2011 USA 18-Meter Class Nationals

Dave's Blog from Hobbs, New Mexico

Last Update: Thursday eve, 30-June-2011


Hobbs is home of the Soaring Society of America, and the site of many classic races over the years. This year the 18-Meter Class nationals is being organized by volunteers from all over, assisted by some of the SSA staff after-hours. Edre Maier is competition manager, and John Godfrey is the Competition Director. We're looking forward to big skies, massive thermals, huge distances and high speeds - classic Hobbs racing.

Last year we had the Open Class Nationals here, with horrible weather including flooding in downtown Hobbs (Dave's 2010 blog from Hobbs) This year we have a drought and fire warnings, and with no measured precipitation since last September, they aren't kidding about a drought.

I'm racing my Antares 20E electric-powered glider, using the short 18-meter wingtips, with a wing-loading range of 9.5 to 11.4 lbs/ft2. We have a small field - less than 20 gliders - but some of the top guns are here including several former national champs.


Drove direct from Massachusetts - 2,222 miles in three long days, arriving Friday afternoon. No excitement on the trip other than the usual right turns from the left lane, senior driving, fender-benders in CT rush-our traffic, etc. Saw two different areas of tornado damage from the highway in Southbridge Mass and Joplin Missouri. Amazing how the damage has well-defined boundaries, with a line of snapped off trees immediately adjacent to a line intact. Saw a house blown to bits in Joplin, with its close neighbor almost unscathed. Scary stuff.

In western Oklahoma the winds rose past 30 mph with much higher gusts, easing as I entered Texas. Then smoke from the fires in Arizona, and more frequent oil pumps looking like prehistoric birds pecking at the earth. And into New Mexico, clearing skies with formidable dust devils, until the aroma of oil and gas production told me Hobbs was near...

Saturday June 18

A few of us die-hards are out here in advance of the scheduled practice days (Sunday and Monday). Tom Kelly 711, Ken Sorensen KM, Pete Alexander 98, Sam Zimmerman SZ, Mak (contest numbers under negotiation), Al Tyler AH, and maybe a couple others took tows, starting around 12:30. We shoulda started at least an hour earlier !

Since I've only flown the Antares once since the Seniors in March (564km from Sterling up to Belvidere VT and return) I really wanted to get in a decent flight and knock some rust off. I self-launched from the cross runway as the crosswind on the ramp was 20 knots and we only had one towplane. Flying with the 18m (short) tips and full water for a wing-loading of ~11.4 lbs/ft2, which is TOO LOW a wing-loading for this glider in these conditions. Very rough low so I shut down a bit higher than usual at around 1300 AGL in a decent thermal.

First thermal showed as high as 13 knots on the averager, under building cu way, way above me. I headed north when the thermal dropped as low as 7 knots, following the clouds into the NW part of our task area, turning Caprock at the edge of the cus (blue and a bit smoky to the north). Followed the cus south, turned Abandoned, then headed into wind under a street out to Hagerman junction. Tried to be disciplined and circle in only 10 knots or better, though I did slow up from 120 knot cruise when I could climb on course at 5 knots or better. Headed to Lovington then SE to Mabee, where I landed a decade back after seeing a tornado. Turned west and ran to Eunice and Railroad, then back east to Andrews.

Clouds appeared to be based around 18000-18500, though I stopped at 17500 as required by racing rules (this did require dumping the flaps and jamming the stick forward when the altimeter was winding up like a clock). Last couple climbs were a bit weaker, seemed like the day was winding down, so I topped out at around 17000 before Andrews, and final-glided around the turn for a fast run back to windy Hobbs.

Results from ILEC SN10B: 452.9 miles at 100.3 mph.
Not often I manage to break 100 mph !
All turnpoints achieved per MAT task rules (cylinder).
Antares Rules !
Dave's flight on Saturday on OLC (OLC scoring omits last 51 miles ~ 90km)
Fastest in the world today on OLC-Speed
SN10 stats page showing 100.3 mph

Sunday June 19 - Practice Day 1

Its windy. The flag in front of the hotel is pointing upwards, the trailing edge has started fraying, and the pole is shaking impressively. The air is a bit gray with blowing dust. Too windy to fly, though it reached 107 degrees and there were some cumulus. Good for taking care of registration chores, the obligatory trip to Walmart and the hardware store, but hopeless for flying. The 4PM forecast has wind gusts diminishing to 40 mph tonight, and further decreasing tomorrow to 35 mph. We'll see...

