Important XC Training Concepts:
- Efficient Thermalling: In most cross-country environments, efficient thermalling is the single most important factor in successful cross-country flying. In a typical cross-country task or race, the pilot who climbs the best almost always wins the day . Even if you aren’t a racer but just enjoy racking up OLC points, efficient thermalling is the key to this as well. If you can climb 1kt faster on a given day, then you can fly farther in the same time, and you can get home again while the slow climbers find that the day has ended before the task is over.
- Having a realistic Plan B (and a Plan C, and a Plan D…) at all times. If you ever find yourself in a position where you find yourself saying “this had better work…”, then you have replaced planning with wishing. As Dick Butler (DB) is reported to have said “Hope is not a strategy!”. XC soaring is, almost by definition, a series of decisions based on incomplete information and probabilities, and consequently the failure rate for ‘Plan A’ is quite high – on the order of 30-40%. Since, it generally takes multiple tries to generate a successful result, it only makes sense to have multiple plans – they will get used!
- Always have a safe landing option in range. A safe landing area should always be part of the above planning sequence. Of course if you are at 10,000 msl in Ohio, you will have literally hundreds of landing options, so not much mental capacity needs to be expended on a safe landing option. However, 10,000 msl in Minden is another kettle of fish entirely; there you need to know specifically what airports are in range, not only right now, but at all times.
- Don’t focus on just the near-term – you need to frequently update your mental map of the down-task conditions as well. Doug Jacobs calls this his “3/30/3/30″ philosophy. The numbers stand for 3 seconds/30 seconds/3 minutes/30 minutes
- 3 seconds: This is the time scale associated with the pilot’s ‘inner decision loop’. In this time frame the pilot is making decisions about whether to tighten or relax the turn in a thermal, whether to go right or left toward a cloud, or whether the glider above in a thermal is a threat.
- 30 seconds: This is about the time for a single thermalling turn. In this time scale the pilot is assessing thermal strength to make a go/stay decision, or determining if it is time to leave before hitting cloudbase.
- 3 minutes: This is the time frame for getting to the next cloud, or making a decision which cloud to go to, i.e. the time frame associated with executing ‘Plan A’.
- 30 minutes: This time frame is a strategic one; how is the weather doing right now, and what is happening down the course line. Is there an overcast layer approaching? Are there still clouds ahead or is everything bluing out? Successful XC pilots learn to ‘gear shift’ up or down based on what they see well ahead. Unsuccessful ones continue executing a single strategy, oblivious to changing conditions.
- Fly straight lines! In primarily thermal tasks, there are only two significant factors in deciding the rankings for the day – task average climb rate, and off-course deviation percentage. The pilot who can minimize off-course deviations while maximizing average task climb rate will almost always win – by a lot!
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