Thursday, July 8, 2010


The story at Hobbs this year was the weather, obviously. I knew that the CD's job would be challenging, but when I accepted it a couple weeks ago, I thought to myself, "At least I won't have to worry about the weather."

We had an ordinary low pressure system, followed by a tropical storm, followed by unforecastable severe thunderstorms. All this in just 10 days.

But that's the nature of our manic-depressive sport. We never get tired of it because the highs always outnumber the lows. Wait till next year!

Despite the weather, I had a great time at this contest. I met a lot of friendly and helpful people, both inside and outside our event.

I will go back East now, with fond memories of my vacation in the desert southwest.

-Rick Sheppe

Contest Results

At noon today the contest day was cancelled in both classes, due to weather. The competition is over.

While the results will not become official for a few days, it appears that the Open Class did get a valid contest, and the winner is Ron Tabery, who is out on the ramp right now receiving congratulations from his fellow competitors.

With only three contest days out of the required four, the Standard Class does not have an official contest. They came up short by less than one mile of distance flown.


Regardless of the outcome of a competition or how many days we fly, it would be impossible to hold a gliding contest without volunteers.

This year at Hobbs, we needed an unusual amount of help to get everyone launched and retrieved, and the CD needed a lot of advice.

Here are the people who gave up ten days of their normal lives to help us out:

Tina Bearden, Ron Clark, Hayden Connor, Rhonda Copeland, Bud Copeland, Colby Deming, Ralph Douthit, Mary Ann Douthit, John Godfrey, Austin Goodwin, Donna Head, Alex Johanson, Austin Keene, Bayley Layton, Denise Layton, Cheri Long, Steve Maier, Charlie Minner, Kathey Pope, Julius Tabery, Mechelle Tarrant

And here is a picture of Denise and Donna, whose normal lives include working for us at the SSA Headquarters:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 7 Scores

It was a valid day in both classes.

July 7 Report

1235 - First launch.

1313 - Standard Class Task is open.

1355 - Open Class Task is open.

1408 - Twelve have started, and one has landed back at Hobbs. There is a storm in the second circle that will definitely cause problems later.

1715 - We were overrun by thunderstorms today, and at least a dozen have landed out. Mark Keene and David Greenhill made it home. Many of the contest officials have volunteered to go on retrieves.

The next update will be quite late tonight.

July 7 Tasks

For the first time in the contest, our met man Walt Rogers, mentioned the possibility of getting above 10000 feet. That's more like it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 6 Scores

July 6 Report

1350 - The launch has started.

1435 - A stratus deck moved in from the south, delaying the launch to 1350. As happened yesterday, the beautiful cumulus field to the north stayed just out of reach. The conditions are very weak, with low cloudbases. After collecting everyone in the Start Circle, we changed both Tasks to the bare minima:

1545 - Both Tasks are open.

1625 - At least fifteen have left, with start times ranging from 1546 to 1620.

1804 - The last finisher crossed the line a few minutes before 6pm. There were several rolling finishes. Nobody landed out, and it appears we have a valid contest day in both classes. Dick Butler (67 mph) and Chip Garner (65 mph) seem to be the winners.

July 6 Tasks

The moisture in the southeast has moved back into our area. We'll probably have a pair of large-circle TATs to the north today.

The weather briefing this morning was excellent, as usual. However the future is essentially unknowable. All the usual forecasts disagree about how weak it will be. But it will be weak.

Here's the Task that will be handed out in a few minutes:

July 5 Scores

The Open Class got an official day, but the Standards did not.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 5 Report

All times are Mountain Daylight Time.

1233 - First launch. The sky is going blue.

1350 - All the gliders have been in the air for a while. They are struggling to stay airborne, and so far there have been no landings. Heating is progressing much more slowly than forecast. The sky is completely blue. We are nowhere near opening the Task.

1430 - Still milling about over the airport, not very high. The Task has been shortened to 2 hours. 85 degrees on the ramp. Still not hot enough.

1505 - We can see the cumulus associated with the Dry Line, far to the north. That's where we wanted to go today. But it's just too far away, and they're still not getting high. There are clouds in the south and southeast, and they are starting to look good. Task changed to a 2-hour MAT.

1522 - The Task is open, finally. They are beginning to trickle out.

1530 - Make that a stampede. They are all on task now.

1915 - (Back from a retrieve) - Conditions deteriorated near the mandatory Turn Point, and the going got very tough. At this hour the Open Class day is valid with about half of them finishing the Task. Dick Butler and Ron Tabery essentially tied for first, at about 61.5 mph. The Standard Class probably did not get a valid day. Only one returned (CG), and we won't know how far the rest got until much later. It will be a while before the next update.

July 5 Tasks

Here is today's Task, the same for both classes. Grid time is 1200 MDT.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4 Report

The day was weak, with cloudbases not much over 7000 MSL, but enough pilots made it around the course to make it an official day.

