Recap of USNS April series | Best Virtual Racing Ever!

April has undoubtedly been the most successful month in US virtual racing ever! Every night there has been around 50 pilots racing in exotic places all around the world.

Many pilots came back from a long hiatus from Condor to enjoy the high level racing again. Over the course of the past month, 193 pilots had registered on US Nightly Soaring. And there are many new faces, including many pilots who have little or no real life cross country/racing experience.

Many new pilots have now become acquainted with the wonderful scenery in Slovenia. And Slovenian fields have even become acquainted with Schweizer iron too!

We had flown in the Nephi, Blairstown, Montague, Truckee, Mifflin, Driggs, Omarama, Alps, Slovenia, Southern Norway, and Southern France.

We had flown gliders ranging from 1-26s to EB-29s!

It is quite possible that the Coronavirus had actually allowed us to promote the sport of soaring more over the past month than if it hadn’t come to pass. Many of the new pilots had little or no formal advanced training and little prospect of receiving it in their clubs even in the best of times. While they may have been familiar with the idea of cross country soaring, they had not actually done it themselves. Over the past month, we have seen pilots who were vaguely aware of “thermals” become competitive virtual racing pilots and eager to pass on their enthusiasm into real life flying!

My club’s Condor nights have also been very successful. We have flown over 10 tasks out of Blairstown airport, exploring the wonderful ridge and thermal conditions our site has to offer. Pilots were introduced to cross country techniques, such as speed-to-fly, thermal selection, efficient centering, final glide optimization, and field selection. Pilots learned about different tasks, such as FAI assigned tasks, records, TATs, and MATs. We played with varying ridge conditions and toured the whole length of our local mountain.

Between ACA and PGC and others who have joined our server, we now have a large group of pilots who are up to speed on Condor flying and enjoying virtual soaring. And now these pilots know what soaring is all about and are looking forward to flying cross country in real life.

We are looking forward to May and continuing this wonderful run! Be sure to register on Condor Club!


Contest info:

  • Condor tutorial for detailed instructions/FAQs.
  • Teamspeak: channel: ts3.virtualsoaring.eu:9982 | password: ask13 | Channel- MNS/USNS. (Note, please go to Settings and set up “Push-to-talk” for your mic.)
  • Register (for free) here to receive briefings two hour before the race and to submit your log for scoring.
  • Scenery Download: Use Condor Updater. (Best to subscribe for more bandwidth!)
  • Find “US Nightly Soaring” at 9pm Eastern (0100 UTC) here or here.
  • Monday Night Soaring at 7/10pm Eastern (2300/0300 UTC)

I’ve had many folks contact me through social media, email and through the blog contact with questions of how to set up Condor for their personal use, racing and for their clubs. Keep it coming; I’m happy to help!

Several folks have been doing paid one-on-one Condor coaching with me. If you would like to schedule a time to work on advanced soaring concepts in Condor (thermal selection, racing, centering, racing strategies, speed-to-fly, landouts, spins, risk-management, ridge soaring, wave soaring, etc. etc.), feel free to contact me through the Soaring Economist contact.

Managing Landings on Ridge Days

Ridge days are often windy and turbulent, leading to sporty approaches and landings. You should be 100 percent on your game to deal with sink, rotor, and a strong crosswind during the approach.

As you leave the ridge, position yourself in such a way to give yourself the most options. At Blairstown we often consider making a non-standard approach (base to final for 25 or 7 instead of a full pattern) when we are returning from the ridge. Aim at the numbers instead of the middle to leave yourself this option; if you end up over the middle of the airport, you are completely committed to making a full pattern.

Do your checklist early, especially if you have a strong tailwind. The landing is going to happen quickly and will require all your attention.

When entering the pattern, maintain extra energy in both airspeed and altitude. Crab to account for the crosswind on downwind; don’t drift downwind! Keep your downwind and base legs tight up against the airport property.

Make your base to final turn with extra altitude. Account for the wind in the turn; if you have a headwind on base leg, extend a bit farther and let the wind drift you back on final.

On final, aim for the middle of the airport; don’t aim for the fence! You want to make absolutely sure you will make it on the airport property despite possible sink and wind shear along the way.

Once on final, transition into a slip for the crosswind correction. Maintain your speed all the way down to ground effect.

After you land, make an effort to clear the runway by taxiing off.

Managing the Ridge Tow

Ridge days are windy and require dealing with a gusty, direct crosswind. This can make the tow very sporty and sometimes the most challenging part of a ridge day.

