M-ASA’s Early Region IV Contests
Our Editor has asked me to write something about our Region IV contests in the early days, so here goes.
The first Region IV contest I attended was in the early 1960s, held at Westminster Airport, then owned by M-ASA president Nelson (“Mac”) McLeod. It was a simple grass strip with a barn-like hangar we scrounged from another site and reconstructed at Westminster. It housed our Meyers biplane, a Pratt-Read two-place owned by Mac, a Schweizer 1-26 home-built by Nate Frank, and another by Jack Perine, which was suspended by a hoist from a roof beam (Jack wrote a history of M-ASA that is on our website.) There was also a “Double-Bubble” L-K (Laister-Kaufman) converted by Mario Piccagli, which I had a share in for a short time before joining a threesome that purchased the Perine 1-26.
There were no glider classes in those days and no handicaps, so very often the winner was the pilot flying the highest-performing glider. Our meets attracted pilots from other states, bringing with them a variety of K-6s, K-8s, and Schweizer 1-26s and 1-23s. All tasks were based on distance, and some were straight-out or dog-legs, resulting in landings well over 100 miles away followed by an all-night retrieve. Retrieve crews tried to keep close to their pilots by radio using private codes – “Alpha Alpha proceed to checkpoint B and hold.” Philip Wills’ books describe numbers of flights like these, where his wife Kitty would be waiting with the trailer beside the field he eventually landed in. Often the outcome was less organized, with crews calling in for landing information and having to navigate from wherever they were to wherever their pilot landed. Some discovered they had gone many miles in the wrong direction!
In the ‘sixties M-ASA alternated contest sites with the Cumberland group, flying out of Cumberland Airport. I remember flying from Cumberland in my 1-26 across the Chesapeake Bay and landing beside the Delaware Ship Canal. I had reached the edge of the Bay when there was a loud explosion and, looking down, I realized I was over the Aberdeen Proving Ground munitions testing site and concluded they must be shooting at me! I turned across the Bay in a hurry and never looked back.
The difference in glider performance was brought home to me in one contest in which Ben Greene brought his new Austria. I climbed up over Westminster Airport with this glider and on reaching the top of the thermal, we both headed west. While I was sinking like a stone, I watched Ben apparently maintaining altitude until he disappeared.
About that time the straight-out distance tasks were modified by establishing turnpoints, so tasks could be made around triangles or out-and-return courses, followed by free distance in a certain direction. Before cameras were used to verify turnpoints, teams were sent out to mark them with big yellow plastic sheets (actually Slip-n-Slide water shutes for kids). They tried to locate these yellow strips in different formations behind hangars where they couldn’t be seen unless the pilot was right overhead. Pilots had to note the position of the markers and the time of day.
The influx of newer higher-performance gliders at these contests motivated us to upgrade our own gliders. Mario Piccagli brought in an Italian M-100 with performance similar to a K-6, and two groups upgraded from 1-26s to Schreder HP-10s. Then the first of the fiberglass gliders made their appearance, the Libelle 301, the Phoebus As, Bs, and Cs, and the Open Cirrus, which some pilots modified with extended wingtips. These had as much performance advantage over the K-6 and M-100 as the Austria had over the 1-26. Soon after, competition classes were introduced – Standard and Open – and then a new flapped class, the 15 Meters – after some Standard class gliders introduced landing flaps. Closed circuit races with photo turnpoints followed in the 1970s, and crews were able to lounge by the pool until they learned their pilots had landed out – though they did so far less often.
Contests in those days were far more adventurous, in that off-field landings were accepted as inevitable and could be anywhere, hundreds of miles away.
Today GPS and in-flight computers have taken much of the stress out of flying tasks, such as finding and photographing turnpoints within the proper sector. And now in Europe, motor gliders which aim to make off-field landings a thing of the past are outselling gliders without motors. What Philip Wills called a “vulgar downwind dash” followed by a distant off-field landing and a long wait for the crew to find you in the dark, is a dim memory that most of us are content to forget.