My Soaring Goals for 2022 – Plus: How To Set Your Own

Rigging my Ventus 2cxT, Victor One, for new soaring adventures in 2022.

I made good progress against my soaring goals for 2021, so I want to continue to raise the bar for the coming year.

So without further ado, here are my objectives for 2022.  If you’re interested in setting your own soaring goals, I have included some additional considerations at the bottom that you may find helpful.

1. Stay Safe by always heeding my own advice.

This goal remains unchanged.  Flying safely is essential and the pre-requisite for anything else.  Pilots often let their safety margins erode as they gain experience.  I am now at about 800 hours and I know that I must not let that happen. Progress against this goal can be hard to measure.  Here are the metrics I intend to use:

      • Zero accidents (no damage)
      • Zero near misses or other incidents (i.e., almost accidents)
      • Zero violations of personal minima and zero “99% safe” maneuvers (e.g. low safe attempt below personal minimum)
      • Zero flights where a safe outcome depends entirely on Plan A working as hoped (i.e. I must have a viable and safe Plan B/C at all times; the alternative plan must include a known safe place to land at all times)
      • Zero takeoffs without a clear pre-defined emergency plan specific to the airport and conditions of the day

These metrics may not be exactly right for you.  If you want to set your own, I suggest you read this article and consider where you might be most vulnerable.

2. Continue to Improve My Soaring Skills

I will continue to focus on the metrics that matter most to performance soaring.   I will seek to measure my performance by comparing it to other pilots flying on the same day in the same airmass. I will use the median and best performance of the day as benchmarks.  However, my objective is to make gradual improvements against my own past performance rather than try to achieve specific absolute performance numbers or rankings.

      • Continuously improve netto in cruise flight relative to others (performance goal).  To do this I will focus on the following process goals:

        • Develop habit of pro-active S-turn exploration along energy lines to find and follow the best lift lines; rely less on assumptions based on prior experience, and more on empirical evidence of the day.  (This is to reset some assumptions which have proven incorrect.)
        • Increase ability of using the strongest lift by flying faster/lower below relatively weak segments of strong streets.  The strongest indicator of flying too high is when the use of spoilers becomes necessary to prevent climbing into regulated airspace or getting sucked into clouds.  Minimize these situations as much as possible.
      • Continuously improve my climb rates relative to others (performance goal). To do this I will focus on the following process goals:

        • Thermal at least 50% to the left until my performance gap versus right hand turns is closed.
        • Avoid excessive thermalling speeds to achieve average thermal orbit times of <30 seconds ballasted and <25 seconds dry.
        • Avoid weak climbs after the start of tasks whenever safely possible, especially during the strong hours of the day.  Metric: less than ~25% of thermalling time (after task start) should be in climbs that are less than 50% of the average climb rate for the day. (E.g.: if the average climb rate for the day is 4 kts, and the total thermaling time after task start is 60 minutes, then fewer than 15 minutes (25% of 60 minutes) should be in thermals < 2 kts).  Accomplish this by:
          • Deliberately choosing the best height band
          • Down-shifting when appropriate to reduce probability of having to take a weak climb ahead
          • Avoiding full circles in thermaling attempts when the probability of having found an acceptable climb is low.  In this case, turn back on course after the first 90 degrees of turning.
        • Be more precise at thermal exits.  In particular, complete the last turn in each thermal towards the desired heading at thermaling speed before beginning to accelerate towards cruise speed.

3. Flight Achievement Goals

I will apply these skills towards attaining a set of specific flight objectives. I am more interested in completing interesting and challenging flights than in competing in set competition tasks.  Because specific flight objectives are necessarily subject to suitable weather conditions I will not limit myself to a few specific goals but continue to take a portfolio approach.  I.e.,  I will aim to accomplish at least five of the following objectives:

    • Distance Objectives:

      • Complete a 1000 km Diplome flight (a pre-declared 1000km flight with up to three turn-points).
      • Complete a return flight from Boulder to the border of one of the following states: New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, or Arizona.
      • Achieve a border to border flight from Boulder to New Mexico and Wyoming, and back to Boulder.  As a stretch goal, accomplish this as part of a pre-declared 1000 km flight.
      • Circumnavigate the Denver Class B airspace from Boulder.
      • Fly from Boulder to either Nephi, UT or Moriarty, NM and back to Boulder on the following day.
      • Bag some some of my eleven missing 14ers (Culebra Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range; 10 southern-most peaks in the San Juan Mountains)
      • Break one or more Colorado Open Class Distance Records.
      • Finish the year among the 50 highest ranked pilots on OLC plus worldwide (and among the 10 highest ranked in the USA) for the 2022 season (In 2021 I was at #72 worldwide and at #12 for the USA).
    • Speed and Contest Objectives:

      • Break one or more Colorado Open Class Speed Records
      • When flying on Speed-League Weekends from Boulder, score among the top three Boulder pilots at least 75% of the time.
      • If flying in soaring contests, finish among the top 50% of a Nationals or among the top 33% of a Regional contest.  (I am currently considering entries in the 18m Nationals in Lancaster, SC (5/8-5/18); Sports Class Nationals in Reedsville, PA (5/20-5/31), and Open Class Nationals in Hobbs, NM (6/21-7/2).  However, I have yet to decide whether to enroll in any of them.)
      • Finish the year among the 50 highest ranked pilots in the OLC Speed League worldwide (and among the 25 highest ranked in the USA) for the 2022 season (In 2021 I was at #57 worldwide and at #29 for the USA).

4. Giving Back

Just like last year, I will continue to put energy towards inspiring others worldwide to join our sport, to develop, excel, and stay safe.  I will do this through:

      • Writing – follow me on and on Facebook
      • Presentations and Podcast Contributions – to local, national, and international audiences
      • Videos – subscribe to my ChessInTheAir YouTubeChannel, and
      • Serving for soaring organizations such as the Soaring Society of Boulder


The following flight analysis video has been pivotal in helping me set my 2022 objectives.


Do You Want to Set Your Own Soaring Goals?

I’ve found that setting good goals for soaring can be challenging.  I have done some reading on the subject of goals for sports.  Here are a few things for you to consider.

How To Set Good Objectives?

Sport psychology suggests that our goals should not just include outcome goals (e.g. setting a record, winning a contest, etc.), but also – and especially – measurable performance goals that are pre-requisites for attaining these outcomes (e.g. achieving specific performance metrics in climbs or in cruise). Finally, performance goals can be supported by process goals that will increase the likelihood of us achieving our performance goals (e.g. flying at least x times per month or doing certain maneuvers correctly).

Outcome goals depend not just on our own performance but also on the performance of others.  They are great for long-term inspiration but are less useful when it comes to measuring our progress.  Because success heavily depends on factors outside of our control, they can also lead to frustration.

Examples for outcome goals in soaring might be: setting a particular regional, national, or world record (distance or speed); finishing among the top x% in a particular contest; finishing among the top N pilots in a particular Online Contest (e.g. Speed League; OLC Plus; Rookie Champion League, etc.)

Performance goals should be entirely within our control, which makes them most motivating.  This is particularly important for annual or nearer term goals, because they allow us to track our progress without being dependent on how others perform.

Examples for performance goals might be: not losing more than 30% or thermals you find; staying up for more than x hours; obtaining a Silver, Gold, or Diamond Badge; maintaining a bank angle in thermals of 40% or steeper; flying a particular distance in a particular time; completing a xxx km flight with a circling percentage of less than y%, etc.

Process goals can be useful because they specify what we actually must do to have a realistic chance of hitting our performance goals.

Examples for process goals might be: flying at least x times per month during the soaring season; circling in a particular direction at least 50% of the time; releasing from tow no higher than at x thousand feet; etc.

Obviously the goals you set for yourself should be appropriate for your ambition, skills, experience, currency, equipment, as well as the local soaring conditions.  Completing a Silver Badge in a 1-26 in east coast conditions is probably harder than obtaining a Gold Badge from Boulder in one of SSB’s club Discus gliders.  The most typical advice is to set goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  But be careful to not make them too easy yo not limit yourself unnecessarily.

Your process goals should be set in a way that help you achieve your performance goals; and your performance goals should be set in a way to help you achieve any outcome goals that you may have for yourself.

Here are a few additional good tips from a sport psychologist.

Setting Good Performance Goals For Soaring Can Be Complicated

Many sport psychologists recommend that we should primarily focus on performance goals. This makes sense because they are most motivating, progress is easy to track, and we have a high degree of control whether we achieve them.

However, as soon as we start to work on specific performance goals for soaring we notice that setting such goals can be difficult. Our performance simply does just not solely depend on us.  Unlike in many other sports, it relies very heavily on the environmental conditions that we are operating in.

E.g., it makes little sense to set a goal of achieving thermal climb rates of more than 4 kts on average, simply because there is no way of knowing whether 4 kts is a worthy goal.  It totally depends on the day. If we were to set such a goal we might opt to only fly on very strong days when achieving it is relatively easy.   That would obviously defeat the purpose of our training.  The same is true for such goals as average speed, average flight distance, and many other potential metrics.

Because of these challenges, my performance goals include metrics that measure my performance in relation to others. This isn’t ideal but it’s the best I could come up with.  However, I have tried hard to define them in ways that keep the results mostly within my control.

The Role of Safety in Goal Setting

When it comes to setting soaring goals, safety is another complication.  Soaring is dangerous (although it does not have to be so dangerous) and we want out goals to be challenging.  Pursuing challenging goals requires us to take sporting risks because soaring is not just a game of skill but also a game of chance.  (See Daniel Sazhin and John Bird’s article, “Soaring is Risky Business!“)  But while sporting risks are acceptable, safety risks must never be.  And this requires us to understand the complex relationship between sporting risks and safety risks in soaring.

You can see in my goals that I dealt with this complication by making “Staying Safe” the first of my goals along with specific metrics allowing me to keep track.  It is simply not acceptable to me to take safety risks in the pursuit of sporting risks.  Fortunately I have shown that taking safety risks does not increase the chance of sporting success.  In fact taking safety risks often reduces the chance of sporting success.

The Role of Intuition

Performance soaring is not just a science but also an art. Past experience shapes our imagination and helps us anticipate what lies ahead.  Sometimes we just know where to go even if we are hard-pressed to explain our thoughts.

This means performance improvements do not just come from our conscious focus on technique, but also from our subconscious intuition.  The best performance can often be achieved when we reach a flow state where decisions become increasingly intuitive. 

So, if you set your own goals, I believe that it is perfectly sufficient for our goals to be directionally correct rather than overly prescriptive. Be careful not to set goals that focus too much on the leaves of the trees rather than the forest.  It’s more the holistic experience  than specific techniques that allows you to develop your intuition and imagination.  Both aspects are important!

Have a fun and rewarding soaring season in 2022!

My 2021 “Soaring Performance Review” – How Did I Do?

Faster. Farther. Smarter.  Most of us want to become better and safer glider pilots.  But how?  I made it a practice to set specific goals for the coming year so I can monitor and track my progress.  As the year draws to a close it’s now time to review how I did against the Soaring Goals I had set myself for 2021. There’s a lot of ground to cover, literally and metaphorically.

Map showing all my soaring flights in 2021. I flew more than 26,540 cross-country kilometers from five different locations: Boulder, CO; Salida, CO; Nephi, UT; Montague, CA; and Albert Lea, MN.

Goal #1:  Stay Safe

… by always heeding my own advice.

Progress against this goal is hard to measure.  But the goal is essential and success is a pre-requisite for anything else.  So here’s my assessment.  I was 291 hours in the air and flew a total cross-country distance of more than 26,540 km without accidents or incidents so I suppose this has to count for something.  I also can’t recall any seriously scary moments.  There were definitely a few sketchy situations, e.g. during this flight in Nephi at 58:30, and also during this flight at 11:30. However, I don’t think that I was ever in a truly dangerous spot without a realistic and safe Plan B.  At the contests in Montague and Nephi there were two or three instances were other gliders got closer than I would have liked.  I have a lot of respect for big gaggles and don’t really like them.  However, I can’t recall any real near misses, hazardous takeoffs, or precarious landings.  On several occasions, I got close to my personal limits (e.g. during this flight at 3:50 and 25:00, and 44:03) but I never crossed my own red line.  Going forward it will be important to stick to my margins and not let them erode.

The following video shows a flight over the desert in highly dynamic weather conditions during the 18m Nationals in Nephi, UT.   It was one of those flights where a lot of judgement is required to stay out of trouble.

2. Improve Specific Flying Skills

In particular: improve netto in cruise, use more of the available altitude band, and work on precision thermalling skills.

In 2021 I participated in the 18m U.S. Nationals Soaring Contest in Nephi.  This means I now have some great data to benchmark myself again.  Compared to the very best U.S. pilots I still have a lot of room for improvement in all these areas.  The following data are based on a detailed analysis of all eight contest days. They only include data from pilots who finished each race, hence the average is inherently skewed towards the best pilots.  (Note: I performed this analysis with the help of the excellent tool IGC Spy. I uploaded all contest flights to IGC Spy and then copied data from IGC Spy into a spreadsheet for more detailed analysis.)

