29 December 2014

Winter training

As well as having some beautiful scenic flying on clear winter's days, this is good time of year to practice skills.
For example: why not do a few exercises to improve your gliding ability by developing your rear-riser control?
Rear riser control is accepted by most top level pilots as an essential skill on 2-liners and is also very useful for a much wider range of pilots and gliders. Using the rear risers to damp pitch movements, make course corrections and maintain a feel for the glider is much better than resorting to the brakes. It has the bonus of maintaining efficiency much better. It is done by keeping your hands in the brake handles and holding the top of the rear riser or the handles if present. The brakes should be fully off.
Try this:

  • Fly the full length of the ridge holding the rear risers
  • Fly several beats including the turns using rear risers only
  • Go to full speed bar and allow the speed to stabilise. Come off the bar quickly so that the speed converts to height and the glider pitches back. Damp the ensuing surge with the rear risers.
To see a bit of rear riser control in action have a look at Brett Hazlett's beautiful video "Never Come Down"After about 2min 25 you will him using plenty of bar in active air and using the rears.

Notes of caution:
  • Small rear riser movements have a big effect compared to brakes
  • Be especially gentle of the rear risers if you have no speed bar on since you are slowing the glider down
  • Build up gradually with your rear riser control
Happy winter!

18 November 2014

Happy flights and less happy flights

A pilot I am helping told a tale of a recent where he just did not feel happy in the air and went to land. Other pilots continued to fly and seemed fine. He worried that he was losing his touch!
In this situation, digging deep with the pilot can reveal or sorts of reasons but many pilots just have days when they are happy and other days when they are not even though conditions seem the same. So it could have been just a bad day. Four thoughts for this situation:
  • Sometimes analysing the feeling can help you separate the rational fear from the irrational. Do you feel unhappy because it is dangerous or because it is uncomfortable but is still pretty safe?
  • I often tell pilots about the magic 1 hour. Stay in the air for at least 1 hour (as long as it is safe) and very often you settle into the flight and enjoy it more.
  • Change your focus and aim to achieve something which will put your mind onto constructive thoughts. Maybe aim fly to the far end of the ridge and back; try to reach 500ft above take off etc.
  • Check that harness adjustments have not slipped and consider adding ballast if you are light on your wing.
A "happy" day on the new Artik 4 (Photo - Phil Colbert)

The picture shows the new Artik 4 in action flown by Barney the day before I got it. Definitely a happy day!
(Review to follow in Cross Country Magazine in January).

19 July 2014

An Emerging Star wins the Nordic Open

Pedro Bernardo on the South side of the Sierra Gredos in central Spain delivered 7 tasks out of a possible 7. Not that the flying was easy and many good pilots found consistency eluded them.
A big test came on the last day for the day 6 leader Manuel Quintanilla. A strong westerly flow and a cross wind task was going to be a test of skill, judgement and determination. The young Mexican had a 150 point cushion, but probably needed to get to goal to be sure of the win. There is little doubt about his temperament: at the Spanish Open the previous week he had suffered a full bore blow out, deployed his reserve and broke both his C-Pilot Pro instruments on landing. From the way he would fly 7 task, you would never have known!
The crux of task 7 came on the final crossing of the flats to goal. To many, the obvious route was to max out the final climb and use full bar for the cross/into wind glide. Manuel thought differently. He chose to fly directly into wind hopping over ridges to work his way west, before attempting the southerly push to goal with less of a headwind component. He will have met strong wind and turbulence as he crossed over ridges to try to reach the windward side and the hoped for climb. He will have been closer to the terrain than the flat land route and he will have demonstrated how to fly a paraglider at or close to top speed in uncomfortable conditions
Pilots taking the first option spoke of needing 6:1 for goal and getting nowhere near. Manuel crushed the opposition, winning the task and the event. Salut young man!
Manuel Quintanilla on top step of the podium. (Photo Gordie Mucklow)

05 July 2014

3 days of rain then classic!

Friday was simply beautiful, with nice cumulus, convergence and comfortable winds. 101km flight to goal and lots of happy faces, including me. Bold moves were rewarded fairly often so it is easy to feel excited and pleased. I was nearly crying after final glide needing 12:1. I diverted for a low save which cost a few minutes. The feeling was one of relief rather than frustration! Now at 9th in the over ranking, I am looking to fly a similar way on the last task. Conditions look great again and with a stronger SW wind in should be quick...

