Those kind enough to land and interview the local farmers report that there was locally as much as 4" of rain from the storms we had to dodge Wednesday, which coupled with a band of cloud that sat over the area pretty much guaranteed no lift in the area south of Dilley !

Race Day 4 - Friday 5-August

40% chance of rain for most of our task area. Down southwest looks like the driest with the least chance of OD and rain. Reviewing the weather we task an area task with big cylinders down near Laredo, up the border aways, across to south of Uvalde, and return. The thunder was a bit loud during gridding, but we're here to race.

Classic Uvalde heading south towards Laredo, 7-8 knot thermals when you needed to stop, which wasn't that often. I figured that given the storm immediately west of the airport at start time (as in, over the west side of the town), we were not going to be able to get far north-west in the second cylinder, and ran to the far end of the Laredo cylinder, as did the pilots that finished at the top.

Fast run north becomes more nerve-wracking as we enter under the extended blow-off from a big storm. Ominous color, clouds still working, some mammatus formation in the higher deck above. The lower cumulus were still working despite the descending air out of the big storm that formed the mammatus ! I nicked the cylinder and headed east. CW kept going, but the clouds deeper under the shelf were dying or raining - he also saw a small tornado before finding heavy sink and landing at a nice ranch strip.

East looks better but some of the clouds are starting to rain and/or collapse. The direction of Uvalde looks bad. I pick my way east into the third cylinder, get as high as I can, and start bouncing back towards Uvalde. I've got final glide altitude according to the computer, which is a bit wishful given the view home. Looks bad, several layers of cloud below me, rain, and its extremely dark. The glider under me goes for it. I head east further to see if I can go around the storm, as I can see some clouds that look like they're still working out there. The line of rain to my left is inexplicably kinda falling at an angle, with lift alongside. I climb a bit but the view now is even worse, towards Uvalde there's heavier rain with an impressive lightning show both cloud-to-cloud and striking the ground on the course-line.

Enough, try find the nearest airport on my chart and in the computer - but it seems not to be there anymore. Head for some good fields, and I find a great ranch strip. Fly the pattern in rain, pull up over the locals (below), and roll to a stop to the sound of thunder... Beautiful private ranch, and other than the thunder, its so quiet out here I clearly hear a couple of turkey vultures flapping past. Crew Steve Donovan rolls in at 7PM and we're back in Uvalde for dinner.

About 23 finishers. Depending on what time you got back to Uvalde the conditions were more or less severe. 3 pilots told me they saw funnel clouds, which is consistent with large cells with mammatus. The pilots that went fast stayed out longer in the last cylinder and returned after the cell I had trouble with had decayed. The pilot who headed in from underneath me did an exciting straight-in rolling finish, but a few others landed just short after hitting rain and sink. Personally I don't like to try pick a field at low altitude in rain and darkness, though the lightning does help illuminate the ground...

Attempted Race Day 5 - Saturday 6-August

Again 40% chance of showers around the task area, with less possibility of blowups south. We're going on a 4 hour MAT, with a single mandatory turnpoint 70 miles south at Catarina, then role-your-own task. I'm thinking it might be a good idea to shorten it up given yesterday... For 25 points, what's wrong with this picture of the grid ?

After launch we can see rain developing in all quadrants with tall build-ups. Looks like no way we can get in 3 hours, let alone 4, and it would be a real crap-shoot. Charlie cancels the day after conferring with us... No complaints, and many of us are tired - this was my 8th consecutive day flying !

Nice party at the airport after which we went and visited with Bill and Kelly Bartell. Too bad Bill "OF" had to skip this contest as he's got too much else going on with his family, assorted businesses, and charter Citation piloting.

Scheduled Rest Day Sunday 7-August

Task: Tubing on the Frio river and dinner at Neal's ! Helped an ILEC SN10 customer unravel Great Mysteries, took a nap, and headed up to Concan. Saw a road runner motor across the highway but wasn't quick enough with the camera. I skipped the tubing as the river was a bit low. Sat in a pool in the river and read my nerd magazines. Speaking of nerding, the nerd challenge I posted on RAS is nicely solved; see RAS Nerd Challenge on Google Groups Great party at Neal's on the Frio river bank. Kerry and Noreen are outdoing themselves ! Overheard at the party: "What's Jeff doing there ? He's climbing a tree ! That's odd, I don't see any girls in that tree.".

