07 December 2012

Improving Your Competition Flying

I am running a weekend event on 2nd -3rd February to help pilots to prepare for and do well in competitions. Whether you are completely new to comps or already experienced, I aim for you to get much more out of competitions and improve your performance. I will be structuring the event to cover all the important aspects to give you the strongest possible foundation for your competition flying. Experienced comp pilots will focus particularly on improving performance and enjoyment. Some of the strategies, tricks and techniques used by the top pilots are truly eye-opening and I’ll be weaving these into the 2 days. New comp pilots will be able to take a huge step to ensuring that they can take most of the unknowns out of their early competitions and have knowledge that they will be able to draw on for years to come. 

06 December 2012

Should Competition and XC Pilots Have 2 Reserves?

Two emergency parachutes are de rigour for acro pilots. Now there is a proposal from CIVL that all entrants to Category 1 competitions follow suit. Coming from the review into competition safety, it sits alongside a range of other proposals.
There appears to be suspicion rather than evidence that lives would have been saved by a second parachute. There have been a number of tragic incidents where pilots have failed to deploy, but the reasons aren't clear. Could the pilot's hand have been trapped in riser twists? Possibly the pilot could not reach the handle for some other reason? Maybe excessive G-force caused the pilot to black out? Can we be sure that the disorientated pilot was able to make the decision to deploy? There are documented cases of parachutes failing to open properly, for example when they get caught in the lines of the glider.
If past history is an indicator, it is fair to assume that a rule change in Category 1 events will also be taken on in Category 2 events, so lots of pilots could be affected. If a second parachute would be a genuine step forward in safety in competitions then isn't it also a good idea for general XC flying?
Opinions are split and personally I am unconvinced by the proposal. I would prefer it be left as a strong recommendation for the time being. I can understand that pilots are very wary of the additional weight, expense and complexity. Thankfully it won't require a change of harness for too many: in addition to the reserve installed as normal in the harness, a front mounted second parachute would do the job. It would have the added benefit of being deployable by either hand.
Perhaps this is a proposal we should not resist. There is strength in the argument that if a second parachute saves just one life then it it worth it.

17 November 2012

Instruments for XC Flying and Competitions

Ah, don't you just love technology! Well, in my case: not particularly. On the spectrum between utter Luddite and complete techno-geek, I am somewhere in the middle.
However, I am interested in how instruments can help performance.

 My current set up is far from state of the art, but does most things I want.
- On the right is a Flytec 5020 (equivalent to a Brauniger Competino). As a GPS enabled vario, it is  spot on for reliably navigating competition and XC tasks and providing lots of useful info for XC flight. The later versions of the same instrument are an improvement and the next model up has even more capability. Not cheep through.
- In the centre is a Garmin 76C. Like the Flytec, it records a 3D track log for the XC league and competition tasks. Should the Flytec have a problem, I can also also navigate tasks, though not as easily. At the moment this is my main airspace instrument for the UK, using the free download maps developed by Simon Headford. Used in conjunction with a paper 1:500000 air map, I have never yet infringed airspace. Simple and reliable.
- On the left is a Vertica V2 running LK8000 software. This flight computing software is open source and has awesome capability. It is not the easiest programme to use and I am still a long way from mastering it. The airspace maps are not the best and I am considering splashing out on some proper electronic CAA maps.  The software can run on many windows CE enabled car sat-navs, for as little as £40. This how I started but the screen was unreadable in even moderate brightness.

I have now moved to the unit pictured: the Vertica V2. The V2 has massively better viability in sunlight. Combined with an additional external battery it is doing the job well for me and was well worth the extra spend.
Completing the package is a Solario mini audio only vario (not pictured), attached to my shoulder strap. Any one instrument can fail and I should still be able to complete my XC or competition task AND provide a valid track log.

If I was starting from scratch would I buy the same?

Certainly there are instruments that do well against the Flytec. I have been impressed with Flymasters in terms of capability and value. The V2 is very good, but I remain to be convinced by LK8000. The Garmin is good and appears to do a great job even compared to later models. I haven't mentioned the staggering C-Pilot Pro. It does everything in one sophisticated package. It is neither compact or cheap; owners affectionately refer to it "the brick." It might be even more capable than LK8000 and does look more user friendly. You would certainly hope so at a over £1000!

