By Matt Neumann
On Tuesday, the contestants were greeted by cool, fairly calm winds. The sunrise was quite nice.
I got to the field at about 6:30 a.m. only to find that some contestants were already there, which was a bit of a surprise. As I set up, I was third in line for practice flights, which are not allowed to start until 7 a.m. This was unusual, since most of the time I would be there before anyone else. We are starting to be real early birds.
Today was the first day of qualifying. This is the day that we start to find out how everything is stacking up. We flew two flights today and the best score counts toward the best score tomorrow. The two are then added together to determine who moves on to Thursday’s qualifying. The Open class is divided into four different groups and the Advanced into three. The top five from each of the Open groups move on, and the top four from each of the Advanced groups move on.
The cool air with a light breeze was a pleasure to fly in. However, it was close to the direction of the sun. As the morning went on, it shifted to going directly into the sun and increased in intensity as well. This became a real issue because pilots could not see, plus the strength of the wind hampered abilities as well.
In order to keep the lines tight, we have to perform our maneuvers downwind from the pilot. This pushes the airplane away from the pilot, keeping the lines tight. However, if the wind is blowing toward the sun, the pilot is now looking directly into the sun. At times it can blind the pilot if the airplane happens to travel through the sun. That is never good when you are flying 50 to 55 mph and are just feet from the ground.
The margin of error between pulling out at five feet and going splat is around a fifteenth of a second. Yeah, it is nice to see where the airplane is and where it is heading. Many pilots wound up going through the sun and relied on muscle memory to pull out correctly, including yours truly. When I finished my second flight, I joked with the judges asking them if someone could move that big light bulb in the sky. One of them called back, “Or turn it off.” It can be a pain for the judges as well.
As it turned out, there were a lot of passes during the second round. This is when the pilot chooses to not fly a flight due to one thing or another. In this case, the reason for passing was the weather. The wind was getting so bad that pilots decided they could not improve upon their first score, so there was no sense in risking their airplane for no reason.
We did have one fatality today, however. One of the pilots had control issues and lost his airplane in the outside loop maneuvers. It went in hard … so hard that it sheared the nose off and the electric motor went skidding across the L-pad into the grass. There was a scavenger hunt to find it.
At lunch time, however, everyone got a nice treat. Michelle Lee had gone to the grocery store last night and got a lot of bread, lunch meat, drinks, chips, salads, and, of course my favorite, cookies! She and Colleen Gilbert then served everyone lunch. So, I want to give a special shout out to Michelle and Colleen for doing this for everyone. It was well appreciated. If there is one thing that Stunt fliers know how to do better than fly, it is eat!
Every once in a while, we get to see some wildlife. In this case, there is a nest in one of the rafters of the pavilion. In it there are some baby birds. We could hear them cheeping for mom to come feed them. They are quite cute.
The thing of the day is the finalization of the Concours d’Elegance award. This is the award that the pilots voted on during Sunday’s appearance point judging for the best-looking airplane to the pilot’s eyes. This year’s award went to Derek Barry. This is his fourth award, and it is well deserved.