In order to manage the ridge tow effectively, you must be 100 percent ahead of the glider before the tow begins. You’re completely ready for the challenge ahead.

This means the glider was perfectly prepared during pre-flight. Everything loose was stowed. When you get strapped in, you cannot be rushed. And before you give the go-ahead to the wingrunner, you should have completed your checklists and completely thought through your emergency plan. You should be in the zone as the wingrunner lifts your wingtip.

When you begin the tow, you should be ready to input crosswind corrections. In the case of a crosswind from right to left, this means left rudder and right stick. You should also keep your right wing a bit lower than level.

Once you get airborne, you will then adjust a bit upwind and transition into a crab to remain in position somewhat upwind of the towplane.

Be ready for significant turbulence and shear. Often times when you get above a tree line, the towplane will accelerate and the glider will then hit a massive gust. This will likely cause you to hit your head on the canopy.

Hitting your head on the canopy is dangerous and will cause you to momentarily lose control of the glider, while in an awkward position to deal with a rope-break. Instead, you should be prepared for the gust beforehand.

The best solution for slack line recovery is to never let it happen in the first place. By being vigilant and actively maintaining position and adding tension to the line BEFORE the big gust throws you out of position, you can avoid almost all slack line situations.

To avoid getting flung out of position, you must maintain good position behind the towplane and some tension on the rope. First, this is by remaining just above the wake (which is a bit lower than “normal” tows.) Secondly, this is by strategically opening up the divebrakes when appropriate. If you see the towplane get flung up, open the brakes 1/4 of the way. The added drag and tension will keep the glider in position.

If you do get out of position, deploy some spoiler and correct accordingly. But be ready to release if your situation is not recoverable.

Always be ready for a rope break. You’re much more likely to experience a rope break in turbulent conditions. When it occurs, treat it like an emergency that it is, rather than an inconvenience. Be willing to go straight ahead for an alternate field well up to 400ft AGL rather than attempting a marginal turn, at or a little bit above 200ft.

Avoiding the Killer Turn | Climbing Off the Ridge

The most challenging and dangerous aspect of ridge soaring is turning low and slow near the mountain. This puts the glider near the edge of stall while close to the ground in gusty conditions. This is the perfect recipe for entering a spin. Learning to maneuver near the ridge is probably the most important aspect of ridge training.

The remedy is to avoid these situations. A good minimum margin for beginners is to fly no lower than 150ft AGL and no slower than Best Glide Speed near a ridge. And given, there are several critical rules that must be observed while turning low near a ridge. I have made several clips in Condor to demonstrate both proper technique and the consequences of improper execution.

How to S-Turn Near the Ridge

When starting a turn, drop the nose, gain airspeed, and steepen up your bank.

The big themes when turning low are maintaining extra airspeed, good co-ordination, and spatial awareness of the mountain. We want to stay in the ridge band while maintaining adequate margin over stall. Remember, stalls are due to exceeding the critical angle of attack. You can exceed the critical AoA by steepening your bank and/or by slowing down. As a result, if you want to maintain a greater margin over stall you must let your speed increase as you increase your bank.

Remember to bank out of the turn early. The wind will want to drift you toward the ridge. You must start banking out well before then so that you have time to level out.

Avoid pulling up hard and banking at the same time.

This is the corollary to the previous point… many beginners tend to pull their nose up hard when entering a thermal and crank over into the turn. Halfway into the entry turn, their airspeed gets dangerously low and they mush or stall out. This is sub-optimal in a thermal at 3000ft, but it is absolutely unacceptable low near the trees; not only is the airspeed low, but the wing is loaded into the turn (high G). This is the perfect recipe for a spin entry.

How to (Properly) Thermal off the Ridge

When you approach a thermal, turn away from the ridge while maintaining good airspeed and co-ordination. Complete several S-turns to get at least 200ft, preferably 400ft above ridge top. At this point you could consider transitioning into a full turn and climbing away from the ridge.

Don’t Attempt a Full Turn Low!

Don’t turn low near the mountain! As you come around the turn, the mountain will come up at you really quickly and you will be exposed to a deadly trap. You will have high ground speed with low airspeed and experience “ground-rush” as the mountains comes up at you fast. The deadly trap is the desire to pull back to avoid hitting the ridge. This will stall the glider.

Don’t turn low. But if you find yourself in this situation, the ONLY way to escape is to steepen up your bank while dropping the nose. This will let you tuck away from the ridge and escape.

