Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winds of Change

It's the off-season in the Northern Hemisphere and there is a noticeable shift in the winds.  This competition season will be interesting at worst and exciting at best - There are many changes coming this year.

CIVL Plenary 2011
Our Sport is evolving.  As always, change brings with it some insecurity and controversy.  What are the unintended consequences of good-intentioned rules and regulation?   The PMA, DHV, and BHPA all are proposing changes to the rules at CAT 1 competitions that would restrict the use of prototypes and/or uncertified wings.  The logic is that there are meaningful minimum safety certifications required for harnesses, helmets, and reserve parachutes - How can we possibly exempt the wings from all but the minimum inspections while saying that we are trying to increase safety?  And I must say, I agree with this logic. . . although I do worry about unintended consequences . . .

It's important to ask questions to define and weigh a couple of the goals of our competitions -
  • Are we striving to provide a venue that allows for a competition that is pure competition between pilots, with an acceptable intrinsic margin of safety guaranteed by specified, restricted, equipment ( as in a Serial Class Only, One Design, etc.) or,
  • Are we striving to provide a venue that is a proving ground for new technology that may help the sport by providing better performance and safety through better design?
Until now, our relatively immature sport has been trying (fairly successfully) to include both of the above goals in our competitions.  These goals are now being found (by some) to be mutually exclusive, however.

I want to see our equipment evolve further.  It's very exciting to see the performance and handling of the modern wings improve year-over-year.  But does the inclusion of these wings in ALL competitions satisfy the first goal?  These are only a couple of the issues - 

For more discussion, with top-ranked pilots from all over the world, view this post on the PG Forum.  

I think we will, eventually, see some restrictions in equipment in all competitions except the PWC (the PG equivalent of Formula One).    I know this option has idealistic roots and may not be feasible in a market as small as this sport; but I truly believe this route is best for the sport.

Other News -

The Rat Race  June19th-25th will actually be two competitions in one.  There will be a "SPRINT" version for newer pilots, those on lower performance wings, and those who just don't like flying for more than 3 hours.  The tasks will be structured so as to have the two fields occupying the same air, along their separate courses, while the sprint task will be shorter and less into wind.  I think the enjoyment level for many of the newer pilots will go up since getting to goal provides a smile.  I like the idea of this format and hope it is successful in reality.

As always, the Rat Race will have a mentoring program that is geared to help those who are new to the sport.

Held in Hearn Texas, the Lone Star Nats  Aug. 14th-20th is breaking new ground for paragliding in the US.  It will be a tow competition - Every pilot will be towed up to altitude, prior to the start, by one of the many tow-rigs.  This is being met with some resistance because everyone who's towed has a memory of one fiasco or another - often involving panic, long delays, or just frustration.  The thought of having 8 to 12 winches towing up 60-100 pilots, in the hot sun, has many of us thinking that the hardest hurdle in the comp will simply be getting into the air.

But I'm an optimist.  I'm hoping to be able to make it to this comp because, if it's successful it will open the doors for a whole new type of competition and thousands of miles of unexplored XC territory.  I'm actually pulling for Dave Prentice and his crew.  They know they're under the gun and they appear to be working hard to provide a safe and efficient operation.

It's going to be interesting - But why shouldn't it be?  It's Paragliding!

Fly Safe - Tim

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