The 2001 U.S. World Class National Championship
Dottie Thomas-Pin and François Pin
Once again, Cordele, in southern Georgia, provided the ideal conditions for competitive racing. Abundant fields with low or no crops lay everywhere in the task area and made out-landings very safe. The Cordele-typical varied weather, bringing days with ideal popcorn Cu at 5,000 feet, days with blue thermals and 15-kt. winds, days with tiptoeing starts under low spreading-out clouds, and days of "dodge-the-late-thunderstorms," tested all racing skills. CD Charlie Spratt's calls, and a few irrigation areas, provided for varied and challenging tasks, in which gear-switching abilities often were the key to completion. The extremely pleasant and warm welcome of our hosts, Dub and Cecile Cooper who run the Cordele Flying Services and FBO, and the always friendly and supporting attitude of the people of Cordele, who offered us two barbecues at the field, a fish fry at Lake Blackshear Park, and a diner/pool party at the Colonial Inn, completed the ideal atmosphere for the contest.
Despite three pre-registrants unfortunately having to cancel at the last minute because of health, business, and family problems, eleven PW-5 pilots were on the grid, vying for this year World Class National Champion title, a very encouraging number for this 5-year old FAI Class which shows continued growth. Discussions among the contest attendees and with many of the far-away pilots who shied away from the long drive to the East coast this year, indicate that the growth pattern will continue, with participation numbers likely increasing by another 50% at next year's Nationals, now confirmed for Uvalde, TX. Even more encouraging were the entrants statistics showing 27.3% participation by youth, 9.1% by women, and 36.4% by current U.S. Team members, percentages believed to be the highest ever in any FAI Class Nationals. Three sponsorships, paying for full registration fees, were awarded this year to the participating young pilots, and pledges and contributions already received for next year indicate that these record statistics numbers will continue their upward trend. Many sponsors helped us, and we would like to convey our sincerest thanks to all of them.
From Day 1, it became clear that the four U.S. Team members (Danny Sorenson, Pat Tuckey, François Pin, and Michael Robison), Bill Snead of world records fame, Jim Gager of past hang-gliding championship fame, and Charlie Yeates of past Canadian Team fame, were neither kidding nor rusty in their flying, and had come for highly competitive racing. François won Day 1 with a speed of 47.01 mph, followed by Danny at 44.84 mph, Michael at 43.57 mph and Jim at 42.32 mph.
On Day 2, François and Danny tied for first place, while Pat took third, and Bill's 4th place moved him up to third overall. Watermelon requires a lot of water to grow, and Frank Reid discovered that fact with a long glide to land in the middle of Tifton's thermal-killing irrigation area. While getting low in the same area, Jayne Reid recognizes the trap and "goes for the interstate" to escape the bad air. Her GPS showed the most amazing trace: a 15-mile straight line at altitudes between 800 and 1000 feet right above I-75. With good fields within reach all along, Jayne said that she was never worried and kept on cruising without circling in the weak thermal bubbles kicked off by the interstate and the traffic. Tiptoeing her way forward low enough to read the big green exit signs, she finally took a good thermal at the Ashburn exit that brought her up to final glide and home. Avoid melons and keep on trucking…. A stationary front overhead the next day gave us a rest day and an opportunity to sample the gourmet cuisine at famous Daphnee's Lodge near Lake Blackshear.
Day 3 was dry and blue with 15-kt winds from the northwest. Most spent more than thirty minutes bucking the headwind in weak thermals just to get to the edge of the 5-mile radius start cylinder. The leg to Americus and back yielded three land-outs. All the others experienced the joy of last-minute saves from below 1000 feet. Pat and François claimed the records while demonstrating the turn-on-a-dime ability of the PW-5 by recovering from 425 and 450 feet, respectively, a feat that they claim they would not have pulled off with their other ships (ASW-27 and Discus). Danny won the day to take the overall lead from François, while Pat's 2nd place, Michael's 3rd, and Charlie's 4th for the day brought them up to the top five overall.
Day 4 gave another turn in the lead positions. The first leg to Leesburg, upwind and crossing Lake Blackshear and the nearby swamp, yielded six land-outs. Exiting the swamp area on the way back, the thermals improved and the remaining five pilots made great speed downwind to Hawkinsville using good streets. By then, a gigantic thunderstorm had covered the entire northern sector of the task area, spreading a darkening shadow on the track of the third leg to Veteran Memorial. Gear-switching again, with slow progress upwind in the last little bubbles of lift under the threatening overcast. Charlie showed that he excels at that game, being first home and winning the day at 36.89 mph. François was the only other finisher at 35.55 mph, reclaiming the overall lead by 30 points in front of Danny who landed two so short miles out. Coming back from the retrieve, Pat's glider showed some stress cracks on the fuselage about a foot behind the wind roots, which unfortunately forced Pat to pull out of the contest.
The threat and percentage of thunderstorms was forecasted to increase every day from here on. Indeed, every day showed progressively later trigger time, later launch, lower cloud base at the start, and earlier time of thunderstorms hitting the field shortly after the finishes. Day 5 was a 3-hr PST which six pilots completed. Danny won it at 42.58 mph, followed by François at 41.16 mph, reducing François's overall lead to 4 points. Day 6 was a 2 and 1/2-hr PST with Eastman as the first mandatory turnpoint. CD Charlie Spratt explained that he preferred to intentionally devaluate the day while giving everyone a chance to complete the task before the thunderstorms hit, rather than creating a massive land-out or a massive tie for the day with everyone coming back under-time. A good call, as no one landed out despite very low cloud bases during the early part of the task, and only three were forced back home under-time. Danny again won it at 40.75 mph, 0.5 mph faster than François, to reclaim the overall lead by 7 points.