Don’t Turn Toward the Mountain!

Never, ever turn downwind toward the ridge. This is very dangerous and will near certainly drop you out of the turn on the far side. Even if you manage to complete the turn, you will have drifted far over the ridge and will have a long way to get back.

Spin on Thermal Entry

This reinforces all the previous points; maintain good airspeed, co-ordination, and spatial awareness when turning low near a ridge. Do not pull back and bank at the same time and mush out on the top part of the turn. One devastating trap is when you do this while entering a thermal. If you mush while at the top part of the turn after turning too early, there is a good chance you will encounter the “killer gust”.

What happens is as you go away from the core on the downwind side of the turn, you will be entering a zone of lift that gets weaker and weaker, until you’re finally in the sink. As you traverse that shear, it sucks the energy out of the glider.

The devastating consequence is that this occurs right as you are at the top part of the turn, very slow and the wing is loaded up. That killer gust will near certainly spin you out of the turn.

There is a much deeper discussion as to how and why shear works the way it does near mountains, which I will address in more detail some other time. The key point to remember is DO NOT turn early and hard into the thermal while bleeding off your airspeed; be ready for that sharp gust on the far side of the turn.

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Here are a couple simple guidelines:

  1. Maintain a minimum AT LEAST 150ft AGL and best glide speed while soaring the ridge.
  2. ALWAYS turn AWAY from the ridge. (Ie: If the ridge is on your left, turn to the right.)
  3. Complete S-turns or “dogbones” when 200ft AGL or lower near a ridge. 400ft is better.
  4. Spin avoidance
    • When making turns, drop the nose a bit and gain airspeed.
    • Don’t bank and pull at the same time.
    • If you need to escape, bank steeper while speeding up. Don’t just pull back on the stick if the trees are coming up at you!

Using Condor to Practice Ridge Landouts

Landing out on ridge days is dangerous. The conditions are often windy and turbulent and the fields near mountains are often short, steep and have obstacles. Some sections along the ridge have few landing options, like the Blairstown ridge.

On the other hand, with few landing options, it is possible to prepare for the most relevant ones. Over all my years of ridge soaring, I have spent quite a number of hours reviewing landing options on Google Earth, walking them on the ground, and monitoring them from the air. Most of this work can be found on the Ridge Slideshow and The Ridge Map. You can pre-plan which fields you will land in and what approach to expect into that field. I believe this greatly minimizes the substantial danger associated with soaring the ridge cross country.

Lately, Aero Club Albatross has been using Condor for cross country training. We have been doing ridge and thermal tasks to get folks up to speed. Most of them are fairly realistic and the goal is to complete the task.

Last week, we did something different. I set up the turnpoints over some of the critical landing options. We toured the ridge and actually landed at these points.

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Along the way we discussed the techniques and challenges of landing in these places. Eric Anderson was kind to video the whole thing and feel free to watch it to see what it was like.

If you would like to try it yourself, see my flight track and the flight plan.

Get High, Go Fast, Stay High

Every competition pilot has his own theories as to how to go fast. There’s the fellow who never turns, meandering along at cloudbase going 45-60 knots. Then there’s the pilot who bombs along at MC speed, down to 800ft AGL, picks up an 8 knot thermal and proceeds to charge away toward the next turnpoint. And there’s the middle-of-the-roader, who likes to back off his MC for the “long glide” while meandering in good air while searching for that stronger than average thermal.

Yet all three of them make it to the turnpoint at the same time. And when they get back home and drink their beer, each will insist that their technique is the best.

The truth is that there is a wide range of optimization strategies and sometimes they all work! Sometimes certain situations, sites, and weather favors one approach over another. Ideally, a well-rounded pilot would understand the range of options available to them and choose the best strategy for that moment.

There are many variables which affect this optimization. The most significant ones include thermal strength, headwind component, thermal quantity and reliability, the resulting paths and their associated deviations from course line, and finally the difficulty of centering the lift.

I find that these variables output to two general strategies for me: float and try not to turn, or drop the nose and fly MC speed to the next climb.

For example, if you’re flying MC 3 in a LS4 under a little cloudstreet, maintaining altitude at 45-60 knots, you will probably do better than flying 75 knots and bombing along to the next thermal.

MC 3 achieves 60 mph around a course (not correcting for wind). In this example, you’re probably achieving 60 mph, all the while staying at cloudbase.