    • Netto in cruise.  My netto values were better than those of the average contest finisher on only two of the six contest days and worse on the other six days.  In aggregate across all eight contest days, my netto value in cruise was 0.2 kts worse than that of the median score among all contest finishers.  0.2 kts doesn’t sound like much but when you fly straight 90% of the time, it is equivalent to underperforming in climbs by almost 2 kts.  When conditions are strong, netto is the single biggest contributor to a race outcome.  I believe that the following elements contributed to my relative underperformance.
        • (1) In Nephi I flew often too far on the upwind side of the clouds when it would have been better to stay directly below the darkest parts of the clouds.
        • (2) I did not always correctly observe and judge which lines of clouds were developing and which ones were dissolving.  I produced a detailed race analysis video of the fastest race day of the Nephi contest where this is most directly visible.
    • Altitude Band.  I am biased towards flying high because it has multiple important advantages.  TAS > IAS at altitude, and more altitude also means more choices because of a greater glide range.  However, staying high also comes at a cost.   It means I am less picky in thermal selection and I have to center more thermals.  The letter tends to result in sub-par average climb performance.  I know of this bias and I am working to reduce it.  At the Nephi contest my average height gains in thermals were less than those of the median finisher on six contest days and greater on only two contest days.  The average difference per day was less than 200 ft per climb. This isn’t all that much when cloud bases are consistently more than 10,000 ft AGL but it still results in me taking more thermals than necessary.
    • Precision Thermaling.  Next to netto, the average climb rate is the most important factor in competitive performance.  It is itself affected by many different components.  E.g., thermal selection; speed of centering; ability to remain centered throughout each climb; flying speed while orbiting; bank angle while orbiting; difference in precision for left turns vs right turns, etc.  The data from Nephi show that I have a ways to go.  My climb rates were worse than that of the median day finisher on six contest days, better on only one contest day, and at parity on one contest day.  Across all contest days my climb rate was 0.5 kts worse than that of the median finisher.  This is a big gap to close!  I identified a few key opportunities for improvement:
        • Inconsistent and too high thermalling speeds.  Remarkably, my orbiting speeds varied widely from contest day to contest day.  On a few contest days they were far too high.  Interestingly, bank angles don’t appear to be a big issue for me – in fact, my orbiting times were slightly shorter than those of other competitors despite my higher orbiting speeds – this implies tighter bank angles than average.  I.o.w., reducing my thermalling speeds while maintaining bank angles should reduce my orbit times to about 25 seconds which is appropriately tight when flying with full water ballast.
        • Inconsistent loss percentage.  On most days my altitude lost in thermals relative to the altitude gained was quite low and competitive: in the range of 3%-7%.  However, on two contest days my loss percentage was greater than 10%.  Compared to the average of all finishers my loss percentage was worse on six out of eight contest days.
        • Thermal selection.  On some days I was more tempted than other competitors to accept sub-par thermals.  This is likely a confidence issue that will improve with experience but it is something to be aware of and monitor.
        • Other factors played smaller roles.  On average I performed better in right turns than in left turns but this was not consistent for all contest days.   My loss percentage in thermals was noticeably greater in left turns than in right turns.  There was no significant difference in flying speed and orbiting times between left and right turns.

The analysis above benchmarks my performance against the median finisher of each contest day.  The magnitude of the improvement opportunity is of course even greater.  It can be shown by using each day’s winner as the benchmark instead!

The following video shows a highly detailed race analysis of the 7th race day during the 18m Nationals in Nephi.  I learned a lot just from creating this video.

Goal #3 – Speed Goals

I had no contest experience prior to 2021 so my speed goals were focused on local objectives flying from Boulder.

    • When flying on Speed League Weekends my goal was to score among the top 3 Boulder pilots 66% of the time (up from 50% in 2020).   There were 15 Speed League Weekends in 2021.  I was able to fly on 8 of them.  The other ones were either unflyable or I was travelling to or from a contest and unable to participate.  I finished among the top 3 Boulder pilots on six out of these eight weekends, i.e. 75% of the time.  This means I exceeded my goal of 66%.  (Twice I finished first, three times second and one time I finished third.  Once I finished 4th out of 11 participants, and once I decided to cut my flight short due to thunderstorms and finished 6th out of 7 participants.)
    • One of my stretch goals for the year was to break one of the Open Class Colorado Speed Records.  I made a few attempts but each was ultimately unsuccessful.

The following video shows one of my attempts to break the 500km Out and Back Colorado State Speed Record.  I got very close but ultimately failed due to two major mistakes.

Goal #4 – Distance Goals

For 2021 I defined a portfolio of distance objectives and set myself the goal to achieve at least two of them.  Here’s how I did:

    • I added another state reached from Boulder to my list with a flight to Nebraska.
    • I completed not just one but two >1000 km flights per OLC plus rules.  They were on two consecutive soaring days in August and were the longest flights by any pilot flying from Boulder during the entire year, which is particularly gratifying. One was the same as the Nebraska flight, the other one is here.
    • I also completed a declared >750km FAI triangle. TP 1 was south of Salida,  TP 2 at Yampa Valley Airport, and TP3 at near Cheyenne, Wyoming.  This was also my second 750 km Diplome flight.  In addition, the flight qualified as an Open Class Colorado State Soaring Record for Distance Up to Three TurnPoints with a distance of 468.7 miles (754 km).
    • I also added eight additional peaks to my Colorado 14er bag.  Both flights were out of Salida. On Sep 13 I reached all the 14ers in the Blanca Massif (part of the Sangre de Cristo Range), and on Sep 14 I added four peaks in the northern San Juan Mountains (Uncompahgre Peak, Mt. Sneffels, Wetterhorn Peak, and San Louis Peak).  That leaves another 11 peaks to complete the 14er challenge of flying over all 58 Colorado mountains higher than 14,000 feet.

The following video is a short and fun summary of one of my 14er flights from Salida along the Sangre de Cristo Range to the Blanca Massif.

Goal #5 – Contest Goals

I didn’t have a lot of specific objectives other than to compete in my first contests.  My plan was to fly in three contests, a goal that I accomplished.

    • At the Region 7 contest in Albert Lea, MN we only had one valid flying day as the rest of the week was completely rained out.  I thought this meant no official result but the SSA still sent me a nice medal confirming my 2nd place contest result.
    • At the 20m 2-seater Nationals in Montague, CA, I flew with my friend Bill Kaewert in his beautiful AS32 Mi.  We finished the contest in fourth place out of eight contestants – a very respectable result.  This also accomplished my stretch goal of finishing in the top 50% of a National Contest.
    • At the 18m Nationals in Nephi, UT, I finished 22nd out of 34 contestants. This was about as good as I could have hoped against a field that included a large proportion of the best US contest pilots. Several former national champions finished behind me.

Here’s another video from one of my contest flights in Nephi.  This one depicts an ultra-fast final glide that caused me to come home well below minimum time – not a great way to achieve an optimal score!

Goal #6 – Giving Back

I continued to commit a lot of time and effort towards inspiring others worldwide to join our sport, to develop, excel, and stay safe.  I did this through:

So, that’s it for now.  Next up will be my soaring goals for 2022.


Are You Thinking About Flying A Contest?

This year I flew my first three glider contests. The Region 7 contest in Albert Lea, MN.  The 20m Multi-Seat Nationals in Montague, CA. And the 18m Nationals in Nephi, UT.   While these contests are still fresh* on my mind, I want to share some things that I think every aspiring contest pilot will want to know well before they attach their glider trailer to head to their first contest site.  I learned some of these things thanks to the generous advice and coaching from highly experienced contest pilots, others through personal experience.

(*I wrote this article right after the contests and just saw that it was still in the draft folder.)

This post is intended for anyone who’s thinking about flying their first contest. I hope it helps you have a great experience!

Lauch Grid in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Right before my first ever contest flight at the Region 7 Contest. My glider, V1, is at the front of the grid.

1) Are You Ready to Fly Contests?

That’s a big question.  There’s no black and white answer and it depends in part on the type of contest, the site you’re choosing, and what you want to get out of the experience.

I thought of myself as ready only once I had completed my Diamond distance flight in 2019.  By that time I had about 300 hours in gliders. But I don’t think that earning a particular badge (Silver, Gold, or Diamond) should be the deciding factor because it makes a huge difference whether you obtain these recognitions in a 1-26 in weak east coast conditions or in one of my club’s Disci flying in Colorado.  In Boulder you can easily complete a Gold Distance flight without ever leaving the glide range of the airport, and even on my Diamond Goal flight I barely flew beyond glide range.

I think a better way to think about it is that you should be able to confidently complete pre-declared XC tasks without scaring or endangering yourself.  The length of these tasks is less important than the fact that they take you outside of glide range of your home airport and that you’re accustomed to keeping landable fields in glide. Ideally, you should have practiced such flights even when the weather is less than perfect because at contests, tasks will be called on any flyable day.

Another thing you should be good at is decision making, particularly when it comes to landing decisions.  A very high percentage of gliding accidents happen when pilots try to prolong a flight when the prudent decision is to call the flight over and land. To make this decision well you also need to have good landing skills. Practice this by treating every landing as a precision landing and take the opportunity to attend soaring camps at other sites or otherwise land away from your home airport whenever you can.  Having the confidence that you can land in a short field in cross-wind conditions is critical to actually making the decision when it is the smart thing to do.

Gaggle Flying.  That’s another thing you should practice whenever you can, even if it is just with one or two other gliders. You will be sharing the sky with more gliders than you’re used to and you must know how to thermal with others without endangering each other.  The main thing is to always keep the nose pointed at the tail of the glider in front of you (or slightly to the outside) and never to cut inside their circle.  The more gliders are in the gaggle the wider the circle gets.  Yes, this is somewhat inefficient but it is safe and safety wins.  You can always look for another thermal if it gets too crowded for comfort.  Three contests have not made me a big gaggle person and I doubt that I will ever be one.  But gaggles can be of great help especially in blue conditions where multiple gliders can sample a lot more of the sky than a single pilot.

Do you need a crew to fly contests?  Having a crew used to be considered a pre-requisite for flying contests.  This is no longer the case.  Contest organizers will help pair crew-less pilots to help each other and there will be a retrieve office to check that everyone has made it back safely by the end of the day.  However, you should recognize that flying without crew influences your decision making.  Depending on how you think, it may hold you back (e.g., if you decide to always stay in glide range of airports from where you could obtain an aero-retrieve), or it may expose you to greater safety risks (e.g. if you try to avoid a land-out at all costs even when it is unsafe to attempt a low safe).  I have flown without a dedicated crew at all my contests.  Instead, I made arrangements with other pilots to retrieve each other should it be necessary.

So, are you ready?  Only you can decide.  If you can confidently fly beyond glide range, set realistic goals for yourself, choose a beginner-friendly site with plenty of landout options, and regard your first contests primarily as a learning experience you might be there already!

2) Preparing Your Glider

Long before you go on your adventure – about two months in advance is a good target – make sure all your equipment is ready and working reliably. The long lead time will allow you to fix things that need to be addressed without getting into a time crunch at the end.  The list below isn’t intended to be comprehensive.  However, it contains specific tips for things that may be easy to overlook, whether you fly your own glider or you bring a rented one or a club ship.

a) Flarm.  Many contests require Flarm and if they don’t they should.  I would think twice about attending a contest that doesn’t.  You do have one, right? It can safe your life and that of others. Make sure it works!  The firmware must be current and the Flarm antenna (or antennae) must be appropriately installed and positioned. Read the instructions! At least one antenna must be vertical and should be centered on top of your panel as high as possible without touching the closed canopy!  A quality antenna makes a difference. There must not be any kinks in the antenna cable.  Depending on the antenna, you may need a ground plane.  Especially in gliders with a carbon fibre cockpit it is notoriously difficult to get good reception. Test your Flarm while flying with your buddies at home.  The Flarm web site offers a range analyzer.  Don’t trust it.  The best way to know if your Flarm works is to make sure others can see you on their instruments and you can see them from at least a few kilometers away (the more the better).

b) Vario.  Make sure your total energy compensation works.  If you pull on the stick and your vario beeps happily in response then it doesn’t.  You need a good vario to center thermals.

c) Oxygen.  If you go to a site where you will fly above 10,000 feet you should have a working O2 system.  You’re in a contest and you need your brain to be firing on all cylinders! You can test it at lower altitudes as well.

d) Relief system.  Have one and use it regularly. Don’t make your first contest the place to figure it out. In general, try to minimize the number of things you’ll do for the first time when you fly a contest.  Enough things will be new to you already.

e) Tow-out gear.  You may be used to just pushing your glider onto the runway without a lot of extra equipment.  That will not work at the contest site!  You need a good tail dolly, a good wing dolly, and a tow-out bar that allows you to attach the glider to your vehicle to tow it out to the runway.  All these things should be fully functional and reliable, and you should be proficient in using them.

f) Paperwork.  Don’t forget all the necessary paperwork.  Contest Registration (in the US you can register online at, your Glider Registration, Airworthiness Certificate, your pilot’s license, proof of SSA membership, proof of insurance, plus your glider’s Operating Limitations and Program Letter (for “Experimental” gliders.)

g) Batteries. Make sure you have good batteries for your avionics (and everything else).  You may need to turn on the flight computer and the radio while you’re on the grid a long time before your actual launch. Don’t run out of power before the end of your flight!  I.e., your batteries should last a long time – it’s better to replace them before you leave from home than to scramble at the contest site to find a replacement after the first practice day.  It may be hard to find one.  Ask me how I know 😉

h) Contest ID. Ideally, your contest ID should be registered. (In the US with the SSA.) If it’s not and someone else shows up with the same ID you may have to add a character to distinguish your glider.  That’s not the end of the world but a nuisance nonetheless.

i) Spare Parts and Tools.  At home you probably know someone who might just have the right tool or the correct part when you need it.  If you’re lucky, that may also be true at the contest site.  However, try to avoid relying on luck as much as possible.  That’s especially important for items that would ground your glider if they wear out, and especially if they are somewhat specific to your glider such as a correctly sized tire or tube.  In the best case you never need them and maybe you can help someone else out of their predicament.

j) Water Ballast.  If you’re going to a contest where flying ballasted is allowed, make sure your ballast system is fully functional. E.g., you need a hose and perhaps other equipment (tank? pump?) to fill the tanks; you need to be able to measure how much you put into each wing (e.g. with a flow meter). The dump valves must open and close correctly and must not leak profusely.  You should also know when to mix in antifreeze – especially in the tail tank. And you need to bring enough antifreeze for the contest.  Check those things many weeks before your contest because some things may take some time to fix – especially leaking dump valves!  Also, practice flying ballasted as much as possible in advance. It’s not particularly difficult but it takes some getting used to (your glider will behave differently!) and the first contest day is not a good time to figure it out.