02 July 2014

The perfect strategy

On the second day of bad weather, it has been possible to reflect back on the Spanish Championships task 2, 157km  elapsed time race.
The earliest starters were at 13.50. I started at 14.10 and winner (Francisco Reina) started at 14.25. Reina made the classic elapsed time strategy work by storming through the field to arrive only a few minutes behind the first to finish in 3hrs 48. Another top 10 pilot who started 35min earlier only got 14 more lead out points despite being in front quite a lot. I finished in 4hrs32 for 800+pts. So leading paid less handsomely than being fast and catching/overtaking pilots later in the race.
I had let, what seemed plenty of pilots, get going in front of me, but there were very few fast pilots amongst them. Their general lack of confidence in decisions, couple with quite weak conditions made it hard to press on without risk. Meanwhile the later starters such as Reina were able to get on the pace straight away.
Approaching Avilla the conditions improved and the pace was good. I eventually formed a group with an Enzo 2, Enzo and IP7 and we supported each other well although could have been faster to leave weaker/weakening climbs and we should have been prepared to glide deeper in the search for the strong climbs. It was noticeable how I am not holding as much speed through turbulence as some others, so as is usually the case for me it takes a while to get into a good racing mode. 
It was stable after Zegovia and we had to slow right down with 40km to go. I left for finals needing 14:1 and was rewarded with comfortable glide in. There was still life in the day and pilots were still arriving 3/4 of an hour after me. The later start was clearly a good strategy today and even pilots without Reina's relentless pace would have enough time to complete the race AND would be blessed with lots of high quality markers.
For those who like numbers, the results can be found here.

01 July 2014

Spanish Champs Day 2

Pre-frontal conditions gave the chance of a classic long flight to goal just shy of 160km. Sensibly an elapsed time task was set to cut down on time spent waiting in potentially windy lee-side conditions.
I delayed my start a bit as climbs were weak in the early afternoon, although I didn't play too much brinkmanship and rejected the idea of waiting for the final gate. It was a really mixed flight with tough bits and fantastic bits. About half way through the task I became part of a nice group of 4, with an Icepeak 7 and two Enzo 2s. We could have been quicker but we made progress without risk so it was better than going alone. I was really happy with my climbing and the handling of the Icepeak 7Pro in the rough stuff.
Classic Piedrahita and view of the Kobo (Richard Perks)
At around 120km goal was looking very achievable so I pushed on from the group twice only to be caught again when the strong climbs I'd hoped for didn't materialise. The third bid for freedom worked and a decent final glide had me into goal in the first few, of the coach load the eventually arrived. The score sheet will reveal who got the elapsed time strategy right!
Thanks to Richard Perks for allowing me to use a picture.

30 June 2014

Spanish Championships Piedrahita

Day 1
A great starter task of a little under 70km after a front had cleared during the night. We had 2 turnpoints before the start which meant that the field formed into to different groups. Having turnpoints before the start can fool some instuments. No problem on Flytec and Flymaster but LK8000 did not appear to support that option. Any ideas?
Once I had re-tuned to my IP7pro, having been flying the Sigma 9 for the Cross Country Magazine review for the last 2 weeks, I started to really enjoy the task. I found myself in the leading group as we negotiated the pass. The NW wind meant we were over some higher terrain but it proved hard to find a strong climb. We had to watch 2 groups over take in orbit as we got the necessary height to glide over the poor area to the east of the pass. Our group fragmented and we lost all momentum. Frustrating. Thankfully the conditions were good from then on, but all hope of a high finish had gone. I left for final glide needing 14:1 and arrived at goal at over 700m!
Steve Ham has blogged on his excellent Fly Piedrahita  website that today looks set for a big task. Pee tubes at the ready!