Obviously, the optimization is not quite that black and white because there is also a middle ground where you say fly 65-70 knots, while allowing yourself to sink lower in the band, all while in good air. But, often times the good air band drops off once you are 500-1000ft below cloudbase. And the second, more important point is that there is a tangible benefit to being higher. Maintaining the same speed achieved while at cloudbase is better because you retain more options along the way.

This allows you to minimize your strategic risk, all while allowing others to find your next thermal and make mistakes.

Over the long run, any tools that you use to minimize your risk exposure at little or no expense to your efficiency is a win.

This is a critical and under-emphasized element to speed-to-fly optimization.

Once you get to the end of the cloudstreet and the good air goes away, the interval has ended. Sure, you achieved 60 mph without turning, but the situation has now changed. If you keep flying at 55-60 knots in the dead/sinking air outside of the street, you are no longer achieving 60 mph for the next interval, so you should change your strategy!

At this point, I find it’s best to go to straight MC speed. Not this business of floating along and “under-flying” the speed to increase your range. When the air is neutral or bad, simply charge off to the next thermal. There’s efficiency to be gained by simply flying MC.

When encountering the next thermal, we often ask ourselves how strong we expect the climb to be? Another critical question is how hard will it be to center? If the thermal is only “average”, but you can center it without cost, it is completely worth it and often better than that pesky and uncertain strong gust which may lead to a stronger thermal after suffering several turns to find it.

If you can be higher at little or no cost, you are winning over the long run.

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For me, this sums up my general approach to optimization, which leads to a very different set of assumptions than what most pilots emphasize. I don’t pay much attention to my circling percentage over a task; instead I focus on speed achieved at each interval, while trying to maintain as much altitude as practicable doing so.

Taking these sets of assumptions means I want to thermal fairly often to stay high, while trying to minimize the energy lost doing so. So instead, I fly fast between the thermals, because there is efficiency to be gained by flying MC instead of flying slower. I never pass up an average or better thermal if it is easy to center. By thermalling frequently, I stay in the top 1/2 or 1/3 of the lift band, which minimizes my strategic risk.

By flying MC in the top part of the band, you also offer up room to take the stronger than average thermals when you DO find them. If all you do is float along slowly to increase your range and then stumble into that 6 knotter, all you can do is just pull up and then keep going. But if you allow yourself to drop down a bit between the thermals, then you will have that 1000ft to climb to take advantage of the strong climb.

The net effect is that my circling percentages are often in the low 30s for a given day, with an average IAS 10 knots faster than others, all the while my altitude trace keeps me in a higher band. And my speed achieved is in the same ballpark as the others, with lower risk at most intervals over the task.

I find that this strategy is easier to convey to beginners. Beginners don’t like to get low and they tend to thermal too often. Well instead of telling them to completely change their style, I tell them fly MC speed (often 15-20 knots faster than they fly by default), learn to estimate thermal strength, and get really *good* at centering.

If at any interval you can minimize your risk at little or no cost to your efficiency, take advantage of that opportunity! Get high stay high!

Climbing the Learning Curve | A Condor Tutorial

Condor is an excellent and fun cross country training tool. While many folks simply enjoy the social aspects of soaring and racing with each other, I have always viewed it as a way to improve one’s cross country decision-making skills. It’s worth every hour you invest in it.

The challenge, though, is that Condor and soaring in general is complicated. Once you get your computer set up, chair comfy and joystick configured, you enter this world of thermals, ridges, competitors, tasks, blind corners, and traps. And just like real life, the learning curve is very steep. It’s intimidating for some and discouraging for others.

But that’s also what makes it really freakin’ fun and amazing! You might not make it around the first several tasks and that’s okay! Unlike in real life where driving across the whole country to land out half of the days in a competition is completely demoralizing, in Condor you can simply shake it off and try it again. And guess what, there’s a task every night! Do it for a couple weeks and you will get the hang of it. And as time goes on, the Condor experience will make you a better soaring pilot, so that when you DO go to your first competition, you might be winning days instead of landing out half of the time!

Get involved in the Multiplayer racing and on Teamspeak to talk to the experienced folks. The simulator is so amazing that people who have been doing it for fifteen years are still challenged, make mistakes, land out, and enjoy it. Some of those experienced pilots are accomplished soaring pilots in real life. And they’d love to share their love of the sim and soaring with you! The social environment is laid back. We openly talk about strategy, tactics, and upcoming decisions, even though we are still “racing” each other. Some folks simply listen in. Some ask questions along the way.

