What I learned at Sailplane Camp (2010 NATS 2 meter contest)
First off, for full disclosure I did not camp out at sailplane camp. I am what most people call a wus and I like to sleep in my own bed. So I was like one of those kids at college that commuted from his parents house: I drove from Columbus, Ohio to Muncie, Indiana for the two days of the 2 meter contest. I had hoped to get in more events and originally signed up for RES, Nostalgia and Unlimited too, but my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I actually had nothing to fly in nostalgia and nothing competitive to fly in RES or Unlimited. So 2 meter with a Mantis and a Sovereign as backup was all I brought to the NATS.
I made sure NOT to bring any big wads of cash, lest I be tempted into buying a sweet plane such as the one shown in the link. These are my buddies from New Orleans looking over a professionally built original batch Shadow which looked to be in pristine condition. http://picasaweb.google.com/skyemalc...eat=directlink
I nearly didn't have anything to fly in 2 meter. I ripped half the v-tail off the Mantis a couple weeks ago and didn't epoxy it back on until a couple days before the NATS. My backup machine had 72 MHz in it and I needed it to be on 2.4 GHz as I'd signed up for. So I managed to covert the Sovereign over to 2.4 GHz the evening before 2 meter but I had zero flights on it. Not a tremendously big set up on a 2 channel machine, but still not the ideal way to go into a contest, much less the NATS.
Driving to Muncie in the dark hours of the morning on Tuesday I was feeling good and resolved whatever the outcome, that I'd not get bent out of shape. I arrived at the farm house and checked in at 7:15 AM and then went over to the field staking down an easy up and began setting up my planes in the wet dew of the morning. Don Cleveland & his lovely wife from Tennessee happened to be next to me. I attended my first Mid South this year which Don CD'd so we chatted it up a bit and later Don would end up timing for me in a few rounds. On the other side were a couple fellows I had met at the Mid South as well from New Orleans, Paul Perret and Randall Everly. Randall and I would team up a few times timing.
As time went on my idol/mentor Don Harris and his wife Jenny arrived to set up camp. Don is a real stand-up guy who I always look forward to flying with. He has taught me more good things in life and flying than he probably realizes. As it turned out, we were going to be able to time for each other as the schedule allowed.
After helping set up camp I put the mantis together and actually got a couple test flights in via a strong hand toss. This was really just a confirmation that the CG was about where I left it before the tail repair. Everything seems in order, although I had to give a couple clicks of down in the "normal" flight mode. I should have done the same in all the other flight modes as well....but more on that later!!
Anyway, all the usual suspects gave the rules out at the pilots meeting and I had to ask a question about tapping down winches just so I didn't do something dumb. My first goal for this NATS was to do what I was told and be a model citizen. I realize this contest is a massive undertaking and to get in so much flying so quickly everything and everyone needs to be where they are supposed to be. To step or fly where you're not supposed to maybe seems like a trivial violation, but when there are perhaps 20 planes in the air simultaneously and 40 pilots and timers out on the flight line it's got the potential to be a big, bad mess, so I understand their concerns and their rules. As it turned out, "Captain" Jack Strothers was CD for 2 meter and although he may not remember it, I had a tantrum or two back in 2001 at those NATS. This time I really didn't want to be "that guy" and as it turned out I think I did fine in that regard. Honestly, Jack if you're reading this, I had an awesome time at 2 Meter this year, even if my final score might not lead you to believe that!
Once we got to flying, it was clear that Tuesday of 2 meter was going to be some of the very best weather a person could reasonably hope to have in Muncie during July. Of course it was a bit hot, but the wind was really low, and the chance of rain nil. I got off to a reasonable start in my first 3 rounds. Nothing special and in one I fell well short of the goal getting buried, but the launches were safe and sound and I felt no danger of landing off field for the dreaded zero round. Rounds 4 and 5 were a different story. At least for my flight groups we had a decent tail wind on launch. Perhaps 10 mph or a bit less. Enough that I thought I needed to change something up. Well, in hind sight, what ever I did was not the right thing. I think I should have focused on giving the plane a real hard throw to compensate for the tail wind, and I should have given it some down trim, and I should not have pretensioned the line quite so hard or thrown it more level or....SOMETHING. In any case in both these rounds the mantis came out of my hands and immediately veered up to the left at almost 45 degrees. I can hear Gellart in my mind saying "fork tail #$%@". He didn't say it at the NATS but he's seen me launch my Eraser V-Tail before and this has caused him to make such a comment. I can't say I disagree, but I think my throw or delivery or something is catty-wampus. Now that I have a winch I really need to go out some day and try to recreate the Malcolm pop-off and see what the heck is causing it so it can put into the lock box and left there. We don't need to see it ever again on any winch line...ever.
Believe it or not I didn't pitch a fit on popping off. In fact I made the call right away to go for broke and chase down wind to the thermal past the turn arounds and see if I could pull off a miracle save. From a 100 ft pop off in Round 4 I did get down to the thermal, and I got a few wraps in at 50 feet over the turn arounds that were a bit positive, but just not enough. That round I got the plane in control and headed back to me and ended up landing in the gravel parking lot on the south side of the road! Jim Thomas gave me a ride out there and I think he was worried there were pieces after seeing the gravel but it was really about as soft a landing as you could do on gravel, up wind and nice and level.
Round 5 unfortunately was an even worse pop off than round 4 and this time I only halfheartedly went for the thermal out front of the winches. This time I think I launched last so I just came back towards me landing in between two winch lines about 100 feet away. I asked Gellart for permission to run out there and get the plane and did so quickly.
