Monday, July 11, 2011

Why the 2011 U.S. National Competitions should be Cancelled

The Red Rocks National Paraglider competition is scheduled to begin on July 24th.  This is the first competition in the U.S. since the FAI / CIVL bombshell on Friday outlawed Competition Class paragliders in CAT 1 competitions and went on to, "Strongly recommend that this ban be followed in future Cat 2 events."

I'd like to explain the logic behind my title statement.   I know many won't agree, and I'd like to hear the reasons my logic is flawed.  This may turn into a long post, but it's not a simple issue.

The Problem:
The latest batch of Competition Class paraglider designs have demonstrated unstable/unrecoverable characteristics following a frontal collapse - this is particularly the case when accelerated.  This may be because of the stiffening structure which can lock the cravate, it may be the higher aspect ratios, or it may be the high speeds of the new designs.  It may be a combination thereof.  At this point the problem is undeniable that these wings feel stable and safe but they have negative tendencies after a normally recoverable collapse.  The attitude that "good pilots don't have a problem flying them" just doesn't work anymore - Many very high quality pilots are tossing their reserves and an undeniable number have died while competing on the world stage.

The Solution:
The manufacturers and their design teams have the talent to address the problem, and will do so when regulations are put into place that require healthy characteristics (as is the case with certified Serial Class gliders).  The market needs to require this also - The FAI has now ruled, with the changes to the Sporting Code, in an effort to motivate market and the manufacturers to fix the problem.  By requiring Certified wings in Cat 1 events and recommending them in Cat 2s (which are the qualifiers for Cat 1s) they are essentially leveling the playing field at a "safer" elevation of level.

Whether you agree with the decision or not, depends on your level of denial.  Make a mental journey outside paragliding for a moment and imagine the Red Bull Air Races allowed any type of aircraft design and a newer, faster, design emerged that was faster and more maneuverable - until it went unstable.  15 pilots bought the new design - they had to, to remain competitive.  The first event produced new records for speed and was even more thrilling.  But as the pilots got comfortable and began pushing the aircraft, things started happening and resulted in the loss of two pilots in one event.  Would the organizers and sponsors just shrug it off as, "Well this is extreme flying and these pilots knew what the risks were."  NO  There would be an inquiry and all flying would stop until a solution was formulated.  The loss of money would be many times the losses seen in our little sport.

Why the U.S. National Events should be Cancelled
Here's my logic path to the my conclusion.
  1. The FAI has outlawed Competition Class wings in Cat 1 comps
  2. Because Cat 2 comps (like the US Nats) are stages where WPRS and NTSS points are earned in order to qualify for Cat 1 comps, the FAI has "strongly recommended" that all Cat 2s also limit the field to Serial Class wings.
  3. A pilot who qualifies for the World Championship team (Cat 1) using a competition class wing in the US Nats will have to fly a different (Serial Class) wing when competing in the Cat 1 event.  This isn't a good measure of the pilot or his 'system' to compete at the worlds. 
  4. If the U.S. Nats go counter to the recommendations of the FAI, the liability to the US Nats organizers, USHPA, and any Sponsors who can be shown to benefit from the flying of the event is quite high. 
  5. If the organizers decided to make it a "Serial Class Competition" in accordance with the FAI recommendation, many of our top pilots would be competing on unfamiliar wings and/or not competing at all, which would allow points to go to lesser pilots and skew the NTSS for the next worlds in 2013.  
  6. This is a decision that puts the meet's fate between a rock and a hard place.  I've found that, when in this position, the conservative decision is usually the best one.  The negative ramifications of another death or multiple incidents are not good for the sport and could be viewed in hind sight as foolhardy.
  7. Therefore the U.S. Nationals, which are scheduled for July 24th, should be cancelled. 

This is not a good outcome.  Pilots have made plans, bought tickets, and contracts have been signed by the organizers. But it pales in severity and financial consequence to the impact the FAI decision had on the 120 World's Championship competitors, who had traveled from all over the world.  The decision makers need to sit back and consider how hard those decisions were to make - knowing that the world was watching and that there would be a serious backlash of emotions and disagreement.  Yet, it was made for the right reasons.

The XC Open Series has now chosen to comply with the FAI recommendation and is only allowing Serial Class competitors.

Admittedly, there may be some unintended consequences following the FAIs ruling.  But it's a step in the right direction and I, for one, am glad that they stepped-up and made the tough call.   The right thing for the U.S. to do is a "stand-down" for the season and allow the system to reset so that when the team selection is made, 2 years from now, no unfairness can be asserted.

Agree?  Disagree?  I've never been higher than the top-20 in the NTSS and wasn't planning to go to the nat's this month.  And I'm not the smartest guy in the room.  I'm open to other viewpoints and will gladly publish those with merit to this site.



Patrick H said...

Good stuff to consider, Tim. Also check out Will Gadd's comment on this subject at:


Alex Gagarin said...

Yeahh! Ban those cheaters!!! What I don't understand is if 2 liners are dangerous why they ban other comp wings, which was ok for decades?

As for the US Nats, they already declare that Comp wings are welcome, which I don't agree. I think they should allow Serial gliders only to comply with FAI. If FAI say that whole paragliding is dangerous and not recommended then yes cancel a meet otherwise just follow the rules.

Its short notice for sure, but how you can guarantee that next year top pilots will come with serial wings?


Will Gadd said...

Interesting Tim.

I think it's important to note that the FAI/CIVL didn't ban all comp gliders, only those gliders who met the "improved" 2011 comp glider standards. There's a list of them if you're curious, all 2011 wings except for a few 2010 wings. Their directive does not effect any other comp gliders. So a Boom 5 is OK, same with a 2010 R 10 that doesn't have the "safer" FAI Cat 1 line set on it, etc. If that sounds crazy to you you're right, this whole thing is nuts to me. It's going to take a while to figure this new mess out for sure.

Tim said...

Thanks Will - It's a mess. FAI outlaws the old gear by only allowing the "certified" Comp Glider list. And now the old stuff isn't banned?

I'm thinking of leasing my Avax XC3 out for the season. Good luck with the Canadian Nats - I'm assuming all comers will be allowed?


Unknown said...

excellent points Tim - well thought out. I really enjoy competition and hope that we can find a better balance between safety and performance. I have heard a number of arguments that it comes down to pilot error and if one compares the safety of PWC to FAI comps, PWC's are much "safer" ie, fewer deaths and reserves tossed. The pilots who recently died in Spain were in the top 3 of each of Argentina and Chile - seems like saying they didn't represent the top echelon somehow misses the obvious.