PANEL DISCUSSION: Factors Influencing Crucial Decisions


A.J. Smith and Dick Schreder

A. J. Smith -

In competition soaring, it is important to have a plan for each flight. Granted, for a majority of the days during a contest, the weather information will be bad, tasks poorly selected, the tows poor, the start line radio out of operation, etc. Still, one should have a general plan for each flight.

A flight plan should be done with the understanding that most preflight information may be false, and that there will be many contingencies. Plan for the worst conditions. List the alternates. This will provide an advantage when you're faced with decisions out on course. Anticipate the worst and have alternates in mind. If things are going as assumed, you will be prepared and confident. Thus, a plan is riot a bible; it's a guide. It should include alternates. And, as Dick Schreder has pointed out, it should include safety factors. For example, earlier than necessary starts on tasks provide a safety factor. With slightly early starts, if delays occur along course, there is a margin of soaring time left to work in. There's some time left during the soarable part of the day to work out problems.

Again, for emphasis, in beginning this discussion of factors influencing crucial decisions, determine that you will make flight plan. Then, if the planning is good, one should be faced with fewer crucial decisions. In the decision-making process in soaring, you should search for decisions to make. We've tried to determine how many decisions one makes during a soaring flight. I've concluded that really basic decisions probably are made, or reviewed, at the rate of two or three or several a minute. I constantly use this conclusion, to test my level of activity during a flight.

As Moffat pointed out, perhaps we should be doing most decision-making during cruise between thermals. George was telling us that it's more important to do plan work during cruising flight than it is to work hard at the stick and rudder bit of thermaling. I agree with him. I would say, further, that you should be using the same decision-making process, the same planning, and review while thermaling that you might when you're cruising. That is, decide where you should go next, where the next lift is, where the next workable thermal is, what the course is, what problems are anticipated (are there shadows of cirrus here, or more sunlight there, cloudless blue holes or better cloud structures. or whatever). Simply, then, work hard in both cruising and thermaling conditions. But always work at the same thing. Planning. Not planning how to move the stick and rudder in a thermal but, rather, how long to stay in it and what to do next. Look for decisions to make.

We each must rattle our own drum and go according to our own rhythm. Perhaps others won't find the things we do to be successful for them in soaring. However, one thing that's apparently important for success is worry. It doesn't always make a happy life, but worrying helps in sorting out decisions that might be crucial. With worry, one looks harder for decisions to make.

You actually can time yourself and say, if you haven't been making or reviewing decisions, really basic decisions, at the rate of several per minute, that you've been asleep.

I often find myself asleep during flights and almost literally, too. Eight or nine hour contest flights are strenuous. I like to take a nap after lunch. This is difficult to do in soaring, but my body doesn't understand this and takes a nap anyway. It often takes me ten or fifteen minutes to realize that I haven't been making decisions. I know then I've been bumbling along. So I drink tea, Metrecal, orange juice, or whatever, to get blood circulating again, and start looking for decisions to make.

Now, Dick Schreder should expand a bit in terms of unusual weather factors he's experienced. His example of the front at Van Horn, Texas, was beautiful, and there are many more. The question and the answer session will bring out the kind of decisions possible in these crucial situations.

It's important that we give examples of factors which influence the decision we must make. Other pilots must build on our comments here with their own experience. Perhaps an important thing we can do for them, just now, is to help them to realize that decisions must be made, that there are a lot of them to be made, and, to be more successful in soaring, they might try increasing their rate of decision making.

Dick Schreder -

I like to think of a pilot of a sailplane in a competition as being nothing more than an auto pilot hooked into a computer and the computer is re-evaluating every minute all of the facts he's facing in the flight and has to come up with the correct answer to try to get the ship across the finish line before anyone else and to prevent at all costs going down in the process. So it's a pretty complicated problem. I think this is why the sport appeals to us so much because it's an elusive sort of thing that we're always trying to grasp, and we're trying to solve the problems and conquer the elements. We never quite do it to our satisfaction and it spurs us on to keep trying harder, like having the proverbial bear by the tail and not daring let go.