29 October 2012

Canopy Control, Conventional Gliders and 2-liners

I had 3 wonderful days' canopy control training with the maestro, Fabien Blanco at Flyeo in Annecy. This was my first SIV on a 2-liner (the Icepeak 6), so it was great to learn about the adjustment to techniques needed for this type of glider.
The IP6 is brilliant, but it is very noticeably more aggressive than the traditional EN D gliders such as the Omega 8 and the Mantra 4. The dive forward during any recovery is fast and hard which makes timing of ones intervention more critical. I found that I needed to let the glider shoot forward more than I would normally. In recovery from assymetrics it now recognised good practice on high end gliders to let the glider turn in order to regain the energy for a smooth recovery and to keep it away from stall. Critically it reduces the likelihood of a shock re-inflation and secondary collapse/cascade. One of my goals for the course was to really nail stalls in such a way that I could use it reliably in a range of situations and with minimum height loss. After 20+ stalls on the IP6 I feel that I made a huge leap in this area. I am really glad for the workout and feel much better prepared for flying and racing the glider in strong conditions.
In our group were pilots on EN A, B and C wings and notably two members of the French Team, with everybody working on their own personal programme. Charles Cazaux showed great mastery of his Enzo with his helicopters, stalls and the like. Charles is the reigning FAI World Champion and in 2009 flew the remarkable, ground-breaking, carbon reinforced BBHPP to win the PWC. The BBHPP spawned the R10 in 2010, which was the real game changer in recent paraglider development. Despite his achievements at the highest level, Charles still does SIV at least twice a year and takes a totally professional attitude to continuing to improve. Also in the French team is Lucas Bernardit, who was practising beautiful acro moves on his N-Gravity 2. He normally flies the IP6 but does acro for pleasure and to continue to develop his handling. Lucas is a member of the Niviuk ABAC factory team. As well as being super talented, both Lucas and Charles were very willing to share their knowledge and experience.
An awesome 3 days with learning of the highest quality!

19 October 2012

Latest thinking on Canopy Control Techniques

If you haven't already found it, this 45 min talk by Russell Ogden with Martin Orlik is a must-watch for anyone on a modern high performance wing; or anyone thinking of getting one.
Click here for the link.
I am off to do some training with Fabien Blanco of Flyeo in Annecy on Monday -Wednesday to put it all into practice on my IP6!

17 October 2012

Do you want fly further, have more fun, and learn more?

If you are answering “yes” to the above then I might have a solution for you….. If you have flown in competitions then you know the answer already! Learning to fly in competitions (or striving to improve your performance in them) is quite simply a great way to of develop your general flying and your cross country in particular.

Photo by Olivier Montel
There are competitions in the UK and abroad to suit all levels of pilot from someone fairly new to XC flying to the hard core racer. For UK pilots, the Lakes Charity Classic, the Charbre Open at Laragne and the British Paragliding Cup all offer a great first time experience. Supportive, focused on learning, but also the opportunity to fly and mix with some very good pilots. With some overlap, but extending to a much higher level are the British Championships. The atmosphere is open and friendly but in the lead gaggle the pace is hot and the flying exhilarating! Throughout Europe and further afield there are many more.
So consider giving competitions a go in 2013, it could be one of the best things you ever did.
I am running my Competition Preparation and Master-class in February. Click on Coaching and Courses for more information.

12 October 2012

New Programme Announced

Throughout the off-season I will be offering a range of workshops, talks and master-classes to help pilots develop their flying. They cover a wide range of interests within paragliding. A taste of what will be available includes:

  • Cross country flying development workshops
  • Competition preparation and mater-class
  • Performance coaching

Once we get into the season proper I will be running the hill-based:

  • Group development days
  • Intensive Pilot Development Week in Annecy - July 2013
For more details visit The Courses and Coaching section or Workshops and Talks on my website.
I am very excited about the new programme and can not wait to get going!