All the Open Class pilots made it home and three of the Standards landed out.

Here are the unofficial results for the day:

July 4 - On task at last!

After a slow start to the day, they're finally on their way.

With the low cloudbases (7000 MSL) and late start (1500 MDT), they're probably glad they got a short task today.

Here it is:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Read all about it

The news from Hobbs isn't any better from the other bloggers and correspondents here. But you should go over to Dave Nadler's blog or the ASA Forum for different points of view. Tom Kelley's excellent racing blog probably won't cover this contest, since Tom folded under the strain elected to withdraw from this contest to get ready for the World Championships.

How wet is it?

At the briefing this morning, Walt Rogers presented this morning's sounding. It showed saturated air from the surface to 27000 feet. Pretty impressive, we thought. We were even more impressed when Walt, a professional meteorologist, said, "I've never seen anything like this, and I don't mean at Hobbs, I mean anywhere."

Flying was cancelled for the day.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Another no contest day

At the morning briefing, our meteorologist, Walt Rogers, advised us to hold out for a break in the weather in the late afternoon. Glider pilots are an optimistic lot, so we took him at his word.

Sure enough, the sky opened up for the first time in three days at around 2pm. The sniffer was able to sustain on his second flight, so we launched the Standard Class, starting at 1523 MDT. The Open Class was second to launch, and there was very little hope of getting them out the door before we ran out of time. Their Task was cancelled on the grid.

Standard Class gliders were able to stay in the air, but they were not able to get high enough for a safe trip across the mesquite, oil wells, rilles, and rocks around here. Their Task was cancelled at 1559 MDT.

The next couple of days look pretty grim, as the mess of moisture formerly known as Tropical Storm Alex moves into the area.

But we remain optimists, nevertheless.

Here is today's Task (click to enlarge):

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We discovered the problem with the weather

Another rain day

Today's flying was cancelled at the morning briefing, alas.

Pilots and crews took the opportunity to tour the local area. "Local" means something different in these parts. Here are the attractions:
CarlsbadCaverns69 miles
LubbockWWII Museum109 miles
RoswellFlying Saucers116 miles
About half the teams went to one of these places, and the other half seemed to be content visiting the Hobbs laundromat and movie theater.

A few of us drove out to inspect the condition of some of the abandoned and little-known airports around here. On the way back, Bob Epp stopped and gave us a lecture on oil wells.

Here's a blowup of the signs on the bobbing head thing...

It's good to know that glider flying isn't as dangerous as being a tour guide at an oil well.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An inauspicious start

The first scheduled contest day was completely washed out by rain. The locals haven't seen this much rain in a long time, at least since the last glider contest.

We cancelled flying for the day - before the scheduled grid time. Despite this, a few optimists put their gliders in launch position, just in case.

And the outlook for tomorrow isn't so hot, either.


The rules define certain jobs that must be filled for a contest to receive a sanction from SSA. These are the people it takes to run a contest:

The Contest Manager is the highest authority and is responsible for the smooth running of the entire competition. His or her job begins months before the contest and isn't finished until at least a month afterwards. During the meet,the CM supervises everyone else.

The Competition Director is responsible for all sporting aspects of the competition. The CD sets the tasks and assures that the contest is run fairly.

The Operations Director manages everything that happens on the ground, most notably the launches.

The Meteorologist watches the weather 24 hours a day and presents a forecast to the pilots every morning.

In addition to doing the scoring, the Scorer is generally the internet, data, and hardware guru for the contest.

The Chief Tow Pilot ensures that all the towplanes are ready each day, and represents the interests and concerns of all the tow pilots.

The Retrieve Officer makes sure that pilots who have landed out get retrieved, and verifies that everyone is accounted for at the end of the day. This job can keep you up all night.

The Task Advisors are not strictly officials. They are competitors, chosen by the CD, who have enough local knowledge and experience to advise the CD on task selection.

The Contest Committee is an independent body that adjudicates any disputes between the CD and the pilots. In a completely successful contest, the Contest Committee has nothing to do. A better name for this body would be "Jury."

Here are the volunteer officials for this contest:

Contest ManagerEdre Maier
Competition DirectorRick Sheppe
Operations DirectorBill McDaniels
MeteorologistWalt Rogers
ScorerTom Pressley
Chief Tow PilotBob Lynn
Retrieve OfficerDenise Layton
Task AdvisorsBif Huss, Mark Keene, David Coggins, Steve Leonard
Contest CommitteeSteve Maier, Leigh Zimmerman

Entry List

Registration has closed, and the entry list has been finalized. Here they are, in no particular order, with their Contest IDs and home provinces.

