2023 Senior Soaring Championship


Soaring with the Seniors
by Rich Owen

Every year in preparation for the Seniors, we always look for new ideas and different ways to make the event more enjoyable or informative.  This year, with the aid of some very talented and helpful friends, I think we accomplished our goals and then some.  For the last three years we have included a Sailplane Grand Prix (SGP) 2.0 event before or immediately following the contest.  Everyone enjoyed it and we have made it a semi-permanent part of the Seniors.  This was a type of race based on the World Sailplane Grand Prix.  It was developed in the Truckee area so all pilots, no matter what type of glider they flew, could participate.  It is a handicapped, Assigned Task event, that uses varying diameters of the turn circles to even out the performance of the gliders.  It was amazing, that after a 2.5 hour flight there were so many ships, of varying performance, on final glide together.

Due to the last-minute withdrawal of the pilot who was to run the event, Roman Michalowski stepped up to fill the role.  Not only did he determine the diameter of the turnpoints each day, sent the task/turnpoint diameters to the pilots but also scored the event and communicated with the software developer to make the application easier to use.  His efforts will make next year’s event so much better.  Alongside this event, we also had a scored task that was developed by Ken Sorenson.   This same task was also used by the SGP with start/finish lines and variable turnpoint diameters.   For the pilots who did not want to fly the SGP, they were afforded the option to fly this Turn Area Task.

In the mornings, we also provided a series of presentations on “How to be a CD” and the basics on “How to Score”.  These talks were relatively short to take advantage of the good weather so all pilots could fly.  I think everyone learned some interesting information and maybe we will get a few new CD’s and scorers out of this group.  Thank you to Ken Sorenson, Sandra Danoff and John Godfrey for your time and hard work.  If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the presentations, please email me at stillflyn@aol.com.

Practice Day

Well, now it is time for the Big Show.  Friday was the practice day for the Senior Soaring Championship under mainly sunny skies with breezy conditions.  Many of the pilots have been flying every day leading up to this event, so some took the day off to rest.  It is a contest manager’s dream to tire out the field with good flying so they have to take a rest day before the contest.  It was also my desire to have a fantastic contest manager run the contest enabling me to fly.  Over the years I have been very lucky to find a core group of wonderful and very talented contest managers. This year I was fortunate to get Ms. Kerry Hufstetler to step forward.  Kerry has run numerous contests in Uvalde Texas, including being involved with 2 World Gliding Championships, so the Seniors is like a walk in the park.  You should hear the story on how she agreed to do the job. It involves a Mexican dinner, margaritas and glider pilots in Hobbs NM.

The practice day pilot’s meeting started on time and John Good is again our CD.  I love working with John and I’ve learned so much about being a CD from him.  We covered the usual items and set the pilots loose on the skies over Central Florida on a Turn Area Task that went from Start A, Chalet Suzanne, Green Swamp, Gore and Finish.  It was a slow climb to 4,000ft in the Start cylinder but the lift was good some times and downright terrible in others.  The first leg to Chalet Suzanne was very slow for some people.  The clouds cried, come to me, only for the pilot to be greeted with sink.  A nice line of clouds formed well to the east of the usual fast track down highway 27, but the Class B airspace prevented some later pilots from using it.  On the run to Green Swamp, it was a little easier.  The clouds were more honest, cloud bases higher and the lines a little clearer.  Going to Gore was a big choice, go further to the nicer clouds or head home for the P7 beer truck early.  The journey back to the field was nicely boring, with high energy final glides and everyone clearing the runway safely.  After logs were sent in, ships tied down, the usual groups went to town.  Dinners at Chuy’s, Coyote Rojo, Pepe’s, and the Suncreek Brewery were well attended.  At 8pm the RV parking lot was like it was at midnight last week.  Everyone is looking forward to a great contest and I hope we will be able to provide a fun, safe event.

Contest Day 1

The first day of any contest is a tough situation.  You are not going to win a contest on the first day but you sure can put yourself on the back foot.  Personally, I love to come from behind, sneaking up on the unsuspecting leaders.  Well, we accomplished our goal too well today.

John Good did the usual Mandatory Safety Brief today and went over all the things that pilots have done to ruin their day at the Seniors.  From flying into trees after a low energy pull up, landing gear up, calling for an aero retrieve from a different airport than what the pilot was in, to flying a great task and finding out it was yesterdays.  We have to add another story after today, but that comes later.

