An Apology

I received the following letter from John Good (CD at the recently concluded Seniors Championship) a day or two ago.


As you know, a number of pilots had issues with your flying at the Senior Contest.  The SSA Rules Committee has deemed it appropriate for me to write a letter to the SSA Contest Committee Chairman as provided for under Rule 9.13, which states (in part):

9.13.1 A pilot who, in the opinion of a Competition Director or Contest Manager, has demonstrated a problem or a history of safety related problems during participation in one or more contests is subject to review and action by the SSA. Such review will take place upon the submission by a CD or Contest Manager to the SSA Contest Committee Chairman of a written complaint stating the history of the alleged problem(s).

The text of my letter appears below.  Note the final sentence, which gives what I believe should and will be the resolution.


From: John F. Good – 2013 Senior Contest Competition Director

To: Ken Sorenson – SSA Competition Committee Chairman


Pursuant to Rule 9.13 of the SSA Competition Rules, this letter will serve to make the SSA Competition Committee aware of safety issues relating to the participation of Frank Paynter (Competition ID TA) in the 2013 Senior Contest at Seminole Lake Gliderport, Clermont Florida (March 10 – 16).

This year’s contest included five competition days.  After four of these I heard complaints from one or more pilots about Frank’s flying, the consistent theme of which was his failure to respect the rights of other pilots in a thermal.  This statement (a close paraphrase of one pilot’s comment to me) characterizes these complaints: “Frank at times flies as if he’s the only one in the thermal – he acts as if he expects others to stay out of his way.”

I took up this issue with Frank, and he agreed to try to do better, but noted that he was “only following Karl Striedieck.” My observation here is that following another pilot – even quite closely – in no way prevents unacceptably close encounters with gliders he has avoided by a safe margin.

I’ll note that none of the comments I heard about Frank’s flying was made formally, in writing (although a Safety Box was available).  Nor do I have any detail as to the time and location of the incidents that provoked these comments (if necessary, details could be obtained from the various pilots who made complaints).  So I think the message to Frank is simply that an unusually large number of his fellow pilots believe his flying has not been conforming to accepted norms for safety and courtesy, and that he should thus alter his thermaling behavior.

My belief is that Frank is an experienced and skilled pilot who will have little trouble doing so, and thus this problem should not recur.



As Contest Committee chairman, (also a Vice President on the Executive Committee and a member of the Rules Committee) Ken Sorenson pointed out at a morning meeting at the Seniors, the 'action' noted above can include banning a competitor from a contest, or even from all SSA sanctioned competitions.  As I cannot even imagine a future that doesn't include competitive soaring, this letter got my full and undivided attention.

First, I would like to sincerely apologize for what has clearly been viewed as overly aggressive and/or dangerous behavior on my part at the Seniors Championship.  I fly a lot of competitions, and so my perception of what is safe may be somewhat different from others, but that is not an excuse or a justification for making others uncomfortable in what is supposed to be an enjoyable and fun event.  As a friend pointed out to me recently, "Soaring is NOT a contact sport!".  I take full responsibility for this and I will do my very best to make sure I avoid even the perception that my flying is overly aggressive or unsafe.  To that end, I publicly pledge to do the following:

  • It has become common practice for racers to turn their radios off after starting a task, and I confess to doing the same thing at many contests.  From now on, I will continuously monitor the official contest frequency any time I am in the air, so that anyone who is concerned about my proximity to them can make that known to me immediately.  I promise to promptly acknowledge any such concerns and take immediate remedial action, up to and including leaving the thermal.
  • John Mittell (BZ) and I team-flew at the Seniors Championship, and that may have contributed to the problem.  As anyone who has flown at Seminole can attest, air-air communication is a real challenge, due to the extreme congestion on the normal 123.3MHz contest frequency.  The P-51 folks graciously allowed us to use their dedicated frequency, but we were all advised to keep chatter down for fear of losing its use in future years.  Although John and I experimented with two-way handheld radios, that did not work out very well, so we were often on a different frequency than the rest of the fleet. Later in the contest, we started switching to the 'common' frequency on entering a gaggle, and then switching back to our team freq when leaving, but this wasn't very satisfactory either.  In any case, in the interest of avoiding any perception that we are degrading safety in any way, John and I will not team fly at Perry or any other contest until and/or unless the communications issue can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Again, I would like to sincerely apologize for being inconsiderate of others in gaggles and/or out on course at the Seniors.  The Seniors is supposed to be an enjoyable time and celebration of the sport of soaring, and I regret having diminished that enjoyment for others in any way.

Frank (TA)





Frank Paynter

Dr. Frank (TA) Paynter has a PhD in Electrical Engineering. He retired from a successful 25-year civil-service career in 1993 and spent the next 15 years as a antenna researcher at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, retiring again in 2008 to become a full-time soaring bum.He is the author of the book “Cross Country Soaring with Condor”, co-authors (along with Scott Manley) the popular Condor Corner column for ‘Soaring’ magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Condor section at with Mark Hawkins, he is part owner of Hawke Tracking, the company that provides SPOT tracking services for contests and clubs. Before soaring came along, Frank was a national champion skydiver and still holds the record for the most number of consecutive dead-centers in skydiving competition. Frank started soaring in the mid-1990’s at Caesar’s Creek Soaring Club near Waynesville, Ohio and instantly fell in love with Cross-Country racing. Now he goes to as many contests as his wife of over 30 years will allow, and spends his winter months racing and instructing in Condor.

Latest posts by Frank Paynter (see all)

  6 comments for “An Apology

  1. April 9, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I have shared a few thermals at contests with you TA and never had reason to be concerned about your flying. Assuming we aren’t talking about a sudden outbreak of hypersensitivity amongst contest pilots at the seniors, what changed? Do you think it was mostly concentrating on team flying? Any chance that maybe an unconscious dependence on FLARM might be creeping in?

    All the best,


  2. James C Kellett
    April 9, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    How many ships at the Seniors in 2013 were FLARM equpped?

    • April 9, 2013 at 6:46 pm


      Thanks for the kind words. In reply to Jim’s question, at least half to 2/3 of the ships were Flarm equipped, and so we were all having to get used to frequent collision alerts in thermals. The predictive algorithm is supposed to filter out typical thermalling situations, but there were lots of times where the collision alert sounded even though it was clear that the situation wasn’t going to develop into a collision geometry. Although Flarm may have contributed to some of the nervousness and complaints, I believe strongly that it will make our sport significantly safer than it has been in the past.

  3. Sean Fidler (F2)
    April 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Bravo Frank. What a fine way to acknowledge this letter and move forward in a positive light.

  4. Rob Ware
    April 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    I’ll thermal anytime with ya TA! I think you have dealt with the issue very well.

  5. Tom Berry
    April 19, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Frank – very impressive response. It’s hard not to be defensive when receiving criticism, particularly from peers. Your decision to publish the letter and your response sets an excellent example for others and your pledge to change your actions, even if you thought you were in the right, shows a maturity that is rare.

    Happy flying and thanks for setting a great example.

Comments are closed.