24 April 2017

Be comfortable on Speed bar

For XC flying, even on the latest,best EN A gliders, use of the speed bar is a big benefit. In summary:

  • It helps you improve your glide over the ground in sink and in a headwind.
  • It helps you reach obvious climbs quicker.
  • It improves your XC speed and therefore your distance.
  • It might be needed to keep up with other pilots which will allow you to work with a gaggle rather than alone.
  • Many gliders stiffen when you press some speed bar so actually feel nicer on the glide as they cut through minor turbulence better, rather than getting bounced around. 

Of course using the bar has potential downsides such as the glider being more prone to collapse and it being more dramatic when it does go. Flying full speed is generally more stressful, especially in active air.
So... is there a balance to be struck for pilots not pushing at the front of a high level competition task? I think there is.
The most obvious first thing is to allow yourself enough terrain clearance. What comprises "enough" depends on a lot of individual factors but generally would be: enough height to recover a collapse. After that, a good starting point is to use 30% - 50% bar on every glide unless there is a good reason not to.. This setting gives you a healthy gain without the disadvantages stacking up too much. The rewards are less in downwind XC flying and greater if you are following mountain ridges. At the FlyFuther event in Slovenia, the pilots getting more from the days will be gliding significantly faster than trim whenever they feel it is safe to do so.

It takes practice and mental acclimatisation but if it becomes your new default, your flying can only benefit. You can build it into your on local soaring flights, so that you ready when the big day comes.
And remember - never apply brakes whist you are on the bar!

02 April 2017

Choose your climbs

In tough, weak conditions, even experienced XC pilots might choose to climb in every bit of usable lift. To make more of the day, using the better lift definitely helps you progress along your route quicker.
Even on quite average days in the mountains it is possible to cover many km at a time following good lines, without doing a single 360 turn. Flying from the Tolmin area of Slovenia is a great example of this. At the FlyFurther event there should be great opportunities to put this into practice.
You might be above the crests of the ridges following a series of well formed thermals or very often you can fly along in the anabatic flow alongside the ridges.

This picture is actually from near Annecy but illustrates the point well.
Your aim is to reach the crest in the middle distance next to the lake (Verier), ready for the next section of your XC. You can probably identify three or four places that would tempt you to stop and climb along the way.

Below are typical places where good thermals release.

What often can happen if you climb in these places to well above the summits, is that your glide takes you through sink and back down below the tops.
There is another way!

Along large sections of the route there will be a light anabatic flow up the hillsides. Provided you are close enough you can surf along, maybe without stopping at all.
The day of the picture was pretty stable but even so there was enough gentle lift to make it most of the way without stopping. I climbed just once - just before the transition to Verier.
One of the French pilots I was with managed to find such a good line that he made it all the way to Verier before climbing. He was already crossing the lake in orbit as I arrived at Verier and hill top level.
You can imagine how far ahead he would have been if I had stopped two or three more times!

25 January 2017

FlyFurther - a new cross county event in Slovenia

I am really looking forward to a brand new event "FlyFurther" which I am privileged to be involved with in June.

FlyFurther is a cross country flying event aimed at helping pilots learn more, improve their PBs and have adventures flying in the wonderful Julian Alps in Slovenia -  a location of many record flights over the years. 
I'll be working alongside:
- Brett Janaway of xTc Paragliding (who is also chair of the BHPA comps panel, many time meet director and one of the most experienced fly-guiders around)
- Alistair Andrews (exceptional XC pilot and guide)
- a wider team of seasoned professionals to help with all the organisation, transport, retrieves, instruments etc.
There will be coaching, talks and advice throughout the week-long event. Every day we aim set three tasks of different lengths (generally out and return or flat triangle) but following similar routes. You choose which you want to attempt each day after you have heard the extensive briefing from Brett who knows the area like the back of his hand. We expect that 100km+ flights will be done by quite a few of pilots on the better days.Each day you will be able to down-load your track logs and get an "official" distance for your flight. There will be a post-flight debrief where we will unpick a selection of track logs (with the pilots' permission of course!) to see what worked well and explore areas to develop.
To compare FlyFurther to a competition, there are similarities and differences. Like a competition, there will be a group of enthusiastic pilots with broadly similar aims; you will be flying with others so it will help you make route choices and find thermals and there promises to be great social side. Unlike a competition there are no stressful start gaggles, complex tasks to programme into instruments or competitive rankings published each day. And most importantly there will much smaller numbers to ensure that everyone is looked after and gets much closer support.
Registration is now open and is filling up fast. At this stage everyone is on the waiting list and the final selection will be made soon (probably in the next 3-4 weeks but possibly sooner - so don't delay).You can find out all the information about the event here: https://flyfurther.org/about.html
I will be blogging regularly as we lead up to event here.
Hope to see you in Slovenia!

18 January 2016

Feeding the Winter Rat

If your sanity is crumbling as the winter blues hits hard, I have a couple of suggestions.
The first is a brilliant book by X-Alps pilot John Chambers called Hanging In There.

