2008 18-Meter Nationals

Dave's Blog from

Mifflin, Pennsylvania

Last Update: Saturday 24-May-2008

Practice Period - Saturday

I drove down Friday in driving rain with a glum forecast. Saturday morning had heavy fog with drizzle and light rain. Surprisingly, it cleared and presently cu began developing, and the few early arrivals started assembly. Tom Kelly, Hank Nixon, Mo Acee, Tim Welles, Heinz Weisenbeuller, Monty Sullivan, Ted Falk, Al Tyler, Brian Milner, Sam Zimmerman, all here and ready to race. Karl and Iris are busy setting up for their usual great show; they and the Mifflin crowd are fabulous hosts.

I'm flying my Antares 20E as a guest here. Due to the usual screw-ups, I don't have my 18-meter "short" tips yet for this glider (Real Soon Now) so I'm at 20-meter span. Brian Glick kindly arranged a spot with power so I can charge at night (without annoying everyone with my generator), and where I can easily taxi to the runway and back.

Assembled (solo as usual), taxied out, and even with a slight tailwind and mid-field take-off, I was over 1000 feet by the end of the long runway. Promptly hit a thermal, shut down, and climbed out while watching my buddies get towed. Joined Al Tyler in 8H over seven sisters, we topped out and bounced a nice street headed up towards Lock Haven. The area was still getting rain in the AM, and the valleys aren't generating thermals yet - still quite wet. Still, decent thermals off the high ground.

The ILEC SN10 show 13 knots at altitude right on the ridge (northern section anyway). I figure its worth a shot, and get right down to the ridge despite not seeing any motion in the leaves. Fall off the ridge thinking it would have been wiser to take the 5 knots I just blasted through... Extensive crop-dusting with Al over Lockhaven, I continued being aggresive instead of sticking with the half knot we found, presently set up to land at Lock Haven airport and pushed the magic handle on final...

Took about 1000 foot boost, pulled in under Al, and shut down the motor. Couldn't find the core. More crop-dusting, and a red-tail hawk showed me a weak one over the hills north-west of the river. Hank Nixon (UH) pulled in under me in his stretched '27, but he didn't connect and landed at Lock Haven. After immense screwing around I finally climbed out without further use of the motor, and headed down the plateau under strong cu's with cloudbases up to 8k.

Clicked off Mid-State, headed down towards Cumberland but chickened out 10 miles south of Bedford as it was bluing out back towards Mifflin and folks on the radio were sounding stressed about getting home. Took some weak stuff trying to stay high, found some wave north of Bedford. Interesting but silly, as at 9500 feet the wind was up to 35 knots from 15 degrees, directly on the nose for home. Bounced a couple of northerly wave bars in the blue, dove down towards the ridgeline south of Spruce Creek and found a 4-knotter to get up to final glide.

Interesting weather today. Down low it was quite weak. Higher up it was stronger and I saw over 8 knots on the averager for brief periods. The clouds cycled moderately quickly and drifted downwind. Wave enhancement as this happened showed lift well upwind of the clouds. No useful ridge lift, with wind out of the east in the valleys (!) despite northerly in the best lift band, and again swinging to the north-east above the convective layer.

I flew an hour longer than my buddies (had to hustle to clean and stow the Antares to get to dinner) and covered around 400km. The Antares allows me to experiment and explore without risking landout. I wouldn't be as aggresive or experiment during a contest, but the amount I can see and learn is really expanded. As you may gather I'm in love with this glider !
OLC view of Saturday's flight

I'll try get some pics for next posting (Tom Kelly posted some pics of me taking off on his blog, link below). Sunday looks uninspiring, rain probable in the afternoon, don't know if I'll fly...

Practice Period - Sunday and Monday

First official practice day. Strong backside ridge mission called in advance of the approaching rain. I elected to leave mine in the box. Very gusty crosswind brought two groundloops during takeoff, no more than cosmetic and ego damage, though a towplane ended up sitting on one mainwheel and its wingtip after the more spectacular of the events. Lots of scrapes and excitement during the landings as well. OK, I'm a wimp, but I really am glad to leave my toy in the box on such days...

