By Matt Neumann
Well, Wednesday I left off with the statement that Thursday could be a very interesting day. It was!
Contestants were again greeted with cool temperatures and some wind. The temperatures were a little warmer than what we have been greeted with from the past two days, but light jackets were the norm to start out with. The temperatures increased throughout the day, along with the wind and the competition.
There are two skill classes being flown: Advanced and Open. Open is the top skill class. We are divided into four groups with a seeding process. We would then normally fly two flights on Wednesday and two flights on Thursday, take the top flight from each day, and add them together. The top 5 from each group of their skill class would then move on to the top-20 day on Friday. Friday we then typically fly two flights—one flight in front of one set of judges, the other flight in front of the other set of judges. We then add the two scores together.
In the case of the Advanced class, the winner of the Advanced class is then determined. In the case of the Open Class, the top 5 then move on to Saturday for the final flyoff.
However, this year Mother Nature had other ideas. Looking at what was coming in with weather, the AMA highly recommended that we condense things because Friday and Saturday look to be complete washouts and wind outs—completely unflyable during the entire two days. Don’t even worry about taking your planes out of the car or motel. It’s a no brainer—can’t fly, period.
So, to determine the top 5 of each group for top 20, we took the best of two flights flown on Wednesday to determine the top five in each group to fly on top 20 rounds on Thursday morning and then the top 5 in open would be flown on Thursday afternoon. The other hitch was that the weather was supposed to get increasingly bad. As in quite possibly too bad and impossible to fly.
The day started out with some breeze but flyable. It was enough to keep pilots on their toes but not exceptionally dangerous. I did pull out of a maneuver a little low and almost sanded the tip of my rudder off a bit, along with a couple of other people, but that was about it. We started at approximately 8 in the morning and got done about 11:15 in the morning. Not bad for a normal day’s work, but this was not a normal day. We were just getting started.
At the end of the top 20 for Advanced class, Mike Schmidt won Advanced class by a half of a point! He got a total of 1,000 points even. James Mills came in second with 999.5 points. Talk about close!
So, congratulations to Mike Schmidt, our 2021 Advanced class winner! Now that he has won the Advanced class, he is no longer eligible to fly in Advanced. He now gets to move on up to Open next year, but it is burden he is happy to take on.
As a side note, Mike has gotten second place in Advanced for a number of years now. It always seems he is a “bridesmaid but never a bride” type of thing. Well, after a lot of persistence, he finally made it. Congratulations my friend!
On the Open side of things. The competition was fierce, especially at the top. When the dust settled, the top five who moved on to the afternoon competition were David Fitzgerald, Paul Walker, Joe Daly, Joe Gilbert, and Orestes Hernandez. Matt Colan just barely missed making it into the top 5 this year with, I think, less than a point separating him and the fifth-place pilot. As it turned out, we had two rookies in the top 5 this year. Both Joes were in the top five for the first time. They both were very excited, and they should be.
The weather during the top 20-portion of the day started out a bit windy, calmed down slightly and then got worse again toward late morning. By the end of the top 20, we did not need our jackets anymore.
After a lunchbreak, we started up with the Top five portion of the day. We originally were supposed to start at noon, however there was a glitch in the computer program which delayed things. As it turned out, it was decided to do it old school to move things along, so we did not get started until about 1 p.m.
By this time, the wind was starting to pick up more. Instead of 8 to 10 mph, it was around 15 and climbing. Gusts were starting to become a problem.
During this time, we also started up the Junior and Senior competitions. The Junior event is for kids up to 13 years old. The Senior event, which is misleading in name, is for kids 14 to 18 years old. This year we only had one Junior entered, so all he had to do was take off, go inverted, and he would win. Considering the wind, that is all he did. No sense inrisking things unnecessarily.
In the Senior division, we had two entrants, so there was some competition there. The first Senior flew his flight and made it through. The second one, Steven Daly “went for it” but, unfortunately, the wind got him in the overhead eights, causing his lines to go slack, therefore losing control of the plane. The plane promptly nosed straight down and went full bore straight into the asphalt. There was nothing left of the plane. I am not sure there is anything you can salvage, except maybe the controls. Maybe. Everyone really felt for him. At that point, the other Senior elected to not fly anymore. His first flight beat the other contestant’s flight and there was no more need to risk the plane in the wind.
