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2011 U.S. Lonestar Nationals

The 2nd round of the 2011 US Nationals Series will take place in Hearne, Texas from August 14th through the 21st. This competition is a tow competition in the flatlands of Texas. We will be getting updates on the competition from Marty DeVietti and Dean Stratton from the front line.

FRIDAY 8/12/11
Well it is HOT here in Hearne, TX. It is NOT a dry heat. It is worse than AFRICA hot. But the flying is good, and we had a nice couple hour flight to check out the air, the area and the temperature at cloud base, which was around 70 degrees and 6500 feet above the airport that is 280 feet above sea level....nice.

Dean, Eric, Riss (and a few others) opted to stay local and fight the wind, pushing into it and stay close to the airport. Dean made about 12 km to the south directly up wind, and Eric (Badger) was somewhere near half that far where he landed. Dean made it back and I never went more than 3 to 4 km away from the airport where I landed too, as did Riss. One pilot, Frank, flew 140 miles, but since there was no official retrieve, he is still out there somewhere trying to get back...happy, but he will be home late for sure!

We all knew that was the deal, so good on him, for going big in the face of no ride back!

Tomorrow we will likely chill in preparation for a week of big tasks that run WITH the wind, and if the wind should slow down to 5mph or so, maybe a triangle task will be the call?

The pics include yours truly in the air, Deano out front and a shot back at the take-off runway at Hearne...Cheers,

Marty



SATURDAY 8/13/11Well today dawned cloudy and it looked like a change in the weather would make the practice tows on the second "unofficial" day of pre-comp flying merely an exercise to try out new gliders, new tow bridles and dust off towing skills for tomorrow's big day. Today may be the first in over a month to be under 100 degrees. I can't say that it felt all that much different, but I think it was less hot than yesterday.

Several towed, and many more than once, but few soared for very long or for very far. Nonetheless, it was useful to all involved despite the extra cloud cover, which eventually did burn off a bit.

Tomorrow was to be a huge task, but since the forecast calls for less than ideal conditions for that, we might have a shorter triangle or similar task called. We shall see.

Only 15 pilots are registered, so getting up and away should be relatively easy. There are several tow rigs (up to 9 or so were slated for the event), and the runway makes for easy, successive tows. RE-Tows are allowed so long as you land back at the start point (ideally) or within 5 miles of it. This means if you launch early enough in the launch window, you will likely be picked up, returned to the tow area and given another go. Landing outside the 5 mile radius will result in a zero score for the day.

We will hopefully have some fun to report tomorrow night...Stay tuned.




SUNDAY 8/14/11
I know that Marty already mentioned how hot it is here, but c'mon! It's unreal how hot it is here. Five minutes after getting my gear on I was dripping wet and my clothes were completely soaked. Even after having pilots tow up over the last couple days there still seems to be some kinks to work out. As already mentioned there are only 15 or so pilots in the comp, pretty sad. I was hoping for at least 40, but it is what it is. It feels more like a league meet than a comp at this point.

One of the things that the comp organizers are trying to accomplish this week is to show that Race To Goal formats are possible in tow meets. Today, with the light winds aloft, Race To Goal was the call. A 90 km out and return task was called but the possibility of overdevelopment was looming. We had 5 tow rigs doing the work today but the conditions were cross which made it very difficult to get the 15 pilots into the air within the 1 1/2 hour launch window before the start. With 1 tow rig for every 3 pilots I was sure there wouldn't be a problem but I was wrong. Five minutes before the start gate opened only half of the pilots had successfully towed up, leaving the other half on the ground in the miserable heat. The overdevelopment got the best of us today and the task was canceled before the start gate opened. There were isolated showers to the East of us and significant showers to the North. The showers to the North were slowly heading our way and gaining in strength, so canceling the task was the right call. Shortly after landing it started to sprinkle around the airport, pretty hard to argue with that.

There was lots of discussion afterwards and the consensus is that the Race To Goal format is possible given the right day, but the jury is still out as to whether the format would work with a larger group of pilots. No doubt we'll try to do a Race To Goal task again this week, stay tuned.

Dean








MONDAY 8/15/11
RESULTS

Day 2 task 1
It was much drier today and we had 15 km winds out of the South. Again, it was hot but the wind helped to make it tolerable. Shade structures were put up near the tow area which gave us much needed relief. The task for the day was 144 km, straight downwind with 15 min start gates. It took some time for things to pop so most of us bombed out on our first tow, but got up on our second. The launch area was still tough and many of us took slow, drifty thermals that eventually got us on course. Once on course the thermals got better, and in the early part of the race cloud base was around 7500 agl. CB did rise to around 8500 agl later in the day. There were decent cloud streets along the course line but there were also some big blue holes we had to traverse.