Monday June 20 - Practice Day 2

Less wind, and its swung more down the ramp. We had a quick 3 hour MAT with mandatory first turn Eunice and a required final steering turn south of the gate. Some of us rested, and around 10 of us flew. Blue, blue, blue, except for some smoke and dust. Not so hot with peak temperature under 100 ! Very rough thermals, peaks of 9 knots for a few turns before they spat you out and left you dazed and confused. Average climbs far less ! I took a short tour down south (Wink and Monahans) and came home early (still recovering from Saturday !). DJ had a nice romp at 85 mph on Monday, starting later and heading up over the Caprock where it is normally stronger (but, don't look down). Up to 15k lift in the blue out there, whereas the southern and eastern areas only yielded around 11. Gary Ittner found the wave that was causing all the chop and large areas of lift and sink, and climbed to 14k before starting. Mandatory meeting this evening, and tomorrow we do it for real.

Tuesday June 21 - Race Day 1

Pilots meeting included a welcome from the Hobbs mayor, and a chamber of commerce representative who talked about the energy initiatives in the area, including nuclear and some renewable as well as oil and gas. More than two-thirds of our small 15-competitor field are former or current national team members, with a number of former national champions and one world champion. Quite a crowd ! But a bit different from the days of 50+ competitors here. Weather today looks blue and a bit weaker, but still quite good. Grid at noon.

Quick and efficient launch into an indifferent sky. Hard inversion at 8k (remember ground is almost 4k). Eventually some thermals break through the inversion and I'm briefly over 9k. Then the wind shifts, the thermals weaken as they reorganize, and we settle back down below the inversion. Task opening delayed. We're on a 3:30 area task, with cylinders south, north-west, north-east, and home. The lift should be better over the high ground to the west, but there's no place to land out there. Task opens at 1:30, but nobody is very high, and from the heating forecast we shouldn't start before 2PM for a 3:30 task. At 2PM folks start dribbling out onto course, no chance to climb out the top of the start cylinder. I can't even get up to the inversion layer ! Eventually I manage to get to 8k and start by myself, well after most had managed to get under way. Not great on a blue day !

On course, blue thermals were small and hard to find, in a hazy/smoky sky. I stayed as far west as I could whilst keeping landing options in range to the east. Pressed to near the back of the first cylinder following wisps that didn't work. Briefly saw another glider ! Headed north, struggling, keeping cruise speed down and pulling up in any shreds of lift, though the day was continuing to improve and clear. Followed the edge of the Caprock plateau where there was better lift and working wisps, and could see the Guadalupe Mountains by Carlsbad off in the distance. Found a good climb up to 12k in the north-west corner of the second cylinder.

The SN10 says I just need to nick the last cylinder and head home. Maddeningly, after suffering in the blue all day, there are cu in the last cylinder ! I planned to avoid this area to the north-east, as it is agricultural and normally weaker. Perhaps in this drought the amount of water from irrigation was just enough to form cu and not enough to kill the lift. Aaarggg. I meet up with Mak (flying Dave Mockler's Diana), and we climb together under a nice cu until I have final glide and head off, while Mak worked to gain a bit more altitude. Uneventful final glide home, arriving as planned 50 seconds over the 3:30 task interval.

Gary Ittner smoked us with 81.6 mph, with Dave Mockler not far behind at 80. My 75.3 mph is good enough for 5th today in spite of all the time I wasted trying to not get low, and then digging out when I got low anyway - apparently an experience shared by many today. Everybody completed, and though some got stuck minimum speed was still about 67 mph. Back home the SSA folks put on an excellent Lasagna feed for us ! Thanks !

Everybody is a bit whipped by today's flying - today was really hard work. Tomorrow's forecast: "A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 98. Southeast wind around 5 mph."

