Falling Off Ridges

Reviewing the Ridge Map, I noticed some appalling landouts associated with ridge flying. Falling off of a ridge is about the most dangerous kind of landout situation a soaring pilot can encounter. When you fall off, you typically have very little time and few options to choose from. Usually you must do an abbreviated pattern into your field. Fields near mountains tend to be shorter and more rolling, also increasing risk. These factors require serious consideration in order to make a safe landout.

The disturbing feature of many ridge landouts is the tendency of pilots to make *very low* patterns/approaches into fields. A lot of this is due to their attempts to thermal in weak lift after having fallen off the ridge. I suspect that pilots get more comfortable thermalling low when they spend a long time very close to the trees. The same pilots who would quit well above 500ft are attempting to dig out from 300ft AGL! This is followed by a full pattern initiated at 200ft AGL!

However, looking at these trends, I suspect that pilots lack some guidance as to how to properly conduct a ridge landout. As such, here are some thoughts and guidelines to take a very dangerous situation and make it considerably more manageable.

Preparation

In crucial areas like gap crossings (transitions) or in areas with sparse landing options, it is critical that you know beforehand what your options are. Where fields are sparse, the few fields that are available tend to be marginal. Moreover, you might be forced to make a very low approach into a marginal field that has only one way in. Knowing what you are dealing with and having a plan beforehand can be the difference between success and totalling your glider. When it comes to gap crossings, you might have to make a straight-in into your option. If you know your options and are prepared to do so, your odds of success are a lot better.

There are few landing options in the section between Wind Gap and the Ski Area. Knowing what the options are and how to approach into them can be the difference between success and failure.

Falling off a ridge rarely happens in a heartbeat!

Your situation will slowly deteriorate and you can pick up on this well before you have to commit to a landout. If the ridge is softening up, you will be getting lower and slower. There will be an eery smoothness to the ridge, punctuated by weak little bubbles that hardly improve your energy situation. When you feel this happening, this is your cue to take the next thermal if you find one. At the same time, you should start paying a lot of attention to the fields in the valley below.

Field selection

When the ridge is soft, you should be flying “field to field”. If you’re hanging on the ridge, then keep finding each successive field that you could land in. Should the ridge go from soft to not working, you will be ready to land. Don’t go into an unlandable or marginal area ahead if the ridge is soft!

Remember that many ridge fields can be marginal, so you have to be vigilant in your field selection. Pay a lot of attention to the field’s slope. The best case scenario is that you find a field that has a favorable slope and is perpendicular to the ridge. This way you are on “base” leg while on the ridge. If you choose to commit to the field, then you will have from 500-1000ft AGL to work with, quite reasonable! You will also be landing into the wind, good news! Fields that are parallel to the ridge are fine too, but make sure that you picked up the right side to make your approach.

Falling Off the Back

Sometimes your only good options are on the downwind side of the ridge. These are very tricky situations for several reasons. The first is that you usually have to leave the ridge at a higher altitude than you would if you had a field on the front side. Some ridges have a broad, flat peak and you have to maintain enough altitude to clear over the top of it. This goes back to the business of committing while you still have time and options. Plus or minus 10 seconds can make the difference between clearing the mountain comfortably, to being marginal, to not having enough altitude to make it over. Remember that settling down on the mountain does not happen instantaneously. If the ridge is not supporting you 500ft above, 300ft above, 200ft above, it’s probably not going to do you much good 100ft above the trees. If you’re getting scared, act on it sooner than later.

Secondly, the wind flows on the backside of ridges can be unpredictable and violent. You are heading into the lee sink of the mountain and the wind can curl and do all sorts of wild things. Expect turbulence and sink. Keep your speed up and try to find a large field.

An example of when I bailed off the backside of the ridge. I left with enough altitude to make the options behind Second Mountain. There was a little ridge in the valley, perpendicular to the best landing option available. I found lift over this ridge while in position for my field, S-turned my way up higher until transitioning to full turns, and almost thermalled out. I remain ambivalent over making this decision. But this remains a good example of bailing off the back of a ridge when it is not working well enough.