Hanging in There: One Man and his Dad take on the Alps in the World's Toughest Race

It tells the story his participation and 5th place finish in the 2013 Re Bull X-Alps.
I loved it. It is a great account and helps the reader appreciate the struggle and the elation. The flying side of it is great of course but all the other things like logistics of Jon's support crew and the training to change to fat metabolism to improve endurance were fascinating too. Nice one Jon!

The second is the 6hr+ and 220km flight by Chrigel Maurer and his brother Michael through the Swiss Alps. They fly with two Go-pros each, one helmet mounted and the other pointing back at the pilot. A helicopter joins them periodically to get even more great shots. The boys commentate on where they are, the decisions they are making and where they are heading to. There are English subtitles. You see up-close and personal their glider handling, thermalling and speed bar use. As I watched it I followed their progress on map and Google Earth and the whole thing really came to life.
The video is here.
Swiss map on line is here.
There really is over 6 hours; its hypnotic!

30 December 2015

CCC and Bye-Bye Boomerang 10

Well – it was with great sadness a few days ago that I said good bye to my Gin Boomerang 10. It is a quite stunning wing with a level of purity and refinement that I have never before experienced. Letting such a crisp, high performing and great handling glider go was a wrench.

But for me it was the right decision. Competition level gliders require sharp skills and close attention especially when racing. I got caught out once and had the pleasure of a serene reserve ride but one that gave me the chance to reflect on my error.
I also had to accept that my recent flying on the Boomerang has been a mixture of huge pleasure and fair amount of stress. So what to do? Focus sharply on the weaknesses, train, get more hours, challenge myself to go hard again OR take a step back and take a step down. Look for a different focus.

A few things came back into sharp relief in 2015, not least that racing top end gliders in strong conditions is a hard-core business. At the PWC in Portugal this year there were reserve rides every day although thankfully no significant injuries. Sitting around in a group of PWC regulars, I made the comment that it hadn’t been a great week for safety. A few glances around the table and back came the response: it’s pretty normal really! I had wanted to believe that reserves are the exception rather than regular events. As you would expect/hope the deployments generally appear to be rarer amongst the very top group. I say “appear” because even if the incident information is routinely and reliably collected, I am damned if I can track it down. Maybe that’s intentional - some of the rule makers wouldn’t need much encouragement to renew their assault on comps.

The Boomerang 10 in its element
So has CCC (CIVL Competition Class) worked? In my view it’s a step forward from EN D certified comp wings and the rule-stretching that went on. The gliders are purer and in particular don’t need to be trimmed slow to pass the tests. The parameters such glider/line dimensions and speed bar travel are tied down better now. With the expectation of top speed they are superior to the Open Class 2 liners. There are good gliders available in all the main sizes. It is truly impressive to see the cracking CCC gliders from Gin and Ozone, but a shame to see so few manufacturers involved.

I’m not into competition bashing competitions, slagging off CCC or calling for more regulation; in my view it is about free choice and in my case I need a break from the madness!

24 November 2015

Catch the Dive!

Old lessons, new manoeuvres, assessing wings and skills... I was delighted when Toby Colombé at Passion Paragliding said he had space for me on his wing control course in Oludinez in October. As ever it was great to learn in a group and Toby’s special talents, helped by the impressive Mike Agnew eased us all along.
I am indebted to Sigmund Aamodt for allowing me to use some photos and footage from the course. Sigmund is a fast developing Norwegian pilot on a high EN B glider who flies cross country whenever he can and entered his first competition this year.
Sigmund showed impressive skills in the early part of the course but was keen to push harder into dynamic manoeuvres to fine tune his timing and learn just how aggressive control inputs sometimes need to be. The core exercise for this bit of the training is to do rapid exits from spiral dives. During the exit the pilot needs to manage pitch and roll in a high energy situation. Rather like what can be experienced with a big collapse and recovery in strong XC conditions.

