Advanced XC Session 1 – Mountain Flying in New Zealand

Lesson Plan:

Objective: Introduction to mountain flying

Discussion Topics:

    • Mountain flying basics
      • The slope optical illusion trap
      • Need for comprehensive route pre-planning
      • Need for 3D awareness vs 2D
      • Need for S-turns vs 360 degree turns
      • Need to have landing options in mind at all times
      • Optimum vertical position
      • Wind and sun/shade side effects
    • Mountain Transitions
      • Upwind transitions
      • Downwind transitions
    • Thermalling up and off a mountain range


      • Cross-country flying concepts
      • Cross-country safety considerations


      • Mountain flying concepts
      • New Zealand Scenery

Completion Standards:

      • Ability to recognize proper crab angle and position relative to the ridge
      • Ability to perform S-turns (figure 8 turns) and safely transition to full circles
      • Proper attention to airspeed, varying as necessary to maintain ridge position
      • Ability to generate and verbalize Plan A/B/C… including landing options
      • Ability to navigate in 3D

Required Resources:

      • Omarama_NZ Scenery (available from gliderracing site)
      • Plane Pack 1 (required for Discus 2 glider)

Condor Settings:

      • Water ballast: None
      • C/G Bias: -1.6″

Lesson Files:

Pre-brief (30 – 60 minutes)

The overwhelming number of students for this session will never have flown in mountains in RL, and some may not have even in Condor.  Therefore, an extensive pre-brief is appropriate, going over mountain flying concepts and practices in general, and the New Zealand/Omarama mountain ranges in particular.  The need for comprehensive pre-planning and the incorporation of sun and wind angles into the plan should be stressed.  The student and the instructor should go over the ‘Easy Mountain Task’ route in detail, especially with respect to upwind transitions (there is only one) and ‘Plan B’ (and Plan C…).  The ‘slope optical illusion trap’ should be discussed.  This happens when a pilot unconsciously attempts to parallel the slope, not realizing that their airspeed is decreasing dramatically.  If not caught early in the process, the pilot will find themselves in a stall or a near-stall, too close to the mountainside to recover before impact. The antidote to this problem is to be aware of the optical illusion, and always carry and airspeed and/or flap reserve when working close to the mountain. Also, pilots should be trained to ‘bank downhill’ at the first sign of trouble, as once the glider’s nose is pointed down the mountain, airspeed can easily be recovered and the flight continued.

Easy Mountain Task (2 hours)

This 94-mile task is set in the Omarama_NZ scenery, and can easily be accomplished in 1.5-2 hours, leaving plenty of time for pre and post-briefs.  It is actually quite simple, but NOT if you don’ t do your homework.  The crux of the entire flight is how to get to TP1, and this requires some mental flexibility and a thorough and detailed examination of the possible routes.  Once at TP1, the rest of the flight is a fun and exhilarating high-speed thrill ride ;-).

 Other Notes:

Most students are rightly timid about thermalling near the mountain, so some care should be taken to discuss this in the pre-brief.  S-turning (figure 8 turns) is the safest way to accomplish moutainside climbs, but is considerably less efficient than full circles.  This might be an appropriate subject for a quick web-cam demonstration during the pre-brief.  A demonstration should start with S-turns (showing the thermal helper on screen 4) and then safely transition to full circles.  Here the concept of always having an airspeed reserve (or a flap position reserve in a flapped ship) for safety should be stressed.

On at least one of my instructional flights in this task I didn’t make it over the pass on the way to TP1 on the first try, and had to ‘fail downwind’ back to the downwind mountain range for another try.  IMHO, this was actually serendipitous, as it gave the student a chance to see how the upwind transition progress assessment technique works, and how easy it is to recover from a failed transition.

A ‘ghost’ flight by an experienced Condor pilot has been provided as an indication of what can be done with this task.  Note the ‘ghost’ pilot did the entire 94 nm flight without stopping to thermal!

See Also:



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