Committing

In thermal soaring, we are trained to transition into “landing mode” at an appropriate altitude. When ridge soaring, we delay this point to an altitude that is considerably lower than under normal conditions. However, the moment you fall off the ridge, this should be your cue to transition into landing mode. Especially if the ridge is weak or you fell off halfway below ridge top, you are likely to be at or below 500ft AGL of the valley floor. You need the altitude to make a safe approach and landing into what is likely to be a trickier than normal field.

Also, the earlier you accept the ridge is not working, the better. If you can’t hang on a ridge 50ft below ridge top, it is probably not going to get better 100-200ft below either. There are exceptions, such as if the ridge is turning toward a more favorable wind angle. But all things being equal, the earlier you accept that the ridge isn’t working, the better. Ridges tend to be sharp at the top and flatter sloped at the bottom. If you leave early, you will maintain a reasonable height AGL, especially if you have to go a ways toward a field in the valley. If you delay several hundred feet, you will be hugging the terrain on your way toward the fields; bad news.

Also, if the ridge is reasonably high, the earlier you leave, the better chance you will have to find a thermal in the valley. Every 100ft makes a big difference in connecting with that thermal. Don’t delay leaving a ridge that isn’t working.

This pilot shall remain nameless. He delayed leaving the SE ridge too long and had a marginal approach into a field. If he left earlier, he could have made a direct approach into Blairstown Airport. Along the way he was barely outgliding the terrain. +- 100ft makes all the difference when leaving a ridge.

Approach

Now that you’ve committed to landing and picked out your field, you need to deal with the fact that you will probably have to make a low approach into the field. If you don’t have enough height to make a normal pattern, don’t. It is much better to be higher and do an abbreviated approach rather than a low, full pattern with all the associated risks of a stall/spin.

If I have to use an abbreviated pattern, I like to use the “hangglider technique”. I position myself offset from the field and S-turn until I am in a comfortable altitude to make an approach into the field.

This is a good example of making an S-turn to control for altitude.

In sum, maintain situational awareness of your options, accept defeat early, commit early, and make a safe approach in a field.


05-21-19 | Celebration Day | 500km Triangle

On Monday, I graduated from New York University with a Master’s degree in Psychology. It has been hard work over the past couple of months getting my thesis done and my final classes completed. It has been a great ride, the capstone with a study on Emotional Intelligence and Bargaining Behavior. But between the lack of good soaring weather and my studies, I haven’t gotten to fly all that much over the past spring. So come the end of May, with my projects complete and good weather on the horizon, I was almost caught off guard; surprised by the prospect of getting to do a whole bunch of flying over the next couple of months! And when a nice day rolled in a day after my graduation, I figured what better way to celebrate than to go fly?

Gliderpilots are strange creatures. We think that it is fun to strap into a couple hundred pounds of fiberglass, close the canopy and seclude ourselves from the world. And to go in circles all day.

But no matter, this was a good day to fly. Finally, an honest-to-god cold front rolled through, bringing unstable, NW flow. The tricky bits were that the wind was to die off to the SW. Not a good day to go to the Potomac, with weak and northerly winds beyond Burnt Cabins. But what about to the North? Maybe we could do another triangle? I played with a whole bunch of options, hoping for a 600km triangle that took me into the plateau. Up near Williamsport, it was forecast that we could get Cu to 6000ft, plenty to ease into the high terrain.

There were few souls at the airport in the morning. Steve Beer was gung ho, raring to attempt a Diamond Distance in a 1-26. He helped me throw the LS4 and Duckhawk together and I returned the favor by being his official observer and running his wing. Tommy went off to get breakfast and I went to finish up putting the ships together.