Gary Ittner (P7) landed with smoke coming off his wings after doing a backside ridge-mission at an average of 133mph. Said Gary in his typically understated fashion: I wish I'd remembered the block of foam I put inside my hat for days like this. The turbulence was impressive, and can lead to smacking ones head on the canopy (try not to move the stick until the stars clear from your vision).

No practice Monday - pouring rain. As usual Iris and Joan put on a great lasagna feed prior to the pilots meeting (meeting held mercifully brief as most everyone here has flown multiple nationals at this site).

Tuesday 13-May-2008 - Race Day 1

The day dawned cool, with a lot of standing water in the fields. Our weatherman Richard Kellerman predicted a good strong day with cu all day, though the forecast called for bluing out later. I volunteered to sniff, and ran my motor for a full 7 minutes before finally finding good lift over the hills west of Mifflin. Close to 2 hours of hanging about waiting for the launch and race course to open. Unfortunately the conditions were softening during the launch ! CD John Good backed off to our "B" task of 225 miles - down to Bedford, up to Selingsgrove in the wet river valley, back to Mifflin and an easy last turn at Penns Cave.

Weatherman Richard Kellerman's use of technology is always entertaining...
Click on image for a bigger picture...

I hit some strong wave lift prior the start, had to jam the stick forward to stay below the 6k AGL start cylinder cap. Thought I'd start out the top but as usual couldn't find the wave when it was time to start. Bluing out on course, there were strong thermals, but they were few and far between and really tiny. I flew a bit with Doug Jacobs (DJ) and Roy McMaster (1) for a bit but fell behind trying to stay high. Mass of gliders crop-dusting near Bedford, lots of milling about for weak climbs. Long second leg by myself in the blue, saw gliders low and in fields, aaarg.

Followed the ridge lines west of the courseline to stay near thermal generators and good fields. Thermal generators didn't, took weak climbs, crossed over Mifflin and finally got good and high so I could final glide out to Selinsgrove and back to the high ground. Then found lift out in the middle of the valley ! Marked it on the GPS and retraced my steps through the lift returning to the high ground, and eventually got to the nose-bleed altitude of 7500 MSL. Enough to final glide around the course at MC 2 with a bit of reserve.

Got over-confident, figured I'd bump up a bit crossing the high ground to Penn's, promptly found sink, struggled and thrashed but couldn't climb enough to get back over the hills to Mifflin (or at least, not without scaring myself). Set up a landing pattern on a nice field containing a sailplane (Corey) and a hang-glider, ran the motor until a comfortable altitude and coasted back home. Oooops. Really shouldn't have passed up that last thermal, coulda easily taken an extra thousand and made it home without the motor ! Would have had a slow speed anyway (mid 40's), instead earned the distinction of the farthest distance without actually finishing the task. OLC view of Tuesday's flight

Al Tyler (8H) won the day by staying with a fast gaggle and consistently finding the strong thermals, kept his water while others were struggling and dumping. Funny how he seems to do that consistently. We scattered gliders all about the place, 11 finishers out of 25 contestants (12 out of 29 if you include guests).

Wednesday - Race Day 2 - almost

Wednesday dawned much warmer (50 degrees) with some cirrus overcast and only a little standing water in the fields. Richard Kellerman showed an impressive satellite photo of heavy cirrus moving in from the west, expecting lift to stop between 3 and 6 in the afternoon, best lift of maybe 3 knots but more likely 2. Strong wind from the southwest (parallel the ridges) increasing in the afternoon likely to tear up the thermals. Ugly.

