Has competition changed the way I fly cross-country?

By JP Robert Vandenbegine, Chair, HPAC/ACVL Competition Committee

Although much of this topic can be applied to various other competitive disciplines and obviously to hang gliding as well, before I start it is worth mentioning that I am a paraglider pilot and that my type of competition is XC racing, also called “race to goal”.

Often, pilots I meet ask me questions about racing or wonder why I do certain things they don’t usually see or do. After many years of racing in different countries and over many different terrains, it is obvious that racing has changed my behavior for the better. Over the course of several HPAC/ACVL newsletters, I will share what I have learned in competition and apply to my cross-country flying. I’ll cover a variety of topics, such as mental and physical preparation, flying alone and in groups, creating flight plans, managing retrieves, fighting fatigue, flight tactics and instrument management. The subject is vast, but looking back, I can see that competition was a huge benefit to me and I’ll be happy to discuss it if we meet. In the meantime, I’ll give you a few takeaways, hoping they will be useful to you or that they will trigger a new vocation in you.

Flying alone or in a group?

The temptation is sometimes strong to plan a solo XC flight, or to push further or faster than the others, because you know the terrain better or have a better wing. I’m used to flying with 100 or 150 other pilots on the same run. One of the Golden Rules I learned in competition is that the group -almost- always wins over the individual, so it’s important not to isolate yourself. For the XC flight, when possible and despite the differences in equipment, skills or experience, we organize ourselves to fly in groups (2 to 5 pilots), which requires a little planning the day before and sometimes patience in the air. But a well-trained group is often very efficient with its raking trajectories to find the thermal, the marking of an ascendence by one pilot while the others try to find the core or a better lift nearby, the management of low saves, the choice of options, the optimisation of flight lines and, above all, the mutual encouragement which clearly improves motivation in the most difficult moments. Finally, there is nothing more satisfying than an arrival in goal with several people, or, when it happens otherwise, to see a pilot appear in the sky who comes to land near you after long hours of flight. Flying in a group allows for a more objective post-flight debriefing and everyone gains in experience. Learning to fly with others is one of the key factors in progress, it reduces stress, increases safety and reinforces mimetic learning.

Rule #1: The group always wins

Rule #2: Learn to fly together to progress better