23 December 2013

Intermediate and sports gliders

Recent discussions about wing choice with a pilot I have been helping have reminded me about the information that pilots have to unpick, before placing their order. The pilot in question has good core skills and thermal and XC experience. However a demanding job has limited his airtime, especially in the the last 12 months.
It is now widely recognised just how wide the EN B class is. At the top end there are some impressive gliders for sure, but looking at the descriptions of the EN B standard, it is clear that some gliders getting the grade B don't really fit.
U-Turn - Blacklight - EN B
Swing Mistral 7 - EN B
Niviuk Artik 3 - "Sport" and EN C
Thankfully the manufacturers are pretty good at describing their gliders' target markets and good dealers help match pilots to gliders. The DHV safety tests have explored EN B and EN A gliders further than the certification tests do and highlight the differences between gliders. I am always slightly wary of the drawing firm conclusions about a glider from simulated collapses, because there can be quite large differences between real life events and an EN specified collapse.
I am not criticising the two EN B gliders pictured. I flew them for reviews for Cross County Magazine and had wonderful XC flying on both; it is just that their behaviour in some circumstances has more in common with wonderful "sport" gliders like the Artik 3. I once heard a pilot saying: I am going to buy a **** because I want the extra safety of an EN B; I was tempted to say "what extra safety?" I am glad that there are intentions to realign EN B during the next revision of EN standards (in 2014).
So what did the pilot I mentioned at the start of this article decide? He is aiming for a mid EN B and has got a demo glider on order ready for when the latest Atlantic storm has moved away!

26 November 2013

Cross county and competition development for pilots

With something for competition pilots, new/improving XC pilots and advanced XC pilots, I am really looking forward to getting everyone ready for the new season. Dates are finalised for the first three events of 2014:

  • Competition preparation and Masterclass: Saturday 15th to Sunday 16th February.
  • Advanced Cross Country Skills: Saturday 22nd February.
  • Cross Country Workshop: Saturday 8th March.
All three events will take place at the Derbyshire and Lancashire Gliding Club next to Bradwell Edge in the heart of the Peak District. Chosen for its central location, excellent facilities, affordable accommodation and proximity to one of best flying areas in the UK. 
Details of the events can be found here.
I do of course travel round the UK by special arrangement.
I hope to see lots of you during 2014.

30 October 2013

Winter pilot development programme: getting excited already!

I mentally take an Autumn break from flying although it doesn't usually last long. A few grotty weeks' weather and the mind soon wanders to new horizons. 
Through the winter and early spring of 2014 I aim to do ground-based work with as many pilots as possible to set them up for 2014 season and beyond.
This winter I am really excited to be offering a 1-day Advanced Cross Country Flying seminar with multiple British record holder Barney Woodhead. Barney's thinking is something truly special and he loves spreading the knowledge.
I will be running my Competition Preparation and Masterclass again this winter; updated for 2014. 
For those of you earlier or just starting your XC flying, I'll be running 1-day XC Workshops.
Dates and details are coming soon, but drop me a line to make sure you get the information and to guarantee you hear first about what ever you want to know about.
Happy times: on the way with Barney

22 July 2013

Speed to Fly in UK Style XC

I was very interested to look at the tactical differences of 2 pilots during an XC last week. Both were from the same launch, at more or less the same time and were downwind flights with a bit of cross winding.

The graph above shows one pilot's height in feet against time with each block representing 40min. Ignore the first block and half as this was when the pilot was still soaring near launch. Once flying cross country, one feature to notice is the number of climbs that the pilot takes, including very small ones. This pilot is milking everything!

This second graph shows the other pilot flying the same route. In this case the time scale is in 24min intervals. This pilot took off later, when conditions were starting to become good and climbed out immediately. Compared to the first pilot, this pilot takes fewer climbs and gains more height in the climbs taken. This pilot is being more selective.

So which one is best? 
The first pilot's XC took about 5.5 hrs and the second about 4 hrs. Further analysis would show that the second pilot climbed faster, because he ignored the weaker climbs in confidence that there would be better ones available. This is a corner stone of speed to fly theory and helps the pilot cover the best distance, whist conditions allow it.
In this case it was actually the tortoise that won the day, covering an impressive 100+km, whist the the hare was down at 80+km! What made the first pilot's flight even more impressive was that there was thick cirrus moving in and shutting the day down; it all pointed to fast being better than slow. What he did better than anyone else that day was avoid the patches of cirrus which were shutting off the thermals for the other pilots.
It just goes to show the delicious complexity of XC flying! 

04 June 2013

The Gin Wide Open - a great success

Great for me and great for Gin!
This comp put smiles on lots of faces throughout the week in Meduno (Northern Italy). I lost count of the number of pilots achieving their first competition goal flights; in the down time, there were lots of interesting talks and opportunities to learn; the hugely generous sponsorship meant lots of pilots left with something special.A really nice touch was the award of prizes for all sorts of different achievements, not just the top of the leader board. The 5 major prizes (Glider, harness, reserve from Gin, holidays with XTC or Passion Paragliding), were all done by a draw, so everyone was in with a shout.