Race Day 5 - Monday 8-August

Classic Uvalde Texas clouds ! No storms, sun on the ground early, light southeast wind to help streeting. Charlie tasks us a short run downwind into the hill country and a couple hundred miles upwind for a 4:30 turn area task, with a range of distances from 300 to 440 miles. We're expecting winning speeds around 90 but the slower pilots can fly less distance and still be home for beer. For once folks are out of the gate promptly instead of hanging about for an hour.

Pushed past the middle of the first cylinder, as it was working well in the hill country and it looked like a street forming on the second leg that I'd intersect if I pressed in a ways. Met KS as I started down the second leg, he went left and I went right, and next we met 20 miles down the leg he was below me (this never happens). First part of the second leg its possible to mostly bump and run, though the streets aren't continuous and I have to work to line up the clouds and find lines oriented along the leg without big detours. Headwind gradually increasing to 16 knots, bases moving up to around 7500 MSL over terrain around 500 MSL. Saw KS again below me, then he disappeared with a handful of gliders in tow.

Got a bit disconnected from the clouds, slowed up, worked some weaker stuff, and eventually pressed in to the southern cylinder. A few gliders around but nobody flying purposefully... At around 120 miles out with a bit over an hour to go, I turn for home. This is an awesome run, a few circles in 7 knot lift but mostly just following the clouds with a strong tailwind. I follow a street right of course and end up flying the last 20 miles at redline, arriving 1000 feet over the airport after 4:31 on task. 76 mph over a distance of 342 miles for a middle-of-the-pack performance. Dave Mockler wins at 86 mph, with Brian Milner in second at 84 mph covering 410 miles on task ! Absolutely amazing flying, Texas skies as in our dreams. And tomorrow may be even better !

Finishing glider after Day 5.

Race Day 6 - Tuesday 9-August

Heavy overcast is slowly burning off this morning. We're going south on an 4 hour MAT, with one mandatory turn at Catarina (65 miles south), then everyone goes wherever they expect the best weather. No turnpoints can be repeated, so no bouncing back and forth along a small fast street !

Very low bases early - 3k AGL during the launch. As usual, it picks up around 2PM and starters stream out to the south. I make a second start after not lining up the clouds properly out of the gate. Don't see many gliders running down to Catarina, a combination of run-and-bump where I can line up the clouds plus climbs after crossing gaps where I can't. Pretty fast run down to Catarina even with a headwind, so I keep going down to Lewis, where the clouds are not so fullsome but still marking very strong and predictable lift to an inversion around 7500 ft. Turn around and try follow the cloud lines up the northwest. Stay a bit below cloudbase by slowing below 85 knots if I can climb 4 knots or better straight ahead, only turn if I get well below the clouds and have better than 7 knots circling. After turning southeast again I did get down to a few thousand feet, but got up and reconnected with the clouds without too much time wasted. Back down to Callaghan way south of San Antonio, then back home. Very fast run until I got disconnected from the clouds and blew the final glide, wasting around 10 minutes and dropping my speed to 79 mph over 335 miles and 13 minutes over the 4 hour target. John Seaborn shows us how its supposed to be done, running the same area and legs with similar orientation at 90 mph over 372 miles.

We had an evening reception at the Uvalde State Bank, with a tour of their art exhibit. I keep explaining to wife Renee that the real reason us pilots travel to places like Texas in August is for the arts and culture, but despite our visit to Bayreuth a few years back she still doesn't buy the explanation. Honey, here's one of the Rembrandt etchings "Christ before Pilate" we viewed:

Famous author Charlie Spratt was in attendance and signing his books:

Famous Texas oil titled View On Final Glide :

Evening brings a serious thunderstorm to town, with the lights flickering off and on to the lightening strikes over dinner, and very heavy rain.

Wednesday 10-August

Ugly. Against my better judgment we assembled, watered up, and staged by the runway. Pilots meeting was rudely interrupted by lightning and approaching storm. Mad rush to airport and de-stage, dump the water, and get the planes back in their trailers is accomplished without incident despite us panicky pilots. Second attempt at pilots meeting is more civilized. Charlie cancels the day after noon and we are hit with another storm shortly thereafter. Might clear for our last day tomorrow...