07 June 2014

Overcoming Disappointments

For most of us, even after a succession of good flights, there is always the chance of a disappointment just around the corner. Or in my case, two disappointments in one week. The first came on a mediocre day, but there was definitely more to be had. The second was a largely blue south-westerly day from Eyam edge in Derbyshire. I was in the air first but with the low level wind WSW the ridge was barely soarable. I had to land back at take off a couple of times and then got caught out too far from launch and landed at the bottom. Two gaggles got away in quick succession whilst I packed and got back to launch. I got away reasonably quickly but after two frustrating climbs, never getting above 3300’ I was back on the ground a few km downwind and kicking the heather. The lead gaggle got to the coast…
I stewed for a few days about that one. Was it bad flying or bad luck? Was my state of mind right at the start of the day and was it good enough as the day started to go wrong? What could I have done differently?
A bit of analysis is good; dwelling on mistakes isn’t. It is worth emerging with a plan after a disappointment; it helps to you look forward at what to do next time rather than back at the errors. Thinking back to different flights that had a better outcome gets one in a better frame of mind. Compare and contast: “I am rubbish; those other pilots are so much better than me etc. etc.” to “Actually I had a bad day but I am a decent pilot; the next good day won’t be far away.” From there you move on to “I understand the mistakes I made, the part that bad luck played and how I can do it better next time”
A week has passed with no other opportunities to fly so what is my analysis?
·         Site choice could have been better in a SW wind.
·         I was a bit overconfident/complacent and did not take enough account of the risk of going down.
·         I spent too much time searching away from launch. There is a good place to wait near launch and this is what the lead gaggle did.
·         Once away from the hill sometimes you have to roll the dice to get up. Sometimes it works and sometimes it didn’t. Faced with the same again I would have been tempted to park over an area that has often worked in the past, even if it meant wasting the 1000+ft AGL I had in hand.
·         Underlying factor: dislike of crowds in the club environment hence the rather chancy searching away from launch.
I am absolutely itching to get going and view the panorama from cloud base again. I also want to push my glider harder in tight turns and higher speeds in turbulence. Right where’s my kit?

16 April 2014

Cracking days

I looked with envy at those souls who got out on Monday and Tuesday this week with more great flights. Hugh Miller and Guy Anderson led the way with the first two double tons of the year; congratulations fellows!
Thanks to Helen Gant for the lovely photo from last Friday with me on the IP7 Pro.
On the way from Wether Fell. Photo Helen Gant

13 April 2014

Best laid plans or pulling a rabbit out of a hat

Friday 11th April got lots of people very excited, especially in the north of England. Pilots in the South headed for Bradwell in Derbyshire and those already in the North headed for Wether Fell in the Yorkshire Dales, which promised better air over a longer distance. Other than a quick warm up ridge soar on Mam Tor, this was my first proper flight on my IP7 Pro, so I was even more excited.
I was one of 40+ pilots at Wether. The plan was to get away at about 11.30 and use the NW wind to get reasonably far south before the forecast westerly kicked in. By that stage we would be able to cross the Humber to a declared goal at 150km.
A little behind schedule with the climb out at 11.45, I took the first glide with Helen Gant and Chris Williams but in no time at all it had all unraveled. Rhona Carrigan came in low and got up to join us. Helen ghosted away but the climb didn't materialise for me, C and R and we ended up soaring on Green Scar Top for ages. R got away, then C, leaving me feeling like a fool. It was almost 2 hours from when I had taken off on Wether (just 5km upwind) to when I eventually got back in the game!
The wind was now more westerly so I abandoned the earlier declared goal and tried to stick with the good sky. Nice lines of cumulus led me to the Vale of York at good speed; taking the better climbs and setting off as soon as they weakened. A cracking looking street north of York wouldn't wait for me and was dead cloud by the time I reached it. Back into slow gear, I hardly reached 3000' for the next 40km. Down to 700' I was saved at the ground rising at the edge of the Wolds with a proper climb. The ground fell away, the coast came into view. The sea air had pushed well in land so a beach landing was not to be; but landing at 5.30 and 120km I was pretty elated.
Pilots were scattered everywhere; the Peak District had delivered even more than the Dales. A fantastic day and a privilege to be a paraglider pilot!