But I think since this is a panel discussion that we could probably accomplish more and help you fellows more by having you put questions to us on what goes through our minds when we're faced with certain situations and how we decide whether to hold back or to press on. These are very crucial decisions because we can press on into the ground, or you can hold back and be the last one to finish. Sometimes if you hold back, you're the only one to finish, and this was a good decision. I think the best way to do this is to just open it up to a panel discussion, and A. J. and I will try to do our best to let you know what goes through our minds when we have to do these things.

Question: (Quentin Berg) There were conditions in Poland and in the nationals at Elmira where people waited out the area and then went through it. Could you give more ramifications of that?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) I'd like to tell you what I did in that situation and how it didn't work out. I pressed on, the clouds were very low, conditions were anything but favorable, and I pressed on to the top of a hill about twenty miles southwest of Elmira and sat there for about 2-1/2 hours -- Then feeling I had done kaflooey in the competition and since I hadn't been flying my own ship, my excuse anyhow, I decided that all was lost and that I should make a brilliant coup that day and finish with the best possible time. So I flew all the way back to Elmira against the wind and made the turn and hoped that I could make a fast dash to the goal, but the thing that happened was that it was just a little too late and I didn't make it and went clown again; but these are very difficult decisions to make, and the winners laugh and tell funny jokes and the losers cry and give excuses. So I -really don't have a good answer for that. You just have to evaluate the situation and try to, in Your own mind, see what you can do best, and you must at all times keep in mind that going down is a disaster, but you must also push in order to get there, and there's a very fine balance between the two.

Answer: (A. J. Smith) This is an important problem. If you're coming into an area of bad soaring weather and, if you're reasonably certain as you look ahead that you're likely to go down if you continue, atop! Examine all other alternates first. There are few situations when you should commit to go on into the bad area. You should know, when you do commit, that you surely will go down. There are but few situations (when the bad area is moving toward you and there is no way around it) when you must fly into the area as soon as possible to get maximum distance. These are exceptions.

The front at Van Horn was an important exception. That front and the bad weather with it quickly covered a part of the triangle. The Van Horn turn point was already behind the front as we were approaching. It was apparent that we had to do something immediately because of the fantastic speed of the frontal movement. It was sweeping up dirt ahead of it, a wall of dirt carried up to or 9000 feet. It was necessary to fly much faster than best speed to fly theory would indicate, simply to get there as soon as possible so that the distance through the front, into the turn and back out through the front, would be minimum. Normally, you wouldn't fly that fast because you would increase the risk of going down. But, in this case, getting there sooner minimized the exposure in the bad area behind the front and minimized the total risk.

A second exception was the warm front situation we flew into in England in 1965. We knew the front was coming against the direction of flight. We knew everybody was going to hit it and land essentially at the front. The only justification for pressing a bit harder that day, getting to the front earlier and immediately going through it into the bad area, was to get a few miles before the front moved in. The pilot who sat back and used time to analyze the situation was going to have the front push him back along course before he started his final glide.

Those examples, indicate when you might go on into a bad area. In other general cases you shouldn't go into bad weather areas. Just don't go in. Look for other answers. Fly out around the area. Hold back. Drift with the good weather. Do anything to avoid that final commitment.

Question: The question came up because in the Philadelphia regionals an area to the west was under clear sky, to the east was under clouds, and you had a cat's cradle with a choice. The people who went into the clear area actually did better and got as good or better thermals as they had under the clouds and yet the reverse was true in that situation in Elmira. How would you know?

Answer: (A. J. Smith) When you're faced with a cloudless blue area, if you don't have air mass data, you don't really know what it's like. You can test the blue by going into it. Go in at maximum glide ratio. Go on in a short way. See if you run into lift. Quite often it's just a drier air mass -- just as active but drier. Go on in cautiously. Keep calculating so that you get back out again if there isn't any lift. That's one of the alternates, always. A way out. Don't drive fast into blue areas. Investigate.

Answer: (Dick Schreder) I think a good example of a master of this technique is Dick Johnson, and I remember the year he won the nationals in Elmira, and he knew when not to press. He went out and circled over a smoke stack for an hour or better until conditions improved and then he went on. This helped him very much in the contest.