Getting closer to launch time, still no gliderpilots to be seen. I decided to push the LS4 by hand to the end of the runway; bad idea. The grass was high and halfway I got completely winded. I summoned the energy to push the ship in 80 yard spurts, then stopping to catch my breath. By the time I got the ship to the end of the runway, I was glad to collapse in one of the handy lawn chairs by the runway. Ten minutes later, my heart rate finally returned to normal and I was satisfied that my cardio exercise for the day was complete. Seeing Tommy hustling back from breakfast, I was ready to go.

Wing down takeoff, no problem and a quick tow to the ridge. It was completely solid and I dropped onto the trees. No trouble moving along at a solid 95-100 knots, about as fast as I am normally willing to go in the ‘4.

The ridge band was a little odd today; more like a typical SE day than NW. It was a very thin, but solid band of lift. 400ft above the trees, you could hardly sustain. Down on the trees, you could make some serious speed. This was especially pronounced by the flat spot by Snyders. I like to float up to 2000ft in a high performance ship to make that crossing. This was a bit trickier today as the lift band was hardly getting up there.

By 11am, the thermals were on. The last bits of morning Cu had finally withered away, but there was not much too much trouble finding the thermal to make the crossing to Sharp. 3800ft, a good line and I was across to Second Mountain. Gold mine line and I was on Sharp at 1750ft. I figured that Sharp was working, but was not in a real dying rush. I picked up a thermal quickly after making the crossing, still in touch with the fields off the back. This set me up nicely to thermal across the whole section. No real trouble making it across to the Mahantango, which surprisingly worked very well. The wind was starting to die down now; less than 13 knots. But the lift band kept cranking.

On the Tuscarora, it started getting soft. When the wind is less than 15 mph at ridge top, the ridge band gets quite varied; sometimes it is cranking, sometimes it gets soft. By the time I hit Burnt Cabins, it was not working well at all.

Maybe I could make a run down to Dickeys on thermals? It was early yet; the thermals might get a lot better! The crappy thermal at Sidneys Knob minimized my motivation, especially with a wind reading ~340 degrees at 9 knots. Not fun to be at the bend at McConnellsburg with this kind of wind! I decided to instead proceed on my task and headed over to Shade Mountain. The challenge now was to make it across all the transitions to Williamsport. This turned out to be considerably trickier than I thought.

On Shade, I started settling down and down. I wasn’t too concerned as the ridge worked reasonably well on the Tuscarora; it should sustain me if I was in a real bind. But I did keep one eye at the fields and the other on the ridge. When I found thermals, I took them, just floating along in the higher band. The farther NE I go, the better the wind should get, no need to drive low and in a rush.

Near Mt.Union, I made the transition upwind. I had the choice to fly Stone or Jacks Mountains. I generally prefer Stone Mountain as it is a much better springboard for the next upwind jump across Seven Mountains to Nittany. However, with the weak, northerly wind, I thought twice of flying Stone. The fields at the base of it are not all that great. Moreover, some serious cirrus rolled in over Mifflin. And to add insult to injury, it was totally blue; no Cu to mark the thermals. It wasn’t going to be a cakewalk getting upwind. Maybe I could find some stragglers from the regional contest to mark a couple thermals? In any case, I decided to head along Jacks Mountain today.

With the high cloud cover moved in, the ridge and thermals softened up. It was a struggle climbing off the ridge. I hate dealing with the blue, especially alone. Finally having to resort to reading the ground, I figured, hoped that the quarry upwind might trigger something. And it did! Nice when it works out that way.

It was only good enough for 4,500ft. Looking at Seven Mountains, I wasn’t terribly pleased. The glide angle just looked too flat for comfort, despite the encouragement from the glide computer. But not able to get any higher, I edged forward. I managed to keep the meh angle, until halfway into Seven Mountains. Then I got into good air and I had it totally made. One major hurdle down!

At this point, I hoped to connect with a reasonable thermal and make it to Nittany in one go. No joy on that one and at 3000ft I started heading along First Mountain. This is the same place where I got into trouble last week. It was weird looking down at the places I scratched out of.

