Lithuania’s highly variable weather pattern continues. We woke today to a solid overcast, low clouds and threats of rain. Very little optimism could be found for the possibility of motorless flight.
But at a World Gliding Contest – especially one in northern Europe – the approach is typically “never say die”. With some possibility of clearing arriving from the west, we gridded all gliders and at around 2pm the Club Class was launched. Pessimism was still the prevailing view, but somehow they “stuck” – pretty much every pilot managed to stay aloft under low, raggedy clouds. In the face of this, the other two classes were launched and all gliders were sent off on short (2-hour) tasks.
It was never great (as the scored speeds indicate), but it worked and nearly all pilots got home – some of them surprisingly late. Bob Fletcher had a very late start (after a re-launch, of which there were several later) and struggled in Poland, but was able to return home at 7pm (well after forecasts had said lift should be gone). Only one glider was able to finish later (by less than a minute); a few tried, but fell short.
The US Team’s 20-Meter entry has suffered a significant setback: back-seat pilot Larry Timpson is in hospital with an abdominal complaint that has us concerned. Front-seater Mike Robison was allowed to fly solo today, pending a ruling on whether this is permissible in what’s defined as a multi-seat class. He had a good run in conditions that many pilots found difficult, and finished second for the day. (I’ll note that he definitely does not attribute this to being alone, and certainly missed Larry’s help.)
I haven’t had a chance to do much birdwatching in Lithuania, but one bird would be very hard to miss here. Storks are celebrated as bringing good luck, and it’s common to see purpose-built tall nesting platforms topped with a huge nest occupied by several large white birds with partially black wings. The nests are made of sticks and can weigh up to 500 pounds, so the platforms are both a way of encouraging the birds to nest and suggesting they not use rooftops, where the weight could be a problem. These birds have excellent soaring skills, most in evidence on their long migrations to and from Africa (in some cases, South Africa). But we see them in thermals here as well.
A less common bird here, even larger than a stork, is the Eurasian (aka Common) Crane. They are easily recognized by their trumpeting call – a sort of musical croak that carries a long distance. (Cranes seem unable to fly without making a lot of noise – unlike glider pilots, who are particularly vocal after a flight.) We’ve heard that cry here on the airfield, but have spotted the cranes only at a distance. These birds also migrate to Africa, though they mostly stop north of the Equator.
Towing now seems to be going smoothly. The fleet of Wilga towplanes is augmented by a couple of small composite tugs, sporting just 100 hp but not handicapped by the Wilga’s considerable drag. Tow ropes follow the normal eastern European scheme: they are both short (about 80 ft long) and fat (around half an inch in diameter). Pilots accustomed to the US standard 200 ft length report little difficulty, and a short towrope is an obvious benefit when towing out of a short field . Tow patterns have been sorted out such that all pilots in a class are now released in about the same place (and with a wing waggle by the tug) as the rules specify.
To my surprise, all Team Captains appear to have accepted the results of Day 1 in the 20-Meter class. I was skeptical that the “fix the problems with some penalties” approach would fly, but we have no report of any protest being filed, and the day now seems to have been declared Official. I do wonder whether on some future difficult day a self-launching pilot will be tempted to motor where he shouldn’t, then ask that this be handled by means of the same 25-point penalty that was assessed on Day 1.