Question: (Neil Ridenhour) This is all very close to the question that I was working on. Quite often we're faced with the blue area ahead, and do you have any rule of thumb for any clues or anything as far as whether you may expect this lift because I think at least 25% of the time or even more, that blue area does have good lift and so forth and you end up holding back and then you find out you should have pushed on, but do you have any clues that you've used to help identify whether this blue area may be for some reason just cloudless, but still have good lift?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) I hate blue areas. Yea, I have a general -- my general plan of action with a blue area is just to become cautious most of the time. Once in a while you forget and don't pay or give it the attention it deserves. But an example of a blue area is the kind you get near your vicinity of Chicago. I've flown up that way several times from Bryan and you have a wind from the northwest or the north coming off Lake Michigan and you try to fly westward (or eastward, for that matter) -- You most always find that on a day when there are good cu's back inland, that along the end of the lake where the wind is blowing off the lake over the land mass, you will have a big blue hole, and invariably this is caused because the air mass has been cooled by the lake and there are thermals in there, they're not as good, but they don't go as high because the air has been cooled down and the technique, of course, is to stay as far away from the lake as you can. Stay away from whatever is causing it (if you can identify it) and then fly cautiously and stay as high as you can to try to get across this area with the least chance of going down possible.

But there is always a reason for a blue area, and sometimes you just can't tell what's causing it, like A. J. said, it could be a drier air mass, and you'll sometimes get in there and find the thermals are just as good -- A good clue to watch for is when you do get in there, be especially alert to notice if the thermals are going as high and almost always you'll find they're not going as high as they were. Now if they are, then you know it's a drier air mass, and you probably can boom right on through.

Answer: (A. J. Smith) I could expand on this. Cloudless blue holes are unpredictable; avoid them if you can. You are certain to build up a philosophy about this problem through the decision making practice. If you realize that often you have suddenly arrived at the edges of a blue hole, you've probably made your mistakes fifteen or twenty minutes before these shocking arrivals and didn't realize it. It really shouldn't happen to you that way. You should see situations developing way ahead. It's good if, as you're getting near the tops of thermals, or as you begin cruising, that you condition yourself to make a general assessment of the weather. Then you will begin to see bad situations from some distance off. You might be surprised at the number of times you find that blue holes can be avoided with minor deviations from course. If, however, you find yourself right at the edge of a hole you'll probably fly a greater distance to get around it or take an unnecessary risk to get across it. In those sudden confrontations, you've got a hard problem to solve because you've either got to slow down and gamble on getting across the hole or take the long way round. Either is bad.

If you can anticipate bad areas, say 15 or 20 miles ahead, which shouldn't be difficult to do, most times you will find you can make broader decisions that save you a lot of time. I wouldn't always plan to go way round a hole. I might fly across the edge at best speed to fly and plan to arrive at the next obvious lift with some reasonable altitude left. If the conditions got worse in the hole, I could detour very slightly and be back in the good area. Then I'd head right for the next turn. This is simple geometry; this is the shorter way to go.

I would caution again by saying that if you often find yourself suddenly at the edges of a blue hole, if this seems to be a habit with you, something's wrong. That makes you feel good, doesn't it, Neil?

Question: (Ed Replogle) Can you tell -- let's say you are in one of these dead holes and you have no choice or at least you've decided to go in and try -- can you tell from the feel of the air in there whether it's dead without going on and on, can you get any cues from the air whether it's dead or not?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) Yes. It's lively, it's turbulent, and after you've flown a long time you can actually sniff an air mass.

Question: (Bob Buck) Could you possibly be a little more specific on what you consider a flight plan is like.

Answer: (A. J. Smith) I start out with a vertical altitude scale, and a horizontal time scale graph sketched as we go through the briefing. I make them a little larger (higher and longer) than necessary. As the briefing goes along, I begin indicating, on the graph, start of take-offs, start of tows, and end of tows. You can crank in start line opens, start line closes, turn point opens, etc. You can build up on this time scale all the critical times during the day. They are laid out for you at the briefing.

