By Matt Neumann
On Thursday, the contestants were treated to cooler temps and no sun, but—and there is always one of those—the tradeoff, however, was an increased wind (lots of it) and even some rain/drizzle. This pretty much says it all weather-wise during competition. At one point, if you were stuck waiting in the mist, the wind actually seemed a little chilly. A far cry from the heat and humidity that we have seen earlier in the week.
Winds were basically steady, at what I am guessing 10 mph, with some gusts now and again during the first half of the morning. Gusts increased as the morning went on with some drizzle to all out light rain at some points. At no point did we have any lightning anywhere close to the flying site. That would have halted activities right then and there. Without lightning and being drizzle to light rain we kept on flying.
On the flying side of things, Thursday was the second day of qualifying. In Open Class, the top five from each of the four groups move on to the top 20 on Friday. This day will determine the top five for Saturday. In Advanced, the top four in each of the four groups move on to Friday for the sweet sixteen and the crowning of the advanced champion.
Flying Thursday is a little different than Wednesday. As long as the weather held out, many will go ahead and fly two flights. Since the weather was lousy, many fliers decided to skip or pass on their second flight. If you pass, you automatically take the score of the other flight. The top score from Wednesday is added to that top score to determine who moves on to Friday. For those who are way ahead, it is not necessary to fly your second flight. They are so far ahead at that point; it becomes almost impossible for you to drop out of the top five. And when the weather is worse, such as Thursday’s was, there is a lot of passing in the second round. Why risk the plane if it is not necessary?
However, if you are on the bubble and the score is fairly close between pilots, you almost have to fly for fear that, if the other pilot does, he may be able to increase his score to pass you. This is what was happening during the heaviest rain and wind of the morning. It was rather difficult, but not impossible to gain ground on the other person.
On the other hand, pushing things can have disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, I know of four different crashes that occurred. These range from a rudder being knocked off to a complete loss. I also know of two instances where the fliers had a senior moment.
During the pattern, we are supposed to do three inside loops and two vertical eights. One pilot decided that the first three loops were so good, he decided to do another making it four loops. The other pilot was doing a vertical eight and, after the first eight, he thought that was good enough and did not need to do another.
The vertical pilot realized his mistake a split second after he pulled out of the bottom of the maneuver. Too late to correct. Both caused a loss of pattern points, enough to really make a huge difference in your standing. So, these pilots had to go again.
The wind also made for some really interesting maneuvers since it would blow the plane off of its intended course. A couple of pilots literally just got blown out of their maneuvers. One in the top of the hourglass and the other in the overhead eights. Both of these resulted in the need to fly again.
Of course, during the end of the last round, it started to rain lightly. Not enough to halt things, but enough to not be so fun for the contestants. I helped launch one of these contestants at the end of the second round. The model has to sit in the pits hooked up ready to go beforehand. And the rain would accumulate on the flying surfaces. Wiping things off does not help since it quickly beads up on the surfaces. When I launched, I could see sheets of water just running off the plane as it rolled away on takeoff. That was a site I won’t forget.
After the final flights, it was time to gather and wait for scores to see who did and did not make it. Event Director Dave Trible made a quick announcement and read off the names of the contestants who would move on.
This year also marked something a little different. This time they gave away a T-shirt to all those who made the cut. Both Advanced and Open classes. This was well received by the fliers. It has a picture of the late Bob Gieske’s 2003 airplane called Bear and the words “I made the cut, 2020 Nats CLPA Semi-Finals.” It seems like you never have enough T-shirts.
Friday is when the rubber really hits the road. We will fly two flights: one each on two circles. Those two scores will be added together for the final results. There are no throwaways like there were the past two days when we just take the best scores. Nope, tomorrow we fly our two flights and hope we make it. It is probably the most stressful of the week because it will be do or die. No throwaways, no mulligans, and no takebacks. This is going to be interesting to watch and participate in.
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