The stratocirrus got thicker and the thermals got ever worse. I settled down and down, going the whole length of the mountain without finding a climb. On the northeastern end, I finally had to turn around. Shortly thereafter, I settled right down onto the trees, maybe even a hair below ridge top at 55 knots. That certainly got my attention! The ridge was so weak that any bits of thermal sink were enough to wash it out. The little bubble ahead had a couple turkey vultures and a couple S-turns finally got me out of this predicament.

One of the things that astounds me is just how tenuous soaring flight can be. One wrong move and I would have been on the ground. One bad turn, another 20-30 feet below ridge top and the flight would’ve been over. It’s amazing how efficient these machines are at extracting the little bits of energy out of the air.

Now I was backtracking in relation to my task. But looking ahead, the skies parted and sunshine finally reached the ground. Appreciating this divine intervention, I headed on over and finally found some solid lift. As I was climbing, I dialed my task back to a 500km triangle. I figured that with this high cloud cover I ought to head back sooner than I originally anticipated. Normally 4pm would be a reasonable time to turn an upwind turn, but a little after 3 would have to do today. The climb got me high enough to reach Nittany Mountain; much better shape!

Once established on Nittany, things looked a lot better. In fact, there were small cumulus ahead, quite high up. I thought about getting my nerve back to go for the upwind turnpoint. When I hit a little thermal by the Talladega jump and looked at the high cloud cover behind me, this squashed this enthusiasm. The sun was swinging around and setting to the west and yet more and more moisture was marching in from the west. The net effect was that I was racing the shade! Enough, time to get to Williamsport and call it quits.

I had no trouble climbing up to 5,800ft. This was as high the bubble went and I gingerly pointed downwind. I’ll admit, it was a bit scary. Flying in the blue is really intimidating to me; who knows where and when you’ll find the next thermal. But I was high enough to make downwind ridges, which eased my worries. And feeling active air along the way was all the better, especially with another solid climb to 6,900ft. It turned out that the thermals were quite active and I had no troubles going downwind to Blue Mountain.

The ridge was still working solid, so it felt like a crime to just call it quits when I got back home. Why not do another lap for good measure?

As I neared the Delaware Water Gap, I saw Bill Thar screaming along in his Duckhawk. I asked him he wanted to join me on the lap and he most happily agreed to come. Apparently it gave him endless satisfaction to float up behind, pass me and then float up again behind me again. Usually pilots only get the satisfaction to pass a glider once, you know?

I floated off the end of Hawk Mountain and came back square at ridge top. It was a bit softer than I would’ve liked and was having a hard time floating up for the journey back across Snyders. Slowly but surely I made it back up to 2000ft; afterwards Bill and I floated like “gentleman” back home.

What a fun day!

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Thanks a million Tommy for towing and Aero Club Albatross for giving me the chance to fly this sweet bird today.

Find the flight log here.

05-16-19 | By the Skin of My Teeth- A 500km Thermal Triangle

I don’t think a soaring forecast drove me as crazy as this one did. A backdoor cold front was to sweep through the area, but was incredibly finicky. Moisture in the ground, wind, cloudbase, and high cloud cover were all huge variables. I tracked the weather and changed the task with every model run. A little more wind, the ridge would work to Hawk. That would be a good way to start the day… run the ridge before the day triggers and cash in the 60 miles for free. Then the forecast showed a shower in the Harrisburg area; maybe I could skirt around it by going NW? It drove me crazy because it looked like there was a path toward a big flight, if I could just find the right way to go.

I had no less than eight 500km+ triangles in my Garmin, ready to go if the weather changed. The night before, I settled on one that I liked; Upper Reservoir –> Tussey (near Woodward) –> Reading –> Fairview Lake –> Upper Reservoir. I didn’t get much rest; the gears in my mind churned away.