25 September 2012

Glider Testing and Certification

The paragliding world does not stand still for long. There has been some great work this year by the DHV in doing in-depth safety checks on a range of EN B and EN A gliders. At the other end of the spectrum the working group of PMA (Paraglider Manufacturers' Association) seems to be making some headway towards a new definition of competition gliders.

It is widely recognised that the current EN classes are very broad. Within the EN B class this manifests itself in the form of gliders having quite different target markets. The "low end" B gliders are usually seen as suitable for beginners who are showing reasonable aptitude during their training. The "high end" B gliders are far more sporty and dynamic in their behaviour/reactions and are definitely not for the beginner! The DHV's work explored the gliders in greater depth than the EN tests in order to differentiate between the high and low EN Bs and EN As It makes interesting reading and can be found here on the DHV website. The first series of tests are here.

The EN D category has also seen an unofficial division into the recreational/classic EN Ds and the competition EN Ds. Even though they are all in the same EN class, Peaks, Mantras, Omegas etc are suitable for a far wider range of pilot than the Enzos and the Icepeaks. In effect  the EN D category has become devalued as a useful description of gliders' level of demand and security.

When the EN tests are next revised (due spring 2013), don't be surprised to see some further tightening of the requirements in each of the classes. Until then, when we buy a glider, we need be clear about it's character. Buying from a reputable manufacturer who clearly describes the target pilot for each of their gliders must surely be very wise.

Separate from this is a possible new definition of competition gliders outside of the EN system. This would seem the best way forward, particularly since limiting competitions to EN certified gliders does not appear to have helped safety. The responsibility of defining the criteria for the competition class seems to be resting with the PMA. I have just returned from Coupe Icare at St Hilaire and heard that the PMA has made considerable progress and aim for there to be a new competition class in place for 2014. This is encouraging news indeed, although I personally believe that agreement within the PMA agreement does not come easily!
The latest from the FAI on the subject can be found here.

14 September 2012

Epic Summer in The Alps

Well, what a summer! After what has been a frustrating UK season for many (myself included), it was great to finally have such fantastic summer flying. It really started with my Pilot Development Week in the Annecy region in July (see my earlier blog post) and then continued throughout August.
Over the top the the Avaris, looking SE to Mt Blanc
It is difficult to pick out the highlights, but flying along the Chaine Des Avaris and also my flight to the Mont Blanc Massiff are probably my two favourites.
Flying to Mt Blanc is one the flights that most Alpine pilots covert and with good reason. Before this summer, only on three days ever had pilots landed on top, but on 19th August an incredible 50-60 pilots achieved their dream. See XC Mag's website to read more.

Knowledge of the Alps is key and it was very interesting how conditions varied over quite short distances. Pilots less than 40km away struggled in stable conditions.
Mont Blanc ahead.
I have been flying in and studying the Alps for 20 years and there is always more to learn.

On 20th August it was my turn to try and the day after, with conditions still good, my wife Ruth was also able to make an attempt. Read our account here.

One of my ambitions is to feel as at home flying in the big mountains as I do when flying over the rolling green hills of the UK. At the same time I don't want to lose that feeling of utter awe. I have to say that I am loving the new experiences being thrown up all the time by this wonderful sport.
Clouds over Mt Blanc, I am glad I left when I did!
In a few days I will be heading off to St Hillaire for the Coupe Icare: the world biggest free flying festival. In 22 years of flying, I have never been, so I can not wait.
Read more about the Coupe Icare here.

T|he weather has a distinct Autumn feel now, but I am sure there are plenty of good days to come before the season truly ends. In the UK I have known decent XC flying to continue right through September and October. Bring it on!

