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Cross Country Clinic:

A Low-Time Pilot in a Club 1-26 Competes at a Regional

By Kevin Anderson

I am a low-time pilot and I was looking for more cross country experience. I have heard about how great the Cordele GA Region V contest is for a couple of years, so I decided to give it a try.

Step 1: Read all you can about cross country, Regional Sports Class rules, FAI rules, 1-26 records, and watch the excellent land out tape from Air Scapes, “Landing Out with Ed Byars”, which is available through SSA.

Step 2: Talk to anyone you can about contest flying. In our club this includes Bob and Lynne Davis, who have worked the Cordele contest for years, and encouraged me to give it a try, as well as Francois Pin, whose name you will recognize from the contest ranks. His PW5 is known to have a unique attraction for bulls. Also, I spent some time on the phone with Clyde Taylor, the contest manager for Cordele.

Step 3: Make lists. Packing list, assembly list, contest list, take to the plane from the hotel list, and a final you-need-this-to-fly-each-day list.

Step 4: Borrow. Borrow the 1-26 from the seven owners: Ed Dumas Jr., Ed Dumas Sr., J.P. Held, John McGinnis, Mike McKinney, Pat McKinney, and David Senn. Of course, then I had to get club permission, since the glider is leased back to the club. Next was borrowing a parachute, barograph, and cameras from Gary Wackerhagen, as well as getting assistance with a camera mount. Also I borrowed a radio and GPS from Ken Carpenter, for Tami, my wife of 18 years, who was also my 1-26 STAR (Sociable, Tenacious, Aircraft Retriever). The wing stand and chocks were borrowed from Lynne Davis. In case you missed the point, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE YOUR OWN SHIP TO FLY IN A CONTEST AND HAVE LOADS OF FUN.

Step 5: Map preparation. If you have not attended a contest, this is a critical part that you must do before you get to the contest. You can get the turnpoint information from the contest manager. The Cordele information is on the World Wide Turnpoint Exchange. In preparing the map, label the turnpoints with their number and a highlighter to make them easier to find, and then cover them with clear contact paper to make it all durable. This also takes care of the unwritten rule that states that all contests must be held at the edge of a sectional. This way you can cut out only the parts of the sectional that you need for the contest, making it much easier to manage.

Saturday, June 3:
After a long travel day we arrived at Cordele and put the little bird together. I went up for a look-see, and was very happy to find good lift to 6,000 feet and see multiple big, beautiful, open fields in all directions. This is a big contrast from our local flying in Knoxville, TN. At home there is class C airspace just to the south of the field, and the city just about everywhere else. If you want to go cross country you must head east.

Sunday, June 4:
Practice Day. This day was run like a regular contest day, with a pilot meeting, and then grid after that. Harry Senn, the weather man, wore his soaring hat to the meeting, signaling good weather. The task called for the sports class was to Ashburn, Fitzgerald, and return to Cordele, 80.35 miles. I got off to a good start and was doing well, (slow but progressing) but after the second turn point I began hearing of windy and gusty conditions at Cordele. I hung out by Fitzgerald for a while listening to the weather, but I finally decided to proceed back to Cordele. The day overdeveloped where I was and I had a final glide from 14 miles out at 7,000 feet back to the airport. That 1-26 glide computer really works. I was watching it and my GPS all the way back. This was an excellent day and my longest cross country flight ever. (My wife reports that she truly realized just how different the 1-26 was from the other ships when several of the contestants were amazed that I had made it around the course.) After making it around the course in a 26-year-old 1-26, we had a retrieve for our 3 year old van on the way back to the hotel after supper. (The bolt securing the idler pulley sheared off.)

Monday, June 5:
Harry wore a rain hat that had been given to him by his Boy Scout troop 38 years ago. Not a good sign for soaring.

Tuesday, June 6:
The forecast is better but it is quite windy. After about 6 miles out on course, while trying to progress into a 20 kt. head wind, the day turned blue. I have not done any blue cross country before so after about 12 more miles I was circling a field to land.  Conveniently Ben Shivers and Gary Oliver were planting cotton into the wind and gave me a great place for my first off field landing. It is just like the books and tapes say: a freshly plowed field is a wonderful place to land. Upon landing, I was met by the postman Ronnie Quick and his son Jacob. They game me directions and I made my call to the retrieve office. About that time, Ben and Gary came up and we had directions by committee.  I had landed in Finleyson, near Pineview. After the call, Ronnie drove me the local store to wait on my STAR for retrieve. The retrieve office was great in sending Jim Culp with my wife for the retrieve. Jim is a true gentleman and he taught me much about dealing with farmers. After getting the glider onto a path out of the field, Jim walked into the rows and erased any evidence of the glider ever having been there with his hands. The field looked just as it had before I had touched down. Ben stayed and helped us load the glider and wished us luck for the rest of the week. A great way to end my first landout, but is gets even better.

