XC and Contest Flying

SSA Cross-Country Handbook

Introductory guide for XC flying covering essential topics such as landing accuracy, off-field landings, thermaling, speed-to-fly, navigation, XC techniques, flight preparation, and parachute operation.

SSA Webinar, Secret Tips from Sebastian Kawa

Sebastian Kawa is arguable the world’s greatest soaring pilot of all times. On Feb 5, 2019, he gave an interview to Davis Lessnick and Bruno Vassel as part of a Webinar series hosted by the Soaring Society of America.  The link leads to a video of the interview and a summary write up.

1,000+ km Soaring Flights from Boulder – Pedja Bogdanovich

Only few pilots have successfully completed 1000+km soaring flights in Colorado. This spreadsheet lists them all.  No pilot flew more 1000er flights than Pedja Bogdanovich. In this presentation, given in June 2019 at the Soaring Society of Boulder, Pedja explains his strategy and approach to planning and executing these amazing flights above the Rocky Mountains. A veritable treasure trove of know-how, tips and tricks for any ambitious cross-country pilot.

XC Seminar – Bob Caldwell

Bob Caldwell is among the most accomplished soaring pilots currently flying from Boulder, Colorado in his ASH 31 mi. In this seminar, Bob shares his insights, tips, and tricks based on a rich experience flying long distances from Boulder and other locations in the American West.  Among many other things, you’ll learn to confront what is holding you back (the fear of landing out), how to avoid “wandering aimlessly about”, and how to gain the confidence to push ahead if the conditions look just like the conditions you’ve been soaring in. You can also find Bob’s slide deck here.

Daniel Sazhin, Contest Strategy

This is a brilliant Facebook post from the winner of the U.S. National Club Class Competition 2018 in Nephi.   Key learnings relate to contest preparation, strategy, and execution.  The most salient points are summarized below:

Contest Preparation: acquiring local knowledge; reviewing OLC flight logs for the contest area;  researching land-out options; flying the local area in Condor; participating at another contest.

Strategic Goal Setting: it is best to fly consistently rather than take unnecessary risks in order to win a specific day.  Daniel tried to be among the top 10 every day, ideally among the top 5.  Statistically, the composite score of the 5th placed finisher for each day of any contest is sufficient to win the entire contest!

Gear Shifting: statistically that there are really two gears: Optimization and Risk Minimization. Daniel quantified the number and reliability of thermals one must have on a consistent basis in order to fly consistently over a competition. Daniel applied this research as the counterpart to MC theory in his decision making.

Cognitive/affective decision making: tactics should be decided intuitively and strategy should be decided analytically. Daniel says he pushed himself to reassess the big picture analytically: “Should I take this line or that line? What’s the risk of going deeper for those clouds? What is the lowest I should go in the band?” However, he did not second guess his intuition when it came to tactics: that cloud feels right! Having the right balance between both thought processes is key.

Weather: Daniel relied on Skysight for planning each contest day. It did a good job of predicting the weather, especially convergence lines.

Execution: Whenever Daniel pulled back and loaded up the glider, he also pulled the flap handle. Vice versa when unloading the wing. As such, the flap handle essentially mimics the movement of the stick. Done correctly, this saves a lot of energy.  Furthermore, he used this effectively while employing dynamic soaring techniques. E.g., when flying in weak ridge lift in blue, he made sure to work the gusts as effectively as possible. In doing so and actively working the flaps, he meaningfully increased his L/D which allowed him to keep up with heavier and higher performing gliders.

