1995 Sports Class Nationals
June 13 - 22
The Albert Lea Airport has proven to be a perfect location for many fun and exciting soaring adventures. Over the last 5 years this inviting city has hosted numerous cross-country regattas, ground launch camps and other fun flying events.
The 1992 Region 7 Contest put Albert Lea on the competition map by providing phenomenal soaring that one competitor called "Texas quality soaring". Then there was the 1993 1-26 Championships. To be honest, the weather didn't cooperate as well that year, but hey, the entire midwest was flooded... at least that's our story and we're stickin' with it.
This year Albert Lea, Minnesota welcomed the 1995 Sports Class Nationals. The battle for first place was an interesting one. Four different pilots held the top spot during the contest making it impossible to guess who was going to walk away the winner. Even those who didn't finish near the top enjoyed the camaraderie and fun atmosphere of the contest.
Albert Lea provided everything a soaring pilot could want in a contest: good soaring weather on 8 of the 10 possible contest days, an excellent airport with a very friendly operator, and lots of generous local volunteers. The weather was hot and hazy for the duration of the contest due to a strong high pressure system located over the middle of the country. With high temperatures in the mid 90's, it wasn't the most comfortable contest in Albert Lea history, but it did bring soaring conditions good enough for speeds in the mid 60's and handicapped distances in excess of 340 miles. The max altitude reported was near 9,000 feet AGL.
Twenty-four pilots from all over the globe competed in the contest. Along with faces from all over the United States, Australian Tom Gilbert, (flying a borrowed Libelle) came to Minnesota after winning the chance to represent his country. Tony Burton was the only Canadian to compete. He came from Claresholm, Alberta.
The pilots seemed to like the pilot option tasks with mandatory first turnpoints that were used every day of the contest. One pilot said he liked it because it gave him the opportunity to fly with and learn from the more experienced pilots at the meet. However, the hazy weather made it difficult to follow anyone.
Each of the practice days provided excellent soaring weather which gave the pilots the opportunity to explore the contest area and even set a few records. For example, Dave Stevenson (CS) and Conrad Suechting flew 347 miles in their ASK-21 for a new state record and Hilton Cup entry. The practice day was an excellent chance for Bob Nady and the Operations crew to work out any kinks in the system. A few brave pilots were also initiated into the "I rode the beacon at Albert Lea" club late Sunday night.
Friday and Saturday were not contest days due to high humidity, inversions and temperatures in the low to mid 90's. One of the pilots gave a timely talk on dehydration while a nearby McDonalds supplied a huge jug of ice water that was kept on the grid for pilots, crews and volunteers throughout the remainder of the contest.
On Friday the pilots launched, but couldn't get above 1,500 feet AGL. When the task was canceled there was suddenly a lot of traffic as 20 low, struggling sailplanes all decided to land immediately. Albert Lea's many runways, taxiways and overruns proved very handy at this point. Despite the winds and weak disorganized lift, a few contestants were able to stay up for several hours and one brave soul managed an out and return to Lake Mills.
I was the sniffer on Saturday and there was an inversion that topped out at 2500 ft AGL. I went up 4 times and was not able to gain more than 50 feet. I'm sure my reputation suffered, but there really wasn't any lift... really! With the cancellation of the contest day on Saturday, auto launches began in earnest, and continued until sundown. Several contestants and local pilots were able to get the "aerotow only" restrictions removed from their licenses... and they had a lot of fun doing it!
The contest was a great success: the weather cooperated, everyone had a good time, and there were no injuries. It was interesting to note the types of sailplanes that were leading the pack during the meet. An old (but still very beautiful) Libelle with moderate performance started off in the lead only to have it taken away by an ASK-21 training glider. Then a homebuilt HP-18 took over the lead. It wasn't until the last day that a high performance glass ship (ASW-20) pulled out in front. I find that very interesting and compelling. The sports class handicapping system may be working very well after all. (If only I could get them to bump up the handicap number on my 1-35c...)
The most improved pilot award should go to Mike Finegan (9N) who dramatically improved over the course of the contest. He had a weak start (it should be mentioned that he didn't get to fly very much during the preceding year due to a knee problem, a wedding, and work responsibilities) but steadily improved and on the last day of the contest finished 9th in his Standard Austria. His speeds improved from 30 mph on day 3 to 52 mph on day 7. Way to go buddy!
