Big Spring 2018
By Attila Bertok
I’ve recently moved to a new town and were busy to set our life up there. I had a plan to go to europe for the Europeans and the Pre-Worlds though. Unfortunately or fortunately, it depends how you look at it, I ended up buying a house which meant no trip to Europe this year. Anyway, sitting in the Australian winter I was thinking about when my next comp might be, when Vix asked me if I want to go to Big Spring in Texas for the US nationals. She had a ticket already, so it was hard to resist, not that I wanted to resist too much.
So, after a non-stop 16 plus hour flight from Sydney to Houston, then a short hop to Midland I was almost there. Picked up the rental car and arrived to our usual Plaza Inn hotel in Big Spring. I’ve stayed here the last three occasions, so I am kind of attached to the place. It could be a better motel, but there is an oil boom going on Texas, so nothing goes under $150 a night, so the Plaza prices made the decision rather easy. God bless them, they have a special price for hang glider pilots. I am quite resistant to bed bugs anyway… The place could do with a little renovation.
Now Big Spring is not exactly a tourist destination, but if you like big fat flatland thermals as I do, then you have come to the right place. Big Spring hosted a lot of very successful competitions in the past, including the 2007 Worlds and this place have an enviable track record when it comes to days flown per competition. This year turned out to be the exception to the rule, but if I put things into context it was still a very good comp (and I am not saying this because I won … again 😊).
Davis and Belinda have done a great job again organizing the comp. We enjoy the love of the locals here and it was nice to see that they are genuinely love to have us here.
This year we had 3 classes in the comp, the open, the sport and the class2 Swifts. Having the Swifts was a nice surprise, because usually the people in this class find it too far to travel here with their big boxes. It was a delight for me to meet Steve Morris, who designed the Swift when he was a post graduate student at Stanford. We had a nice engineer to engineer talk. After all these years it was his first competition on his own creation.
It all went well on the training day, my brand spanking new Litespeed RX Pro performed exactly the way I’ve expected. I say as I expected, because I must say I am more than a little spoiled with the quality of the equipment I receive from Moyes. I’ve lost count how many brand new gliders I had on the competitions in many years, but I don’t even remember having any problems with any of them in recent times. Mysterious turns are the thing of the past and this is a testament to the Moyes production team. Since I have a fair bit of experience in hang glider manufacturing I know that this is something very hard to achieve. Glider tuning is something I can do, but it is not exactly a thing I want to spend my time with before a competition, so having good gear out of the box is very pleasant (and necessary). Here in BS we had only one limited training day, so things had to work straight away.
Other than the jet lag and a slowly developing cold I was ready for the first day. This was cancelled by the safety committee because the wind was too strong. After seeing a mini dust storm sweeping past the staging area nobody was complaining. So off I went to Walmart buying stuff I didn’t really need, except for a tripod for my new GoPro6. After this I stuffed my face with some bean burritos and went back to the Plaza.
The next morning things looked more up, so we set the task for each class. I was part of the task setting committee, but usually the task was set by Zac and Larry so I was mostly nodding. They had good ideas anyway, and besides I had a feeling that they didn’t really want me to set something crazy. Reputations, reputations… So the open class ended up going north to Plainview in a slight dogleg shape, same for the Swifts and slightly shorter for the sports class.