I sniffed to the west, Roy McMasters (1) to the east. I had a boomer of .2 knots, unfortunately .2 knots down. Couldn't stay up. Took my first ever Antares aero-tow (to conserve my batteries) over to the east ridge (Jacks Mountain) and hung out for an hour and a half with Roy. We couldn't get above 3k MSL (2.2k AGL), struggled with weak stuff bubbling off the ridge, not taskable. Noticed it seems like there are no gliders on the runway, called the CD, oh yea, they cancelled the day. Roy landed. The wind swung around east and increased, enough for a couple backside-ridge laps Belleville-Sawmill with Mike Robison (JOY) and one of the Harris Hill juniors he took up in his Nimbus 3DM. OLC view of Wednesday's flight
We're all back in the box, waiting for the rain...

Thursday - 15-May-2008 - Race Day 2

Despite low overcast in the morning, by 9AM it was clearing. Weatherman has no idea what its doing. Looks like real cu's developing, John Good has me go sniff just before noon. I ran the motor and thought I had a thermal by the field at 1k, shut down and it didn't work, so up with the motor and cruise over to the east ridge (love the Antares !). No ridge lift, but thermals bubbling up off the ridge should be no problem. I advise start the launch and promptly get low again. But I climb out and nobody had serious difficulties so I escaped lynching.

The sky is developing into a classic think-you're-in-Uvalde day. John sends us on an AAT tacking across the ridges to eliminate the temptation to go down on a marginal ridge. By start time its honkin. I start a few minutes after the gate opens and bump and run at warp speed all the way to the far side of the first cylinder, try to repeat on the next leg. Holes in the streets over the wide wet valleys, street orientation isn't the best, shoulda detoured more to stay in the lift but it wasn't so clear it would work. A bit slow, then end up driving to the far edge of the second cylinder low and slow (over the plateau west of Mid-State), wasted a bunch of distance following an arc of clouds that didn't actually work. Not much company, just a few gliders not going my way (guess they knew better). Third leg was a struggle, ending up low and picking a thermal off a ridge out to the east. Pressed into the last cylinder and now cirrus is darkening the sky, clouds forming underneath me, a hint of OD and rain to my right, aargg... Decided maybe I should call it a day, even though I'd be 10 minutes under time. OLC view of Thursday's flight

DJ smoked us at 77, 4mph faster than Gary's 2nd place. I managed another middle-of-the-pack performance of 187 miles in 2:49, scored at 63mph after the 11 minute under-time hit. 22% of time circling because I got stuck a couple times, should have been much less. What a great day ! Tomorrow's gonna rain, but wait, they said that yesterday...

Friday and Saturday

Friday did in fact rain - all day. Glick's trout feast dinner was as usual fantastic. Saturday dawn was clear, with haze and a hint of high cloud - usually signs of a lot of moisture in the upper atmosphere - as conducive to thunderstorms. I optimistically put the Antares together in sunshine, and finished taping and pre-flight just as the cirrus moved overhead. Went and looked at the latest weather map and radar, then disassembled it again (fortunately its pretty quick and easy to rig and de-rig). Rain sprinkles started as we went to the pilots meeting. The weatherman declined to show up for the pilots meeting, which is usually not a good sign. John Good cancelled the day...

Sunday May 18 - Day 3

Pouring rain in the AM, but John Good says hang on maybe it'll clear for a late ridge mission. We're not buying it. Radar loop shows lots of rain. Standing water everywhere. Next pilot's meeting at noon. John says grid time at 3PM, water truck available at 2PM. Still not buying it. I got suckered into assembling yesterday ! But there's sun on the ground at 2PM, even if the ridges are still obscured by low cloud. Rig, and miraculously its starting to look good. I'm a bit disorganized but take off to sniff at 2:55PM and find strong thermals as well as 80+ knot ridge.

