Decision Making

In February 2019, AeroClub Albatross hosted a seminar series called “Soaring with the Champions”.  Below is the YouTube link to a talk by Doug Jacobs entitled “Decision Making” and a summary of the key takeaways.

“Decision Making” – Doug Jacobs

Those who win more consistently do so because they make better decisions.

  • There’s not a huge difference in basic piloting skills among the top pilots
    • Hard to out-thermal others
    • Everyone flies coordinated
    • Ships aren’t all that different
    • There are some differences in aggressiveness (risk/reward curve)
  • But: decision making under stress – that’s where the difference is

How to make better decisions in a stressful environment?


    • Basic ship handling skills should be fully automatic
    • Train things that are difficult even if you may not need them: e.g. how to fly 16 second circles (i.e. 50-degree bank) in turbulent air at constant pitch attitude (e.g. may be necessary to circle in rotor up into wave)
    • Practice gaggle flying
    • Know how to use your flight computer
    • Good physical shape
    • Analyze flights after the fact: what did I do right / wrong; if applicable compare notes with other, get feedback
    • Mental preparation for racing – recognize that racing gliders is a very complex and mentally demanding with many decisions to make all the time
      • Most of the time there is no clear right or wrong answer; this can add to stress if not prepared for it

Prepare before the task to minimize distractions; and to reduce decision making workload during the flight

    • Program flight computer
    • Know your electronics cold incl. radio frequencies
    • Carefully think through the task and make decisions or prepare decision parameters beforehand where possible, e.g.
      • Which parts of the task area are likely going to work well / not well / at what time, e.g. consider
        • Terrain
        • Weather development
        • Wind direction
        • Sun angle
      • Especially for Assigned Area Tasks: think through in advance where you want to go and why
      • Plan your start time
      • Plan start strategy – you can now start from the back of a cylinder; you can start through the top; lots of variables
    • Ground crew arrangements made
    • Be prepared to take care of physiological needs
      • Well rested
      • No alcohol
      • Food and water
      • Relief system
    • Checklists completed
    • Put any past mistakes behind you (i.e. be “a good loser like Rodger Federer”)
    • Get into positive mental outlook; be self-confident; avoid excessive emotions (angry, tense, upset pilots don’t do well)

Decision making during the flight

    • Recognize that there are always short-, medium- and longer-term decisions to be made; make sure to routinely revisit strategic decisions and not get bogged down in short term tactical decisions (or vice versa)
    • Recommends 3/30/3/30 process: trying to roll through decisions with different time horizon to not get too focused on short or long term
      • Immediate: What to do in next 3 seconds?
        • Should I tighten / loosen the bank angle?
        • Should I move my circle?
        • How do I avoid getting hit by other gliders above/below?
        • Should I turn in the lift that I just hit?
      • Short term: What to do in next 30 seconds?
        • Should I fly faster or slower?
        • How high should I take this thermal?
        • Should I follow another competitor that just left or go my own way?
      • Medium-term: What to do in the next 3 minutes?
        • How will I leave this thermal?
        • What path to take post thermal – where are the best energy lines?
        • Where are the next thermals on course?
        • What lift can I expect in next thermal?
      • Longer-term: What to do in 30 minutes?
        • Are the streets developing?
        • How far to go into a cylinder in AAT?
        • What’s the next turnpoint I should take in MATS?
        • When to turn for final glide?
        • How aggressive / conservative should I fly?

If there’s a distraction – recognize it as such; decide if you need to deal with it of if it’s better to ignore it.