The next easiest thing to do is the terrain, and in places like Marfa, this is important. You can build up the terrain in this graph, first as a rough estimate in relation to time, later, as you calculate for the particular task, as a surprisingly accurate estimate. You'll predict your time over high ground, mountains, irrigated lowland, etc. You can also graph, from the weather briefings, the beginning of the thermals and about how their altitude increases, if it builds up slowly or rapidly and what will happen at the end of the day. On this line showing thermal altitude/time, you can begin to sketch what's going to happen in cloud structures during the day.

You might also indicate turn points laid in on the terrain/time line. This is a good check. Terrain against turn points, both against time. Remember that this plan is not a bible. It can shift back and forth as you get off schedule. Finally, indicate the flight time. For example, indicate two and a half hours on the horizontal time scale. Add a half hour on the front for safety factor. This determines the start time and the estimated finish. I estimate how well have I got to do to win the day. I estimate where I should be at a particular time and so on. This kind of information begins to raise questions. You begin to worry about your problems. You begin to anticipate the times when you have to make decisions and when you have to change pace, when you should press harder, or what.

My flight plan is basically a graphic one because I'm graphically oriented, but it could be done in prose or poetry, mathematically, any way you want to do it.

Question: (John Hearn) We've had a glimpse of some of the contents of your cockpit; we've heard of Metrecal and orange juice and Spanish goat skins. What I would like to ask is, what physiological preparations are desirable before and during the flight? I think this is of some importance. What do you do as far as food, drink when you're going to be flying in a contest?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) This is very important. I'm probably a little different from the people that smoke and drink and carrouse around. I usually settle for dried fruit and fruit juice, and things like that. I don't know what these other fellows drink, but I stay strictly with the fruit juice and water and carry lots of it -- especially out in Texas and California and the desert areas. You really need it. I always run out of water -- that's the first thing I run out of, even altitude sometimes, but you need lots of water and you need some food and, of course, it goes without saying that you should have emergency gear with you. You don't know where you're going to wind up that night, so by all means you should have a flashlight. I walked a couple of miles after dark in the desert without a flashlight once and it was frightening -- I would have gotten in a little quicker if I'd had a flashlight, but I think it's important for the pilot to be comfortable. If he isn't comfortable, if he has problems, physical problems in the cockpit, he can't concentrate on flying the sailplane and doing his best. I think he's lost the day if he's uncomfortable and has problems. Along with this, you need good ventilation in a sailplane. Almost always, you'll get fogging when you get up under the bottom of the cloud bases in Texas. You need something to keep your canopy clear; you need good cushions to keep comfortable so you don't get bed sores. I know all of us have flown over nine hours, two, three or four days in these contests, and you're going to do it in Marfa, so you want to really make sure your cockpit's comfortable and that you're not sitting on things you shouldn't be sitting on, and I think we should all give more attention to having some kind of a relief tube. It gets pretty hard to hold it for nine hours, and you just do everything you possibly can to make yourself comfortable. I can't overstress the importance of having a check list to check these things off before you get in the sailplane and take off, because you'll always forget something, like your charts. This happened to me one day, and when I got down I bawled Angie out for forgetting the charts -- She reached in under the seat, and I'd been sitting on them all day. So you really want to be organized when you start out.

Question: (Mike Levette) Do you use oxygen to speed up your mental processes if you're operating, say, eight, ten thousand feet, or do you just use it if you go above twelve thousand?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) Well, I suppose everyone has a different idea of this, and it also depends upon how plentiful your supply is. I personally use it as soon as I get to 12,000. Now other people, people who smoke of course, have to start sooner. But I do think that you should plan on using it at least by twelve, maybe some other people at ten, but there again it depends on how long the flight's going to be. If it's a race where you're only going to be in the air for a couple of hours, you could use it all the time, especially if you had a headache; it would help clear you up. I don't know, A. J., what do you do about oxygen?

Answer: (A. J. Smith) I make it a point to taste the pleasures of life almost every night. And Dick's right. I went through the physiological test center at Chanute Field. They took us up to 23,000 feet in the altitude chamber. We took off our masks, and I passed out almost immediately. Others were sitting there four minutes later writing away. This gave me a clue about my own capacity. I would say that I've had one chance to put this information to work. I did use oxygen at Marfa, no matter the altitude (we were there mostly at eight to twelve thousand feet) and I used it regularly, not constantly, every 15 or 20 minutes. I felt that it helped tremendously. I measured that by my fatigue at the end of the day. The first few days I didn't use the oxygen and I was fatigued, even on short flights. I realized that we could carry much more weight. I put the oxygen system in and used it, and I was in better condition at the end of a flight. My mental processes were much more efficient through the flight. I think that this is an important point because you are asking your brain to work on these flights and if it isn't working at maximum efficiency, then you aren't going to do your best.

