Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saga '07 Competition flight 2

There are still no results up from this mornings flight and the results from this afternoon will have no effect on the over all results.

The afternoon flight was a fly in to the field with a limited scoring area. The winds were much the same as they are on most afternoon flights, that is from the south and tending more west with height.

As far as I can tell, no one achieved a result! Not long after I took off it became apparent that things were changing and with a large area on the approach path that had to be cleared by 500 ft, all the balloons started spearing off to the east at a much lower altitude than expected.

When I landed it was looking like all the balloons had been caught in the same way and were all going to pass to the south of the field by a long way.

So, rumour is that no one made it in and the only shift for some will be penalties if they still broke any rules - PZ infringement for example.

The highlight of the flight was taking lots of kids for a little flight when we landed. They came from everywhere and we spent about half an hour giving them little rides.

Saga '07 Competition flight 1

Saga Competition flight 1
Wednesday 31st October 2007

Three tasks were called to open the 23rd Pacific Championship this morning in Saga. As predicted the weather was fantastic with a clear sky and light surface winds. All tasks were gravity marker drops.

Task 1 was a Pilot Declared goal, Task 2 was a Fly on and the final task was a Judge Declared Goal.

The total flight distance was about 11.6km and I was in the air for 1.7 hours. The general flight direction was to the south east with most pilots flying around the 800ft mark to give them a direct track to the JDG with the intention of picking up the other two goals on the way in.

I messed up my approach slightly on the PDF and ended up with a high drop resulting in about 42m, not the opening drop I would have liked but from 500 feet and doing 18km/h it was not to bad.

The Fly on was more like what I ordered with a nice slow and low approach for a 3.4m drop. It has got to be worth some points if not very close to the winning result.

The Judge declared goal showed again why Saga winds are famous for messing with pilots heads. Most of the pack ended up struggling for enough left (Northerly) to get down to the final goal. A very light and slow surface wind started to move balloons in the right direction. In setting up to use this breeze I over shot slightly but was still in a good spot for the expected sea breeze effect as the morning went on.

Unfortunately and against my expectations, the breeze turned to more from the North and I ended up sliding off to the side by about 540m and had to watch the majority of the pack drift straight over the goal. I had expected the breeze to some more out of the south east but it was not to be.

So we are off and running, we have some points on the board and it will be a lucky dip to see where the PDG scores. If I get over 300 points for the JDG then I will be surprised.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Saga practice flight

The weather is going to be a boomer this week in Saga!

We just had a great practice flight in typical Saga winds. Light and variable near the surface with good speed up top.

Because our other volunteer crew are not available until tomorrow, we hijacked some spectators from Nagasaki who had come to watch the balloons. I took the guy for a flight from the main launch field then landed after my first practice goal and swapped him for his girlfriend for the next hop.

After another practice goal we landed and they both drove the van while Yosh took over and flew the balloon for half an hour. He had a great time and I think learnt a lot about where he was actually up to in his training.

I gave him a rough flight plan - fly for about half an hour and land anywhere he wanted to that was safe and not crop. It was a solo flight without actually being solo. As the morning went on we edged closer and closer to the sea and his stress levels started to climb as the light and variable winds messed with his approaches.

In the end I took over for the landing as we were starting to run out of options and I really needed the balloon for the coming week :)

Anyhow, we are all ready to compete. Master briefing is this afternoon then it is game on.

Japanese efficiency

Some quick observations from a far away land.

Japanese efficiency is not what it used to be. Even the land of the rising sun is being shackled and tamed by bureaucracy.

To anyone who has visited Japan before would be aware that they are in some ways the masters of procedure, rubber stamps and ten people doing the work of one. I honestly feel that only in India have they been surpassed in these areas. The great thing has however been that the Japanese were kept in check by a sense of honor and duty, a need to please and at the end of the day, actually make stuff happen rather than hinder it. The red tape was a mask that was always politely removed when it became obvious it was actually a problem.