A very big thank you to all the wonderful volunteers that made the contest a success. Bill Sproull did his usual low key, friendly, terrific job as the contest manager. Of course, Charlie Spratt did an awesome job as the Competition Director. He received a lot of help though from his young sidekick - Travis Moon. Robert Wander served as the Assistant Contest Manager with John Wastvedt as the Pre-Contest Competition Director. Operations Manager Bob Nady kept things running smoothly while launch coordination was handled by Steve Fischer. Dan Shallbetter was the Volunteer Coordinator and also helped out in many other ways. Administration and Finances were the responsibility of Michael Finegan. Bob Lynn flew in from Colorado to be the Chief Tow Pilot. Scoring was done by the team of Paul Remde, Frank LaValley, Dan Shallbetter, John Hodgson, and Bill Donkers. Thank you Jim Bobo for the great scoring software. The weather effort was organized by Fred Hewitt. Steve Nesse took care of setting up the many social events (including beer in the hangar at the end of every flying day). The outstanding turnpoint booklets were produced by Roger Gomoll and Kevin Finke. Phil Schmalz kept the gate running smoothly and Don Ingraham was in charge of weighing and GPS compliance. Contestant registration and general office operations were warmheartedly managed by Carolyn Finegan and Pat Volhaber. Marilyn Meline and Laurene Wastvedt also worked hard in the office. Thank you Jim Hanson, the always glad to help out airport operator, and the city of Albert Lea for hosting the event. Much appreciation goes to the Albert Lea Photo Club for developing all the turnpoint photos. A civic group named the "Spark Plugs" chipped in by providing guided tours for visitors and the press. They also shuttled ice water to the launch grid. We are truly grateful to the many other volunteers that I'm sure I have forgotten to mention.
All of the pilots seemed to like flying at Albert Lea. Here are a few quotes that Charlie Spratt heard during the contest (as found in his wonderful magazine "Sailplane Racing News"):
"Some of the best soaring fun I've had in a long time" : Gene Hammond.
"I took one thermal to 8,800 AGL at eight knots to the top. Best I've seen in ten years": Rudy Mozer.
"This place is good": Alfonso Jurado.
"This is a wonderful site with great soaring", said our friend from Down Under, Tom Gilbert.
Charlie went on to write, "Albert Lea has everything we need in a race site, from free camping to plenty of water and a very friendly airport manager. The troops are working on a bid for an FAI bid in the near future; if it happens, don't pass it up. This is a wonderful place for the pilots and the crews."
Tony Burton wrote in the Alberta Soaring Counsel's magazine ("ASCent") that "Albert Lea turned out to be a fine area for a contest. It's surrounded by gently rolling farmland with good thermaling - and landout - prospects. Navigation is easy with some major Interstates, several large lakes, and a north/south road grid to orient the pilot. The airport featured two long runways, lots of ramp area, lots of grass for tiedown and camping, and a friendly and supportive airport manager." He also liked the warm Albert Lea hospitality, "A lovely taste was also the perpetual afternoon keg of draft beer in the hangar - a great inducement at the end of a flight to get your card and films in soon and to hang around and gather 'round to tell lies."
In 1997 Albert Lea will be the site of the 15 meter Nationals. Hope you can make it!
The Ed Finegan Memorial Sportsmanship Trophy
The first Ed Finegan Memorial Sportsmanship Trophy was awarded to Dan Shallbetter, a volunteer who spent untold hours working at nearly every phase of the contest, including merchandising, volunteer coordinator, start gate, launch line and scoring. This award, a mounted stained-glass HP-11 (designed by Minnesota artist Dave Rhyti), is to be presented each year at the Sports Class Nationals to the crew member, volunteer, or contest official who best captures the spirit of volunteerism and generosity exemplified by Ed Finegan.
Ed and his HP-11 could often be found near the bottom of the contest standings, but he was usually first in line when it came to volunteering and organizing. He was the Contest Manager for the 1-26 Championships in 1993, and was scheduled to be the Contest Manager for this contest until his death in late 1994. The award was approved by the SSA directors at their meeting last year in Reno.
Volunteers and organizers donating their time and efforts significantly contribute to the success of soaring. This trophy is designed to recognize their contributions. The selection committee, consisting of the Contest Manager (Bill Sproull), a Pilot (Ron Clarke - ZA) and a crew member (Laurene Wastvedt - YV), chose well.
Think about it: haven't we all benefited from the generosity of someone who drove several hours to pick us out of a farm field past midnight, or who stayed up all night to repair a damaged gear door to stay in the contest?
web page by:
Paul E. Remde