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Southwest Soaring Challenge 2001, Region 10 Soaring Championships


By Steve Leonard


After the fun time Ray Sharp and I had at Hobbs, we decided to sort of stick around and fly in the Region 10 Contest to be held at Lubbock, Texas, from July 23-28. I say sort of, because there was a week between the contest at Hobbs and the one at Lubbock. Rather than bring the Zuni back to Kansas and take it back to Texas (only about 150 road miles short of Hobbs, which is about 600 road miles from Wichita), we were able to leave the Zuni in a hangar on the former Reese Air Force Base. This storage site was arranged for by the sponsors of the contests, The National Soaring Foundation.

One of the really neat things about soaring is that it seems to be able to move in and help occupy large airports after the military has decided they are not needed. Sunflower is an excellent example. Through the generosity of Bill Seed, we have a very nice airport to operate from. The only thing he asks is that we help take care of it. Hobbs is another fine example. A huge airport that was abandoned by the military and is now in use primarily as a soaring site. A few years ago, the US Air Force shut down its training operation at Reese AFB. This airport has now been taken over by the city of Lubbock and converted into Reese Center. It is a huge complex with training and research facilities, and three really big honking runways! There are three North-South runways, two of which are useable for airplane traffic (the third is where the police test new vehicles for straightline speed and maneuverability), and an East-West runway. The E-W runway is the shortest at 6,500 feet. The longest of the N-S runways is 13,000 feet! That is almost twice as long as our strip at Sunflower. Just think of the auto tow possibilities!

After a week in Wichita working (to try and get money to pay the bills) and fixing problems with the van (starter, water pump, etc), Ray and I returned to Lubbock for yet another week of contest flying. It was kind of odd flying from a place that just a few years ago, you had been told “stay the heck away from there!” But, it was West Texas, and the forecast was good, so our hopes remained high. Sunday was a Practice Day for both the pilots and the contest organizers. The primary people running the contest have done this many times before, but there were some new people and this was a new site. There were a few very minor glitches, but everything went very smoothly. The 15 meter class was assigned a Modified Assigned Task of Bledsoe (37.4 miles) to O’Donnell (82.2 miles), then wherever you wanted and home, with two hours as the minimum time. I picked up one extra turnpoint on the way home and flew about 170 miles total at about 72 MPH. Not too bad a flight, but the fastest guy flew about 80 MPH. I could see that this was not going to be an easy place to win.

The first contest day saw us being assigned a task west to Crossroads (64 miles), back southeast to O’Donnell (94.7 miles), and home for a total distance of 203.4 miles. I was hoping that I could draw on my experience from the previous contest at Hobbs and better my flying and final position. There were only 8 people flying in 15 meter, and I was going to try hard to get a Top 5 placing. That way, I could get the Zuni listed in SOARING again. And it would be even better if I could have a hot, new ship listed below me. So, I really wanted fourth place or better. Would this be my contest? I would know in a week.

Things started out, OK, or so I thought. I got a good thermal near the edge of the start cylinder, and was climbing towards the top when the task open time was announced. You cannot start on course until the task is opened, and I was in a good thermal, less than 500 feet from the top of the cylinder with one minute to go and climbing at close to 800 feet per minute. I had to stay below the top of the cylinder, so when I got to about 300 feet below the top, I leveled off and started to accelerate. I was holding on at about 90 knots when the task opened. I made one more turn and pulled up out the top of the start cylinder. Of course, the thermal immediately died. Oh, well. It was looking like a tough day, as there was a bit of over- development towards the first turn, so I set sail. Things went pretty good to the turn and for the first 10 miles out. I got caught by John Seaborn, who started about 10 minutes after I did when leaving the turnpoint.

