Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Hope or Wishful Thinking?

With very little happening on the competition glider scene I often lament the death of innovation in the open-class since the introduction of EN-D in Cat I comps (Let's call it the END of open class).  The farce of this false class was comically illustrated at both the World Cup Super Final as well as the World Championships in Bulgaria earlier this year. 
It was particularly odd when four different riser systems on one particular brand were deemed to be acceptable despite the enormous performance differential in the field at speed which led in-part to the mass glider measurement exercise in Sopot.  In fact, it is even more bizarre to note that not a single sanction has been imposed on any pilot in any big competition after so much measuring and weighing since the END (as far as I am aware).  Seriously?? What are the chances that not a single pilot was cheating in all this time and where some gliders were going 5-10 km/h faster than everyone else at times?  The conspiracy theorist in me really really wants to believe the FAI does not want controversy at these spotlight events, so they issue stern little warnings and punish one or two soft targets as examples in the hope that everyone else will be more subtle in their 'interpretation' of the rules.
Rather assume no-one is cheating and figure out how it is done, so I went back to my IP6 and had a look at the riser collection for it.   It turns out the original set has more travel and does not have limiting straps between the A & B risers.  That means you can pull the top pulley a whole lot past the intended limit.  The Boomer 9 and Enzo don't have limiting straps so I asked Adriaan Thomas about it.  He says the boom 9 does not benefit much because you deform the wing if you pull the A's down too far.  The Enzo is way faster if the Don is flying it (hanging onto the A's with full body weight the rumour goes). 
Uncertain of what was going on, I decided to test my IP6 with the longer 'un-limited' risers on single reduction (strong legs help).  I managed to get the top pulley down to the carabiner and hung on for dear life while the wind noise rose to respectable levels.  Easy 5-10km/h faster than standard.  Hmmm... Another way to do it is to tweak the line lengths within specification.  Ask the gents involved in testing lines at the big comps and they will confirm you can do quite a bit before getting a warning.  What's the point you ask?  When the top twenty pilots are separated by minutes and seconds after a comp, then a 2-3km/h advantage might mean the difference between the podium and tenth place (all else being equal).  How about flying heavy?  No real benefit there if you look at the wing loading, speed and glide formulae and who would want to fly 10kg over the top when you have to thermal at some point against the best pilots in the world?
I concluded that tweaking the lines and the speed system is the way to go if you really need it that badly.

Wishful Performance
 ... back to idle thoughts of pure performance:  Summer has arrived and I had the rare occasion to fly my Boom 9 with my mate Marty on his R11 on a stable and windy day.  For two gruelling hours we hacked our way into wind absorbing some punishment while taking cues from the vultures and storks which marked the nasty little punchy thermals for us all day. 

It is always special to fly with the vultures.  They don't seem to be bothered by us much when sharing thermals as long as you behave predictably and respect the turn direction and avoid cutting them off.  I normally shut off the sound on my vario and try keep up to them as reference.  Every now and then you think you're doing well and then they shift a little and get away from you without really trying.  As for into wind glide and speed... well that is just plain embarrassing, the vulture kills us every time!

Read all about our local vulture population here.
So here's the thing: I have flown my R11 against two awesome world cup pilots on END wings and I concluded 'no contest' in every department.  As a result of that I was expecting to get my arse handed to me on a plate yesterday during the into-wind slog.  Imagine my delight when the entire flight was a ding dong battle where neither Martin or I were able to gain significant advantage.  Of course the R11 has an edge given how hard I had to work to keep up, but I had the sense that the gap has closed significantly and I could not suppress my rising excitement at the thought of what is possible given that Gin was able to certify something this close to the ultimate open class performance standard which the R11 represents. 
I cannot wait for the next generation of high performance gliders and I suspect Gin is leading the way for now.  I just wish there would be some clarity around the open class so the designers have the freedom to create more dream machines.
For now, I am content to fly my Boom 9 and I will stop whingeing about open class in the belief that we are almost back where we left off and probably a little safer for it.