09 September 2012

First Outing on my Icepeak 6

After 2 days of strong winds and frustration I finally got out on my Icepeak 6. I probably didn't have the ideal conditions for the first flight: broken early afternoon thermals with surges to 3m/s; an inversion; gusty wind and a tricky cliff launch site (Nant Sarah's in the Pennines). Most of the locals were complaining about the air after short flights and were contenting themselves with waiting for things to settle.
Ground handling and launch were absolutely straightforward and just as I would expect from a well sorted EN D glider. In the air it dragged me into thermals and absorbed turbulence with relatively little flexing. On bar it sliced through the sh*t very nicely. I suspect I was having a nicer time the guys on the lower end gliders! Thermalling was great and I really liked the direct feel and precision. I still love the M4 but the IP6 is altogether a sharper tool. Just what I was after. I really expected to that I would need to work much harder on my first flight. I have to say that my expectations are exceeded; I love this glider! Niviuk have produced a remarkable tool; thanks guys.
It is great to be part of the team. To find out about the Nivuik UK Team click here.
For the Niviuk UK homepage click here.

04 September 2012

Longest ever UK competition goal?

On Friday I had the pleasure of setting a 108km race to goal for the British Paragliding Cup in the Peak District. I had committed to helping the BPC and looking after our 8 and 10 year old so that my Ruth do the comp; so I then had the agony of watching pilots climbing out and starting the race whist I went swimming with the kids.
The first I knew about pilots' progress was a text from Ruth, who was down at about 80km. She reported a lot of cirrus and an unhelpful cross wind. Had I over set the task?
Eventually the word came in: 6 pilots in goal, led by one of the best XC pilots I know, Phil Wallbank. Result! Congratulations to all and commiserations to Ruth. She was top woman though!
The 2012 BPC Podium. L-R: Graham Cummings (3rd), Phil Wallbank, (1st, )Ed Cleasby (2nd) and Ruth

01 August 2012

Niviuk Artik 3

My review of the Artik 3 is now out. I am really impressed by this wing in all areas. To me it feels just right for an EN C; sporty, but not extreme. The performance is excellent. See Cross Country Magazine (edition 42) for the full review.
Launching the Artik 3 in Scotland (photo Barney Woodhead)

26 July 2012

Annecy Delivers

I've just returned from leading my Pilot Development Week in Annecy in the French Alps. We had fantastic cross country flying and skill development for all abilities, 5 different sites; 6 days flying out of 7, even the 7th was flyable for the commercial tandems however we used it for ground-based learning.
Each member of the group identified their strengths and what they wanted to develop and this provided the focus for the week.
Every day presented different challenges and opportunities. Through the information provided and analysis, each pilot was armed with the knowledge to be able to get the best out of each day. It was absolutely great to see the proactive, independent decision making develop as the week went on.
One of the highlights was an evening with the new British Champion Steve Senior. His understanding of elite performance and how it applies to all levels of our sport is nothing short of awesome. And he certainly challenged all our thinking! A huge thanks to Steve.
Massive Astroturf launch at Annecy; Colin Porter ready to go.

High above launch; the Bauges Mountains to the south.

The Dents de Lanfon. Get high here and you can go anywhere!

Heading North. Far right - the high route. Middle right - the low route.

Plaine Joux launch with spectacular views of Mont Blanc

The "A" team. Nick, Brian, Ed, Ian, Colin, Richard and Ella.

Into the top 10

I sit here, exhilarated and slightly exhausted. The second and final round of the British Open Champs at Pedro Bernardo is Central Spain was a resounding success, with 5 great tasks. 
I had a good comp too and one of my best ever tasks at this level: I managed to be in the lead gaggle for the first half of the race and then in the splinter group at the front after that. At one stage I was third in that, but was lost about 6 minutes at the end when we needed to find a small climb to get us into goal. Still a great task! What was particularly gratifying that I improved my flying (and my score) with almost every task and finished in the top 10. This year has really fired me up to improve my racing futher!

The top 10; a motley crew?