I flew with him for a while and then did my best possible imitation of an Olympic hi-dive artist. I heard this “Booiinngg!” noise as I started a long glide into the middle of nowhere. I got to about 1800 AGL near a small oil drilling/storage tank site. There were dust devils, but I could not find the lift. I spent what seemed an eternity before I finally got up and going again. As I rounded the last turn, I heard John Seaborn calling in “Four Miles Out”. Oh, well, I was still about 50 miles out. I had an uneventful trip home and ended up fifth for the day with a speed of 66.4 MPH. Bob Macys flying a Ventus 2 won the day with 75.65 MPH. John Seaborn was second with 74.99.

One day, one mistake. I had not started off good, but Tuesday was a new day. We were given another assigned task, north 62.5 miles to Dimmitt, then 130 miles back to the south to Lamesa, and home for a total of 249.24 miles. This, I was hoping, would be my day to shine. A nice, long, flat triangle that was aligned with the wind. Maybe a little cloud street running, and I could catch a couple of these guys. Again, I was able to get a nice, fast exit from the start cylinder. I would like to think it was my ability, but I do not place the thermals at the edge of the cylinder. I just stumble into them and use them! The run to Dimmitt went pretty fast and guess who I meet there? Yep, John Seaborn. We both push pretty hard going back into the wind. Climb fast, glide fast. There has not been much in the way of streeting and the sink in between clouds has been pretty impressive. We are covering ground quickly and are back within about 30 miles of Reese.

John and I come under a cloud that must surely have the thermal we are looking for. John heads towards one side, while I keep an eye on him and check out the other side. I don’t find anything and it looks like he hasn’t either. Guess what? Booiinngg! Off I go again. Right off the high board. And just after I look away from John, he hit The Thermal. Today, I decided to do better than yesterday. Yesterday, I just dug a hole that took a while to get out of. Today, I dug a 30-mile long trench! It took me 30 miles of scratch back to 2500-3000 AGL, glide down to 1800. Climb at 2 knots (when before, I had been climbing at 6-8 knots) back to 2500 feet and loose the thermal. Glide down to 1500 feet, then climb at 1.5 knots. Certainly not going to win flying like this, old chap!

But, I was able to get out of “Ditch-Witch” mode, and got back to soaring. Once I got high and cooled off, the decisions were much easier and the progress went back to rapid. Other than the bad stretch in the middle of the course, I pretty well kept up with the others. I managed sixth place for the day and 72.7 MPH. My buddy John won the day with 87 MPH. Two days, two mistakes.

Wednesday looked like a fun day. We were assigned a 3 hour Modified Assigned Task with turnpoints at Littlefield (21.8 miles) and Denver City (72 miles), then where you wanted. The first leg was a blast. It was under a cloudstreet, downwind. I averaged close to 120 MPH on that leg! Heck of a way to start the day! The run down to Denver City was not so good. I had problems about 20 miles north of Denver City at Plains. I got down to about 1800 AGL and scratched for a while. I got high enough to go on in to the turnpoint and decided that the Denver City area is weak if you were flying from Hobbs (which was now only 25 miles away), but things got better as you went west. So I did. And they didn’t. The thermals may have gone higher, but they seemed to be weaker and harder to work.

I struggled to a turnpoint called Abandoned (maybe I should have taken the hint and not gone there?), then back to Plains. By now, my frustration level was quite high. But I remembered that things got better the past two days as you went east. So, off I went. And sure enough, things did get better. Enough so that I decided to stay out a while longer and try and recover from my earlier blunder of going into the weaker area. When I got home this day, I had flown 262.7 miles at 73.75 MPH. Good enough for another sixth place and holding on to sixth place overall. Who won today? Again, my buddy, John Seaborn. He figured out much sooner than I that it was better to the east. He left Denver City and went straight to the good stuff. He flew just over 282 miles at 91 MPH! Three days, three mistakes. But at least this time, I learned a lesson.

Thursday was another 3 hour MAT with turnpoints at Lamesa (51.8 miles) and Brownfield (34 miles), leaving you south and a bit west of home to start the part of the flight that you choose. And since the wind was from the southeast, I chose to go northwest to Morton, as it was right on down the cloudstreet. Morton is about 40 miles west and a bit north of Reese. Remember how I had just learned that I should stay to the east if I wanted to do good? And where did I just go? And what do you think happened?

