March 17 at Seminole – A Nugget’s View of the Seniors

Today closes out a very good Seniors.  It was undoubtedly the best flying I have had in gliders.  Florin and Andrea did a fantastic job running the Seniors. John Good was excellent as the Contest Director.  He put together some great tasks that challenged us.  As for today,  I finally beat Doug Jacobs across the finish gate; of course I was in the front seat of MP, his ride for the contest.  It was a rare privilege to watch a world-class glider pilot work.  The weather did not live up to its billing and the speeds of the day suffered for it.   Nevertheless, I take away two things:

1.      Fly fast between thermals.  Often we were going 85 to 90 mph and a few were up to 100, even if the distance was relatively short.

2.      Take advantage of the wispy type clouds.  I was not clever enough to pick up on most of them but they seemed more reliable that some of the well-developed clouds we saw.  Once Doug said, “A beautiful cloud like that and no lift under it.”

I am not sure of this but it seemed as though Doug would slow down even before the vario indicated lift but most of the time the vario would start up within a few seconds.  Most of the time this move correlated with one of those wispy cloud and sometimes not.  It was almost like he suspected lift was there and went for it.

In addition to those two what have I learned?

1.      I need to get better at thermaling.   There is a lot packed into that statement.  I suggest that you get with someone who can cover that in detail.

2.      fly faster between thermals.  Every airplane type will differ some on this point but a good statement might be that you should push the right end of your polar; perhaps out to 3 to 4 kts down.

3.      fly straight lines in TAT to get the best scoring distance.  Traveling perpendicular to you primary course line is generally not productive, unless it leads you to significantly faster speeds that are on your course line.

4.      take care of your physical self, water, rest, electrolytes, sunblock

5.      come with an attitude of learning; competition will come in its time

6.      have fun and enjoy some of the finest soaring in the South.

I can not say enough about the value of having a great mentor in flying contests.  Frank Paynter has been terrific.  I have flown at least 10 hours with him on Condor.  It is a fantastic tool to get ready to fly in an area and to practice flying a contest type task.  At the end of each session, we would review the igc files in SeeYou, which is another very good tool for doing detailed analysis of the flight.  Even at the Seniors, I would gather in his microcastle with another of his “mentees” and we would do an analysis of yesterday’s flight.  If you are not doing a detailed analysis of your flights, using SeeYou or a similar tool, I believe you are missing an opportunity to improve.  Putting numbers to your analysis often changed how I felt about my performance.  It is too easy for me to over simplify my analysis by saying things like, “I was a weak day.”  “It was a pretty good flight but I missed a couple of things.”  Bah humbug, you could say that about most any flight.  Get into it and measure your efforts; if you can measure it, you can improve it.  If you don’t know how to do such an analysis, find someone who can teach you.

I hope that other competition pilots will step up to the task of teaching their skills to others as Frank has been doing.  Scott Manley has also been quite successful in getting new people ready to fly gliders, by using Condor.  I believe other instructors could integrate Condor into their syllabus.

Well BZ is back in the box awaiting arrival at Perry in April.

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