Our stretch of untroubled weather has come to an end: glider trailers again piled up impressive mileage in Lithuania.
Weather issues today included strong southeasterly winds and an area of cloud forecast to push into the task area by late afternoon. Lift was predicted to be good, though with only a few cumulus clouds to mark it. In view of this, tasks were surprisingly long: 268km for the Club class, which most figured would require at least 4 hours to complete.
At launch time, the sky looked encouraging and good lift allowed pilots to cope with the troublesome wind. Seven pilots elected to start rather early; the rest played the normal start games – in a sky that was drying out with climbs weakening. They all eventually started (though none very high) and quickly formed a huge “furball” gaggle that set off on a grueling upwind first leg. The early group of pilots had managed to reach the first turnpoint (49 km from the start) in around an hour; some in the later large group took almost 2 hours (thus achieving speeds below 20 mph). All got low – a few outlanded – bucking 20-kt winds in lift that was typically around 2 kts. To add to the discomfort, much of this leg is over notably lumpy terrain well below typical Lithuanian standards for landability.
Things improved when they reached the turnpoint and turned north: they now had a quartering tailwind, better lift and improving terrain. But it was clear that the late starters would need a long-lasting day to get home, which the clouds approaching from the south would not allow. In the end, the class had just 3 finishers – all from the group of 7 early starters. The Standard class had a 322-km task, which no pilot came close to finishing. So more than 60 trailers hit the road, for what in many cases were the longest retrieves of the contest.
US Team pilots started late, soon caught the big gaggle, and suffered with it. All got low several times; J.P. Stewart made a notable save at the first turn. They all reached the second turnpoint, and then landed on the third into-wind leg – with many others, including many Standard class gliders. No one in the second group had good scores.
We set off on long retrieves in our quirky vehicles. Daniel and Noah landed in the same (very good) field, about a 1:40 drive from home. The VW towing Noah’s trailer has had some battery-charging issues, and when its battery is nearly flat it feels the right response is to go into “permanent alarm” mode (perhaps to quickly kill the battery completely, so it can have a new one?). The only way to silence this is to disconnect the battery. So we’ve been keeping it well charged, and the car has been in a good mood for almost two days now. It also has some sort of “partial power” mode that makes for poor acceleration and dangerous passing – but this is usually fixed simply by turning the car off, then re-starting. On today’s retrieve it behaved well; the trouble came from the trailer: about an hour into the drive its front door popped open and immediately flew off. We managed to retrieve it from the road before it was crushed by trucks. It was lightly damaged and for the rest of the contest should perform its duties properly with the help of duct-tape hinges.
The BMW towing Daniel’s trailer has been doing a good job, but today it failed catastrophically at around 9:30 pm, less than halfway home from the retrieve: the engine stopped, with steam and hot coolant spewing from the radiator. Fernando was disappointed that more than a dozen glider trailers whizzed by before the Dutch team stopped and kindly agreed to take Daniel home for a semi-reasonable bedtime. Fernando was then able to get in touch with the car owner, who agreed to come to the rescue, bringing a replacement tow-capable vehicle. So it was that a Mercedes-Benz sedan arrived home not long before midnight, trailer in tow. I was happy to hear of this rescue plan, since, having dropped Noah’s trailer at Pociunai, I was already back on the road in the VW, 25 km from home and headed to the scene of the breakdown. I’d already seen that the VW’s headlights are mis-adjusted such that only on high beams can you see more than about 30’ ahead. I wasn’t looking forward to two hours of night driving with every approaching vehicle angry at my failure to dim headlights.
J.P Stewart landed in a different field, some ways south of Daniel and Noah. The Hyundai that tows his trailer remains stuck in “safe mode”, offering about half normal power. Crew chief Tony Condon is now used to this and what it allows in the way of cruising speeds and passing performance. He decided to depart before J.P. had called in: an outlanding was certain and the area where it must happen was not large. This proved to be a good plan, and their retrieve was efficient – or at least as efficient as the elderly tube-type trailer with worn, awkward fittings will allow. Nothing will make you appreciate a good trailer like a couple of weeks with a clunky one. I’ve often thought that Cobra (who already get fancy prices for their excellent trailers) could charge 50% more if they could get potential customers to try some of the awkward alternative for a retrieve or two.