John also used a rather novel way to introduce Kerry Huffstutler (CM) to the group.  Here is his introduction “Don’t be fooled by our new contest manager’s pleasant appearance and normally gracious demeanor.  Over the years and the course of many soaring contests, Kerry has dealt with a broad selection of ignorant, rude, cantankerous, arrogant and generally unpleasant pilots.  As a result of their interactions with her, essentially all would recommend that you not seek to add your name to this list.”  Laughter could be heard all the way to Texas!

The first contest day task was a TAT beginning at Start A, I4&Hwy27, Winter Haven, Mabel, Lake Ridge and then Finish.  Nominal distance was only 93 miles with a minimum time of 1:30 due to a poor weather forecast.  Fernando Silva, our superb weatherman, said the sky would be devoid of Cu but there would be lines of convergence that we could take advantage of.  At the start, climbs were a little weak and getting to the maximum start altitude of 4,000 feet was going to be tough.  Once everyone got up, they left the start cylinder and headed out on course.  The view to the south around I-4 was great.  High Cu with fine definition (yes the weather man was wrong) were in the distance if we could only make it there.  The climbs got a little better by Flanders and there were numerous markers down track.  At I4&Hwy27 the speeds started to go up and smiles appeared on most pilot’s faces.  Some maximized this turn area to gain some extra miles with very blue conditions up north.  Heading to Winter Haven (a notoriously bad area for gliders with many lakes) there were several Cu that reached almost 5,000 feet.  Going deeper in this turnpoint helped several of our leaders.  The leg that separated pilots on the score sheet the most was the leg going to Mabel.  Several pilots ran a convergence line that was unmarked by Cu, going most of the way to Mabel without circling.  If you found this fast track, you were golden!  Final glides all seemed to be relatively stress free with many gliders approaching at high speeds.

In the end, a group of “older” gliders took the big prizes.  In third place flying a Discus 2a was our Brewmeister, Gary Ittner with a handicapped speed of 50.61mph.  Joe Reeves, flying an LS-4B, completed the task at 51.61mph which placed him in second.  Winning the day, flying another LS-4 was Greg Shugg posting a 52.29mph handicapped speed.  Congratulations to these fine aviators for their great performance.  Now Greg, let’s try not and land out this contest.

Unfortunately, the day was marred by an incident where a pilot landed out in the start cylinder and damaged his glider.  Staying closer to the gliderport in weak weather conditions is pretty standard in competition.  Worse yet, he tried to thermal too low and ended up in a new citrus tree field.  The good part of the story is that he is ok and he will have a good story to tell his glider students.

This evening we had a fine dinner provided by Mihai Tanjala, the owner of Seminole-Lake Gliderport.  Texas Roadhouse out did themselves with beef skewers and pork chops with all the trimmings. Wine and beer rounded out the offerings.  Of course, the P7 Brewery was open serving a fine Vienna lager and Miss Turnpoint Ale.  We were also treated to a presentation honoring Mr. Peter Teuber who generously donated a Discus-2ct which will be used by junior pilots in contest and cross country flying.  Thank you Peter for your gift to support the future of our sport.  Looks like this turned into a quiet evening with everyone going to bed early.  Tomorrow is another day to excel.

Contest Day 2

As the morning rose over the Central Florida landscapes, showing a golden sunrise…….wait a minute, we are at a glider contest, not in a romance novel!  As the covers and ships were being readied all over the gliderport, our friends from Rock Star Donuts were making breakfast.  Every morning they have been serving breakfast sandwiches to the pilots, crews and volunteers.  They are also our preferred donut provider for this year’s Seniors.  These are not your Dad’s Dunkin Donuts.  If you have ever seen a Voodoo donut, that’s what these looks like.  Huge, overflowing with all kinds of delicious chocolate, sprinkles and gooey insides.  We had to add a knife to the donut table so people could cut them in half.

The winds were not favoring us today, so we had to grid at the north end of the runway.  This is always a little problem and we can always tell who and who did not read the pilot kit regarding gridding instructions.  After everyone was heading to the grid, the CD sent out the task via Signal, and after a short walk to the grid, our barefoot scorer handed out the paper copies.  Signal is the messaging app we use to get the information out to the competitors the fastest.  Some still prefer the paper copy (I like to keep it close just in case), but others get a jump on the game and are able to spend a little more time eating and getting those final things done before launch.