Bill Thar graciously let me use his ship on this day. I took hold of the opportunity, figuring the performance would help. It surely did. When I launched at 11am, the lift was spotty. A couple hanging, wispy cu over the ridge that didn’t do me much good. I found the climb near the Delaware Water Gap down at 2400ft. Looking back toward Blairstown, it seemed it was cycling down. At 5000ft, I decided to get out of dodge and on my way.

Most of the clouds were not working and the lift was far apart. It seemed like whatever moisture got up to cloudbase just hung around there. Nice looking Cu lied. This was a risk-minimization day.

And it worked out very well. I took pretty much every viable thermal in my path and deviated for anything that looked promising. I floated at 80 knots, a very comfortable angle in the Duckhawk. In the good air, the automatic flaps clicked and clacked away. Those couple hundred feet every glide paid today.

This was especially the case when I transitioned into the Pocono Plateau. This is high ground; good lift, but with not much room to work with. I tiptoed through the area, keeping fields in my pocket, but gingerly working all the air along the way. The clouds that worked had a higher cloudbase than the rest. I was very happy with this segment of the flight; I felt that I walked the tightrope to stay connected nicely.

Across the high ground and I see the Susquehanna valley of death ahead me. I climbed as high as I could. I thought about deviating to stay with the high terrain, but the clouds didn’t look promising there. I had to throw my lot in with the valley and floated on in.

The sink between the thermals was horrendous. It paid big to stay with the lines. For the most part, this worked out fine. But at one point I started dropping out into the valley. Any thermal would do and I struggled up to 4,500ft. The lift was hardly working higher and I moved on. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time, getting into lower and wetter ground. But the air was actually very nice. I managed to go many miles just floating along, well below cloudbase. I don’t know how I pulled that off, but it certainly made the difference; there were hardly any thermals along the way there…. I would’ve climbed if they worked!

Curiously, the thermal I did hit was pretty much in the middle between the two branches of the Susquehanna River. I was a bit leery going in there… figuring this about the lowest ground around. But over some infrastructure, the thermal popped up and gave me enough to make it over to the ridges on the other side. Phew!

Pushing through a lot of sink, I finally flopped over to the extension of Jacks Mountain. 5 knot thermal! Yippee, I made it across! 6300ft and nice clouds in front of me all the way to Seven Mountains. It’s 1pm and clearly the conditions had finally kicked *on*. What to do but speed up to 90 knots and start rocking and rolling?

The first cloud didn’t work.

The second cloud didn’t work.

The third cloud didn’t work.

Darn it, the fourth(!!!) cloud didn’t work!

Now I’m at the edge of Seven Mountains contemplating whether I should back track or make a death dive to Tussey. My turnpoint was on this ridge and it was going to be oh so painful to go backwards. I opted to make the transition, keeping the fields in check off of my right shoulder. Diving to 100 knots, I punched through the sink and made it across with 700ft to spare.

At this point, I finally appreciated the entirety of my blunder. Ahead, the few clouds were torn up. A thin band of cirrus moved in. The wind was showing 10 knots from 300; the ridge isn’t going to save me. Gulp.

I started settling down. Come on baby, any bubble would do. I kept settling… and settling. I am paying a lot of attention to the not so great fields at the base of the ridge. I keep settling, not a burble. A little bump right before a gap, not enough to turn in. I crossed the gap and found nothing on the other side. My only hope is to turn back and hope to work that little bubble.

Ridge pilots know that this is an incredibly desperate thing to do. Turning back rarely does you any good. I found a bubble several hundred feet above ridge top, though it was just barely working. In fact, for several minutes I was just slowly losing, drifting along with it. I felt so totally screwed at this point. That field at the base of the ridge has my name on it, that’s for sure.

But then it picked up to 1.5 knots. One turn, two turns, four turns and the mountain is slowly dropping away. Well who would have thought?

I struggled up to 4000ft, at which point it started falling apart. A sigh of relief and I glanced at my Garmin to check on my turnpoint. Only 3.5 miles further. A promising cu ahead. It would be painful to turn home with the turnpoint so close; I edged forward.

