[Courtesy of David Hull - originally posted on RCSE]
What a great experience! With the help of the Bluegrass Soaring Society and the event coordinator, Bob Cooper, I participated in my first sailplane contest, the 22nd Annual Mid-America Championship at Lexington, KY.
No, I didn't want to. When I initially contacted Bob (via the BSS homepage after learning about it on an RCSE post), I told him I just wanted to observe. Someone had told me that contests were the best way to improve my flying, but this 63-year-young wasn't ready for any contest and would be a danger to everyone on the field. He gently encouraged me to bring along my sailplane (Saggitta 600) and join the fun. Well, I thought about it, tossed good sense to the wind, and put it in the car for the 6 hour trip from North Carolina. He had already given me his home, office, and pager numbers just in case I had any trouble on the way. However, the contest and motel information and *super* map links from the BSS homepage made it easy.
Needless to say, I was warmly greeted, signed-up by some friendly guys at the scoring table, and offered a prime spot under a much needed tent (ah, yes, another important item to be added to one's flight kit). This did a little to calm my jumpy nerves, but... Bob then told me he "hadn't brought any sailplane" so he'd help me. That didn't take long. A couple of minutes later I declared myself out-of-it for the duration because I found my rudder hinges had broken along the way and I had no stuff to fix it (more items for the kit). Some "borrowed" tape in Bob's deft hands had the problem solved in short order, better than ever. Oh well, can't get out of it that way; gosh those nerves!
Soon it was time for the well organized pilots meeting where 25-30 of us were brought together under the capable leadership of Buzz Bruszewski. Tasks would be 4, 7, 8, and 11 minutes with an open winch. Ah, yes, the daunting winch. I'd only seen one in magazines. This one came equipped with a really high speed retrieval system and a *super*, tireless operator (unfortunately, I didn't get his name) who endured the hot sun all day to get all those beautiful birds in the air. By now I'm starting to shake. Bob explained the whole operation very clearly and then said he'd launch for me. Whew! Seeing my only flyable sailplane (also have a Gentle Lady which had just taken another dork) kiting up was just awesome...and frightening. He then turned the trany over to me. I had also had a chance to observe some ot the others and now knew for sure that I was way *way* out of my league; my participation would be a joke. But...my Saggitta was now *way* up there and I had control(?)...so I just did it. The lift was so good that my first try was for the 11 minutes. Coaching. Encouragement. Fright. Trembling. Then descend and circle to land. Too bad I couldn't have completed the task about 10 feet up and 20 feet out. Too fast and heavy on the spoiler for an out landing. Ah well. Now the nerves can come back...and did they. Shaking, light-headed, and feeling ill, I retrieved my bird and headed for the tent with my mentor trying to convince me I'd done well.
The second flight, also launched by Cooper, was into sink (the other part of that nice lift) and my landing was even worse. Guess it's best to take time out for lunch. Yes, there is (was) a free lunch. And a good one at that: hot dogs, baked beans, chips and all the fixings. Of course, non-alcoholic drinks and water all day.
Then I watched the others for a while. Wow what flying!!! Pilots routinely flying smoothly, recovering from impossible situations, precisely guiding their birds all over the sky searching for that elusive lift, swinging around tight thermals, quietly swooping in, and finally coming home right on the tape, not just near it. These guys were *good*!!! What a standard to shoot for. What a long way to go. But best, what a challenge!
At this point, I'm no longer jumpy, so Bob asks "Do you want to handle the winch this time?" So much for being comfortable. Pride goeth before the crash so I said "Yes". No, it didn't crash, but my stomach nearly did. My gosh, he also handed me the trany after I'd hooked-up. I was going to do it all. Oh my! Well, it was neat! Not nearly as high but a real thrill when those long-time master pilots waiting behind me broke out in applause as I topped-out and left on my third task. Guess I got too excited. Didn't make the time and landed out again. On the fourth flight I managed a little zoom from the winch but it didn't result in a much better score.
After watching for a while, I had the privilege of timing a few times for the experts. These were wonderful learning experiences; thanks to you guys whose names I can't remember. Later Cooper took even more time to jot down some of the key points to reinforce some of the things we'd discussed and to give me a path to improve my skills and knowledge back home. Wow, the amount of stuff that was accumulating in my head (and heart) was just awesome. And it was a bit humbling when I finally got some hint of just how good this patient mentor was as a pilot.
The day was drawing to an end and so I packed-up for the long trip home. However, I did stay to see what this Hand Launch Golf was all about. What a blast! Need to build (get) a HLG. At least I think (hope) a "less young" person might learn to do that too. Oh, to top things off, I had to reassemble my sailplane for the winners picture. I took first place in the Novice Class...believe me, as the only participant. But still nice.
As I drove the loooongggg way back to NC, I had nothing but wonderful thoughts about the BSS group, the many pilots from other groups, Bob Cooper, and my fantastic day at my first contest. Yes, guys/gals, I'm already looking forward to motoring to Lexington next year. Perhaps still as a novice, (since there's virtually no sailplane activity now in Western NC) but with enthusiasm. This hobby is just too great, too expansive, too technically fascinating, too challenging, and too filled with neat people to not be pursued as much and as far as possible. And yes, that includes you guys/gals on the RCSE.
David F. (Dave) Hull