Local school trip to the goal field (Photo: Barbara St Aubyn)
Toby Colombe and Brett Janaway did a magnificent job on the organisation. The Gin team representatives Petra Slivova (Womens' World Champion), Torsten Seigel (Test Pilot) and Andy Beevers (Marketing and Communication) added a lot to the week. Petra helped many see how to develop their flying, Torsten's talk on glider design was fascinating. I enjoyed doing a talk on the psychology of succeeding in and enjoying competitions. A massive subject, but lots of good feedback!
I was delighted with second place in the event and congratulations to the wily Petra on her victory!

The Gin Wide Open is set to continue and next year is heading for Ager in Spain. Highly recommended!
Some of the winners! (Photo: Steve Newcombe)

24 May 2013

What does an XC sky really look like?

Thursday dawned cold, cloudy and windy. It would have been easy to write the day off but despite a lot of "weather" in the area, there was sufficient instability to have a nice task 2 at the Gin Wide Open.
An unpromising sky, but still we had nice thermal XC flying

Top left of the photo you can see a cumulus forming: there were certainly thermals forming despite the extensive top cover. Shortly after this the sun appeared as well. As you might guess, the conditions were not 100% reliable, but many pilots sensed the fluctuations and took time to gain height in weak climbs or to wait before tackling difficult sections. A few certainly pushed too hard and a few were just plane unlucky. I was well placed for much of the race although I got stuck for a few minutes at one point. Paradoxically that may have helped because it made me approach the last section with caution. A new mass of dead looking cloud was encroaching on the course so I decided to take time to try to get enough height to do the last 2 turn points and goal in one glide. I hadn't anticipated the buoyant glide and regular thermals on route so despite requiring a bit under 8:1 to make goal I arrived almost in orbit.Its a funny game!
We were treated to a great talk by one the new Gin development pilots Torsten Siegel, more of which in a day or so.

22 May 2013

Happy Wednesday at the Gin Wide Open and flat land cycles

The excellent Wide Open sponsored by Gin has been cursed by a low pressure system, but finally we had a task today.
Using a mixture of the main Meduno ridge and the flat lands, there were easy sections and less easy as well. The lead gaggle all got really low whilst trying to reach the last turn point into wind. It was a case of bad timing, because the flat lands shut off for a while. Most of the gaggle landed but a few of us backed right off a few hundred meters from the turn point and had to painfully drift in zeros the wrong way, undoing all the progress made! Eventually the climb got going but not before we had drifted several km away. The next group of pilots over took us at cloud base whist we struggled back into the race. The flat lands had switched on again and once up we were treated to a buoyant glide and regular climbs all the way to goal.
The Meduno Ridge and nice building cumulus
Days often cycle and sometimes it is just a matter of hanging on until switches on again. Petra Slivova (multiple comp winner) showed her class by reading the changes best and was first into goal on her EN B Gin Atlas.
Happy faces in goal!

09 May 2013

Joint Services Paragliding Personal Bests

More congratulations, slightly belatedly and reflections on some great achievements last week. I had the privilege of doing some XC development work with the Army Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club who hosted the event.
The obvious cloud to head for.  Photo: Colin Hawke

Well done to Andy Claxton, Martin Baxter for their PBs and Pete Gallagher for a wonderful ton from Corndon down to south Wales. The weather came just right, so as well as doing lots of the ground work which goes towards successful XC flying we were able to find some nice conditions for putting the skills into practice.
The cloud in the picture worked well as you would hope from the solid appearance and dark base. However many on the day were much shallower and less distinct. Even though their shadows looked solid on the ground, the actual appearance gave away the fact that there was much less lift. Reading the ground sources was just as important on this day and the big groups of dark fields were the reliable options.

The best week ever in the UK?

Multiple 200km flights; 2 new flight to goal UK records; multiple PBs; 6493km flown on the best day. Simply staggering!
It is no coincidence that the North South Cup, was on during this period. The event is basically an excuse to get as many of the top XC pilots as possible together, with a bit of friendly rivalry thrown in for good measure. The power of setting ambitious goals and good pilots spurring each other on is there for all to see!
It was pretty good for the Dower household too. A couple of ton+ flights for me on the less spectacular days and a new PB for Ruth of over 140km in a flight of over 7hrs.
Congratulations to all!

A 200km sky. Photo Barney Woodhead.

12 April 2013

Understanding the flavour of the day

Two lovely, if rather short XC flights for me so far in the UK spring reminded me how each day has its own characteristics. Once you understand out how the day is working it will often hold fast for the main part of that day. Sometimes clouds are the key. On other days the cycles are too short and often when you fly to a cloud it is already starting to decay by the time you arrive. On other days, reading the ground is what will find you your next thermal.
Long Mynd in the distance (6.4.13)
The picture taken on my flight from Corndon last Saturday shows one such day. Those clouds look rather weak and although the shadows are solid, I realised that the bare fields like the ones just past the end of my pod were the ones to go go for, even when I was high. In areas with a mixture of hills and flats/valleys often sticking to the high ground is much more successful. Not only do the hills give good features to act as triggers, but also they may be generally drier. Of course there are no hard and fast rules, but developing a mental model is a great help.