3) Preparing Your Trailer

You need a reliable and fully functioning trailer.  Chances are your trailer is mostly parked at the field.  Make sure it’s ready for a big road trip.

Pulling a glider trailer from Boulder to Nephi in June 2019. I didn’t have my own glider at that time. The trailer contains a Discus CS, contest ID Sierra Golf.

Some tips:

a) Tires. Trailer tires should be replaced when they are 5 year old even if they have only 50 miles on them.  Old tires can still look great and yet they may be about to fall apart.  Many glider pilots destroyed their glider on the way to or from a contest because the tires disintegrated.  You may have to replace yours!  Check the air pressure and make sure it holds.  Also check the spare (you have one, don’t you?).

b) Tie downs.  There may be more wind than you’re used to.  Make sure you have what you need to tie down your trailer AND your glider.  At least 3 tie down anchors are required for each.  Plus the appropriate straps.  Practice at home if you’re not used to leaving trailer or glider outside.  Keep in mind that not every anchor system works in every terrain.  What will the ground be like at the contest site?  You also need a good canopy cover for the glider.

c) Rigging.  You need to know how to rig and derig the glider with whatever rigging aids you are using.  Practice at home if you don’t do this regularly. This way you’ll also notice if you’re missing some critical tools or equipment.

d) Paperwork.  The trailer must be insured and your registration must be current.

e) Hook-ups.  Test the connection between the trailer and the tow vehicle.  Do you need a plug converter for the electrical connections? Are all lights working correctly?  Is the hitch at the correct height?  Can you connect the safety chains so that they are off the ground and not too tight?  Can the trailer parking break be fully released?

f) Trailering check.  Glider stowed for transport? Is the fuselage strap still in good condition?  Is the tail boom tied down? Are the gust locks on the ailerons? Are all items in the storage compartment secured? Is the tongue weight appropriate?  (An insufficient tongue weight will make the trailer fishtail and could lead to a disaster – consider adding some weight to the front of the trailer if necessary –  e.g., a water canister)

4) Select and Study the Contest Site

An essential part of preparing for a contest is getting to know the contest site.

Unless you are quite skilled and have a lot of experience in advanced mountain soaring, then highly technical sites such as Minden or Logan are probably a poor choice for your first contest.  Sites with plenty of landing options are definitely preferable for your first contests.  I would include Nephi in that bucket provided that you have a decent amount of cross-country mountain flying experience.  It has some demanding aspect (e.g. thunderstorms, dust devils, micro-bursts, gust fronts, and the risk of high cross-winds at landing) but the valleys are wide and there is a good number of airports in the contest area. (Here’s a little video featuring a flight in somewhat rowdy Nephi weather. But it’s definitely less intimidating than Boulder.)

In any event, you must study the contest site.  This is particularly important for sites with mountains or other areas of unlandable terrain.  The best time to do this is in the off-season during the winter.  That’s also when you’re probably planning your travel for the following year anyway and when you have time to do some homework.  Here are some examples of what I did to prepare for Albert LeaMontague, and Nephi.

Custom Task Area Map to help me prepare for flying in Nephi, UT.

Things you can study well in advance:

a) What’s the typical soaring weather at the time of year at the site where you’re going?  Look at the flight traces of past contests at the site at the same time of year.  (You can find them on OLC or on the SSA members web site under Contest Results and Reports.) How many days were flyable?  What was the thermal strength? What were the typical distances flown?  What was the height of the lift?  What was the lift band that contestants used?  What was the strength and direction of the wind?  What is typical?

b) What are the landout conditions at the site at the time of the contest?  Where are the airports in the contest area? Are there farm fields that could be used?  Is the terrain flat or hilly?  What are the crops that farmers plant in this area?  How tall will the crops be at the time of the contest?  What’s the typical size of fields in the area? Roughly what percent of farmers’ fields will be landable?

c) Download the waypoint file that is provided by the organizers.  Take a close look, especially to find out whether the airports marked in the waypoint file are truly landable with your glider and your experience.  There’s nothing worse than relying on an airport as a landout location, only to find that the runway is 15m wide but you are flying an 18m ship and landing there will result in a certain wreckage.  From studying waypoint files at several contest sites I can say that they must not be relied upon!

d) If the contest site is in challenging terrain, study it closely so you get to know your turf.  Know which areas are truly unlandable and figure out how high you need to be in those areas to keep a safe landing site in glide, especially in adverse conditions.  If there are terrain traps (e.g. high terrain that could get between you and a landable area), know where they are!

e) Study flight traces from past contests for typical lift lines (e.g. convergence, ridge lift, etc.)   Are they aligned with the wind or do they follow particular terrain features?  Are different air masses characteristic for the area (e.g. sea breeze, sheer lines, etc.) Try to learn about typical weather hazards and how to recognize them early.  Pilot comments on OLC/WeGlide or blog posts of pilots at past contests can be extremely insightful. Here’s a great example from Dave Nadler at Montague. See if you can find something like it for the site you’re going to.

f) Study the airport and landing areas.   At contests, multiple gliders are often landing at the same time.  What are the landing options if the main runway is busy?  Program all needed contest frequencies into your radio including CTAF, contest frequency, and AWOS.  Bring a handheld radio if you have one.  It’s nice to be able to monitor two different frequencies at once (e.g. listen to AWOS before landing while also monitoring air traffic).

g) Fly the task area in Condor if you have it.  Condor is a great way to familiarize yourself with new terrain.  I practiced extensively before flying in Nephi and Montague, both of which are technical mountain sites with several mountain ranges and long transitions over unlandable areas.  When I finally travelled to the site in real life, the entire terrain was already familiar to me, which greatly facilitated navigation and allowed me to concentrate on other aspects of competing.

5) Be Familiar With Contest Tasks

OLC (or WeGlide) flying is fun and helps you find lift lines and fly faster.  But it is not sufficient preparation for contests because you really need to be familiar with the types of tasks that are typically used at contests.  The good thing is that you only need to learn this once and then make sure that you update your knowledge with any rule changes that may have come out since your last contest.

It is critical to be familiar with the types of tasks that may be called at the contest you’re attending and how those tasks are scored. This screenshot is just an illustration from the US rules for Turn Area Tasks, the most frequently used form of tasks in the US. FAI Assigned Area Tasks (for those flying outside of the US) are basically the same thing except that start and finish may be different.

If you’re in the U.S. and your first contest is a regional event, chances are that (only) US rules apply.   You can find them on the SSA website.  US rules are quite a bit different from FAI rules that govern glider racing in all other parts of the world.  At US Regionals, tasks can be one of the following types.  (If you fly outside the US, familiarize yourself with the FAI rules and any modifications thereof that may apply specifically at your contest site.  If you attend a US Nationals, this will not be your first contest.  US Nationals use a hybrid of US and FAI rules and the exact rules may change from year to year so I won’t discuss them here.)

a) Turn Area Task – TAT.   At US contests expect the majority of tasks to be Turn Area Tasks (also known as Assigned Area Tasks – AAT).  TATs consist of a Start Cylinder (with a maximum start altitude and a radius of 5 statute mile), any number of given Turn Cylinders (which specifically defined radii for each one), and a Finish Cylinder (with a minimum finish altitude and a radius of usually 2 statute miles).  TATs also always have a pre-defined minimum task time.  The winner is the pilot who achieves the fastest average speed around the task.

This doesn’t sound too hard but there are a lot of things to consider when flying a TAT and practice is essential to figure it all out and achieve a good speed.   E.g., pilots who just go to the edge of each turn cylinder are likely to finish well below the minimum time. In this case their average speed will be calculated as if they had flown the minimum time, and this will obviously hurt their score.  Pilots who fly deep into each cylinder and finish with a lot of overtime also tend to be at a disadvantage because they are less effective in converting the altitude difference between start and finish into speed than a pilot who finishes just a little bit over minimum time.  There are also a lot of other tactical decisions to make: which turn areas to go into deep, and which to only “nick”; how to align the course line to best coincide with energy lines (e.g. convergence, ridge lines or cloud streets); how to decide where to turn based on the wind direction in each turn cylinder; how to make use of the best time of the day to fly the task; how to get an optimal start; how to best manage the final glide; etc.  If you’ve never flown a TAT before you might be overwhelmed by all the choices and how to make the right decisions.

My advice is to practice at least 3-5 TATs at home before you get to your first contest.  And if you use Condor, practice TAT’s in the off-season on the simulator.

b) Assigned Task (aka Racing Task).  This is the most straightforward task type because there is a set course with a number of pre-defined turnpoints, similar to a badge or record task. Whoever flies around the fastest wins the race.  Contests Start and Finish are cylinders just like for TATs.  Turnpoints are cylinders with a radius of 1 statute mile, and pilots will get credit for the actual distance that they fly into a turn cylinder (this is different from non-US contests where turn cylinders are smaller and no credit is given for flying into them).  However, while Assigned Tasks are easy to understand and provide the sense of a “real race”, they are not all that often used at U.S. contests.  In the U.S., they tend to be only used at Nationals where pilots have a similar skill level and everyone flies similarly performing gliders (e.g., 15m or 18m class).  If glider performance and/or pilot skill varies significantly, Assigned Tasks tend not be used because either the task is so short that the fastest pilots will complete it very quickly leaving a lot of the soaring day unused, or, it is so long, that the slower pilots will inevitably land out. (In either case a number of participants are bound to be unhappy.)

c) Modified Assigned Tasks (MATs).  This is a hybrid task form that is only used in the United States and has some similarities to free OLC flying.  It is often used when the soaring conditions are weak and/or difficult to predict.  Start and Finish are the same as for all types of tasks.  Turnpoints are small cylinders with a radius of 1 statute mile just like in the case of Assigned Tasks.  There is a minimum task time just like in the case of Turn Area Tasks.  However, everything else can be defined by the Contest Director.  E.g., in the minimalist case, the contest director may only define a Start and a Finish and leave it to each individual pilot to declare a sequence of turnpoints from the pre-defined list in the published waypoint file.  These turnpoints don’t even have to be pre-declared. Instead, pilots may simply choose to fly to certain turnpoints during the race and then submit a declaration form (after the flight) where they note down which turnpoints they actually flew to.  (This means, pilots must keep track of their turnpoints during the flight.) This is also called a “Pilot Selected Task”.  It is similar to free OLC flying except that turnpoints have to be from a defined list (i.e. you can’t just turn anywhere you want).  Also, unlike OLC Plus, which limits the flight to six legs (i.e. 4 turnpoints between start and finish), there is a very generous number of up to 11 turnpoints between start and finish that pilots are allowed to declare. The only limitation is that pilots must not go back and forth between the same two points: there has to be another point in-between.  Going around the same triangle several times, however, is permissible.  Note, however, that the contest director may make some of the turnpoints mandatory.  E.g., a CD may require the first one, two, or three turnpoints to be achieved in order, and then leave the choice of additional turnpoints to each pilot.

If you have never flown a MAT, chances are that you will be confused at first. (I know I was.)  However, once you figure it out it isn’t as bad as it sounds.  However, you do need to practice this format before you show up at the contest site.  You can do so on your next OLC flight.  Personally, I am not a fan of MATs because they add randomness to the contest and require pilots to spend a lot of time during flight on their flight computer picking turnpoints.  But when the weather is so weak that even a TAT may not be viable they can help ensure that a valid contest day can be achieved.

6) Know Your Flight Computer

Knowing the rules of the tasks is one thing but being able to apply them during a flight is a challenge in its own right.  However, being familiar with your flight computer will come in handy on all your future flights so use your first contest as a catalyst to really become familiar with how your computer can help you.