Day 7 dawned with some overcast and the early cloud wisps were very low. Our great weatherman, Harry Senn, decided to go and sniff by himself what his forecast predicted as a marginal but still do-able contest day. Despite finding cloud bases at 2,000 feet, Harry reported that "the atmosphere was juicy" and that cloud bases should rise. When he reached 2,500 feet, the launch went on. It took some time for the bases to rise to 3,300 feet. Charlie Spratt again had called a 2 and 1/2-hr PST for the same reasons as the day before and, as soon as the gate opened, everyone was gone within minutes as all could see a large storm cloud forming right above the first mandatory turnpoint at Hawkinsville. All averaged high speeds up to 70 mph to the first turn flying downwind under the low massive cloud streets, however, still arriving just a bit late to avoid the rain. Five were forced down, while the other five made the turn and escaped the area as fast as they could. From here on, it was a set of decisions between following cloud streets upwind and avoiding overdeveloping areas. Frank played it safe and chose the areas with less convective buildup, paying for it with fewer thermals that were chopped by the wind. He got home, though, with a speed of 22.11 mph. Michael came back under-time for a speed of 29.38 mph, while Charlie averaged 30.51 mph and François 41.12 mph. Danny blew everyone's socks off by gambling on the streets upwind all the way to the swamps at Warwick, then dashing downwind to Rochelle and returning by Pineview for a rolling finish with a speed of 47.13 mph and an overall lead of 92 points. This 47.13 mph speed not only exceeded François's 47.01 mph on the first day to earn Danny this year's Oran Nicks Award for the fastest speed at the World Class Nationals, but also approached the winners' speeds for the day in the Region 5 Standard Class (Sam Giltner at 48.00 mph) and 15 meter Class (Alfonso Jurado at 51.47 mph), both in ballasted ships with greater than 45:1 L/D. A few mouths were observed to drop opened when pilots looked at the results, and Danny and his PW-5 earned a well deserved respect.
Day 8 was not to be. The steadily more humid conditions of the past days continued their trend. We gridded, launched when the sniffer past 2500 feet, and the whole fleet milled a long time bumping up to a cloud base at 3200-3300 feet AGL. Things looked clear to the Northeast and Southeast, but the day was scrubbed when a light rain sprinkle hit the field. Conditions improved later in the afternoon but it was judged too late to attempt anything. The following and last day saw us grid at 12:30, just to retreat rapidly to the trailers when a storm approached from the west. The Award ceremony took place at 3:00pm under an impressive thunderstorm with lightning displays. At the morning pilots' meeting, learning that she needed to head home early, and knowing for sure who it would go to, we gave Jayne Reid the award for the Top Placing Women in the World Class Nationals. With her constant smile and good humor, Jayne promised to help recruiting to double the percentage of women participants at next year's Nationals in Uvalde.
Danny Sorenson is our 2001 World Class National Champion and received both the new perpetual World Class Championship Trophy, a delicate crystal eagle offered this year by Peak Soaring, and the perpetual World Class Championship, Youth Division Trophy, a beautifully etched PW-5 graciously offered by Bill and Nancy Snead. With sixth and seventh place overall, Michael Robison and Michael Riley, our two other Junior participants, received the "new-comer scholarships/sponsorships" of $1,000 and $500 awarded to the top placing contestants having never previously finished in the top ten of a National contest, to support their future contest entry/registration. Bill Thar received the "Dare to Soar" worry bead as the most improved pilot during the contest. The final cumulative scores and standings are shown below, and additional day-by-day scores and reports can be found on the SSA Website at www.ssa.org/contests.
This was a wonderful contest, with challenging and varied conditions and tasks, high-caliber competition, superb and safe flying, and most importantly the very friendly, gentle, and pleasant camaraderie typical of the World Class contests. We never saw anything but smiles and happiness on all the participants' faces, even in the typically most somber moments of returning from retrieves in muddy fields. Many people helped us make this a fun and safe contest, including our several anonymous sponsors and generous donors of prizes, trophies, and youth sponsorships. Our sincerest thanks go to all. Coupling this contest with the Region 5 Regionals was definitely a win-win for both contests. It also allowed us to benefit from the support and help of the highly experienced Cordele Team, including Clyde Taylor, CD Charlie Spratt, weatherman extraordinaire Harry Senn, scorer Jack Woodhead, Bob and Lynne Davis, the two most efficient line boys in the sport Matt and Mike Sorenson, computer wizard Fernando Silva, and the many tow pilots (some coming from as far as Pennsylvania and Florida) Gary Wackerhagen, Miller Wilder, Richard Miller, Frank Wilson, Anita de Villages, Karen Geisinger, Perry Thomason, Hartley Falbaum, Michael Wegner and Rolly Clark, as well as our FBO hosts Dub and Cecile Cooper. Our dearest thanks to all.
Happy and safe flights. See you next year in Uvalde.