Wednesday June 22 - Race Day 2

Weather briefing talked of a chance of storms, and buildups were visible to the west over the mountains north of Carlsbad. Cus were popping as we launched, on a MAT task featuring the northern part of the task area: Kenna, Muleshoe, Caprock, and then role-your-own task for a 3:30 time-on-task. At 77mph this task will take 3:30, but we're going to go a lot faster and will need to add a few turnpoints. Clouds developed nicely to the west, but the first leg was just on the edge of the cu field, with blue to the east, and for a while didn't have any cu along the first leg. Start time optimum to me looked like around 2PM, especially I was hoping for the first leg to develop a bit. Most folks started around 1:30, wary of buildups and possible OD to the west. I didn't think it was going to blow up, starting last except for Gary Ittner who started a minute and a half after me.

Started out the top of the cylinder, and quickly found very strong lift. Briefly though I was in Uvalde, cruising at 120 knots and climbing straight-ahead under solid clouds. Stayed well west of courseline under the better clouds, though did have to slow up and take some weaker thermals approaching Kenna. The second leg featured 8+ knot thermals and 120 knot cruise. Third leg back to Caprock was also very strong, and I briefly flew with Al Tyler and then Gary.

As we were averaging well over 90mph at this point, where to go next ? There was a fabulous street heading south to Abandoned, which I couldn't resist. This street ended at the same place the clouds didn't form earlier in the day, but fortunately there's the Denton turnpoint right past the end of the street. Turned Denton and headed west back towards a great looking cloud near Lovington, almost on final glide around a turnpoint a bit further west.

Got a nasty shock as this beautiful cloud started raining on me and served up massive sink, erasing 2k of altitude before I could say oops. Pressed through the sink and found some not-stellar lift on the other side. At this point I hear Al making a straight-in to Hobbs, which sounded way to exciting. The sink from this cloud was right over the mandatory steering final "Refinery" turnpoint, so returning to Hobbs may be "interesting". I'm here for fun, and not to frighten myself or anyone else, so I shifted gears and climbed well over nominal final-glide altitude, burning a few minutes to be safe. Listened to DJ calling a straight-in to Hobbs after he too hit the sink. Sink wasn't quite as bad my second time through and I screamed home at warp speed.

Gary burned us again, though second place Dave Mockler and third place DJ were only 1 and 2 points behind ! I tied with John Seaborn for 4th place, 17 points behind Gary. Its amazing how tight the speeds and point-spread today, even though the top 6 all took different routes after the mandatory turnpoints, and many of us flew mostly alone.

Silly stuff heard on the radio today:
CD before the start to advisor Mark Keene: 7K, report ?
7K: 7K, no problem, I'm at 13k, plenty of lift...
... But cloudbase was at 10k and Mark was above the clouds in wave ;-)
From birthday boy Dave Mockler: Smile Ray !
... Dave wanted to take Ray's picture while they were cruising on task.
Pilot who will remain anonymous: XXX, that was too close !
Reply: Yeah, I didn't like you turning inside me either.

Thursday June 23 - Race Day 3

Today is forecast to be blue with lift capped around 12k. Winds today are quite a bit higher on the surface and higher than forecast. Howling in fact. We launched from the ramp but it was a bit challenging at measured 20 knots cross. Task is 3 hours, two turn-areas to the north and northeast, favoring the area where lift has been a bit better.

No problems climbing out after launch, all seemed normal if not terribly nor high lift. Cruised out to the upwind and western side of the cylinder where it should be advantageous to start. Found colossal sink over a very wide area and after a big tour of the start cylinder up back in the pattern as the start opened. Yikes. I struggled to climb back up as the fleet started way above me, and ended up starting terribly late, without markers. Not Good. Especially on a blue day with very high wind. Really Not Good. Disastrous.