Today’s task is Start B, Grass Roots, CR474/Hwy27, Elephant Walk, Chalet Suzzanne, Green Swamp and Finish.  The launches have been going really well even though we are breaking in half of our ground crew.  Half of them are experienced, combat hardened rope wranglers and great kids.   Our Lakeland Aero Club volunteers go to an aviation magnet high school and are under the tutelage of Mike Z.  Mike’s last name is so long it won’t fit on the Wheel of Fortune board.  They have nothing but taildraggers for the youngsters to fly and they also get glider instruction from us at Seminole-Lake Gliderport.  How else would you want your future airline pilots and mechanics to train!

After getting up, which took a little while, the air was fresh and clear.  We did have Cu to the south and it looked like it could be a tough but fun day.  In the start circle we saw gliders everywhere.  Usually, there is a certain area that is preferred but today, it looked like a free for all.  We finally found a good climb to exit the top of the start cylinder and we were off.  The first leg was a little slow with several large deviations.  There really wasn’t a clear path to follow and we saw gliders in all quadrants in front of us.  The next two legs were a little slow but we had a good number of markers and some of the climbs were reasonably good.  It seemed the air was getting more energetic and we were hoping to get our speed up later in the task.  Going to Chalet Suzzanne we took a more westerly track where the clouds seemed to mark a line of convergence.  Looking at the bigger picture, it seemed like you could run this line right back north and touch the cylinder at Green Swamp.  Running to the back of the next to last turnpoint, we headed north along the same track. Good climbs and some small deviations had our overall task speed going up.  Crossing I-4, we saw some clouds that tended to go to the northwest and it could have been a change in direction of the convergence.  We were able to bend a little and follow a line that had us going up and cruising at 70 knots without turning.  Taking that to the end and flying home at a Mc of 4.5, it was a nice ride.  Still, the result isn’t what we wanted, but it was a fun flight, in shorts, in Florida with a great friend.  Nothing could be better.

Taking third place was Ken Sorenson with a handicapped speed of 52.36 and Henry Retting in second with a handicapped speed of 52.40mph.  Bob Fletcher won the day handily with a speed of 54.99mph.

We weren’t done yet.  As the sun started to set, we were sitting in an “RV Circle” (one couple sets out chairs and starts drinking, then another group joins, then another, then another.….. you get the picture) and talking about the flight, upcoming book club meeting, and what the remaining days in Florida were to bring.  At the end, we had 25 folks all having a great time enjoying the company of others.  Nothing brightens life up more than good friends, and in soaring, we are lucky to have the best.

Some folks chose to have an early night but others headed to various local night spots to enjoy the sounds of summer.  Team 98 headed to Gloria Estefan’s Cuban Café where we had a fantastic Cuban specialty, mojitos and best of all, a birthday cake for Keith Baugh.  Next year he will no longer be hiding as a guest at the Seniors.  For his birthday present, I told him we were moving the Seniors up a week.  Just kidding AG, you are going to be part of the “IN CROWD” for 2024.

Rest Day

The Seniors is unique in several ways.  One of our rules is that we need to have a rest day during the contest, announced the day prior so pilots and crews can enjoy their time in Florida.  This is normally planned on a weather day where flying would be extra difficult or plainly not possible.

I would like to say we did a whole lot of interesting things on the “official rest day”, but it seemed like more work.  In the morning Fernando gave a very informative presentation on how to find the best weather sources/forecast in soaring.  Everyone both enjoyed it and valued the information.  We have been lucky to have Fernando as our official weatherman at the Seniors for many years.

Over the years we have been fortunate to have the SSA Chairman attend the Seniors.  This year our new chairman, Mr. Mike Shakman, led a discussion on how we can grow the sport of soaring.  Several pilots who are in clubs that are very successful spoke on their best practices.  Many ideas were discussed and I’m sure the Growth and Retention Committee will put them to good use.

Bif Huss, Sarah Arnold and I led a rules input meeting.  This is the first leg on how new rules are formed for the next competition year.  We ask the pilots what concerns, changes, clarifications or additions they would like to see in the rules.  Bif started with a discussion on the changes to the 2023 rules and how we arrived with them.  Many questions came up regarding the new rules governing the National contests.  We will be looking at how the new rules are being implemented and what improvements we need to make in 2024.  The people on the Pilot Ranking List are the driving force in any changes made.  The Rules Committee are the working people who take your input and put it into rules language.  The pilot’s inputs help us form the proposed rule changes. The final rules get submitted to the SSA Board of Directors for approval.  Both the proposed rule changes and the final rule language are presented to the pilots for comment before moving to the next step.  The next rules input meeting will be in Perry SC, at the Region 5 North contest.

