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Old Oct 10, 2012, 05:00 PM
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Joined May 2012
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Stay or Leave?: Chasing Lift Downwind

During the ECHLGF, I continued contemplating something that I've been trying to sort out in my head, while observing the best pilots' approach to it: the question of staying with lift that is drifting downwind or bailing out and coming home.

The question is, how does one make the call to leave light lift (perhaps marginally maintaining or a mild climb) that is moving quickly downwind. For me, I have at least a few basic rules of thumb. (1) Don't leave the lift if you climbing AND are currently higher than what you need for the return glide, and (2) Don't leave lift that is strong enough that your climb rate to drift rate is improving your eventual glide ratio. And finally, (3) Don't leave lift in a contest scenario where landing out and making it back leave you in an identical situation (i.e. all-or-nothing tasks like the last round of poker or the 2 minutes in ladder). I think Phil Barnes walking down the road for his 9:58 attempt comes to mind.

Some factors to consider before I throw it out there, which I have observed: (1) Most great pilots are much more willing to follow otherwise marginal lift downwind when there is a trigger point (like a tree line) that is likely to improve or develop the lift. I have also begun practicing this effect, to large success. (2) Observable lift between your plane and the field can add confidence to the decision to forge on (gaggle of planes upwind). (3) Choosing a good line on the way back is important.

So, after deliberately trying to chase low and light stuff further downwind than usual (and walking a long way many, many times) today, I'm wondering if anyone else has some "in the action" rules of thumb they go by?


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Old Oct 10, 2012, 05:41 PM
hass-alfed and bass-ackwards
carlsoti's Avatar
United States, AZ, Chandler
Joined Jun 2008
5,337 Posts
As I've been told, the really good pilots also sense the air around them, even as they are flying downwind. They may also look at planes much closer than their own to help determine which direction they'll fly the plane back to them.

I'm not good enough to be able to do that kind of stuff, though. I'm usually working way too hard at just flying the plane to pay attention to what everyone else is doing around me.
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Old Oct 10, 2012, 06:44 PM
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United States, CA, Tehachapi
Joined Jun 2011
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Knowing when to bail and come home is NOT my strong point. However, I've learned a valuable lesson in making it back to the field. Before beginning the journey back, I'll glance at my streamer on my TX to see if it's deflected one way or another. If it's pointing slightly right, I'll plan to stay right on the flight back. There may or may not be lift there, but there's probably sink on the other side that I really want to avoid. More often than not the streamer will point to better air.
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Old Oct 10, 2012, 07:10 PM
Time for me to Fly...
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United States, MI, Fenton
Joined Jan 2000
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I wish I could remember all these great little tips when I'm out flying.
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Old Oct 10, 2012, 07:18 PM
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Good point on the streamer, guys, I try to do that as well. I'll also listen to wing rocks for which side seems to be working better, and it usually pays off for a little "help" for the ride back. But that "when to leave" question remains a mystery...
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Old Oct 10, 2012, 08:20 PM
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United States, AZ, Arizona City
Joined Sep 2001
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IMHO, there is usually a strong sink just upwind of the thermal. So it makes sense to move to one side. I'm not certain that an indication of a wind shift at the pilot is a really good indicator to go that direction?

Better indications would be gliders in lift between the pilot and plane and observation of thermal triggers on one side or the other, and of course input from the timer about what is happening to planes coming back.

But I try to never get that far downwind. The top pilots do and more power to them. I always have a handful of throwouts, and certainly don't need any zero flights to apply to the throw outs.

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Old Oct 10, 2012, 09:59 PM
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Oahu Hawaii
Joined Aug 2004
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My rule of thumb at our home field (which is surrounded by jungle and basic nastiness that you never want to have to walk in and retrieve your plane) is to bail out of the down wind lift if you are not going up as fast as you are drifting.

It has served me well over the years.

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Old Oct 10, 2012, 10:06 PM
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United States, MA, Waltham
Joined Dec 2001
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An oversimplified and general rule for comparing your climb to your drift is that if the glider's elevation angle above the horizon is increasing, you're probably making things better by staying in the lift. Not necessarily so if there's weird terrain and so on, but a useful reference.

I usually have a pretty good idea about when to turn back, but sometimes in a contest I'm in denial. More often with TD planes than dlg, for some reason.
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