Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rat Race Reflection

With all the high winds on Oahu lately, there has been a serious lack of flying and posting of articles. Therefore, like all of you, I am forced to reflect upon those flyable days, here and elsewhere, until I can once again get in the air. I finally went through some video footage of Rat Race 2010, and would like to share this short video and article of a great day of flying.

Task 4

With weather almost identical to yesterday, but perhaps a bit less windy, we knew the game was on. I won't bore anyone with the drama going on in my head at this point and just get to the competition, because that is where the drama truly unfolded.

The task committee called a 40K task that would definitely have us crossing the valley a couple times and heading out toward the town of Talent with goal at DONATO. For someone like me who had yet to tag a waypoint, my goal was simply to bag one and see what happened from there.

On launch, there was a distinct sense of urgency. As soon as the task was called, waypoints set and pilot meeting adjourned, the line to check in for the day filled within minutes. Alex and I planned to launch early, yet found ourselves toward the back of the line with only 40 minutes before the start window would open. Because the winds were out of the West, only one of the two launches were open so we just had to wait.

By the time we got to the front of the line, we had 10 minutes left in the countdown to start. I didn't mind but I knew Alex was struggling with the late start. "I've never launched this late in a comp," he told me, "we're going to have to get a good climb." As if he'd made a deal with the devil, we both hooked a magnificent thermal right off of launch at 3800 feet and found ourselves at cloudbase over 6500 feet with 3 minutes left before the start window opened.

The entry cylindar was again the WOOD LZ with a 1K outer cylinder we had to cross after start, followed by a 400m inner cylinder before heading to RABIES. Heading out across the valley I soon realized the performance limitations of my DHV 1-2 wing. There were swarms of pilots passing me from above and below as if I were in a 10-man river raft surrounded by kayaks. Nonetheless, this provided a visual reference to the convergence line from launch to RABIES and I maintained a constant altitude through the start cylinders all the way to the first waypoint. The lift was so good that pilots all around were pulling big ears just to stay clear of the clouds. After tagging my very first waypoint, I found the next waypoint of RAB-PK on my GPS and continued to climb in strong, congested thermals.

After tagging RAB-PK, I followed what was left of the remaining lower class wings back across the valley to BURNT. Mid-way across, I encountered my first sink and pushed speedbar as I looked at the main LZ on my right to ensure I had a bailout. Calculating my glidepath, I became worried as the trees were getting bigger and BURNT still 2K away. Finding four pilots turning to my left, I altered my course and began to climb, staying in the thermal until the highest pilot, approximately 500 feet overhead, began to pull ears.

Miraculously, the wind had pushed me into the 400m cylinder at BURNT and I was off to WOODRA, the next waypoint. Along the way, I looked over to my left and found myself neck and neck with Jack Brown. "No way", you're saying, "he was flying an Ozone R10.2 with two thin risers," but it was true. The only difference is that he had tagged WOODRA and was headed in the opposite direction toward CEMETA.

As I glided toward WOODRA, an emergency radio call came across the meet frequency that a pilot had gone down near the antennas at WOODRA and was not moving. Another pilot was circling overhead providing reports as the emergency response team leaped into action. After 10 minutes the pilot was still not moving.

A distinct shift in the comp's atmosphere occurred at that moment. We were into our 5th day of flying, including the practice day, and had over 500 launches and landings without incident. Now one of our fellow airmen was down. I continued my glide to WOODRA getting lift the entire way and found myself over launch at 5000 feet. Pilots above at cloudbase were pulling ears and I just wanted to continue at my altitude to WOODRA and clear the emergency scene because a helicopter was already on its way.

As I turned toward CEMETA, I thought about climbing higher but had found so much lift along the way I figured I'd just see what I would find. Immediately after entering the gulch just north of launch, I hit sink and searched for other pilots finding lift. The few pilots I could see were about 1K ahead of me and I knew my glidepath would not get me there. Knowing there was already one rescue in progress, it made no sense to me to risk being the cause in another. I knew I was getting flushed in the same gulch I landed in the previous day and turned with nearly the same path to the field below.

It was an incredible flight and I was ecstatic to have made the start and four waypoints along the way. What a difference four days of flying Rat Race had made.


Alex said...

JD, great video and article, thanks for the walk down memory lane. That was an amazing day and I remember it well. Up until the part where I got my free glass of wine at the winery - the rest is a hazy blur for some reason!

I tried to edit your post in the usual way, to include a teaser paragraph with a "read more" link, but for some reason I can't get the embedded video to show up in the top part, only after you click the "read more". I'll play with it some more later and see if I can't figure out what's going on there. Or if anyone else (Jeff?) has a clue, please let me know.

See you guys in a couple weeks.

JD said...

Alex, I moved the video to the top but now it doesn't show a preview until you click "read more". Thanks for any help you can provide. See you soon. JD

Nick Johnson said...


What a sweet thermal! Thanks for sharing that...needed that.


JeffMc said...

Alex/JD - There appears to be a bug/annoyance in Blogspot's "read more" link that strips the required "embed" tag before you click "read more", and replaces it afterwards. I worked around it by using YouTube's iframe method of embedding a video.

Awesome video JD!

JD said...

Alex/Jeff - Thank you both for helping me get this video posted. You guys are awesome! JD

Thom said...

Thank You Thank You Thank You
Needed a good read and with a movie too. You got some great shots of the "Top" of Alex's wing. Good job.

Alex said...

Nice, Thom. Actually my wing is not in this video - in this comp I was flying the trusty old blue, white and red Magic 4, while the pilot JD is thermaling with is flying a Gradient. JD did a great job sticking with him and tag teaming it to cloudbase. But it's not like the top of my wing is a rare sight in any setting. I'll freely admit that I'm the clumsiest thermaller, the smallest-balled XC pilot, and the most clueless comp pilot in any gathering. Feel free to take a gander at the top of my wing anytime - I have nothing to hide up there!

Thom said...

oops Sorry Alex,

I am sure it will be a rarer occurrence if the new ride stays in town.

If you are the clumsiest thermaller, smallest=balled XC pilot or the most clueless comp pilot in any realm then the rest of us should totally give up and take up para sailing.

Doug said...

Awesome video and story. Nothing like thermaling with your friends!!!

Gravity said...

Cool video JD. That was awesome day until the rescue. That was VERY hard work. And to think, if he had thrown his reserve, we would have walked him out, instead of the 4.5 hour basket ride rescue and heli.
You did a great job in tough conditions and were rewarded with a big-balled grin at the end of the day, humbled by the might of nature.
See ya next year at GOAL...