The best flight computer is one that you’re familiar with and competently able to use. The core features are basically the same on all of them and even a free software like XC Soar or Tophat on a bright smartphone screen or e-reader will work just fine for flying contests. The most sophisticated features do nothing for you if you don’t know exactly how they work or what they are trying to tell you. I have been using an Oudie IGC (pictured), which has a reasonably bright screen, a large battery, and a built-in IGC approved flight recorder that is valid for badge and record flights. I like that I can take it with me when I’m traveling to fly rented gliders in other parts of the world without having to learn a different software and user interface. The screen layout is highly customizable and you can see my layout which is optimized for Turn Area Tasks but works quite well for other tasks as well as OLC and Badge and Record flying. Screen brightness and readability is a key consideration. Many phones cannot be read easily in direct sunlight (which you’ll deal with most of the time).

Once you practice a little bit and know a few tricks it is much simpler than in seems at first. Here’s what I recommend:

a) Use the Right Default Settings!  When I fly at home my default settings are tailored for badge and record flights.   E.g., my default Start and Finish is a straight 0.5 km line perpendicular to the course, and the default for turn points is a 45 degree photo sector.  And I use kilometers for distance calculations so I know instantly whether a specific task meets badge and record requirements.

These settings are great for badges and records but they are a big hindrance for racing because they don’t match the racing rules.  Therefore, if you use the wrong default settings, there is a lot of manual work required to put the task into the flight computer and the chances of making a mistake are high.  If you have to make edits to a task in flight this is even more of a problem: it causes a high workload and is detrimental to safety.

Fortunately there is a better way.  Here’s how:

First, the Nav Boxes on your Flight Computer should be optimized for TAT (aka AAT) tasks since that is the most common form of task.  And if they work for TATs they will work for other types of tasks as well.  It is best to always use the same screen layout because once you’re familiar with it, finding the critical information becomes quite easy.  Here is an excellent tutorial for how to do this on an Oudie.  If you use a different flight computer, chances are there is a way to customize the screen as well.

Second, make sure that the default units are set to statute miles for distance and feet for altitude.

Third, make sure that the default settings for Tasks are tailored to the contest rules.  For US contests the default for start should be a cylinder with a 5 statute mile radius; the default for turn point should be a cylinder with a 1 statute mile radius; and the default for finish should be a cylinder with a 2 statute mile radius (unless the specific contest mandates something else.).    Most contests also use a specific minimum finish altitude.  An easy way to  make your flight computer do the appropriate final glide calculation is to create a duplicate Finish Cylinder where the altitude is set to the minimum finish height.  This way the computer will do all the calculations correctly and you don’t have to do mental math during the flight.

Also, make sure you understand how your MC setting impacts the final glide calculations.  Not understanding this will not only hurt your contest performance, it can quickly become a safety issue.  Read this article if you’re not sure.

Setting the default for turnpoints to 1 statute mile is particularly critical for Modified Assigned Tasks (MATs).  You will want to add turnpoints to your task while you’re flying with a minimum level of effort.  If you use the wrong default, you will have to manually edit the observation zone setting for each turnpoint. Not good!  However, if the default setting is correct, it only takes 2-3 seconds to enter another turnpoint.

b) Practice With Your Flight Computer Before The Contest!  The things I just described aren’t very difficult but learning how to do them during your first contest is a very bad idea.  There may be 20, 40, or even 60 other gliders in the air around you and your eyes must be outside the cockpit, not on your instruments!

By far the best way to practice is by connecting your flight computer to Condor (if possible) and to fly a few contest tasks on your computer.  If there is a Condor scenery for your actual contest task area you can recreate a few tasks from past contests.  This way you don’t just learn to use your glide computer, you also become familiar with the geography of the task area.  This is particularly useful if the contest is in mountainous terrain. If you are not familiar with Condor you really should be.  It is the best soaring simulator and a great practice tool, especially for racing!  Check here for more information.

Many (but not all) glide computers will allow you to connect them to Condor.  My Oudie IGC is among those that can’t be connected because the Oudie IGC does not accept an external GPS input signal.  However, I simply got an old Oudie 1 and set the screen to look exactly like on my Oudie IGC.  An Oudie 2 will work as well.  You may need a special cable to connect your Oudie to Condor.  You can buy one from Cumulus Soaring.

If you don’t use Condor, you must practice with your flight computer on the ground and in the air.  Ground practice is difficult but essential to get to know the Nav boxes and what they tell you.  Few pilots will have the mental bandwidth to figure it all out while flying.  Once you have sufficient familiarity with what the computer is telling you, you must do a few practice tasks in the air – ideally for each of the types of tasks you expect at the contest (i.e., Turn Area Tasks, Assigned Tasks, Modified Assigned Tasks).

7) At the Contest Site

Once you get to the contest site, there isn’t all that much time to catch up on preparations that you omitted.  Contests are run according to well-established processes and now you must fit in.

If you’re new to contest flying, you will likely be able to get a mentor assigned to you as this is part of the process as well.  Experienced pilots are usually very willing to help.  But time is limited and any shortcuts that you took in your preparations will become obvious and can lead to stupid mistakes.

At the 18m Nationals in Nephi. I’m in the cockpit. All checks are completed and I am ready to launch as soon as the gliders in front are in the air. Five tow planes are in operation and it may only take two or three minutes until it’s my turn. The gliders still have their wing dollies attached. This is to keep the wings level and the water ballast evenly distributed. The dollies are removed by the launch crew as soon as the glider reaches the front of the line.

Here are some of the things that are worth knowing in advance:

a) Arrive at the contest site before the first practice day.  Look around the airfield.  Find a good parking spot, rig your glider and tie everything down (weather permitting).  Your vehicle and your tow-out equipment (wing dolly, tail dolly, tow out bar) should already be marked with your contest ID.

b) Each day starts with a mandatory pilot meeting.  Be there on time.  There will be a review of the weather, a safety briefing, and you may (or may not) learn about the task for the day.  A grid time will be announced and you will get a grid sheet (on paper or electronically on your smart phone) that includes your location on the grid..

c) It is best if your glider is prepared and ready to go even before the pilots meeting. This way you won’t be in a rush after the meeting concludes.  Work with another pilot to complete the daily “critical assembly check” and have that person sign their initials and the date on the wing tape to visually indicate to the contest personnel that your glider has been checked and is ready.  At grid time your glider must be out next to the runway in the appropriate spot.  Grid locations are marked with the grid numbers.

d) Once you’re out on the grid you should also know the task for the day.  If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to program the task into the flight computer and make all final preparations.  Instruments should be set, oxygen (if needed) should be turned on, GPS trackers should be on, etc.   Your radio should be on and tuned to the right frequency so you can hear contest related announcements.

e) At grid time, gliders are pushed onto the runway in the appropriate order.  Once your glider is on the runway, make sure to park your crew vehicle in the appropriate parking spot (usually behind the last glider on the grid).  Your tow out equipment should be in your vehicle unless there are other arrangements (e.g. for contests that allow water ballast – in that case you will need your wing wheel until just before launch to keep the wings level).

f) Once the launch starts, speed and efficiency are imperative to ensure a quick launch.  Contests usually use multiple tow planes. The goal is to launch the entire fleet in less than one hour.  (But this does not always work so be prepared to be patient. Everyone’s trying to do their best.) This means you must be in the cockpit, have completed the takeoff checklist, and be ready to launch well before it is your turn to be hooked up to a tow plane.

g) When your time comes you are expected to be completely ready for launch. Contest staff will remove your wing dolly (if needed and still on), hook you up, the tow plane will take out slack and you will be launched immediately.  You will just be assumed to be ready.  There’s no rudder waggle or any other signal from you.  (If you’re not ready for whatever reason, release immediately and you will be pushed off the runway so the next glider can launch.  In this case you will be launched last after everyone else. )

h) Tow pilots follow a prescribed tow route towards the start cylinder and you are expected to release at a contest-specific altitude (usually around 2000 ft AGL).  The tow pilot will probably wave you off if you don’t.  The idea is that everyone has the same chance of finding lift from the same altitude.

i) If you don’t find lift you may return to land at the airport and request a “relight” (another tow).   The relight will happen after the rest of the fleet is launched.

j) After all gliders are launched, the Contest Director (CD) will announce via radio at what time the start gate for your class will open.  You will only get a valid contest start if you leave the start cylinder after that time.

k) Sometimes, when necessary due to changing weather conditions, the CD can change a task while pilots are already in the air (but before the start gate opens).   Pilots must confirm that they have heard and understood the new task parameters in a roll call led by the CD.  To affirm, pilots simply state their contest ID.  This works more smoothly than one may think.  The hardest part is that pilots must now also reprogram the task in flight.  This is the time when your prior practice with the flight computer will truly pay off.  If you know your computer and you have the correct default settings, reprogramming will only take a few seconds.  If you don’t you will be a hazard to yourself and everyone around.

Once the gate is open there are no more changes.  Now it’s up to you to fly the task.

All your preparations will be worth it.  You know the task, you know what the computer is telling you.  You know the task area and where you can land if you have to.  You remember where the typical energy lines are and which areas tend to work better than others.  You’re already somewhat familiar with the terrain and the landmarks.  You know how high you have to be before transitioning over unlandable terrain.

Now you keep your eyes out of the cockpit and concentrate on what the sky, the sun, the wind, and the terrain are telling you.  You keep track of other gliders – are they rising or sinking relative to you? What path are they choosing through the air?  Is it better or worse than your’s and why?  What adjustments should you make to your flight path? When and where do you want to climb high? When and where do you want to go fast? When is it time to switch gears (up or down)? Where should you deviate and where should you stay right on the course line?  This is fun! In fact, this is why you came to fly the contest!

I hope this has been helpful.

Maybe I’ll see you at a contest in the year ahead. 🙂

My First 1000 km Flight – It Just So Happened …

Three of my goals for the year were:

  1. to reach one additional state by glider from Boulder, e.g. Nebraska, Utah, or New Mexico;
  2. to complete a 750km FAI triangle;
  3. to complete a 1000km flight per OLC rules (i.e., maximum of six legs).

Yesterday looked like a good day for soaring with cus, high cloud bases, and moderate winds.  There would be no smoke, no overdevelopment, and no thunderstorms.  Skysight suggested Nebraska would be doable (this isn’t often the case).  Maybe I could even complete a big FAI triangle.  750km seemed too far since there were no clouds projected to the south.  Based on the forecast and the projected clouds I thought a 600 km triangle might be feasible.  But I decided to remain flexible. Maybe it would work, maybe not.  And maybe, just maybe, I would even be able to extend it a bit further.

When I took off, I had no expectation, intention, or aspiration whatsoever to attempt to break 1000 km. That only came much later in the flight.

Here’s the task I declared: Start and Finish at 501 Bighorn Mountain (just west of Boulder);TP1 at 731 Tower half-way between Kimball and Scottsbluff (all in Nebraska); and TP2 at 527 Arlington, Wyoming.

This is the task I declared in the flight computer.

I launched at 10:42am – relatively early for Boulder – and the sky was already looking very nice. Surprisingly, there were even clouds to the south where it was forecast to remain blue all day.

Right after takeoff. The tow plane heads towards the iconic Flatirons. The beautiful city of Boulder is below.

Lift became noticeable as soon as we approached the foothills. There was no need for a big mountain tow despite the early start.  I release from tow south of Altona, just north of Boulder.

The Pawnee is turning back to Boulder to get the next glider while I’m rolling into a climb. The exit of Left Hand Canyon and Heil Ranch are visible below. (You can see the burn scars from the Calwood fire that destroyed 28 homes last year.)

It doesn’t take long to climb and connect with the clouds. At 11:15 am I cross the start line and head out on task.

Here I’m right above the start line at Bighorn Mountain heading north. My first turnpoint is 219 km to the northeast, towards the right edge of the image. It looks like there are already some clouds in that direction, towards Ft. Collins.

20 minutes later I am already past the clouds that you could see in the picture above.  The sky ahead looks less inviting than I had hoped.  I briefly wonder whether I should abandon the task and “just fly per the clouds” but then I decide that I like the challenge and declare to myself that “I’m going for it.”

Here I am just northwest of Fort Collins, heading NNE towards Cheyenne. There is a big gap before the next clouds. However, a look on the cloud shadows on the ground suggests that the distance should be easily manageable, even if there is no lift at all in-between.

As expected, the gap wasn’t a big deal for my glider. I only lost 2,500 ft during the transition and I am still at 8,500 ft above the ground.  And there is a beautiful street ahead, stretching far into the distance towards my turnpoint.

I’m southwest of Cheyenne – the line of clouds pass the city just to the south.

The next 100 km towards the turnpoint are quite uneventul.  The line of clouds is along a weak convergence zone where thermals are easily triggered.  The lift isn’t very strong (typically 4-6 kts) but fairly reliable.  I am also benefitting from a tailwind of 10-15 kts so I make quick progress.

The three things on my mind are: (1) Will the clouds go all the way to the turnpoint?  (2) How will I do going back into a headwind? and (3) Will clouds develop towards my second turnpoint – so far much of the sky to the north has been blue.

With respect to the expected headwind, I remind myself that it is still early in the day – before 1 pm – and that the thermal strength should considerably improve within the next hour.

The thermals did reach to the turnpoint. I am now south of Scottsbluff and about to turn TP1 just as the clouds are thinning out a bit.

I round TP just a few minutes past 1 pm.   During the first 30-40 km I backtrack to the southwest along the same path that I used on the first leg.  In the meantime a nice line of clouds has developed to the west.