Arriving at the Long Mynd
This was a light wind day so a triangle looked a possibility. After going to the south end of the Long Mynd and admiring the views, I decided to work North. It turned out that the snow-covered high ground and the green fields were poor options and it was only when I returned to the a fore mentioned bare fields that I found lift again.
Was the triangle a success? Unfortunately no and I was left to reflect on a poor site choice for the day. Of the sizable group of us on Corndon, only 2 of us got up all day, whilst up in the Lake District and down south at Leckhampton, many pilots enjoyed great flights!

08 March 2013

Break Away Competition Series is Born!

The competition scene has been spiraling down into the mire for nearly 2 years. Two tragedies at the 2011 World championships and a badly thought-out knee jerk reaction led to a cascade of events. All attempts to find a compromise have been thwarted and eventually something had to give. The latest blows came when the European Hang Gliding and Paragliding Union (EHPA), refused to recognise the proposed new Competition Class and one of the major EN testing organisations Air Turquoise, refused to continue to test competition orientated EN D gliders. I have a lot of sympathy with the Air Turquiose test pilots: the EN test procedure of doing nothing for 4 seconds after each maneouvre is not a nice prospect on a race glider. The problem is not the gliders or the test pilots, it is that the tests are unsuitable for this type of glider.
Step up the hugely respected Mads Synderguard (Author of Flying Rags for Glory - click here) with the World Paragliding Series (website here). Free of the bureaucrats, free of the FAI, free of the EHPU; you know what? - it just might work!
Happy times at the Colombian Open

17 February 2013

Packed turnout at the Glider Control Lecture

Many thanks to all of you who rounded off a great day's flying to come and learn more about the best techniques for controlling your glider. I am also indebted to all of those experienced pilots who turned up to contribute their wisdom to the debate.
The first day of spring?
Just a selection of the right ideas:
- think seriously about extra training, over water to develop your skills.
- check your harness adjustment.
- look carefully at how you hold the controls; could it affect your response in an extreme situation?
- airspeed is your friend.
- hold the rear risers when gliding, whilst keeping the brakes in your hands. This allows you feel the glider and have gentle pitch control. In rough air if control is becoming difficult, let go of the risers and control with the brakes.

I have become more and more interested about the intricacies of high level glider control and went to Flyeo to work with Fabien Blanco on developing my glider handling skills for the first time a few years ago. Its now its a regular part of my own development. I can say it has made a huge difference to my flying!

08 February 2013

Glider Control

I am running evening of interaction, film and talk exploring the skills which help keep you safe on your paraglider and allow you to more fully utilise its performance. Outline:
- Active flying and how to develop and practice the skills
- Collapses; stopping them early and handling them with the minimum of fuss when they do happen
- Cascades and how to avoid them
- Harnesses and how they affect handling and control
- SIV and pilotage

6pm Saturday 16th Feb at the Derbyshire and Lancashire Gliding Club. No booking needed, free to all DSC members and guests. Hope to see you there.

06 February 2013

Competition Preparation and Master-class

The snows cleared in the Peak District and my 2-day master-class went ahead unhindered. I had a great mix, from pretty experienced comp pilots right down to pilots just starting out on the competition journey. The group worked really hard for the 2 action-packed days. Although flying was a option during the course we focused on the ground based learning which can make such a difference. It was a good challenge to cater for all. The feedback was tremendous and I presented many ideas that many of the pilots had not heard before and certainly not practised.  I also challenged some of the conventional thinking about how to develop your competition flying which went down very well.
As we know, there is so much more to doing well in competitions than just being a decent pilot!

What is your plan? (You need to get to A TP on the mountain in the distance , just right  of centre).
I can't wait to run this course again!

20 January 2013

Colombian Paradise

I had been promised stress-free racing at the Colombian Open in Roldanillo. However the driest season they have had for years turned the volume up several notches! What I hoped for was fantastic XC racing and a chance to push hard in a high quality field and the competition delivered in spades!
This was my first comp on the Icepeak 6 and having a competitive glider was great. I promised myself a steady first task and got to goal as planned, but was surprised by the hot pace of the field. Task 2 was a disaster with a 30km bomb out on a 100+km task. What was frustrating was that it was indecision more than anything else which led to the early landing.
Playing with the cloud before the start

On glide under a classic Columbian sky

Chasing Luciano on his Swing Core 3
A severe review of my mental and physical approach did the trick and the rest of the week was much better. My goal was to be very part of the lead gaggle, lead out from it when the opportunity presented itself and get closer to a task win. I can't say it was plain sailing; the delicious mix of speed and risk (of landing) was ever present. I relied on probably my lowest save ever off a flat field (40m AGL). I led one task for many km before not managing to outwit the chasing pack as the day shaded over. 24th overall though not spectacular had some golden moments.
The task win will have to wait for another day but lots of pieces of the jig saw dropped into place this week!