Weather is always a driving factor of any contest. And this years NATS the weather really did have the drivers seat. More on this as this article goes on.
In the days leading up to the NATS there was heavy wind. Mid to upper teens for wind speed. I was told very few patterns were flown before hand. In past years, many contestants would arrive early to get some practice in on site. Those who did this year were greeted with lots of wind making practice very difficult.
Since I am sort of considered a local since I am only about 3 ½ hours away, I came in on Monday arriving about the time the appearance point judging was supposed to start. In past years a few contestants would arrive early and as the cut off time became closer more and more late comers would arrive. This year almost everyone was there for the opening bell as it were. I showed up about fifteen minutes after the bell which is plenty early only to find a long line already. We were at the pavilion again this year for appearance point judging. These things have to be set up months in advance and while Covid infections are way way down here in Indiana, several months ago it was not. So the decision was again made at that time to have the appearance point judging outside to error on the side of caution. Now last year we got lucky and had minimal winds so we were able to set the planes in the traditional rows according to your score in a nearby field. However were were not so lucky this year. We had around 20 mph winds at the time of appearance judging. At first I was wondering why this year was different and everyone showed up early but then it dawned on me. Nobody could practice so they might as well head over to the appearance point judging. We had to weigh our planes first. This was set up in the trailer where the tabulation normally takes place. This was to shield the planes and scales from the wind to get an accurate weight of each of the planes. The pilots then had to take their planes and get in line to present their planes to the judges. If you were at the end of the line you had at least an hour to wait. And trying to hold your plane in 20 mph winds for an hour was quite tiring. I know.
After we presented our planes to the judges for the score we were then instructed to put them away in our cars for safe keeping. Normally we would put them in rows and then judge for the Concour’s award. However we could not do that at the time so it was decided to post pone until Tuesday when OTS, classic and nostalgia 30 were completed and the wind speed was predicted to be more favorable. Pilots were asked to bring them back out to the field and the Concours walk could then begin.
Once all the planes were judged, David Trible, the event director this year, started the pilots meeting. Michelle Lee was the assistant and Mark Overmier was again the head judge. We had the meeting under a tent next to the pavilion. During the meeting however we did have to take a short recess. You see the “little blue rooms” as I like to call them (porta potties) happened to be up wind from where we were sitting. Now as long as nothing was disturbed it was not a problem. However a truck came by because it was time to “flush”. OK, now things got disturbed more than just a bit and being down wind was not a pleasant place to be. So a recess was called until the flushing process was completed. Once the flushing was completed the meeting was finished and we broke for supper. I saw later a few hearty fliers came out later when the wind ‘calmed down” a bit to put in a few practice flights. But I don’t think there was many.
The next day, Tuesday, we had OTS, Classic and Nostalgia 30 down on the grass circles. On the L pad it was practice for the others. The day started off in the mid 50’s for temperatures. Slightly cool for us local people but for those who are used to warmer climates it was down right cold. You could easily tell who was from warmer climates and who were not. The warmer climate pilots were really bundled up and shivering. Us locals? Oh well. We locals and more northern located pilots did have some fun giving some good natured ribbing to all those who were bundled up big time.
As the day went on, the temps did warm up to normal Tee shirt weather for this time of year so the jackets etc. were discarded as time went on. The winds started out quite nice. Just a slight breeze. Very pleasant to fly in. As the day went on the wind did pick up more and more. Towards the end of the Classic and Nostalgia 30 the winds were starting to pick up making things a little bit more interesting when flying. Nothing really dangerous but certainly enough to keep the pilots on their toes.
One of the highlights for me was what some of the pilots used for pilots in their planes. One had Bugs Bunny, another Lady and the Tramp, still another had Miss Piggy (the pilot, not the plane). Those were really comical and I got a good laugh from them.
In the end, Joe Gilbert won Classic with Mike Scmidt taking Nostalgia 30. Once those were completed OTS started up early afternoon. By this time the wind was picking up more and more. Still flyable but you had to be on your toes even more. At the end of that competition, Joe Gilbert came out on top of the OTS competition.
It was then time to head back to the pavilion so we could display our planes for the Concours award. When the ballots were counted, Todd Lee’s plane was voted the best out of all the planes for his newest Mustang done up in a striking red, white and blue paint scheme. Well done Todd.
It was again time to break for chow and either rest from being outside all day long or try and get in a few practice flights for Wednesday’s qualifying flights.