Here I am about 50 km northeast of Cheyenne, changing my course from southwest to west to follow the line of clouds just ahead, heading towards Laramie, about 100 km ahead.

When I reach the end of the line I am greeted with another blue gap but cloud bases have lifted to well above 18,000 feet and the next clouds look to be in easy glide range.

I am now crossing I-25 north of Cheyenne, heading west. Looking at clouds it is often hard to tell which ones are closer and which ones are further away. A much better way to gauge distances and locations of clouds is to look at their shadows on the ground.

When the sky ahead looks like this it is time to step on the gas – I mean, push the stick forward and fly faster so I can make use of the great lift that is almost certain to come.

I am just north of the Horse Creek Valley (the green line below on the left), heading north-west to connect with this line of clouds to the west. The elevated area 30km ahead are the Laramie Mountains. The Laramie Valley is beyond. The faint-looking line of mountains in the distance on the left are the Medicine Bow Mountains. (They are still about 100 km away.)

The line of clouds in the last picture was good, but nowhere near as good as I thought it would be.  I kept pressing on expecting to find an 8-12kt climb but it never came.  As a result I dropped below 13,000 feet over the Laramie basin and now I have to climb, even if it’s only in 3-4 kts.  At least it’s beautiful down there 🙂

I’m circling 15 km north west of the Laramie airport.  I like the stark contrasts of the lush green near the Laramie River and the glistening white from the dry salt pans. Unfortunately the clouds in the Laramie basin have a reputation of being dishonest: they look great but rarely do they deliver what they promise. I’ve found this our the hard way earlier this year when I almost landed out in this area below clouds that looked just as good as these. The trick here is not to get low, and so I don’t want to take any chances even when I am still 5000 feet above ground.

After getting back up near cloud base, things are easy again.  I cruise from cloud to cloud and quickly reach my second turnpoint, Arlington, at the north-west side of the Laramie basin. There are good looking clouds between Medicine Bow Peak and Elk Mountain so I keep pushing west to lengthen my second leg and thereby increase my triangle distance. (The extra distance will reduce the average speed of my declared task but I haven’t been flying fast enough for a possible state record so I don’t mind.)

I keep going west as long as there is a line of good clouds, which is on the east side of the Saratoga Valley.  That’s where I decide to turn south again. (I briefly considered crossing the Saratoga Valley to the clouds ahead above the Sierra Madre (of Wyoming) but I was worried about the day possibly ending early and not making it back home.  It would also have reduced my task speed as there would likely be sink during the valley crossing.)

The town of Saratoga is 15km in front of the nose. I turn south below the little cloud just above.  The city of Rawlins is about 50km further to the northwest.

This is what the sky looked like after my turn south.  The clouds appear to be thinning out even though it is only just a little past 3pm in the afternoon.  Conditions should still be strong but you can never be sure…  What is the best line to take?

I am intrigued by the line of small clouds to the right of my nose and along the western (sunny) edge of the Medicine Bow Mountains.  In addition, that’s where Skysight is forecasting a convergence line right for this time.  I decide to head in that direction and observe the air as I go.  I can always make adjustments to my routing if it doesn’t work.

I am just west of Kennaday Peak, heading south-south east along the western edge of the Medicine Bow Mountains – a long mountain range that stretches all along the east side of the Saratoga Valley to my right and North Park (the flat basin area in the distance on the right). Medicine Bow Peak is the rocky mountain to the left of my nose – it is the tallest point in the Medicine Bow Range.

As I head south I can see to my delight that the small line of clouds is rapidly developing.  Just south of Medicine Bow Peak I stop to refuel my altitude tank under this pretty little cloud.

I am between Medicine Bow Peak and the private A-Bar-A Ranch Airfield – a long paved runway that is one of the best non-public landout fields in Colorado (you can see it at the right edge of the picture). Folklore has it that an airline executive landed a big passenger jet there for a private get-together and discovered after the fact that the runway wasn’t sufficiently long for the plane to take off again. It eventually had to be disassembled and transported elsewhere at a very high cost. I guess he should have arrived in a glider – those are much easier to trailer out 😉 (I can’t say for sure whether that story is true but if not it’s at least a good tale.)

As I leave the climb, the next clouds ahead on the right have developed nicely as well. So guess where I headed next 🙂

I am north of Kings Canyon – the mountain pass ahead on the right that connects the Laramie Valley in Wyoming to my left with Colorado’s North Park to my right. My heading is SSE. Boulder is directly ahead, about 140 km away.  There is a nice line of clouds in my direction so I should have no trouble making it back to Boulder.

After making it around the pretty cloud in the picture above I veer left to join the line of clouds that bends to the right towards Boulder.  This is a very common energy line, which is induced by convergence enhanced thermals on the lee side of the Continental Divide, can enable an easy and quick run along the mountains.

I am right above Kings Canyon turning east to join the line of clouds ahead, crossing the Laramie River Valley (in front below).

Unfortunately my timing is a bit off and the beautiful like of clouds in the picture above is in the process of falling apart as I am in the midst of a down-cycle.  Will thermals start up again?  It’s almost 4pm in late August and I am not sure.  Most recently we had several days ending shortly after 4pm already.

I am just below final glide to Boulder and decide to take a weakish climb above the Poudre Valley. There are better looking clouds ahead near Lookout Mountain but I need some additional altitude to get there safely without having to shift east (which could push me out of the energy line).

I am at 14,000 ft thermaling just north of the Poudre Canyon (below on the right).

I only took the weak climb as high as I needed to reach the good clouds near Lookout Mountain (north of Estes Park).

I now have enough altitude to finish my task at Bighorn Mountain and get back to Boulder.  But I wonder if I can extend my triangle by flying past Boulder to the south.  As I approach Estes Park the sky ahead becomes completely blue.

I still want to give it a go so I decide to tank all the way up under the last cloud and see if I can make it to the line of clouds that look to be 70 km further south over Thorodin Mountain.

I am now just to the west of Lookout Mountain over the Mummy Range. Estes Park is in front of the nose, 15 km ahead. The next clouds to the south seem to be near Thorodin Mountain, 70 km in the distance. Can I get there and connect with them? There’s only one way to find out.

As I head out towards Estes Park, the clouds continue to thin out further.  I dial my speed back to 80 kts and fly in flap setting 1 to conserve altitude.  Maybe it’ll work.  Maybe not.

Estes Park is in front and directly below. Longs Peak is the prominent peak to the right of the nose. Boulder is in easy glide range but my goal isn’t Boulder – now I want to connect to the clouds in the distance and see if I can continue the flight further south.

As I get closer I can see that my estimate was correct – the first clouds are indeed over Thorodin Mountain.  I managed my energy quite well and am still at 14,000 ft.  I am now quite confident that I can make it.  And the line looks very much like the typical convergence line.  If I can get up, I should be able to find lift along the west edge of the line of clouds ahead.

I just finished my declared task above Bighorn Mountain and continue to head towards Thorodin Mountain, which is indeed where the first clouds are. (The reason I estimated this correctly is not due to special capabilities 😉 but based on empirical evidence. Late in the day Thorodin Mountain is often one of the most reliable generators of thermals in the vicinity of Boulder.)

I am down to 13,000 feet as I reach Thorodin Mountain and the beautiful line of clouds that mark the convergence.  The line works even better than it looks.  One of the strongest climbs of the day (9+ kts average) takes me back to 17,000 ft and I can continue to surf the line.  As so often, it swerves a little to the SSW before veering left and stretching slightly to the SSE.  The trick is to follow this line just along the western edge of the clouds.

I am above Thorodin Mountain heading south. The line of clouds seems to stretch until about half-way between Boulder and Pikes Peak (west of Colorado Springs).

15 minutes after leaving Thorodin Mountain I am already past Mount Evans and heading towards Bailey.  And there are still several clouds ahead.  I am keenly aware at this point that the lift could end at any time.  But as long as I can maintain this altitude, I figure I can go to the last cloud in the distance and still keep Boulder in glide range.

I am getting exited about the size of my triangle.  It is getting close to 750 km (provided I can make it back) and with every kilometer that I move further south, it grows by almost two kilometers.  If I make it to the end of the clouds, it will most definitely be bigger than 800 km.

I have just passed Meridian Hill, south-east of Mount Evans. I am still heading south along the convergence. Bailey is in front on the right. I wonder if I can make it to the last cloud in the distance before having to turn.

I do indeed reach the end of the last cloud.  Only once the sky ahead is entirely blue do I decide to turn.  My flight computer shows that I still have Boulder in easy glide at MC 4 with an arrival altitude of approx. 2500 ft.

I turn near Buffalo Peak, on the east side of the Terryall Mountains. Pikes Peak is the mountain top on the horizon, 50 km away. My distance back to Boulder is 85 km.

I haven’t turned in quite some time and don’t really know what the sky behind looks like, but once I complete the turn, the convergence line is still well marked by the clouds. All I need to do is the same as before – stay on the western edge of the clouds and progress in lift 🙂

Just after my turn near Buffalo Peak, now heading north. The line of clouds that mark the convergence is still intact.

This is the first time in the flight that the number 1000 starts creeping in my head.  Could it be possible?

I have really only flown three major legs so far and I am about to start my fourth.  I have flown more than 700 km already and by the time I get back to Boulder I will reach a little over 800 km in total distance.  That means I would have to pass Boulder and fly an even greater distance away from Boulder to the north, i.e. in the opposite direction, and then still have enough altitude to make it back.

No.  I conclude it is not possible.

Then I check my watch.  It says the sun sets at 7:45 pm and it is only 5:10 pm.  I have 2 hour and 35 minutes to fly close to 300 km.  If I can maintain my average speed that would work quite easily.  But how could I maintain my average speed as the lift is dying?  And how could I even get past Boulder to the north?  It was already difficult to get to the south.

No, it is not possible.

But my longest flight so far is just over 900km.  Can I beat that?

Near Mount Evans the convergence line has moved further west.  If the clouds move, the best thing to do is move as well…  I’m still maintaining 17,000 ft!

I am passing Mount Evans on, heading north-west towards the cloud ahead with the distinct curtain marking the location of the convergence. Echo Lake sparkles below on the left. The twin 14ers of Torreys and Grays are center left.

But, just as before, the line of clouds ends.  Near Rollinsville I can top up my altitude to 16,500 ft under the last whisps.  Then the sky to the north ahead is completely blue.  However, on the horizon there are still some clouds in the distance.

These clouds are at least 70 km away.  It seems to be the same problem as before, just in reverse.  However, this time it is much harder.  Previously, as I was on my way to the south I could easily keep the airport in Boulder in glide.  Now this seems impossible.

But who knows.  Maybe I get lucky and find lift in the blue.  I resolve to move ahead and turn before Boulder drops out of glide range.

I am right above Rollinsville. Boulder is at the base of the hills on the right edge of the picture. Longs Peak is visible just to the left of the nose, 35 km ahead. From there it’s about the same distance to get to the first cloud on the horizon.

I don’t find a climb in the blue.  But I get extremely lucky otherwise.  There is just slightly lifting air everywhere above the hills.  My computer gives me a glide ratio of somewhere between 50:1 to 70:1.  That means I don’t lose all that much altitude as I move forward.

55 km into the 70 km glide, the view is as shown in the image below.  I am now down to 13,700 ft.  The clouds looked a lot better 5 minutes ago and seem to be falling apart.  I still have Boulder in glide but if I push to the clouds ahead I am likely to get out of glide range.

Should I try it?  What are the odds that it works?  Given the levity of the air that I’ve been feeling I feel optimistic and think it’s clearly better than 50%.  And I have a backup plan. If it doesn’t work I will have to divert to Christman. And on the way there I can still sample a few other clouds.

I am north of Estes Park and approaching Signal Mountain. The first cloud is a few kilometers beyond Signal Mountain. Will it still work?

I reach the clouds at 13,000 ft.  Yay, there is still lift!  It starts with a weak bubble at 1-2 kts but as I correct into the wind I find another bubble and soon I find myself in a solid 4-5 kts all the way to 17,000 ft!  Who would have thought?

Climbing again 🙂 just north of Signal Mountain (northwest of Lookout Mountain).

Back up near cloud base, looking north-west the sky looks still surprisingly promising.  And now that I have several thousand feet of altitude to work with I want to at least see if I can move ahead and maintain altitude.

North of Lookout Mountain heading northwest. To the left is Comanche Peak and two glittering reservoirs (Comanche Reservoir and Hourglass Reservoir). Cameron Peak is in the distance. The Poudre Canyon cuts through the landscape on the right.

As I get to the western edge of the clouds, the look of the street actually keeps improving.  This is truly as good as it gets at this time of the day!

Now the magic 1000 number is back in my head. How far do I have to go north before I can turn back and make it.  I look at my flight computer to work it out but it just went blank!  I have been flying for 7 1/2 hours and the battery is depleted.  It gave me some warnings a while ago but there is nothing I can do.

I try to remember what the last kilometer count was but I am not sure.  It must have been above 850 km, so it’s now probably a little more.  It’s maybe another 30 km to Red Feather Lakes and I know from there is around 90 km to Boulder.

I have to accept the fact that I can’t know for sure.  So I’ll just have to keep going and turn before I lose Boulder from glide.