Struggled along the first leg aided by the 25 knot tailwind. Some streeting in the blue with broad areas of mild lift, with tiny cores somewhere. A great day to fly with other gliders to help locate a center the lift. Dribbled along the first leg with gradually improving conditions and a climb over 12k. Wisps and a few widely spaced clouds marked still better lift a bit into the first cylinder and on a line into the second. A solitary lenticular high and to our west reminded that there would be areas of wave-induced sink. Got a 12k+ climb approaching the 2nd cylinder, then just nicked the cylinder and headed for home into the howling wind. Descended interminably finding sink and no lift, chased a couple dust devils that didn't work. At 1500ft AGL I saw a tractor driving into a field and dove for it, watching the dust start rising in front of me for a 4 knot climb. Maybe I can pull this off... Hit a few bumps, but no real thermals, finally at 1000ft AGL in position for a good field I dumped my water and resorted to the magic lever - powered my way home. Complete disaster. Only one not to finish today - back of the score sheet. Dave's Day 3 flight on OLC - How not to do it. Yes the Antares is quiet, and yes, engine-run is clearly visible in the flight-record.

Ray Gimmey also got in trouble before the start, also finding the sink while trying to position in the optimal start location. He managed to dig out a bit quicker than me, and flew masterfully to win the day. Ray says he was slightly under-time because he found and followed a blue street for a huge distance into wind on the second leg. That's why Ray has won more national championships than he can remember. At Friday briefing Ray mentioned he's the only pilot to win 2 USA nationals when over 70 years old !

In other news, EAA has cancelled the electric aircraft contest at Oshkosh, as I was the only one who had the required flight time and documentation ! And I was counting on the prize money. Anyway, I'll hopefully fly in the airshow a couple days to promote Soaring as well as electric aircraft. EAA electric airplane challenge delayed

Friday June 24 - Race Day 4

Another fun fact about the field racing here: More than half are former national champions ! More strong wind. Max temperature between 104 and 108 depending on which forecast you believe. Lift should be higher than yesterday. The 3 hour area task is short, but we are suffering a bit in the heat and may again have high winds. The town of Hobbs helped out by clearing the nominally closed cross runway in case of continued high cross-winds. Concern about the wind prompted gridding on this cross runway, so of course the wind died down by takeoff time.

I had a decent start for a change, and found a street/wave combo on the first leg and climbed up to over 16000ft on the first leg. The lower hazy airmass with southerly flow gradually gave way to clear cool air flowing from the west as we ascended through 12k. The low-level southerly street had the higher westerly wind flowing over it; not clear if it was a wave from the mountains to the west or more of a ridge effect, but I could follow a long line of lift or minimal sink with periodic areas of strong lift and smooth cores. Outside temperature was down to 50 degrees at 16000, much more pleasant the 104 on the ramp at take-off time.

After my day 3 screw-up, I couldn't bring myself to stuff the nose down and descend back into the murk - too tired, too hot, and too much close-and-personal view of the terrain. I had a nice long leisurely flight at comfortable high altitude. Annoyed the natives by returning home after Margarita time. Much better now, ready to race on Day 5 !

Ray Gimmey again showed his mastery of this sport, blistering around the course at 95.59 mph, which was 2 mph faster than DJ in 2nd place. Ray said he had to stop on leg 2 east of Hobbs milk a 2 knotter which gradually built to 5 knots, and thought he was on final glide twice only to find sink and have to stop and thermal again. This doesn't seem to have slowed Ray down all that much.

Saturday June 25 - Race Day 5

Temperatures expected to top out from 108 to 110 degrees, several degrees hotter than yesterday. We should have very light winds and likely strong lift to our 17500 limit. Grid set early for 11AM, though if the heating and lift are similar to yesterday optimum start time will not be til near 2PM for a 4 hour task. Mercifully, CD John Godfrey backed off launch time to 12:10 to save us grinding around low in the heat, waiting for the heating to build and lift us higher into cool air, and waiting for the optimum start time. I was off first, and the first few thermals topped of below the inversion, but we broke through by mid-launch and climbed above the lower hazy airmass. Very little wind gradient allowed the strong thermals to punch through the inversion without any shear requiring re-centering. Our start cylinder today is topped at 12000, so we can stay high and cool before the start.

Task is a 4:30 MAT, with assigned turnpoints for the first 350 miles. At our expected speed over 90 mph we'll need to add in a few turnpoints after the mandatory Portales, Hereford, Littlefield, Denver City, and Lovington. I started out the top of the cylinder at 1:24 in back of a gaggle, and continued climbing to almost 17000 feet before heading out on course. Circling gliders marked a line of lift down the first leg, and I screamed along periodically slowing up to climb straight ahead or circle when the lift was over 8 knots. And the day was getting stronger... Lost the gaggle and turned Portales, with wisps and actual clouds ahead on the second leg. Different, clearer airmass up here, with no real boundary. Stronger lift though, my next thermal averaged over 12 knots for many turns.

