Getting into Competitions
SO YOU WANT TO GET INTO COMPETITION!
Welcome to the world of competing! It’s an excellent way to improve your physical flying skills as well as things like flying etiquette, mental preparation, judgement skills, and problem-solving. Most comps will welcome new comp pilots, and new pilots in general, either as wind-technicians or full-on competitors. Many comps nowadays also include various categories for novice comp pilots so those pilots can compete on a more even playing field.
What do you need in order to compete?
First off, you need a serviceable glider, harness, and reserve parachute. These are givens but some comps have specific rules and you’ll want to brush up on them before committing. For example, some comps may require certain back protection or a certain type of helmet. Other comps may require 2+ reserves.
Instrument for Recording your Tracklog: you’ll need something that records your tracklog and produces what’s called an IGC file. Your tracklog is essentially where you flew, the IGC is the specific format/output of that track. Many instruments are quite suitable for comps and what you use for regular recreational flying may also double as your comp instrument. Many serious comp pilots also have a backup which means 2 or 3 (or even more) instruments, but 1 will do most of the time.
Generally, the biggest drawback to novice comp pilots and their instrument is not knowing how it works, and trying to figure it out on launch the first day of the comp. Don’t do this! Practice at home: enter a practice task in your instrument (a simple one, eg. From your house to the grocery store, and back home), do the task (walking, in your car, whatever), and then download the track to see if you did what you programmed the instrument to do. You’ll obviously need your userguide to do this the first time, but do it a few times (and get help if needed) and you’ll be much better off at the comp!
Radio: another essential gadget is a radio. Note: the radio is for you to LISTEN to, not to chat on. All you should hear on the radio is essential safety information, or you replying to direct questions or volunteering safety information (eg. “It’s raining at turnpoint 3”). Comps almost always have separate frequencies for flying and retrieve, so you won’t have to listen to the retrieve details whilst you are concentrating on flying.
Other useful gadgets: these include cell phones, hook knives, live trackers, cameras, and rescue beacons. Some have limited use (eg. cellphones in remote areas), but you never know when you’ll need them. Best to have and never use vs. wishing you had when in a jam!
What your first comp may be like
Alright, so you’ve got your gear, you know how to work your instrument, and you’ve paid the entry fee. It’s the first day. Now what?
First off, you probably attended what’s called the mandatory safety briefing the night before, or the morning of. This is MANDATORY (some comps will record who’s there and who’s not, and penalize those who skip it). The meet organizer will discuss issues such as airspace, unfriendly landowners, local meteorology…basically things you’d want to know anytime you are flying a new site. They will also discuss things like HQ, parties coming up, who’s who, important phone numbers to note, etc. Basically this is not a meeting you want to miss.
Then you’re up on launch. First off, if it’s obvious you’re going to fly, get your stuff ready NOW. Don’t wait until later, for a few reasons:
First, if it’s a crowded launch, you may not find space later;
Second, you don’t want to be rushed at the end;
Third, it gives you a chance to make sure everything is in order and you didn’t forget anything (and if you did, there’s still time for somebody to bring it up).
Follow the directions given in the safety meeting…if there is a designated launch area, stay clear! You are generally welcome to use the launch area to get set up, but move everything off to the side to allow somebody else the space to do the same.
Consider an in-flight urination system. Remember, tasks can be several hours long and you may be eating and drinking throughout, and if you are not used to holding it in, you may become distracted and forced to land early just to relieve your bladder. Men usually use external condom catheters, women use adult diapers. Other options exist too. Ask around to find out who does what and how to go about buying such a system. If you are using such a system, now is a good time to put it on. This way you aren’t rushing at the end and making a (messy) mistake.
At some point you’ll hear the call for the “pilot meeting”. GO. This is where you hear about the weather conditions for the day, any safety issues, results from the previous day, any last-minute announcements, and finally, that day’s task. When it comes time for the daily task, it will often be presented on a board of some kind:
As you can see. it’s divided into various blocks. A lot of the information will remain the same (eg. Phone numbers, radio frequencies, general notes) but the task will change daily. If this is the first time you’re seeing such a board, ask somebody on launch to help you with understanding it. But ask somebody BEFORE the pilot briefing…DURING or AFTER the meeting is not the best time as pilots will be busy listening to the meet director or fiddling with their own instruments!
Once you’ve got your instrument programmed, you’ll be ready to go. At some point a lineup will form on launch. The recommendation is to be in this lineup early. If you think it’s flyable, get in the air! It’s better than being stuck in a hot sweaty lineup watching others blow launches and getting psyched out, or watching an accident on launch, or risk that it becomes too windy on launch for your comfort level, etc. At least in the air you have plenty of time to finetune your instrument setup, take photos, ascertain the flying conditions, watch the launch mayhem from above, and if you bomb out for some reason, you actually have time to go back up and relaunch (if this is allowed, this will be covered in the specific comp rules). If you wait until the end of the lineup you will have less (or no) time for any relaunch!
Once the race has started, you are now flying the task. Your instrument will direct you where to go (assuming you programmed it correctly), but it’s up to you to decide HOW to get there. Do you take the direct line? Or do you take the longer circuitous route? How high do I need to get before continuing on? It depends on the weather conditions and what others are doing. Observe other pilots and try to find pilots with similar glider-types and skill levels as you to fly with. Bring a paper copy of the task in case your instrument messes up or you need to reboot it in-flight.
If you make goal you’ll probably see a very obvious field where everyone else is landing. Remember, goal is NOT necessarily the same field where everyone is landing, it is probably just the most convenient place to land after achieving goal. Most task committees will place goals over landable fields, but sometimes it will be over a treeline etc. However if you don’t make goal, chances are you’re landing someplace by yourself, or maybe with a couple of other pilots. If this happens remember to switch to the retrieve frequency (during a comp, nothing annoys flying pilots more than listening to landed pilots co-ordinating rides) and get hold of the retrieve folks.
When you get back to headquarters, make sure to sign in confirming you are back safely. This is necessary so the meet organizers know nobody is dangling in a tree or lost. DO NOT forget this, as it causes real stress and is very inconsiderate otherwise. If you must head out to the bar, sign in at meet headquarters BEFORE you head back out.
A few things to do that night: drop off/pick up your instrument so your tracklog can be verified. Charge your gadgets. Verify your score and ask if something doesn’t make sense.
Congratulations, you’ve survived your first comp day! Now you just repeat for the next 5 or 6 days, until the end!