John Good explained at the pilots briefing that today will be a pointless wing-loading contest , but we need to get a contest day in with uncertain weather later in the week. John tasks us up and down the ridge a few times on an AAT with the southern turn down near Orbisonia. First leg is a bit unnerving for me with rain showers and OD rounding the high ground at Mill Creek, but there was plenty of lift and sunshine around the corner. The top of the ridge is flat near Mill Creek, and I've had to fly around the guy wires on the towers before. I slow up and make a leisurely 95mph run, watching the guys with their hair on fire pass down on the ridge beneath me. Thought we'd all be under the minimum time in any case (which we were), but I wasn't clear that with this years rules change its scored more like a speed task even with everyone under time ! OLC view of Sunday's flight I know, I should fill it with water, fly faster, and perhaps even read the rules... John Good really got the maximum out of the day; we really didn't believe we would fly. A fun day was had by all !

The evening barbecue from Clem's was a hit. Sierra Mike, what happened to your jacket, you've got feathers coming out everywhere ! SM: I went hunting with Cheney.
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Monday May 19

Dawn showed assorted high cloud, indicating a lot of moisture still aloft. It was still while I assembled the Antares, but as I finished taping the wind was picking up and light rain showers blowing through. Winds look less favorable for the ridge today, but it is very unstable. Hopefully it will dry out and calm down a bit prior launch time...

News Flash: Tow Pilot's on strike, demand combat pay for flying in 35 knot gusts. CD pleads poverty, delays launch hoping for less wind. Tom Knauff flew the Pawnee over from Ridge Soaring and lands no problem. What turbulence and wind you boys talking about ? OK - Launch em.

Paul Weeden hard at work waiting for the wind to die down...
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The gusts did decrease to a manageable level for a late day task; last 35 knot gust recorded at 3:20PM and launch at 4PM, task open about 5PM !

John Good sent us to the south-east corner of the task area, where the ridges swing around to a direction more favorable to today's wind, and away from the heaviest recent rain to the north. Down to the tip of Tuscarora mountain (Dickey's), up to Orbisonia, back down to McConnellsburg, and up to home. This kind of task measures your ability to manage the transitions with a minimum of time. Downwind jumps are usually easy, if you are confident of the terrain (ridge strength) and landing options. Upwind transitions require finding some lift, ideally a street. This task starts with an easy drop back to Tuscarora, a moderate drop back to McConnellsburg, but a couple small upwind transitions and then the bigger transition back into Mifflin's valley.

I launched early to sniff, full water, rough but not too difficult, good strong thermals. Take-off with water in Antares is no different than dry: start with wing down, wing comes up quickly during initial acceleration. Climb rate wet is diminished a bit (down to around 600 fpm from the normal 800+ fpm), but there's no perceptible difference during take-off. Check-valves in the ballast fill caps prevent draining water while the wing is on the ground. I did get little rooster-tails of ice in back of the fill caps on the water ballast tanks; the freezing level was only 5k MSL ! Ran down almost to Mill Creek in thermals waiting for the launch and task, seeing lots of great looking clouds but only occasional decent thermals under them. This is going to be a ridge mission !

Nice high start at the optimum point, 120 knots down to the Tuscarora ridge. Should have started a few minutes earlier as it is really late to be starting a task. Flew a bit slow and high as I'm not familiar with this set of ridges. KS caught me nearing the last turn, and I hoped he'd show me the upwind transitions on the second leg. I did the first transition further south as KS seemed a bit low, and wasted some time doing the second transition. Tim Welles explained that its faster to skip the lower intermediate ridge (and proved it by winning the day at 111mph). KS dove onto the Tuscarora low and apparently found it a bit too exciting, aborted the task and flew home. I putzed about until I was high with a nice street and made it easily but too slowly.

Northbound on the second leg there's a gaggle working to get high enough for the last transition but I've got two more turnpoints to go. South by myself, tried the front low ridge direct to McConnellsburg, which worked but slowly. Saw 8H in a field and was mindful to not push too hard ! More time wastage to get back onto Tuscarora. By the time I get to the optimum point for the last transition (near Orbisonia) the ridge and thermals are softening. Tried to cross, didn't make it and had to drop back to Tuscarora. Several attempts to get high enough to cross just wasted time. Finally ran the ridge all the away abeam Lewiston and bounced zero sink directly across the valley. Flew through the notch above highway 322 and had to take a bit of ridge lift to get high enough to finish ! OLC view of Monday's flight

Aaarg. Slowest finisher ! I'm embarrassing my poor Antares. The ground crew had already gone for dinner, but I taxi to my trailer as always so no worries.

