East Coast HLG Festival 2005 Report

East Coast HLG Festival 2005 Report

First up, I took some photos when I had the chance in Wilson at the ECHLGF, and you can find them in the
2005.10.22 – ECHLGF gallery.

The ECHLGF is the East-Coast Handlaunch Glider Festival, aka “Oleg’s Contest”, aka “DESS’s HLG contest”. It is held in Wilson, NC, not too far from Raleigh. It is one of the best HL contests on the East Coast and Oleg, Dick and the rest of the DESS crew spend a lot of time trying to make it the best contest possible.

Read on for my full report!

I and my wife (on her first-ever, and maybe last-ever soaring trip :) )
headed out of Louisville at about 6AM on Friday and managed to get to
Wilson before the sun went down, some 10 hours later at 4PM. We had
time to stop by the field, and I was very pleased to see the clinic
still going on with some “practice rounds” taking place. Quite a few
folks were there — maybe a dozen or so. Good to see, as I know that
Oleg had added this clinic just within the last few weeks. I flew just
a little bit and said hello to the folks I recognized, but then went and
checked into the hotel. Caught up with Denny and the Polecat Crue at
Griff’s Steak Barn later. Griff’s is about the most bizarre place I’ve
ever had a steak, but if you go to Wilson, you gotta go to Griff’s! I
don’t clearly remember, but I think the waiter mentioned that they had
Natural Light on draught! Wow. That is *class* :) I ate my weight in
steak and shrimp, and I got the chance to experience the man known as
“Spick” up close and personal. I swear, Phil Barnes and Shane Spickler
could star in a revival of the Odd Couple. Much chatter about soaring
and dark ruminations on just how “Spick” and Doug Harnisch were going to
share single bed were had. However, sleep was welcomed after 10 hours
of driving and massive amounts of steak.

Saturday morning, we awoke to find that the rain showers that were
forecast hadn’t come to be (yet), and that it was actually kinda warmish
outside. A welcomed sight as last year I remember being a bit chilly
throughout the days. We made our way to the field, and I grabbed my
freq clip and yelled out my freq to ensure that I didn’t have a repeat
of last year at this contest (which was my first HL contest) when I was
shot down before the first round, breaking my toy and making me
reconsider this whole $*#($! hobby. Luckily, that didn’t happen and I
got my test flights out the way. Testing the air, flying the first
task, and unconsciously “assessing plane and pilot” (as Phil puts it) of
my competition.

Speaking of competition, I’ll tell you that I feel that my NATS placing
was pretty much the biggest fluke in my short soaring career,
considering I didn’t start flying gliders until 2 years ago, and
handlaunch only a year ago (shortly before the 2004 ECHLGF). I decided
not to enter into this contest as a sportsman because of that placing,
and this was to be my first “expert” level soaring competition ever. I
was expecting to be utterly trounced.

Saturday, we flew 8 rounds in varied conditions. The rain that was
forecast to come never did, and it varied from calm to windy and from
cloudy to sunny. By the 8th round, the winds had shifted towards the
rear trees, essentially making rounds 7 and 8 very risky slope-soaring.
Some very close and exciting “saves” were made, and in the end no less
that five planes had been lost in the trees, and CD Dick Proseus decided
to call the day and retrieve planes.

Oleg and I timed for one-another almost the entire day. Oleg was
perfect the entire day, maxing 8 out of 8 rounds — I was not, though I
did managed to not get crushed, averaging something just above 900
points per round. Good enough to keep me in contention for the
fly-offs, but Brady Baggs, Dick Proseus and Russ Bennett were all in
that same spot. I certainly made Oleg cringe a few times with my bad
decisions, but I was just glad to be flying as well as I was. At the
end of the first day, Oleg was first with a perfect day, with Phil
Barnes, Don Vetter and Shane Spickler all in the hunt for the top 3 spots.

Sunday was absolutely beautiful weather, but under those clear skies,
there was spotty lift in the morning, and windy conditions during the
mid-day. Dick and Oleg wanted to get in a lot of flying, so we
down-shifted to 8-minute rounds, and we flew 6 rounds before 1:30PM or
so! The first round was 5×90, with some real shaker-uppers to come,
like Round 15, 2 flights of 4 minutes a piece. Russ Bennett had come on
strong late on Saturday and early Sunday to crack into the fly-offs, as
had DESS club-member Brady Baggs. I remembered Brady from the BASS
(Baltimore) HLG contest back in May and was impressed with his flying
skills – but now he and Dick Proseus were between me and the flyoffs.
Both of them great guys and locals to boot! I was torn! I hadn’t faired
so well in the first few rounds, dropping at least 60 seconds in each of
the first three rounds, and I wasn’t feeling great about it. I knew
Dick, Brady and Russ had a sizable margin over me.

The changing weather and increasingly tougher tasks took their toll on
us all in the later rounds — Brady slipped a bit in round 14 (3,3,2),
and unfortunately Dick landed way out in the cotton in round 15
(2x4min). Russ also apparently slipped a little in 15, so the guys on
the cusp of the flyoffs were shaken and stirred! I managed to simply
maintain on the last three rounds, though I did post my first max of the
contest in round 14 and was *very* close to maxing the last round. We
hadn’t seen an updated score sheet since Round 12, so it was truly
unknown! All very exciting and very fun — man-on-man is the only way
to fly! In any case, I just knew that I had flown better this weekend
than I ever had before. Also, I was plenty tired! It was nice to know
that 14 rounds of flying was done. I was ready to pack-up and sit back
for the fly-offs.

