Friday, January 20, 2012

me, myself & I

No, this one is not gonna be the expression of my narcissism. Actually it's quite the opposite.

I've been thinking about and analyzing my glider flying for quite a while now and I'm slowly coming to some conclusions. Well, at least I think that I am considering the fact that I seem to have identified some of the problems causing the "not winning". Every time I go for a comp I keep saying that I'm going there to win while in fact I'm aiming much lower than that. This is one of the issues but I don't really think of it as a significant one.

We had a lot of flying in extremely changing and diverse weather conditions during the recent Nationals and this sort of opened my eyes to the problems I am encountering. We had quite a few low and weak days in the blue or under Cirrus. It was also low and slow but under overcast or rain during the Worlds in Sweden. I seem to be doing well in this kind of weather. I don't land out and keep coming back home no matter how bad it gets. As long as it is sort of soarable I'm able to stay airborne and patiently move kilometer by kilometer even if it takes hours. 

My problem though shows when the weather gets good or really good. I'm not good in changing gears and constantly moving fast. I am able to go really fast for parts of the flight but unable to keep the good speed up by getting too conservative too early. Switching to survival mode occurs way too fast and too high after missing one or two good thermals. I'm turning into the pessimistic mode and slow down even if it's not really necessary. Interesting though that I'm going much faster knowing that there is someone behind me. Do I like the "tail company" or is it my narcissism showing again in form of "show off" flying? Who knows.

Meanwhile I clocked almost 1200 hours in gliders and got really inpatient in Benalla. I should be flying better and faster by now, shouldn't I? I know that I can go fast. All my records are the best proof and I've flown them having way less hours than I do now. So what's the problem? Do I feel comfortable only on my own, flying the task that I have set for myself? If I could turn back the clock would I be able to fly all these records faster in a given weather? If yes, there is no problem but I can't prove it. I can't prove it to myself and this is the biggest issue. I got pessimistic and demotivated and this has to be fixed. But how?

I started by talking to others thinking that I'm not the only one having the feeling that I have reached some sort of plateau and I'm not progressing at all or fast enough. Sure enough it turned out I'm not the only one. I talked to the best and most experienced ones and some of them "been there, done that and got a T-Shirt" (typical Aussie saying as I was told). The key is not to give up and find a way out asap. So I'm searching for the way.

I already figured that I'm good in surviving in sometimes extremely weak conditions. I also think that my thermalling is not too bad. Flying with other gliders I noticed that I'm often climbing more effectively in a thermal. Maybe I should say thank you to the gliders that I'm flying or the fact that I'm usually bit lighter than the boys. One way or the other this part seems to work fine as well.
My XC tactic based on the development of WX is the thing to work on. Flying records and competitions is very different and therefore different tactics need to be applied. Flying a speed records is all about yourself and the speed you have to achieve. It's an easy calculation including the speed to achieve and the minimum thermal strength you have to take. After start you just keep pushing till you hit the right thermal and basically continue like this for the rest of your flight. Usually half way into the task you already know if your goal is achievable or not and a decision on continuing or breaking up can be made. In a competition though one more essential factor comes into the equation - other pilots and what they are doing. Everyone has the same task and same air under their wings. The clue is to make the best out of it.

Years back I was told by someone experienced to divide my working height band in 2 pieces. First one - from cloud base to half way there from the ground, and second one - from half the cloud base to the ground. I was supposed to take only the good thermals in the first part and be happy with weaker ones in the second one. What was I doing? I was stopping for unnecessary top up's not to fall into the second band.

I mentioned the other day that I had a great talk with Tobi on the grid. He suggested dividing the working height into 3 pieces. As an example lets say we have 6000 ft cloud base:

1. 6000 ft-4000 ft - if I think I hit a very good thermal I stop and allow myself one turn. If I don't have it nailed by then I leave it and keep going.
2. 4000 ft-2000 ft - I allow myself two turns trying to center the thermal. If the average is still not satisfying, I'm leaving.
3. 2000 ft - ground - Survival mode. If I have something I stay there and work it out to go back at least one level higher.

This makes more sense to me and allows effective usage of wider height band instead of racing in only half the air available. By the way looking at Tobi's results there's gotta be something about it :-)