02 June 2012

British Championships: Round 1 Closes

No more tasks: RATS! So Emile Van Wyk took the victory and is obviously placed ideally for the second round in Spain. It was a very interesting competition with some very high profile bomb-outs, testing pilots' mental strength in subsequent tasks. I expect plenty of changes in the current British ranking.
Meduno landing field on the final (stopped) task. 
I did a straw poll of about 25 pilots flying a wide variety of wings and only one had had a collapse of any significance in 4 tasks of racing. It was by no means smooth so that must be great testament to the gliders, the pilots and the task setting!
The down days gave us a bit of time to chat about what's what in paragliding gear. Summary: the Enzo is excellent and the Icepeak 6 is very close. The EN Cs go well and the traditional EN Ds like the Mantra M4 are still fantastic gliders with wonderful performance across the speed range. The C-Pilot Pro flight computer/vario is staggering, but don't even have a look unless you have cool grand to spare!

30 May 2012

British Championships: Meduno (Italy)

The forecast was so dodgy that some people didn't even come. Yet so far we have had 4 taskable days out of four. Two were completed with some excellent but technical racing. Steve Senior, Emile and Jamie Messenger are fast and astute and are setting the pace on their Ozone Enzos. I had a good run today on my Mantra M4 and made goal, but only after having to move up and down the gears a few times. Yesterday I rolled the dice and threw a double 1 late in the race and ended up a few km short of goal.
The area is beautiful and the flying really enjoyable. On the the southern edge of the Alps and facing the flat lands, Meduno offers a great range of flying. The locals could not be more helpful and welcoming; they are even allowing us to use their category D air space!
Two tasks were stopped: one for a cu-nimb and the other for a helicopter which was picking up Neil Roberts. Neil clipped a tree on landing approach in strong wind and has stable fractures in 3 vertebrae and should make a full recovery. Get well soon mate!
                                                                        Looking west from launch, before the low level inversion broke.

The forecast looks promising for more flying. Rock on!

15 May 2012

Big Saturday

Saturday was a fantastic XC day and significantly better than an already decent forecast. Experienced pilots doing 100km felt like they had bombed.
Many less experienced pilots were left feeling disappointed as they were confronted by some tricky conditions on the hills around the UK. And this is often the case in good conditions for cross country flying. Rather than the meteo wind blowing smoothly up and over hill, the thermal activity causes some quite big variation in strength and direction. Launch conditions can become really tricky at times. In the air, new challenges present themselves. In between the thermals the sink can leave the ridge unsoarable despite there appearing to be plenty enough wind. As thermals release and build behind the hill the inrushing air can pin pilots above the hill, unable to penetrate forwards. And by no means least, the air can of course be pretty turbulent.
So how can pilots tackle this?

  • Pick your moment to launch. The ideal is in the relatively calm air just before the next thermal cycle really gets going. You will probably feel the wind starting to increase, but don't wait too long!
  • Be really practised in launching in all conditions.
  • Gradually build up to fly in increasingly challenging conditions. The aim is to incrementally increase your experience, build skills, develop judgement and become more at home in thermic air.
  • Be prepared to stand down for an hour or more. Often conditions calm down in mid to late afternoon, but there can be lots of XC potential left in the day. You can go along way between 3pm and 8pm!

Happy flying!

09 May 2012

Shower dodging in the Dales

Sunday gave me some challenging flying in the Dales. The sky was classic by 10am and over developing by 11! On Staggs Fell it wasn't even soarable, so my first attempt lead to a drilling, a hill side landing an uncomfortable walk up with a bundled glider.
Back on top, there were showers everywhere and the day looked finished. The only bright bit was our section of the valley, so a few of us were able to have a few hops, but no more. Then suddenly, one of my flying buddies climbed out on something really weak and headed east along Wensleydale and into the blackness. 30min later I was on my way and heading away from a big snow shower to the west of Staggs Fell. It was weak but patience was rewarded. With the state of the sky, I made a decision to stick to the blue or to the very edge of clouds and also to leave climbs at 3000' amsl. Walls of showers to the east, west and north pretty much defined my route, but there was enough space to fit in an FAI triangle. Between Bainbridge and Aisgarth, I nabbed the first turn point and set off to cross Wensledale to the south. As I approached Semmerwater, for TP2, a pilot on the ridge was building a wall ready for launch and I was allowing myself to think about closing the triangle. As glided in his wall flopped to the ground, shortly followed by me! This is getting repetitive; that is the third time this season I have fallen one climb short of an FAI triangle!
Later I was to learn that Hamish had left Staggs an hour later, as some of the showers dissipated and managed 70+km up towards Durham. Great decision making!