23 March 2014

Cross Country Workshops - reflecting back

Many thanks to all the pilots who came to the North of England events and the South of England ones in collaboration with Flybubble.
Every time I do these courses I love getting the ideas and perspectives from different pilots and this is one of the important things which allows the courses to continue to evolve.
We had one really interesting discussion about the 5 thermalling methods and why some pilots can find one or more of the methods tricky to apply. Method 1 (count and turn) is a basic method which is intended to get pilots deep enough into the area of lift before they turn. The problem that can occur links to the amount of time that it can take a pilot to initiate, build up and complete a turn. If they a quite slow, it can often lead to them falling out of the far side of the lift. If you find this is happening to you then starting the turn earlier, say after 1 or 2 seconds instead of 4. As with applying any method of thermalling, the key is to be flexible: swap between methods as appropriate and subtly adjust within each one and you will soon be climbing like a cork!
Many thanks also to Greg Hammerton for putting together a great video from the courses. You can watch Greg's video here.

06 March 2014

Thermals - the taste of things to come

The wettest winter on record doesn't seem to have stopped the early spring thermals forming despite a few gloomy predictions from some pilots. It will be interesting to see how all the damp ground affects things. I fully expect lots of big flights again this year although climbs may be a bit more gentle and start a bit later in the day until the ground really dries out. Weak lift often means reduced sink in between so I think its is "business (pretty much) as usual" for this season.
I've been getting out on Nova's Ion 3 (low EN B) and SuSi Q (hike and fly) for Cross Country Magazine. Both are proving LOTS of fun and perform very impressively. The SuSi Q has the most amazingly easy ground handling I have ever come across. More on the wings to come in the full review.
SuSi Q 18 (Photo Helen Gant)
Thanks to Helen Gant for the photos. The first in the SuSi Q just launching for a fly-down before the day got going.

Later on, me and the Ion 3 had really nice thermals, not quite to cloud base but plenty of height to go exploring!
Ion 3 (Photo Helen Gant)

17 January 2014

Beautiful video from Jean-Baptiste

Jean-Baptiste Chandelier has excelled himself again. This beautiful 5 minute video might be best bit of your whole day!  Click here to view "Touch"

13 January 2014

A new way forward for competition gliders

Many fine minds have been working away to try and untangle competition gliders from the EN Certification system. It makes sense: safety does not appear to have improved by making the best pilots in the world fly EN D gliders and there have been a whole raft of unintended consequences. The latest proposals from CIVL have a lot to commend them but are fraught with compromises demanded by bodies such as the EHPA (a body which represents the nation associations in Europe, such as the BHPA); the testing houses; the manufacturers; the Paragliding World Cup and the competitors themselves.
Some progressive thinking has brought in a range of good ideas such as:

  • Flight tests based on but adapted from the EN tests: irrelevant maneuvers dropped, pilot intervention allowed after 2 seconds, test flights done by the testing houses or by manufacturers overseen and analysed by the testing houses;, flight tests done in a pod harness.
  • Top speed limited to 65km/h
  • Fairly relaxed technical limits on aspect ratio
  • Some reduction in testing costs by requiring flights tests at the top end of the weight range only
It doesn't go far enough to help small pilots (or possibly very large ones). An earlier idea required flight tests on sizes around "medium" and other sizes scaled from there but not independently flight tested. This would have had the effect of making unusual sizes less expensive to produce, and so making it possible for more manufacturers to justify making out-lying sizes. However there has been a sufficient swell of opinion to require flight tests on all sizes. For example, currently and for the last 2 years, only Niviuk has catered for small pilots flying competition EN D gliders and I don't see much in the proposal which will help this to change. I am also personally unconvinced that the rules on lines will help give us line sets which last something like the life of the glider. Pity.
There have been a lot of cooks working on this broth, but at least it is a plausible way forward out of the uncertainty and negative consequences.
So should the CIVL proposal be accepted? Maybe a few tweaks are possible but even if not, I personally think that it should be embraced by us all and we move forward together.

07 January 2014

New Events: XC development with Flybubble

I am delighted to announce a new collaboration with Flybubble to offer a special event in the South of England. Actually it's two events over two days. Before the season properly starts, we are aiming to give pilots the best possible leg-up for their XC flying. Pilots can attend either or both of the days depending on what their needs are. Day 1 is the renowned XC workshop, refined and developed for 2014. It puts all the foundations in place for successful and rewarding XC flying. Day 2 is Advanced XC Skills, which picks up where Day 1 leaves off to build the skills and knowledge of the true advanced XC pilot.

The dates are February 24th and 25th, which due to heavy weekend schedules are a Monday and a Tuesday. We hope to see lots of you there. Book your leave now!
Many thanks to Carlo at Flybubble for making this possible.