The picture shows a dramatic consequence of mistiming inputs!
Sigmund working the Rush 4
Sigmund's video gives us a chance to explore further. 
0:00 to 0:10 - A nice hard spiral to build up the energy.
0:11 - An intentional quick exit from the spiral by going hands-up. As opposed to bleeding off the speed over several revolutions this allows the glider to come out of the spiral quickly and climb with lots of energy.
0:14 - The glider is now well behind Sigmund and not quite level to the horizon. His weight is towards the high side of the glider and he might be pushing himself over with the opposite risers to try and even things up.
0:15 - The glider is now starting to come back overhead, but with an "oblique attack." Lots of brake is being applied.
0:16 - The glider is still shooting but Sigmund has let his hands up.
0:17 - Oops!
So how could the glider be managed better through the stages?
  • A cleaner exit can be achieved by a brief application and release of opposite brake at 0:11 - the "piff-paff." On some glider/harness combinations the spiral will continue without opposite brake input.
  • After a dramatic exit it is likely that the glider or pilot will still have some rotation so it probably won't be nice and level with the horizon. This is the opportunity to briefly use one brake to steer the the glider back into a level position  - the "compensation." The ideal time would be at 0:14. At this stage the pilot should be sat back symmetrically in the harness, looking up and back at the glider. This helps in two ways: it loads the glider evenly; the pilot can judge the size and duration of the compensation input. Get this right and the recovery dive will start symmetrically instead of obliquely as at at 0:15. At this point the hands should be right up to the pulleys. Braking now introduces camber and removes reflex and can actually make the dive worse.
  • Once the glider is accelerating hard past the vertical at 0:16 it is time to brake the dive hard. The further past the vertical the glider has come before brake input, the deeper and faster the input will need to be. At 0:16 the hands should roughly at hip level or what ever is required to brake the aggressive dive.
  • Once the glider has stopped its forward shooting it is time for hands-up and the pilot will swing under the glider and fly away calmly! For more about pitch control have a look at Toby's article.
Many thanks to Sigmund for sharing - it certainly reinforces the value of training to develop your reactions. Sigmund is a positive and bold pilot and really went for that spiral. Most pilots will gradually build up through a wing control or SIV course to high-energy maneuvers and avoid such a drama. Kudos to Sigmund for pushing hard when he had a life jacket and Toby in the rescue boat. He didn't need him anyway.
When I met him, I suspected Sigmund to be made of stern stuff and when I learnt what his name means in Old Nordic: "Victory man from where the rivers meet," any doubt was removed!

24 September 2015

An eventful season!

The September weather has allowed a bit of reflection time in between flying the new Skywalk Cayenne 5 for Cross Country Magazine and some necessary work. Big XCs at home and abroad, my first PWC for 21 years; a small but regrettable airspace infringement; my first reserve throw: its been fun!
I have loved flying the Boomerang 10 this season: the step up in performance; the handling; the speed. One of my favourite flights was an only moderate triangle from a site I have been flying for 25 years. It was a day when many didn't bother going out due to little instability and it frustrated a good few who gave it a try. Seeing familiar surrounds from a new view point was a thrill and only just getting back over high ground to close the triangle added to the excitement.

The best day of the year was June 7th with over 13000km flown. I did my first UK 200km from the Lawley to Weymouth. It ended in heart-break though: I'd gone over 200ft into a 4500' ceiling near Bristol. How did that happen? A combination of unfamiliar airspace, high workload at that point in the flight and a new flying instrument all combined to fade my brain. What a Muppett!

The highlight of the competition year for me was captaining the winning team at the British Champs in Macedonia. A beautiful place to fly, a really welcoming country and superbly organised event.

Photo - Ruth
The PWC in Portugal was staggering. The speed and tactical shrewdness of the pilots are truly impressive. The tasks, with varying amounts of wind, were characterised by multiple convergence lines if you could find them. The third task sticks in the mind. Early into the 135km task I had pushed ahead (not shrewd) with a small group (a bit more shrewd) and managed to find a good climb that the others missed (lucky). However the main gaggle was able to come in 1000m above me having detoured to take a buoyant line (that's how to do it!). They were able to get properly high and miss out the next two climbs that I needed. I couldn't get back in contact, but around the 100km mark got into a really good position close to the airspace ceiling of 3500m. My instrument said 35km to goal with a glide required of 14:1. That sort of glide is very achievable on the right line and so it proved. A couple of S turns were all that were needed to clear a small hill just before goal. In the last part of the flight I had seen very few pilots ahead of me and was getting excited about a high placing when I suddenly spotted the goal field with 40+ gliders already there and more bleeding off height to land. I had been beaten by over 20min and 60 pilots!
For task four the wind properly arrived and the task required flying into it for some distance. This was tough - the PWC showed its hard-core side! I changed strategy and aimed to find the best cores to get above the main gaggle even if it meant being a bit behind. As we punched into wind I could see the group ahead and below - this was paying off. Close to full bar in, in the now familiar choppy air, I eased the pressure on the B risers to let the glider pick up yet more speed. Bang! I took a big collapse. I mishandled the recovery and ended up with a cravat and 3 twists. Game over. The ride to earth of my Beamer 3 was calm once I'd gathered in the main glider and ended with a gentle landing.

To be honest that fried me a little, not least as I knew I had made mistakes. My last comp of the year was to be wonderful but demanding St Andre.
Big scenery - thanks to Lawrie Nocter for the pic.
I decided to take the pressure off myself and just enjoy the flying. I was very kindly loaned the wonderful Gin Carrera+ by the guys at UK Airports. I had a great time recovered my sanity; it was great to fly such a wonderful sports class glider. Big thanks to Patrick Holmes and Mark Stewart!

Continuing the Sports class theme I am now on the afore mentioned Cayenne 5. This has really surprised me (in a very good way) but you will have to wait for the review in Cross Country mag!
Photo - Ian Burton