Settling down. Under the nice cu, nothing but diddly squat! I am now beyond the turnpoint, searching for something, anything off of the ridge. Oh Daniel, you stupid dope! You’re now going to land out after having had that improbable save!  No way you’re going to get lucky a second time!

Now several hundred feet above the ridge. Another measly bubble, not good enough. I crossed another little gap, no joy. Another field picked out and I made another desperation attempt for that bubble behind me. Down to 200ft over ridge top and it just barely picked up. 55 knots, heart’s racing. One eye on the field, the other eye on the ridge. Airspeed, yawstring. Don’t turn into the mountain. I fell out of the back side of this narrow thermal almost every turn. I had to remind myself to breathe every once in a while.

I was astounded. I was now edging my way up over the mountain, up to 3000ft. Oh damn it, not high enough to go across Seven Mountains! I dejectedly pushed upwind to the next cu. Good air… good air. Bang! 2 knots! I tightened into that sucker and started spiraling up… 4000ft, 5000ft. I’m out of the doghouse now.

I was exhausted. My body ached as the pressure finally subsided. I felt like a wet noodle. With the tailwind and true airspeed bonus, I was doing 105 knots. I was perfectly content to just float this one out, no rush. No more of this low altitude nonsense.

The lift perked up a bit now, but it was still hard to center and far apart. Any reasonable thermal, I was taking it. Probably the most fun moment was up at 6800ft after leaving a thermal. I picked up to 90 knots and just hit a thermal smack in the middle. I hauled on the stick and catapulted straight up. The flaps kicked right in and I gained 600ft on the one pull. Very nice!

3:35pm and at the turn. Just make it over the ridge and you’re home free. 2.8 knots in the thermals, no sweat… there’s plenty of time. Just stay high and float on home.

By 5pm, I crossed my finish at the Upper Reservoir. Thoroughly pooped out, I called it quits pretty quickly after that.

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Thanks Brandon for towing and Ron for running the line in the morning! Aero Club Albatross did really great yesterday; 22 tows on a weekday! I think this is a record for club operations! And thanks a million to Bill Thar for letting me fly your spectacular ship. It made the difference today.

Find the flight log here.

Managing Stress in Competitions

My lab invited a very insightful speaker, one who specializes in sports and occupational health psychology. Her area of focus is in how athletes and high-stress workplaces (firefighters, police officers) deal with stress, burnout and engage in recovery techniques.

Naturally, I saw a lot of parallels between her research and glider racing. She makes a very strong case for the need to focus on rest and recovery to achieve optimal performance.

Notes from talk:

– There are several models that describe the stress/recovery cycle. Generally, it is a good analogy to view energy as a limited resource. Recovery serves to replenish the resource. If the subject’s resources get expended quicker than they are replenished, the subject will burn out.

– Burnout/overtraining causes diminished performance.

– Symptoms include: racing thoughts, rumination, fatigue, mood disturbances, lowered vigor.

– Burnout is described like dehydration. By the time you realize you’re fatigued, it’s already too late. Must have proactive strategies for recovery.

– Stress/recovery follow an S-shaped curve.

There’s a threshold of stress that a person can handle, above which it is almost unrecoverable, except if one allows a very long time. (Longer than the time available in the contest).

– Recovery methods include: sleep, relaxation, social activity, cognitive processes focusing on self-control and concentration.

– Emphasized psychological detachment during rest. Need to dissociate from the stressful activity (good and bad stress).

– Preoccupation as an athlete and ones’ performance hurts recovery. It is good to appeal to other forms of your identity during recovery stages.

– When mind races when trying to sleep, a good strategy is to write in a journal. Develop a habit; write down those items and then once journal is closed, it’s done and accounted for.

– Habituation of recovery strategies, especially sleep is very important. Develop a sleep schedule and stick to it. No computers 30 minutes before shut-eye.
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Actionable goals and items for contest pilots:

Suggested goals:

  • Start the contest with as much energy as possible.
  • Minimize energy lost on each day.
  • Facilitate psychological recovery strategies for the following race day.