Back on the other side where the Open contestants were flying was a different story. Those guys really went for it. And the wind kept getting worse as time went on. A few people had wind meters and they were getting consistent wind speeds of 18 mph. This is before gusts. The rules state that if there is a constant wind speed of over 20 mph for one minute, the competition can be shut down. We were getting close.
Dave Tribble, Event Director, even gave the pilots the option of stopping after two rounds, adding those scores together, and seeing what happens. Normally they fly three rounds and take the top two. All of the pilots opted to “go for it.” True competitors. So, all three rounds were flown even though the conditions were getting really nasty.
During those flights, I have to say I saw some amazing flying. These guys were putting in some really good flights in some really nasty conditions. Joe Gilbert did a “dance” as it were during his flight. He was moving forward and backward during his flights. This gives and takes away momentum to the plane. He would move back when he was wanting the plane to go up into the wind. This gives the plane more momentum heading into the wind. However, the wind tends to speed things up going down so he would then move toward the plane on the downward leg of maneuvers. This takes away energy, slowing the plane down. It was quite the “ballet.” Other contestants did similar things but not to that degree.
Joe Daly, father to Steven who crashed earlier, also had an issue. During one of his overhead eights, his electric motor suddenly quit. He fortunately, was able to get the plane on the ground, although not very gracefully. The wind then picked up the tail and dumped the nose into the ground. Then another gust of wind came and completely flipped the plane over on its back, knocking the rudder off. So, his son lost his plane completely and he got his rudder knocked off.
In the end, when all is said and done, the winner by .83 points was Orestes Hernandez over Paul Walker second, David Fitzgerald third, Joe Gilbert fourth, and Joe Daly fifth. My hats off to you guys. You really put on a good show for the rest of us flying in that wind.
On a side note, it was also Joe and Coleen Gilbert’s, and Rich and Sara Huff’s wedding anniversary Thursday. Not only were these two couples married on the same day, they were married on the same day 43 years ago. How is that for coincidence? Happy anniversary to both couples!
It was also a good day for anniversary couples. Not only did Joe Gilbert get into the top 5 for the first time, but Richard Huff got Rookie of the year. Both had a lot to celebrate later on that day for sure.
Well, that is it for this year’s Nats reporting for CL Aerobatics. I hope everyone makes it home safely. It has been a strange year for sure. I am sad that I saw my friends whom I only get to see but once a year for a shorter period of time this year. It is also strange writing only four reports instead of the normal six. Hopefully, next year we can again see each other for the full amount of days.
Till next year my friends. I am counting the days.
Ben Mills putting in an official flight in Advanced during top 20.Beth Mills launches for her husband, James, during the top 20 Advanced class.Coleen Gilbert holds for Joe as Joe gets ready for an official flight.David Fitzgerald putting in an official flight during the top 20 Open competition.In his first NATS since 2015, Bob Hunt returns to a 7th place finish. Here he is putting in an official during top 20 fly off.Joe Daly is getting ready to give the signal to David Fitzgerald to launch his plane for his final top 5 flight of the day.Mike Schmidt is all smiles as he accepts his first place award in Advanced class from Michelle Lee.Mike Schmidt, eventual Advanced winner gets ready to for a winning official flight.Morning line up on top 20 and top 5 day.One of the sites that we got to see while we had some down time.Orestes Hernandez with the Walker trophy.Paul Walker coming in for a smooth landing during an official top 20 flight.The anniversary couples, Rich and Sara Huff on left and Coleen and Joe Gilbert. 43 years each!Top 5 Advanced fliers. Mike Schmidt is the winner and is kneeling.Top 5 pits. Holding down the planes in some fashion was a good idea so they don't blow away in the wind.Top five at the Nats, L-R, Paul Walker 2nd, Joe Gilbert 4th, Orestes Hernandez 1st, Joe Daly 5th, and David Fitzgerald 3rd.What the wind was at the start of the top five competition. It blew over twice during the competition. We gave up and did not put it back up after the second time.The Junior and Senior pilots. Photo by Will Davis.The top five in the open class. Davis photo.Pilots wait to fly in the finals. Davis photo.