I just completed my second gliding competition in Australia. Before that I have flown several comps in Europe (Poland, Germany, Hungary, Sweden). There are some significant differences between these two continents. I mentioned few of them almost a year ago when I decided to summarize my experience during the Club Class Nationals in Benalla. The recent competition made me think about them again. I'm aware there is no perfect recipe for a gliding competition and there are positives and negatives everywhere. To organize a perfect comp one should take the positives from each side and combine them in a smart way. This is not meant to criticize anyone and shouldn't be taken personally. I'm just trying to think of ways of organizing the perfect gliding competition.
Safety issues are always discussed big in briefings and there is more to it than just our meanwhile famous "wash your hands!" saying. We had a 2 km finish circle based on the ARP (Airport Reference Point) in Ararat. Blue days somehow magically weld groups of gliders together and cause, more often than on Cu days, multiple gliders to finish at virtually the same moment. So was the first day in Ararat. To make my point more visible I have to add that the direction we were finishing from was perpendicular to the landing direction. After hitting an unexpected good climb on final glide most of us had spare altitude to convert it into speed. So there we were, racing at 110 kts to ... the base leg of traffic pattern (or circuit ;-). Putting the 2 km radius circle places the finish more less on the base leg. Not hard to imagine how this can look like and, in worst case, end. I know that we all are responsible for our own safety but ... Wouldn't it be easier to extend the circle by just one 1 km and give everyone time to slow down and set up for landing? I mentioned this issue on the next days briefing and after a while felt like I said something really stupid. Someone said that extending the circle by this 1 km could cause an outlanding short of the runway. I don't know about others but I always calculate my final glide to the airfield and not just finish line (or circle) because of SAFETY. And even if ... it's safer to land short than to have a midair at low altitude and high speed. Maybe my feminine perception is much more limited but I find it really challenging to find spare mental capacities racing for the finish line staring at the airspeed and the screen to show me when I cross the line and at the same time carefully observe other gliders doing exactly the same thing trying to figure out if they are just gonna pull up or maybe also make a sharp turn and, if yes, which way. Sorting out the landing sequence and space available having lets say 5 gliders doing their best to slow down on base is not easy either. Extending the circle was not an issue so I asked for making us finish more less aligned with the runway. It's easy done by wisely choosing the last turn point or just including a control point few km's short to redirect the traffic. Wasn't possible either and again I really felt like an alien with my thoughts. All there was left for me was to watch that I had my hands properly washed ;-)
I already discussed using alternate start points to prevent people from team flying. I think a 10 km long start line does the job plenty good and doesn't make a mess with the results. It just looks funny when there is a racing task of lets say 250 km and everyone gets a different distance depending on the start point choice. WinPilot doesn't support alternate start points and I decided to use a second PDA with XCSoar just for the start purpose. There is a thing that I really like about this form of starting a task. One of the 3 assigned start points for the day usually has better conditions than the others for perfect start. Very useful feature.
There is one more thing I'd like to mention. Handicaps. No, I won't be talking about the numbers but the way handicaps are being applied. The way it's done here is very confusing. The handicap is applied to the distance therefore also to the speed and in the end to the points. In the end nothing is real in the scores. You don't see the real distance somebody has flown, nor speed. The aim is to have the one with the "best" speed win. For example you have a racing task, the distance in the scores differs by 40-50 km between different gliders and it looks like a Ka-6 has flown 400 km with 120 km/h average and a guy in a Discus only managed 350 km with 70 km/h. Doesn't look real and is not real. Not mentioning how hard it is to verify if there are any errors in the results - almost impossible. The way I know it from Europe is easy. The real distance flown, the real achieved average speed and handicapped points based on the glider flown. Not always the guy with the best speed wins but the one who does get more points because it was harder for him to achieve whatever he has achieved in the given glider. Simple, clear, easy to follow and fair. Everyone seems to understand this issue but they say that's how the script they have calculates the points. It shouldn't be a problem to modify the script or I can volunteer to organize a ready one. How about that? The simplest solutions are usually the best ones.
What I truly loved about Ararat competition was the always friendly people, nice easy going atmosphere, great weather and best pilots to compete with. If there is gonna be another competition I'll be there for sure.
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