The day again turned out to be windy, nearly borderline for a safe day, but off we went. We had clouds at first, and ok conditions. We could see that there was a lot of dust in the air and big dust devils. Here in Texas this is a good sign, because the dust is relatively heavy, so a dusty means good lift. I had my fair share of them this year. After a relatively easy run to Lamesa things started to change into cloudless conditions. At Lamesa, after gliding past an enormous area covered with solar panels I got quite low, about 400m from the deck, so I decided to take it a bit more easy. The drift was very strong, so I knew the second leg will be far from easy. After touching the turn point circle it became obvious that today’s task was going to be rather on the difficult side. After getting low a few times by trying to fight a strong cross wind I’ve spotted a glider circling up from low. This wasn’t too far from the goal, but not quite on glide yet, so I was patient. I didn’t realize that it was Zac, but we headed off to find our last thermal together anyway. He stopped in something and I’ve pushed on. He was right and I was wrong, since a little later he was on final while I was low saving. Demoralizing. These are the moments when it is clear that I should fly more competitions to not end up in heroic (=stupid) low saves. Anyway, I was looking at where the goal might be. My numbers were ok, but where is the goal? Well, the goal occupied about half my vision field, so big the Plainview airport was. Well, aviation infrastructure is in quite a good shape in the US. This particular “country” airfield would be perfectly adequate for an international airport in most countries! Zac won the day very deservedly. Bruce came 2nd, I was 3rd. I was just happy to make it, after all I’ve made about one week worth of mistakes, but it is better be there in goal than not to be there at all. On the way home we stopped in Lubbock in some big texan style steak house. Nothing is small here! Finally I was happy to make it back to the hotel, since the cold was getting the best of me by then. Air conditioning in the airliner plus in the hotel plus jet lag is not the best combo I can imagine.
Come the second day we decided to give up on the "epic" task idea, instead have a more technical zig – zag shape with cross wind legs, but an easier retrieve. It suited me fine, and people generally thought it was a good idea, but I guess many people would rather drive longer than land out. The Swifts decided that they hate to break down their quasi-sailplanes, so they’ve opted on a returning short task. In my modest opinion a task length of about 3 times would have been more realistic for them, but they said they just wanted to have some fun (?). The sports went for a shorter one than the open. The wind was still strong. I did the first clock rather out of necessity than a choice. I had a start which falls into the shameful category: low, late and worst off all I could have stayed for a better one. Anyway, halfway through the last leg I’ve done pretty much everything wrong, but finally one of those before mentioned texan dusties saved my back side from embarrassment. Things were looking up from here on. First tp was in the canyons, but it was not too bad, it just looked that way. I’ve caught up with Rudy shortly after the tp and I suspected that he did the 1st clock too. We pushed on after a strong climb. He stopped in something I deemed too weak, so there I was alone again. Nobody wants to fly with me. My wife tells me that I am anti-social. She is probably right... I’ve picked a thermal from seeing the vegetation moving in a field in a swirling fashion. I did the 2nd tp and the cross wind got stronger. I went way upwind to a field with two dust devils. This is a typical situation. You’d think that there surely is a good climb and there is nothing really much at all. Then the typical mind game starts thinking about this clumsy move. I ended up pushing harder after my perceived mistake, which means going lower. I rounded the last tp quite low exactly when I needed to be high, what is more I am doing a low save drifting me to, like…. Canada. Not happy. Contemplating how long it will take to do this last leg in saw-tooth mode I am thinking that if I made one week worth of mistakes Yesterday, then Today I am making about 2 weeks worth. I can see Brownfield, our goal far away. I wish I could find a dusty now about…there. I keep looking and actually the dust begun to rise from where I was looking. I’m telling myself that it is time to stop being negative. I reach the dust devil, nice 3 to 4 meter textbook lift. Fast final glide, almost a non-event. I should be so lucky… Rudy is in goal, but I arrive second so I am happy with it. A lot of people comes shortly after. I came 4th for the day, but I am happy to be there because for many people it is very different. I am not proud of my decision making, but I end up moving up to 1st place with a fair margin. Zac didn’t make goal and this is significant since he is one of the very best, especially around here. I remember how hard it was to beat him five years ago. He is fast, I keep joking with him that I want to fly next to him to experience a sonic boom first hand on a hang glider.
