Friday, August 18, 2017

Final Task - This is it!

Waiting for the task briefing to start today, I had a chance to speak with Petr Benes from the Czech Republic.  The Czech team did very well in the European Championships in Krushevo last summer, but they seem to have come blazing out of nowhere here in Brasilia.  They are currently in second place in the team competition, just 335 points behind the Italians.  In the individual scores, Petr is just 6 points behind Alex Ploner in first going into the final day of the comp.  The top five positions are actually so compressed on the final day that it’s going to make for a really exciting finish.  

Petr is an interesting, quiet guy and this is the first time I’ve every really spoken with him.  I tried to get a video interview for the FAI CIVL Facebook page, but he did little more than flash a shy smile and shrug his shoulders.  So, I thought I would just sit down with him and ask about life in general to try to coax him into talking about the competition here.  Turns out he is an artistic blacksmith doing restoration work in prestigious places/buildings in Prague.  Compared to many here, he’s a relatively new hang glider pilot, having learned just about 13 years ago starting out in sailplanes at age 17 (reminds me of a certain American world record holder).  Petr went on to tell me why he thought the Czech team was so successful.  He explained that conditions in the Czech Republic are very rarely strong or consistent.  So, from the very start of their flying careers, they must learn to stay up in the most difficult conditions, rarely getting all that high above the terrain.  That makes sense - the Austrians have historically been a very strong team, with Austrians having similar difficult conditions much of the time.  

It’s going to be fun to be in the Esplanade watching them come in today.  With only 66 points separating the top four pilots, the gold is there for any one of them to take.  I guess the question is whether Alex and Christian will race against each other and risk losing the team gold for the Italians.  I spoke with Flavio on launch just a while ago and he’s one nervous team leader.  

Best of luck to the Italians and the Czechs, and even better luck to team USA who are just 8 points out of third place with only today to steal the bronze medal from those pesky Germans!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

USA Third!!

It's been a tough few days with lighter, more difficult conditions all around, but team USA has at last moved into third place after yesterday's task.  

Gone are the days of 100 pilots in goal.  With somewhat low inversions and lighter lift, the number at goal has decreased significantly.  On Task 6, in fact, just one lone Japanese pilot made it in.  Thanks to Bruce and John getting relatively close that day, the team started a campaign to move up onto the podium.  The Italians and Czechs have all but sealed up their first and second place positions (although the possibility of a swap is still very real).  But, third place was open to the USA, Brasilia, Australian and German teams.   Only 30 or so were in goal yesterday's and Zac, Robin and Bruce made it in reasonably fast, moving us up into third with about 225 points over the Germans in fourth. 

Aside from that great news, there's been much grumbling about guys making very dangerous approaches into the Esplanada on several days.  I mentioned one such approach in one of my earlier posts, and they have continued.  The field just adjacent to the Esplanada landing field has been approved for landing in situations where the Esplanada has many other pilots coming in at the same time.  However, as this field just to the north is the first one you reach on a low approach, a few guys have used it because they couldn't make it in to the Esplanada and a few have come straight in on final, landing downwind having just barely made it over the buildings, trees and very low power lines.  

Cid, the Meet Director, gave a warning to all pilot several days ago, mentioning that there would be no more warnings, that dangerous approaches would, from then on, be penalized.  The problem of course, is that everyone wanted some objective criteria for what would be considered dangerous. Cid went with the "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it" answer, but promised to work on outlining some criteria.  Meanwhile, the same day, two pilots came into the adjacent field very low over the power lines, one landing downwind.  This was a day that many guys stopped short of going over the city and landed at the field at the end of speed section, having heeded Cid's warning not to make dangerous approaches over the city.  Initially, the two pilots having what many considered dangerous approaches, were not penalized and there was quite an uproar over that, particularly from the pilots that turned back and landed at the end of speed section.  Eventually, Cid decided that a penalty was in order and those two pilots were basically scored as if they had landed back at the end of speed section.  At the same time, it was decided that although there was no perfect solution, the best criteria for what the Meet Director would consider a "safe" landing was the ability to make a circuit (downwind-base-final) approach prior to landing.  Coming straight in on final and landing downwind because no other turns could be made beforehand, would be considered a dangerous approach and would be penalized.  So, this is what we are using now and this guideline will be used for duration of the comp.

Here's a shot of young Brit pilot Ollie Chitty launching.  He was on a roll yesterday and charged ahead, leading for first 2/3 of the task.  We were all gunning for him to win a day and it would have been pretty cool given that this is his first worlds.  Unfortunately, he must have pushed a little too hard because he lost it about 30km short of goal.  All the girls were heartbroken.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Brasilia Worlds Days 3 and 4

Team USA is finally getting into the groove here.  Zac seems to has found his mojo and is blazing in again the way we're used to seeing him.  Robin is ever consistent and inching his way up the rankings He is in seventh now, just 191 points out of first place.  Actually, after yesterday's task, the top 13 places are only 270 points apart, so scores are rather compressed.  Feels a bit like a paragliding comp ;-).

