Tips & Tricks for Your First Competition

by BomberWestern Soarers HG Club



    This article provides over thirty tips and tricks that low airtime pilots can use in competition flying. I have written this article with practical implementation in mind rather than from a theoretical perspective. Most of the area's covered can be used in both towing and hill launch competition (although my own experience is based on towing).

    I have tried to exclude all those obvious things you need to do in preparing for a comp, but apologise in advance for any that may slip through the cracks.

Tip 1
    Select a good team well before the comp and market yourself to them. In Western Australia most team benefit from a good novice pilot (as they can play a major role in winning the team-s event). Check out the teams early (at least November) and approach one of the pilots with a good sales pitch or a retrieve driver v either should see you welcomed with open arms.

Tip 2
    Get yourself a good set of topographical maps for the comp (eg 200Km coverage of Wylie for the WA comp). Topographical are best as you can mark on the high points in the sounding area which statistically or more likely to be good trigger sources for thermals. Also you can colour in blue low areas, so you know to avoid them. Good topographical maps (WAC charts) are available from Jandakot airport for $6 per map v you-ll need the ones that cover Perth/Albany and Perth/Geraldton.

Tip 3
    A good map that you can use once you've landed with road names is vital. If you have a GPS you can triangulate your position and figure which road you-re on. The Perth Map Centre has a great set of maps call the Street Smart v City to Bush series (you'll need maps 2 & 3).

Tip 4
    Buy or borrow a GPS v but learn how to drive it before the comp v not during. These allow you to dispense with flying with a map. The advantage of this is that most maps usually cut out a large degree of your field of view. As our sport relies on spotting other gliders, bird, etc- .This makes a significant difference.

Tip 5
    Get a watch that has an hourly alarm and alarm you can set. The hourly alarm provides you with a subtle reminder that you been in the air an hour (allows you to monitor your progress along the course line). Setting an alarm for 2 hours before sunset (sunset time can be gained from your GPS) provides a good reminder that your approaching the last thermal of the day. This is a good reminder that your should be trying to fly in the top third of your flight band. As the day draws to a close you want to remain as high as possible and use the good air.

Tip 6
    As a minimum obtain an understanding of speed to glide¦ v knowing how far your can glide from any given height in wind conditions allows you to (a) estimate if you can reach an other pilot circling in a thermal (or likely trigger source) and still have enough height to get up (eg no point getting there at 30 m) and (b) gives you a feel for your final glide into goal. Glide tables for most gliders can be found on the Western Soarers web site

Tip 7
    Set a personal goal for yourself at the comps. Note v this does not mean setting out to beat someone else as this is outside your control, but rather to focus on a personal goal such as v getting to goal everyday, flying further each day, staying in the air the longest, having your first 100 Km flight.

Tip 8
    Before the briefing each day at the comp get all your gear ready v eg radio batteries, camera, water. You tend to forget things in the hustle and bustle of the morning briefings.

Tip 9
    At the morning briefing listen closely to the weather forecast. Learn to extract the following from the weather forecast and temp trace for the day v wind direction and strength at altitude, max thermal height (from these and your glide table you should be able to calculate your final glide distance), trigger temp for start of the day, forecast take off time. If you don't know any of these ask one of the experienced pilots.

Tip 10
    Write down and check the radio channels for the other teams each day. You may end up flying with someone for another team that you want to talk to. Radio channels can be written on your uprights with a marker pen v this works well. The marker pen can be removed with most aerosols (such as Aeroguard or spray deodorant).

Tip 11
    Hydrate yourself well each morning before you launch. Drink at least 2 L each day before take off v this gives you an advantage when making decision compared with someone who is dehydrated. This also means that you may need to fgo¦ during a long flight (or in my case any length of flight). Don't wait till the comps when you-re in a crowded gaggle to practise this v try it on your normal weekend flying.

Tip 12
    When the final task is called draw a straight line on your map from launch to goal. Figure out what you think the wind will do during the day. Typically in WA in summer the wind starts off from the East and swings to the South/East or South. Check out the upwind side of the course line, as this is the route you want to fly. Be careful not to get stuck downwind of the course line towards the end of the day v at this time your getting tied, impatient and the thermal strength maybe decreasing v best to stay upwind and make the last leg cross tail wind.

Tip 13
    If you-re a novice fly with your red streamer from the king post. Most experienced pilots will give much more room when climbing in a thermal.

Tip 14
    Write the description of goal on your other upright in marker pen. Nothing worse than getting close to goal and not being able to remember the description of the goal paddock.

Tip 15
    Don't wait until the experienced pilots start towing for the day. Start towing early and be prepared to have a couple of tows. It's better to be towing with lots of pilots in the paddock rather than when most have left.

Tip 16
    Don-t hold up launch in tricky conditions. Step away from launch and let the more experienced pilots launch.