01 May 2012

Epic Flying in Scotland

The brutal English weather sent pilots from all over England up north of the border. Prize for the longest journey goes to Hugh Miller from Brighton although he did cheat by taking Easyjet!
Saturday gave pilots a 6000' cloud base at Glen Coe, however the NE wind appeared that it might be a bit strong for closed circuit flights. Some opted for downwind flights over some serious scenery with Trias the best of the bunch with 109km.
Photo: Ruth Churchill Dower

Photo: Ruth Churchill Dower
However, 8 pilots used the strong climbs, cloud lines and the terrain to complete FAI triangles. Mike Cavanagh  showed his mastery with a 111km score.
Sunday was predicted to blow out at Glen Coe and so it turned out. A group of us went even further north to fly above the beautiful Loch Glass, north of Inverness. The locals outclassed the rest of us with Julian Robinson and Brendan Reid both doing beautiful flights. Both had the confidence and skill to transit 20km+ of terrain with no roads at various points in their flights. Kudos gentlemen!
Me? I was happy to use my best height or 3700' to stay local rather than dive off into the boonies. I had a ball finish flying off flying the Artik 3 for the Cross Country Magazine review. Big thanks to Niviuk UK for letting me put 15hrs on their demo glider. Its the best EN C I have ever flown. Full stop.
Lessons from the weekend? A bit of planning goes a long way. It is not always possible to see roads before making big glides into remote unknown territory, but a bit of map work before launching helps take some of the guess work out of the flight.

26 April 2012

Impressions of the Impress 3 and Artik 3

At the start of the year I swapped harness to an Advance Impress 3. It marks the start of a new generation in competition and XC harnesses with many innovations. Read the detail here:

Attached to my Impress 3 is a very nice Niviuk Artik 3. I have it on loan for the for review for Cross Country Magazine. It is a wonderful XC glider with great handling and performance, but you'll have to wait for XC Mag to read the detail. I have just fitted the optional race line kit, (which is still certified EN C) and am waiting for the next flyable day. Scotland at the weekend maybe?

19 April 2012

Decision Making in XC Flight

What would you do next?

a) Head for the sunshine?
b) Continue to follow the line of cloud?
c) Something else?

The added consideration, not obvious from the photo is that 20km downwind from this position over Sheffield, is some pretty major airspace. This cloud line, plus the wind are leading right to the centre of it! Planning ahead for obstacles such as this can make a big difference. On this day (16.4.12) some pilots chose to cross wind before this point, whilst still in the Peak District. Others (me included) tried to take advantage of the 6000' altitude at this point to make a crosswind  move. The final option was to carry on and make the crosswind move later in the flat lands and it was this option which yielded the best distances on the day. In fact no one actually was able to continue after the airspace probably not helped by poorer thermal conditions to the east. If this proves anything, it is that XC flying is not an exact science!

07 April 2012

100km+ flights start to come!

The UK XC season is getting going. There have been great flights from Brendan Reed, Alex Butler and quite a few others. Given the number of pilots who have been out in recent days (lots), it highlights the achievements of those doing the big flights. The start of this season has also reminded us of one of the age-old truths about XC flying: the margins between success and failure can be very fine.
Lots of elements go to make a successful XC flight and get just one of them wrong enough and it is game over. This can feel daunting for the developing pilot, however in many ways it is a percentage game. This is one of the reasons why many pilots experience a threshold in their XC flying: they do lots of short flights before suddenly posting better distances on a pretty consistent basis. So how do the less successful pilots up their game? Possibly they make lots of subtle changes which stack the odds in their favour. Alternatively they hit on something really significant. Common changes that pilots make:

  • They resist the temptation to charge off down-wind as soon as sink is encountered.
  • They have plan B and plan C ready to use.
  • They make more of their own decisions and don’t just follow other pilots; particularly higher ones.
The successful pilots get many, but by no means all of the elements right. With skill, determination and experience they often manage to recover from ones they mess up.
Happy flying!
Finding a lifty line underneath the inversion to glide into wind and over Kinder Scout

23 March 2012

When is it safe to go XC?