We've had a few interesting incidents here the last couple of days.  On Task 3 a pilot strayed one and a half kilometers into the airspace in the most unfortunate of places and ended up landing on the grounds of the Presidential Palace.  He was arrested and taken into custody for a short time. Fortunately, the PR person here at the competition happens to know people in the Brasilian Secret Service or FBI or something along those lines and managed to get him released.  On the downside - very big downside - this caused big problems for the organization who has spent a great deal of time and energy getting permission for us to land in the middle of the capital city. Because of the small risk of having the entire competition stopped and the bigger risk of having our permission to land at the Esplanada revoked, the Meet Director made the decision to penalize the pilot not only for violating the airspace with the required zero for the day, but also by suspending him from flying the next day.  The pilot is a very very nice guy and some felt the penalty was too harsh.  Many others recognize that straying so far into the airspace in this location where our permission to land was so carefully secured and tenuous warrants a strong penalty, showing the authorities that the infringement was taken very seriously.  There is concern that the incident could place the entire site in jeopardy.

The other problem we're seeing here nearly every day is that pilots are making dangerously low approaches into the Esplanada.  The landing field is actually quite large, but when 30 pilots are coming in together, things get interesting.  And, as would be expected in a world championship, pilots have the singular focus of getting there at any cost.  Each day it seems that at least one guy comes in barely above the buildings and just eeks it into the field with absolutely no margin for error. The Meet Director and the safety committee are looking for ways to solve this problem.  They've talked about having a minimum altitude for arrival at the Esplanada.  They've also discussed having the penalty for making the end of speed section but NOT making the goal field much smaller (or no penalty at all).  There is no perfect solution for regulating reasonable, safe behavior.  It would be great if pilots would take personal responsibility for that.  

Here are a few Esplanada landings.  This first one is a guy that came in crazy low over the tops of the trees and power lines into the field next door...downwind, and moving very very fast across the ground toward four lanes of traffic.  He pulled off an impressive downwind landing just a few feet short of the road.  Traffic is heavy and it was just luck that I didn't get a car in this picture. Had there been a car in the picture, it would have blocked the pilot and half of his glider - that's how close he was to the road.  The tow pedestrians are on our side of the four lane road.  The picture makes it look much safer than it was.  

Friday, August 11, 2017

Brasilia Worlds Day 2

Day 2 was a tough one at launch.  The early birds had terribly light conditions.  After getting scored minimum distance on day one for top landing for a relaunch because his instrument froze up, Wolfi launched first.  He fought and fought to stay up, but found absolutely zero lift and ended up in the bottom landing field - the one with the three hour retrieve.  Poor Wolfi is just not having his best comp.  

So, after he and another pilot landing below, no one particularly want to take off.  Corrina was brave enough to go and we watched her scratch just above launch height until conditions finally kicked in. She is exceptionally good at staying up in the lightest of lift and she really showed the boys how it's done.  After probably 10-15 minutes of scratching, the day turned on and everyone piled off the hill into some pretty darn tight gaggles.  I wouldn't have wanted to be up there.   

The Esplanada goal field was like Grand Central Station with over 100 pilots making goal, many of them coming in and landing side by side in groups of 3 or 4.  Like launch, I wouldn't have wanted to be coming in to that goal!  But, it's a great place to end the day.  The organizers have made it a big party with food vendors, lots of press, hang gliding rides for the kids and lots of happy pilots.   They're encouraging everyone to spend the evening there.  

Team USA had most into goal yesterday.  Robin and John were fast, in the top 20 for the day.  Zac hasn't quite found his mojo here yet, but he will...I fully expect the crazy good pilot in him to kick into gear today!!

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Worlds Day 1

It's finally underway!  Day 1 task was a relatively short one - 104km optimized.  They put goal out on the flats, not at the Esplanada this time.  I guess for the first day they wanted to make sure everyone was all warmed up before sending them to the most challenging goal field here.

Take off was quick - 131 pilots in 45 minutes.  Conditions were perfect, blowing straight in the entire time.  Hopefully it stays that way!   We're all gutted for Wolfi who had an instrument failure and top landed to get another one, only to be told that there are no reflights :-(.  Such a massive bummer for him, but he takes it all in stride.  He re-flew anyway (just for fun) and came straight to goal to do some filming of everyone coming it.  Gotta love a kid with a great attitude.  

Sitting waiting at goal we heard on the team leader WhatsApp group that a Brasilian pilot deployed his chute after an apparent midair.  The pilot is uninjured.  The other pilot flew on to goal.  

In the end there were probably at least 70 or more in goal. Former world champion Alex Ploner blazed in first with several of his Italian teammates right on his tail.  I think I heard there were 5 Italians in the top ten.  We got all of team USA in to goal, but with the exception of Robin, we weren't terribly fast.  Robin was likely in the top ten.

Live tracking is HERE, but there is a 25 minute delay, so it's a bit behind the social media.  I'm tweeting from goal every day from #naughtylawyer if you want a preview of what's coming on the Flymaster site.

It's Started!!

Here is our Team US!

Derreck Turner lives in Fort Meyers, Florida and works as a hang gliding instructor, tandem pilot and tug pilot at the Florida Ridge flight park.  Derreck was on the US team for the last worlds in Valle de Bravo, Mexico and he flies a Litespeed RX.

