How To Practice To Improve Contest Performance

Goodhart - Moffat - Schreder - Smith

GOODHART: When Ed Byars gave me my orders for the panel discussion, he said to prepare opening remarks that would take not more than five minutes. I can beat that easily on this subject. The answer is "Yes" -- yes today, yes yesterday, and yes tomorrow, and yes -- every day that you possibly can. But perhaps I can expand on that for a few moments. What's the aim of practice? As far as I am concerned, the first and primary aim is to fly the ship completely subconsciously. No thoughts like I must roll into a turn and watch the yaw string to avoid slip or skid and pull back to keep the speed at 49 mph, or whatever. Instead, there must be simply the thought that the core of the thermal is over to the left, and there you are in it. I am convinced that you must get to that stage because the human brain is a limited computer, to say the least, and there are always far more problems to work on in competition flying than you can possibly adequately process. To have to spend quite a number of the available channels if, indeed, there are any appreciable number of them, on thinking how to fly the ship, is not going to leave you enough for other important matters in competition flying.

Assuming that you have your flying of the ship absolutely subconsciously organized, the next question is whether you have developed the ability to pick up all the available data and process it to the best advantage. Let's face it, you are really only a computer sitting there and your job is to sense all the inputs that are available. Some of them tend to be rather more interesting but really not so valuable. You sometimes get fascinating remarks on the radio which leads you to a feeling of perhaps elation when you hear somebody else has gone down or has gone back for a re-light, but that isn't going to find you the next thermal to the best advantage. You must try to reject the less valuable inputs but nevertheless pick up the more valuable inputs. Such things as the next cloud -- has it got a, faint fuzziness around the edge of it? Is it, in fact, one of those types that is going to decay before you get there?

What you are really trying to do is simply to accumulate experience against which you can judge the incoming information. Some of the information comes in from the seat of your pants. Some comes in from your instruments. You must know your variometer system really well to the point where you really understand what it means. I have never had the privilege of flying with a variometer system of the Gene Moore standard but if you can interpret what it means when it is the ordinary sort that most people have to fly with, you are ahead. You can do a little better, I reckon, if you have had a lot of practice and watched it for a number of hours flying.

Then perhaps there is one final aspect of practice, and that is local knowledge. I rate this a long third because from what one has seen, the locals never seem to do outstandingly well in competitions. One very often finds that the chaps who come in from outside and don't know the area do just as well if not better than the locals. In fact, I'm not sure that the world championship has ever been won by the local on his home ground.

One finds that in a competition these days the top pilots all achieve very closely the same speed and you might conclude that that was the ultimate speed that was practical on that day, but I am strongly suspicious of this. I still suspect that if one did a perfect flight by always flying to that place where the best thermal actually was, went straight into it, climbed in it to the best advantage and went on to the next one, etc., one would achieve speeds of the order of 20 percent higher than we are achieving at present. Much of that accounts for perfection, and obviously you cannot do it, but the more you get to know about the air and its ways, the more likely you are to get somewhere near that sort of performance.

So as far as I am concerned, the answer to how to practice is to be clear on why you are practicing and set yourself clear goals. The first, and most important in my opinion, is subconscious flying. The second is to accumulate an enormous store of experience which provides you with something to measure the incoming information against. It is no good looking at a cloud. unless you have looked at thousands before and have an accumulated feel for their life cycle and where the lift lies under them. It is no good looking at a variometer unless you have an accumulated feel for what it is likely to do next, taking into account all the other information that may be available.

You're never going to get all the decisions right, but with more practice, you will get more right. After all, sell you have to do is get more right than anyone else. Then there's local knowledge, which I don't rate as being so important. Practice does one other thing for you as well, and that is it irons out the bugs in your ship, or it starts ironing them out. I have never ever got to the point where I have ironed them all out. How many times have you heard even the top flyers admit that something vent wrong during a competition flight? An instrument maybe, or perhaps even the seating wasn't as comfortable as it ought to be, and these things are absolutely essential. So to some of you, practice is absolutely essential There is one major problem. You never have time to do it.