1) Start the contest with as much energy as possible.

  • Arrive as early as possible. Bring all essential hardware and equipment with you. Control for all items that can stress you or otherwise fatigue you. Prepare as much as possible before you arrive, including field selection on final glides, review of terrain, etc. Train before you arrive.
  • The objective once you do is to get the equipment ready as early as possible and do several flights in the local area in that first week.
  • No flying within three days of the contest, if not more. Fatigue builds up over time and it can take a while to recover from the training.
  • Crew should not be a stressor. Ideally, the crew should be a person you are closely familiar. Pilots tend to be introverts… dealing with new people is usually a drain. If anything, the crew’s primary responsibility is to minimize anything that could drain the pilot… dealing with the equipment is just the best way to do that.
  • Minimize conversion in instruments and avionics. There is no need to use unfamiliar units or avionics. If standardized avionics are desirable, recommend to train with them for an extended period of time before the contest. Dealing with unfamiliar units or instruments is an unnecessary drain.

2) Minimize energy lost on each day.

  • Plan on flying at 95 percent of your performance in the beginning of the contest; pace yourself.
  • Good days can be as big or a bigger drain that bad days. Be careful about perpetuating that “high”, “rock and roll” state when in flight. It is really fun now, but it will probably burn you out for tomorrow.
  • Recognize this in the context of strategic decision making. “I can make a bold move now, but at what cost to my overall fatigue?”

3) Recovery techniques

  • Finish flight ASAP. After flight is over, goal is to recharge for tomorrow.
  • Each pilot should have recovery strategy
  • Physical activity can be beneficial
  • Emphasize detachment from soaring related activitiy
  • Social activity is good, if it is desired. Some people need quiet time.
  • Write in journal before sleep.

Emotion Regulation And Decision-Making

Image result for angry cartoon
Cartoon sourced from here.

Being strapped down in a tin can while racing and experiencing things that are not working out for you is emotionally challenging. You see a competitor slip ahead, you fall out of the band, the sky starts deteriorating; all these situations can have powerful emotional effects that can distract you from dealing with these challenges. Being able to minimize negative emotions is therefore quite advantageous to one’s soaring performance.

Psychological research in Emotion-Regulation has some useful insights in this respect. Two commonly studied emotion-regulation techniques are suppression and reappraisal.

Suppression is the act of taking a negative emotion and attempting to minimize it. This is the equivalent trying to contain yourself when you get angry. Studies had shown that trying to minimize the effect of an emotion after the fact is an ineffective strategy.

Reappraisal is the act of reframing your situation in a different light. For instance, if you see high cloud cover move in, you might think that this is an opportunity for you to excel at your weak weather flying while everyone else is going to be scared and suffering.

Research has shown that reappraisal is overwhelmingly a much more effective emotion-regulation strategy. This is because reappraisal has a tendency to take the bite out of the emotional response before it happens; it minimizes the total emotion experienced. As a result, reappraisal strategies could greatly improve performance.

The risk management work that John Bird and I did actually relates to reappraisal. It helps the pilot look at the sky ahead and reason that due to the risk level exceeding a certain threshold, that they must change their strategy. By being able to base risk strategy on something measurable, it allows the pilot to easily reappraise a situation. When it comes time to get into a “risk-minimizing” mindset, it isn’t painful to watch a couple other pilots drive ahead and leaving you behind. Sure, you might be missing out on an opportunity, but looking at the sky ahead, you can just write off those pilots as taking an excessive gamble. As a result, you don’t feel the emotional pain associated with them leaving you behind.

Like many things in aviation, emotion-regulation and reappraisal is part of overall situational awareness. If you judge your priorities correctly and are ahead of your situation, then you will not be as emotionally affected. Conversely, if you are experiencing strong emotional reactions in the cockpit, this is likely to be due to a lack of situational awareness at an earlier point in the flight.