Imagine my surprise when the scoresheet was printed up and I was in 5th
place overall, with Russ rounding out the fly-offs in 6th! What a
surprise! I was in the fly-offs and in the wood (ne’ glass) for sure.
It was exciting, but at the same time I was fairly nervous — my first
expert-level flyoffs and that wasn’t even to mention the tasks! The
dreaded *LIMITED THROW* tasks! Egad! 5×2, 3×3, and a 2,3,4 tasks.
Todd Griffin and I had timed for one another a few times during the
contest, and I decided to ask him to time for me. Despite his
reservations about doing so he did a great job and being a full-scale
glider pilot he knows lift when he sees it. Now, whether or not I could
take advantage of his advice, we’d see!

The weather for the fly-offs was a little challenging — the wind had
fallen slack to the point where pilots weren’t launching in the same
direction, as the wind direction was different on different parts of the
field. I faltered on my first throw of the 5×2 and dropped about 30
seconds. The next couple of throws were good and I think I managed to
get a few 2 minute flights. But then I started getting glitched when I
flew nearby other pilots while I was over the crops! Of all the times
for that to start happening. I’m flying a Hitec 555 which I’ve never
had issue with before, so I figure that something has to be up. I
finish the round fly nearby my own radio and away from others, and
switch to my backup between rounds. My backup flies OK, but the wing
isn’t as clean as my primary ship, and I can’t launch as high with it
for whatever reason. The next round (3×3) started out OK with me
fighting some challenging air on a low launch and dropping maybe 30
seconds, but my second flight I went for a circling bird and didn’t make
it back through the hard sink! Scratch that throw! The last throw I
managed to get another 2 1/2 minutes, but I knew then that 6th place was
all mine! The last round (2,3,4) went about as well and I got stomped
on my last throw, and walked off the field with something like 3 minutes
left in the round. Was I dejected? Maybe a little, but that passed as
I realized that I flew the contest the best I could and that I had
actually made it into the fly-offs.

Meanwhile, there was some drama on the field as Oleg, who was previously
in first place got stomped on his last round, posting an 857, allowing
Phil Barnes and Don Vetter to take the top two spots! Phil was nearly
perfect in the fly-offs and Don wasn’t too far behind. Only 11 points
separated Don and Oleg. Shane Spickler got hurt a bit on the last
fly-off round as well, but still easily retained his 4th place spot.
Russ Bennett put up 3 excellent fly-off rounds, dropping only 105 points
against the rest of the best.

The contest now officially over, I felt relieved and happy. On a
personal level, I flew the best contest of my short career and I knew on
what I had to improve. More importantly, I got the chance to fly with
some really great guys and met a bunch of new folks. The DESS crew put
on a great contest with lots and lots of flying and all the
accoutrements that can make a good contest a great contest.

Speaking of that — I should mention that Dick Proseus’ wife personally
caters this event with the absolute best spread of food I’ve ever seen
at a soaring contest – hands down! Tangy North Carolina barbecue on
Saturday (with slaw and cornbread, of course!), and then all the best
sandwich fixins’ on Sunday. (It goes without saying that sweet tea is
served). Oh — and how could I forget the raffle! The mother of all
raffles! A JR 9303 radio set, a Taboo and an XP 4.5 DLG kit, a RAM2
altimeter, Paul Naton DVDs, Atlanta Hobby swag and much more! Amazing!
Judging by some of the numbers that were called (waaay waaay away from
the raffle tickets *I* bought), folks donated to DESS in a good way.
Oh, and this year, Dick Proseus didn’t win the radio! And that leads us
to a funny coincidence. There was another DLG kit (I don’t remember
what it was) donated for the ECHLGF “special award to be determined at a
later date”. Turns out they decided it was for the “Best Crash” —
which went unfortunately/fortunately to Bill Proseus for a screaming
cartwheel crash in the cotton (which I didn’t get to see). Way to
go/not go, Bill! But then, just when you thought he got lucky/unlucky
once, that guy wins the JR9303! Wow!

Another happy coincidence was Tom Steigelmann. You see, this was Tom’s
first-ever competition. He comes from a part of NC that doesn’t have a
local soaring club — but he showed up to the field with a couple of
very nice, hand-built Apogee 42″ gliders, and proceed to wow us all by
launching high and working lift that bubbles have a hard time with! He
put up respectable numbers for being the shortest-winged craft on the
field (not to mention it being his first contest). One of the prizes at
this contest was a gift certificate to Atlanta Hobby for $100 for the
top-scoring first-time contester, and that went to Tom! He also got 3rd
place in the sportsman division, so he brought home a nice, big engraved
LSF mug! And then the real capper — one of his raffle tickets gets
called and he picks up the Taboo kit! Wow. How is *that* for a start
in soaring?!

So, all in all, a great contest became greater this year, due in large
part to an increased focus on sportsmen, advancing skills and overall
involvement. There seems to be a number of exciting things happening in
this area of soaring (and soaring in general), be it sponsorship,
mentoring, clinics, or just general fun. In any case, any little thing
to help is welcomed and I hope we can see our little niche of the
soaring world grow. I know I had a lot of fun, and I’ll certainly be
back next year.

Thanks guys!

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