Earlier this week a half decent XC forecast from RASP tempted quite a few distance hunters out to the Long Mynd.
Launch conditions were like what they often are on the good days, i.e. the meteo wind being supplemented by the thermal breeze. It was definitely a day to be off the hill and cruising the ridge early, before it got too strong to launch. At first we had 10km/h ground speed into wind at trim, but gradually this was decreasing as the forecast of strengthening wind was proved right.
Choosing when to leave the hill was a juggle. Weakish climbs were fading out quickly, the wind was strengthening and the terrain down wind is fairly threatening for the first few km. A gaggle formed in a slightly better climb but the decision to quit or stick was a tricky one. Half the group pulled out, leaving the others to fly a pretty rapid 50km before being downed by the airspace. Thankfully no one got low behind the Mynd and everyone landed safely.
So was it safe? On the whole yes; but the conditions were definitely the sort that pilots can come unstuck in, especially if not leaving a margin for error.
See you next time!

12 March 2012

The Five Thermalling Techniques

The ability to climb in thermals is the core skill for every pilot wishing to fly XC. For top level pilots, climbing fast in all situations will win races and break records. Climbing out in difficult conditions sorts the wheat from the chaff and adjusting your techniques for the conditions you face can be the difference between success and failure.
To read more about the 5 main thermalling techniques click here.

28 February 2012

The cross country season starts!

The weekend offered up some rather nice early season thermals. A positive frame of mind and some skilled flying saw a good few pilots bag their first XCs of the year. There were thermals to hunt and some solid climbs right to cloud base. I've not heard of any big flights, from either Saturday or Sunday, but there is enough life in the sun for 100km flights, even at this time of year. It was February a few years ago when Graham Steele landed agonising close to the "ton." Most of us have far better gliders than he was flying that day!
To help get you prepared, have a look at my XC check list.
Good luck.

22 February 2012

Dales and Pennine Pilots join the XC cause

Many thanks to all the pilots who came to Saturday's XC Workshop in Ingleton. Prize for the the longest journey goes to Ian from Snowdonia. Top effort mate!
It was great to see lots off pilots who are completely new to cross country flying and are keen to get started. We also had some seriously experienced XC pilots at the workshop who were very satisfied with what they got out of the day. The 2011 XC League Champion, Mike Cavanagh even put in an appearance; to claim the pint I owed him!
We are on the cusp of the new season so now we should all be focusing on getting out flying. Even if we are not covering the kilometres, any canopy time is vital training at this time of year.
This Sunday's meteorology lecture for the pilot exam will be the last ground-based day until the Autumn, but I'll be out on the hill working with pilots and enjoying myself. The April XC coaching and flying day is nearly full but there are a few places available in May. July's Pilot Development Week in Annecy is filling fast. I hope you can join us.

08 February 2012

South West Pilots gunning for big XC in 2012

Congratulations to all the pilots, who came along to the XC flying workshops in Somerset at the weekend. For many pilots the techniques to improve glide were very surprising and the thermal searching techniques raised quite a few eye brows. They are itching to give the techniques a go and I have to say that these south-westerners are a seriously motivated bunch. The sea is never far away but that is a challenge that they are keen to overcome.
I hope to see lots of new names in the XC league this year and some real big flights from the ones who have already started their XC career.
Next event in the north on Feb 18th. A few places are still left.