Using Condor to Judge Glide Angles

One of the most important skills to internalize as a glider pilot is intuitively judging glide angles. Beginners often have trouble with this and fly by using calculations or by rote to compensate (X altitude over the barn, Y altitude over the lake, etc.)
 
Condor is actually quite good at teaching this skill. I came up with the following exercise for a fellow who is having trouble with this skill and figured others who have Condor 2 might also have a little fun with it.
 
Blairstown Scenery can be found here:

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With more experience, you will get better and better at judging glide angles. When we are making glides, all that matters is whether we are making it or not. If it’s a low performance ship and you’re in good air, if you’re in a high performance ship in sink, or you have a tailwind or a headwind, in the end it all outputs to an achieved glide angle.
 
The way you judge it is by looking ahead and picking a point in the horizon and you watch its change. If it is rising in the canopy, you are coming up short. If it is falling, then you are making it.
 
In this way, glider pilots are able to judge their glides without any need for instruments or doing any calculation.
 
You can use Condor to learn this skill. Take a look at the picture attached below.
 
Look at the top of the yawstring from the first frame to the second. Notice how the horizon has risen in the second frame… we are coming up short.
 
As a gliderpilot, you will learn to be very sensitive to these changes. You should be able to look out front and within several seconds be able to judge if the point is rising or falling. Of course in reality it rarely remains static… if you hit some sink you’ll see it rising, lift, it falling. But with even more experience you’ll be able to precisely track the rolling average too.
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You can use Condor to practice this skill.
 
I have attached the FPL file to use.
 
To be clear, this is an exercise to teach a skill. It’s just easier to learn how to do it with a mountain in front of you since it is harder to judge a flat glide to a point in the valley. In case it’s not obvious, in real life you should not be doing a dead glide over to the other side of the ridge for a while as this puts you out of gliding distance of Blairstown airport.
 
(Note: DO NOT use Screen 3 on the glider computer for this exercise.)
 
– Start with a K-21
– Point at the Upper Reservoir (the turnpoint is in the PDA)
– Make a prediction within three seconds. Is the terrain rising or falling in relation to the yawstring? Am I going to make it?
– Execute the glide. Did you make it?
 
Next, put in 10 knots of wind from 315. Increase Airborne Start to 3000ft. Repeat.
 
Next, take a 1-26. Make wind 5 knots from 290. Repeat.
 
Next, take the Genesis. Airborne start at 2300ft. Wind 15 knots from 340. Repeat instructions.
 
Practice until you can take any glider in the Hangar in any wind condition and immediately judge if you can make it to the other side of the ridge.
 
To change things up, move the turnpoint at the upper reservoir to another point along the ridge (more to the North or South). Repeat the game.

Don’t Make a Flat Final Approach

Last Sunday, I got to witness a lot of approaches and landings. One consistent observation is that many were coming in low, flat, and slow over the fence.

I feel uncomfortable doing that. The ground is rather hard and unforgiving and I like to give myself more margin clearing obstacles if I can. Obviously sometimes you can’t if the field is exceptionaly short, but this is not the case at Blairstown. Even more so because folks are not taking advantage of their effective spoilers to shorten up their approach.

Instead, come in higher and steeper, aiming for the middle of the runway. When you’ve “got it made”, then lay in the brakes and shorten up the approach. Clear the fence ~ 25-50ft with lots of spoiler and keep the brakes open into the flare. Then ease off the brakes a bit when you’re in the flare to avoid hitting the tail and then stabilize into the float. Once established in the float, start opening up more brakes slowly. Once you touch down, bring the spoilers to full, stick all the way back for taxi and clear the runway.

Doing this, you will land short while clearing the fence at a steeper angle.

I’ve set this up in Condor as a visualization. For folks who have the sim, you can also practice it… fpl file attached below. The red curve is what I saw a lot of people doing. The orange curve is what I like to do.