MOFFAT: While Nick was telling you all these things I kept thinking yes, yes, yes. He had the right word to start with. I subscribe very strongly to everything that he said. While he was talking, I was busily jotting down a few things that I pay particular attention to. If I were going to start practice, as I probably am as soon as the mud gets off the field, which will be about the first of April, I think I would be thinking about the following things, which are, I am surprised to see, ten in number.

First, there is something you can do right now and something which everybody here is doing right now, as a matter of fact, and has been doing for a long time. That is to think about the ship; what you can do about it; what you can do to make it better; and particularly to assign priorities for what things come first and what things come second. It seems to me I see an awful lot of people who are always fiddling about with their ships but they never stop to think, as far as I can see, whether what they are doing is likely to improve the performance or only the appearance, or whether what they are doing is going to make a fairly obvious increase in performance or a very slight and probably nonexistent increase. Do the important ones first. I mentioned this morning some of the things I did on my Cirrus last year for the Nationals. They were, about in order: 1) lengthening the wings; 2) making the aileron horn covers; 3) making the tail skid in place of the tail wheel; 4) sealing the landing gear; 5) sealing the canopy. Then there were several other minor things that followed -sort of catch as catch can. I quite agree with Nick. You never finish. You never even begin to catch up with what is in your mind, as a matter of fact.

The second point is -- when you practice, fly cross country whenever humanly possible. I find it very handy to keep track of the number of miles I fly in my log book. Everybody puts down hours. I put down hours and miles as well. I would expect to have at least 700 or, if the weather is any good at all, 1000 miles before I go down to Marfa, for example. That would be in April and May. That's not too much by any means.

Third point. When you are doing these practice runs, don't concentrate entirely on speed. Allow yourself some time for experimentation. If you see an interesting looking condition; a cloud that looks a little unfamiliar in shape; something that might be a wave or maybe not a wave; or just an interesting looking hole go ahead -- take time out to investigate. See what happens when you go over there. The information can be extremely useful later on. I think a lot of pilots get mesmerized by the idea of whizzing around the course at a certain speed so they do only the most likely things to get them speed. Thus, they give up chances to investigate conditions, particularly, for instance, when you get one of those days which is about 7/10 overcast. It is very interesting to see where the lift really is; whether you do better going out in the sun or whether you do better sticking on the edges; or whether sometimes you do better going in unlikely spots. I think it pays to practice and find out.

Fourth point. Try to do a fair amount of flying in weak weather. I don't know about your home places, but around where I fly, most people won't fly if it's under 1000 fpm, as far as I can see, and they never go cross country if it's under 1000 fpm. In fact, most of them never go cross country if it's 2000 fpm. Anybody can fly 1000 fpm or 500 fpm, or 250 fpm. The time that it gets interesting is when it gets down to a ceiling of about 2000 feet and maybe 50 feet a minute. That's the one that gets the points. Anybody can fly when it's easy. So if you always have strong weather you are more fortunate than most people, and you will have to do your practice fairly early in the morning or fairly late in the afternoon. I tend to try to take off early because later the lift lines for the tug get long. If you take off at 10:30, there is not a soul -- very nice.

I think when you are practicing thermaling, a good thing to do on days that are too weak to go anyplace reliably is to practice thermaling with other ships as much as you can. One of the things that I think causes new pilots the most trouble in contests is getting used to gaggles. You must be able to perform as well when there is another ship 50 feet away as you perform when there is not another ship 50 feet away. This takes a little getting used to.

Fifth point. If you can carry ballast, fly with the ballast most of the time. A ship behaves quite differently with ballast and in most cases it to a lot more work to fly. I was wondering seriously at Marfa whether my aim was going to hold out for the contest. In a long wine Cirrus with full ballast tanks, the wing bend so much that, the control guides don't work very well. The ailerons are, therefore, very stiff, and you might as well build up the muscles before the contest.

Sixth point. Try to get other people to come along in little triangles that you fly; but if you got them to come, along with you don't play good buddies with everybody (for example, you know "I'm over the lake here. Come along -- it's great;"). Compete! I have seen a lot of people go off and fly with each other and learn absolutely nothing because they spend all their time waiting around for the other chap. If he can't fly any better than that, let him fly by himself.

