Monday, April 12, 2010

Flying in Paraglider Competitions - A Primer, Part 5

4.   Flying the Task

This is the fifth 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

The scope of this article is that of supplying information for use by new pilots in competition flying.  For that reason, I will discuss flying tasks as a new pilot on a lower/mid performance wing.  The strategies one uses when beginning are different than when the pilot has the skills and wing performance to stay in contact with the lead gaggle.   For now, your goal is to make as few mistakes as possible during the task. 

Philosophy and Strategy

You are here, not to win the competition, but to Learn and have Fun. You can maximize your learning opportunities, score, and your fun, by make it to goal.  I caution you to not let your competitive juices get the better of you.  While getting carried away in a weekend soccer game can leave you sore and bruised, making decisions that put you in harm’s way during a PG event can have much more serious consequences.  Use your head so you may fly another day.   

It is a valid strategy, at this point in your flying, to be a follower and fly with the gaggles around the course.  Flying with friends increases your odds for making it along the course.  Racing along at your own pace, alone, is just about guaranteed to put you on the dirt, or in holes that slow your speed considerably.

Planning the Task

Once the task has been programmed into your GPS and you have a moment to look at your map, take a moment to plan your flight.  It’s a given that you will need some key climbs during the task.  You can depend on luck, others showing you the lift sources, or you do your own strategizing.  As an example, if the top-of-lift for the day is planned to be 2,500 meters, and the ‘lift-band’ is roughly 2000 meters deep (In other words, below 500 meters you would be in danger of bombing out due to lift being broken or weak below 500meters) then you will have transitions (at a glide ratio of 6:1) of no more than (2000 meters X 6) or 12 Kilometers.   To fly a 50 Km. task you will need at least 5 full climbs, or more partial climbs to make it to goal.  Plan these climbs by looking for lift sources, spaced accordingly along your route.  Keep in mind the forecast winds for the day.  You should also look for potential ‘crux points’ along the route so you can plan to attack this portion of the task with other pilots to increase your odds of completing the transition successfully.

When to Launch

I’ve already discussed launch organization a bit and you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of your decision regarding launch timing.  Generally, I recommend launching shortly after the wind techs have demonstrated that there is sufficient lift to stay in the air.  It works out well to launch 30 to 45 minutes before the start time.   If it is obvious that you will have traffic in the queue and/or the weather conditions are variable, you may want to be suited up and ready to launch early, so you can take advantage of any launchable window.  I’ve seen very experienced pilots loose a task before they even launched, by delaying their launch for one reason or another, only to have the wind turn and make the launch impossible or excruciatingly slow.  Remember that you will need to consider your rank in the ordered launch to decide whether to wait or use the open launch period.  If in doubt, get in the air at your earliest opportunity.

The Pre-Start

Once in the air, I do a quick inventory to make sure my instruments are all working properly, speed system is working correctly, water source is OK, and that the condom catheter is un-kinked.  Spend time exploring the immediate area around the start cylinder for lift triggers and note the wind direction and speed.  All this information is data that is useful in planning your start.  At this time you also want to get to the top of lift and stay there.  The best pilots have a knack of getting high and staying there, prior to the start.  10-15 minutes before the start you want to get serious about putting yourself in the optimum position for your start.  

The Start

Ideally your start should take place at the optimum edge of the start cylinder, just after the start time expires.   The optimum edge is determined primarily by the wind.  You want to place yourself upwind of the course line if possible.   As the Start-time approaches, you need to remember one very important thing – It is better to be late across the line than to cross early.  If you do cross the start cylinder early, or if there is ANY doubt, do a quick turn back and re-cross the line.  You will receive no points for the day if you blow the start and continue on course. 

The graphic shows an example of flying the optimum route to the first and second turnpoint after the start.   By flying the optimum (red) line you have effectively shortened the route and turned the cross wind into as much of a tailwind as possible.

By noting your groundspeed, as you approach the start cylinder, you can use the Start Planning Chart in the appendix to help you judge your time to cross. 

Back to the start for a moment:  If you find yourself low and/or out of position for the start, don’t get frustrated and desperate.  We’ve all had bad starts.  Take the time necessary to get up and make a reasonable start.  Remember that you are not ‘ahead’ if you are the lowest glider in the valley – you’re just LOW.  Take your time and don’t compound error.

Flying the Task

Once you are on course, you are flying with the intention of incrementally advancing along the route.  Don’t let the specter of the distance intimidate you.  Just keep on working your way from climb to climb.  On transitions you should spread out so that you and your gaggle-mates can cover a large search area for lift.  When you see someone turn, wait a bit and verify they are going up, before moving to them.  While you are looking at the task in short increments, it is also important to keep the “big picture” in mind also.  By that I mean that a good pilot is looking down the course, at wings preceding her, and also anticipating the conditions as they change with time. 

Pace is very important to successful execution of the flight.  Some stretches can be flown fast when the lift is strong and abundant.  Other transitions will require a deft touch and the use of every scrap of lift.  Sensing this change in pace is very important in longer tasks that fly through many micro-climates and into the later portions of the day.  One way to learn this pacing is to work with more experienced pilots.  When they slow down, you should do so also.

Don’t give up when things look bleak.  As long as you keep yourself in the air, you have a chance to get back up.  Don’t wait until you are desperately low before you begin to work every foot out of the available lift.   Remember that the bubble that is teasing you may turn into a fully developed thermal core in 100 meters.  Always work towards getting up.  Never go on a “Death-Glide” when you have the option of gliding to a lift source.  It can even make sense to back-track to a lift source, if the best odds for survival are located there.   

Getting to Goal
When you are a thermal or two from goal you should be looking at your final glide calculation.  The big-boys are going to work this out down to the millimeter and then play chicken with each other until one blinks & starts his final glide on full speed-bar.  You are going to be a bit more conservative and make it to goal with some altitude so you can bask in your glory before landing ;-)  Keep your distance to goal in mind, even prior to the last turnpoint, so you can have a good idea when to begin your final glide.  You should have a good idea of your L/D Over the Ground, when heading in the direction of goal, so you can come up with a number (altitude or L/D req’d to Goal) where is will be possible to begin your final glide.  Don’t get in a hurry and make up an optimistic number – I’ve landed 1K short of goal after a 3 hour flight – it’s not fun.  Give yourself a guaranteed final glide & relax as you head into goal – it feels marvelous! 

Most Goal Lines are a cylinder around a waypoint (like any other turnpoint) however many will have goal as a 400meter cylinder with a 1Km End of Speed Section (ESS).  What this means to you is that when you make goal, your speed will be the average speed between the start and the ESS point.  You can stop ‘racing’ at 1K – You DO, however, need to cross the 400m cylinder to get your full points (speed, leading, etc.) Don’t forget to proceed all the way to goal, and don’t race on bar if it looks doubtful that you will make it all the way to the 400m cylinder.   
Part 6 is HERE
More to come - 

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