The wind in Texas had been so bad, that I was afraid to let the dogs or cats out the door unless I kept them tied down. We had the worst spring we have had for many years. So when I proposed a club spot landing contest, I had faint hope of actually having good conditions.
When I proposed the meet, I had in mind using my trusty scooter tow system, a stationary winch made of a Honda motorscooter, and using my normal training site which only had enough space to lay out 1500 ft. of rope. That amount of rope, I knew, would limit tows to about 500 ft. high and which would probably limit the number of pilots who would thermal up and either hang around all day without spot landing, or go XC depleting the number of contestants. As I thought further about the meet, I realized that with the limitation of a 500 ft. tow, the idea of going XC would be more appealing because of the increase in challenge. Further, our club, the North Texas Hang Gliding Association, had acquired a number of paragliding members and I wanted the contest to allow the paragliders and hang gliders to compete on an equal basis. So I put on my trusty "No Fear" T-shirt with the motto on the back which said, "You have to follow the rules! By the way, I MAKE the rules!" and began making rules.
Being totally arbitrary, I decided that the standard would be the Vision Mk 4 and it's ilk. I figured that few hang gliders, even billow cruisers and single surface gliders spot landed better than the Vision. I decided that paragliders should be able to land twice as close as a Vision. Again, totally arbitrarily, and that comp gliders should only be able to land one half as close. So, I thought, multiply PG spot distances times two and divide Comp gliders distances by 2. Likewise, this seemed like a reasonable handicap for XC flights as well. Going right along, I decided that each pilot should be able to practice then declare three attempts at a spot which had to be done sequentially, except that if the pilot caught a thermal, went up and landed out, that flight would be moved to the XC category and not counted in the spot landing contest. The pilot would then get another attempt at the spot. Oh yeah, the pilot had to land on his feet, and no broken parts on the glider or pilot. Whacks were OK. The spot counted as where the pilot touched down. (no running to the spot). And that's the rules, Jack!
The big day came, and the wind was absolutely perfect. Not such a great XC day that everyone would want to be going XC, but it would be possible to thermal out. Only the wind was from the East instead of the South so we used an auxiliary training field with some trees for shade and for the PG pilots to land in should they have a need to do so. (Actually, a hang glider pilot contacted the trees at trunk level, but no damage was done.) Unfortunately, the space was a little shorter than the usual spot, but long enough for 500 ft. tows anyway.
I brought a big orange traffic cone for the spot landing target. It was placed in a clear spot with an approach pattern which did not cross any parked cars, set up gliders or great giant spikes sticking out of the ground. Having seen many attempts at spot landings in the past, I also placed it where the ground was soft to reduce the force of impacts down to Richter 4.5 or less.
So the task was set. The participants were divided about equally between pilots flying hang glider and pilots flying paragliders. Several biwing pilots participated, and you could clearly see their thought processes, as they both flew paragliders.
At this point, I will admit that I was one of the biwing pilots, and I had won two previous club spot landing contests on my trusty Vision Mk 4. I was out to prove I could do the same with a paraglider.
The other biwing pilot was Lynda Wacht, a former student of mine, and currently an intermediate PG pilot and a novice HG pilot. Being far more confident on a paraglider, her choice was obvious.
Scooter towing is usually done on hang gliders via a foot launch with the tow rope attached to the pilot's body via a tow release but with the rope routed above the base tube. This works well with intermediate gliders with a straight base tube, and less well with competiton gliders with a speed bar. To cater to those who brought a competiton hang glider, I provided a aerotow launch dolly to allow the pilot to launch with the rope behind the base tube. We had one candidate for this on a new Wills Wing XC.
One of the entrants brought a Wills Wing Falcon, and we threatened to classify it with the paragliders just for the spot landing contest. The pilot countered by claiming that he was over 45 and should get special consideration. We decided that the two factors canceled out, although being 54, I considered that the starting age for special consideration should be 53. I was voted down on this.
Another contestant, Lee Hardesy, although only a third day student
on the paraglider was a competition sky diver. We considered him
an unknown factor.
