By Matt Neumann (email@example.com)
Blue skies, nothing but blue skies … well at least for the morning. The contestants were greeted Thursday morning with a blue sky and very light wind. It was a welcome change from what we have been getting; however, things would change as the day went on.
Thursday was the second day of qualifying. The best score of two flights from Wednesday would be added to the best score from the two flights flown Thursday to see who made the cut for Friday’s competition. For those sitting pretty on or near the top, it is a fairly routine day. Many will just put in one good flight and pass on the second, knowing they are well in and that nobody can catch them.
Now for the fliers on or near the bubble, that is a different story altogether. This is where the real knock-down-drag-out fights, so to speak, happen. For these fliers, their goal is to get a good score to jump over someone else or to lock in their position so they can compete Friday. If they don’t, they get to go watch from the bleachers. Actually, it is more like talk with the rest of the pilots, while not having to worry about their next flight.
Fliers were welcomed with very light wind in the morning. It stayed at almost perfect conditions throughout most of the first round. However, near the very end of the first round and into the second, the wind started to pick up along with the clouds. The wind never really got real bad.
I opted to fly my second flight, even though I was well in for the next day. I wanted a little bit of practice in some wind and there is no better way to get that than in an official type of flight.
However, shortly after my second flight, we were noticing that the clouds were getting darker in the west. Then we noticed what looked like some rain forming in a small spot. However, that small spot grew and grew and grew. It got so big that Mark Weiss got a message from AMA Headquarters warning about the impending rain. Mark then shut down the flying and told everyone “to head for the hills.” This was the signal for everyone to get their gear under cover in a hurry. Most were able to do so.
I helped Dave Trible, who was about to go up and get his plane to his car before it really hit. I saw it coming and got my stuff safely in the car beforehand, just in case. On a side note, it is a bit amusing to watch pilots carry their planes as fast as they can without actually running. Some probably set walking speed records trying to get their planes in their cars. You don’t and can’t really run with a plane safely. But you can walk very fast pretty safely.
The rain lasted only about 15 minutes. Most pilots were either in the pavilion or their cars. It was safe to come out and not get wet after that. However, due to lightning in the area, it was not deemed safe by the AMA to fly for a little over an hour after that.
Once it was declared safe by the AMA, the remaining flights were flown. When flying resumed, the wind had died down considerably, almost to nothing. There was just a hint of breeze when the last of the pilots flew.
One strange thing that happened Thursday was that Paul Walker’s lines snagged together when he was in the inside square maneuver. He gave some up control to turn the plane 90° in one of the corners. However, when he neutralized the controls so the plane would go straight, it did not go straight but kept on turning. It turned in very small loops until, thankfully, the clips on the end of the lines freed themselves. This gave Paul enough time to recover, saving the plane from another crash.
Remember I mentioned that he crashed it about two weeks before the Nats and was able to put it all back together again just before the Nats? Well, thankfully, this time he was able to recover his plane before disaster struck. He mentioned that his airplane was on its fourth life because he almost had a disastrous mishap with it Wednesday due to an electrical issue. Thursday was a mechanical issue. He was able to fix the problem and put up a really nice flight after the rain delay.
Fortunately for Paul, he has gotten his problems fixed, and on days that he has a throw-away flight. He pretty much needed them Wednesday and Thursday. Hopefully, everything will work out for him Friday because it is going to be roughest day of the competition. On that day, we get two flights and that is it. They are both added together to see who the top five are in Open class, which means they move on to fly in the finals on Saturday and to see who is the overall winner in the Advanced class.
Some other weird issues that some of the fliers have been encountering is small bugs. They are getting into the fuel system of their planes and clogging up the works.
Bill Rich is back this year after a five-year hiatus. In his first official flight, he pulled out level during a maneuver and his engine suddenly quit. After further inspection after he landed, he checked the filter that he had onboard his plane only to discover that it was clogged with small white bugs. It appears they are getting in through the vent tube to the fuel tank sometimes while flying. Talk about a bug in the system. I know of another flier who has had similar issues. Extra filters onboard an aircraft is in order.
Now you may get tired of me talking about Dan Banjock, but just when you think you have seen it all from him, he comes up again with something different. This time he showed up with a compressed air-powered motor in a replica of a 1929 Free Flight model. The engine was also from 1929 and it looked weird. There was no crankcase. You could see the connecting rods to each of the three cylinders. The compressed air bottle was a pop bottle that he pumped up with an old-fashioned bicycle tire pump. He says it runs about a minute when he puts in 100 psi.
He gave a little demonstration on the ground and it looks weird seeing it run. How he finds these things I don’t know, but they are entertaining for sure.
Well, it is time for me to get some rest. Friday is going to be a stressful day with two flights and they both count. No goofs. Am I looking forward to it? You bet. This is going to be fun!