Turned Hereford and headed south along courseline towards Littlefield with some wisps on course. The clouds were well above our 17500 foot limit so weren't so easy to use for locating a thermal, but did indicate areas of lift. Left the clouds and headed for Denver City back into the hazier airmass, so slowed up a bit and settled for 7 knot climbs, perhaps too conservative. Turned Denver City thinking I'd head back north after Lovington, but there was a wall of smoke from a grass fire in that direction. Calculated a bunch of options on the SN10 and settled for south to Eunice and around one more close-in turnpoint. Took a 5.5 knot thermal past Hobbs, again a bit conservative but the day seemed to be weakening and I was close to final glide. As usual bumped stronger lift, and ended up on MC 7 final glide for the last 45 miles. Finished with 433 miles at 94.7 mph in 4:34 (4 minutes over target time).

Once again, Ray Gimmey 7V smoked us at 102.66 mph, covering 465 miles with 1 minute 55 seconds over the target time. Al Tyler got out of his cockpit and exclaimed that this was his best soaring day ever and he didn't care about the score, but didn't complain too much when his 101 mph speed was good for 2nd.

Sunday June 26 - Race Day 6

Today the National Weather Service forecasts a high of 109, which is a bit warmer than yesterday. All forecast models show light winds and taller stronger thermals. This stuff is hard to take ;-)

We launched at 12:30, on a 4 hour area task taking us west, north, east, south, west, and north to return home. We should do around 100mph in these conditions, so at least 400 miles needed. The weather briefing mentioned "fully rounded firm flat bottom cumulus clouds", but what we got could have used a bit more filling in the early quadrants. No cumulus at launch, but they developed above and around us as the task opened.

I climbed out the top of the start cylinder with a group at 8-10 knots, leaving when it dropped under 6 knots at around 16000 ft. A bit blue on the first nominal leg tempted me into the southern part of the first area (south of Hagerman), and though the clouds weren't spectacular they did work. Not good tactically as I had no markers in front of me; the group headed more towards the center of the first turn area. Drove too cautiously through the markerless blue on the first leg, and got caught and passed by DJ as I dithered a bit. Got a bit more disciplined and put the nose down, slowing only to climb straight ahead at 5 knots. Lined up clouds in the second cylinder past Portales, where it started getting really strong, and turned east when I had a line of clouds on my courseline. At one point I had 12 knots on the averager for several turns. Stayed up near 17500 with the clouds well above me, bouncing along until I had a line of clouds pointing into the next cylinder and turned. Blasted to a gorgeous cloud that really did meet the weatherman's promise and was rewarded with over 14 knots on the averager for a few turns. Takes great care not to bust the altitude limit when you're climbing this fast ! Followed the clouds past Andrews to the south, with a last solid climb averaging over 10 knots to almost final glide altitude. Turned west and followed clouds, but made a tactical blunder in time management: went a bit overtime and knocked my average speed under 100mph. At these speeds, the slightest dithering knocks your average down promptly ! Finished :14 over, at 97 mph, one of the slower speeds today.

Dave Mockler showed us how to do it properly at 111mph. Yup, this is the classic Hobbs weather we dream about. Its an unbelievable privilege to fly such toys with this group on a day like this !

Monday June 27 - Rest Day !

Tasks for today: Wishy-Washy and oil change. Then read some more of James Grenning's excellent Test-Driven Development for Embedded C and work on software for the new water dump system (yikes, what a nerd).

Tuesday June 28 - Day 7

Yesterday we had a line of development and even some storms on a line from Carlsbad through Lovington, just north of Hobbs. They even got 2" of rain locally under some of the cells. The blow-off is just sitting up there, providing a bit of shade this morning. Lots of moisture still trapped in the middle layer with wisps in all quadrants. NWS analysis shows a weak occluded front over us along this line. Forecast max temperature is a cooler 100 degrees. Max lift is expected 12k and weaker. I'm expecting a task to the south-east...

