Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flying in Paraglider Competitions - A Primer, Part 6

This is the sixth 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 complete article may be downloaded,
PDF format HERE

Some competitions utilize variations of the formats mentioned so far.  I’ll mention a few here so that they are not a complete surprise when they are utilized.  If any of these options are exercised you can expect some explanation from the CD to answer questions at the Pilot Meeting.

Alternate Tasks – Occasionally, when weather conditions are in transition, the Task Committee will build an “A” task and a “B” task.  Each task fits weather conditions that may develop.  The Task Committee will call the appropriate task at a later pilot meeting when the weather forecast is more developed.  A good strategy is to write down each task with all details, then program both into your GPS.  When the task is called, you can make the appropriate route a competition route, and/or activate that route.

Multiple Start Gates – When the Task Committee considers it necessary, a start with multiple start times, or gates, will be specified.  A “first” gate at 1 PM may be specified with 15 minute intervals between gates, and the last start at 2:15 – for example.  What this means to you is that you can choose to start the task any time after 1 PM.  Your elapsed time for the task will be computed from the time of the last start gate time that expired prior to you leaving the start cylinder.  This format can provide some strategic opportunities including: Choosing the gaggle you’d like to fly with; Flying out on course, and then returning for a later start gate (if conditions become stronger for example) etc.

Ground Starts – At large launch sites this option can be used and is quite a sight.  At the “start” time all participants launch and begin the task.  Elapsed time begins at the start-time.  These are generally not seen in the USA.

Open Distance – The XC Open series uses this format.  Instead of a task committee setting your waypoints and goal, you choose the turn-points.  There is no goal other than the horizon.  Flying these tasks can be less stressful, but also has less ‘mano-a-mano’ feel.

Class Racing – Most competitions have an “OPEN” class and a “SERIAL” class.  Some also include a “SPORT” class.  Serial Class includes EN-D wings and Sport Class includes EN-C, B, or A.   Usually all pilots, in all classes, will fly the same task.  Scoring is not handicapped or given premium based on class.

Handicapped Racing – Some competitions use a handicapped score to allow pilots of low experience and flying low performance wings to score a ‘value plus’ score.  This type of scoring is sometimes used in Open Distance type of tasks and is useful in Team scoring.

Additional Equipment
Other than the equipment mentioned previously, I carry the following:

SPOT – The SPOT unit is a valuable piece of kit when flying XC.  Unlike cell-phones, it uses satellite phone technology to make a graduated request for aid.  I think it is cheap insurance.

Tree Kit -  I carry a home-made kit similar to the kit in this article from

Survival Kit – I carry a kit with the items listed in my article.

Water – I carry a 2 liter water bladder in my harness and 1 or 2 additional liters in my pack.

Condom Catheter - Believe it or not, this is an important item.  I am able to drink freely and allow proper hydration while flying a long task.  Once you’ve used the CC, you will be a believer also. Girls, I’ve heard some use adult diapers, but I have no first hand info -

Oxygen – Many competitions are held in mountain sites where it is not uncommon to get over 15,000’.  A pilot’s performance is noticeably affected when at high altitude for any length of time.  Oxygen also helps the pilot stay warm when properly oxygenated.

4. Putting it All Together
Your task is to tie this all together.  The difference between Cross Country flying and flying Cross Country Tasks is similar to the difference between waterskiing around the lake for fun and skiing a slalom course at a prescribed speed.  Flying an XC task requires specific skills, preparation, planning, and strategy.  The best way to build the skills and learn the strategies required to fly in comps, is to fly comps.  It is a specialized skill-set that, when you achieve a level of competence, leads to understanding and competence that carries over into your non-comp flying.

The trickiest time, in your XC competition ‘career,’ will be your first 3-4 competitions.  Your experience is lacking, while your enthusiasm and competitive drive are high.  Many pilots are of the opinion that flying comps is dangerous.  I disagree.  Flying beyond your experience is dangerous.  Flying wings that you are unable to fly competently is foolhardy.  Competition pilots are some of the most experienced and safety-minded pilots you will meet.  Make a concerted effort to be a safe and mature competitor, and your longevity will guarantee you a degree of success.  You can begin by choosing to fly a wing that you are comfortable on.  Get experience flying in thermal conditions and launching in variable winds.  Practice your wing control so you are comfortable on launch.  Each landing should be planned and controlled.  When LZs are scarce, don’t “put yourself in a corner” where there are no good options.  In short – Use your head.  Remember that this is not your livelihood. It is simply, an ‘optional’ activity.

When you begin to fly XC comps your primary goal should be to fly each task as safely and successfully as possible.  Don’t try to race.  Make every attempt to fly with a gaggle to cover the miles and make it to goal.  Making goal equates to success.  When you land short of goal you should try to learn from the experience.  How did others get through that area?  Could you have increased your chances?  I’ve found that writing up a debrief of each flight has future value when reviewing flights.   Expectations to learn are good since, even if you land short of goal, you will have valuable lessons to learn.

Be a student of the game. You will soon understand that a paraglider competition task is like a road-bike race where cooperation and courtesy are important to your success.  The real race doesn’t begin until that last thermal when everyone in the lead gaggle is computing their glide to goal.  The pilot with the fastest wing, with the best glide, and the most accurate final glide computation (not to mention largest cojones), wins.  Your strategy is different.  Your goal is to fly with a gaggle of similar performance pilots and wings to work your way around the course to goal.  As your skill improves you will find that the company you keep will be of better quality.

There are many learning opportunities during the competitions.  If Mentoring is offered, take the time to ask questions and discuss mistakes with your Mentor.  Take the opportunity to talk with the successful pilots when it presents itself.  Be sensitive to timing and don’t be a distraction when the pilots are setting up for a task.  Beer seems to be a good trade for expertise.  Some pilots are more conversational than others, but we all know that new pilots have questions and we are happy to work with them.

Each of us has our own goals.  This sport has so many layers of challenge that ‘mastering’ XC competitions is quite a lofty goal.  Even pilots who have flown competitively for decades have bad days and make the occasional mistake.  The trick is to make less mistakes than you did last flight, each time you fly.  When you have your gear set-up correctly, when you know how to use your electronics to your best advantage, and when your flying skills and strategy are optimum for the day, you will fly a ‘good task’ to goal – the feeling of accomplishment is very rewarding.  Your rank is a secondary measurement to that of the joy you feel.  Hang-on, because NOW you are hooked.


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