Monday was also the US Team night at the dinner.  After another great meal from Texas Roadhouse, Pete Alexander led a presentation on what the US Team did in the last two WGC events.  He covered what it’s like to be a Captain for the US Team and how rewarding it can be.  Pete also spoke on the preparations that the Club Class US Team did for the WGC event in France from the perspective of JP Stewart.   Sarah did a great presentation on her and Karl’s Day 6th win at the Multiplace WGC event in 2022.  If you think a restart is a bad idea, you should listen to their presentation.  Thank you to the US Team for the desert, the superb program and everything you do to represent the US soaring pilots in the World Gliding Championships.

First Attempt Contest Day 3

When the day broke over Central Florida, the warming sun gave us hope that the early forecast was wrong.  The expected breezy conditions did not materialize and we even saw Cu in the distance.  Everyone made the trek to grid at the south end of the runway and the squat began.  It’s always good to walk the grid and see folks you haven’t spoken to in a while.  I had a chance to see Bo Michalowski at work.  Bo has been doing the photo journalism aspect of the Seniors for a long time.  Her morning gliderport photos with the mist have been seen all over the internet and Soaring magazine.  She was sneaking around the grid taking clandestine pictures of the pilots and crews preparing their gliders.

Bill Foster and Dewey Clawson took this time to do some training for new ground crew members.  The tow pilots were relaxing in their hangar and generally just chilling out.  The action started around 1:30pm when the sniffers were launched.  As everyone waited by their radios for word of conditions, not much was heard.  Due to the hard work of John Godfrey, our OGN network is really good.  The CD only had to consult his iPad to see how high and where the sniffers were.  Since not everyone is as tech savvy as John Good, he also asked questions on the radio to help those who cannot type in a URL for Glidertracker.  Soon, the order for another 6 sniffers was sent out.  It was easy to see that the gliders were not even getting to 2,800ft AGL at the time required to launch the fleet and still have time to complete the task.  With 8 aircraft aloft, the day starting to get late and altitude achieved not sufficient to start a task, the CD justifiably cancelled the day.  After we recovered the brave folks that went in to the air to test the waters, we all hooked up and returned to the trailers.  So goes the first day of grid squatting.

The RV circles were going again, with many friends sharing a meal or just a few drinks.  The Team 98 group headed for Chuy’s, one of our favorites.  We took 7 folks with us tonight which is one more than usually allowed due to the difficulty of getting swift service and seating for a larger gang.  It was heard in the quiet of the evening something about “I have your 33 in my hangar”.  Papa 7 gratefully accepted the invitation to join us.

Second Attempt Contest Day 3

Many glider pilots will tell you, when the sun isn’t shinning in Florida, there will not be any soaring.  Well today was an exception to the rule.  At today’s pilot meeting, many thought today would be our second grid squatting day or the second cancelled day.  John (CD) and Fernando (weatherman) seemed to know something that no one else had seen.

Before the pilots meeting was over, we did get a few laughs.  During the pilot introduction portion, Henry Retting said that he was from southeast Florida and his wife bought him a glider with a motor so she didn’t have to crew for him anymore.  He also said that since he had a motor, he would be happy to retrieve anyone who landed out that did not have a motor.  Well, you can imagine the remarks after those comments.  Werner Ruegger stood up and said he didn’t have a crew but was happy that more than 50% of the Seniors would come pick him up.  This year more than 50% of the participants are equipped with motors of some kind.  Greg Shugg then stood up and asked for Henry’s wife’s number so she could buy him a glider with a motor.  It went downhill from there.

With all the levity at the pilots meeting, we did have some special work-related business to cover.  During the 2022 Open/15 Meter Nationals in Hobbs New Mexico, the ground crew needed some coaching.  Melissa Indrebo and Jennette Baugh provided that and much more.  Taking a dozen tween and teens and turning them into an efficient and safe launch crew was not good enough for these fine ladies.  They also took them to lunches, ice cream and mentored them about life goals.  For their hard work, both of them were rewarded with the Charlie Spratt Award for advancing the sport of sailplane racing.  Melissa received her award at the Reno convention and Jennette received hers in front of the Seniors pilots.  Great job Jennette and Melissa!