Number seven. Use a calculator a fair amount so you get to believe in it because if you don't use it you don't believe in it, especially if you have a very high performance ship. Those 40 to I final glides just have to be practiced. You don't have to actually make it a final glide into the field. Just make sure that if you think you are going to be getting 35 to 1 at such and such an airspeed, you really are getting 35 to 1. It is more probable that you are getting 30 to 1.

Point eight. Use all this practice time to check instruments, especially total energy -- which is far more important than all the rest put together. It doesn't really make much difference to me whether I have PZL, Moore, BSW, Ball, or what have you, as long as the total energy works. I would gladly trade a Memphis or use a Memphis that had good total energy, as opposed to the Most super, super electric that didn't have good total energy, Total energy is really so important it is hard to exaggerate. Get to know whatever instruments you are flying with because even pretty lousy instruments are not bad if you know what they are likely to do. If, for example, the PZL read very well under one meter, you learn to compensate for it.

Number nine. I think the thing to practice most is how to get in and out of thermals efficiently - especially how to get in. It requires good timing so I think it is worth practicing.

The last point. It's not a bad idea at all after each flight to think over the many stupidities that you created in it. It sometimes seems a continual stream of stupidities. That is, of course, exactly what Nick was ended up saying. Think over all the dumb things you did, I like to think back on all the dumb things I did in contest flights particularly, and try to make sure that I won't do them over again.

SCHREDER: Well, I think those are all good points, George. I have something else to add. I think the thing that helped me more than anything else when I first started in soaring was that I made a habit of flying on cross-countries with other pilots. A.J. Smith and I started flying sailplanes about the same time and we flew a good many hours together. We would go out cross country; head for different places; pick out triangles or goals; and it really helps if you are flying with someone that is right up there -- top notch. If you have someone in your club that is an outstanding pilot, try to fly with him all you can. You will soon find out how you stack up compared to him, and you will know right away when you have made a mistake. If he gets ahead of you at the same altitude, you know that he did something better than you did and you should find out why. I think you can learn more in a shorter time by flying with someone else, especially if it is someone who has more experience than you. One very good point that George made was: keep track of all the mistakes that you make. Write them down and keep them for review because you are going to make enough mistakes without making the same ones over again. If you read this list over occasionally, you won't find yourself in a position where you're on the ground looking at everybody else flying over and realize that you did that same thing last year.

SMITH: I have been busily crossing out key points in my notes. I think we might have in mind that, realistically, most of you are probably practicing for some great success in future contests -- not this year, and maybe not the next two years, but at some future time. I think there are not many people now who are going to be able to achieve consistently high levels of performance in competition in their first few years of flying, so I would think that this makes one point obvious. The best practice you can get is in competition. I would suggest that you fly in every regional meet possible. I think if you are seriously interested in competition, you might do as they appear to be doing quite a bit in Southern California. Organize smaller competitions and develop competition techniques, In this way you get what I consider more realistic practice

I agree with everything Nick says about getting to the point where moving the stick and rudder is not a conscious thing anymore. However, you must go beyond that point. You must be able to almost subconsciously make good starts, good runs, good turnpoints, and this sort of thing. This brings up the point that practice should include making the kind of starts that we discussed at our first symposium, and I would practice making several starts on each flight or on each weekend. You will discover that the technique that you need to use to make a good start is going to be dependent on the lift you have on a particular day, particularly the distribution of lift in the area of the start line, the turbulence you might encounter, and various other factors.

I would set established turnpoints and make practice turns., using the camera technique that seems to be standardized now, and I would do it with film at least often enough to know that your technique is working. This is important because I am certain that you can save many, many seconds, and perhaps minutes, in executing a good run into a turnpoint. a nice precise tight turn at the proper point, and a nice runout.

I would agree with George about practicing final glides. I think the use of a calculator is the first decision to make. If it is going to be a part of your operation then certainly you must learn to use it. You should use it so efficiently that it does not detract from your flying. Observe what happens on final glides and adjust your calculator (if you are going to use it as a tool) until you can absolutely depend on it. I don't see any reason for not making the finish of each flight a final glide. Certainly the best way to do this is to operate at sort of maximum range from the field on that day according to the altitude you are achieving in the thermals. Do it like you would do it in a contest flight.

I suppose, to summarize my comments, I would say that I agree with everything that has been said here.

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