It seems that unless a miracle happens in the morning, the red tape is fixed in place for the moment on one subject. Unfortunately it is one close to my heart at this minute and that is fuel tanks.

The powers to be have ruled that only Japanese manufactured and approved tanks can be filled. For me this would have been very handy to know about last week as I have now freighted three tanks of exactly the right size and capacity for my little basket to Japan only to be told I can't use them.

This is compounded by the fact that the Japanese tanks are crap. They are too small and I don't like the valve configuration. To get the same amount of fuel in my basket I will need to carry five of the little buggers and that is just physically impossible. Sigh....

So fingers crossed that after tomorrows practice flight I will know how long my duration will be with these tanks and more importantly, enough people will have problems that it is sorted out as it always would have been in the good old Japan that I have come to love over the years.

Other than that, I am here, my gear is here, my crew Yosh is here and the forecast is looking good for a week of flying.

Oh bugger...this post will now be out of date because the free Internet seems to be down at the competition HQ.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back from outa space

Looks like I have been a bit slack with this old blog here but the good news is I am still alive and the adventure continues.

It is that time of year again and time to head over to Japan for a bit of competition ballooning. Just for a change I am attending Saga for the pacific championship and then Motegi for the Tochigi Championship.

It will be an interesting year for two reasons. Firstly it is the year after the World Championship was held in Motegi and secondly, for Motegi at least, it will be the organising committees fist year without Masashi running the show at all.

I am left with mixed feelings about the whole thing. Had Masashi not passed away last year I may have been tempted to have a year off and put all my focus on the 2008 Worlds in Austria. These trips to Japan are expensive in time as much as anything but they do provide the only training at this level available to me. With the effort of Masahi's team in Motegi over the years, I feel it is critical to support the event and in particular show Honda that their continued support of ballooning is appreciated.

So, the end result is that I am going, I am excited and I plan to win (as always...)

My balloon is already on it's way and with some luck will be waiting for me at Fukuoka on Monday morning. My good friend Yosh will be meeting me at the airport so we can go and clear it from Customs first thing in the morning.

In other life matters since my last post, a quick update on what has been going on...

I have been going nuts with my Ceroc dancing. Not that I am a competitive bastard but I ended up doing the Ceroc Championships a few weeks back. I entered in two events, Dance with a stranger and Girls Blindfold. It was great fun! In DWAS you have no idea about the music or who you are dancing with. Every 40 seconds or so you swap dance partners and keep on dancing. The whole idea is to freestyle your way through the songs as smoothly as you can while making the most of the music and your partner.

There were two rounds of heats to get the 35+ couples down to the 6 finalists (6 guys and 6 girls that is). I made it through to the final but that was it. Still, I was very happy having never participated in a dance champs before and not really being prepared as I would have like to have been.

The girls blindfold was good fun and my dance partner Charlie and I only had a few weeks to prepare after deciding to do it. This was a little different in that you at least knew who you were dancing with and could set up some moves but you still have no idea about the music and just have to interpret it on the night. The catch is that the girl has a blindfold on so it is all about you ability to lead the girl and for the girl, her ability to follow. This is bit of a fun event and we didn't make the final but again had a hell of a lot of fun.

The next big thing is Kite Surfing. Thanks to a mate from dancing, I have been learning to Kite Surf and have just bought my first rig. Having done just about every sport with a board on my feet, I have got up to speed reasonably fast over two weekends of learning and am able to get up and going with few problems. Now I just need to finesse the kite control and practice, practice, practice. Having my own kite will help too because I won't be so worried about trashing it.

So that is it for now. I will try and get some links happening for the balloon events and will probably next talk from Singapore Airport....which reminds me!

My trip to Japan is with Singapore Airlines and is via Singapore. I am not sure about the flight out of Sydney but I know the return flight will be on the new Airbus A380. That is very cool as they only just did the first ever commercial flight with the A380 today.

Singapore/Sydney is the first route for this massive and new aircraft. As an aviation buff it would be a bit like getting onto a 747 within the first week of it entering service back in January 1970.