Spring Thermals - my annual coaching notice for lower airtime pilots or for those who're not as current...
Many pilots are just emerging from a winter of inactivity, brushing the dust off their wing and trying to remember where they hide all their flying kit. Those who haven’t maintained their flying currency are going to be very rusty; in other words, it’s going to take them much longer to do the things that they did almost automatically last season. Even those who have flown in the UK over the winter will have been enjoying smooth, thermal-free flying and are therefore also out of practice in handling thermals.
To quote the Cumbria Club we're approaching that time of year when "pilots’ negative experiences amount to some rough flights and perhaps a change of underwear." 😊
At this time of year the air and ground is relatively cold and the sun is relatively powerful. This combination leads to thermals forming and climbing quickly. You may read of thermals being described as “punchy”. This translates into your usual smooth flight being rudely interrupted as the wing gets thrown backwards on entering a thermal or half your wing going all light and floppy as you pass to the side of one. The strength and small size of the thermals and your inappropriate or poorly timed control inputs can combine to result in collapses and general unhappiness.
On those days you may find the mid part of the day becomes gusty as the thermals are at their strongest, so ground handling glider will also be more tricky.
Soaring on spring thermic days on our small hills can be tricky with height changing rapidly with thermals. More experienced pilots will often spend more time out front of the hill where the thermals are being formed and also provides a margin for error.
The usual advice is fly within your capabilities and for those returning after a period off, ease yourself back in. Lower airtime pilots, red ribbons looking to do some soaring on such thermic days, perhaps choose to fly earlier and/or later in the day or evenings and slowly close the gap over the course of the early season.
Keep an eye out for how other pilots are doing (Ignore the EN-D wings 😉 ), if the clouds look rough, its gusty and pilots are rocking about it might be better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground.
Here is some of the things I've learned over the years:
1) Be aware of the danger – you’re reading this, so you are!
2) Avoid flying during the peak heating hours either side of midday.
3) Stick with your current gear and avoid changing kit, wings etc. at this time of year until you settle in and feel comfortable.
4) Have snacks and keep hydrated.
5) Warp up warm, multiple layers of clothing to keep warm. It might be 8deg C less at cloud base. If you're like me and get frozen fingers then get some heated gloves. Decision making is very difficult when you are cold.
6) Watch others’ experiences from the safety of the ground and ask yourself if you’d really like to be up there with them.
7) Keep an eye on the changing conditions, cloud heights, wind, gliders into wind speed dropping and choose to land early given yourself options... always have a plan B.
9) Remind yourself of your actions should you encounter a punchy thermal:
a. Fly actively (keep the wing above your head where it belongs)
b. If you get a collapse: HANDS UP!
c. If it all goes horribly wrong, throw your reserve early
10) Remind yourself there is always another day...
Just some pointers and hopefully over the course of the spring time you will be eased back in nicely.
The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and be safe in 2018.
TVHGC Coaching Team
Authors: Chris Williams added to by me.