There was a couple of small groups that managed to gaggle up but most of us, including myself, flew the course alone. Since we only have 15 pilots in the comp, and using a start gate format, gaggle flying is a little harder to do. In the end 6 pilots made goal, including Marty. I got really low about half way through the course and fell behind. After getting back up I mashed the bar to catch back up and hit the dirt 38 km from goal - oops! Well, I've got 5 more days to make up some ground. The weather is supposed to improve in the next couple days so expect a couple big tasks. We will be trying to call a Texas size task of at least 240 km.
Dean




Whew! 142km and 3-4 hrs later, Goal! Eric reed lead the charge, but just getting there was quite an accomplishment (for me anyway) as I got within 100-200 feet of the deck at one point about 1/3 of the way there...sheesh!

Tomorrow looks windier than today with predicted lower cloudbase..but that is just the forecast, we all think otherwise to the better!

Nighty night...it is 11:30pm here....Marty

TUESDAY AUGUST 16TH
RESULTS

Howdy! Dean may have already posted something about today on the Eagle website, but I'm still riding back with 8 other pilots, three of whom made goal on the longest task in us comp history (according to Dave Prentice). Those three are Eric Reed, Andy Macrae, and Justin Eliot. I landed about 10km short.

The task was 172km (over 100 miles!). I was in the air over 5.5 hours yo-yoing from just a few hundred feet off the deck (twice) upwards to over 8,000 feet at cloudbase. Some were able to stay relatively high for most of the flight. Much cooler there! I'll try that style tomorrow. :-P Dean didn't connect on his first tow, landed and towed again just as the pilots in the air topped out and pushed back upwind to try and gaggle together. He tried to make a low save as he circled back off his tow to fly with us. It would have been perfect but he just couldn't connect and landed as we eventually got up, up and away. I don't know if he got another tow or not, as he was in the "re-fly" zone. Time will tell.

That's it for me

Task 3 tomorrow. Weather is looking great!

From Dean
Day 3 - Task 2
First off, I'm not real happy about today. I had 3 tows today and I didn't connect with anything that was able to get me up and out on course. At this point I'm not a big fan of the tow format for major competitions like the Nationals. The height of the tows are averaging between 900 - 1500 feet agl. and that gives you 5 minutes on average to find something before you hit the dirt. The thermals around the tow-up area have been generally weak, wind blown, and drifty. If the day is working really well you have a decent chance of getting up, but if it's not working well your chances of hitting the dirt off tow is very high. On all 3 of the days thus far the majority of the field has had to tow up more than once to connect with a thermal, and on all 3 days a portion of the pilots weren't lucky enough to get on course. Getting on course is more a matter of luck than skill at this event and that shouldn't be the case. Luck should be reserved for a low save along the course line. Add this to the extreme heat factor and you have very stressful conditions, which in my opinion is a recipe for trouble. The towing has been improving each day thankfully but it still needs to be more efficient. Today I timed the tows while I was waiting and it took 5-7 minutes on average to get a single pilot in the air. It's a good thing there are only 15 competitors at this event. If you were to double that amount it would most likely be chaos with the infrastructure they currently have. In order to handle more pilots you would need several more volunteers and definitely more tow rigs. I'm committed to finishing this event and I really want to see it through, but I would definitely think twice before returning to this venue at this time of year, its just too hot for me. The fact that the majority of the the top competitors aren't attending this event is no coincidence, they obviously knew something that I was blind to.

WEDNESDAY AUGUST 17TH - TASK 3
RESULTS

Howdy folks! Well today was hot, and short, for me. Deano, on the other hand looks like he might be in goal with 2 or 3 others. I got to fly with Dean for about 15 minutes as he flew back upwind to gaggle with me after I connected with lift on my 2nd tow. We drifted and climbed until we left the 5 km cylinder for the start and got some more lift directly down wind of the airport, but not a lot for me. Deano climbed away and circled above me until I ultimately drifted and dirted about 15km from the start, too far away to qualify for a restart and it was too late in the day as launch would close in 10 minutes after I landed.

Dean specked out, and others followed and flew over my head. I only had to walk about 400 yards to the main road where a gas station was, and two gatorades later, my ride was out front honking for me. Nice.

I did manage to leave my phone in the cup holder of the Van, so at least my phone made it to goal today!

I am sure Dean will get it for me and tell me all about his adventures later tonight.

While I wish I could have made the flight, I am surprisingly okay with falling through the cracks today, as it seems that everyone is getting a turn at it here.

Tomorrow is supposed to be great...so I will rest up and hydrate some more. Had a nice dinner (as opposed to my mini-mart hot dog and yoo-hoo last night) at a decent hour and feel full, cool, and relaxed.

Tune in tomorrow for task 4!

Marty

THURSDAY AUGUST 18TH TASK 4
RESULTS

From Marty...

