The 2014 SSA Convention

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The annual SSA convention in Reno (Feb. 27 to Mar. 2) was well attended, including by a large contingent of Northwest pilots. It was a time to find out what is new and get motivated for the coming season. As usual there were a lot of interesting talks and interesting contacts, even if there was not too much technical news.

So here are some personal impressions:


There was the now standard awareness raising safety stand-down where a wide range of safety concerns and remedies were discussed. There are still too many stall/ spin accidents and we average about 6 gliding related fatalities annually. While there are some technical improvements (LED strobes for vertical tail leading edge, new cockpit design rules for 9g forward impact loads instead of 6g, wider acceptance of Piggot hooks to prevent accidental spoiler deployment, wider use of FLARM, and use of Condor as a safety training tool) the main reason for accidents is poor airmanship (lack of relevant currency, age related reduction of skills, overconfidence, risky or downright stupid decisions).

Special flight reports

Jim Payne (the featured banquet speaker) talked about the Joy of Soaring from his record setting career starting with his first 1-26 record to his last season in the Andes, which assured him the OLC championships 2014 in distance and speed (including his 2,700 km flight on Dec.29; for good measure he added another 2000 km flight out of Minden 2 days after the convention). By the last count he has set a total of 75 world and national records.

Gordon Boettger gave an exciting review of his 744 miles/ 1197 km flight on Feb. 17 from Minden to Caspar WY, a downwind dash from one wave system to the next (thanks to Kempton Izuno, who gave up his time slot and his talk about dual XC soaring)

Mark Stucky talked about his remarkable career from flying hang gliders to becoming chief project pilot for WhiteKnight Two and SpaceShip Two at Scaled Composites, and getting ready to train Virgin Galactic line pilots (as well as being aero-towed in an F-106 behind a C-141 and flying an amazing variety of other vehicles from gliders to helicopters to the Phantom, U-2 and SR-71).

Sailplane developments

There were no really new designs shown or described.

Windward Performance (WP) showed the first Sparrowhawk 13.5, more of a Duckhawk with cut back wing tips and winglets (a first for WP); it featured a ballistic recovery chute.

Michael Greiner explained the design of the new 20 m ASG-32 (which has yet to fly), Schleicher's entry into the new 20 m 2-seat class.

Jonkers showed the 21 m JS-1C with a retractable jet engine (as a sustainer).

The 2-seat TeST Bonus was exhibited with a retractable jet engine, that left enough room for a ballistic recovery chute.

The HP-24 is now in production as a kit built sailplane with an 18 m span option.

And there were several small jet engines displayed (and installed) which seem to have a future in soaring as sustainer engines.

Club development

Dick Van Grunsven and Michael Bamberg from the Willamette Valley Soaring Club gave an interesting talk about the revitalization and growth of their club through promoting XC soaring. That included most instructors being active XC pilots, encouraging XC soaring with no time limit on club ships for pilots to explore XC soaring, organizing safaris to places like Ephrata, Alvord and Siskyou, and last not least, Dick's example of up to 60 XC flights annually over the last 2 decades to kill the notion "You can't do XC soaring in Western Oregon" (any relevance to ES?).

Tow Plane insurance

Once more, Pat Costello affirmed that their tow plane insurance covers takeoffs from off-field sites.