So, that was how the morning proceeded with smiles on the pilot’s faces, a well-deserved award presented by Michelle Sorenson, full stomachs from the donuts and breakfast prepared by Rock Star Bakery and gray cloudy skies.

At 11:50am we were told to start sending the ships to the runway and expect a first launch around 1:15pm.  The skies were still overcast and but some blue appeared in the distant north.  Wouldn’t you believe it, the sun came out and the ground started to heat up rapidly.  It was starting to get warmer by the minute and soon the sniffers were taking flight to see what none of us expected.  The first climbs were slow but soon the sniffers were going up above 3,500ft and the fleet was launching.  Covers that were left on expecting an early cancellation were flying off like clothes on a drying line in a hurricane.  The entire fleet was launched in under an hour and soon the task was opened.

Looking around the starting area, there were ships in all quadrants.  Some were high but most were on the low side.  I saw one ship very low with no chance to land back at the airport over the Green Swamp.  They made it out of there but it was a very risky choice.  We saw a number of ships around 3,700ft starting, but no one looked like they had reached the 4,000ft maximum altitude.

Our task for the day was of course, a Turn Area Task (TAT) from Start B, Grass Roots, Inverness, Flying Baron and Finish.  The minimum time was 1:30 and that was all we could realistically do given the late start to the day.  The weather was severely blue with the first leg having some good climbs.  Most pilots went direct or slightly west of the rum line to Grass Roots.  The turn to the west and Inverness had a couple of choices.  Some of the faster ships had to get more distance and headed slightly northwest, while the lower handicapped ships could go due west.  Jared Granzow in his ASW-27 went due west and found a good energy line to the south of Inverness.  It was so good, he just turned around and went to Flying Baron on the same line.  The only problem was, it put him back at the gliderport a couple of minutes early.

I do have some good news on the ground crew front.  Ms. Emma (Knapp), the best line crew person we have at the Seniors for years, was released from the hospital after a bout with a kidney stone.  She is feeling much better and will be returning to her normal routine soon.  Emma routinely runs like a mad woman hooking up gliders and diving under the wing to get them launched faster.  Her enthusiasm and outgoing personality make her a leader on the flight line and we are lucky to have her every year.

We had a few land outs and engine starts today, but everyone was able to make it home undamaged.  The score sheet has undergone its normal upheaval today with a big turnover at the top.  The winner of today’s task was Jared Granzow with a handicapped speed of 47.98mph.  Since Jared is a guest and isn’t old enough to be in the Seniors as a regular entry, the win goes to John Murray with a handicapped speed of 47.00mph.  Second went to Susan Simmons and Sarah Arnold with third being held by Ken Sorenson.  The top 10 are only separated by 127 points so it is anyone’s race over the next two days.  The next 10 pilots are only separated by 63 points!  This is pretty typical of the Seniors.  Better weather is expected and it should be very interesting.

Contest Day 4

Today the weather turned for the better and we had a great day.  The task was a 2:30 TAT from Start A, Avon Park, Streamsong, I4&Hwy27, Green Swamp and Finish.  The launch went smoothly with 58 aircraft getting airborne in 58 minutes.  Why 58 aircraft you say, we did have 2 pilots pull out during the contest, one for a landout mishap (no one hurt) and the other had an aircraft issue he wanted to get fixed.  The combined launch crew, ground personnel and tow pilots, did a phenomenal job getting the fleet launched each day by an average of one hour.  Nice job crew!!

Getting up in the blue skies over Seminole was not as hard as the other day.  Soon there were several groups trying to find the best start.  The east side of the cylinder is generally the best place to start for a southerly route.  It is closer to Highway 27 which we call the Florida Ridge.  The infrastructure always provides the best lift and is further away from the lakes around Winter Haven.  Seems like everyone had a little bit of a slow start on this leg.  Once you passed Lake Wales things started to pop.  Wisps and some Cu came up to help the pilots pick the better lines.  Lift strength were in the 4’s-5’s and we all got to around 5,000ft.  At Avon Park there was a lift line that took you almost to the back of the cylinder but you had to worry about the restricted area which is the Avon Park bombing range.  No way were we straying into an area where they use live weapons and getting blown up, now that is a penalty! Streamsong is a weaker area heading west due to the phosphate mines so everyone tried to avoid going too far into this circle.  Returning to Highway 27, we saw more clouds and visible indications of lift.  The I4/Hwy27 turnpoint had another good lift line that the winners took advantage of to gain extra distance and keep their speed up.  Many had final glide from here and it was just a timing drill to head to the last cylinder and home.  The last cylinder at Green Swamp actually had a convergence line that gave some pilots extra distance, going over minimum time but increasing their overall task speed.  The arrival was a little exciting for some when unexpected sink for a good way affected a few final glides.  All in all, it was a great day.