Standard Class
16David GreenhillCA
V2Randy HollenbergTX
71Randy AcreeAZ
7KMark KeenePA
N7Ralph BerghAZ
JPBoyd WillatCA
CGChip GarnerNM
JBChip BeardenNJ
H7Bif HussCO
GYAndy DurbinAZ
F1Dave SpringfordON
WAEric RedweikCA

Open Class
DTSteve CogginsTX
DBDick ButlerTN
CWRick WaltersNV
BERon TaberyTX
98Pete AlexanderCA
P7Gary IttnerCA
SZSam ZimmermanSC
711Tom KelleyNM
VJSSteve LeonardKS
YODave NadlerMA
H4Garret WillatCA
N1KDavid CogginsTX
GJBrian MilnerON

Monday, June 28, 2010


Pilots often show up to fly before the competition begins. This gives them a chance to get used to the contest area and to make sure that their aircraft and equipment are in top tune for the meet.

The contest organizers (tow pilots, launch crew, scorer, retrieve office, etc.) also need to practice, and for that purpose there are two scheduled formal practice days, just before the contest starts. On the official practice days, a Task is set, and the gliders are launched using contest procedures. Afterwards, the flights are evaluated, and scores are produced.

Knowing full well that the practice day scores are meaningless, the pilots usually are interested in how they did. They are a competitive bunch.

Today was the second practice day. Nine Standard Class and ten Open Class gliders flew. Here are the results.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Each morning the contestants are assigned a route to fly. The route, called a "Task," is different every day. All Tasks are closed-course, i.e. they all end at the finish line back home.

Some Tasks are very specific about where the glider must go. Others allow the pilot to make some inflight decisions about where to go.

The simplest Task is the Assigned Task (AT) which is just a sequence of Turn Points that the glider must visit before coming home. The fastest glider wins the day.

The Modified Assign Task (MAT) is similar, but it includes both mandatory and optional Turn Points.

The Turn Area Task (TAT) allows the pilot to go anywhere he chooses within very large circular areas.

The pilot's objective in the MAT and TAT is to achieve the greatest distance in a fixed amount of time, usually three or four hours.

In all cases, the competitors are scored according to their average speed from start to finish.

Black boxes

The pilots carry battery powered GPS flight recorders which record the glider's location every few seconds.

At the end of the day, the data from each flight recorder is analyzed. The Scorer checks the data to make sure that the competitor started correctly, completed the assigned task, and crossed the finish line. The distance and time on course are determined and the pilot is credited with an average speed. Actually, the Scorer's computer does all the work; it takes only a few seconds for each pilot's data to be analyzed.

The fastest finisher gets 1000 points, and everybody else gets points proportional to their speed.

Control Points

Five Start Points (all near Hobbs), 43 Turn Points, and 1 Finish Point (at Hobbs) comprise the "Control Points" for the contest. Competitors download the official Control Point database to program the instruments they use to navigate around the contest area. The Scorer uses the same database to evaluate their flights.

The Control Points are identified both by name and by number. Sometimes the names are hard to pronounce.

The playing field

The contest area is a 300 x 200 mile Rosetta Stone shaped region in southeastern New Mexico and west Texas. You can make out the border between the states in this diagram:

[Click to enlarge the image.]

Hobbs is located just southwest of the middle of the region, near the green circle (the green circles surround airports with control towers; the big red circles are drawn just to help define the region; and the pink areas are no-fly zones.)

The points inside the area are the official contest turnpoints. The routes the pilots must fly each day are referenced to these turnpoints.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What is it?

Each summer in the USA, several national and regional gliding contests take place. All the races are sanctioned by our national organization, the Soaring Society of America.

This year, the "Open and Standard Class Nationals" will be held at the Hobbs Industrial Airpark (NM83) in Hobbs, New Mexico. Hobbs is also the headquarters of SSA.

The contest will run for ten days, June 29 through July 8, 2010.

The competition will be held in two classes, Open and Standard. Open Class gliders have a weight limitation, but no restrictions on shape or size. The largest racing gliders in the world comprise the Open Class. The Standard Class consists of gliders of limited wingspan (15 meters), and a few other physical limitations. The two classes will be scored separately. In effect, there will be two independent competitions taking place at the same time and location.

All Standard Class and most Open Class gliders are flown solo. A few Open Class gliders have two seats.

An entry consists of a glider, a pilot, and one or more members of the ground crew. If the pilot lands away from home, then the crew drives the trailer to the landing place, helps disassemble the plane, and brings it and the pilot back in time for the next day's flying.

Gliders are raced by seeing who can fly the fastest all day long, over distances as large as 400 miles. Points (up to 1000 per day) are awarded for speed. Whoever has the most points after ten days is the winner.

Gliders are identified visually and on the radio by their "Contest ID," a unique two or three digit alphanumeric painted on the aircraft. Quite often the Contest ID is the pilot's initials.