Another thing I definitely have to work on is my final glide. Again, I'm too conservative. This has something to do with my previous experiences. I was flying empty Jantar Std. 3 in Poland. 50 km out I had my final glide with MC=4 kts and L/D required 24. It seemed to me like there was no way I wouldn't make it back. Well ... I ended up in a potato paddock exactly 1100 meters short of the airfield. As it turned out the headwind was much stronger than I was showing on the screen and of course I've chosen a path through sink streeting. It was many, many years back and I should be smarter by now.
Another example just few weeks back during the state comps in Ararat. 52 km out and 3000 ft (!!!) above final glide. Last thermal underneath a developing Cb was booming and I took it all the way up to convert it into speed. The last 52 km with 100 kts would make a difference on a short task. The approach area was hilly and as soon as I've fallen below a certain altitude sink was the only thing on my way. This would not be a problem here in Horsham, where you can keep flying straight till you touch the ground and then call for a tow plane to get you out of the paddock 10 times the size of the airfield. It scared the s... out of me in Ararat but somehow I made the runway. Barely. As it turned out I was not the only one with this problem.
It really happens - so how do I calculate my final glide?
I think I have to do some more intensive thinking on this subject. Also, the old portable hardware and software that I'm using now don't do the job properly anymore. A very needed update on everything will come soon ;-)

The more I think about it the more I wanna go out there and do well in a comp. It's good Horsham Week is coming up in the next weeks and I'll be able to put my new tactics to a test.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Few more pics

Jarek Mosiejewski sent us few pictures that he has taken during the Nationals. They were taken on the last day while waiting for the CD's decision on weather we're gonna go for task A or B. Ziggy posed with the art on his glider wearing a theme correlated bandanna. 

Ziggy and his Boomerang

and with the Snake

Since there were no Cu's visible in the sky we decided to create one. It worked!

Gonski - Cu manufacturer

Our cloud didn't wanna stay up for long and Ziggy was rubbing his head thinking of the struggle in front of us.

"are we gonna make it for dinner?"

But as we say we were all in the same s... having the same task and same air under the wings.

all ready for launch

Thanks for the cool pictures Jarek!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Friday - 13th

And here is how the last comp day went on after the flying struggle finished:

Sheriff falling asleep during the official celebrations and speeches

cheer up mate!

It's getting boring ... Craig won in the Club class ... again ;-)

give us food

The motto was Cowboy and Cowgirl:

but not everyone managed to get it right:

there is a longer story about the pink wings

Well at least we did:

And so did Peter and Lisa:

We are now back home. The washing machine is running without a break since early morning and car needs to be unloaded and cleaned. As usual I've got some thoughts about the competition but need a quiet moment during the coming week to write them down.

Two weeks break and the Horsham Coaching Week starts. After that I'll be flying the Horsham Week competition:

Last day - the hardest one

Although the task was short and seemed easy enough everything turned out to be much more complicated than anyone expected. It was obvious from the beginning that the day is gonna be blue and white from the cirrus, pretty low and weak. Nobody expected though that the winds aloft will pick up that much. There was also an abrupt change in wind direction at about 1500 ft which was well our operating altitude that day. I was showing around 27 kts headwind on my last leg.

This was one of the very few days where a sniffer had to be send up to check if it was soarable at all. Even the British pilots who used to launch well before the competition gliders decided not to fly. Sniffer reported 1 kts up to 3500 ft AGL and it was clear we had to go.

"holy cow the sniffer stays up!"

The task was a 2 hrs 30 min AAT (150-330 km). It started pretty low and slow and seemed to be getting better towards the first area. I think some got tempted and went deeper into this area. I kept in mind that going back home will be a struggle and just touched the first and second area. When I turned back home I knew it was going to be harder than expected. To make it even harder I was all by myself and just couldn't see any other gliders.


I decided to stay as high as I possibly could and slowly make my way back. Thermals were rare and weak and some of them unworkable because of 27 kts wind. I've fallen down passed the wind shear height and it got more and more complicated from there on. I was picking paddocks. Firstly I concentrated on the ones suitable for aero retrieve (I didn't wanna be late for the final dinner). Choices were very limited and after a while I had to give up the idea of aero retrieve and just picked one paddock with a house just next to it. I was well below 1000 ft and all I could do was fly around my paddock, inspect it and hope for miracle. There was a sandy junk yard close by and this was my last chance. I knew it was cooking and in matter of minutes a bubble would come up. I tried to stay airborne on the downwind side of this yard which wasn't easy cause the wind kept blowing me away towards hills ... and I already way way below their tops. 300 ft of the ground I decided it was time to give up and straighten for final for my paddock. As I reached for the brakes the vario went nuts (nuts meaning 2 kts) and stayed this way for few seconds. I decided to give it the last shot and turned. It stayed positive all the way around and after 20 minutes that seemed  like an eternity I was back up high ... 2500 ft and could move to my next landing option.

D1 brought me back home again

I repeated the same story one more time and finally managed to work out my final glide back to Benalla (via Winton). This was one of the hardest flights ever. Similar to my Swedish experience with the difference that I had paddocks and airfields instead of lakes and forests below me which makes the situation much more easy and relaxed. 
When I was 5 km inbound Benalla Ziggy and few other gliders called 10 km on final glide. There were very many outlandings that day but we've made it just in time for the final dinner. It is proven again that D1 knows her way back home and always brings you there.

Here are last day's results: