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Programme and Project Management by Ed Johnston

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Pociunai EGC 2011: From an 18m Cockpit

Competition reports are not everyone’s cup of tea. You may love the comps and already have all the tasks, speeds and scores you might want from For others, I doubt that a blow by blow account will substantially improve your interest.

What I have tried to do here is convey some of the spirit and feeling of participating in one of these great occasions. There are details of the competition naturally; that is what we were there to do. I hope in addition I can convey some of the mental rough and tumble we go through as well as some of the pleasure in success and non-flying activities.

The Build Up

Pociunai is a long drive away: I drove 3412 miles over the 3 weeks of practice and contest.

On route I had the typical 2 ½ hour delay on the M25 with only 2 hours in hand to catch the ferry. Chris Starkey had a more dramatic journey with he and crew (yes, both of them) being rudely awakened when the motorway turned green. His car was in a ditch and un-drivable but the glider remained undamaged so he continued with hire car and returned with Hugh Kindel’s assistance.

Pociunai airfield is large with good length runs in all directions, rising ground to the West and river to the South, a small clubhouse serving good beer and decent food and a large hangar which hosted briefings. About half the team were camping on site, while the rest were 15 minutes away in a comfortable hotel with good food. Campers had to deal with the post-thunder storm swamp while the hoteliers suffered each Saturday when they hosted wedding parties.

Our first winner was Nick Tillett, earning a bottle of wine for being fastest out of the cockpit. The FAI were collecting research data on pilot’s escape time. Rumour had it that he achieved 4.3s by exiting through the DV panel rather than opening the lid!

Even before we arrived it was clear fields would be an issue: we drove past tiny rolling fields of the Polish borders, small wet cropped fields in Lithuania, not to mention the huge areas of forest! During practice week we walked the few fields on the Western approaches to the club, spotting the options between the crop and wires. The broken thermals of practice, sometimes taking us over 3000ft and turn points in the forests further sharpened our attention. During the competition, two gliders were written off in the forests (plus the obligatory loss of a Dianna tail on take off) and several suffered field landing damage, with no serious injury to pilots.

As practice week continued the bugs in the organisation got ironed out, finish procedures changed, updated then reverted, while we immersed ourselves in the routines of flying, not to mention researching the local restaurants. One evening we checked the bill carefully as the total came to over 45 Litas per head (I think we bought Russell had a particularly nice Rioca that evening). Steve pointed out that we had just broken the £10/head barrier: we paid and left happy!

A Competitors Point of View

First Great Days

The first day of the competition was scrubbed after a grid squat but the next delivered the promised better weather.

Gary’s tug died at 1000ft on the first day, landing in a crop field and later being flow out. For the rest of the comp he sported a Vilga sticker, crossed out!
On Day 1, Chris Starkey flew at high speed without turning to the first area, then slowly in a straight line into a field!
The farmer cut a path then towed the glider out of his field: one of many stories of fantastic hospitality given to out-landing competitors

We started the competition with an area task in mixed conditions. Russell Cheetham got slightly ahead of Gary Stingemore and me during a blistering run to the far end of our first area but as the weather turned bad, being higher he stuck with a more Westerly line in the blue while Gary and I diverted to the clouds and forest to stay alive and ended up doing better. I took more distance in the second sector and had a decent run home; Russell thought I might have won the day, but the Poles and Danes had other ideas pushing me to 4th!

Chris had a great run on Day 3, catching the French then taking his own route home to be rewarded by an empty field when he got back and 2nd for the day

We then entered a period of good and ever improving conditions in a lovely polar air mass. There were very well set tasks in predictable conditions, some streets but mostly climb and dive operating to 5000ft and the occasional weaker area or bit of spread out to add to the fun.

First a 400km task round the Kaunas TMA. I had a great run, getting ahead as we approached the penultimate turn, but then had to climb weakly while being blown away from the turn. Russell did the bold thing and got ahead by rounding the TP first but again behind the Poles and one Dane (Arne Boye-Moeller was a casualty, clipping airspace and going from day winner to technical land out).

Kim Tipple showed Pete and Steve the way home on Day 3 with an excellent day win: “Just found great lift every time I needed it”

Next a 470k excursion into Poland which was a great day of hard mixed racing. Again I was pleased with my flying but made one mistake on the way home, pushing ahead of the pack which then climbed better behind me. Pure luck helped me recover on the final glide when I diverted and climbed well while others went straight on but had to climb weakly.

After a fantastic run round the task, Nick Tillett suffered a huge blow: he had put the start point in wrong and only passed the line on final glide. To add insult, he got a 3pt penalty for not going through it properly!

However this was a bad day for Gary. He lost contact early, pressing ahead to the forest and then failing to climb well. He had a really tough time after that and gave himself a stern talking to that evening.

The Best Days of the Competition

Day 4 was better still, 520Km with winners speeds in the 130s. Gary bounced back superbly for 3rd and Russell 2nd behind Karol Staryszak who was becoming the man to beat.

Day 5 was even better with Russell winning the 660Km task at 134Kph. It doesn’t get much better than that (provided you brush over the wheels up landing!)

Pete and Steve showed their class, 1st and 2nd at 130Kph over 685Km followed by 2nd and 3rd with Kim 4th on the more difficult 387Km day 6

These two days were bad for me though. I lost touch with Gary and Russell early on both days, then was unable to find the good runs and climbs that I usually do on these days. I wasn’t slow, but dropped points and places but worse, took a psychological battering; suddenly all the confidence I gained over the first 3 days was gone.

A Slow Decline

Sadly that was the end of our lovely polar air which was replaced by feeble damper stuff from the West. Russell and Gary got up and away early while I was stuck on the ground. When they left, with many competitors unable to climb and running out of day, I thought they would ace the day.

But conditions improved for a while and we caught the early starters towards the end of the flight. However I didn’t take full advantage, staying with a weak climb and letting my leading gaggle press on beneath total overcast and no discernable source of lift. They then climbed in the gloom to get in up to 15 minutes ahead! In the end I was pleased to get back and not be amongst the casualties which included Wolfgang Janowitsch, until then 5th overall.

Day 7 was another missed opportunity for the three of us. Russell and Gary were determined not to repeat the early start of the previous day and along with all the main contenders we missed our chance to be with the 2 early starters to finish. Arriving so late in the second sector with the run home now unsoarable, our only option was to maximise distance into the Northern area and abandon any hope of completing the task.

Had we read the rules more carefully, we would have continued after our time elapsed and scored better; we were lucky to drop only 50-60 points on the leaders. Gary and I got home with fumes in the turbo tank and Russell had a late 140km retrieve.

Then we had a welcome break, a well chosen rest day bowling in Kaunas (Gary cleaned up) followed by a memorable team dinner with South African Mark Holliday along for good measure.

That was followed by what turned out to be a non-contest flying day for us and the Opens: launched into decent looking skies, it fell apart as we went East and not enough pilots got past 100km. The 15m boys got 180 points for 126km of hard graft and no finishers.

Difficult Weather, Improving Positions

Day 8 brought another area task and great frustration to me in very mixed, difficult weather. I went my own way, turning earlier in the first sector than Russell and Gary, then climbing and running well through rain then dead air with cloud bases varying by more than 1000 feet. I took more distance in the North sector then thought I saw a cleaver way home East of a huge shower. After diverting to go there I found the route closed and I had to back track. It was such a stupid mistake and cost me an easy day win (Wolfgang was just behind at the time, but got back 9 minutes before me!).

Nick had another difficult day with a land out but another experience to remember with the farmer’s wife producing a fabulous meal. Then the car electrics packed up on the way home. Shaun picked up the glider while Nick stayed with the car, getting back late but well fed!

Losing the time and coming 3rd on the day was obviously better than a high risk of landing out short of the field. However it is intensely difficult to take that call in the air, limiting the damage and taking the loss, especially after having such a good flight.

