This was a day to try hard for a valid task – we’ve been sidelined too often by tricky weather patterns. We did try, and hard – but failed. It represents a lot of wasted effort, but pretty much everyone here believes it was the right thing to do.
After a day of bad weather and considerable overnight rain, the morning brought thick low clouds. The forecast said to expect more of the same, with some chance of partial clearing yielding marginal soaring conditions. All gliders were gridded for a launch to the southwest. Crews had to deal with wet wings due to occasional light rain showers (pro tip: fastest way to dry glider wings starts with a squeegee to remove most water – and every car is equipped with two of high quality: they are known as windshield wipers).
Breaks in the clouds produced moderate optimism and the Club Class launch got underway. The “clubbies” launch first every day, on the theory that they are light (no waterballast allowed) and so best able to deal with early, weak lift. (Pilots in the other two classes view them as the “sniffer class”.) A major struggle ensued. The first problem was a crosswind that made takeoffs challenging and produced several interesting groundloops. Those who got into the air had to fight to stay there against wind, low cloudbases and weak lift. A good number had to land and take a second (or third) launch.
It was looking like the best that the best pilots in the world could expect to achieve was simply to stay aloft – to attempt cross-country flight would surely lead to 100% outlandings, at distances well short of the minimum for a valid contest day. The final straw was an area of moderate rain bearing down on the field. In the face of this, tasks for all classes were cancelled. The rain arrived and soaked everyone, but we were glad to be dealing with this at home and not in a random collection of Lithuanian fields.
I’ve mentioned the airfield hangar, where morning pilot briefings take place. This is a giant structure, roughly 50 meters wide and 60 meters deep (so approximately 165 x 195 ft). It can hold a number of gliders and towplanes that’s difficult to count. To get some idea of the scale, note that 15 Blanik fuselages hang from the rafters, and don’t command much attention there.
Those rafters are themselves impressive. They span 25 meters, and each contains roughly 30 tons of concrete. The roof (made of thick concrete panels about 6 x 3 meters) is supported by 20 of these. It must have taken a very serious crane to erect all this.
The hangar does more than shelter aircraft and host pilot meetings. This evening it was the scene of a concert by a classical music group consisting of an energetic conductor, about 10 violins, 4 cellos, one bass, a virtuoso accordion player (!), and a first-rate mezzo soprano. The quality of their performance went far beyond what glider pilots deserve or typically get, and was appreciated by all in the large audience. I’d call it the best musical performance at any WGC event I’ve ever attended (though I’ll happily put the music at the final banquet for the 2008 Luesse (Germany) WGC contest in contention for this award.