A much better day today, featuring less smoke, more cumulus clouds, and tasks over mostly friendly terrain. Conditions never reached “booming”, and the day ended a bit early with easterly winds (an event welcomed by few glider pilots anywhere). But everyone got home, speeds were generally good, and it was unanimously agreed to be a big improvement over yesterday.
Sarah had another good Standard Class result, featuring a strong first leg, some difficulty on the second, and then a solid run around the northern turn area and home. The result was a speed of 113 kph, good for second place and 985 points – an excellent result for a day when not everything goes right.
In Club Class, Kathy and Sylvia responded to the forecast of an early end to the soaring day with a decision to leave early, with the idea of finishing easily while competitors struggled to get home in deteriorating weather. This was just the plan they used yesterday, when for much of the task it was looking like it was working – until the task was cancelled, relieving their competitors of the burden of trying to finish as soaring conditions collapsed. Today, the hard end to the good weather didn’t happen, so their early start did not produce great scores.
Many US Team fans have been watching online tracking that allows them to follow the races live (or nearly so). The best – in terms of presentation, accuracy and full coverage – uses cell-based trackers maintained by the GFA (Gliding Federation of Australia). Each pilot carries one of these each day, and the quality of the display (including terrain) is first rate. (Much of the credit for this goes to Jacques Graells – a keen soaring pilot who is somewhat unusual in that he speaks Australian with a strong French accent.)
Following a race via this tracking requires some care. You must pay attention not just to the position of gliders, but also to their altitudes: a glider further along its track but lower may – in terms of the race – be behind one that’s further back but higher. You must also be sensitive to the fact that tracking may be intermittent: sometimes a glider appears to stay in one position for a long time, only to jump ahead suddenly. Though positions ought to update every few seconds, sometimes they fail to do so for minutes at a time.
For us here at the contest site, the only drawback to GFA tracking is that its display is delayed 15 minutes (until each race is nearly done, when the delay progressively decreases to zero). In World-level contests it’s fully legal to radio tactical information to pilots, and to do a good job of that you want real-time information about exactly where pilots are and how they are doing.
For that purpose, much use is made of “Flarm”. A Flarm is an anti-collision device, required to be carried by each glider in this contest. It transmits the current and projected position of its glider, and receives such transmissions from all nearby gliders. Running this information through some clever computations allows it to alert pilots to potential and imminent collision risks. But these signals can also be received on the ground (typically, at much greater distances, due to the use of high-gain antennas) and used to track gliders in real time.
This is welcome because it allows folks on the ground to keep track of their friends in the air, and because it improves safely by keeping gliders “found”. It’s controversial because it seems likely to replace pilot skill with ground-based data processing. Until recently, all WGC pilots were required to “opt-in” to ground-based tracking, but it became clear that this was changing the sport in fundamental ways. Opt-in is no longer required, which sounds like an improvement until you realize that with sufficient budget and manpower it’s not difficult to track all gliders, whether they choose to opt in or out – which means that some teams have valuable information that others do not.
After all gliders had landed this evening, the airfield was the scene of a truly remarkable event: rain! Cumulus cloud buildups were observed to the east through much of the afternoon; around 7pm they made their way to Lake Keepit and actually produced real rain. A rainbow was spotted. To be sure, it lasted only a few minutes, and probably will have no measurable effect on the drought. But it was enough to settle the dust for perhaps 30 minutes, and certainly attracted everyone’s full attention. When have you last seen contest glider pilots standing around watching rain falling with rapt attention and even enthusiasm?