George Moffat – Winning on the Wind

Short summary of the four central chapters of Moffat’s classic:

George Moffat, Winning on the Wind

Low Loss Flying (Winning by not losing) – Moffat illustrates how important it is to avoid little mistakes because the seconds lost can quickly add up.  Things you have to do right every time include: (1) starting with maximum energy (high and fast); (2) flying fast through the sink surrounding a thermal; (3) pulling up in lift before rolling into a steep bank; (4) avoiding to turn in weak lift; (5) judging a gaggle’s climb rate before joining in; (6) leaving a climb when the climb rate drops below the expected average climb rate in the next thermal; (7) accelerating through lift before leaving a thermal; (8) flying at MC Speed between thermals; (9) focusing diligently on the best line between thermals; (10) rounding turn-points as tight as possible; (11) getting the final glide right

Contest Strategy (Thinking ahead is half the battle) – For speed tasks (still regularly used) Moffat directs us to focus on (1) understanding the weather and terrain so that we can make best use of the time-window when the conditions are likely to be best; (2) getting the departure time right by estimating the range of average speeds to complete the task and making sure that we start early enough (but usually not much earlier) that we can complete the task even in the worst case scenario; if everyone else starts before the optimum start time it can make sense to start immediately after the second to last starter and use the gliders on course as thermal markers; (3) rounding downwind turns at maximum altitude and upwind turns as low as we dare; (4) considering the appropriate strategy for our ship (e.g. pilots flying ships with heavy wing loading have to maximize their advantage on strong days and vice versa); (5) focusing on consistency rather than day victories; (6) adjusting the strategic sporting risk based on the overall standing in the contest; and (7) using practice days to demonstrate distinct advantages of one’s ship to demoralize other pilots.

Practicing for Competition (essential for consistent results) – You must use every flight to work on improving specific skills; this could be flying skills or other skills that contribute towards winning (note: just flying around is not practicing at all!).  Moffat directs us to focus on (1) psychological conditioning, i.e. maintaining an appropriate level of stress, pacing oneself, and retaining the desire and belief in one’s ability to win (or do well) throughout an entire contest; (2) learning from the past; i.e. knowing one’s strength and weaknesses, seeking sharp and real critique, analyzing past flights, and recognizing poor judgement as different from bad luck; and (3) actual XC flying practice; i.e., creating race-like practice environments; flying on poor soaring days; finding thermals from low altitudes; entering, centering, and exiting thermals as efficiently as possible; practicing final glides.

The First Big Contest (and how to fly it) – Moffat’s key tips include (1) entering with a competitive ship; (2) bringing a small but dedicated and competitive crew; (3) having realistic goals; (4) being prepared to compete on weak-weather days; (5) practicing at the contest site without over-valuing local advice; (6) conserving energy on practice days and prior to the start line opening, e.g. staying away from big gaggles prior to the start; (7) being deliberate about choosing the right start time to make maximum use of the strongest part of the day; (8) being prepared, having the ship out on the line early, and checking all vital parts so the crew is never to blame; (9) modifying the start time such that at least some gliders, ideally more than half, are out on task ahead; (10) observing gaggles to estimate their climb rates, e.g. gaggles with steeply banked gliders tend to be best; (11) knowing the gliders of the best competitors; (12) flying within the best operating band as much as possible; (13) making final glides with an MC setting that provides a sufficient buffer if sink is encountered.