Waiting too long to decide to land can be deadly, and you're not far from landing when flying at low altitudes on a ridge day. Here, the pilot didn't get the field completely scoped, didn't get all the water out, and groundlooped. If you're going to groundloop, remember to get the stick forward and the flaps up. Because the flaps were down, they caught the grass going backwards in the groundloop, and broke most of the hinges in the outer panel flaperons. This ASG-29 will cost something like $15,000 to repair...
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Tuesday May 20

Pouring rain, next pilot's meeting at 12:30... Hopeless. Day canceled.

Wednesday May 21

Deep overcast at 6AM and I went back to sleep. Blue and sunny at 8AM so I started assembly. Stop, wait til after the pilot's meeting from the CD. Go, assemble, possibly we'll get in a late mission after the weak frontal passage mid-day. OK, I'm on the grid and about to get rained on, looks favorable for the ridge later. Maybe I can do Dickey's Mountain without screwing up as much as last time !

John Good says pilot's meeting at 1PM at the front of the grid, unless its raining in which case it'll be in the hangar... The rain has reached State College (just upwind) as of noon... Hopeless, put them away and just ahead of the heavy rain and strong (43 knot measured) gusts.

Thursday May 22

Again, overcast at 6AM, shortly followed by rain. Fright Service says clearing to broken later and the winds on the ridge. At 10:30 AM its clearing, with massive wave bars just visible through breaks in the cloud. Winds 300 degrees and 30 knots forecast at ridgetop, with manageable ground-level winds. 2-3 knot thermal activity by Dr. Jack's forecast. Grid-time is delayed 'til noon. We'll see...

I self-rig in the increasingly strong wind, would have been easier if I'd grabbed a helper to steady things. At launch its clear the ridge is working, but with very deep cloud development and a lot of moisture. Wave bars still visible on top can mean ridge suppression. Rain showers and OD are blowing through the area, each followed by a brief calm before redevelopment. Taxi out and take off without water (big mistake), and while its very rough take-off was no problem. Strong thermals, ridge booming, time to launch the fleet...

Down the valley, it looks better to the south (less rain and OD), matching the radar loop before launch. John Good wisely dials back from the original big task, as he sees that this day could be a bit challenging. We're tasked down to Potomac (just beyond the prior day's southern turn), then up to Mifflintown, drop back downwind to Waggoner's Gap, and return for a nominal 205 miles.

Up in the wave prior start, blast downwind at 120 knots to the ridge for a fast ride down to Potomac. Really should have filled up with water to reduce the pounding on the ridge at 115 - 120 knots, had to slow up a few times because it was too rough. Stress-free having done this route previous task, though I wasted a few minutes turning to get high leaving Dickey's Mountain outbound to the Potomac airport turnpoint. Back down on the ridge northbound, which ridge to take ? The ridge we came down on continues past Lewiston around the corner and upwind of Mifflintown. Passing McConnellsburg northbound, its a bit of a hop upwind to retrace my steps. And there's a big rain squall tracking across our course. I figure I'm making about 115 knots on course, the rain squall is tracking cross-wind at about 40 knots, if I stay on the back ridge I can beat the rain...

OK, good theory, but as I arrive at the jog in the ridge approaching Honey Grove so does the rain. Ooops. OK, I'll climb up, drift downwind while climbing, and fly around the front of the rain to the sunshine on the other side, then figure out how to get back upwind to the Mifflintown turnpoint. Mike Charlie pulls up in the thermal underneath me in his ASW-27. I top out and head across, initially in light rain, then presently snow showers, miserable visibility but keep going towards sun and with fields underneath...