And let the games begin. Lynda immediately popped off a flight
with a landing only 5' 4" from the spot which doubled, gave
her a score of 10' 8". I got a really nice tow, and plowed
through a small thermal. Not having my vario, I didn't try to
go up. There was a mild head wind blowing, about 8 mph, and I
set up my approach too far back, and ended up way short. Score
ZIP for the old guy. Lee's first official flight put him about
10 ft. out. The other old guy, flying the falcon, did about as
well as I did. The rest of the pilots, for one reason or another
didn't even get back to the spot. The pilot on the XC just didn't
get high enough with the tow rope in front of his speed bar. As
chief judge, I didn't count that flight, and had him launch from
the launch dolly with the release behind the control bar. His
launch was clean, and the tow was pretty high, but the launch
dolly flipped over and broke some parts. His spot was a ZIP also,
but not because of lack of height. Just lack of aim. The launch
dolly was hors de combat.
Lee's next flight was 0' 0". Times 2 it still equaled 0' 0". I figured out that Lynda's first spot would keep her in the competition if she just equaled it with another, but when she towed, after releasing and flying halfway back down the field, she hit a thermal, circled, and went up. The last we saw of her, she was at 2000 ft. and several miles away. Lynda's chase crew brought her back with a score of 3 miles times 2 on the XC. Meanwhile, I did another ZIP spot landing.
Another pilot was flying a Double Vision with a speed bar. He too, had difficulty climbing high enough with the tow rope in front of the speed bar. He got high enough to make it back several times, but his turn onto final was too close to the ground to allow much accuracy.
Another pilot on a Pulse 9 meter kept hitting very close to the spot, and might have been competitive if only he had entered the meet. Other than for him, the hang glider pilots were not holding their own.
Up Lynda went again to nail down that second attempt. Again she went XC. 1/2 mile this time.
I changed paragliders and put on a vario, thinking that if I could just catch a thermal, I would at least be in competition for the XC prize. I cranked off two high flights in succession. Neither thermal nor spot.
Lee did another close spot, but not a perfect one.
Lynda towed up to try for a spot again. The most common phrase of the meet was rapidly becoming. "Damit, there she goes again." This time she did 4 miles. Her chase crew was getting tired.
Because we were not at my usual training site, the ground was not nearly so convenient for scooter tow. Instead of using my retrieval winch, we were using foot power, bicycle power and finally a spare motor scooter to bring the rope back for launch. We also suffered from pilots being in the launch order, but not being prepared to launch. Since this wasn't a "real" competition no one was prepared to "push" to get to launch, and thus the turn around time between flights was poor. Where normally, scooter tow turnaround time would be less than a minute, we were taking 10 minutes a tow. We kept sending pilots up, competition pilots intermixed with practice and recreational flights. The competition was from noon until six PM, and Lynda's last XC was at about 5 PM. At about 5:30 everyone competing was about worn out, and we shut down the meet.
The winners were Lee Hardesy for spot landings and Lynda Wacht for XC. We didn't offer any second place prizes, but there was no one close to Lee's performance except for the unofficial flights of the Pulse pilot. As for the XC contest, no one else thermaled out, so Lynda won that going away.
I concluded that the contest was a great success. I would have preferred a better wind direction, but most pilots were getting tows to 400 to 500 ft. I had one to almost 600 ft. on my paraglider. I would have also preferred more consistent thermal activity. (The keyword, consistent, being related to the thermal's appearance related to my flights.) The next time I have the meet, I may change the tow distances to shorter for paragliders and longer for hang gliders to insure that the hang gliders don't have a tow height disadvantage. This is only to insure an equal chance for hang gliders to catch a thermal For the spot landing contest, the tow heights were quite good for both hang gliders and paragliders.
I don't think it was really significant that only a paraglider went XC. I think it was more significant that only Lynda went XC. She seems to have exceptional luck at hitting thermals, and she's very good at taking advantage of them on a paraglider. I suspect if she had been flying her hang glider, she would have gone XC anyway. I really would have liked to see one or two XCs on hang gliders, but most of the really good XC pilots in the club were out at the tow sites with their platform tow rigs going XC. I am hoping that next time some of those pilots will take the challenge and try some of that scooter tow XC.
For next year, we will certainly have more consistent weather. I may fine tune the rules to make the contest much more equal but then I may not. If fun is the name of the game, I guess that this meet was a game.