Saturday, March 27, 2010

Flying in Paraglider Competitions - A Primer, Part 3

This is the third installment in the series, 
"Flying Paragliding Competitions - A Primer" 
I've reposted to correct some formatting errors.  Part one may be read HERE
3. What to Expect at the Competition
Much of the anxiety you may feel, when attending your first few events, is caused by the fact that, “you just don’t know, how much you don’t know.”  This chapter gives you a look at what to expect during a competition and what’s expected of you.  Because many new XC pilots participate in weekend league meets, this type of event will be discussed first.

Weekend League Events
League events differ from larger competitions in that the number of participants is smaller and, even though they are more informal, your workload will be a bit higher to ensure that you are properly prepared for the event, logistically.

The league will have a website that is used to disseminate information, distribute waypoint files, and list pilot rosters.  You would do well to explore all areas of the website before attending your first weekend comp.  An example of excellent use of this medium is the Northern California XC League site.  You are provided with waypoint files and topographical maps, as well as Google Earth .KML files with points of information (lift sources, LZs, cautions, etc.)  Take the time to do your online registration and waiver, if this is an option.  Get as much done before the event as possible so you can concentrate on the task.

A lot of work goes into a site like that listed above – don’t be the guy who shows up at the last minute without the waypoints loaded, without maps, and without a clue.  Do your homework so you can get to the flying without being a distraction for other pilots.  Show up at the designated meeting place ON TIME.  When 25-30 pilots get together and wait for stragglers it has a tendency to blow the day, so we don’t wait.  If you are left behind, it creates logistic problems with your vehicle being stuck at launch, etc.  Be on time.

There are usually no dedicated retrieve drivers at League meets.  The system works because one or more pilots bomb out or land early in the task.  They get back to their cars early in the day and start retrieving others.  It is good form (and the only way a system like this works) for those pilots to do some early retrieve duty.  While on the subject of good form – when you are retrieved by someone, consider their time and fuel.  Compensate them reasonably and next time they will not hesitate before again driving into the boonies to pick you up.  Most big trucks get around 5 miles/buck (at $3.00/gal.) so a 50 mile drive to pick your butt up is at least a $10 ride.  Be generous and humble when recounting your epic flight to the guy who landed in the LZ two hours ago –
When you get back to your car, don’t drink that 2nd beer until you are sure that YOUR services are not needed to retrieve someone else.  GOOD FORM is important ;-)

OK, you have arrived at launch and you begin getting the lay of the land.  Find out when the site intro will be conducted.  Sort your gear and have it ready to go.  Eat something (you did bring a sandwich didn’t you?) and drink water.   Lurk, introduce yourself, learn who’s been here and get as much local beta as you can.  You are basically killing time until the pilot meeting.  Use this time wisely, and your day will be more relaxed and successful.

Pilot Meeting
At league meets the Pilot Meeting is very important.  All information, considered important enough to pass along to all pilots, will be discussed.  Don’t get yourself stuck next to a guy who wants to chat.  Bring a pen, paper, and your flight instruments and map to the briefing.  Information regarding rules, no-land fields, and safety will be discussed.  Information such as phone numbers and email addresses will be provided, which may become very important.

A ‘buddy system’ may be used to organize groups who keep an eye on each other at the end of the day.  Pilots with similar experience and performance, in groups of 3-5, will make sure all members of their buddy-group are down safe and accounted for with each other, and the meet director.

Task Briefing
Once all the administrative information has been covered, the Task Briefing will be done.  I recommend writing down the task on a piece of paper, or even better, a bit of tape on the blank spot of your GPS.  By writing down the task you aren’t distracted by the effort to input it into your GPS in a rush, and it is available for reference during the flight.  It is important to note the turnpoint cylinder diameters and start cylinder parameters on this task sheet.  Times, such as LAUNCH OPEN, LAUNCH CLOSE, START OPEN, START CLOSE, GOAL CLOSE, and REPORT BY TIMES are sometimes enforced.  Any frequencies and/or Phone #s given during the pilot meeting should be noted in your notes.   A weather briefing will be done.  Pay particular attention to afternoon valley winds and hazardous overdevelopment forecasts.  Once the pilot meeting is over you are free to input the route into your GPS.  If you have questions about the procedure, be considerate by NOT interrupting other pilots until they have completed their route setup.  Here’s my informal checklist for inputting and verifying a competition route:

1. Input all waypoints.
2. Verify the number of waypoints and total distance of the task are correct.
3. Verify (and input, if a GPS feature) all cylinder diameters.
4. Set up the start (If a GPS feature) and verify start diameter, EXIT or ENTRY START, and start time.
5. Activate route (if required).
6. Verify countdown timer (if GPS feature) is correct.

When you are satisfied that your electronics are set up you should verify the following, one last time:
1. Track log cleared.
2. Variometer audio ON.

Launch Queue Etiquette
Let’s talk a bit more about ‘good form.’  It’s often hot at the launch, and standing in the launch queue in full regalia isn’t comfortable.  It is, however, very bad form to get in the queue when not fully ready to launch.  You should have all harness buckles checked & double checked, gloves and helmet on and be ready to go.  I recommend launching early, but this is simply technique.  I figure that if indications are that it is possible to stay up, and conditions are favorable, it makes sense to get in the air before it blows out or the queue gets long.

Launching 30 to 45 minutes before the start allows you to launch before the majority of participants crowd the launch queue.  It also allows you to explore a bit and get a feel for the top-of-climb, wind, and develop a map of the start cylinder, so you can formulate a tactical plan for the start.

When new to comps, the launch can be a bit intimidating.  Launch only when you are ready and the cycles are right.  If you are lined up 2 or 3 abreast, announce your launch when about to pull-up.  DON’T get in a hurry and rush the launch.   If you don’t like the conditions at launch, there is no shame in stepping out of the queue.  Remember Rule #1  - Don’t make decisions that you wouldn’t make while free flying.   Your safety is your responsibility.

More to come -
Part four is HERE



Anonymous said...

Great info here Tim. Thanks for the time investment in sharing the info you have collected over the years flying comps. Can't wait for the next NCXC meet.


happyidiot said...

... helpful and interesting ... when completed would make a great manual for newbies everywhere.

You might want to mention or emphasize something about radio and reserve checks. Just a thought ... but great write-up ... thanks ... its making me think I just might try this out.

Santa Barbara

Tim said...

Thanks for your comments guys -
I'll add the bits about radio cks and reserve cks to the final edit.