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Soar Minnesota

1995 Sports Class Nationals

June 13 - 22
Albert Lea, Minnesota

by Paul Remde
sidebar by Mike Finegan

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.

Day 1
The weather on Tuesday, June 13, was not as nice as it had been for the previous practice day, but 21 of the pilots were able to make it home through the haze. A strong high pressure area stalled out in Kentucky and was to remain there for the majority of the contest. It provided strong south winds and high temperatures. Tom Gilbert (TP) won the day with a speed of 50.96 mph over a distance of 152.87 miles. Since he is not an American he received 1049 points (we sure do treat our foreign guests nicely in Albert Lea). One thousand points for first American finisher went to Alfonso Jurado (E9) in his ASW-20. Third place went to Dave Stevenson and Conrad Suechting in their ASK-21. Fourth place went to Ron Clarke (ZA) in his LS-6a and 5th place went to Manfred Franke (HF) in his LS-3a. Cathy Larsen (CL) landed out and Rudy Kunda (JA) had camera problems.

Day 2
Wednesday had similar weather with good soaring conditions and strong southerly winds. Dave Stevenson won the day in his ASK-21 and moved into 2nd place with a speed of 51.09 mph. Tom Gilbert also had a good day and finished 2nd while holding on to 1st place overall by 22 points. Joe Owensby (3B) finished 3rd in the HP-18 he built in his living room and moved into 3rd place overall. Gene Hammond (GH) placed 4th in his ASW-20. Fifth place went to Ron Clark. Rudy Mozer (1) landed out and told an interesting story about how the Minnesota countryside really isn't as flat as it looks from the air. Rudy Kunda would have finished 8th but camera problems again took away his points.

Day 3
Thursday was a good but hot day with no landouts during the 3 hour task. Cumulus clouds appeared late in the day as predicted at 5000 ft AGL. Alfonso Jurado moved into 3rd place for the contest by winning the day with a speed of 53.2 mph. Second place went to Dave Stevenson who moved slyly into 1st place overall. Rudy Mozer finished 3rd in his beautiful ASW-24. Tom Gilbert dropped into 2nd place by finishing 6th. Fourth place went to Bob Macys (GI) in his Ventus and 5th place went to Canadian Tony Burton (EE).

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!

Day 4
On Sunday the dewpoint dropped and the inversion finally broke. Thunderstorms were predicted, but none materialized. It turned out to be a good soaring day with a 3 hour task and speeds approaching 60 mph. Joe Owensby won with a speed of 58.91 mph. This moved him up from 4th place to 3rd in the contest. Alfonso Jurado finished in 2nd place and slid into 4th place overall. Bob Macys got 3rd and held on to his 6th place position. Dave Stevenson held on to 1st place overall by finishing 4th. Ron Clarke, Mr. Consistent, finished in 5th place for the day and overall. Australian Tom Gilbert kept his 2nd place position by finishing 7th. Steve Bowen (SB) dropped out of the contest due to some minor wing damage to his gorgeous ASW-22. He called back later in the week to report that his repairs were nearly complete.

Day 5
Monday was another hot soaring day with a 3.5 hour task, only 2 landouts and speeds approaching 65 mph. Everyone was waiting for a front to arrive, but it remained stalled just west of the contest area. The big bummer for the day was hearing that Dave Stevenson landed out and dropped from 1st place to 9th. Joe Owensby won again in his HP-18 with a speed of 64.28 mph and jumped into 1st place with 4692 points. Gene Hammond finished in 2nd place and advanced into 6th place in the contest. Alfonso Jurado moved up to 3rd place overall by finishing in 3rd place. Bob Macys stepped into 4th place by finishing 4th. Tom Gilbert was in a very close 2nd place overall with 4689 points after finishing 5th.

Day 6
On Tuesday the thermals were more organized making it the finest soaring day yet. The minimum task time was set at 3.5 hours with the first turnpoint at St. James. Tom Gilbert won the day for 1001 points with a speed of 61.13 mph. Tom remained in 2nd place overall but trailed the leader by only 2 points! Joe Owensby came in a very close 2nd with a speed of 61.09 mph and 1000 points (he remained in 1st place overall). Gene Hammond took 3rd and moved into 4th place overall. Flying his RS-15 Tony Burton placed 4th . Dave Stevenson started to climb back up the ranks by finishing 5th and Alfonso Jurado held on to 3rd place overall by finishing 7th. Every pilot made it home on day 6.

Day 7
The best soaring day of the contest was Wednesday. Alfonso Jurado smoked the competition with a speed of 64.6 mph (nearly 8 mph faster than the second place finisher). This was the fastest flight of the contest and moved him into 2nd place. He now trailed the leader by only 67 points. Ron Ridenour (V11) finished 2nd in his Grob Twin Astir. Remaining in 1st place was Joe Owensby, who finished 3rd. Manfred Franke (HF) finished in 4th place and John Wells (KJ) and Burt Meyer (HH) tied for 5th. Those of us cheering for our Australian friend were disappointed to learn that Tom Gilbert landed out after 180 miles and fell from 2nd place to 6th. Gene Hammond moved from 4th to 3rd place by finishing 9th.

Day 8
Thursday was the last day of the contest. The front that had been hanging out just west of the contest area came through late in the day and led to some overdevelopment and isolated thunderstorms in some areas around Albert Lea. After the last pilots landed, all hands pulled together to secure the aircraft as high winds and threatening weather moved through. Alfonso Jurado had his third win of the contest and ended up in first place overall with 7499 points. Second place in the contest went to Joe Owensby who finished 5th and ended up with 7382 points. Ron Clarke finished in 2nd place and ended up in third place overall with an accumulated 6888 points. Fourth place in the contest went to Bob Macys who racked up 6880 points and 5th place overall went to Manfred Franke who had accumulated 6624 points. Robert Barber earned 3rd place for the day and 4th place went to Tony Burton. Tom Gilbert forgot to take a second photo when he had a relight and got zero points for the day. Camera troubles knocked Gene Hammond from 3rd to 11th place.

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
by Mike Finegan

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?

Last Update:
March 09, 2007

web page by:
Paul E. Remde