Question: (Steve Dupont) This may be a silly question, but at Marfa I got lost and badly lost several times. Do you have any suggestions about that?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) I had that in MY list as one of the points but in speeding things up I missed it. I think it's very important to keep track of where you are at all times. And what I do -- of course, on a speed dash you have lines drawn on your chart -- but what I try to do on an open day or any kind of a distance day is to carry a couple of pens with me, these felt pens, and I keep marking my course. Every time I get a definite landmark, I draw that line over that mark so that this way you keep pretty good track of where you are and you don't get mixed up.

Now a lot of well-known pilots have gotten into terrible trouble by getting lost. Dick Johnson had this happen to him over in England during the Internationals. He got lost and absolutely could not find the second turnpoint on a speed dash, and, of course, this is the end if it happens in any contest. So all I can say is, have your charts with you and mark your course as you go along; and keep checking the ground because everybody tends to watch their instruments and concentrate on staying up, but you must also keep track of where you are. Out in Texas this is doubly important because you have very few railroads, very few towns, and a lot of that country looks the same. I see another fellow shaking his head who got lost out in there.

Answer: (A. J. Smith) Steve, this is a general answer and not directed particularly to you, but you know there's a basic thing that we do wrong. I wonder if you people have thought this out; I'm certain you have.

I put marks on the map to indicate my positions. Next to the marks, I put the time. If I get confused, I can go back to this log and see how I've been moving. I can project and estimate my position. But, to get a position, first look for something on the ground, something really prominent. It may be far off. Then locate it on the map. Pilots, in general aviation, who've been lost, were looking first at the chart, and they'd say over and over again, "I couldn't find that town, you know, 1 just couldn't find the town." They've had it reversed, you know. Find the landmark first and then locate it on the map.

(Steve Dupont) In Marfa, a lot of times you were so high that if a road was ten miles over there you couldn't see it.

(A..J. Smith) It's much tougher there. The thing that helped down in Marfa was to sort out Lookout Mountain and the passes. These were landmarks ten or fifteen miles away. Some of the courses were over the mountain or through a particular pass. This was about the only way you could remain oriented around the big desert areas that you're talking about.

(Steve) You go for the big terrain features, don't you, rather than the details?

(Dick Schreder) Yes, mountain peaks are especially good, and the thing that is most prominent is the best landmark, and that's the thing to keep track of.

Question: (Roy McMasters) I'm sure that you do much compass navigation, particularly when you consider the flat gliding angle that some of these sailplanes have and you start your final glide and you simply just cannot see your goal and a few degrees error with the altitude margin you're leaving yourself -You could be wiped out just by missing the airport. How do you go about this and how do you handle the problem?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) I'm sure A. J. does the same thing I do. First of all, you make sure you have a good compass in the ship and that it is well compensated so that you know exactly what your deviation is; and I'm sure all of us are forced to fly compass headings even when we have landmarks. If you're off to one side, you still need a compass heading to be sure of where you are.

Answer: (A. J. Smith) One of the beautiful things about panel discussions is that you find the divergency of operations. I don't carry a compass. The only really satisfactory compass I've found is one that Dick got surplus a long time ago. I installed this for a while. I had it on the cockpit. I really liked the way it worked but I didn't ever use it. It even got to be annoying because it fell off when you trailered the ship. Perhaps the safest thing, though, is to start working with a compass. I have an advantage, and this works for me even in Texas, Steve. I can see major landmarks on the ground, a section of road or whatever, and, again, because I'm graphically oriented, I can put my ship within a degree or two in relation to that landmark. More times than you realize, if you use the concept of major landmarks, you know where the turnpoint is. You know, and you can practically stop detailed navigation. You don't worry any more about details once you've picked a major landmark in relation to a turnpoint or a finish line.

