I had a notion of sleeping late this morning. We’ve reached the end of a busy practice period for WGC2017 in Benalla, Victoria, Australia and today is the Opening Ceremony day, which means we all take a enforced break from flying, there’s no morning pilot meeting, and late rising is not only allowed but recommended (in part due to an airfield BBQ party yesterday evening, at which Australian quantities of food, beer and wine were consumed).
But two Laughing Kookaburras outside my window had different ideas. These birds set up a “dawn chorus” capable of waking the dead (check it out on YouTube) and made me decide that 6:30 was the right time to rise and shine. (The noise sounded like it must come from at least a half-dozen birds, but it appears that only two were needed.)
It can’t be denied that Benalla has enjoyed a good practice period. We arrived in southeastern Australia at the end of the wettest Spring in decades, with small ponds and lakes aplenty, lush grass growth in normally sparse fields (hay bales are so plentiful that they make a cut field unlandable until removed), and general pessimism among glider pilots. But after a couple of days of rain and low cloud in late December, the weather has “come right” (read: dry & hot) and soaring has been really good. With cumulus-filled skies and 8-kt climbs to 10,000’ (over ground that’s only about 600’ MSL) speeds above 150kph have not been enough to place high on practice tasks in the long-wing (18-Meter and Open) classes, and both contest and recreational pilots have managed some good long flights (tales were told of a Ka-6 that did 600+ km).
The US Team is here in force and ready to go. Our pilots are:
Erik Nelson, flying a Ventus 2a (5E) in 15-Meter class
Sean Murphy, flying a Ventus 2b (XC) in 15-Meter class
Sean Fidler, flying an ASG-29 (7T) in 18-Meter class
Gary Ittner, flying an ASG-29 (P7) in 18-Meter class
Bill Gawthrop, flying a JS-1c (F8) in Open class
Mike Robison, flying a JS-1c (N1K) in Open class
Supporting them is a formidable team of crew persons I’ll introduce in future posts. Suffice it here to say that a lot of time and effort are needed to get 6 gliders ready for a world gliding competition.
Benalla is a pleasant town of about 9000 located in northern Victoria (mainland Australia’s smallest and southernmost state), about 100 miles northeast of Melbourne (and thus 350 miles southwest of Sydney). It has “turned out” to support this contest, with what we recognize as characteristically Australian friendliness and a positive “can do” attitude. A town of this size strains a bit to deal with a couple hundred tightly wound glider pilots, crews, officials, etc. – but we’re finding what we need in terms of accommodation, food, and supplies (the ‘Miter 10’ hardware and building supply store, about a 2-minute drive from the airfield, has been doing a fine business).
This contest is impressively well attended. One theory had it that the cost of transporting people and aircraft here (it’s about a 17-hour flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne – or an expensive, months-long container ship voyage for a glider) would dampen enthusiasm. As against this there’s a reputation for good soaring conditions and a certainty of warm summer weather at a time when the northern hemisphere has little to none. The latter seems to have carried the day: we have 119 gliders in 3 classes.
Those gliders will tell some interesting tales. New designs here include the Ventus 3 from Schempp-Hirth, the JS-3 from Jonker Sailplanes, and the EB-29R from Walter Binder. I’ll have comments on all of these in the course of the contest.
The Opening Ceremony is now complete, and our competition is officially underway. Today was mostly cloudy, which violated the standard convention that the day on which no flying is done should be the best day of the past two weeks (that actually happened on Friday). Notwithstanding the cloud, it was hot: near 100 degrees (quite normal for Victoria in January) and thus not ideal for our team uniform of log sleeve shirts and bluejeans. Yet we all duly mustered on a cricket ground just west of the town center. Several speeches were given, with the speakers (comfortable in shade) seeming to understand the value of brevity. The FAI anthem was played, the FAI flag was raised on an improvised flagpole (not a thing normally found on a cricket oval), and we are set for competition tomorrow.