Shoot! How will I know if Boulder is in glide when I don’t have a computer? And I don’t have a computer.  But I have thought about this often enough to know that as long as I am close to 17,000 ft I should be able to go close to the Wyoming border.

What’s the wind?  That could impact the final glide.  It kept changing.  South of My Evans it was out of the southwest.  But as I look the street ahead it looks more like it is out of the northwest.  But I’m not sure.  Ultimately I decide it is light enough that it won’t make a big difference.

Over the Poudre, heading north towards Wyoming. The cloud street looks amazing.

The street works its magic and I can maintain altitude in straight flight at just around 17,000 feet.  I take it all the way until the clouds thin out so much that I lose confidence and turn around.

I turn near Black Mountain, about halfway between Red Feather Lakes and the Wyoming Border.

After the turn, the street to the south looks just as good as it did going north.  It is now 6:30pm.  1:15 until sunset and about 100 km to go.  This really is my lucky day 🙂

Just after the turn near Black Mountain, looking south over the Poudre. 100km to go to Boulder.

As I race south, not much has changed except that the clouds end soon after I cross the Poudre Canyon.  But I am still at close to 17,000 feet which is far more altitude than I need to get to Boulder.

Just south of the Poudre Canyon heading south. The yaw string points at Longs Peak, 45 km away. 75 km to go to Boulder.

The sun is getting low as I pass Longs Peak.

Beautiful evening view of Long Peak and Mount Meeker in front of the Continental Divide, looking west into the setting sun.

As I fly further south I still wonder if I have have made enough distance to make it over the magic 1000 km mark.

One complication is the fact that the flight computer always calculates the distance flown based on the six longest legs up to the current point.  This means that the more legs I add, prior legs get straightened out.  This de facto reduces the amount of kilometers officially flown because a maximum of six straight legs is used to calculate the total distance.  Without a working computer there is no way to estimate my official distance flown with any kind of precision.

I still have plenty of altitude as I fly above the foothills west of Boulder and decide that I will extend this last leg further towards Golden, just to make sure that I don’t end up short.  I also still have more than 30 minutes left until sunset.

This decision to extend the flight further is a bit of a struggle against my personal comfort.  I have now been in the cockpit for 8 1/2 hours and I actually really want to be back on the ground and stretch my legs.  But I know I would regret it if I end up short.

I keep going until I am more than half way between Boulder and Golden and then my growing discomfort outweighs my diminishing concerns about potentially coming short.  I still have almost 11,000 ft (almost 5000 ft more than pattern altitude) when I make my final turn back towards Boulder.

Over the foothills northwest of Golden, just before making the final turn back to Boulder.

Even before I get back to the Flarirons, I dump the water, complete my landing check, and extend the gear.  I also crack open the spoilers to descend more quickly. Now I really want to get back on the ground.

Approaching Boulder from the south. The Flatirons are on the left.

But as I approach Boulder the beauty of a landing at sunset outweighs any discomfort once again and I really enjoy the views.  The air is completely still.  Except for one airplane practicing touch and gos there is no traffic or radio chatter and the world looks serenely peaceful below.

Boulder airport is just in front of the nose.

The sun sets behind the Continental Divide just as I make my final turn to glider runway 26.

Final turn to land on G26 at KBDU.

The airport is already completely deserted as I roll up towards my tie down spot and the sun disappears behind the horizon.

Rolling up to my tie down spot at Boulder Municipal Airport.

While I secure the glider I still wonder what goals I actually accomplished.  I only know for sure that I was in Nebraska and that I completed the 600 km declared FAI triangle.  But how big is the extended triangle and what is the overall length of the flight based on the six-leg rule?  I won’t know until I upload the file from my Flarm to my computer at home.

Once the flight is uploaded I am delighted to see that my total distance is 1034.6 kilometers.  I did in fact exceed the magic 1000 km mark!  I probably had enough altitude to add at least 30-40 km at the end and I would have been mad at myself if I had let the opportunity go by.

I also made it to Nebraska so I can add another state reached from Boulder to my list.  New Mexico, Utah, South Dakota, and Kansas are still outstanding.  (Texas, Arizona, and Idaho seem to be reachable too, but it would have to take highly unusual conditions to make it back from there on the same day.  I suspect I will never try…)

But to my dismay I realize that did not reach one goal that I had felt certain about – the >750km FAI triangle.  And I instantly know why:  I must not have properly closed the triangle after my leg to the south.  What a shame!  It would have been so easy! All I would have needed to do is fly a tiny bit further east when I passed Boulder on the way to Golden so that I would have crossed the initial glide path when I headed out towards my first turn point.  I was so focused on the 1000 km goal that I simply did not think about it.  A close look at the glide path shows that my miss is only just a tiny bit more than one single kilometer.  That’s a real shame because my triangle was just a few kilometers short of 800km.  Oh well, I have to keep that on my bucket list.

Flight trace on WeGlide:

Flight trace on OLC:

Lessons Learned

Here are some lessons learned in no particular order:

  • No Smoke – Better Soaring.  Skysight isn’t always overly optimistic.  The declared 600km goal seemed appropriate for and well aligned with the forecast but the day obviously had a lot more potential.  I believe that the absence of smoke made a huge difference.  Over the last month we have seen one over-optimistic forecast after another. Wildfire smoke caused days to start developing late and ending early.  Neither of these things was a problem on the day of this flight and as a result a really long task was possible.
  • There is Still Lift Late in the Evening.  Especially the convergence doesn’t end just because the thermals end.  It can last long into the evening.  I recently took a picture of the convergence line from our home well past sunset.  This is a real opportunity to extend flights late in the day.
  • Use the Full Day.  Up until now I have not really attempted to exploit the full potential of Boulder days until the end.  Most often I run out of my six legs early and then I lack the motivation to keep going when additional distance simply doesn’t count.  To make full use of a day it is best to use the first leg to fly as far away from Boulder as the day confidently allows.  This will leave the possibility of several legs at the end to extend the flight until the lift is really gone.
  • Be More Creative.  We often default to our north-south routes along the Front Range because the lift lines are reliable and we know them well.  There are probably more opportunities for interesting flights to other areas – including east – than we tend to pursue.
  • Close the Damn Triangle! This is not the first time I made this mistake. This time I missed it because as I was going back and forth past Boulder several times, always crossing prior flight paths, I did not remember that my first leg started at the base of the foothills and went eastwards.  (Often we tow deep into the mountains and then it can be hard to reach the tow release location when coming back low on final glide. This time I was too far west late and did not come back east enough when that would have been supremely easy to do.  Very unusual!  But key to remember!)
  • Food for long flights.  I didn’t bring anything to eat on this flight and I believe that this negatively impacted my motivation at the end.  8 1/2 hours is a long time in the cockpit and it would have been smarter to eat something.



A Challenging Finish to an Amazing Contest

Everyone can follow cloud streets that perfectly set up along the major mountain ranges. Today, Day 8 of the 18m Nationals, was not like that. We were given an Assigned Area Task (AAT) with turn areas at Huntington Muni (20km), Cricket Mountains (30km), and Table Mountain (30km), then back to Nephi.
The task required us to cross the mountains and valleys back and forth. There were a lot of decisions to make and a number of traps to avoid. Thermal conditions were very strong, and cloud bases were well above the legal maximum of 17,500 ft, but there was much more wind to contend with than in the past few days. We saw west-south westerly winds of close to 30 kts today in some parts of the task area.
The launch was once again a problem. This time it was the changing wind on the ground. I was among the early starters launching at 13:21 and had no problem climbing up to 16,000 feet right off tow. Then the winds picked up and the launch had to be paused. Then the wind direction changed and the remaining gliders had to be moved to the other end of the runway. This is lovingly called the elephant walk. I’m not sure whether the elephants are the pilots or the gliders but you should know that there is no walking involved because everyone can just tow their glider with their air conditioned vehicle.
But the delay was substantial nonetheless.
The start gate eventually opened at 15:33. I had already been in the air by more than two hours and had flown well over 200 km by that time. But now the race was on and the task distance was another 432-718 km, to be flown in no less than three hours.
Everyone quickly tried to climb up to the legal maximum before crossing the start gate. I went out as soon as I could, which was at 15:53. Kind of late to start a task with a nominal distance of 573 km. But there we were. The forecast predicted an abrupt end to soaring conditions around 7pm, so getting around the course as fast as possible was imperative.
I had a pretty good start with quick climbs on on back side of Mt Nebo and the edge of the Wasatch Plateau and quickly made it to the edge of the first turn area. I watched the gaggle continue to go deeper into the cylinder and decided to turn early. Time was of the essence. In the miraculous event of being undertime, I would have plenty of opportunity to go deeper in turn areas two or three.
I headed for a great looking cloud to get high enough to cross the plateau against a 20 kt headwind. Unfortunately, the cloud dissolved in front of my eyes and I had to look for a climb in the blue. As I got lower the lee-side effect of the plateau became more and more pronounced and I literally got washed out while I was looking for a climb in the blue. Fortunately I found an eight knotter in a wind protected bowl that took me back up to 16,000 feet – enough to safely cross the rising terrain of the plateau, even against the stiff head wind.
Once back on the west side, it was just a question of picking the right lines to get to the second turn area. There were valleys and ridges to cross into the wind and I wanted to stay high to be protected against further lee-side sink.
The clouds weren’t perfectly aligned with the course but 30-40 degree course deviations are an easy tradeoff if you can fly in lift. I tanked up on the luv side of the Pavani range in an 11 knot climb before heading out over the desert.
There were some good big clouds ahead and I have become much better at figuring out exactly where under these clouds the best lift is to be found.
Another 8 knot climb got me to the turn area. Tactically it would have been smarter to push all the way to the turn area and take the climb on the downwind leg but I was too chicken to risk getting low over the desert and took the climb while going into the wind.
I just nicked the turn area because my computer showed about 1 hour of over time and back-tracked to a nice looking cloud line that went to the west side of Mt Delano, the western edge of the last turn area.
It was already past 6pm and I noticed that the cloud cover was already diminishing suggesting a weakening of the soaring conditions. Late in the day it is often best to stay high, so I down-shifted and flew 90 kts instead of 105. Good thing because I did not find any good climb southwest of Mt Delano. I took a 4 knotter to get back to 16,000 and nicked the third turn area on the west side.
It was 18:30. I had another 150 km to go to the finish and was in need of at least two more climbs. I looked at the Flarm screen and noticed some gliders going up at 9 kts some 10 km ahead. Fortunately I got there early enough to join then and climbed right back to 17,300 feet.
I was still about 2500 feet low on Final Glide at MC 4 and the clouds ahead were quickly disappearing. But somewhere along the western edge of the Pavani Range ought to be another climb… I downshifted further to about 80-85 knots and tested the air along the upwind side of the mountains. Once or twice I stopped for a 2-3 kt climb that quickly disappeared.
A glider ahead of me got into sink and I diverted upwind and found much better air, allowing me to cruise at a glide ratio of 50:1. Gradually I made it above Final Glide Altitude and just felt my way towards the finish, increasing my speed as the glide ratio improved.
I crossed the finish line at 19:23 with a few hundred feet to spare for an average task speed of 139 kph, which put me in 18th place for the day, earning 887 contest points.
Overall, I moved up to 22nd place in the contest. This sounds far back but it’s still ahead of some excellent pilots, even some who have won National Championship titles before. This has been a very high-caliber contest with most if not all the very best US pilots attending and I am quite pleased with my overall performance.
Today’s winner was Gary Ittner (157 kph) ahead of David Coggins (156 kph) and Thomas Greenhill (153 kph). The new US National Champion in 18m is Sean Fidler (despite having a challenging day and flying the same speed as myself) with John Seaborn (the defending National Champion) in second, and Andy Blackburn in third. John Seaborn won the trophy for the fastest contest flight for yesterday’s performance at 190 kph!
These were amazing Championships with blazingly fast flight. On six of the eight contest days the winner’s speed exceeded 100 mph.
I have learned a lot and am pleased to have safely made it around all contest tasks without taking undue risks.
Flight Trace on WeGlide:
Contest Results:
The overall contest results for all eight contest days are here:

Insanely Fast: 105 miles per hour was good for what place?