At the end of a task, we normally land and hang around the proverbial beer cooler off the runway. We talk about what worked and what didn’t. How did you get around so fast!? It’s a great opportunity for newer folks to ask questions and debrief in a social and friendly way.

Aside from simply getting involved multiplayer flying, there are some things you can do to maximize the amount of experience you earn. Each task is a training opportunity. The more effort and thought you put into it, the more you will get out of it. And if you put your effort in the right places, you will gain a lot of experience very quickly and accelerate up the learning curve.

Here are some ideas you can apply to work your way up the learning curve and become a fast racing pilot!

Step 1: Set up Condor and get used to it.

See Clemens’ excellent guide and tutorial for more details.

  1. Set up your Condor machine. Go to “Free Flight” and make sure your inputs are working as intended. Make sure you are comfortable. If you are experiencing technical difficulties, see these options. Feel free to contact me; I may be able to easily address your question(s).
  2. Complete the Condor “Flight School”. Open up Condor and select Flight School. Select lessons from Basic to Advanced. Click “view lesson” to see how the instructor does it. Then “try lesson” to do it yourself. One suggestion is to skip the first lesson and come back to it a bit later… many people struggle with takeoffs until they get used to the controls. Don’t bother with aerotow for a little while.
  3. Fly several tasks on your own. Open up Free Flight and “Load” a task. Select a “Default Flightplan”. Choose one that you like and fly it!
  4. Select “Thermal Helpers on” in the Flightplanner NOTAM section and select the Thermal Helpers Range to 20km. When practicing, feel free to turn on the H button until you feel like you could reliably find and center the thermals.
  5. Learn the control inputs. (Note, you can remap them to other keys on your joystick or on your keyboard by opening up Condor, selecting Setup, and going to Input. Press “Assign Controls”. Double click on the key you would like to remap.)
  • PDA: (1,2,3,4)
  • Zoom in and out- Page Up and Page Down or “Y”
  • MacCready Setting- Home and End. To turn on Speed Commander, press left CTRL
  • Gear- G
  • Wheel brake- Period (.)
  • Release- R
  • Flaps- (F for more negative. V for more positive)
  • Trim- Insert and Delete. (Note: deselect “Stick trim where available” in Setup.)
  • P- Pause or Autopilot
  • Q- Miracle Key. (Racing pilots remap this key to other places to avoid accidentally hitting it.)
  • W- Water Ballast
  • B/N- Spoilers. Usually remapped to slider on Joystick
  • Backspace/Enter- Chat
  • Tab- Current speed/distance and other competitors
  • H- Thermal helper (if enabled)
  • F1/F2/F3/F4- Different views. Press F1 to get back into the cockpit
  • ESC- Select to exit the sim

Several common errors:

  • Thermalling: Beginners tend to thermal too fast and flat. This makes the glider’s turn radius go up a lot and their climb rate drops off considerably. In most gliders in Condor, you want to thermal just above the buffet. For reference, in a Standard Cirrus this is ~45 knots in a 45 degree bank. In a fully ballasted glider, this is ~55-60 knots.
  • Water Ballast: It helps to use ballast to go faster. To add Water Ballast, select your plane. Under “Settings”, select the slider for the water load. For the first couple tasks, don’t use any ballast. Then add a 1/2 to 2/3 load. It is much easier to thermal with less ballast. It also a good idea to set your C/G bias back several clicks… the glider can thermal a bit slower at the expense of some stability.
  • Speed-to-fly: Review MacCready theory and learn to set it up on your PDA using the keys noted above. High performance ships fly fast! Most gliders perform very well up to MC 3-4. Ballasted LS8s, Dianas, Ventus3s, etc. fly *very* well at 100 knots.
  • Starting tasks: Most tasks have a “maximum start height”. To start the task, you must get below the maximum start height inside the start sector. Then you must exit the start sector. You can find this altitude in the Flight Planner by right clicking on the start sector and selecting properties. Or, you can look at the numbers by zooming in (Y or Page Up/Down) on your PDA and adding two zeroes to the second number. Note that the altitudes are in MSL!
The green box represents the start sector like in the Flight Plan above. To get a valid start, you must be below 4300ft MSL, within the boundaries of the sector.