A final glide from 40 or so miles out is possible, relating to just one landmark. The finish may actually be out of sight behind a ridge or whatever. But, you get to it through a particular valley, or between two mountains. Even in desert country, goals are easily related to major landmarks. Don't waste time with detail navigation. Just fix your goal from forty miles out.

(Roy McMasters) I wondered. I've been flying with a completely magnetic 1-23 in which the compass is absolutely useless and I just wondered, I mean in terms of the high L/D that some of these ships have, particularly on their final glide where you can't really see a prominent landmark or you really can't see your goal. How do you handle that? If you've missed that one, you've really missed it because you won't have another chance.

Answer: (Dick Schreder) Well, you have different situations around this part of the country than you do out in Marfa. Out in Marfa, the visibility's 50 or 100 miles normally. Around here you can get very low visibilities and, of course, then the problem gets more difficult.

( ? ) There's another way. You can thermal a couple of times, and the way you want to go is always upwind.

( ? ) In the case of Marfa, you'd do well to take a couple of days before and either hire an airplane or fly around the territory.

(Dick Schreder) Oh, I think you'd do better to take a couple of days and fly around in your glider.

(George Moffat) I used to be of A.J.'s persuasion and very rarely used compasses, but I certainly got my come uppance last year flying in some of the German contests, because there, well a little like Elmira, but say Elmira squared, everything looked exactly like everything, and there's much too much of it. Furthermore, the charts are not nearly as good as ours. I found that a trick the German pilots use helped immeasurably (A) Get a good compass and install it. Get it swung, but (B) Before you start, fly all the courses that you're going to use. Note down what you actually have to fly to make them good on the chart. Now, of course, the wind may change before the first turnpoint, but it's not likely to change that much without your knowing about it. This way you get a sort of gunsight navigation which I found was extraordinarily important after you went around a turn. Then you knew exactly what to set off for even if there didn't happen to be any handy landmarks. You just set off on compass, and you couldn't be too far off. Then you begin to check your landmarks off to see whether you're drifting one way or the other. But this is a technique that a lot of the German pilots are using, and it seems to me a very, very good one.

(Dick Schreder) That's a very good point. I'd forgotten that I do that myself. What I do is when I start down a leg after making a turn, I try to pick out some kind of a prominent landmark that's on the course, and I head towards it. I keep glancing at the compass as I'm heading towards it and then I know that if I stay within a few degrees of that, that I'll at least be able to see the turn when I get near it. I had this work out very well in the Internationals over in England -- I believe it was a national competition we were in over there -- we actually went up and did some cloud flying. After you've been in a cloud for 20 minutes or a half hour, you don't really know where you are, and you have to hold a compass heading when you come out because you come out of the cloud and there are clouds all over -- From 15,000 feet, it's very difficult to recognize anything on the ground, especially in England because there are RAF Air Force fields all over the place, and they all look alike -so what I did on that day, I held this compass heading and got down very low and finally got a thermal and was working my way up and I looked and I was right at the turnpoint. It was just a short ways ahead, and I know I would have never found it if I hadn't had a compass heading to fly.

Question: (Cal Walker) If you were doing a shortish speed task and your assessment of the lift was very strong, would your flight plan include a tendency to go as the crow flies, or would you leave the option open and still look for lift where you found it?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) If it was a strong day, you wouldn't be wandering off course very far.

Question: ( ? ) I have a difficulty in clear air and small thermals when I'm pressing hard, wrapping up and getting centered. What is your technique?

Answer: (Dick Schreder) Well, I suppose most of us have a little different technique here. I think I've already told you mine. I wait until I begin to get a drop off in the thermal or also watch the total energy variometer; and if it's not indicating as strong as an average thermal and I have enough altitude, I immediately decide that I'm not even going to circle, and if it reaches, Say, two meters and I've been getting four, I just decide right there, as it begins to drop off, that I'm not even going to bother with it, arid I start pressing on. But if it's a good thermal, then I do the same thing that George does. I zoom up and as you're zooming up, if you have a lot of speed, you go almost straight up, and then you start your turn when you're down at low speed so that you can make a small radius turn and stay in the thermal. But I imagine everybody does it a little differently, and we haven't heard your method, A. J.