Today, Day 7 of the 18m Nationals, was unbelievably fast. The task was once again an Assigned FAI Racing Task with with small 500m turn cylinders at Browns Peak, Bryce Woodlands, and Burnt Peak – then back to Nephi. Task distance 568 km.
At launch time, much of the start area was in shade and we were down to four tow planes, which led to a late start gate opening. I was worried that it would once again be a race against the end of the day and was determined to get going as soon as possible.
Fortunately the cloud cover moved east, and at 14:33 the gate opened, and everyone had to descend below 12,000 feet. Since we fly based on FAI rules we can then climb up to 17,500 feet before crossing the start line and going on course. Cloud bases were considerably higher than that so everyone had to watch their altimeters to avoid airspace penalties.
I found a good climb a bit removed from the mad hustle near the gate and was up above 17,000 within minutes and at 14:45 I was on my way.
The conditions out on course were exceptionally strong. We had good cumulus clouds throughout the entire task area, there was only minimal overdevelopment near the second turnpoint, winds were generally light, and thermal strength often exceeded 10 kts. Cloud depth was fairly modest which meant no risk of thunderstorms. Not even virga. Thermally induced convergence lines formed above the spine of practically all mountain ranges.
If you could design perfect weather conditions for soaring, you would be hard pressed to make any improvements over what we were handed today.
When conditions are this good, the focus must be on pushing forward at all times. Selecting the best lift lines along the clouds and stopping only for the strongest of thermals is what makes the winners stand out at the end of the day. Equipment is also important, especially glide performance at very high speeds. I found myself flying with A8, John Seaborn, on the first leg but my attempt to keep up with him quickly became futile when his dot disappeared in the distance on my Flarm screen not long after the first turnpoint.
There were some decisions to make as to which cloud street would provide the better line but the streets were all fairly well aligned with the task. It was a bit akin to deciding which interstate highway to pick when Google predicts similar arrival times for each option. I payed attention to the shapes of the clouds as well as to the shape of the terrain and the wind and the decisions came relatively easy. But the alternatives might have worked just as well in many cases.
I reached the southern-most turnpoint at 4:45PM with 250 km to go to the finish. After yesterday’s experience with the power switch (someone seemed to have turned off all lift at exactly 6pm) I was a bit worried about a repeat occurrence. I had had a good run south but I needed an equally good run north if I wanted to be on final glide by 6pm.
Fortunately we did not see much if any weakening of the conditions for the next hour. I got some good climbs south and north of the Tushar Mountains and then picked a line of still newly building clouds over the Pavani Range where I found a 9 knot climb at 5:50pm which took me to Final Glide altitude.
From there I flew all out at 130 kts toward the finish line. There was still strong lift even over the valley. Very different from yesterday. I attribute the difference mainly to the wind direction. Today we had south-westerly winds and temperatures on the ground were exceptionally hot at 103 degrees Fahrenheit. (Yesterday the northerly wind from Utah Lake brought early cooling and shut down all thermal activity.)
I finished with an average speed of 105 mph (170 kph). I was quite proud of myself until I found out that it was still only good for 24th place. John Seaborn won the day with a blistering performance at 118 mph (190 kph!). Almost the entire field flew faster than 100 mph today. There may have been equally fast soaring races before but I am not aware of any where such speeds have been achieved by so many. These were truly outstanding conditions.
Sean Fidler was 4th today and still leads overall with Andy Blackburn in 2nd (today 3rd), and John Seaborn in 3rd. Tomorrow is the last contest day and the top 5 pilots are within 200 points from one another.
My flight trace on WeGlide:
Contest Results:

Sudden Power Outage in Southern Utah

Yesterday late afternoon, on our rest day, someone must have flipped a switch because suddenly the power was out. Not just in Nephi but in the whole area. It stayed out all night and only came back after the sun had come out and was warming the ground.
Today, Day 6 of the 18m Nationals, was just like that. We were given a big assigned racing task to fly. More than 600 kilometers with small 500m FAI turn cylinders at Monroe Peak, Bryce Woodlands, Griffin Top, Browns Peak, and Big Baldy. Then back to Nephi.
Conditions were forecast to be strong. However, a northerly wind was blowing even in the morning bringing relatively cool air from Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake to the launch area. (I say relatively because it was still quite hot.) This depressed thermal activity at the start and it took quite a while to get the fleet launched. And even then, thermals near the start were weak and topped out at about 13,000 feet.
When the gate opened everyone had to descend to 12,000 feet and then almost the entire fleet was flying in a single gaggle near the start line trying to get up but it wasn’t really working. We were just going in circles without gaining much altitude. It was already very late for our big task – almost 3PM – and I got impatient and went out on course. Since I am not one of the fast guys no-one gets on my heels which is just fine with me…
Three weeks of contest flying haven’t made me a gaggle person and I enjoy making my own decisions even though I know it’s usually not the fastest way to get around the course.
I crossed the valley to the east to join the clouds over the San Pitch Mountains, found a good climb at the south end, and then back west to the Pavani Range. Some others had gone direct through the blue – I don’t know if that made them faster. There was great lift just east of the Fire TFR, and from there I crossed to Monroe Peak, which worked well as usual. From there I followed the western edge of the Sevier Plateau in good air to the southern-most turnpoint.
The next leg took us over the Bryce Canyon area where I blundered by taking a too far northerly line which led into a heavy sink street. I deviated back to the south, more than 90 degrees off course to get into better air at the southern tip of the Escalante Mountains. The sink street and deviation cost me at least 10-15 minutes, which I really came to regret later. The entire area is quite spectacular. I previously knew it only at level ground from hiking and trail running trips to the National Parks at Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase Escalante.
The western drop off of the Escalante Mountains produced an extremely powerful lift line and soon I was running again at 120 kts to the north. The Griffin Top turnpoint was perfectly aligned with the lift line and no stopping was needed anywhere. There was a blue hole to cross west of Wayne Wonderland but the convergence line extended through the blue, marked by some whispies along the way. Near Whiskey Knoll I got onto the Wasatch Plateau and the usual convergence on the plateau worked very well. Some pilots flew a bit further east and I was able to pass them along the western edge of the clouds. The convergence training in Boulder served me well locating the line of lift along the clouds.
Near Knob Mountain the convergence line curved strongly to the east and I had to get to Browns Peak, on the northwest side of the plateau. I decided to leave the wonderful line of clouds and fly the remaining 50km to the turnpoint in the blue along the western edge of the plateau. The air was reasonably good such that I achieved about a 50:1 glide ratio at about 80 kts. But as soon as I had left the clouds the convection shut down and thermal activity became minimal.
I turned Browns Peak about 2000 feet below final glide with another 100km to go to the finish. My flight computer showed some predicted convergence zones over the high terrain southwest of Mount Nebo and along the western edge of the San Pitch Mountains. I decided to detour to their western side and I was quite confident that I would be able to pick up the remaining 2000 feet along the way.
However, just like the day before, it was late afternoon and someone must have switched off the power. I followed the best looking terrain that had been in the sun all day long but there was simply no climb to be found. I worked my way south along the ridges towards the last turnpoint at Mount Baldy. Eyeballing it I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get there above the peak. It would be close.
I carefully examined the slope of the canyons to the west to ensure that I had a safe escape route into the valley and decided it was ok to give it a try. Fortunately the 500m turn radius was big enough to allow me to turn before the actual mountain for I did not have enough altitude to fly over the top.
Now back to Nephi. I was now 200 feet below final glide at MC0 and needed to find just one climb to make it back above minimum finish altitude.
The closer I got to Nephi the stronger the headwind became and the gap gradually became bigger. The north facing ridge lines worked just a little bit and I followed them religiously wherever I could to eke out a few feet of altitude gain. There was absolutely nothing to circle in and I don’t think that ridge soaring figure eights would have worked either. The little bit of lift was too close to the rocks and just too weak.
I knew there were some good hay fields south of the airport in case I did not make it back home so I kept going. 10km out it was evident that I would make the airport but that there was no way to finish above the 6500 ft minimum arrival altitude.
I monitored the radio for quite some time and fortunately no-one else was coming back at the same time. I eventually crossed the finish line at 5600 feet and decided to land straight in from the south on Runway 35. The landing was nice and smooth but I was clearly too low for a valid finish.
The 10-15 minutes that I wasted near Bryce Canyon airport made all the difference because the lift had ended just as abruptly as the power outage arrived the day before.
I’m a bit puzzled why the lift can end so abruptly. In Boulder it is almost always possible to find lift late in the day and I also had some great evening runs in lift along the San Pitch Mountains where the air was just dead today. I suspect it may have to do with the northerly wind that also messed up our start. Once the sun starts to go down, the north wind strengthens and brings more and more cool air into the valley. This then results in a fairly abrupt end of thermal activity. The problem on final glide from the south is compounded by the fact that the strengthening headwind is not anticipated by the flight computer which therefore delivers overly optimistic readings. That’s worth considering for the remaining two days.
What could I have done differently? Well, those who stuck together as a group had a better chance to find the last climb of the day in the blue. They may also have had a better chance of avoiding the sink street that cost me the crucial 10-15 minutes at the end. Maybe I need to learn to love gaggle flying and become a part of the herd… I don’t know. Something to contemplate.
Andy Blackburn won the day today ahead of Rick Indrebo and John Seaborn. Sean Fidler leads overall ahead of Rick Indrebo, Andy Blackburn, Jim Lee, and John Seaborn. The top 5 are less than 200 points apart.
Flight Trace on WeGlide:
Contest Results:

Every Conceivable Excitement

Day 5 at the 18m Nationals in Nephi had it all: 15 kt lift and 15 kt sink. Long glides across big blue holes over unlandable terrain with totally still air. We had heat, storms, rain, snow, and graupel showers. We were fighting against being pulled up into the clouds and minutes later we were fighting to stay airborne. We worked with dust devils and massive gust fronts. We were flying in huge gaggles and alone in the wilderness. We also had to avoid a wildfire TFR and a Restricted Area that occupied about a third of the second turn cylinder. The flight was spectacular and exhausting. Calling the day dynamic would be a total understatement. We had two landouts but everyone is safe and accounted for.
Our task was an Assigned Area Task (AAT) with turn areas at Whiskey Knoll (40km radius), Drum Mountains (20 km), and GB Intersection (40 km). Nominal distance was 540 km. Minimum task time was 3:30.
Getting up from tow was a challenge and some pilots had to come back for a relight. I was second on the grid and stayed in my weak climb off tow and saw its strength gradually improve until I was up at cloud base. Getting the entire fleet up took a long time and the start gate opening time had to be pushed back several times.
The weather forecast was for overdevelopment in several parts of the task area and when the gate opened there was already ample evidence of that to the south.
When the gate eventually opened everyone was keen to get going. I left as part of a large group that crossed the valley immediately after crossing the start line to get under a dark cloud line line that curved from the San Pitch Mountains into the first turn cylinder. The bulk when straight for the darkest clouds but by the looks of the line I was pretty sure that the strongest part would be on the western edge. I resisted the temptation to follow the crowd and was well rewarded with 5-10 kt climb rates in straight flight. By the time we reached the southern tip of the San Pitch Mountains I was up at 17,000 feet and looked down on a conga line of gliders a few miles further east and many thousand feet below. Now that felt good!
I upped my speed to 110 kts and kept racing along the convergence towards a dark wall that had built up further south: a massive, impenetrable storm front was moving in opposite direction, directly towards us. A look at the map suggested that the front was just about at the northern edge of the turn cylinder. It was a race against time and I hoped that I would get there before I would get into rain.
There was a big drop in cloud bases as I got near the front and I had to take out the spoilers to destroy several thousand feet of altitude to stay well below the clouds. But I figured whoever came after me would have an even harder time because the front was moving fast.
I got into the cylinder and turned just before the rain. A look at my Flarm screen showed that I was now well below the conga line that was coming towards me. The vertical separation eliminated any safety concerns and I rushed back towards the lift line that had carried me south. Once the bulk of gliders had passed I took a 10 kt climb to regain the altitude I had destroyed with the air brakes and I was back up and running, turning northwest towards the Drum Mountains.
The last clouds were just west of the Canyon Mountains, then came a gaping blue hole that stretched about 60 kilometers all the way to the Drum Mountains. I downshifted info flap position 1 and trimmed my Ventus to 80 kts to fly across the desert. The contrast was stark: minutes ago I was racing all out along a strong lift line, now I had to cross a big area of completely still air.
On the other side of the gap, a big black cloud was building over the Drum Mountains. It promised good lift but only if I got there before it would also overdevelop. I was wondering if I should speed up to get there faster but that would lower my arrival altitude and diminish my safety margin in case I had to turn back towards the airport of Delta. I decided the time gain from flying 90 kts instead of 80 wasn’t worth it and I stayed with the plan that would preserve altitude. Altitude always provides the most options and that’s what I like to have.
I reached the Drum Mountains and was surprised not to immediately find the strong lift that I had anticipated. I assumed it was probably on the west side, considering the light westerly wind and hoped that I would get there before the edge of the Restricted Airspace. Gosh, everything on this task is a close call! Fortunately the western edge of the clouds was about 2 miles away from the forbidden area and even better: there was the lift I had hoped for. I moved south along the edge of the clouds when I spotted a glider going up rapidly on the southern side of the cloud. I joined a 7-8 kt climb that got me back up to cloud base.
Off towards the third turn area further south! The sky ahead looked very complicated. To the left was a rapidly overdeveloping shelf that was off from the course line to the east. To my right was a dark line of clouds with heavy rain showers. Dust from a massive gust front on the ground marked the outflow from that storm. Don’t cross that gust front!
The Cricket Mountains directly to the south had a little bit of sun on them. The clouds overhead were dissipating, probably remnants of earlier overdevelopment in this area. I was hoping that the sun might start a new cycle of thermal development along the mountains and picked a line directly along the spine that would lead to the eastern edge of the third turn area.
I tuned my flight computer to Delta Muni, directly behind me, as this is the only safe place to land in this area. My flight computer showed that I was 4000 feet above arrival altitude at Delta at MC4. Would I be able to get into the turn cylinder before that number was down to 0?
There was only one way to find out. Once again I flew very conservatively at 80 kts to conserve altitude. There were some little bumps along the ridge that stretched my glide a bit, but I found absolutely nothing that I could have circled in.
When I got to the edge of the turn cylinder my arrival altitude at Delta had shrunk to 200 ft. Nick and turn! As soon as I heard the beep that I made it to the edge I changed course and headed back up to the north.
What difference 15 minutes can make! The cloud shelf to the east that I had hoped to fly along was now gone except that virga and rain was still falling in places. A line of dark clouds was now further north but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to reach it in time before it would blow up as well.
At least I was gaining on my arrival altitude at Delta so I had a safe place to go to if needed.
I made it around a rain shaft and saw a glider circling further east along a dark shelf, climbing at 6 kt,  7 km away. I had to cross some sink to get there and when I arrived 2000 ft below the lift was gone. But the shelf looked good and there had to be lift somewhere. Another gust front on the ground marked the way. I flew to the upwind side of the front and as expected the air was shooting up! 14 kt of lift in straight flight!
Soon I was up at 14,000 feet and had Nephi in glide. At the same time rain started to fall so I had to get out of there. I pushed northeast towards the Canyon Mountains which were in the sun with beautiful clouds on top. It looked like I could get there about 2000-3000 feet above, connect with the clouds and have an easy glide home.
Not so fast. As soon as this plan had formed in my mind I hit 12 kt of sustained sink and my altitude washed away in no time. What goes up must come down… When I reached the Canyon Mountains I was below the level of the highest peaks and in desperate need of a climb. Otherwise I would be landing out. Fortunately I had driven through this area two years ago and I knew that some of the fields below were landable. (Bruno Vassel ended up landing in one of these fields minutes later.)
But I wasn’t willing to give up so easily. There had to be some lift over the rocks. The air was quite turbulent but I found a 3 knot climb that improved with altitude. I was still far below minimum time so the strength of the lift was of no importance. As long as the air went up towards Final Glide I was willing to take it.
As I climbed I observed s new gust front rushing north from Gregs Beach towards Nephi. This could mean strong and gusty winds on the ground and I was eager to out-speed the gust front on the way home. When I was high enough to get even through heavy sink I was on my way and rushed back to the finish.
The wind on the ground was about 20 kts but blowing directly down the runway and the landing was easy and uneventful. I finished the task with more than 30 minutes undertime, which took my nominal task speed of 139 kph down to 117 kph.
It turns out that most of the fleet had to finish early today. In hindsight, one possibility would have been to continue further south in the last turn cylinder and focus my landing option on Milford instead of Delta. But I don’t know if this would have worked and how I would have come back from there. I’m happy with my decisions as they have kept me in safe gliding distance of good airports at all times.
Today’s winner was Joe Bostik (who like me also flies a Ventus 2), only 1 point ahead of Jim Lee (JS1) with Robin Clark (ASG 29) in third. Sean Fidler now leads overall ahead of Rick Indrebo and Jim Lee. John Seaborn did not have a good day and dropped down to 6th, but less than 200 points behind Sean.
My flight was good for 19th place today with 872 points which moved me up to 22nd or 23rd overall. I’m quite happy with this result, especially considering the caliber of pilots at this contest.
Contest Results:

