Flying in the Seniors; Take Two

TA and BZ climbing together

TA and BZ climbing together

Last year in this space I wrote a series of articles about my experiences at the Senior’s competition.  Since it was my first ever contest, I thought it would be fun for me, and perhaps interesting to a few people who have never been here.  This year I want to try to compare my experiences and perhaps provide some perspectives that are not obvious to some readers who might like to expand their own experiences with the wonderful sport of soaring.  I have opined that the experiences gained from a competition will add to the skills of a weekend glider pilot as well as a fledgling racing-pilot such as I.

Last year I said that I came to learn and I did just that.  I observed, I asked questions and took to heart the many helpful pointers that were offered to me; and there were so many.  The men and women that come here are the greatest; more than willing to help anyone who comes.  That said, there is a limit to what I can learn from those techniques.  What transpired over this past winter has transformed my skill set from a tentative person who just wanted to complete the task each day, at the 2012 Seniors into a soaring pilot who really wants to run up the learning curve.

Some time back, I introduced myself to Frank Paynter and he agreed to teach me some things about flying cross-country, using Condor as a training simulator.  After a few lessons, I improved and having met my goal, we parted company with many thanks to Frank for the time and effort he put into each lesson.  I first met Frank in real life at the Seniors 2012.  We flew together a couple of times before the regular contest but not as a team.  Last summer, I signed up for the Caesar Creek XC training course that he put on with Jim Garrison.  That was the second time I flew with Frank.  He was the lead pilot in my group and acted as a mentor to us all.  The experience that I gained from that training moved me further up the learning curve.

Last October, I saw another opportunity to attend XC and team flying training camp.  Chilhowee ran this one and Francois Pin was the main instructor.  He too arranged to have some very experienced pilots come and serve as lead pilots and mentors.  Intrigued by team flying, I signed up for that part.  The plan called for lectures in the morning and evening.  Flying was for the afternoon when the weather was good.  I contacted Frank to see if he would come down and fly with me as my teammate; he agreed. As it turned out the weather did not cooperate and the team flying possibilities looked dim; Frank did not come down.  It followed that there were a couple of days that team flying was possible and I teamed up with another participant, Gary Carter (HK) and we learned a great deal from Francois.

Since Frank had used Condor, an online soaring simulator, as an adjunct to his XC camp, he and I got together over the winter in Condor.  Condor can be flown offline, alone or with as few as 2 people together or as many as 32.  There are so many venues, aka sceneries, that we could fly in nearly any location in the world which would attract soaring pilots.  We met frequently to practice our team-flying procedures.  In his Soaring Café articles and in his Condor Corner, Frank has discussed some of our early forays into this concept of team flying.  He told you of our efforts and that we were not very good.  But we applied some of the concepts he had and others that I had gained from Bill Elliot and Francois Pin and then we learned from trial and error.  Over the winter we tested our skills against the European Condor pilots and did better as we gained experience.

At the 2013 Seniors here in Florida, (sometimes real pilots call it “The Senior’s National”) we had an opportunity to test our understanding of pair flying against real pilots, under real conditions, and we were still learning how to improve our pair flying every day we flew.

Now that the 2013 Senior National Contest is a matter of record, I would like to make a few points that I think are pertinent.  First, you need some facts.

Upon entering this contest:

According to the Seniors list published before the contest, I had a pilot ranking of 57.13 and was seeded next to last among a field of 55 competitors.  The SSA website gave me a pilot ranking of 79.57353.

  1. I had 2 full contests under my belt, the 2012 Seniors and the 2012 Perry Region V North contests.
  2. At the 2012 Seniors, I finished 44th.   I took a zero on the last day to fly with Doug Jacobs.  The day prior I was 36th.  At Perry, I finished 4th in Sports class among a field of 15.

All of that provides the background for the following points:

This year, I finished 11th overall out of a field of 54 regular contestants, mostly because of Frank Paynter, his teaching me how to become a better glider pilot, and how to better compete in racing.  I believe that no one has ever given as much time to help me do anything.  Over the winter we met nearly every day for several hours to fly tasks in Condor.  We must have flown well over 200 hours together and I flew probably another 200 alone.  If Frank can take a low ranked pilot such as I and teach him enough to place 11th overall against a field of competitors that participate in the Seniors, there must be some value in using Condor to teach and practice basic cross-country techniques as well as competition flying and team or pair flying in particular.  I am sure that I would not have done as well without him, Condor, and pair flying.  I can only imagine the results if Frank had had been paired with the likes of Karl Striedieck, Chip Garner, Baud Litt, Rich Owen, or any one of the dozen pilots that had a ranking of 90 or better.  I like the possibility that two nationally ranked pilots, who devoted a similar number of hours to pair flying practice, could significantly improve the results for the US team at the next WGC.

I invite you to think that you might possibility  improve your own flying skills over the winter by flying tasks in Condor.  While the feel of a glider is not there and the controls are different, nearly all the conditions important to soaring can be entered into a task.  You can control the time, weather, scenery (location), glider type, and task difficulty.  For example, I liked to fly the same task and see the effect of changes in weather.  Also I have kept the conditions the same to investigate the results of making different decisions along the task.

I have always preferred flying with someone else on cross-country flights in real life; perhaps you too would get more out of your flying experience if you could effectively fly with a partner.  Practicing in Condor over the winter could prepare you and your partner for the next season.

I have read that so many glider pilots leave our sport after their exhalation turns to bordom.  Some leave because they are no longer challenged.  Perhaps changing their skill set to include cross-county flying or maybe even competition flying will re-ignite the fire that brought them into the sport.  Perhaps testing your skills in Condor will light your fire again and you too will feel like you did the day you soloed, or even better, the day you flew your first flight as a newly licensed pilot.  I cannot say enough words to describe the exhilaration I feel to fly with the caliber of pilots that come to the competitions in which I have had the honor to participate.

I have read in Soaring Magazine that there is a dearth of pilots willing to compete in the National events.  Perhaps if US pilots used flying simulators to expand their skills in cross-country flying in general and competition flying in particular, there would be more pilots interested in competition flying.

Frank and I are still a work in progress; our pair flying has room for improvement but I think that our first test did well enough to encourage me to continue.

My hope for this article is that you too will see the value of flying with a partner to enhance your own flying experience and even using Condor to practice flying more effectively with someone on a cross-country task.  With more experience and an improved skill set, you may even want to venture into the wonderful world of competition flying like I did.  It is the most fun I have had flying airplanes since my days of flying jets from Navy carriers.


John Mittell

Bravo Zulu

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