It was another severely blue day at Benalla: I doubt even a wisp of cloud was seen on course by any pilot in any class today. Fortunately, the lift was (mostly) reliable, it lasted until nearly 7 pm, and a high percentage of pilots got home. Unfortunately, to achieve that requires flying in large gaggles (when clouds don’t provide the lift clues, enough white aircraft can) and when a couple dozen gliders make use of a small thermal, things get uncomfortably crowded .
The pre-start gaggles are probably the toughest – they may contain most of the gliders in a class, each hoping to watch his rivals set out, and then be in position to follow a short time later. Lots of pilots spoke of the concentration and mental strain required to fly safely in these conditions. Not all succeeded today: we heard reports of a mid-air “touch” that fortunately ended with two intact (but shaken) pilots and what is said to be not very serious damage to two wingtips.
The big news for our team was a brilliant flight in 18-Meter class, which gave Sean Fidler first place for the day and 1000 points. His large margin of victory (second place was almost 7 minutes and 56 points back) indicates that this really was a notable effort. Sean said he started in front of a large gaggle playing the “start gate roulette” game, in part from growing tired of the crowded pre-start sky. He flew with a number of fast pilots for the first two task legs, working his way to the top of this group. When he saw them deviate toward an area that is notoriously wet (and especially so this year), he and teammate Gary Ittner decided to stay in touch with what looked like a drier route just south of the direct course line. This worked, and he was able to march along steadily in improving lift until achieving height for final glide near the last turnpoint. Day winners receive recognition and prizes at the morning pilot briefing; I’ll predict that Sean will not be able to participate in this with anything resembling a poker face.
In the matter of rules, regulations and procedures, WGC2017 seems to have adopted about the right mix of iron fist and velvet glove. Pilots and crews are free to walk and drive on the field, under sensible guidelines – which for the most part they have done without causing problems. (It’s a severe challenge to get eager Type A competitors and their equally enthusiastic crews to drive at a tolerable speed, especially when the route from the clubhouse / social center to the launch area is 2.3 km of dusty dirt, but so far nothing too crazy has been seen.)
One notable quirk is a requirement for flashing yellow lights on all vehicles that drive onto the airfield. This curious rule comes not from the contest organization, the gliding club, or the Australia aviation authorities, but rather from the local town government. In the (dangerously) bright Victoria sunlight, a flashing yellow light improves vehicle visibility by a distance measured in centimeters (in some cases you have to look closely to determine that the light is indeed on). It would be interesting to hear how anyone arrived at the notion that this was a rational idea. But we get a strong sense that this battle was fought to a standstill long ago, and the mere fact that flashing lights make no sense no longer matters. It’s their airfield; we go along.