29 January 2012

Great racing in Mexico at the Super Final

Valle de Bravo in Mexico has to be one of the most consistent places to fly in the world. The boys and girls in the Paragliding World Cup Super Final will be exhausted by the end of the comp! This is one of the first competitive outings for the new EN D gliders, so is being watched with great interest. Although significant numbers of top pilots chose to stay away, it is still a very high level competition. The Ozone Enzo is showing strongly, but is by no means certain to win, with Niviuk's Icepeak 6 also figuring in the overall top 10. The Gin Boomerang X has a task win under its belt, but the gossip suggests it doesn't quite have the glide performance of the other two, particularly at speed in turbulence. Unfortunately there has been at least one altitude shredding cascade and several reserve rides, but thankfully no serious injuries. I think it is too early to draw many conclusion from this. Ideally there would be no incidents, but Mexico does give strong, challenging conditions and these pilots will be pushing very hard. Factor in the reality that most will have had very little training on their new gliders and should we be surprised? I think that it supports the view that banning the competition class gliders is nowhere near the complete answer for competition safety.
For a good, no-nonsense view from the inside Brett Hazlett's Blog is well worth following. Thanks for posting Brett!
The full results are on the Super Final organiser's website here.

20 January 2012

XC Workshop - Yorkshire Venue Confirmed

Less than a month to go now; just a few places still available. This workshop is designed to really get your cross country flying going. The day is based at the Ingleton Community Centre on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Please note this is different from the original venue.
Details of the content - click here.
For booking details - click here

19 January 2012

Develop your flying in 2012

I am delighted to confirm the details of my latest Pilot Development days and courses. What ever your level there is something for you, which will help you take the next step in your flying:
  • 1 day XC coaching and flying days - April 2012 and May 2012
  • Pilot Development courses - Spring and Summer 2012
  • Intensive Pilot Development Week in Annecy - July 2012
There are opportunities to suit all pockets. Go to Coaching and Courses for more details.

Flying at last!

I have just seen photos of Chrigel Maurer and two of his colleagues from Advance flying soaring the summit of the Eiger. Absolutely stunning.
It wasn't quite as epic in the UK's Peak District or as uncrowded! At least lots of pilots got some airtime. Thanks to Andy Chapman for posting his first go with his new camera. Busy ridge soaring in the Peak District
I am glad its not normally that busy!

09 January 2012

Why do XC pilots land?

What has always struck me is how wonderfully complex flying cross country is. We all know that the basics are simple: go round in circles when the vario beeps; glide off in the direction you want to go; repeat as many times as possible without landing. In an effort to better understand how UK pilots think about their XC flying I carried out a survey about what they saw as the reasons they ended up on the ground at the end of each XC flight. The most common reasons were:

  • ·         Being unable to find a thermal even though the pilot believed there was one there
  • ·         Lack of patience
  • ·         Tiredness or lack of concentration
  • ·         Getting into a bit of bad sky or terrain
Differences between individual pilots were marked. For example a number scored lack of patience and tiredness/loss of concentration highly, yet others, especially experienced pilots did not score these as major factors. Looking at the range of causes of landing it is obvious that some errors are much easier to avoid than others, which can take years of experience and focus to master.
Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and being able to build from them is one of the keys to being a really good pilot. Try to learn something from every flight. Soak up knowledge from all sources and above all, keep challenging yourself. Get to the hill as often as you can, go XC every time you can, enjoy every minute of it! To gain more insights please click here to have a look at the full analysis. 
Happy flying.

04 January 2012

Exciting wings for 2012

2012 looks like another fascinating year for wing development. We won't get the cutting edge, blistering competition gliders again, at least for a while, but there is plenty of rustling of new fabric in the EN C and EN D classes!
In the EN C class, my eye has been caught by Niviuk's Artic 3 and Gradient's Aspen 4. Both are looking like being nice improvements on their already decent predecessors, but will they be able to move ahead of the splendid Advance Sigma 8 and the delightful Ozone Delta?
EN D is in turmoil with no one really knowing just how hot some of the new gliders will be. The PWC Super Final in a few weeks will give our first proper look at the EnZo, Icepeak 6, Swing Core 2 etc. We should get an idea of what goes well but safety could be hard to judge from one competition flown exclusively by the super talented. And what about the Gin Boomerang X? Information is hard to come by, but I am hearing that it could be a direct replacement for the GTO i.e. more like a classic EN D.
There are quite a few others I could mention; we are blessed!
I have been chatting with the Editors at XC Magazine so have got my shout in for reviewing some of the new gliders soon. Can't wait. Happy new year!