My Soaring Goals for 2022 – Plus: How To Set Your Own

Rigging my Ventus 2cxT, Victor One, for new soaring adventures in 2022.

I made good progress against my soaring goals for 2021, so I want to continue to raise the bar for the coming year.

So without further ado, here are my objectives for 2022.  If you’re interested in setting your own soaring goals, I have included some additional considerations at the bottom that you may find helpful.

1. Stay Safe by always heeding my own advice.

This goal remains unchanged.  Flying safely is essential and the pre-requisite for anything else.  Pilots often let their safety margins erode as they gain experience.  I am now at about 800 hours and I know that I must not let that happen. Progress against this goal can be hard to measure.  Here are the metrics I intend to use:

      • Zero accidents (no damage)
      • Zero near misses or other incidents (i.e., almost accidents)
      • Zero violations of personal minima and zero “99% safe” maneuvers (e.g. low safe attempt below personal minimum)
      • Zero flights where a safe outcome depends entirely on Plan A working as hoped (i.e. I must have a viable and safe Plan B/C at all times; the alternative plan must include a known safe place to land at all times)
      • Zero takeoffs without a clear pre-defined emergency plan specific to the airport and conditions of the day

These metrics may not be exactly right for you.  If you want to set your own, I suggest you read this article and consider where you might be most vulnerable.

2. Continue to Improve My Soaring Skills

I will continue to focus on the metrics that matter most to performance soaring.   I will seek to measure my performance by comparing it to other pilots flying on the same day in the same airmass. I will use the median and best performance of the day as benchmarks.  However, my objective is to make gradual improvements against my own past performance rather than try to achieve specific absolute performance numbers or rankings.

      • Continuously improve netto in cruise flight relative to others (performance goal).  To do this I will focus on the following process goals:

        • Develop habit of pro-active S-turn exploration along energy lines to find and follow the best lift lines; rely less on assumptions based on prior experience, and more on empirical evidence of the day.  (This is to reset some assumptions which have proven incorrect.)
        • Increase ability of using the strongest lift by flying faster/lower below relatively weak segments of strong streets.  The strongest indicator of flying too high is when the use of spoilers becomes necessary to prevent climbing into regulated airspace or getting sucked into clouds.  Minimize these situations as much as possible.
      • Continuously improve my climb rates relative to others (performance goal). To do this I will focus on the following process goals:

        • Thermal at least 50% to the left until my performance gap versus right hand turns is closed.
        • Avoid excessive thermalling speeds to achieve average thermal orbit times of <30 seconds ballasted and <25 seconds dry.
        • Avoid weak climbs after the start of tasks whenever safely possible, especially during the strong hours of the day.  Metric: less than ~25% of thermalling time (after task start) should be in climbs that are less than 50% of the average climb rate for the day. (E.g.: if the average climb rate for the day is 4 kts, and the total thermaling time after task start is 60 minutes, then fewer than 15 minutes (25% of 60 minutes) should be in thermals < 2 kts).  Accomplish this by:
          • Deliberately choosing the best height band
          • Down-shifting when appropriate to reduce probability of having to take a weak climb ahead
          • Avoiding full circles in thermaling attempts when the probability of having found an acceptable climb is low.  In this case, turn back on course after the first 90 degrees of turning.
        • Be more precise at thermal exits.  In particular, complete the last turn in each thermal towards the desired heading at thermaling speed before beginning to accelerate towards cruise speed.

3. Flight Achievement Goals

I will apply these skills towards attaining a set of specific flight objectives. I am more interested in completing interesting and challenging flights than in competing in set competition tasks.  Because specific flight objectives are necessarily subject to suitable weather conditions I will not limit myself to a few specific goals but continue to take a portfolio approach.  I.e.,  I will aim to accomplish at least five of the following objectives:

    • Distance Objectives:

      • Complete a 1000 km Diplome flight (a pre-declared 1000km flight with up to three turn-points).
      • Complete a return flight from Boulder to the border of one of the following states: New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, or Arizona.
      • Achieve a border to border flight from Boulder to New Mexico and Wyoming, and back to Boulder.  As a stretch goal, accomplish this as part of a pre-declared 1000 km flight.
      • Circumnavigate the Denver Class B airspace from Boulder.
      • Fly from Boulder to either Nephi, UT or Moriarty, NM and back to Boulder on the following day.
      • Bag some some of my eleven missing 14ers (Culebra Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range; 10 southern-most peaks in the San Juan Mountains)
      • Break one or more Colorado Open Class Distance Records.
      • Finish the year among the 50 highest ranked pilots on OLC plus worldwide (and among the 10 highest ranked in the USA) for the 2022 season (In 2021 I was at #72 worldwide and at #12 for the USA).
    • Speed and Contest Objectives:

      • Break one or more Colorado Open Class Speed Records
      • When flying on Speed-League Weekends from Boulder, score among the top three Boulder pilots at least 75% of the time.
      • If flying in soaring contests, finish among the top 50% of a Nationals or among the top 33% of a Regional contest.  (I am currently considering entries in the 18m Nationals in Lancaster, SC (5/8-5/18); Sports Class Nationals in Reedsville, PA (5/20-5/31), and Open Class Nationals in Hobbs, NM (6/21-7/2).  However, I have yet to decide whether to enroll in any of them.)
      • Finish the year among the 50 highest ranked pilots in the OLC Speed League worldwide (and among the 25 highest ranked in the USA) for the 2022 season (In 2021 I was at #57 worldwide and at #29 for the USA).

