The Benefits of Flying in Competitions, Part 2: Learning and Mastering the Use of instruments

By Robert Vandenbegine, Chair of HPAC Competition Committee

In the previous article (Has competition changed the way I fly cross-country?), I mentioned the advantages of flying in a group, so here I’ll talk about instruments and show how through competition, I was forced to learn and master certain features.  A good pilot with a good wing will be less efficient in flight if he does not master his instruments.

For obvious safety reasons, the ideal is to be able to share your position in real time, which naturally brings us to the question of instruments. 

In recent years, I have not had a single competition round without having to carry at least one life tracker. The distribution of life trackers before take-off allows us to count the pilots who have decided to take off (“sign-to-fly”, i.e. a notification indicating that the pilot intends to take off) and that at the end of the day, they must be counted among the pilots missing if their trackers are not reported to the organizers in time.  These trackers are based on two technologies; the one that uses the cellular network by means of a SIM card inserted in a dedicated device or more commonly by means of an application installed on a cellular phone.  The second technology is the one that sends data via a satellite relay. The two types of trackers are complementary and I don’t mind using both systems at the same time. Of course, the primary virtue of the plotter is to allow you to follow the progress of the pilots in real time and to be able to rescue them if necessary.  Some plotters send such precise information that the organizers can see in real time if a pilot is in a rapid or abnormal descent, such as when a rescue parachute is deployed.  Finally, the plotter allows to avoid in some cases to have to queue up at the race headquarters to download the track of the day, since the track is recorded live. 

Another essential safety tool is the radio, which must be used in accordance with local rules, which can vary greatly from one country to another.

Finally, if there is one instrument that is often underused and poorly mastered, and which I use intensively in competition and recreational flying, it is my alti-vario gps.  This sophisticated instrument allows you to optimize your flight regimes, gives real time indications on the possibility of triangles, indicates the drift due to winds or breezes, the distance to the next point of circumvention, it calculates the instantaneous glide and the average glide over a defined period of time, shows the ground height, takes into account the reliefs to calculate the altitude required to reach the landing, and above all it allows you to navigate in the airspace respecting the zones that are forbidden to us and the horizontal limits not to be exceeded.  It gives visual indications and sounds alarms.  Unfortunately, I know many examples of pilots who have had their flight invalidated by a violation – sometimes minimal – of the airspace, whether in competition, but also in leisure flight or even worse, for record flights that will never be published and never recognized by the community.

Apart from my radio, all the other instruments are doubled to allow redundancy and for even more reliability I carry an external battery and the necessary cabling to allow recharging in the air or when landing.