Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flying in Paraglider Competitions - A Primer, Part 4

This is the fourth installment in the series,
"Flying Paragliding Competitions - A Primer"
Please send me any comments and/or requests for info
 that you would like to see included.
Part one may be read HERE

Large Competitions
The primary differences, between Large Competitions and those held regionally, are those of scale.  The flying venues are sites that can accommodate many pilots at launch, and any gathering of pilots will see over 100 in the room rather than the 20-30 at League events.  For this reason you will find more organization to the administrative side of larger comps.  At the top of the pyramid is the Competition Director (CD).  The CD has the responsibility to deal with any issues that come up during the competition.  To take some of the load off the CD, committees are formed with committee members chosen from the pilot group.  Usually the committees are the Task committee, Protest committee, and Safety committee.  Each of these committees consist of appointed pilots who have XC experience in the area and the respect of their fellow pilots.

The Task committee:  The goal of the Task committee is to use the day’s forecast to produce a task that is challenging, possible by a percentage of the field, and safe.

The Protest committee:  Fields protests regarding all issues regarding procedures, scoring, penalties, and misconduct.  Protests are relatively rare and not considered by the committee unless a timely, written protest is filed and a protest fee (determined prior to the first task) is paid.  The fee is only returned if the protest is ruled in favor of the protestor.

The Safety committee: Input from members of the Safety committee is considered by the CD in making decisions regarding launch safety, safety on course, and important decisions regarding flying the task vs. cancelling or stopping the task.

Don’t be intimidated by the size of the field or the quality of the pilots and their exotic wings.   The higher the quality of the field, the more learning opportunities there will be for you.

For you, the differences will be seen in the following instances:

  • The websites for larger comps are less oriented towards the ‘new’ pilot.  If you desire information about the flying venue, you will have to do the exploration using Google Earth or similar map program.
  • The waypoint files will be loaded into your GPS units at the competition briefing by the scorer.  It will also include your pilot number as a unique waypoint in the unit.  You can make the scorer’s job easier by clearing all routes and waypoints from your instruments prior to arrival at the scorer’s table.  If you have an ‘exotic’ GPS unit, I would recommend that you bring the cable for the unit with you, in case the scorer does not have a cable for your unit.  If it is new and exotic, you might send an email to the Competition Director asking if your instrument will be supported.  
  • It is essential that your NAME and PILOT NUMBER are visible on the flight instrument case.
  • The Competition Director will hold a mandatory Pilot Meeting the evening before the competition begins.  Bring your Instruments and notepad to this meeting.   You will be checked in and given some type of bag-tag or card with your pilot #.  It will also include phone #s for the competition staff and emergency contacts. 
  • Transportation to the launch site is usually provided and the cost is included in the entrance fee.
  • Retrieves are usually included in the entrance fee.
  • All of the caveats relating to “Good Form” still apply.
  • As a new guy though, try to find a helpful pilot with some experience to answer your questions.  In the US, a great first ‘BIG’ competition is the “Rat Race” put on by the Haley’s in Ruch, Oregon.  They have a well developed Mentor Program that is designed to help novice XC competition pilots participate safely.  
  • Usually a big comp. will have a Launch Window based upon your standing in the competition.  For example; The meet director may announce that Launch Opens at 12:30PM with Ranked Launch beginning at 1PM.  For you this means that you will have the opportunity to launch early, without restriction, until 1PM.  After 1PM your ranking in the comp will allow all pilots with a higher ranked score to pass you in the queue.  The possibility of being stuck in the queue is quite high for a low ranked pilot, after Ranked Launch begins.  
  • To ensure that the meet director knows who is flying, you are required to check in when ready to launch.  This safety precaution is imperative to guarantee that all pilots are accounted for at the end of the day.
  • It is absolutely essential that you check in at the end of your day to notify the Competition Director that you are down and safe.  Even if you bomb-out and end your day in the LZ, 20 minutes before the start of the race, you MUST check in and submit your track at the end of the day. There is always somebody who forgets this and causes grief for the CD - Don't be this guy.
  • Some competitions,  because the logistics allow for easy transport from the LZ to launch, will allow a “RELAUNCH”.  This option may have specific times and rules associated with it.  Have a plan if you are in danger of landing in the LZ.  Sometimes it is advantageous to land rather than miss the relaunch shuttle because you tried to pull off a low save in vain.

Wind Tech
Large Competitions often offer the option of serving as a ‘Wind Tech’ to pilots who are unsure whether they want to participate in the competition but would like to fly during the event.  If you are tempted to participate at that level, it is a good way to get a taste of the event.  There are certainly positive and negative aspects to flying as a Wind Tech, depending on your goals –

Positive Aspects of being a Wind Tech

  • You are not required to enter the competition to act as a wind tech.  This saves you the cost of entry and is an option if you can only participate in a few days of the scheduled competition.
  • You will see the workings of the competition and how your fellow pilots prepare.
  • You will have the chance to fly with the competition pilots prior to the start of the task.  
  • Your flying will not have the perceived pressure of competition, but you will gain some experience just by attending and flying the event site.
  • You may have the option of flying on course (if allowed by the Competition Director)

Negative Aspects of being a Wind Tech
  • You will not be scored and, generally, not allowed to fly the course. You are looking at the event from the outside in.  This may have you gleaning less experiential value than if you were to actually fly the competition.
  • Your flying is “at the pleasure” Competition Director. 
  • You will be told when to launch. It will be timed well before Launch Opens and timed so that the air can be sampled for start planning and safety considerations.
  • You may not qualify for a free retrieve. 

Good Form as a Wind Tech
Remember that your flying is allowed so you can be of service to the competition by demonstrating and reporting the type of day it is.  Both the competition pilots and Competition Director will be using your flight, and those of other Wind Techs, to gauge the wind, and the quality of the day.

Remember that a request by CD to launch is just that – a request.  YOU must determine the safety of your launch.  Consider the conditions and your experience when deciding to fly. I’ve seen wind techs launch in conditions that many of the comp pilots were uncomfortable with.  Safety is an acceptable reason to refuse a request to launch from the CD.

Remember that the participants all paid an entrance fee to fly in the event.  Fly in a way that is helpful and uncompetitive.  You should always consider the comp pilots when they are looking for seats in the van to launch, in your thermal, or jockeying for position for the start.  I’d say that 5 to 10  minutes before the start a wind tech should not hinder any other pilots.  Don’t expect to fly the task and don’t turn in your GPS for scoring.

More to come -

Part 5 is HERE


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