4. Giving Back

Just like last year, I will continue to put energy towards inspiring others worldwide to join our sport, to develop, excel, and stay safe.  I will do this through:

      • Writing – follow me on ChessInTheAir.com and on Facebook
      • Presentations and Podcast Contributions – to local, national, and international audiences
      • Videos – subscribe to my ChessInTheAir YouTubeChannel, and
      • Serving for soaring organizations such as the Soaring Society of Boulder

 

The following flight analysis video has been pivotal in helping me set my 2022 objectives.

 

Do You Want to Set Your Own Soaring Goals?

I’ve found that setting good goals for soaring can be challenging.  I have done some reading on the subject of goals for sports.  Here are a few things for you to consider.

How To Set Good Objectives?

Sport psychology suggests that our goals should not just include outcome goals (e.g. setting a record, winning a contest, etc.), but also – and especially – measurable performance goals that are pre-requisites for attaining these outcomes (e.g. achieving specific performance metrics in climbs or in cruise). Finally, performance goals can be supported by process goals that will increase the likelihood of us achieving our performance goals (e.g. flying at least x times per month or doing certain maneuvers correctly).

Outcome goals depend not just on our own performance but also on the performance of others.  They are great for long-term inspiration but are less useful when it comes to measuring our progress.  Because success heavily depends on factors outside of our control, they can also lead to frustration.

Examples for outcome goals in soaring might be: setting a particular regional, national, or world record (distance or speed); finishing among the top x% in a particular contest; finishing among the top N pilots in a particular Online Contest (e.g. Speed League; OLC Plus; Rookie Champion League, etc.)

Performance goals should be entirely within our control, which makes them most motivating.  This is particularly important for annual or nearer term goals, because they allow us to track our progress without being dependent on how others perform.

Examples for performance goals might be: not losing more than 30% or thermals you find; staying up for more than x hours; obtaining a Silver, Gold, or Diamond Badge; maintaining a bank angle in thermals of 40% or steeper; flying a particular distance in a particular time; completing a xxx km flight with a circling percentage of less than y%, etc.

Process goals can be useful because they specify what we actually must do to have a realistic chance of hitting our performance goals.

Examples for process goals might be: flying at least x times per month during the soaring season; circling in a particular direction at least 50% of the time; releasing from tow no higher than at x thousand feet; etc.

Obviously the goals you set for yourself should be appropriate for your ambition, skills, experience, currency, equipment, as well as the local soaring conditions.  Completing a Silver Badge in a 1-26 in east coast conditions is probably harder than obtaining a Gold Badge from Boulder in one of SSB’s club Discus gliders.  The most typical advice is to set goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  But be careful to not make them too easy yo not limit yourself unnecessarily.

Your process goals should be set in a way that help you achieve your performance goals; and your performance goals should be set in a way to help you achieve any outcome goals that you may have for yourself.

Here are a few additional good tips from a sport psychologist.

Setting Good Performance Goals For Soaring Can Be Complicated

Many sport psychologists recommend that we should primarily focus on performance goals. This makes sense because they are most motivating, progress is easy to track, and we have a high degree of control whether we achieve them.

However, as soon as we start to work on specific performance goals for soaring we notice that setting such goals can be difficult. Our performance simply does just not solely depend on us.  Unlike in many other sports, it relies very heavily on the environmental conditions that we are operating in.

E.g., it makes little sense to set a goal of achieving thermal climb rates of more than 4 kts on average, simply because there is no way of knowing whether 4 kts is a worthy goal.  It totally depends on the day. If we were to set such a goal we might opt to only fly on very strong days when achieving it is relatively easy.   That would obviously defeat the purpose of our training.  The same is true for such goals as average speed, average flight distance, and many other potential metrics.

Because of these challenges, my performance goals include metrics that measure my performance in relation to others. This isn’t ideal but it’s the best I could come up with.  However, I have tried hard to define them in ways that keep the results mostly within my control.

The Role of Safety in Goal Setting

When it comes to setting soaring goals, safety is another complication.  Soaring is dangerous (although it does not have to be so dangerous) and we want out goals to be challenging.  Pursuing challenging goals requires us to take sporting risks because soaring is not just a game of skill but also a game of chance.  (See Daniel Sazhin and John Bird’s article, “Soaring is Risky Business!“)  But while sporting risks are acceptable, safety risks must never be.  And this requires us to understand the complex relationship between sporting risks and safety risks in soaring.

You can see in my goals that I dealt with this complication by making “Staying Safe” the first of my goals along with specific metrics allowing me to keep track.  It is simply not acceptable to me to take safety risks in the pursuit of sporting risks.  Fortunately I have shown that taking safety risks does not increase the chance of sporting success.  In fact taking safety risks often reduces the chance of sporting success.

The Role of Intuition

Performance soaring is not just a science but also an art. Past experience shapes our imagination and helps us anticipate what lies ahead.  Sometimes we just know where to go even if we are hard-pressed to explain our thoughts.

This means performance improvements do not just come from our conscious focus on technique, but also from our subconscious intuition.  The best performance can often be achieved when we reach a flow state where decisions become increasingly intuitive. 

So, if you set your own goals, I believe that it is perfectly sufficient for our goals to be directionally correct rather than overly prescriptive. Be careful not to set goals that focus too much on the leaves of the trees rather than the forest.  It’s more the holistic experience  than specific techniques that allows you to develop your intuition and imagination.  Both aspects are important!

Have a fun and rewarding soaring season in 2022!

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