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15th Annual Montague XC Cup Report

Official Results Report Photos
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By John Ellias

This year marked the 15th year cross country enthusiast have gathered in the beautiful Shasta Valley to compete against each other and have a great time flying.  “Montague” has become the most prestigious RC Cross Country event in the world.  Host Dean Gradwell, CD Ron McElliot, and helpers Roger Hebner and Paul Gradwell did a fine job preparing for the contest and running it smoothly.

Turnout was somewhat smaller than usual with 8 teams entered.  There were 4 days of racing, but also some interesting events in the practice days leading up to the official racing days.

The first practice day was Monday, June 11,

winch launch and thermaland the weather was ideal with very light wind until after 3 pm. Rick Shelby and I decided to see if we could get Rick's 50-kilometer pin. Rick launched the MXC just before 2 pm, and the lift was good right off launch. We decided to head to the northern-most turn point first, while the wind was light. We made the turn point easily and headed back south for a fairly easy run of about 12 miles. At this point, the lift seemed to disappear, and Rick got very low a few times, but he fought patiently and slowly made his way south. Finally, at the town of Grenada, the lift improved, and he got up to 1000 meters just in time to cross over interstate 5 and head for the town of Gazelle. For the next 6 or 7 miles, there was no lift until finally a mile or so from Gazelle, Rick connected with a weak but steady thermal. We made the turn-point at Gazelle and then headed back north into the wind. Rick fought his way against the wind, hitting small bubbles of lift but nothing good enough to keep the flight going. After over 3 hours in the air, he landed out for a flight of 38 miles, more than enough for his 50K pin. Rick got his 25k pin on his first XC flight and now earned his 50K pin on only his second XC flight!

Tuesday was another practice day

back at the hangarwith weak lift and strong wind. Most teams just flew around on the field without getting on course.  Late in the day, we managed to get high, so Dean suggested we try a new course out to the East. He offered to drive us in his jeep so we hopped in and off we went.
It is a very scenic course out to an old church and then back to the field for a total of 20 miles. Traveling with the wind, it was no problem getting out to the old church. Once we had to turn into the wind, however, progress slowed way down and we eventually landed out in a farmers field. The farmer happened to be in his truck right behind us and was intently observing what we were doing, while making calls on his cell phone.  As soon as we landed, he drove up to us looking very irate. I was mentally preparing for the worst as I stepped up to his window to explain.  He immediately told me it was a good thing we landed because he was about to pull out his shotgun and blow us out of the sky!  He wondered if the glider was a drone, and if we worked for Fish and Game.  When I explained what we are doing, he calmed down and even wished us luck in the contest.

Wednesday was the Crew Race  

This was an opportunity for some of the crew members to compete and fly a task.  Again, the lift was weak, and strong winds was a big factor. winch lineThe task for the day was to fly from the start/finish line to turn point 2, up north to turn point 9, back to 2 and the finish line. This course totaled about 16 miles, and it seemed like it should be an easy task, but the conditions made it very difficult. Lift was very weak early in the day, and by the time the lift improved, the wind also picked up. Only two teams made it off the field. Rick Shelby won the day with a tough 9-mile flight. Rick actually made it off the field twice. On his second run, the lift was better then on the  first, but the wind was much stronger. He got about 5 miles out flying into a strong headwind. Each time he hit a thermal, he drifted back a mile or so while gaining altitude, only to lose it all again trying to make headway into the wind. After 3 times thermalling up to 600 meters without being able to make any forward progress he landed out.  Bruce Moore also made it off the field, but he landed out at turn point 2.

Contest Day 1

mxcThe 34-mile task was to fly north to turn point 9, then go back south through Montague down to Grenada, and return to the start/finish line. Determining when to start was key to completing this task. If you started too early, you were struggling with very weak thermals which topped off at a very low altitude. Starting too late meant to fight the wind, and that made getting off the field difficult and almost impossible to get to turn point 9.
Only three teams completed the task with the Flying Tigers (Dean Gradwell, Roger Hebner, Ron McElliot) finishing 3rd , Screaming Eagles (John Ellias, Rick Shelby, Marquita Ellias) finishing 2nd and team Windward (Steve Henke, Kathy Duncan, Bill Curry) winning the day with a speed of 17mph.
Team Windward managed to get off the field just before the wind came up, which would have slowed them down considerably.  They got down to 200 feet early at turn point 2, but managed to find a thermal and speck out.  After that they had good lift and stayed high all the way down to the south turnpoint at Grenada.  Turning back North they now had to battle the headwind for 6 long miles to turn point 5, and this ate up most of their altitude.  Finally they made it to the quarry which is known for good lift, and they were not disappointed.  They cored a good thermal and soon had enough altitude to make back to the finish 7 miles away for the best speed of the day. This was a very strong start for team Windward.