Step 2: Ease into multiplayer racing

  1. Go to a “Free Flight” server on the serverlist (or this one) and click Join! This is a good way to test out your internet connection and make sure you can connect to servers.
  2. Register on Condor Club and select a competition you would like to fly. Most competitions use additional landscapes and this is a good place to download them. Use the Condor Updater which makes installation easy. I highly recommend getting the Premium version for 15 euros/year as this makes the downloads much faster. Normally the free downloader is sufficient, but the servers have been overloaded with so many folks flying lately! If you have a slower computer, use the texture reducer to make the landscapes take up less room and run faster on your machine.
  3. Select a task and practice off-line. Here are several examples: one, two, three. On the “task description” tab, click “download it now”. Place the flight plan into your “FlightPlan” folder. To race against the flight tracks of other competitors, download their FTR file under “Race Results”. Place the FTR file into the “Flighttracks” folder. Open up Condor and select the flight plan. Under NOTAMs you can then select the “Ghosts” you would like to fly with.
  4. Practice the task several times. See what decisions the top guys make, how they are thermalling, running the ridges, etc. See how they center the thermals, and when they leave for final glide. Fly with them until you feel like you can keep up.

Step 3: Fly the online races!

  1. Register (for free) here to receive briefings two hours before the race and to submit your log for scoring.
  2. Download and install Teamspeak! See instructions below.
  3. After receiving the emailed briefing, make a plan. Look at the task and the topography. Where do you think are going to be the tricky spots? How will you deal with them?
  4. Fly the task!
  5. If you land out (or crash), brush it off and press Q. The Q button is enabled in US Nightly Soaring to allow you to continue flying, practicing, and learning!
  6. After you complete the task, submit your flight log to Condor Club for scoring. Review it. What are the three things that did not work for you? What are the three things that did work? Did your flight go according to plan?
  7. Fly the task again offline, using the winner’s ghost as a reference. What allowed them to be faster than you?
  8. Review the theory and apply it in future races. Read Clemens’ collected materials on thermal sources. John Cochrane’s articles on soaring optimization. My articles on theory, minimizing risk, and the psychology of racing. Among many other books and wonderful resources.

Teamspeak Instructions:

Accessing Spectator Mode

One new feature is accessing Condor as a spectator, even after the server has closed! To use this tool, you must have the Condor program and the scenery being used on the scenery. Next, you need to do is go to the main Condor server list, even after the server has closed for contestants. Click Join. When you wish to connect to the server, select “Join as Spectator”. Click Join and enter the game!

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After you enter the game, click the Windows key on your keyboard. You will see that there are two windows for Condor. Open the second Window and you will see a panel with all the contestants and several features, such as Thermal Helpers. Select any contestant you wish and have fun!

Summary

Do you have to do all of these steps? Not at all! You could get your Condor set up and simply log on the online competitions and fly! If you already have soaring or sim experience, you can skip some or many of these steps and climb the learning curve very quickly. You may find some the steps are less fun, or that getting into “the deep end” online helps accelerate your learning! Do what best works for you. The nice thing about Condor is that there are dozens of different ways to use it.

Condor Coaching

All of the things I detailed are basically a training program for you to coach yourself to improve your soaring performance. That said, I’ve helped my club members by walking them through these steps, flying with them, and otherwise coaching them to improve their soaring skills. For several non-members, I have done paid one-on-one Condor coaching. Feel free to contact me if you would like to schedule a time with me.

1-26 Extravanganza!

Last night was unbelievable! We maxed out our first server with 64 pilots and even put up a second server that filled up with another 15 pilots! Between the two servers, we had 79 folks flying US Nightly Soaring. 27 pilots flew 1-26s, 37 flew Blaniks, 12 K-21s, and one Ka-8!

We got the message folks. School class in Slovenia is a hit! We will run similar tasks once a week.

We will also add Club Class into a more routine rotation. It’s clear that we have a lot of new people and folks are especially excited to fly gliders that they had flown in real life.

Last night was spectacular. It was so much fun to hop into Sweet Red (563), my faithful steed for so many years and wonderful experiences. 1-26s are just so freakin’ fun to fly!

The glider felt really good and realistic. Chris Wedgwood (OXO) actually asked me to beta test the ship when they were building it for Condor. I was really touched that he put together Sweet Red’s beautiful paint scheme!

In any case, the start area looked like a scene out of the Hell’s Angels. All sorts of different colored gliders flying at different speeds in all directions. Two poor fellows collided in a thermal and I was dodging their dismembered wings and fuselages! It was definitely wise to get away from the massive furball to a quieter part of the sky.

Once the start opened, the lumbering mass of glass, wood, and metal locusts set out to terrorize the Slovenian countryside. The first leg went along a ridge that was just barely working.