Race Day 7 - Thursday 11-August

Morning looks ugly again, assembled, watered and got the plane by the runway before breakfast at 8AM. We had a lot of rain in the area. Its trying to clear but whether we'll get enough clearing and heating to get us to a reasonable altitude is uncertain... Grid at noon and see what happens, but it looks pretty dubious as of 11AM. We push back the launch, then push it back again. We aren't launching until cloudbase is at least 2500, at 12:00 it was only 1500 AGL...

Gliders waiting for the sky to improve in back of one of TSA's immaculate towplanes.

Finally the clouds are a bit higher, looks like some lift, and off we go. Weak thermals, had to dump the water, got down to 1000 feet a couple of times, but the day is certainly improving during the launch. A number of pilots relight for another tow. Charlie came up with an AAT to keep us over the areas that appeared like they'd clear and hadn't too much rainfall. East to Devine, West to La Paloma, South towards Dilley, and home gave a large range of possible distances and plenty of opportunity to optimize the task depending on what we find for weather around the turns.

Charlie consults with the task advisers: I'm back up to release altitude, Mark was thinking he would have to relight but is climbing out from 900 feet. KS says its fine, and around 3PM we've finally got Charlie's minimum of 3300 AGL cloudbase, so we're off on task. I move over to the departure end of the start cylinder, and have to start as I'm too low to get back to the airport and the only possible lift is on task... Struggle to follow a weak line of wisps, which are working reliably with around 2 knot climbs. Fly at max glide to make sure and connect with the next lift.

As I reach the first cylinder there are good looking clouds ahead. Looking back along the second leg it is totally dead, but the sun is shining on the ground. Turning onto the second leg now is going to put me on the ground pronto, so I press in to the cylinder and hope lift develops there while I press into Devine. Start to see other gliders, with the same idea. There's a big buildup over Devine, with strong lift to the nosebleed altitude of over 7000 feet ! Turn and head out onto the second leg where its now starting to work weakly. Line up a few clouds and arrive above them with 7K, we bounce weak lift above the clouds and keep going. Lower and weaker, we separate, and I chase wisps and eventually get into the second cylinder with a gaggle above me. Looks fairly horrible ahead, time to turn for the third cylinder.

I get horribly low and actually backtrack to preserve the option of landing at the Westwind private strip. Catch a 1 knot thermal and take it high enough to get me to Batesville airport via an area that looks like the clouds are working. A pair of white-spotted buzzards shows me a 6 knot thermal at 1000 feet above the ground, at the beginning of a beautiful cloud street headed south. I'm mesmerized by the glider below me, really really low, and as I stare in wonder at how low is low it stops moving on a small private strip. Pay attention and climb !

Other gliders are barrelling ahead with the promise of strong climbs under the street, but I choose bump-and-run and try stay high. Follow the street to its end where it intersects the edge of the last cylinder, then turn and bump it home at warp speed.

Mark Keene 7K, the other task adviser this contest, after a good last day. Check out the cloud street that took us home running south from Uvalde (top center of picture)

Only 19 pilots completed the task, 8 turned the first cylinder then flew home and landed at Uvalde, 2 landed out on task, and many others never started. I managed almost the slowest speed of 44 over 161 miles, but Gary Ittner in P7 did it at a whopping 62 ! What an amazing day - really looked improbable but we ended up having a great challenging race.


Dave Mockler wins the 15-meter Nationals again, convincingly ! I managed 15th but only 82% of the winner's score. It's a real privilege to fly with this crowd at such a site ! As always, thanks to Kerry, Noreen and the crew for their amazing job putting on this show. Crew Steve Donovan is now driving YO back to M&H to get the engine re-installed and hopefully working, and I'm back in Boston. Can't wait to do it again next year !

Hope you enjoy this and please email with questions or comments,
Best Regards, Dave "YO"

Good Links for more information...

Contest Homepage
Final Contest Results at SSA Site
2005 Contest Results at SSA Site
2005 Competition Flight Logs
Dave's 2004 Blog from Uvalde USA 18-meter Nationals

Copyright © 2005 - Dave Nadler - All Rights Reserved