Freeze! Hold it right there! That was what the perimeter patrol guard said to me when I hiked past one of the guard towers in the highest security facility in all of Texas 20km short of a 151km goal. Oooooops! All good. They are still REcounting all the guards before letting us go. More to come! Stay tuned.

From Dean...
Thurs Day 5 task 4
Higher pressure today and very light winds around HQ (airport). Launch went slow due to the weather. It didn't turn on until around 2:30, and when it did it was a mad rush to launch. Today the towing went pretty smooth. The organization is finally working out the wrinkles and I would estimate they were towing up a pilot every 3-4 minutes. The sky was blue until 3 but the cumi's showed up right on time. Cloud base was in the mid 9's and the thermals averaged 1000 fpm.

The flight felt like it was progressing slowly. We were able to gaggle up in the beginning of the flight but we split up soon after. It wasn't until near the end of the flight when a few of us joined back up for the glide to goal. Since the flight went slow it was very late when we went on final glide. Justin and I took our final glide around 7:15 ish and our last thermal was a booming 50-100 fpm. We left on final at 26 km from goal and I barely made it, Justin came up .5 km short. 4 pilots in goal today and several just short. Between finding pilots along the course, the retrieve van getting held at a local prison (which Marty eluded to), and extracting a pilot from a tree just short of goal, we didn't get home until 4 a.m. - it was one of those days...








FRIDAY AUGUST 19TH TASK 5
RESULTS

Whew! After 4 pilots landed in the maximum security prison last night it took a long time to count the 8,000 prisoners (twice) with just 50 guards. We didn't roll back into the airport (Hearne) until after 3:30am. The pilots meeting was not until 11am today to allow us some extra shut eye.

Today we chose the shorter of two task options for a 131km task. I made goal after a fantastic start with 8 of the 15 pilots all gaggling together. Clouds started popping along the course and after a few trips back up-wind to re-tag the start cylinder (for a strategic later start gate) Dean, Badger and I got the last gate and raced on to catch those with the earlier starts.

I got a little behind and that was the last I saw of Dean and Eric (Badger). The clouds were reachable and abundant. But not super easy to figure out. It took a lot of focus to make it work but I never got what I considered low today and so was never really worried about dirting until racing into goal with a guy on an R11. I opted to slow down and tank up a bit and he crossed the line before me but it was worth it to me. After all, not making goal is NOT the goal. I think I had 15 minutes on him with the start gate move. We shall see.

By far the best flying day so far as far as fun, altitudes (8,500 + at cloudbase) and flying with others. YeeeeHaaaaawwwww!

I think there are 12 or so in goal so that is gonna make some folks happy!

I bet dean will have some stories to tell from last night and today too. Here is a photo as I strolled past the Maximum Security facility last night. I don't think they wanted us taking photos but with no flash selected on my phone, nobody was the wiser.

FROM DEAN...
Friday Day 6 task 5
Higher pressure today, much like yesterday. The sky was blue up until 45 min after the launch window opened, and then the Cumi's started popping. Cloud base was 9k and it wasn't long before the sky filled up with streets. Average thermal strength was 700-1000 fpm. Like yesterday, we were able to gaggle up before the start. In fact, I had a bad tow, was on approach to land for a re-tow and ran into a nasty little thermal about a 100 feet off the deck. I put the glider up on an ear and a couple others that were almost as low as myself joined me and we worked it all the way up for a good start time. That thermal was definitely the highlight of my day. I got really low today but I found a slow ride back to base and out of trouble. It put me a little behind in position but I managed to catch back up and make goal with a pretty good time. Lots of pilots made goal today and I would rate today as probably the best flying weather we've had this week.

Getting a good start is very difficult. At a mountain site its easier to foot launch when you think the time is right, and the time between your decision to launch and when you actually launch is less as compared to towing. There are too many factors that are out of your control in towing. Today, the towing has improved once again. I would estimate the tow rigs were getting a pilot in the air every 3 minutes. Admittedly, the weather plays a huge role in the efficiency of towing up pilots.




SATURDAY AUGUST 20TH TASK 6
RESULTS

From Marty
Howdy folks, I'm writing this from the retrieval Van on the way back to Hearne after another long day in the saddle of over 5.5 hours to land at 7:45pm just 23km short of the 170 something km task. Deano took 4 tows and was a few km behind me as we both ran out of daylight and lift. It was a breathtaking day and the sky, clouds, climbs and sheer distance combined made for a fine ending to an interesting and exhausting week.

