I have always heard discussion that "contests are a great way to learn", or "I picked up more in that one contest than months of regular soaring". While I believed there was some truth to those comments, I also attributed some of it to competition euphoria. Having never personally competed in a soaring contest, due primarily to lack of a personal sailplane and/or schedule conflicts, I was very interested when Bruce Bulloch sent out the invitation last Spring for the Ephrata Dust Up 2009. The timing was right, and I was able to easily convince Lynn Weller, who I often fly with in his DG-1000, to join me as a team entry.
We had a blast in the three-day contest in May, with outstanding soaring conditions on the first two days, and challenging but fun weather for those who decided to fly on the third non-competition day.
Here are a few of my lessons learned:
Even with 26 sailplanes along the course, there were often long periods with no other sailplanes visible. I expected to see the sky littered with these 26 sailplanes marking each thermal, but although we did see other sailplanes now and then, it was the exception rather than the rule.
You really get to know your equipment. Even though I had about 80 hours in DG-1000s before the contest, I experienced and learned a lot, especially about the high-speed performance of the bird. Although we often had impossibly shallow glide angle views heading home, we invariably made our final run at 100+ knots and still made it back fine.
You really get to know your instruments/GPS/nav system. I had previously used the LX-7000 in the DG-1000 for rudimentary navigation information, but Lynn and I really delved into the details, and by the second contest flight we had all our turnpoint circles depicted, valid glide information presented and a much better working knowledge of our true capabilities.
Competition is fun. We had a blast in the preparation, out on course as we crossed other's flight paths and observed their strategies, after the day's competition as we told war stories, compared results, and generally developed more camaraderie with our flying mates. I highly recommend entering your next available local contest. You WILL learn a lot, and have fun in the process!
I'm already looking forward to the next Ephrata Dustup!