Here are some thoughts on why you should go to your first regional and how it can improve your pilot skills and help make soaring even more fun.
For those who are not familiar with my history of competitive flying, I started flying in regional contests 3 years ago at the Seniors in Seminole Lake, FL. My goal then was just to finish the task every day. I did just that. I finished in the lower half of the field of participants. Next was Perry, where I finished 4th in the sports class. In my second year, I focused on team flying and produced better results than I could have achieved on my own, which adds validity to the premise that team flying works and helps team members do better. This year, I struck out on my own at both the Seniors and Perry. I was trying hard to win, and perhaps tried too hard. Both efforts were less than good due to my landing out several times each. However, Perry ended with my placing 9th and 3rd on the last two days. In the R5E just past, I finished 2nd overall and I am very pleased with the fact that I won 3 days of 5. Of course, 2 landouts cut down the score a bit and leads me to conclude that consistency has merit. Although, as encouraging all that is, it is hardly conclusive that I have turned some magic corner and now have it made. Never the less, I do think that I have improved over the past 3 years.
I have to add here that a significant part of that improvement is due to the hours of practice I did in Condor, flying with Frank Paynter who is a long-time advocate of simulator training as a way to improve flying skills.
What has this to do with the question posed by the title of this editorial? Simply that flying in a contest has made me a better pilot and perhaps you too will gain from similar experiences. I did not see competition as an end unto itself but rather one way to improve my flying skills which I need to gain more from the sport we all love.
Perhaps thinking of competition venues in this way will help. You get to fly 5 days in a row in great or perhaps more challenging weather, with top pilots who are willing to teach you the lessons you will need to improve. At the R5E just past, I got to follow Jerzy Szemplinski, a word-class racing pilot and Canadian champion who placed 4th in the 2010 Worlds. In other contests, I benefited from following François Pin, a top US competitor, record holder and the World Class champion in 2010. I flew in the same plane with Doug Jacobs, our own World Champion from 1989. What a treat and rare opportunity. What if you were the pilot that got to fly along side the Concordia being flown by the Open Class National Champion, Dick Butler?
How many clubs can bring together 10 to 60 pilots for you to fly with and enjoy their company at the end of the day? There are so many opportunities to get more out of this sport when you are willing to leave your home airport.
Come to a regional contest and get an experienced pilot to design a weather-appropriate task, ground crews dedicated you helping you get on the grid and hooked up for the launch, tow pilots ready to get you in the air at the best time of day. You will have people on the ground ready to come get you should you land away from the launch point.
Best of all, you can fly the same task, in the same air with pilots dedicated to flying the best they can and will give you near real-time feedback. Additionally, I have found that when other pilots go with me, I am more willing to fly on days that I might otherwise pass up . There seems to be some confidence in groups that seems to escape me when I am alone. Win or lose, I have gained so much from the experiences associated with flying at contests and from meeting more people who love this sport as much as I do. I encourage you to enter a regional contest near you and give it a try. Check out the R5S at Cordele, GA early next month.