Daniel Sazhin and John Bird, “Bounded Rationality and Risk Management in Thermal Soaring”

Daniel Sazhin is a post graduate student of psychology at NYU and the winner of the Club Class Nationals 2018 in Nephi, UT.  Together with John Bird, a PhD student at Penn State University, he co-authored the article above, which adds a new and very important dimension to the classic speed-to-fly strategy (McCready Theory).  The paper argues convincingly that pilots constantly “switch gears” between a “racing” and a “risk mitigation” mindset.  McCready’s speed-to-fly works, but only when in “racing” mode.  If you religiously stick to McCready your odds of landing out can become unacceptably high, especially when attempting long tasks on marginal soaring days, or when scoring well is predicated upon completing all tasks over the course of a multi-day competition.  Daniel and John’s work also incorporates key insights from modern psychology theory, which not only makes it “ring true” but also allows the authors to provide practical tips for applying their findings.  Very helpful!

“Flying Faster” – John Good talks at the “Soaring with the Champions” Seminar hosted by Aero Club Albatross in February 2019

John Good has been a member of the US Team at many World Gliding Championship events including as Team Captain.  In this excellent lecture, John talks about why “following the best path” is much more important than flying exactly at the right McCready speed.  The link leads to a video of the lecture and a summary write up.

“Advanced Ridge Soaring Techniques” – Karl Striedieck talks at the “Soaring with the Champions” Seminar hosted by Aero Club Albatross in February 2019

Karl Striedieck is a world record setting glider pilot with many distant records set by high-speed ridge soaring.  He participated in 12 world championships and was twice Vice Champion. The link leads to a video of the lecture and a summary write up.

“Convergence Soaring” – Mike Opitz talks at the “Soaring with the Champions” Seminar hosted by Aero Club Albatross in February 2019

Mike Opitz was the 1986 Standard Class Champion.  He flew in three World Championships finishing in 2nd place in Australia in 1987. The link leads to a video of the lecture and a summary write up.

“Decision Making” – Doug Jacobs talks at the “Soaring with the Champions” Seminar hosted by Aero Club Albatross in February 2019

Doug Jacobs participated in nine World Championships and became World Champion in the 15-meter class at the 1985 World Championships in Rieti, Italy.  The link leads to a video of the lecture and a summary write up.

“Good Ridge Gone Bad” – Karl Striedieck  talks at the “Risky Ridges” Seminar hosted by Aero Club Albatross in February 2020

Mountain Flying Seminar

Presentation materials from a seminar held to prepare pilots coming to fly a competition in Rieti, Italy.

XC Tips from Edi Supersberger (in German)

Eduard Supersberger is among the most successful Austrian soaring pilots.  In this document he summarizes key insights and learnings from his long soaring career.  The article covers piloting skills, weather observations, flight preparation, goal setting, sporting risk considerations, tactical decisions, and personal attitudes/psychological factors.  Edi’s advice in a nutshell:

  • Try to fly one type of glider and really get to know it
  • Learn to center thermals during the first turn; practice without vario
  • Sunglasses that filter blue light make indentations in the inversion layer visible
  • In cruise flight, pull up (up to about 2g at higher speeds) when seat pressure increases, and push when seat pressure decreases.  Speed variations should be about 15-20kt.
  • As soon as thermals begin to weaken in late afternoon, climb to cloud base and stay high
  • Always observe the development of the clouds ahead while thermaling
  • Be very specific when setting your objectives for each flight.  Ask where?, when?, how?, why? and: what will it mean to me?  Also: what skills do I have and what may I be missing? What obstacles do I anticipate and how will I deal with them? What is my goal?
  • Understand the sporting risks and where your skills put you on the risk curve.
  • Always maintain at least two alternatives when you make a decision
  • Shift-down to MC 0.5 as soon as you sense a risk of having to land out.  Speed is no longer important.
  • Tactical priorities: 1) stay up; 2) complete task; 3) be fast
  • Review your personal attitudes before the flight: give yourself a chance
  • Always make the next decision count.  Do not dwell on mistakes you made during the flight – put them behind immediately
  • Recognize symptoms of stress and resolve through breathing exercises
  • Enjoy your flight; bring a camera to cherish the memories
  • Soaring is beautiful but it is not the meaning of life.  Maintain your life’s priorities.
  • Stay humble and maintain a deep respect of nature.