Friday, June 10, 2011

Wing Loading and Competition Tactics

Last year, I bought the Combat 14.2 because of the 8.05 aspect ratio. I knew I was quite light for the glider (85 kg, about 100 kg hook-in) but, if needed, I could take some ballast to make sure I was heavy enough. It turned out that I liked flying the glider and the glide was good. Others were telling me my glide was very good to exceptional, but I am not convinced about that.
The handling was ok, I needed some power, but hey, it is a rather large glider. But, there was one true weakness. And that was climbing out low, in turbulent thermals. And of course, that makes perfect sense with a rather lightly loaded big glider.
When I flew in Florida, I added 4 kg of ballast. And yes, that improved handling. Not dramatically, but it definitely was better. However, that feeling did not last. As the comps progressed, it felt more and more difficult to steer the glider in turbulent conditions. I could not really understand it and I did not manage to work around it. It felt as if I did not learn, but got worse at flying instead.
Once back in Belgium, a trip to the scale was telling. I had lost 6 kg, so I was 2 kg lighter than before I used the ballast. Now I understood.
So, while flying today at Monte Cucco, I added another 4 kg. And yes, handling improved a lot again.
I'm flying my glider 'light'. And while that's not bad for free flying (as long as you can land it safely), it does have a serious impact on my competition flying. My lightly loaded Combat thermals very well in organized thermals and I regularly out-climb the competition. This means that I'm on top of the stack and have to make the decisions and lead out in front. But, some others definitely glide better. And by the time I core my next thermal, they glide in at my height or even slightly higher. A lot of work and risk taking and no rewards.
It gets even worse when the competition is eager to take some risks. When some of the top guys go for it at the start of the race, they will glide until low down. They do this to get rid of a lot of the other competitors, who are not comfortable getting low. And you can guess it, that also is a weak point for me. Lower down, the thermals are less organized, more turbulent. You need swift handling to work the bubbles of air shooting up. You don't want to miss those! A lighter loaded glider, especially with high aspect ratios, does not handle swiftly. So that was my situation, trouble low down. And as a result, not enough confidence to go with the best.
Today, with my 4 extra kg (8 in total and maybe some recovered body weight), handling was better than ever before. The glider will still be rather lightly loaded, but I felt I could throw it into bubbles when I wanted to. And that is new and was a very good feeling! So, may the comps start again, I'm ready to test some new tactics :-)

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