Many folks were low. It was prudent to pick up a thermal soon after start to get nice and high. Getting a good start and efficient climb early is a good strategy to be fast and avoid digging yourself into a hole early in the day.

I picked up a red line start and pulled up a hefty 250ft with my energy! The first thermal was reasonably honest, but it was just high enough to get to the ridge below ridge top.

A nice gaggle marked the climb up the slope and I eagerly joined it. This set me up nicely for the upcoming upwind leg.

I had overrun most of the gaggle by now, but a reasonable group still lay before me. Folks were driving into the valley, which looked eerily devoid of clouds. I looked over to my left and saw a lone Blanik climbing in the blue.

I asked myself if I was in a “risk-minimization” mindset. And I begrudgingly agreed that flying a 1-26 in these conditions puts me there. So I deviated 45-50 degrees, much in pain at accepting such a major deviation.

The thermal was honest all the way up and generated a nice little cloud above me as I left. And the gaggle ahead was struggling low under a cloud that didn’t deliver.

It’s nice when gear-shifting actually works!

After this point, I maintained a MC 4-5 glide, cruising along mostly at 80 mph. Pretty fast, but I had folks marking the lift ahead. I took pretty much every climb along the way and deviated quite a bit to get them too.

Almost every thermal was marked with a glider. This was really really cool! We typically don’t fly in such large groups in the States and it was really fun to see gliders everywhere. Managing gaggles, knowing when to leave and when to stay is really important in high level competition. I didn’t learn how to do it until I flew in several Junior Worlds.

But, with so many gliders on Assigned Tasks, all of the same techniques apply. Especially so when you’re in one of the lowest performing ships. Make one mistake, miss a working thermal, and you’re in deep trouble. Best to get high and stay high!

It was a relief to round the second turnpoint; no more headwind to contend with! However, the lift was thinning out and thinning out. Folks were landing out left and right.

I zigged and zagged, trying to stay with the few clouds that were available. One dies, damn! Deviating toward a new, developing cloud.

It works! Only 4 knots, but best to stick with it.

The sky has more options ahead and they look better than this 4 knotter. Time to move on.

One more new cloud! 5.5 knots

Just another 1500ft to go for the finish.

One more climb before the last turnpoint, riding out the tailwind right up to cloudbase and a MC 5 final glide.

Good air along the ridge on the final leg, getting up to MC 9.7!

***Sweet Red***, four miles out from the east!

And a finish for the win, with a time of 1:26:20 on course.

It’s *really* fun flying these gliders!

Luis Saut also had a great night, coming in a very close second. He is also a very accomplished low-performance pilot, flying the Brazilian Quero Quero. It is very similar to a 1-26! It showed that he was comfortable in these ships, comfortably breezing through the gaggle to complete the course.

I’d also like to add that for future tasks with School class, that the experienced guys SHOULD take 1-26s. The beginners can then take the Blanik or K-21 and keep up with the experienced pilots and make it around the task. This is good practice for everyone!

Tonight we fly in Ridge North 2. See you guys online!!

  • Teamspeak: channel: ts3.virtualsoaring.eu:9982 | password: ask13 | Channel- MNS/USNS. (Note, please go to Settings and set up “Push-to-talk” for your mic.)
  • Register (for free) here to receive briefings two hour before the race and to submit your log for scoring.
  • Scenery Download: Use Condor Updater. (Best to subscribe for more bandwidth!)
  • Find “US Nightly Soaring” at 9pm Eastern (0100 UTC) here or here.
  • Monday Night Soaring at 7/10pm Eastern (2300/0300 UTC)

School Class Tonight!

Hey Guys,

Tonight we’re back in Slovenia and we will fly some of the low performance gliders! Take your pick; Blanik L-13 (included), ASK-21, 1-26, Grunau Baby, Ka-8, or SG-38.

The task is a short 110km triangle with good thermals; should be perfectly doable for these gliders.

Special kudos to anyone who makes it around in the Baby. Triple kudos to anyone who attempts it in the SG-38!

See you tonight!

All the best,
Daniel

Contest info:

  • Teamspeak: channel: ts3.virtualsoaring.eu:9982 | password: ask13 | Channel- MNS/USNS. (Note, please go to Settings and set up “Push-to-talk” for your mic.)
  • Register (for free) here to receive briefings two hour before the race and to submit your log for scoring.
  • Scenery Download: Use Condor Updater. (Best to subscribe for more bandwidth!)
  • Find “US Nightly Soaring” at 9pm Eastern (0100 UTC) here or here.
  • Monday Night Soaring at 7/10pm Eastern (2300/0300 UTC)

Intuition or Cold Calculation?