Yep, but this time, I got down to about 1200 feet and started to dump the water. A field landing was about to happen when I brushed a thermal. This was another of those wonderful soaring experiences. You have been under good clouds all day. You push just a bit and miss the thermal under your cloud. So you push on to the next one. It dissipates before you get there. Next thing you know, you are under 2000 feet, and in the middle of a 15 mile diameter blue hole! Oh, to just have a positive climb rate all the way around! I finally get back up and complete the 23 mile leg from Morton to Levelland in just over 50 minutes! I sure am a slow learner, aren’t I?

I once again remember that things are better to the south and east and go back there to finish off the day. Sixth place again, this time with 66.3 MPH. John Seaborn and Bob Macys tie for first with 83.5 MPH. Four days, four mistakes. Each one, a bit closer to a landout than the day before. I have got to reverse this trend.

Friday’s task was cancelled during the launch as thunderstorms were developing everywhere. We could possibly have gotten in a task, but it would have been very dicey. We all would have been getting back about the time a big outflow from a line of thunderstorms hit the airport. Most of the ships had been put in their trailers and those that were out just got a bit dust blasted. Hopefully, Saturday (the last scheduled contest day) would not bring more of the same. I was in sixth place and really wanted a top 5.

Saturday’s forecast was very similar to Friday’s with forecast showers by mid afternoon. Things seemed to be cooking off a bit slower, so it looked like we had a good shot at having a fun day. 15 Meter was assigned a 2 hour MAT with turns at Hart (48.5 miles) and Muleshoe (33 miles) before you coming home. The day started fairly weak and I was not able to get within 1000 feet of the top of the start cylinder. On a day with 200 ft per minute climbs, this meant you were giving up 5 minutes to the person that found his way to the top of the cylinder. Being a competitive sort, I could not let this happen. I scratched around until I just couldn’t get any higher (and about 10-15 minutes after almost everyone else had left) before heading out 500 feet below the top of the cylinder.

The run up to Hart was not too bad. About half the lift strength we had seen previously, but fairly consistent. I rounded Hart and turned toward Muleshoe and saw the first problem. It was starting to overdevelop big time between Hart and home, with a little bit happening between Hart and Muleshoe. There was a bit of a gap to cross before getting to the clouds and the soon to be showers near Muleshoe. I was able to contact the lift and had a pretty good climb and run into Muleshoe. Straight back to Reese was completely blocked by rain and thunderstorms. I could try and go south and maybe find a way around the back side of the storms and still get home.

I headed a bit closer to the storms and got a turnpoint called Sudan, where I met up with one of the other 15 meter ships. We ran south to a point about 30 miles west of Reese. We both thought we could get high enough to make a long, flat glide back to home. But it would be on the back side of one storm and maybe the front side of another. My computer said I could make it home, with half of my standard 1000 foot pad. Good enough for me, so off I went.

The glide of a modern 15 meter sailplane is really something spectacular. You can see in the direction you are going, but you may not be able to see where you are going to land if you have much altitude and the visibility is less than 30 miles. My buddy and I started our glides about 30 miles out and needing to make good about 25:1 to get home. No problem, right? The Zuni is about 38:1. My buddy was flying a 42:1 ship. A later comparison of the GPS tacks shows we were gliding at almost identical speed, making good the same glide ratio, until I found a small shower. In 3 minutes time, I went from on slope, to 1000 feet below slope. Six miles out, and with the runways in sight but with only 600 feet of altitude, I called it quits and landed in a nice field. My buddy hit just a bit of lift, and made it home. I ended up sixth again for the day, and sixth overall for this contest. Ray Sharp, Bob Leonard, K.C. Alexander, and Al Alexander all came out to help retrieve me. Thanks again, guys.

Five days, five mistakes. Every day, I got a little closer to landing out. The last day, I finally did it. Maybe next year I can fly a complete contest without any majors mistakes.



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