This article also ran in the June issue of the AAAA Cloudbouncer
The 2005 NMSC/NABA Southwest Regionals, NM State Championships (oh for crying out loud how many names does the New Mexico State Championships need anyway) was met with VERY good weather and 20 anxious pilots ready for action. I crewed for newcomer Keith Takach, my former student, and wanted to see how his training would help him (or hurt him) in his first shot at the big time.
Day one started for Keith at 3:30 a.m. even though his alarm was set for 4:20. His nerves were getting the better of him and we hadn’t even smelled the first whiff of propane in the air yet. The weather throughout the whole three-day event was fantastic. You could not ask for better…especially after last year’s 35 mile per hour freight train flight. Anyone there that day knows what I’m talking about.
When Keith entered the briefing room it was kind of neat to see some of the heavy hitters in the nation gathered in the same room - Joe Heartsill, Nick Donner and Tom Schroeder to name a few. After the brief started he got into the routine of getting all the tasks straight in his head. If something was not clear he had great help from his crew chief Bob Mass. The best move Keith made all weekend was to get Bob to be his crew chief. There was a collective sigh of relief when the participants found out Bob was sitting this year’s event out. Everyone felt they had a snowball’s chance if you know what I mean.
Task one for Saturday was a judge declared goal and pretty easy to get to. Most of the competitors were able to hit this target with ease. Task 2 proved to be a little more difficult. It was also a judge declared goal but the winds did not cooperate and being light as they were there was no good way to get to the target. The best thing to do was figure out the closest intersection to the target, make sure you were farther west than anyone else was and throw. The third task of the day was an angle task in which the competitors attempt to achieve the greatest change in flight direction from a set direction. 180 degrees from that set direction is the best place to be. The winds were so light that you had to use up a huge amount of fuel getting to the second target. You had to make sure you had enough to get up high and turn the balloon around to get that 180 degree mark and throw. Unfortunately this last baggie ended up on a roof. The retrieve for this baggie took a while but was fun to watch from afar. After all was said and done for the day, Keith was in 3rd Place.
Day two promised to be a little more difficult. The competition Director Jim Birk called a three part task. The tasks at hand were a pilot declared goal and two fly-on tasks. Task one involved launching at least 2000 meters away from the pilot declared target. When you have a fly-on task after the pilot declared goal, you pick three targets in your projected flight path and give a provisional coordinate to your observer. You write the three targets you picked on the tail of your marker. When you know which target you want to go for, you can mark off the two you do not want and then off you go into the wild blue yonder and the center of the target, right? Well, add constantly changing wind directions, a fast approaching end to your launch window and you get what I like to call Keith’s chaos. As he was inflating, the winds changed, forcing him to change his plans and coordinates. Doing this on the fly (no pun intended) proves to be a chore. He had to get the provisional coordinate he gave to the observer back and give a new one. When finally in the air, Keith headed to the west but needed to go southeast…dang! I hate it when that happens. He went high looking for the right winds but to no avail. No matter what he did he still basically had a westward push. Because of the direction he was forced to change his thought process on tasks two and three. Unfortunately when he threw his marker for the first target, the coordinates for the second target were not written on the baggie. Long story short…even with the mix-up on task one he still did pretty well but totally blew the second and third targets. For day two the conditions, last minute and in-air changes, and being a rookie really took it’s toll on Keith. To give a great example of experience being the key on a day like this, check out these stats. The number shown is the amount of points awarded for each target.
Pilot Task 1 Task 2 Task 3
Donnor 575 950 975
Heartsill 375 950 925
Takach 625 75 325
The experience of Heartsill and Donner showed up big time with the change in conditions and being able to adapt inbetween the first and second targets. This is in no way a knock on Keith’s abilities as a competitor. He showed during the course of the weekend that if he sticks with competition flying he will be a force to be reckoned with. With all the confusion of the day Keith dropped to 7th overall.
Day three provided excellent weather yet again as Jim Birk tried to make the day’s tasks a little easier. He called two judge declared goals with a limited scoring area of 100 meters. It was a treat to watch everyone come into the first target. Watching the two Lindstrand “footballs” of Donner and Heartsill descend in the target area was incredible. They looked like buoys on the high seas as they were smacked around like punching bags. Of course, they would tell you the distortion the experienced was “slight”. It all paid off as Donner aced the target. Because of limited scoring areas for both targets, not many of the competitors scored on either of them. Of the 20 competitors only 6 scored on the first target and a whopping 3 scored on the second. I guess it wasn’t easy after all. Because Keith scored on both targets he was able to go from 7th to 5th place overall, 4th for the NABA Southwest Regional Championships and 3rd place for the New Mexico State Championships. The weekend was a great success and, for Keith, it was a weekend he will not soon forget. Having a true competitor like Bob Mass at his side was invaluable. Another part of Keith’s rookie success is the fact that he had his son and student pilot, Alan on board the whole weekend helping with the navigation details of each flight. He also had the best crew on the planet. I am proud of what Keith accomplished and I am proud to say I had a part in his training. He is now qualified to compete in the U.S. National Championships next year.
The top five overall for the weekend were as follows:
1. Joe Heartsill TX
2. Mark Sullivan NM
3. Chuck Ludberg NM
4. Nick Donner KY
5. Keith Takach NM