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|By John Ellias|
This year marked the 15th year cross country enthusiast have gathered in the beautiful Shasta Valley to compete against each other and have a great time flying. “Montague” has become the most prestigious RC Cross Country event in the world. Host Dean Gradwell, CD Ron McElliot, and helpers Roger Hebner and Paul Gradwell did a fine job preparing for the contest and running it smoothly.
Turnout was somewhat smaller than usual with 8 teams entered. There were 4 days of racing, but also some interesting events in the practice days leading up to the official racing days.
The first practice day was Monday, June 11,
and the weather was ideal with very light wind until after 3 pm. Rick Shelby and I decided to see if we could get Rick's 50-kilometer pin. Rick launched the MXC just before 2 pm, and the lift was good right off launch. We decided to head to the northern-most turn point first, while the wind was light. We made the turn point easily and headed back south for a fairly easy run of about 12 miles. At this point, the lift seemed to disappear, and Rick got very low a few times, but he fought patiently and slowly made his way south. Finally, at the town of Grenada, the lift improved, and he got up to 1000 meters just in time to cross over interstate 5 and head for the town of Gazelle. For the next 6 or 7 miles, there was no lift until finally a mile or so from Gazelle, Rick connected with a weak but steady thermal. We made the turn-point at Gazelle and then headed back north into the wind. Rick fought his way against the wind, hitting small bubbles of lift but nothing good enough to keep the flight going. After over 3 hours in the air, he landed out for a flight of 38 miles, more than enough for his 50K pin. Rick got his 25k pin on his first XC flight and now earned his 50K pin on only his second XC flight!
Tuesday was another practice day
with weak lift and strong wind. Most
teams just flew around on the field without getting on course. Late in the day, we managed to get high, so Dean suggested we try a new course out to the East. He offered to drive us in his jeep so we hopped in and off we went.
Wednesday was the Crew Race
This was an opportunity for some of the crew members to compete and fly a task. Again, the lift was weak, and strong winds was a big factor. The task for the day was to fly from the start/finish line to turn point 2, up north to turn point 9, back to 2 and the finish line. This course totaled about 16 miles, and it seemed like it should be an easy task, but the conditions made it very difficult. Lift was very weak early in the day, and by the time the lift improved, the wind also picked up. Only two teams made it off the field. Rick Shelby won the day with a tough 9-mile flight. Rick actually made it off the field twice. On his second run, the lift was better then on the first, but the wind was much stronger. He got about 5 miles out flying into a strong headwind. Each time he hit a thermal, he drifted back a mile or so while gaining altitude, only to lose it all again trying to make headway into the wind. After 3 times thermalling up to 600 meters without being able to make any forward progress he landed out. Bruce Moore also made it off the field, but he landed out at turn point 2.
Contest Day 1
The 34-mile task was to fly north to turn point
9, then go back south through Montague down to Grenada, and return
to the start/finish line. Determining when to start was key to completing
this task. If you started too early, you were struggling with very
weak thermals which topped off at a very low altitude. Starting too
late meant to fight the wind, and that made getting off the field difficult
and almost impossible to get to turn point 9.
Contest Day 2
Today the conditions were reasonably good, if you
got off the field at the right time. The course was 29 miles long.
It seemed the window for a successful flight was to leave the field
between 11:30 and 12:00. The teams that got on course after 12:00
had to battle a strong head wind for much of the flight. My team, the
Screaming Eagles, got on course by 12:00 noon, and we had good lift
with only some wind to contend with. We never got lower than about
Contest Day 3
The weather was finally starting to get good
with warmer temperatures and wind speed below 10mph for most of the
day. Six teams managed to complete the task, with team Broken
Aero winning the day with a very fast average speed of 24.6 mph. Screaming
Eagles was close behind at 23.8mph, and Paul Gradwell’s team
came in 3rd at 22.9mph. Flying Tigers managed a fourth place
finish, staying in the hunt for the overall trophy by salvaging their
flight with two treetop level saves.
Contest Day 4
This was last contest day and probably the best weather of the contest. A short 17 mile task was called to allow everyone to be back at the field by 3:00 pm. Seven of the eight teams completed the course. Screaming Eagles was first with an average speed of 24.2 mph, second place went to Paul Gradwell’s team, and in 3rd place was Team Dust Devils.
Here is an excerpt Dudley Dufort wrote for the SVSS newsletter:
“Our first flight was one of the best Cross Country flights of my life. We did really well. Textbook teamwork and the fastest average speed I've ever had. When I finished our first flight back at the airport, I still had about 1600 feet of altitude so I handed the transmitter to Scott and said "Let's get out there and run it again."
At 1,600 feet we weren't low but we weren't flush either. 3,000 feet is considered a good starting altitude to get out on course. We needed to tank up a bit before starting our next run. In no time Scott ran into a huge thermal and he was just nailing it. With his SBXC racked up on a wing tip in tight pirouette turns, that vario was just screaming. In no time he was above 3,600 and it was off to the races!
Nose down, over the starting line hauling bacon 'till he hit another thermal. Yank and bank! And so it went, one huge thermal after another with very fast speed runs in between over the entire 16.6 mile course. Just what Montague is known for.
With three miles left to go and plenty of altitude to burn, Scott began what is affectionately called the "sled run." I was driving, Aric and Scott were in the back of the truck. We were blasting toward the finish line at 60 - 70 MPH trying to keep up with the plane. Scott kept yelling at me "up 20, up 20". I don't think he had any idea just how fast we were going. There was no way I was going to add 20 MPH to the break-neck speed we were already traveling. The plane handily beat the truck to the finish line.
When we got back and landed from the second run, I knew that Scott had demolished my time. The team work was impeccable! Aric did a fantastic job of mentally marking the location of thermals outbound so Scott could pick them up again on the return leg. You'll have to check with Scott or Aric but I don't think he ever got below 2,000 feet. Aric's help was invaluable in directing Scott to the proper heading. The whole run was like clockwork. Incredible conditions and teamwork! We were jubilant . . . until the score were announced.
Unfortunately, Scott's magnificent flight was disqualified because we didn't follow the rules. For repeat attempts, everyone was required to land their plane, reset the GPS data logger and then re-launch the plane. In our exuberance we just did a turn 'n burn.
As it turns out Scott's flight WAS faster that mine. Way faster!! Had it counted, it would have put him in second place just behind John Ellias. John averaged a remarkable 24.24 MPH. Scott's speed was 23.58. Scooter was hauling bacon!! “
So unofficially, hats off to the President Woodward for an incredible and very exciting 2nd place flight. That flight, on that Sunday, as they say, "was worth the whole price of admission."
Overall winner of the contest was team Team Screaming Eagles. Broken Aero placed 2nd, and Flying Tigers came in 3rd. Only two teams completed every task: Flying Tigers and Screaming Eagles.
While the tasks seemed shorter than in years past, the final analysis shows they were appropriate, given the weather. Scoring was completely by GPS, which allowed for great accuracy. Bob Nelson worked hard after each day’s flying to make sure the scoring was completed for the next day’s pilots’ meeting. Special thanks go to Dave Beach and John Marien (Team Ascendant) for coming all the way from New Hampshire to compete. Dave Beach also gave a very interesting seminar on the GPS telemetry software he has developed and made available specifically for XC soaring.
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