Robin Hamilton is originally from Scotland, but has been living in the US for many years now.  We stole him away from team UK a while back ;-).  Robin lives and works in Houston, Texas and flies out at Cowboy Up flight park in Texas.  He was part of team USA starting at the worlds in Forbes where the team won a silver medal and he flies a Litespeed RX.

Bruce Barmakian is from southern California and holds several site records in California.  Bruce flew ridig wings for many years and was part of the US rigid wing team for the worlds in Greifenburg, Austria back in 2003.  He's been on the flexie team since the worlds in Valle de Bravo in 2015. Bruce is flying an Icaro Laminar.  

John Simon is a 737 pilot based in the Washington, DC area and out of the blue he's started winning comps in the US  left and right.  Just a few years ago, he was flying a kingposted glider in the sport class, but now he's kicking ass on his Aeros Combat.  This is his first time at the worlds.  

Everyone knows Zac "Zippy" Majors from California.  Zac is a hang gliding instructor in California and has been on the US team forever.  He's often our US National champion and he's just married the most gorgeous, sweet girl pilot that we all love as least as much as we love Zippy ;-)  Zac is a factory pilot for Wills Wing and flies and T2C.

Patrick Pannese is the newest member of the US team, coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. Patrick is filling the shoes of Dustin Martin who had to pull out at the last minute and we're so lucky he could make it.  He flies a Wills Wing, T2C.

Niki Longshore is our favorite up and coming world team pilot.  She comes from Texas and Tennessee via Hawaii and does her flying all over the world!  Less than a year ago, Niki was still flying a Gecko.  She's been on her Litespeed RX 3.5 for less than a year now and she's flying so well on it!  We have high hopes for her to be the top placing female pilot here.  

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Getting There

Getting here to Brasilia has been quite a journey. But I'm happy to say that all of Team USA is here and ready to get this thing underway.  Niki and I left Houston on Tuesday night with three gliders on a direct flight to Rio.  United never fails to come through for us.  We checked in in Houston with zero problems and very few questions asked. In the end we paid a total of $200 for four oversized bags - three gliders and a harness that weighed more than the gliders. We laughed all the way through security and straight to the bar at the lounge were we celebrated with a bit of tequila.  

Derreck met us on the other end in Rio where things slowed down to a typical South American pace. About 2 hours getting the rental car and then preparing it to carry four gliders, then of course, the usual extra hour "sight seeing" (read "getting lost") in Rio before we started what turned out to be an eighteen hour drive to Brasilia.  It's quite slow going generally because the first two thirds of the drive is on two lane roads going through small towns and over endless speed bumps.  Just as we were enjoying a reasonable quick pace on the big divided highway nearing the capital city, we had some "car problems".  

Although we laughed the whole time for being so stupid, running out of gas wasn't entirely our fault.  The car's internal computer that tells how many kilometers we had left in the tank was completely wrong.  Just a few minutes after seeing that we had 100 kilometers remaining, the car died....two hours outside of Brasilia, 22 kilometers from the nearest fuel and about two hours before dark.  Despite it being a busy enough highway, Niki and I were surprised to find that no one wanted to stop and help two girls.  Even down on her hands and knees begging, not a single car stopped for us.  I actually thought at one point that my ever present guardian angel was looking after us when a truck going the opposite way dropped a ten gallon tank of some kind.  It bounced down the highway toward us and we could see it was leaking liquid.  We ran over, laughing our asses off, thinking what an amazing story it would be if God himself had dropped us a tank of fuel. But no, not this time....just water.   

In the end, we finally got some help, thanks to Derreck's excellent Spanish that sometimes passes for Portuguese.  We rolled into Brasilia in time for dinner with Bruce, John and Heather who had arrived a bit earlier. 

I can't complain at all about the trip.  There was a lot of laughing and the whole thing was an adventure with fun people who don't let themselves get stressed when things don't go perfectly.  

Unfortunately, Zac and Patrick had more issues with their gliders.  The gliders were removed from the plane in Houston and didn't make it down to Rio until the next day.  So, they had to spend an extra day waiting in Rio and only arrived in Brasilia late Saturday night.  Niki and I brought Robin's glider, so he had a pretty easy time flying all the way to Brasilia Saturday morning.  We're all here now and so ready to do this!!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Brasilia Worlds Opening Ceremonies

The Brasilia Worlds kicked off last night with a very energetic and super fun opening ceremony at the National Museum. The museum is an iconic white domed building in the center of the city designed by Oscar Niemeyer.  Teams were paraded down the dome's footbridge and greeted at the bottom by a Brasilian women's drum troop called Batala. They were amazing and managed to get most teams boogying down the ramp.

For once, the organizers kept the speaking to a minimum and really just put on a fun party for us. Only Dennis Pagen, jury President spoke briefly, officially opening this 21st FAI hang gliding worlds. Otherwise, we all just enjoyed the fantastic music, dancing and catching up with many friends from around the planet.  I've thought so many times that this is the most enjoyable part of any competition stress yet and so much hope and excitement.  

There sure are a lot of dorks in hang gliding ;-)