By Matt Neumann
Wednesday, July 20, greeted contestants with somewhat cool temperatures, some wind, and a clear sky. At first, the wind was there but it was nothing really much to worry about.
I got at the L-pad at 6:45 a.m., only to find some of my competitors already there. Flying is prohibited until 7 a.m., so I was a little surprised at the number of contestants who got up this early. Most of the time, I am one of the first ones there and other contestants file in right behind me. Not today. I got to the L-pad only to discover there was a fair amount of contestants already there.
The forecast predicted that the wind would pick up as the morning progressed, and because of this, everyone was chomping at the bit to get started.
For the most part, we got started at the designated time of 8 a.m. My group got off a little late, but it was nothing major. The hour between 7 and 8 is set aside for practice and to warm up the judges. What I mean by warming up the judges is there are two volunteers who fly in front of the judges before the actual contest (official flights) start. The judges then practice on these flights by scoring them as a group. This it to make sure they are all in sync with one another. After their warmups, they go to their designated circle (flying area) for judging duties.
At that time of the opening bell, the wind was quite tolerable at my guess of 5 mph. Its speed was low enough not to cause problems, but enough to let us know which direction it was coming from.
The Advanced class went first and then the Open class. We do two rounds each—Advanced, Open, Advanced, Open. The best score on Wednesday gets added to the best score from Thursday, July 21. The goal of these two days is to get into the top 5 of the group that you are in if you are in Open and the top 4 if you are an Advanced flier. I originally thought the Advanced group would be divided into 4 groups as well, but it got changed to 3 groups instead.
The first round of Advanced fliers had “fairly good air,” as we like to call it. Again, in the 5-mph range. However, shortly after they got through at around 9 a.m., the wind started to pick up. By 9:30, it was reaching 10 mph, or at least that is what one of the guys who has a wind meter said. Lucky me, I was not in the early group so I would have to contend with ever-increasing wind.
As time went on and the wind increased, so did turbulence. Brett Buck went up just before me and when he got down, he made a comment about how turbulent it was. He was right. My plane bounced a bit as it flew due to the turbulence.
On the first maneuver, when I pulled straight up the plane rocked and I got a brief glimpse of the top of the aircraft. While flying, I am not supposed to see the top of the plane. This is considered bad news. Fortunately, the plane corrected itself immediately and continued on the correct flight path. The maneuvers that I had to do straight above me were quite a challenge because the wind was even stronger there.
I was in about the middle of the pack. The last flights of the round got even heavier wind. By the time the first round was finished, I am sure we were getting close to 15 mph gusts. This is still flyable but not fun.
Now, normally the judges take a short break, and we fly another round. However, due to the wind, there were a lot of passes. All but 3 of the 14 in my group passed. We all knew that we could not do any better, so why risk the plane? Of the three who did go, their scores went down a minimum of 20 points. So, they did not gain anything except the satisfaction that they can make it through.
There were a few people who got blown out of a maneuver because the wind was so bad. This is when the wind just takes the plane in a direction that the pilot has no control over. It is quite scary for the pilot and everyone watching. Fortunately, I can report that there were no accidents. All planes will live to fly again another day.
Just as a side note, before the three in my group did go up, I decided to put the plane in my car. I had a hard time getting the plane to my car due to the wind. I had a buddy hold the car door open so I could get the plane in the backseat without fear of the wind blowing the door shut. The plane was a real handful.
Thursday, we go at it again. The format is the same as today. Fly two flights if you want and take the best of the two. Add that score to Wednesday’s score and see who gets to move on. We expect to see some passing tomorrow, even if the wind is good. There are those, who after their first flight score, know they are in for Friday. So, they choose not to go up. Then there are those who are on the bubble or those who can potentially pop the bubble. This is where the real drama starts to unfold. There will be a lot of scoreboard watching—a lot of pacing from nervous pilots who are waiting for not only their scores but other competitors to see if they get knocked off or escape to fly on Friday.
On a side note, I mentioned that we were going to have a contestant from Poland. He is here and has a very unique powerplant. I only got to see it at the very end of the day. It is an electric powerplant that has two props on it—one turning one direction while the other turns in the opposite direction. I did not get to talk with him much. Actually, he speaks very little English, but he does have a translator. So, I hope to be able to talk with him through the translator and get some more information. Hopefully, there is more on this to come.
Until tomorrow. This is shaping up to be your normal Nats. You just don’t know what to expect, and just have to wait and find out.
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