Presently out into sunshine, no lift, back upwind to a small ridge with sunshine on it where I can park until a thermal kicks. MC emerges from the weather and pulls in underneath me dumping. Back and forth, working bubbles hoping a real thermal will develop, up the taller part of the ridge gaining a bit, oops, back down to keep some working altitude over the trees, grinding around hoping for a climb... I really appreciate the maneuverability of the Antares - the fast roll rate really helps doing S-turns near the terrain staying on this silly little ridge. MC gives up and disappears. Finally after 25 minutes of this I climbed high enough to dive upwind onto the ridge I'd planned to be on.

41 minutes after bailing downwind, I'm back on the ridge near Honey Grove (should have taken 4 minutes to round the corner if I had beaten the squall) ! Things are definitely not going according to plan. I join the dreaded Sierra Mike (John Seymour in his ASW-27), who is poking around trying to get high prior to the downwind dash to the last turn, but I still need to go upwind to the Mifflintown turnpoint first. There's a gigantic blue hole over the entire valley, and as soon as I'm high enough I transition into the wave. Poke up to the turn while climbing in the wave, then start the downwind run to Waggonner's Gap. Initially above the clouds, then down and under some mild streeting.

There appear to be excellent streets running back upwind, which would take me back to Jack's Mountain in the Mifflin valley if not directly to the finish. If only it were that easy. Extensive messing around trying to get high, the streets didn't work where I went, slow slow slow getting back to Mifflin. To add insult a rain squall developed at Mifflin as I was landing, and the 35-knot crosswind landing was definitely way beyond book-value crosswind component. Way too exciting but got it down and stopped without damage. Taxied back to my trailer, handed in my trace so Leo could finish up the scores, and put it back in the trailer. OLC view of Thursday's flight - Google view shows ridges and unfortunate detour for squall Yikes - slowest finisher again with detour and parking waiting for a thermal - but better than a non-completion.

Including guests, the last day had 17 finishers and 7 hit the dirt (5 others withdrew prior the last day). Big names that didn't complete the task today included DJ, KS, P7, UH. Only half of the guys in the top ten after day 4 finished on day 5! Roy McMasters won at 84mph by avoiding any holes and finding the street that worked on the upwind return to Mifflin (and staying on the upwind Shade Mountain ridge 2nd leg). A couple long-winged guests went faster. Bill Elliot went into the last day with a 4 point lead over DJ, and cinched his win with a respectable 76mph no-disasters flight.

Mifflin Contest Wrap-Up

Bill Elliot won by flying consistently and not too aggressively. He did a great job showing off the new JS1A sailplane from South Africa - I should have got him an 18-meter Antares to fly ! Bill was flying with our ILEC SN10 flight computer, installed at his recommendation in the JS1.

This contest had very tough weather - I think all days were devalued and many substantially. Competition Director John Good did a really masterful job getting the most possible out of each day, assisted by Richard Kellerman's careful weather analysis. As always the local crew at Mifflin put on a fabulous show: Brian and Steve Glick and family, Iris and Karl Striedieck, Paul Weeden, Joanie Maughmer, Buch and Becky Thompson, Jacquie Doherty, Tom Knauff towing, and sincere apologies to whomever I've managed to miss. Contest roadies Charlie and Micky Minner, and Pat and Leo Buckley helped with scales, scoring, social events, etc. Special thanks to Brian Glick for arranging a primo tiedown slot for me, where I could plug in and recharge overnight, and easily taxi to and from the runway.

PS: Attendees: Please email me photos as I "volunteered" to do the article for Soaring magazine !

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

Good Links for more information...

Contest Results at SSA Site
Contest Homepage
Google Maps satellite image of Mifflin airport
Tom Kelly's blog
Dave's 2006 Blog from Hobbs USA 18-meter Nationals
Dave's 2005 Blog from Uvalde USA 15-meter Nationals
Dave's 2004 Blog from Uvalde USA 18-meter Nationals
Antares 20E Electric Motorglider Information

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