ALBERT LEA, Minn. — Dick Andrews and Barry Jaeger had competed against each other for years in glider plane competitions. This year, they decided to combine their efforts. It was a good move.
The duo won the national championship trophy for 20-meter, two-seater glider planes from the Soaring Society of America at a competition held May 12-18 in Albert Lea, Minn.
“This was totally a surprise,” said Andrews, a retired family physician from Hastings. “We thought we could do well, but to come out first place in a national competition is really exciting. We haven’t stopped talking about it for five days.”
Jaeger, who owns Jaeger Construction in Mendota Heights and lives in Inver Grove Heights, said teaming with Andrews was easy.
“We just clicked,” he said. “We found that we fly very similarly. Our abilities are very similar, and I think that helped us.”
Both pilots have more than 30 years experience in glider planes, and with the competition held in Albert Lea, Jaeger added that being locals may have helped their performance, as well. “We fly the areas we were competing in.”
Andrews’ homebase is Stanton Airfield in Goodhue County; Jaeger typically flies out of Faribault.
Rules of the air race
The division they competed in is 20-meter — meaning the wing span is 66 feet from tip to tip — with two pilots in the cockpit.
“The two-seaters are becoming more popular on the racing scene because you have two heads, two sets of eyes for safety,” Andrews said. “There are dual controls, front and back. Whoever is on the controls is responsible for the flying, whereas the person who is not flying is the strategist, looking at the map. We keep trading back and forth.”
Soaring is a weather-dependent activity. Rain, fog, high winds, or storms can ground pilots and suspend competition.
The national championship event in Albert Lea was scheduled for seven days. Andrews and Jaeger flew on Sunday and Monday, but were grounded on Tuesday. They flew again on Wednesday and Thursday, then more bad weather moved in.
“It is kind of like a baseball game,” Andrews said. “You need so many innings to have a game. We need to have four days of flying to qualify as a national meet. We had four days.”
Officials called a meeting on that Friday to review the weather reports and determined no further flying would be possible. All the pilots agreed, so the scores were tallied. Jaeger and Andrews won.
Though their partnership is new, it wasn’t their first success. Last summer, they decided to attempt a distance record.
“Barry called and asked if I wanted to go flying and try to set a record,” Andrews said. “He suggested that we set a task, declare ahead of time that we are going to go out to a point and come back a total distance of 500 kilometers or 310 miles.”
“No one had done a 500 kilometer return flight yet,” Jaeger said. “It was a really fun flight because we had some nice clouds. When we got to the turnpoint, there was a fire that was clouding in, and we couldn’t get to the turnpoint, because there was smoke that was killing the lift, so we had to go around, kind of sneak in and grab the turnpoint and get out and back into the sun.”
On the return flight, the sky cleared and left very few clouds, making it more of a challenge.
“That’s what shows you where the lift is,” Jaeger said. “We might see a cloud 20 miles away and head for it. We kept finding them, and eventually we made it home.”
That flight qualified as a state record, which is recognized by the Soaring Society of America. Jaeger and Andrews have several other state records, both individually and together.
Spots on the global
The turnpoints for the record flight and for turnpoints in competition are determined by GPS coordinates. The computer in their plane can track the GPS readings, so they know when they reach a turnpoint, and it can record the data so they have proof at the end of a record flight or competition.
Race officials set up various courses for competitors to complete. One type is called an assigned task course in which competitors fly to several turnpoints and return with the fastest around the course being the winner.
Another type of course is called an area task and glider pilots fly to turnpoints designed to resemble a cylinder in the sky. Pilots can fly back and forth to any point in the cylinder during the given time frame.
A third type of course is designed with pilots given two assigned points, then an assortment of other points that they can use in any order they wish as they try to maximize speed throughout a three-hour flight. Officials divide the distance covered by the time to determine the fastest speed and the winner for that course.
“This is very much a thinking man’s game,” Andrews said. “We are sitting and moving the pedals and moving the stick. There is a lot of skill in how you control the aircraft, but it is a lot of thinking, a lot of strategy. We are always reading the sky.”