Today we did not have a formal dinner and many took part in a burger cookout put on by our official on-site food vendor, Rock Star Bakery.  Thank you, Eric for all the great food and service!

In a repeat of the day before, the same guest won the day, but because he is not old enough, he gets an honorable mention.  Way to go Jared!  In third place with a handicapped speed of 55.25mph is my good friend, Jim Lee.  In second place was a Canadian, Joerg Stieber.  Winning the day with a handicapped speed of 55.88 was Robin Clark, an adopted local of Seminole-Lake.  That’s right, the top three were separated by only .63mph.  Now, do you really want to take that one extra turn at the top of dying lift?  That was about the difference between 1st and 3rd.

The overall standings were very close.  In third place is Ken Sorenson, second is Team Papa Sarah Arnold & Susan Simmons and in first place is Jim Lee.  Jim and Ken are past winners of the Seniors, so they are familiar with the pressure going into the last day.   Jim has an advantage by flying John Seaborn’s former JS-3 A8. This ship is now owned by Fred Rettig of Mobile, AL.  He graciously loaned the ship to Jim for the Seniors.  It would be great to see Jim and A8 at the top of the podium again.  The top 10 are separated by 141 points, but the top 3 are only 57 points apart.

Contest Day 5

It is the last day of the Seniors which means the fun will have to stop for a little while.  Today is one of the busiest days for the contest staff.  Besides getting ready for the launch, we are also preparing for the awards banquet.  Lots of things to give away from Seminole-Lake and also from Treasure Coast Soaring Club in Vero Beach.  The trophies for First, Second and Third place are beautiful.  They depict an eagle in flight clutching an American flag.  We also have two new awards to be presented.  The first is the Don S. Wasness Sportsmanship Award.  This award is given to the competitor that exhibits the same determination and grit Don showed during his 31 years of continuous competition at the Seniors.  Don was also our first Champion in 1991!  Our second award was the Catherine Eaglin “Top Crew” award for the best young crew member during the Seniors.  Catherine lost her life during the 2020 Seniors when a drunk driver hit her car while she was traveling home.  She was a staple on the launch crew for over 7 years and participated as a crew member at several other regional contests as well as the 2019 Pan American Championships at SOSA Glider Club in Canada.  Catherine’s leadership, friendly personality and hard work encouraged many youngsters that worked with her over the years.

As most of you know, we have an award called the Uf Da.  It means something in Norwegian and that was the heritage of Knut Kjenslie who last owned Seminole-Lake Gliderport.  We joking give this award to the pilot who did something they were not proud of.  I was lucky enough to win this award one year but I’ve been in good company.  Doug Jacobs won last year.  Many of the preparations for the awards banquet will be completed by Kerry while we are flying the task

The pilots meeting saw the CD give credit to his task advisors for their great work over the contest.  Jim Frantz and John Lubon were a big help in crafting the task the day before when no one thought we would fly.  The Ground Crew was introduced by Bill Foster, our OPS Chief.  These fine young women and men are the future of aviation and we are in good hands.  They worked hard and have given the pilots an opportunity to enjoy their sport.  Thank you!!!  The tow pilots were also introduced and given a chance to receive the appreciation from all the pilots. This group have been flying together for many Seniors, our Chief Tow Pilot has been towing the contest for almost the entire 33 years.  Thank you Ray, Tom, Izumi, Martin, George and Walter.  The funniest thing was when Eric Lambert gave our Contest Manager, Kerry Huffstutler, a beautiful Hawaiian style shirt (it was Senior’s picture day) from Blue Ridge Soaring depicting gliders and Pawnees in flight.  Kerry looked at the size and saw it was an extra-large.  She remarked to Eric about the very large size and he said “you will grow into it someday”.  I think this is an UF Da award nominee!