The Race Against The End of the Day

Day 4 at the 18m Nationals in Nephi and Region 9 Sports Class in Nephi. The 18m pilots are not even half-way into the contest and it feels like we’ve already been here a long time.
Maybe that’s because today involved a lot of waiting – either on the ground or in the air. The Sports Class went up first and was sent on their merry way. They had a big 3 hour task to complete.
The plan for 18m was a 524 km Assigned Racing Task with fixed turnpoints at Table Mountain, Star Point, and Indian Ranch. After two thirds of the fleet was launched on Runway 17 the wind switched from south to north and that meant that those left on the ground had to move their gliders to the other end of the runway. Launching fully ballasted gliders with a tail wind at a mountain airport in the summer with density altitudes of 8000 feet or more is definitely not a good idea.
I was among those already up and flying. I escaped the gaggling crowds by taking a convergence line to the northeast where I could float along on my own. I knew the wait would be substantial and my plan was to conserve mental energy.
Eventually everyone was in the air but by then it was past 3pm and it was evident that starting out on a more than 500km task was likely to get pilots in trouble. Table Mountain was switched out for Monroe Peak, which shortened the task to about 440km. Still an ambitious plan, especially given that the cumulus clouds were projected to dissipate and give way to blue skies by about 5 to 5:30pm. Pilots had to confirm their understanding of the new task in a roll call and reprogram their flight computers in the air. I parked myself in a weak lonesome thermal so I could do the data entry without attracting the crowds.
The gate eventually opened at 15:27 and by 15:32 I had climbed back from our tag altitude of 12,000 to 17,000 feet in a 12 knot boomer and was out on course ahead of anybody else. I had had ample time to check the conditions out on course and knew where to fly. The first leg was blazing fast. I cruised at 100 kts and only stopped twice to climb back towards the clouds, being very careful to stay below 17,500 feet to avoid airspace penalties. The lift can get so strong in the west that keeping the glider down can be a real challenge. I even briefly opened my airbrakes as I was cruising through exceptionally strong lift to avoid getting sucked up to forbidden heights.
Getting in and out of turnpoint one was easy in soaring terms but a big challenge with respect to traffic. The best lift line in and out was the same and since I had started out ahead I had to avoid a lot of conflicting traffic. I deliberately flew a line that was far from ideal to stay clear of the gliders that were streaming towards Monroe Peak.
Leg two started out quite well also. My average task speed up to this point was 162 kph and the day was at its peak. Looking ahead I had to make a choice between two possible lines to TP 2. One was on the western edge of the Wasatch Plateau, the other was to the east of the plateau over the eastern desert. For a while I thought I would take the easterly line because it seemed much better defined and Skysight had predicted strong convergence east of the plateau.
However, it soon became evident that the easterly line was too far east. When a few additional clouds popped on the western edge of the plateau I decided to stay there. This had the added advantage of easy access to safe landing areas in the Manti-Ephraim valley whereas the eastern side of the plateau is a lot less hospitable.
Unfortunately the climbs along the western edge of the plateau were nowhere near as good as those along the first leg and there was also considerable sink in-between which quickly destroyed any hard-earned gains. I struggled to find a good line and my average task speed dropped below 150kph. Except for the western edge, the plateau itself was largely blue and I had to get high to safely cross. A mediocre climb near Mt Baldy got me back up to 17,000 feet and that’s where I started the transition towards Star Point.
The plateau is super scenic but from a soaring standpoint it was somewhat disappointing. As I got near Start Point I spotted a big gaggle and rushed towards it only to find that the lift averaged only 1-2 kts. Nothing kills your task speed faster than remaining stationary in a weak climb. I left to round the turnpoint and kept looking for better air. The wind was from the west and I wanted to have more altitude for the transition into the wind.
I found a line of good air that allowed me to progress westwards without dropping out of the sky. Back on the west side of the plateau the clouds were disappearing fast. I followed the ridge lines and tested the bowls but could only find 2-3 kt climbs at first. Things got a bit better as I moved further south where I found a good climb east of Manti-Ephraim. I tanked up for the next transition via the southern tip of the San Pitch Mountains which have worked for me before late in the afternoon.
Today there was not much there there, and I moved on towards the Pavani Range. Fortunately I was high enough to cross the ridges and fly on the sun-facing west side towards the last turnpoint. I was several thousand feet short of final glide and had to find another climb. I joined another glider but the lift died after the first turn. Onwards. I was getting low and the lift was getting weak so I began to dump water ballast.
Two minutes later I hooked a 6-7 kt climb south of Scipio. I quickly closed the water dump valves again and was able to climb a few thousand feet to get to final glide altitude at MC4.
I noticed other gliders taking a direct line towards Nephi but felt more comfortable taking a small detour via the foothills of the San Pitch Mountains that had been baking in the afternoon sun. I have had good success in the past stretching my final glide along the rocks.
The ridges weren’t as strong as hoped but they did enough to get me home. Which means I did win the race against the end of the day…
Once again I am astonished at the winners’ speeds of more than 100 mph (162 kph). Sean Fidler won the day ahead of John Seaborn. That is also the current standing overall. My speed of 130 kph (again!) put me in 24th place for the day and 25th overall. The stragglers among us have a private competition going where there are some exclusive prizes to win such as Strudel and Krautfleckerl. Feel free to ask me about that…
Contest Results:
The Region 9 Sports Class ended today. Congratulations to all participants and in particular to the winners.

115+ Mile Final Glide at 214 kph!

Day 3 at the 18m Nationals in Nephi. The weather forecast promised strong lift, increasing thermal heights, especially to the south, light winds, and nice cumulus clouds throughout the entire task area. The only question mark was the possibility of overdevelopment. But no thunderstorms.
The task committee gave us a lot to work with by declaring an AAT with 3 hour minimum time and two big turn areas at Delano Peak in the Tushar Mountains and Lamersdorf Peak in the Wah Wah Range.
The Region 9 Sports Class launched first today so the tow planes would have less fuel on board for towing the heavy 18m ships which are all laden to the legal brim with water ballast. If conditions are this good, you want your glider to be as heavy as allowed so it will glide further at high speeds.
When our turn came the day was fully developed and I caught a 9 kt climb off tow that took me all the way to cloud base in no time. Then I went to explore the clouds to find out if there was a pattern for lift and sink distribution below our puffy friends. As expected, the best lift tended to be on the south-west side, which was upwind and facing the sun.
I was itching to get going and when the gate opened I was among the first to cross the start line. I figured the fast guys would catch up to me sooner or later and I would get plenty of company soon enough. The first clouds were lined up well and I knew where I wanted to go and was able to enjoy my glide out in solitude.
The start went quite well but after maybe 30-40 km the clouds were not working nearly as well as they had before. I noticed a convergence line on the east side of the Canyon Mountains that was to the west of the clouds and that helped me along until I found a good climb south of Williams Peak.
From there I tried to stay high as I saw some of the Sport Class gliders struggling low along the Pavani Range. A small wildfire had just started above one of the ridges north of the Kanosh Canyon and that was one more reason to stay very high in case a TFR would be declared (this did in fact happen later in the afternoon). Far below were a few paragliders directly above the fire getting smoked.
I tried to leave the area as quickly as possible and flew to the east of the Tushar Mountains to get a bit deeper into the first turn area. These mountains are absolutely spectacular. Several years ago I participated in a trail marathon that went all the way to the top of Mt. Delano – one of my most demanding foot races. I always marvel how easy it is to climb these mountains in a glider by comparison.
This was also the section were I was being passed by the fast guys who had started later than me. They kindly marked two good thermals for me that took me all the way to 17,000 feet. Thank you! The fastest pilots kept going further south and I decided once again to fly my own race and took a promising line to the west towards the second turn area. My flight computer predicted 30 minutes overtime even if I would only scratch the second turn area so I figured I had gone far enough to the south anyway.
I got some great views crossing the Tushars from east to west, heading past Beaver towards Lamersdorf Peak. I found a good climb over the Mineral Mountains just west of Beaver and the clouds continued after a modest blue hole to the west.
I got into the second turn area and my flight computer still showed 28 minutes of overtime. A great looking line of clouds curved directly into the direction to the finish. The computer said I would need to fly 202 kph average for the rest of the task – the remaining 188 kilometers or 115+ miles – to arrive on time.
That speed seemed inconceivable to me so I turned north towards the finish.
At MC4 I was about 6000 feet below final glide path but the line of clouds ahead looked excellent and I was sure to find some good climbs along the way.
Well, the clouds were even better than expected. I remembered that the line was the result of two convergent winds: a southerly wind to my right, and a more westerly wind to my left. These two wind streams were coming together, pushing the air up along the way. The result was a lift band that stretched all the way from the second turn area to the finish more than a hundred miles to the north.
All I had to do was stay relatively high along the west side of the clouds and the convergence propelled me forward while the tail wind pushed me along. It was a spectacular part of the flight because it was so easy. I just continued straight, slowing down in the strongest parts of the lift and flying faster in the weaker parts.
I continuously gained on the final glide path and the predicted overtime got shorted and shorter. My ground speed started to exceed 200 kph and soon I started to wonder if it was in fact possible that I might come back below minimum time if the line were to continue.
Well, continue it did. By the time I was abeam Filmore my flight computer showed that I had reached final glide altitude at MC4 and when I reached the Canyon Mountain it was obvious that I would arrive too early and too high. I put the Ventus in speed flaps and pushed the trim all the way forward to run 130 kts and I just kept the nose pointed at the finish.
I eventually reached the finish cylinder about 800 feet high and arrived with almost 5 minutes below minimum time. That’s unfortunate because it means my average speed for the flight was only 142kph instead of the actual 146 kph. (This is because the flown distance is divided by the minimum time and not the actual time if one finishes early.) (My average speed for the entire 188km final glide was 214 kph.)
But it was great fun nonetheless. For the future, I just have to take the possibility into account that a great looking line might work even better and allow for an even greater time cushion. It would not have been hard to go a little deeper into either of the two turn cylinders.
Today’s winner was Rick Indrebo with a speed of 163 kph, closely followed by Sean Fidler and Bif Huss. Rick and Sean also took the lead overall closely followed by John Seaborn who is in third overall.
My daily score today was 872 points, a good improvement over the first two contest days.
Flight Trace on WeGlide:
Race Results on SSA Website: