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Programme and Project Management by Ed Johnston

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European Gliding Championships 2009

Nitra from an Open Cockpit

My thanks to all, especially David Innes for a great opportunity to fly his glider in the European Open class at NitraMy Charriot: A delightful handling glider considering its size

So, how did I get myself into this?

The Cmelak taxied round the corner, shark mouth stating its intent, giving me a whiff of kerosene as it lined up in front of the big Nimbus. At least I knew I wouldn’t get the guided tour of the taller trees of Nitra town this time.

First, I accidentally won the Open class in my ASG29. Then by a twist of the selection system, got a place to compete with Pete Harvey and Steve Jones at Nitra but I really needed a competitive aircraft. After a simple request and with remarkable generosity, David Innes agreed to lend me his Nimbus 4, 176. All I needed now was lots of practice.

But oh dear, the joys of EASA, transition, permits and all intervened. 176 had a modification for 850Kg, essential to be truly competitive. Unfortunately the mod had been extended since the original work was done, leaving it in limbo.

Steve did the work, Colin Short sorted the paperwork and by lots of hard work, hard cash and a minor EASA miracle I had a fully certificated glider no less than 3 days before leaving for Nitra.

1200 road miles later, it rained! I had two flights before going, two extended local soaring flights when we got there. Just enough to be sure I needed a lot more...

Cmelak ready to devour the next glider

All Out

Getting behind a few hundred horsepower of gas-turbine has a way of getting your mind back on the job. Off we went at 9kts with my tug back on the ground before I had settled into my first thermal!

After 3 days of competition I felt much more at home in the glider. All three were really tough, full of thunder storms and difficult choices. I had failed to link up with Pete and Steve on any of the flights, but by the third, I was able to help them by spotting the French and German start and I felt I was starting to get somewhere with the glider, overtaking a gaggle full of middle-running gliders during a good street run.

By that time Pete was in the lead over-all, with Steve 4th with the French and Germans cramming around us. I was in 8th by getting steady, consistent results.

Starting to Get the Feel

Typical sky for the competitionOn the 4th day, for the first time we managed to start together and I saw first hand the well oiled machine of Pete and Steve working together in close company. I often fell slightly behind, but benefiting from their information, I was able to catch up and help the team.

Approaching the final area we had a 2kt climb then a memorable 75Km max LD glide in and out. Very slowly losing out in the long glide, I only just managed to climb away and two thermals later, Pete and Steve could just get home while I had to divert south and climb again. A satisfying flight, especially as only Reinhard Spath of all the Germans and French got round, leaving Pete, Steve and me 1st, 2nd and 5th over all.

The next day was even more satisfying for me. The edge of a huge storm just beyond TP1 took us up at 7kts to over 7000, then a mad charge under lowering cloud bases petered out at the always soggy Danube. Coming back north I preferred an isolated cumulus to the rain over the river and called the boys into my stronger climb, then just beat them back, taking 4 points from their 300 point lead over me! The majestic sight of XXL coming in to land

More importantly, Laurent Aboulin, Sylvain Gerbaud and Holger Karrow all took a different and much better route going into the first turn. More risky, but it paid off with Laurent taking 150pts from us. Pete and Steve now had to start looking over their shoulder.

176 coming in to land

The Big One

The next day we got serious with 605Km over the mountains. We all started together, and I ended up ahead of Pete and Steve approaching the first big ridge. The French were a bit more aggressive and we had the great satisfaction of going over the top of them in company while they polished the hills unable to get over the ridgeline.

However Laurent had the last laugh. Taking a better route after that ridge, they got to the pivotal 3rd turn ahead of us and were able to cross a huge shadow of Cb blow-off. We could not and again, Laurent won, taking 100pts from Pete and Steve. With only 12 finishers, I was promoted to 4th over all but only just: a bug wiper fell off my wing on my marginal final glide and I was just lucky to find more lift and somehow get the wiper blade back onboard.

Lee hard at work while his crew relax

The Other Classes

By this time, the rest of the team were doing great, despite this big day being unkind to both teams. In the 18m, Russell was 2nd and Mike 4th after a good run of very consistent placings. The 15m team had a run of really tough tasks, often in the hills with the most difficult flying over almost no fields and no engines! Leigh was 4th overall in a close scrap for 3rd while Tim was 12th.

Mike psyching himself up for the flightThe next day was a short blast, deliberately under-set to cater for our 8 hours flying the previous day. Again Laurent nibbled at Steve and Pete while I dropped to 5th. A great day for Russell and Mike coming 1st and 2nd and up to 1st and 3rd over all.

On Day 8 we got tactical. I sat with the French while Pete and Steve tried to steal a march. Looking so closely at the opposition, we missed the obvious weather coming in which would favour the early starters. I ended up doing the flight largely alone, splitting Pete and Steve and just 4 points behind Laurent- job done. However Holger Karrow moved clear of my 5th place by 200 points.

Then the frustrating rest day; I really needed it by then but it was probably the best day of the week, followed by our first scrubbed day!

The End Game

176 finishing another had days flyingThe next day looked like it would be our last. We were now tight at the top, with Laurent 25pts behind Steve, and Pete ahead by 28 more. I was in 5th with Francois Jeremiasse at my heals, despite him not flying the first day.

Elsewhere Russell was in a solid 1st place but  Wolfgang Janowitsch was the man on a move in 2nd with Mike 3rd. In the 15m, Louis Bouderlique was free and clear in 1st with Christophe Ruch in 2nd. I think we have done too good a job training them in the UK Nationals recently! Leigh Wells was just 100pts behind a podium with Tim Scott in a solid 9th.

We decided that tactics should not distract us, but to try to get some starters out ahead. Again, weather in the West meant an early start was the best tactics, but it is just impossible to take such a gamble when the team is placed 1, 2 and 5. Laurent started 14min behind us, took a better route into the first turn caught up Pete. Steve took a different route on the 2nd leg, finding 7kts at the end of a street way off track and got ahead. I had a nightmare, unable to make the glider work in the more turbulent conditions.

Pete making ready to launchThe 2nd turn was almost washed out and Steve’s big advantage over Pete was eaten away in the 3rd leg. I got plain dumb lucky, conditions re-generating as I arrived late and just stayed airborne then almost caught up with the boys. Laurent beat Pete by 12 minutes, easily enough for the 53pts he needed.

Saved by the Wild Card

The Gold and Silver Podium for Russell and MikeWell that would have been the end of Gold for Pete and a 5th for me, except for the magnificent Tomas Rendla who started 30 minutes earlier and did nearly 20kph faster than Laurent, enough to devalue the day so Laurent finished 2pts behind Pete but sadly, ahead of Steve. I just kept hold of 5th, ahead of Francois for the same reason.

In the 15m, Leigh and Tim had decent days, holding their 4th and 9th over all Lukasz Wójcik winning the day and splitting the French pair.

Pete Harvey does it again with Steve Bronze. Ed is in shot left in 5th placeThe 18m finish was equally exciting, Mike winning the day. The 18m late starters were even more heavily punished, among them Wolfgang who was shot down at their Northwest turn, giving Mike a well deserved 2nd over all behind the aggressive and consistent flying of Russell .

Final Thoughts

The Result. Over all it was a fantastic result; 2 champions, 4 medals and the team cup. Given how I felt at the start of the week, I was delighted with 5th. The big Nimbus is a charming to fly, but I needed more hours to get the best from her in all conditions. I started to do pretty well when thermals were smooth and consistent, but when it got turbulent I was back to square 1.

The team with their medals and paper workNimbus 4 or ASG 29? I would definitely have done worse over all in the ASG. On 3 or 4 occasions, I got to the next thermal only because I had the big wings’ performance. Maybe there were 2 or 3 days when I would have been better off in the ASG, but probably not if I had more hours in the Nimbus going into the competition.

Feeling like a 5th wheel! After 3 days of failing to hook up, I nearly bailed out of team flying: Pete and Steve worked so well together and rightly concentrated on their own competition. I tried once more and it worked. Although I got much more out of it than Pete and Steve got from me, I did contribute too.

Would I do it again? Well first I need to earn the opportunity! I would rather be flying my own glider in the 18m, but the experience of International competition in a great glider with an experienced team and all the backup from Captain and crew cannot be beaten.