Well, the day was going to be really nice and pilots do not go to glider contests to sit and eat dinners.  We were going to race today and this was not going to be a banquet task.  John Good called a 3 hour Turn Area Task that began from Start A, Chalet Suzanne, Bonny Plant, Inverness, Flying Baron, Green Swamp and then Finish.  Nominal distance was 198.1 miles and the speeds should be really good.  Cloud bases were getting to 5,000-6,000ft and 5 knot lift was not uncommon.  There were a number of good energy lines to string together but decisions on what route to take were critical.  Jim Lee was covering Sarah Arnold and Susan Simmons for part of the task.  Before long, Jim broke off his cover, it was just not his style of flying.  The run to Chalet Suzanne was nice but there were a few blue holes to account for if you left from the western section of the start cylinder.  Once south of I-4 the clouds were plentiful and lift was strong.  Most of the folks went deep to bank miles for the weak turnpoints of Bonny Plant and Flying Baron.  So, making the turn at Chalet Suzanne the clouds started to thin out over the phosphate mines so most turned a little early. The run west to Bonny Plant was a little tougher but most pilots had gone deeper into the earlier turnpoints to avoid going in too far here.  The rest of the task was pretty easy and final glides were fast and stress free.

The results for the day were held back until the banquet since the top ten pilots were so close.  A good day or slight mistake could mean a different result at the top.

The Seniors is a large project that would not be possible without the outstanding support of the owner of Seminole-Lake Gliderport, Mr. Mihai Tanjala and the employees that make up our staff.  Mr. Tanjala funds the many extras not seen at other contests and provides the funding support to make the Seminole-Lake Gliderport brand known throughout the country.  He has invested a considerable amount of money in capital improvements to the operation.  The recent improvements to the clubhouse, main house, security camera system and additional mowing equipment keeps the property looking good and improves the security of the ships stored on the field.  Leading the employees on site is Ms. Miheala Luculescu, our office manager and supervisor of everything behind the scenes.  She is the person we rely on during the contest to make everything run smoothly, from food service to office services.  Mihaela is also the key individual who connects students, instructors, DPE’s, scenic rides and aircraft to ensure the bills are paid and students are successful.  Our Chief Flight Instructor, Mr. Jan Driessen, has more glider flights than anyone else in the US and is the instructor I seek out to for smoothing out my rough edges when the season starts.  As everyone knows, Seminole-Lake Gliderport is for sale.  However, Mr. Tanjala is committed to maintain the highest standards of the operation and has communicated with several potential buyers the importance in keeping the tradition of the Seniors alive and striving.

It also takes a lot of work by many volunteers to put on the Seniors.  No one is the key component to success.  In every department we have the very best people who willingly give up their free time to support the racing pilots of the SSA.  The young adults that work the line are very interested in a career in aviation or they just want to help the airport.  Most are pilots or in training to be a glider or powered pilot.  Some are working to gain their A&P license.  So, here are some of the folks you may not know.  Bill Foster and Dewey Clawson have run Operations for the last several years.  They are a great team that takes care of the kids and ensures their safety.  Jack Brinckerhoff is always ready to fill any holes in the operations scheme.  Mark Oberg was critical in getting the transponder checks complete very fast so all the pilots could fly.  We were able to get a great deal for these avionic inspections due to the large number of ships that signed up.  We plan to do this again next year.  Ms. Debra Kelly from Strong Parachutes packed over 55 parachutes in 3 days before the contest began.  Ted Haller and Anne Mongiovi continue to do a fine job on the retrieve desk.  All of our pilots are grateful of the service and fast action of this very experienced team.  Bo Michalowski provided photography during the month around the Seniors.  Her photography adds a depth to this article we cannot take for granted.  Chris Carter and her group of volunteers proved that registration does not need to take forever, as long as the number of pilots that don’t read the on-line registration guidance, does not grow.  Ray Smith, our Chief Tow Pilot deserves special recognition for his work in getting the tow pilots out of the DG hangar and to bed early.  I cannot name everyone since I will always forget someone.  Every day, before the contest and during the event, we need people to help out.  Servers for meals, help cleaning the hangar and setting up tables and chairs for meals, picking up beer kegs when we don’t have a truck to adequately do the job, taking the trash out and lending a hand to help the contest staff.  All of this makes our job easier and we appreciate all the pilots, crews and volunteers that helped us put this fantastic event on every year.