How do we go about decision-making? Well honestly, most of the time it’s pretty easy, even self-evident. You have a gut feeling to go to a particular cloud, leave a thermal as it’s dying, or to perhaps recenter a half turn in another direction. We make these kinds of decisions all the time. Every time you move the stick, some part of your brain is making a decision.

But that’s not how we are taught to go about decision-making! Think about MC theory; look at the next cloud, calculate its expected lift strength minus any headwind component and centering losses. Entering a thermal, count three seconds and then bank hard. Listen to the variometer… when it spikes plan to recenter in that direction on the next turn. Glance at the yawstring as you turn. Keep your airspeed on the dial on your check-ride. Fly by the numbers!

Some pilots are known as being “artistic” and hardly do any of this calculation. Others are the “engineers” who seem to be a human flying computer.

What’s going on?

Folks who study decision-making typically model it as a dual process. Unfortunately, there is a lot of disagreement as to what drives this binary system. If you look into the research, you will see thinking modeled as “fast and frugal”, or “slow and deliberative”. “Affective” (emotional) or “cognitive”. “Model-based” and “model-free”.

The “heart” or the “mind”

Intuitive or calculating.

The artist or the engineer.

heart #mind #journey #bestlife #faith #life #RealTalk101 #reality ...

The reality is that it is not quite that clearly demarcated. When you study the brain, no one part of the brain is doing one line of reasoning as opposed to another. The “left brain” vs. “right brain” thinking is a total myth. Everything is interconnected and involved with everything else. A cold, calculating engineer is still relying on affective, intuitive judgment as he is solving his problems. An artist is still using some top-down cognitive reasoning as he decides which paint to put on the canvas.

It’s more of a spectrum rather than a binary system.

Nonetheless, it’s still a useful analogy, or at least a lens to look at decision-making problems.

The intuitive system is exceptionally useful. It operates using past experience and interprets current situations in line with that experience. The current situation need not be exactly the same as one we encountered before; we are great pattern-matching machines!

So when you scan a bunch of clouds and then you find the right one and you feel “good” about it, really it’s your neural network black box outputting that this cloud is the right solution. And this works when you’ve flown under hundreds of clouds and trained your pattern recognition system well!

This process works really well for most problems that we encounter in life and soaring.

However, this approach to decision-making breaks down when we don’t have experience that generalizes to a given situation. The blackbox between your ears still ticks away, but it won’t help you. Or worse yet, it will lull you into a sense of complacency. When you have a system that works 99 percent of the time, it doesn’t jump out at you the 1 percent of the time when your own software starts working against you!

This is not a problem in situations where receive real-time feedback. Thermalling is one of those cases; we are constantly adjusting to the air and variometer and over time we can get quite good at modeling what the air will do.

However, it is a problem when it comes to risk-management and “gear-shifting” for changing weather. Most of us don’t have a sufficiently large bank of experience to do this intuitively. And the problem is that feedback we receive from the current conditions is usually too little, too late!

You fly under one cloud and it doesn’t work. Then under another and it doesn’t work. Now you’re at 2000ft AGL, you realize you’re in the doghouse and now shift into risk minimization.

The trouble is that if the conditions are unreliable, you’ve already missed the boat. If you’re lucky, you will dig out. But do this one too many times in a competition and you will near certainly land out.

Restated, unless you’re actively managing your strategic risk, if you simply rely on intuitive judgment you will very likely be taking too much risk over the long run.

In the case of sporting risk management, John Bird and I solved this by developing a normative model of decision-making. Assess the reliability and quantity of options ahead of you to decide how to go about these decisions.

However, there are many other problems and decisions we encounter that we use a structured, calculated approach. Check-lists are a simple example! Instead of relying on intuition or “flow”, we could simply follow the process and make sure that things are where they need to be. Decision heuristics such as “don’t deviate more than 30 degrees” or “fly MC speed” are other examples. These are effective strategies.

This is not to say that cold-calculation is the best way to go about your flying, far from it! It is impossible to fly as a human computer, we simply don’t have enough bandwidth to do that.

Instead, it is best to recognize what kind of problems are best left to the intuitive system and others that are best handled by calculation. And engage the right decision-making system in the right context.

I thermal with a brush and make my risk-management decisions with a calculator.