(A.J. Smith) I think my technique is different. I'm probably reacting a bit more on the feel of the thermal. I use the same indications Dick does when coming into the thermal. I make certain I've got a good total energy system, and a good indication on it. If the source of lift is indicated by a cloud, the problem is easy. The problem is tough with the blue thermal that you're talking about.

As I begin to get the turbulence at the edge of a thermal, if I'm cruising at high speed, I begin to slow a bit, but I don't get below eight or ten knots above the best glide angle (ten or fifteen knots above the best glide angle on a good day), and I keep going through the turbulence, the wash board effect, you quite often have on the edge of the thermal. I begin to be very careful and look for the wing that comes up as you bounce about and, from then on, I'm operating on the seat of the pants feel of that surge that's really the core of the thermal. I want to react instantly when I feel that surge. I react essentially the same each time. I use as little aileron as possible and as much elevator as possible to zoom up in the core. As the ship starts to slow, I tuck in a little aileron and let it fall into the turn. It does this quite naturally without violent control movements. I'm operating on, and reacting to, the feel of the thermal. I would say that from my experience in flying with Dick that I think I gain a bit on a successful entry, but at times I lose a bit because I've made a poor decision. I think I've felt the surge and I really pull up in it, make a turn, and it's no blasted good. Dick overcomes this by going kind of through the thing. He makes complete assessment of the thermal before he makes a decision. I think, in the end, we come out about the same. It's just that for me those wingovers right into the core make you feel big ... good!

Question: (T. I. Weston) I'm interested in hearing you fellows discuss crew communications back and forth. I understand you don't say much. and I'd just like to know what you do say and if it means something.

Answer: (A. J. Smith) It's strange, your asking me for a definition of crew communications because I have a reputation for not communicating with a crew in certain areas. However, I assume you mean on the radio.

(T.I. Weston) What I had in mind is how does your crew know where they're going and when and how do you keep in touch with them, and how do they find you, and things of this nature. It's not on the program anywhere else, and I thought it would be a good time to bring it up.

(A.J. Smith) Dale May, one time, got up a 30 page memo on this. He was to give a prize each day to the pilot who used the worst radio procedure. He won each day.

I've thought about radio procedure. I think I have developed a technique. I tell the crew that they don't need to use the call sign. If they can't recognize my voice after the first practice day, they're in bad shape or haven't been listening. I call my crew and simply say, "Two ground, go Van Horn." They simply reply, "Going to Van Horn." I can recognize their voices. The reply confirms that they've received me and they understand the message. That's all that's necessary.

A typical crew report is, "Two ground at Van Horn." If I happen to have the radio on, I'll give them the courtesy of a "Roger." Nothing else. About the only other transmission code I use is, "Hold at Fort Stockton." The crew has instructions then to drive the wheels off the car to get to Fort Stockton. To use the car up. The car is to be just as exhausted at the end of the competition as is the pilot. That's hard to make a crew understand. It's really difficult to make them use the blasted automobile.

Again, a crew report, at a holding point, when they finally get there is, "holding at Fort Stockton," or "Two, holding at Fort Stockton." And, again, if I happen to be listening to the radio, I'll give them the courtesy of a "Roger."

If you think about it a while, this is all that's necessary. The business involving "Rabbit two to two ground," and the reply, "Rabbit two, this is two ground, I read you, go ahead" is stupid. Repeated many times in a day, it is, simply, inefficient. I'm selfish about this for the reason that it wastes my time.

(Dick Schreder) I think A.J.'s points there are very good, and I think most of us tend to do the same thing, because with 80 people on the air and most of them on the same frequency, if you all get into extraneous transmissions, there's no room to report and keep in touch with your crew. I think it's most important before you start out to brief your crew on how you would like them to go if all goes well and goes according to plan because then if they lose communication with you they have some idea of what to do. Now in almost every contest, there is somebody that goes straight east and their crew goes straight west, and they don't see each other for the next two days. You should do everything you can to avoid this situation, but more times than not you're going to find that you get out of communication with your crew and then they just have to rely on what you've said at the beginning of the briefing.

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