After having towed the glider about a mile down the road, a white pickup drove along side us blowing its horn (this was a two-lane road). We slowed down and Joyce McLeod asked if we liked cantaloupe. We said yes and she told us to follow her to the Peanut Company. At this time of year, the Peanut Company ships cantaloupes. Joyce gave us a complete tour of the warehouses, including the chiller room that felt especially good on a hot day. We met Joyce’s sons and grandchildren as well as Thomas Talley, mayor of Pineview. We also met Joyce’s fiancee and were invited to their wedding Saturday. After about an hour, Joyce loaded us up with 20 cantaloupes that we took back to the airport. I was one of sixteen land outs this day.

Wednesday, June 7:
While prepping the plane, Tami and I stopped for a few minutes to give an interview to a local TV station. It turns out that the cantaloupe story was publicized farther than just that morning’s pilot meeting!

The task called was Rochelle, Ashburn, and return. After 56 miles, only 6 miles short, another field called my little 1-26. This time I landed at a field by Thermo King inside Cordele. Wes Whitfield and Kane Malone helped me get the glider out of the field while my crew were on the way. We made a quick trip back to the field for assembly and were off to the catfish fry hosted by the Cordele Chamber of Commerce. We had great catfish, hushpuppies, cheese grits, iced tea, and watermelon served by the Watermelon Queen (Cordele is the Watermelon Capital of the World). Thanks, Cordele for the wonderful supper!

Thursday, June 8:
Harry is wearing a good hat today. I launch early and stay around the field until my class opens in hopes of completing my five hour duration flight to finish my silver badge. The flight to Fitzgerald is great in good lift with plenty of cu’s, but about half way to Rochelle the sky turns blue. With my blue experience being 12 miles on the way to a land out, I fly conservatively and stay high. I make Rochelle and then get low and have a field picked out, when at 1000 agl I get a bump and ride it up to 6000. After 30 miles in the blue I call the gate and ask if I can stay up to complete the five hours. Charlie Spratt says that will be fine as long as I go through the gate every 20 minutes. Finally after 5 hours and 20 minutes, 15 extra on the barograph, I come down to a great reception. There were enough witnesses that if there is a problem with the paperwork I think we would have a good shot at an appeal. Before I can be pried from the cockpit, someone brings me a handshake and a beer. John Byrd walked up with his hand out and I offered mine, but he says he just wants the beer. Then he shakes my hand. Of course my lovely STAR Tami and our adopted STAR Jim Culp both come out. A great day, 76.46 miles, plus completing my 5 hour. Then off to another party, this time hosted by the Colonial Inn where most of us were staying.

Friday, June 9:
Another good weather prediction today, but I make rookie mistakes and try to run the little 1-26 too hard and get too low. I ultimately landed at Fitzgerald, the first turn point of a 100 mile course that I should have made. I would love to fly this day over again.

Saturday, June 10:
Harry has another soaring hat on today, but after launch I notch the barograph and have to take a relight. I go back up and spend another hour-plus around the field, but I cannot center any thermals. Everything is very small and rough. It is a great day for the guys with long flexible wings but not for my short stiff ones. Since it has been a long week, I finally come down without going out on course. On final at 100 feet, I see a dust devil just before it hammers me, with my head touching the canopy. I shove spoilers closed and push the stick forward and float down the runway farther than I had originally planned.

The whole experience at Cordele was terrific. What a great way to learn a lot in such a short time! Special thanks go to Dub and Cile at Crisp County Airport in Cordele. Thanks also to Clyde Taylor CM; Charlie Spratt CD; Chris Ruff, my mentor for the contest; and Harry Senn for 1-26 tips. Much appreciation goes to many of the other pilots at Region V, who were generous with their help and encouragement.

If you have never tried a contest, then borrow equipment, make your lists, read everything you can find, ask tons of questions and you will learn more than you ever could hanging around your home airport.

Kevin Anderson