Wednesday again greeted contestants with even slightly cooler temperatures than the day before and light winds. Competition got off to a slightly slower start because of a snafu that had to be remedied. It affected flight order so it had to be done first. Once that was accomplished the competition could begin. As the day went on the winds did pick up a little bit more. Still nothing really bad at this time. Things were progressing normally until the weather forecast came in for the end of the week. The weather guessers were predicting over 4 inches of rain on Friday and Saturday with high high winds. An all day event for two days. It was also predicted some heavy flooding. Not something you want to get caught in. It was recommended by the AMA that if possible, try and shorten the week. The really tough decision was then made to instead of take the best flight from Wednesday and the best flight from Thursday and add them together to get the top 20 on Friday to take the best of the two flights on Wednesday to determine the top 20 on Thursday morning and then run the top 5 Thursday afternoon. I know this was controversial with some. Some would say to stick it out and hope. However, there is also some safety involved and if it did happen as predicted it would be a complete wash out and nowhere or time to finish up. Either way it was a very hard decision. All the Event Director can do at that time is make the best decision he can and go whit it. And he did.
On Thursday, we again had cool weather to start out with but not as cool as the previous days. Jackets were shed earlier than the previous two days. The winds started out around 8 mph my guess. During the morning they actually went down for a little bit but then picked up and kept picking up as the day went on. By the end of the top 20 it was easily 10 to 15 mph winds. I would say when the dust settled but with the wind, that was not going to happen, so I will just say when the top 20 was over the top five in Open were Joe Daly, Joe Gilbert (both first time top 5), David Fitzgerald, Paul Walker and Orestes Hernandez.
The winner of the Advanced by a half a point was Mike Schmidt. Many of you may not know but for the last few years it seems Mike has gotten 2nd place. Always a brides maid but never a bride as it were. And after his first flight I heard him mention it looks like another 2nd place for him. Well, he finally pulled out the win in Advanced. And the smile on his face was bigger than ear to ear. And I don’t think it went away the rest of the day. I would not be surprised if he went to sleep with it on him. Congratulations and this shows to never give up on your dreams. Keep hanging in there and work at it.
Top 5 started early afternoon. By that time the wind was starting to really pick up. At the corner of circle three someone had set up a pole with a streamer on it. The pole was set in a fairly large bucket of concrete. It fell over twice. After the second time, it was decided to just leave it since it was not going to stay up. Beside it was quite obvious which way the wind was blowing. The top 5, Jr and Sr fliers were going to have their hands full.
As it turns out we only had one Jr flier, Gabriel Alimov. He just did a simple wing over and landed. This made his competition official. The Sr had two, Luca Alimov and Steven Daly. Luca went first and completed the pattern. Unfortunately Steven lost his plane during the flight. He was really going for it. Unfortunately he pulled too sharply in the overhead eight in the wind causing the lines to go slack. This in turn caused the plane to turn downward and go straight in under full power. Nothing left. I am not sure if you can even salvage the controls. Everyone felt for Steven. Since Luca no longer had any competition and his first flight beat Steven’s he decided to call it quits as well because of the wind.
The top five was then going on in the other circle. And these guys were putting on a show in the wind. By the end of the top 5 we were getting consistent 18 mph winds gusting into the mid 20’s. The cut off is a constant 20 mph wind. What helped most likely was the consistent part of the wind. It was easier to judge and anticipate that over gusting winds that take pilots by surprise. Joe Gilbert put on his dancing shoes and moved around a lot during his flights. This was to give and take away energy from the plane during flights to help with wind up in some cases and get better penetration in others. Joe Daly had an unfortunate happening when his motor quit on him during the over head eights. Fortunately he did not have the same ending as his son did. He was able to bring the plane down and at least get it on the ground. However when he did land the wind got under his tail and then promptly picked it up putting the plane on its nose. Then a gust did come along and flip it all the way over knocking off the rudder. He was able to super glue the rudder back on and continue on with the competition.
In the end, Orestes Hernandez beat Paul Walker by less that a point. Next came David Fitzgerald, Joe Gilbert and Joe Daly. This was a hard fought battle not only between competitors but also with the wind. I am sure the top 5 guys were exhausted by the end of the day.
On a fun side note. It was also Joe and Coleen Gilbert’s wedding anniversary. It was later found out that it was also Rick and Sara Huff’s anniversary as well. And to top it off, not only were they married on the say day, they were also married on the same year as well. Both 43 years ago! Congratulations to both couples!
It was also a good day for anniversary couples and not just in the marriage part of things. Obviously Joe Gilbert for making the top 5 for the first time but also Rick Huff who took home the rookie of the year award.
And so the 2021 NATS came to a close. A bit early. I am sad it had to be because I will miss the extra time to spend with friends that I only get to see once a year. It also seems strange to have it so early as well. This was due to an international contest that was to be held during July but it got postponed due to travel restrictions. So all I can do is wait in anticipation for next year. The dates have not been set yet to my knowledge so TBD for next year. I am on pins an needles waiting.
I would like to thank all the volunteers who helped put this on again for us this year. Dave Trible had to make some really tough choices this year. My hat is off to him and his crew for putting on a NATS that was far from ordinary. I will say that Dave is not going to be able to be the Event Director for next year so we are in need of one for next year. If you are by any means thinking of doing so, please contact Dave as soon as you can.
We also cannot do this without our sponsors. I will give a big thank you for supporting this wonderful hobby of ours.
Till next time.