At this stage Russell was 4th  overall and still in medal contention, I had climbed back to 6th but a little distant while Gary was defending 8th.

After another scrub, the penultimate day had the 18m launching ahead of a huge shower which dumped centimetre sized hailstones on the airfield and forced a scrub for the other classes. We hit the storm and diverted miles South and just stayed in the air (7 pilots landed out).

The End Game

Eventually we started making progress but once more I did the right thing with the wrong result; pushing on sensibly but missing the climb behind. Still the three of us did get round and with a rare slip from the Poles, Russell pulled back up to 2nd overall, all be it by 2 points only!

The last day was pretty horrible to look at from the ground. The Open class barely stayed up with cloud bases slightly above launch height. Just when we expected a scrub, the 18m class got a 10 minute warning and off we went.

Eventually we found ourselves in the last gaggle containing all the top contenders and off we went with Russell starting a minute later, attempting to pinch an advantage on the Poles. However this didn’t work out as the gaggle climbed better from higher (often the way during the competition) and he wasn’t able to integrate back into the gaggle.

Our 3 times European Champion Pete Harvey won the last day, getting him back to 8th overall after a poor start to the competition. Steve Jones, 2nd on the day was 5th overall Kim Tipple was 9th.
Marcus Frank had a noticeable performance advantage in the EB29, flying consistently to become champion. Amazingly Killian Walbrou from France who normally flies club class came 2nd (I thought I did well coming 5th in a borrowed Nimbus 4 In 2009!) with the Czech Petr Krejcirik taking Bronze.

Gary and I working together did OK, helping Russell as we could on the location of the Polish pair and conditions ahead. Kissing the North sector where conditions were worse, my final regret of the contest was that we talked ourselves out of gliding to a good looking cloud in the final area. Instead we turned to get back safely under the shadow of a huge anvil cloud but I was 3 minutes early.

Russell made better use of his time and overhauled Gary and me but the Polish pair had done it again, coming 1st and 2nd  on the day leaving Karol Staryszak with Gold, Zbigniew Nieradka Silver and Russell with Bronze by less than 40 points.

Going to that last cloud should have got me the 11 points more I needed to take 4th from Peter Eriksen, or maybe it would have dropped me 2 points to 6th behind Ronald Termaat! As it was, I was 5th and Gary 7th.

Reflections on the Competitive Mindset

In the 15m, the French flew brilliantly, lying 1,2,3 from day 5 to the last day which Henrik Breidahl won to get equal 2nd with Denis Guerin, pushing reigning champion Louis Bouderlique into 4th. Christophe Ruch remained 150pts clear in 1st place flying very consistently. Nick Tillett was 23rd and Chris Starkey 19th, both having some good days but also some traumas.

For me, it is all about the flying with the competition being an added incentive. I was more annoyed by my avoidable mistake on day 8 than the greater loss of points on day 8 caused by doing something sensible. I was so immersed in the flying that work remained strangely unreal for several days.

Strategies are important and we got them mostly but not entirely right. A fair decision to go early one day turned out to be wrong and led to a bad decision the next day to start late. Russell’s tactics on the last day might have worked but as it turned out, he would have done better starting with Gary, me and the gaggle and covering the Poles that way. Otherwise we mostly started at the right times and assisted each other effectively throughout the competition.

I had a great start to the competition, becoming very confident after the first three days but lost the plot over the next 3. Once you loose your confidence, you loose points and places: I really fought mentally to stop my competition falling apart. In the end I didn’t get the lucky breaks I needed; but then I needed a few more of them than Russell and the Poles!

Gary only had one bad day but it cost him a lot of points. He was right there on all the fast racing days, working brilliantly with Russell who has similar flying style (but rather different from mine).

Russell on the other hand, flew very well especially while racing, making few mistakes and was only denied a better medal by the exceptional Poles.

Over all we enjoyed a well-run competition with some excellent weather, flown in great spirit. We had 11 days flying of a possible 13 and though we didn’t quite repeat the medal haul of Nitra in 2009, our end result was very respectable.