Forget everything you’ve seen and heard about RC soaring … this team sport is the antithesis of sitting in a lawn chair catching thermals! In the February 2013 issue, Aric Wilmunder gets us up close and personal with Extreme Soaring and his team, the Dust Devils. Check out the video below, detailing the Montague cross-country event and then don’t miss his diary excerpt detailing the daily challenges of this adrenaline-pumping event!
MONTAGUE, CA Extreme Soaring Competition
By Aric Wilmunder
Since we were launching from the tarmac for a small airport, each morning’s pilot meeting started with a safety reminder of the areas where the airspace was restricted. After recognition for the teams and flights from the previous day, the flight board would be turned and the day’s course would be revealed. Day one’s course was listed simply as 1 – 2 – 9 – 6 – 2 – 1. Checkpoint 1 was the road behind the hangar. Flight times started when the plane first crossed the line of the road. Traveling to Checkpoint 2 was an uphill climb toward an intersection with a municipal water tank. After a right turn at the tank, the road to Checkpoint 9 followed a serpentine path through low hills ending with a U-turn near an old school house. Checkpoint 6 is the southernmost point and teams are allowed to choose from a variety of different routes to get to this point. Finally back to the water tank and then a downhill run back to the start/finish line.
The second day was a 28.7-mile course, 18.1 miles on the third day, and the final day concluded with a 16.6-mile sprint course so teams had time for one or two runs before having to pack up for the long trip home. Some teams would enter the course as soon as lift would develop and others would bide their time and wait a few hours for better conditions. When a team would return back to the hangar early, the buzz was always what checkpoint they made it to before landing out. Murmurs of
“They made it to 5” might travel between the teams, letting them know that conditions on the course might not be ready. The worst feeling was being stuck on the field trying to locate lift and knowing that some teams had left earlier and were currently traveling on the course as you were unable to even cross the starting line.
Sunday turned into an amazing day with skyrocketing lift starting shortly after noon. Our team captain was the first at the controls, and as we raced onto the course we hit a terrible stretch of sink as we flew over a series of freshly watered fields. Fortunately after the first mile, the lift took over and our Vario screamed out with the beautiful tone to indicate that we had entered a fantastic stretch of lift. Up to the water tank we went and then towards the school turnaround. We passed another team that had left earlier, as they struggled trying to regain altitude and instead landed out in a field. Before the turn we passed two planes on our left circling in lift. We had plenty of altitude so we mentally marked the spot as a good place to visit on our return trip. We raced to the turn and then headed back. We hit some phenomenal thermals on the way and never needed to stop for more than a few minutes for lift on the way back. The final sled run was great and we got back to the starting point with a few hundred feet of altitude left.
Exhausted, we followed the road back onto the tarmac and landed. It wasn’t until that evening that we received both the good and bad news. Our flight was indeed amazing. We had averaged 23.58 mph across the course. Only one other team did slightly better. Unfortunately the rules require that you land and reset your GPS between flights. We were so excited about our first flight and the amazing flying conditions that we missed this, so our second flight was disallowed and we ended in third place for the day based on the results of our first flight. Still, we will always carry the memory of that second flight with us.