Contest Day 2

Today the conditions were reasonably good, if you got off the field at the right time. The course was 29 miles long. It seemed the window for a successful flight was to leave the field between thermaling11:30 and 12:00.  The teams that got on course after 12:00 had to battle a strong head wind for much of the flight. My team, the Screaming Eagles, got on course by 12:00 noon, and we had good lift with only some wind to contend with. We never got lower than about 1500 feet.
For most of the flight, we flew carefully trying to conserve our altitude.  By the time we arrived at turn-point 5 where we saw team Broken Arrow (Jim Rolle, Bruce Moore and Scott Meader) thermaling, we knew conditions had gotten even better and we better pick up the pace. Both teams thermaled up to about 3,000 feet, then headed out on the final glide, knowing this was enough altitude to make the finish line seven miles away. We flew neck and neck with team Broken Arrow the entire way home averaging 50 mph for the entire seven miles, and for the last two miles we averaged 67 mph! Four teams completed the task  with Screaming Eagles winning the day with an average speed of 20mph, Broken Arrow came in second, Flying Tigers was third, and Dust Devils (Dudley Dufort, Scott Woodward, Aric Wilmunder) came in fourth.

Contest Day 3

The weather was finally starting to get good with warmer temperatures and wind speed below 10mph for most of the day.  Six teams managed to complete the task, with team Broken Aero winning the day with a very fast average speed of 24.6 mph. Screaming Eagles was close behind at 23.8mph, and Paul Gradwell’s team came in 3rd at 22.9mph. on base Flying Tigers managed a fourth place finish, staying in the hunt for the overall trophy by salvaging their flight with two treetop level saves.
Team Broken Arrow again had a neck and neck race to the finish from turn-point 5; this time with Team Windward. The two teams jockeyed for the lead back and forth the entire 7 miles to the finish line. Team Windward pushed a little too hard as they finished with very little altitude, damaging the Super Supra when they were forced to land immediately after finishing in a small field.  Luckily they had a backup ship for the final day.  Three days of racing with three different winners each day. Overall, Team Screaming Eagles was now solidly in first place.

Contest Day 4

This was last contest day and probably the best weather of the contest.  A short 17 mile task was called to allow everyone to be back at the field by 3:00 pm.  Seven of the eight teams completed the course.  Screaming Eagles was first with an average speed of 24.2 mph, second place went to Paul Gradwell’s team, and in 3rd place was Team Dust Devils.  

Here is an excerpt Dudley Dufort wrote for the SVSS newsletter:

“Our first flight was one of the best Cross Country flights of my life.  We did really well.  Textbook teamwork and the fastest average speed I've ever had.  When I finished our first flight back at the airport, I still had about 1600 feet of altitude so I handed the transmitter to Scott and said "Let's get out there and run it again."

on the roadAt 1,600 feet we weren't low but we weren't flush either.  3,000 feet is considered a good starting altitude to get out on course. We needed to tank up a bit before starting our next run.  In no time Scott ran into a huge thermal and he was just nailing it.  With his SBXC racked up on a wing tip in tight pirouette turns, that vario was just screaming.  In no time he was above 3,600 and it was off to the races!

Nose down, over the starting line hauling bacon 'till he hit another thermal.  Yank and bank!  And so it went, one huge thermal after another with very fast speed runs in between over the entire 16.6 mile course.  Just what Montague is known for.

With three miles left to go and plenty of altitude to burn, Scott began what is affectionately called the "sled run."  I was driving, Aric and Scott were in the back of the truck.  We were blasting toward the finish line at 60 - 70 MPH trying to keep up with the plane.  Scott kept yelling at me "up 20, up 20".  I don't think he had any idea just how fast we were going.  There was no way I was going to add 20 MPH to the break-neck speed we were already traveling.  The plane handily beat the truck to the finish line.

When we got back and landed from the second run, I knew that Scott had demolished my time.  The team work was impeccable!  Aric did a fantastic job of mentally marking the location of thermals outbound so Scott could pick them up again on the return leg.  You'll have to check with Scott or Aric but I don't think he ever got below 2,000 feet.  Aric's help was invaluable in directing Scott to the proper heading.  The whole run was like clockwork.  Incredible conditions and teamwork!  We were jubilant . . . until the score were announced.

Unfortunately, Scott's magnificent flight was disqualified because we didn't follow the rules.  For repeat attempts, everyone was required to land their plane, reset the GPS data logger and then re-launch the plane.  In our exuberance we just did a turn 'n burn.

As it turns out Scott's flight WAS faster that mine.  Way faster!! Had it counted, it would have put him in second place just behind John Ellias.  John averaged a remarkable 24.24 MPH.  Scott's speed was 23.58.  Scooter was hauling bacon!! “

So unofficially, hats off to the President Woodward for an incredible and very exciting 2nd place retrievingflight.  That flight, on that Sunday, as they say, "was worth the whole price of admission."

Overall winner of the contest was team Team Screaming Eagles. Broken Aero placed 2nd, and Flying Tigers came in 3rd.  Only two teams completed every task: Flying Tigers and Screaming Eagles.

While the tasks seemed shorter than in years past, the final analysis shows they were appropriate, given the weather. Scoring was completely by GPS, which allowed for great accuracy. Bob Nelson worked hard after each day’s flying to make sure the scoring was completed for the next day’s pilots’ meeting.  Special thanks go to Dave Beach and John Marien (Team Ascendant) for coming all the way from New Hampshire to compete. Dave Beach also gave a very interesting seminar on the GPS telemetry software he has developed and made available specifically for XC soaring.

Official Results Report Photos

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