Special thanks go to the core contest staff that keeps everyone safe, make each day a challenge and answer the myriad of questions that come up each day.  Fernando Silva has been our weatherman for a long time.  His weather predictions, as well as his keen observations of the day, help in providing the CD with task setting advice to get the most out of each day.  Kerry Hufstetler was fantastic as the contest manager during the Seniors.  She ran this event with the skill and professionalism of any WGC event.  Rick Sheppe always had the scores properly posted, error free, timely and penalties properly analyzed.  John Good is a very unique CD.  He can see through the most complex problem during the contest and come up with a solution that is always elegant.  His humor throughout the contest keeps everyone smiling and the pilots’ meetings are always interesting.  He has the proper amount of stick and carrots to tame all the senior pilots.  Thank you for all your hard work during the 2023 Senior Soaring Championship.

Texas Roadhouse provided a Prime Rib dinner with a vast array of side dishes for the awards banquet.  Bo Michalowski provided a superb slideshow depicting various scenes, people and events that occurred during the Seniors.  As the people were finishing dinner and picking up desert, Kerry started the awards presentations.  She announced the contest places from number 10 to number 4.  The spread at the top was so close, it was very possible the top three could have been changed after day 5.  I was privileged to ask Don Wasness to come forward and present the first Sportsmanship Award named in his honor.  Susan Simmons received this award for her courage and determination to honor her husband Al and fly in this year’s Seniors.  Susan and Sarah Arnold put on quite a show for the rest of us pilots.  Their crew Suzanne Tucci rounded out Team Papa.  She even had a paper cutout of Sarah Arnold since Sarah had to return home to start a ridge camp and was not able to attend the dinner.  We awarded the “Top Crew Award” to a young man that has been working at Seminole-Lake and taking lessons from us for a long time.  Osiris Lee is a student at the Lakeland Florida Aerospace Academy with his brother Zoser.  Their dad Adrian is also a pilot, and with his wife Jewel, are providing these fine young men a firm love of aviation.  Osiris is a fine winner of this award.  His hustle, cheerful personality and leadership on the line represents the traits we saw in Catherine every day.

The results of the Sailplane Grand Prix were announced.  We had a tie for first place between Hal Woodruff and Robin Clark with second place going to Team 98.  The winner is presented with the John Farrington Memorial Trophy.  John was my crew for many years when I first started racing.  He also crewed for many National Champions in his earlier days.  John was also ground crew for the Race Across America, celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight.  The trophy is typical of John, it depicts an old man smoking a cigarette.  We found it in his garage after he passed away.  We all miss John and we felt this was a great way to honor his many years in soaring.

Kerry finally arrived at the moment we were all waiting for.  Who would win the 2023 Seniors.  For the day 5 winners, Jim Lee finished in third place with a handicapped speed of 54.06mph over the 192 miles.  In second was Bif Huss at 53.20 and winning the day at 53.94mph was Sarah Arnold and Susan Simmons.  If you wonder why Jim received third place, he also earned a 31-point finish penalty.  The separation of first to third today was only .86mph.  You will see the close finish of this Seniors in a minute.

Rick Sheppe was waiting in the wings to hand out the final score sheets until Kerry announced the winners.  As a recap, here are places 10 thru 4 for the contest:

  1. Gary Ittner 4493 points
  2. Hal Woodruff 4513 points
  3. Bob Fletcher 4529 points
  4. Peter Scarpelli 4556 points
  5. Henry Retting 4557 points
  6. Karl Striedieck 4567 points
  7. Joerg Stieber 4582 points

The last days results were tabulated and the spread between the top two places was only 4 points.  Ken Sorenson finished in third place overall with a total score of 4597 points.  Susan Simmons and Sarah Arnold finished in second with 4725 points with Jim Lee winning his second Seniors with a score of 4729 points.  The 31-point finish penalty almost cost him the contest.  If he was 13 feet lower, he would have finished in second place.  An entire 60 glider contest was decided by a margin of 4 points after 5 days of flying.  Thanks Jim and Team Papa for an exciting finish to this year’s contest.

Well, the bills are paid, the RV’s have left the property, and it seems a little quiet around the gliderport.  Wait, the entire Atlanta club just rolled into town for a couple of weeks of good flying at Seminole-Lake Gliderport.  Do not forget, the 20 Meter Nationals will be held right after the Seniors in 2024.  Plan to stay and enjoy another contest without a long drive.

Thank you all for joining us at the Seniors and we hope to see you again next year.

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