Tip 17
    When you're on tow observe the pilots either side of you and compare their climb rates. The pilot that is climbing quicker provides a good indication of better air. When you pin at the end of the strip it worth checking out the better side of the paddock.

Tip 18
    Once you've pinned off the tow watch out for pilots approaching you still on tow v get out of their way if they are heading towards you.

Tip 19
    If you see pilots circling on the upwind side of the paddock your towing in v it's a good time to launch.

Tip 20
    Don-t leave the paddock in just any thermal v especially if it's early in the day. Make a judgement call by considering the following:

- Is it strong enough and consistent or is it just a bubble?

- Are there other pilots on the course line? 

- Has the thermal taken you high enough to glide to the next thermal source? 

- Do you want to tow again (eg how big is the queue, what are launch conditions like, have they had a rope break, problems with the car, strip change, etc.

- How late in the day is it (eg is it likely to get another thermal on the next tow

- Is there anybody climbing back in the paddock within glide distance (if there's lots of pilots climbing in the paddock going back is not such a bad option

Tip 21
    Be prepared to thermal with other pilots v if you have done this before talk to other pilots regarding how to do this. Also think about how this will effect your own flying.

Tip 22
When thermalling with others here's a few tips:

    When you've above v when looking at the pilot circling below notice any pause in the turn rate. This fpause¦ is often a good indication of strong lift as their forward motion is coverted to forward and upward motion in a strong surge. This has the visual effect of a fpause¦ in their circling rate. If the pilot below is starting to gain on you is most likely they are in better lift. Move your circle on top of theirs v however, be prepared to wait until their surge hits you. This may happen only when they get close. 

    When you above v ignore them, they will be watching you. However, it might be worth alerting the pilot whether you have a visual on them. 

    When your at the same height v try to work together to climb as fast as possible. To circle together watch the other persons wing tips and try and keep is opposite you. If they start to catch you them increase your bank angle. If you start to catch them then decrease your bank angle.

Tip 23
    Ever wondered why some pilots climb through you in the same air v one reason is they are flying slower and with less bank angle to reduce their sink rate. This can make as much as a 1 m/s difference in sink rate. 

    Thermal as slowly (as is safe v extra speed in rough air or in crowded conditions provides a greater level of control over the glider) and with as little bank angle as possible. This will increase your climb rate.

Tip 24
    Know how to join a thermal v don't barge into the middle. As you approach a circling pilot observe the edge of their circle (eg pick a landmark in the distance). Enter the thermal at the edge of this circle and gradually work your way in. Getting in a pilot's way will result in you both having a less than optimal climb.

Tip 25
    When approaching a gaggle or a pilot thermalling approach from either directly upwind or downwind. You may experience a stronger climb rate than the established gaggle or pilots circling.

Tip 26
    Consider how you will react once pilots in your thermal start to leave. Will you follow, are they a gun pilot or a fellow novice, will you take the thermal to the top, why did they leave, where are they going v thinking about some of these things before they happen will make your decision making more informed. You may want to develop some rules of thumb (however, these rules need to be flexible to cater for different situations).

Tip 27
    Build yourself a glide table, understand it and fly with it. A glide table allows you to estimate how far you can glide from a given height, in a given wind strength. Various glide tables are able on the Western Soarers web site From the days max height (that you get from the weather briefing and later on in the flight) you can calculate how far from goal you can make you final glide. Most novice pilots get to goal with too much height v I crossed my first goal line at 2000 m on a day that the climbs were only 1.5 m/s (I could have saved 15 minutes). Try and get to goal between 300-600 m.

Tip 28
    Learn to make good radio calls v think before you speak. When calling thermals, call the average (not the peak v nothing worse than being called over to 5 m/s up to find only 2 m/s up). When calling your location, call your bearing and distance from major towns NOT road names. Why v if you call a road name is often hard to find on a map if your 50 Km out, call 5 Km North of Cunderdin and everyone knows where you are (including your team mates).

Tip 29
    At the end of the day when the flying is over talk to other pilots about your day. Buy an experienced pilot a beer (or two) and quiz them about the day v where they found lift & where they didn't, climb rates for the day, the route they took, problems they had, how conditions changed during the day, thermal spacings, inversions, wind shear and when and why they took climbs to the top.

Tip 30
    Just as useful as talking to experienced pilots is talking to other novices v cover the area's above and try and learn from their mistakes.

Tip 31
    If you flew with someone, talk with them about your time together. Give them some feedback from your observations and also ask for comments on your own flying.

Tip 32
    Re-think the flight for the day and re-live the good stuff and figure out what you-d do differently about the errors you made.

Tip 33
    The best tip I can give for comp flying is relax and enjoy the company of those that share the best sport on this planet.

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