The final round 6 of day one went better for me, I ended on a high note with close to max time and getting landing points. It was frustrating obviously with the zero flights, but the fact that I knew I had it in me to get a half way decent launch, find lift, and get the landing was encouraging.
Day two I drove through some massive fog banks and the forecast was not particularly encouraging: Wind and a pretty good chance of rain later. As it turned out, the weather lived up to the forecast. A pretty steady westerly breeze would blow most rounds and the skies opened up around 5 pm by which time we were all packed up, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Because Jack knew the forecast, he told everyone the first flight was going to be at 8:30 AM and by gosh I think it was. Once again, it is the minor miracle of the NATS that all the volunteers are out of bed, in position, and doing their assigned job at what seems like the crack of dawn. Kudos to all of them!
My personal goal this day was to claw my way as high up score sheet as possible, especially wanting to get off page 2. As it turned out, because of the wind, there were going to be a few people garnering zero rounds with off field landings. Furthermore, as Gordon Buckner pointed out in the NATS news (2 meter day one....2 meter day two) there were pretty large gaps between lift cycles and if you guessed really wrong, you lost out on a chance to make your time. One of the wackier rounds was the 3 min 27 sec time called by our CD. Don Harris was timing for me and I just told him to count up the last 27 sec and I'd try to time the landing from that. I was in the pattern OK and on track but I believe it was this round that I grabbed a "stick" full of camber slider thinking it was the flaps stick. It took a second or two of the plan doing anything before I whacked the flaps down to get things slowed down. In this regard, the Mantis is totally "your friend". It is light, it has massive flap travel and you can almost fly safely at 45 degrees down to landing like that. Plus with the little built in skeg if it touches the nose first it stays there. Completely a dream machine in terms of the last 20 seconds of your flight and it'll make even a bad pilot (hello!) look good.
Speaking of the mantis species, it must be noted that unfortunately the mantis 2 meter went from the endangered species list to nearly being extinct due to some kind of radio glitch with the 7 channel 2.4 Airtronics receiver and one particular transmitter. Two manti crashed in separate incidents. The theory is that one SD-10G was swamping other SD-10G's somehow and it was somehow related to only the 7 channel FHSS-1 receiver. At least that was the theory I heard. Personally I was flying the older 8 channel 2.4 Airtronics RX and the SD-10G which is also FHSS-1 and for whatever reason my plane was spared. Not the most encouraging analysis you want to hear though, is it? I've been flying an SD-10G mostly with an Eraser 2.4 friendly plane using the 10 channel FHSS-3 top of the line receiver and it has been completely bullet proof. That said, all the contests were last year when no one else had a 10G. Honestly, how do I know that if everyone is on the FHSS-3 I won't have a problem with that in the future. I realize that last statement is wild speculation on my part, but the fact that one SD-10G is talking to another guy's 7 channel RX is putting ideas like that into my head.
But back to flying...I had only one near disaster on launch on day two, again veering off to the left (maybe I can throw the plane with my left foot holding it between the big toe and next toe in?). I corrected the trajectory with a massive dose of right aileron and we got things back on track. If I recall that flight was not quite a max but close enough to be not too shabby. There was one round on day two where we all launched into the biggest pile of sink in the world. Everyone went different directions and still we all fell out of the sky. I landed with the 2:45 out like 10 minute task thinking I was getting buried only to discover lots of other guys down. Don Cleveland won that group with a 3:55 or so flight so I still garnered a few points in my quest to leave the basement.
Finally the last round of the contest came with a 12 minute task and when I launched I just got the feeling that the good stuff was close to blowing over our heads. However I think I was the second one up in the group so I couldn't immediately test this theory. Once everyone was up and away I kind of hung around and with by buddy Randall timing for me we tried to look just about straight up and figure out if I was in lift. I just hung in there and drifted downwind with the "thermal". Once I drifted out over the main impound tent, it was apparent that good things were happening to the mantis because it hadn't gone down and if anything it looked positive. About 4 minutes into the flight it seemed like things were dying but another flyer by now had acquired perhaps the true core of this thermal towards the landing area so I sniffed over that way and the lift was there and pretty strong this time. With the stiff breeze of 10-12 mph and me already over the beans to the west I told Randall that I needed to be greedy and really core this thermal. The plane was gaining tremendously now going up a lot more than it was drifting down wind. Meanwhile the fellow who helped show me where the lift was had not drifted down wind with it and had long since fallen out of lift and perhaps even landed by now. Randall is telling me that there's only one other guy still up, Phil Geiseking! Phil was having a bit of a challenge early in the contest getting his new plane trimmed and flying properly so I was honestly glad to hear both of us were having a great last flight of the day. However, this did encourage me to get stupid-high and really shoot for 12 minutes on the dot and get the landing. With a few minutes to go I had to kill some serious altitude and did so with my preferred method: full flaps and a generous helping of down elevator. Everything was properly on track until I came to realize my intended landing pattern was now full of planes scratching out lift from the next flight group in line. Fortunately I had a couple minutes to go so I simply zoomed over to the right side of the landing zone and decided to run my downwind leg over there instead. This also allowed me to finally see Phil's plane for the first time all flight coming into the pattern at almost the same time. Phil was one of the last to launch so he must have been leaving a bit of time on the clock. He was coming in low while I was still in a nice, predictable decent in my pattern so although we had to cross paths it really wasn't that close. I came it with the usual mantis death dive and made it back to the tape, more or less if recall correctly 3 seconds over the time. All things considered a really nice way to to wrap up a couple of days of flying.
For sure I'll be back next year and I hope to get the boys out so they can be winch trolls or fly depending on their preference.
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