It was my 3rd tow that got me away after witnessing Eric Kolberg's tow line break. He was instructed via radio to pin off (pull the release pin connecting him to the broken 150 section of tow line) after the line broke, either due to over-tension or the line getting stuck or something. He managed well immediately after the line break and was flying under control. He then over-controlled his glider while trying to comply with the radio advice to pin off--(it can be difficult to release a non tensioned line). He used his hands (with his brake toggles still in them) to remedy the awkward release with only 100 feet or so over the ground. In doing so he started to over control the glider (pulled too much brake) and then spun the wing (stalled one side) and landed with the wing directly over his head rotating like a helicopter blade. Unfortunately he broke his wrist and was rushed to be treated at a local hospital and is doing fine now. It seems that was his only injury, and the only injury of the comp.

Not long after that, Riss Estes made a low recovery from a stuck tow line (NOT what it is supposed to do) resulting in his weak link breaking (as it supposed to do). The glider surged from WAY behind him to WAY in front but he smoothly checked it with his controls and landed safely to tow again and eventually get up and away. This was the second of several incidents including stuck tow lines, broken tow lines and/or weak links. All of this before my first tow of the day! We all just wanted to get up, get high and cool off on course.

Despite all the perfect tows that were had this week (I don't know how many but there had to be a lot!), I can't remember when I have seen so many close calls. There were several incidents that I haven't reported thus far as I wanted to wait until the end to gain the best perspective and be fair. I think there is room for improvement in the areas of (1) tow rig reliability and (2) a higher minimum number of tow observers required (having at least one tow observer FOR each tow to watch each tow and be in communication with both pilot and driver and (3) more volunteers to help lay out gliders, shuttle pilots for re-flights and drive retrieve and so-forth.

Nonetheless, with the skeleton crew here, the meet did seem to do what it set out to do. The few people that we DID HAVE worked tirelessly for hours each day in 105 degree heat with little time to stand in the shade everyone was under a lot of pressure from overheated and sometimes frustrated pilots trying to connect with a thermal and get away on course.

From Dean
The conditions today looked very similar to yesterday. The task for today was somewhere around 180 km North with a dog leg to the NW. 1st start gate was 1 pm but the area around the airport hadn't cooked enough and the thermals just weren't popping. Several of us took a shot around 1:30 but we all landed near the tow area for a re-launch. One of the pilots that launched early was Eric Kolberg, but the tow rope broke when he was barely off the deck. A good portion of the rope was still attached to his glider. While trying to release the tow rope he got hit with a thermal which spun the glider and slammed him on the deck hard. He went to the hospital to get checked out and he escaped with just a broken wrist - lucky. The tow rig he was being towed behind had been having problems all week. In fact, the day before the meet started Eric was towing up behind the same rig and the pay-out spool jammed when he was only 20 feet off the deck, his glider shot straight up, took several deflations but Eric was able to gain control just before he was to hit the deck. Not too soon after the very same thing happened to Eric Reed on the same rig. I towed behind this rig once this week and the oscillations were so bad I had to release early. Now Eric Kolberg is in the hospital. I'm really upset, this could have been prevented. The rig in question should have been taken out of the loop earlier this week. I'm getting off track a bit but I needed to say something regarding the incident. I should also mention that Riss had a tow that went bad today. He recovered just in time, but I had a front row seat for his event and if he hadn’t taken the action he did to recover he would have been in the hospital too.

Okay, back to what I was saying. There were only a few pilots today that were able to get on course with one tow, the rest needed multiple tows. I had 4 tows today and was finally able to get out of the start gate at 3:40. Bill Hughes was the only other pilot to get on course after me. We were far too late to have a chance of making goal, and as it turned out I came up short 34 km. We had plenty of clouds to aim for and cloud base was around 9k, but the climbs were a bit weaker (avg 5-600 fpm) compared to the rest of the week. Only Arnold, Eric Reed, and Dave made goal today. I think this was Arnolds first task win – congrats to Arnie. Today was also the last task to determine the National champion for 2011. This years champion is Eric Reed.

After so many of us struggled to get on course today I'll reiterate what I said earlier in the week; I do not think the towing format should be used for the “Race to Goal” Nationals. There is too much luck involved in being able to get on course, especially early, which makes timing a good start near impossible. Plus, there were so many mechanical problems with the tow rigs. Having only 17 pilots at this meet turned out to be a blessing. With all the problems we had getting on course and the problems with the tow rigs, I can't imagine what would have happened if more pilots had showed up to this event. Overall this event was a little rough around the edges but I think Dave did a pretty good job given the circumstances. With only 17 pilots attending I’m sure Dave wasn’t even able to pay the bills and I feel really bad for him. It’s hard enough to get someone to host a paragliding event, and it sure doesn’t inspire others to follow suit if attendance at these events is low. Despite the low attendance Dave’s spirits were high and his enthusiasm was contagious.

Let me finish by saying this, the flying here is great and the views from the air are awesome. I could easily see an event here in the future. I’m not an advocate of this venue being appropriate for the “Race to Goal” Nationals but I can easily see the “Open Distance” Nationals being held here. If you can cope with the heat Texas with serve up more XC than you can handle.




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