Third day. The longer term weather forecast isn’t looking good, some say it might be our last day. We hope not, but nevertheless we have to modify the task from somewhere going further to the north west to a zig-zag ending up in Lamesa, because the weather change is already not that far north from us looking at the radar. The last leg looks straight into the wind. This is going to be exciting. The sports class goes somewhere else but into the same goal. I end up doing the second clock, not by choice, again. This annoys me a little, but this time I get more motivated by it. I also know I have to be more careful because I have the feeling that I just want to go like a race horse. The first leg turns out to be picture perfect. I fly with Robin, he is on his RX3.5 Pro today, doing the same speed. I am happy to see him, at least we can fly together. After the first tp there is a big dust devil, no thinking is necessary because it is so obvious. 5 to 6 meter on the vario occasionally. This puts us in to reach with the group of people from the previous clock. Not all of them, but many of them. Good enough. I keep pushing for stronger lift, but not quite getting it. I broke the usb port on my trusty Kobo instrument yesterday, so I am navigating with old technology. It is a harder to line up the optimum point on the turn point circle today, because we are using large radii, but this is not the time to worry about this. I keep looking to see how many people are coming back from the 2nd tp, but not many, so I think I am doing good. After turning I realize just how strong the cross wind is, yet I see people turning in light stuff and drifting way off course. I decide to be more proactive and push a lot more into the wind. I have company and we have good climbs so this really pays off. I am dreading the thought of the last leg though. I touch the 3rd circle and hoping for the lift, but I am down to 600 meter, so I know that I am going to see the tp circle again. I spot Zac and Derreck circling up. There is no other choice. After this, magic happens. We climb out and there is no sink. We hit the perfect lift line all the way to goal. I had about 10 to 1 to goal which normally would be far from being enough on a windy leg like this, but what we are experiencing is not normal. Zac is slightly ahead and above, he sees about 7 to 1. I stop for a few circles then getting greedy as I see Zac disappearing. After this I just literally had to hang on. Zac is in goal but took the clock before me. I see other gliders but they are all sports class. This means good points and 1st for the day. Stoked! A few guys come in after us, including Davis. This puts him up to 2nd place. He will be happy with this I am sure. I am in the lead by 480 points, so it looks like that this comp is mine to loose now.
4th day. We turn up for the task setting. We set up the tasks, but unfortunately we are in the storm sector of the weather system. Luck can help here, meaning the part of the sky doesn’t blow up by the time we get there. We are not so lucky today. Day cancelled.
Same story for the last two days. Not really the outcome most of us could have predicted. But if we put it in perspective, we had 3 proper, long enough, fair task and that is something we always want on a competition. In some other parts of the world people don’t fly this much in a full week of comp flying.
We’ve moved the prize giving up a little so people could leave earlier. I was very proud to wear my golden bird Moyes T-shirt for 1st place. Davis was very emotional on 2nd place. 3rd place went for Rudy. He was so happy, and we were all happy for them. It was very tight between 2nd and 5th, just a few points. We had 3 Litespeeds in the top 10 and I think it is great, especially that this is not our home turf.
In the sport class we had Matt Pruett 1st, Zach Hazen 2nd and Pete Wall 3rd. Zach flew our Gecko 170 and made us proud! The Gecko’s are much loved in the US and rightly so. It has everything that a recreational or an aspiring up and coming pilot wants. What’s not to like? I won’t write more about the sport class, because as everyone can see they are all over the social media. I guess we are too busy with flying in the open class. We can learn from them. It was good to see a lot of young faces in this class, after all they are the future of our sport.
The Swifts had a good time, Chris Zimmerman 1st, Greg Chastain 2nd, Brian Porter 3rd.
From my part, I cannot complain about Big Spring, 4 out of 4 as far as winning goes. 1st Pre-Worlds (2006), 1st Worlds (2007), 2 US National rounds (2013 & 2018). Thank you very much Big Spring, I take it!
The way home was a little delayed because the weather which didn’t let us fly on the last 3 days persisted, so I had to stay one more day. I am happy to be home now and after all I still ended up going somewhere for a comp. Thank you Moyes Gliders for the great gear again and thanks Vix for giving me the opportunity to go to Texas.