Friday – Contestants were advised the weather was going to delay the message drop event which is the most exciting and fun event of the competition. We met at the hangar at 10am but thunderstorms surrounded the field. Still, there was a lull where the judges felt we could complete one round - about 90 flights. We pushed the planes into position. But before we could launch, the judges wisely changed their minds and delayed due to cells moving in our direction faster than anticipated. You could feel the booms in the distance and see the lightning working it’s way towards the airport with intermittent ground strikes illuminating the darkening sky.
We returned the airplanes to the line and tied them down tight. One line of t-storms passed by, then another. A new, more threatening line formed just west of Terre Haute. It contained severe thunderstorm warnings and a TORNADO warning. We were lucky enough to be able to hangar our SDCC planes in case of hail – but thankfully it was unnecessary. But the rain poured out of the sky unlike anything we see in SoCal.
As quickly as they come, they move away. Sun appeared at 5pm and we launched one round of message drop planes. If we get no further flying in Saturday, we can call the competition complete. Kyle Mayhugh and Jenna Sims flew in the first heat. Although they had a good drop for headwind, they missed on the crosswind by 200 feet. Closest to the target and probable winner was a 5-foot drop by one school. Message drop is flown at 200 feet and 100mph over the targets. Pilot and dropmaster must figure out the wind drift and drop their box upwind, on line with the wind and allow the drift to take it back on target. Since you can’t see the wind, it is particularly difficult if you are in the first heat because you have no time to discuss results from other teams and make adjustments.
We ended the day somewhat wet and a little discouraged, but pleased that Jenna was able to fly – since, as a “Penguin” - she is not a rated pilot yet and is only eligible to fly as a dropmaster in the message drop event.
The team then headed off to Rose-Hulman college for showers. We met Mathew Belden’s father Paul at Ichiban Japanese restaurant for dinner. Mr. Belden generously treated the team to an excellent hibachi-style dinner. To relax, they then went to the Robin Hood movie with the team from San Jose State University.
Thursday evening our team met with members of LeTourneau University and Liberty University for prayer and fellowship. I attended the President’s Reception but joined the prayer session in progress. It was rejuvenating to see all the competitors sharing bible verses, having fun, telling jokes and just enjoying the fellowship. It has now become a tradition to get together with our Christian colleagues during the week of competition.
Saturday is also forecast to be overcast and rainy, but with ceilings high enough to attempt more message drop rounds. Teams will meet at 9am and try for 2 more rounds before the cut-off at noon. The afternoon will include business meetings and scoring by the judges for the awards banquet Saturday night at Indiana State University.
Our plan is to leave Sunday for Metropolis Illinois, do our planning for flying back West, and depart early Monday for San Diego. If all goes well, we should be home late Tuesday. Please pray for mechanical integrity for the airplanes, for good weather, light winds and a safe flight.