After some dithering we're sent on a 3:30 area task with a large cylinder north-east around Brownfield, then down to Eunice, back south-east to Andrews, then steered via Denver City back home. We're treated to great lift at launch, which promptly weakened as task opening approached. One top pilot even landed back for a relight, which is vary unusual in this group. All the alto cloud dissipated, no cumulus, just blue, and the wind picked up to 20 knots from around 145.

Started barely out the 10k top of our start cylinder, sure would be nice to see 12k but gotta go at after 2PM. After a long cruise with no signs of decent lift I got down below 3k AGL, probably should have just kept pressing but I took some weak lift. Decided this could turn into a survival task watching a glider or two struggle well below be, and turned early back towards Eunice. Another 5 miles and I found a 7kt thermal, so I turned too soon... Never mind, press to Eunice, get high, follow some lift lines, turn the back of the Eunice cylinder in lift and head for Andrews. After a long glide with nothing, found myself low over the last decent field before miles of scrub, and milled around watching the activity in the oil field and sustaining but not climbing. Finally a line of semis carrying oil drilling equipment formed up and stared driving down a dirt road in the oil-fields, kicking up a nice thermal, which carried me back from below 1.5k AGL to over 10k MSL. Turned north and bounced a blue street into final glide range, and turned Denver City comfortably high.

Winner Gary Ittner found good lift on the first leg, but explained he had to take a couple 2kt thermals near Denver City to convert a 5-white-knuckle final glide into a 4-white-knuckle event. Gary's now just 25 points in back of leader (and 13-time national champion) Ray Gimmey.

Wednesday June 29 - Day 8

Should be hotter and a bit less windy for our last two contest days on Wednesday and Thursday. Or maybe not quite as hot and just as windy. In any case there's a strong high over us and our weather briefing calls for little chance of cumulus clouds.

Late start, with cumulus developing at about 2PM. That was unexpected and gave us a great run for our 3:30 area task. The cloud field extended not far east or south, so we stayed mostly in the area with cloud and were rewarded with strong climbs and decent speeds. I followed the clouds by myself and had a nice flight of 302 miles at 84 mph.

Big upset today. Leader Ray Gimmey had an uncharacteristic bad day, allowing Gary Ittner into the lead. Gary also had a not great day otherwise he'd have a big lead. Winner John Seaborn worked the dry-line at the edge of the cloud field and smoked us at 94.57 mph.

Thursday June 30 - Day 9

Final race day, and its a shoot-out. Gary Ittner has a 53 point lead on Ray Gimmey. Doug Jacobs threatens at 71 points back. CD John Godfrey tells us at his first visit to Hobbs for the 2003 nationals, his mentor Charlie Spratt (whom John admires and aims to emulate), called a MAT on the final day and landed the entire fleet out. Its blowing hard on the ramp, temperatures forecast less than yesterday.

Decent lift though very high winds. No cumulus, but adequate lift to get above our 10k start cylinder. Task is a 3:30 turn-area task, with cylinders first north to Portales then south-east to Levelland, and finally south-west to Caprock (nominal distance 282 miles). But the wind is howling from the south, and the return home into wind late in the day will be hard...

Gary Ittner wins the day at 81.46 mph to clinch the championship. Ray Gimmey and Doug Jacobs had a tough time down in the 73 mph range to take second and third place respectively. A few pilots had trouble and very low speeds, and one land-out. I took it easy and stayed high, pressing back beyond Portales where there were working cu, and just nicking the last two cylinders, for a slow 67.68 mph. Many of us had to stop and tank up after falling below final glide; there was sink in addition to the stiff headwind.

Some interesting statistics, all the more impressive with our small 15-pilot field:
46,100 miles flown on task, at an average of 82.1 mph.
Fastest speed: 111 mph.
Longest task flown: ~450 miles.
Number of tasks not completed: 2 (out of 135).
Most important: no incidents or damage.
Yup, this has been another true Hobbs classic !

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

Links for more information...

Antares 20E Electric Motorglider Information
Hobbs 18m Nationals contest scores on SSA web site
Dave's Soaring publications, including blogs from past contests

Copyright 2011 - Dave Nadler - All Rights Reserved

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