Thermal Duration contest strategies - Page 3 - RC Groups
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Aug 25, 2004, 03:44 PM
AustinTatious's Avatar
You always make ALL your times? You've never been too low to finish a round? As for being "too" whatever - it's all practice.
Im sorry, I did not mean to imply that I make ALL of my times... That statement was ment like this "IF you get so low upwaind that you can not make it home, You have messed up. If you cannot Jude what is too low to make it home when you are upwind, then you will probably not be able to do so from Downwind."

Does that make mroe sense?

Aimed at beginning CONTEST pilots, not beginning pilots. You should have basic flying skills before entering a contest -
in saying "newcomer" I meantto contest flying. Not to RC!

Here's an analogy: If you dump an experienced woodsman in the middle of the forrest, he may know enough to survive with nothing else to help him - but he'll feel a heck of a lot better if he has a bunch of additional tools along for the ride!

If you choose to fly with a reduced set of tools, that's fine by me - I like to be well-armed!
I did not say I dont fly downwind... Only that I choose to Go upwind first to find lift... especially if there is a treeline or dark field up there that could be kicking off a thermal. If I turn downwind immediatly, to stay with a thermal, I ahve to go further downwind... I would rather catch the thermal upwind and Then follow it downwind and be REALYL high when I get there! I fly a fast plane and I can almost always find somthing upwind by looking at clouds, the terrain ahead, birds, other planes, treelines and of course my plane and how it is reacting... I fly at a 45 degree angle upwind at a good clip, I can tell when the plane hits lift even when it is going fast, If im not in lift, at least Im gettin thru the air quickly. When I hit some lift, I work it up and downwind... By the time I am past myself if al has gone well, I am jstu downwind with 2 or 3 times the launch height.... Now i can do all the downwind play I want to with lots of altitude to spare....

This works for me, if you wont want to ... please dont... a part of me is happy when somone misses the field or the tape
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Aug 25, 2004, 04:41 PM
Registered User
I find the discussion about searching for lift downwind amusing. The first person I ever saw go downwind after launch was Otto Heithecker back in the early 70's. Main difference was Otto didn't go downwind looking for lift. He knew where the lift was before he turned downwind. New fliers should never go downwind to search for lift. They should always search upwind unless they have a positive indication of lift somewhere else. They will have longer to search before having to head home. I don't even bother to join other models circling in lift downwind unless I feel sure that I can stay with the thermal long enough to make it worth while.

The most flustrating thing is to follow Joe Wurts to a thermal only to find that it was so far away I couldn't see the model well enough to work the lift. Happened to me three times at the 2003 Nats.
Aug 25, 2004, 05:07 PM
RCGroups Author
SoarNeck's Avatar
Originally Posted by JonStone

Your comments have been very useful. I guess that one about landing contests just struck a nerve.

I do value your input to this thread. Your experience shows in your comments.
Not a worry, everyone has their pet peeves.

My last comment on landings will be that a short zip start is handy for practicing landings. For 3m models I use the catapult tubing available from Hosemonster, along with 3x the length of monofilament. Nice and zippy, and even allows for a bit of circle towing in winds.
Aug 25, 2004, 05:23 PM
RCGroups Author
SoarNeck's Avatar
Originally Posted by ChuckA
The most flustrating thing is to follow Joe Wurts to a thermal only to find that it was so far away I couldn't see the model well enough to work the lift. Happened to me three times at the 2003 Nats.
Just like Badger said, it's one of those contest strategies that makes things more interesting (like intentionally circling in sink). Getting used to flying at extreme distance is still my biggest weakness, and something I work on continually (or should be doing, anyway). Right now, when I can't see the tail anymore, I get nervous. Joe seems happy to fly even when the sailplane completely disappears for half a circle (to my eyes anyway).

On that note, flying is one of the reasons I insist on getting a proper eye exam every year. My eyes aren't the greatest, so I normally wear contacts - I make sure my prescription is up to date. The new "only take them out every 30 days" Night&Day contacts are much better, but I prefer to fly in prescription sunglasses.

Aug 25, 2004, 09:00 PM
solo6796's Avatar
I usually take a zig-zag pattern upwind after launch, if I don't see any obvious signs. Last Saturday, it seemed like thermals were forming downwind (about 10 mph) more than upwind. I got some practice working lift downwind and judging my success at getting back to the LZ.

Somewhat mixed results, but began to get the feel for altitude and attitude required to get back at a certan wind condition. I did take a couple of long walks, tho.

Anyway, I see what you mean. I was able on a few flights to get back, find another thermal, get altitude (but blow further downwind) several times and ended up with 7 or 8 minutes, instead of 2.

Jon and I did a similar tack at the Mid South. We found a little lift in the LZ and circled around a bit more before landing. There was no wind, but we both tried to take advantage of a little lift at the last moment, extending our times a bit.

So......... practice in all kinds of weather conditions and know how you and your plane will react to optimize every flight.

(Even rain........ Right Jon?)

Aug 25, 2004, 09:23 PM
Registered User
Originally Posted by Badger
I do exactly the opposite. I only go upwind if I know that there is lift. Otherwise I head down/crosswind, Very few people will follow. Your story about JW is correct, do you not think that is a major reason he chooses to go downwind?
But Joe didn't go downwind on any of the three times we flew in the same group. Joe goes where he detects signs of lift. Been watching Joe fly for over 10 years.

I thought this was supposed to be a thread about novice contest fliers, not experts. Novice fliers shouldn't go downwind looking for lift until they get more experience and know what they are capable of doing under under various wind conditions.
Aug 25, 2004, 09:46 PM
aka: Dances with Buzzards

Now We're Talking.....

Originally Posted by SoarNeck
Just like Badger said, it's one of those contest strategies that makes things more interesting (like intentionally circling in sink). Adam
In all of the good information presented here one thing is missing..... call it what you will - the deek factor, gamesmanship, deceit..... there does indeed exist strategy that has little to do with reading air. Circling in sink is classic to draw unsuspecting pilots to you and then bail out. Granted you need to know where the lift is to pull this off but sometimes showing everyone the strongest lift is not good "strategy". There is something rewarding in hearing other timers telling their pilot to go to your air.... good or bad but to have a gaggle struggle along in sink while you slip away.... pricelesss.

Then there is the fine art of sandbagging..... delaying a launch until conditions are more favorable. Funny thing is - it is a lost art. Most contests are not geared for it. The advent of the open flight window COMPLETELY eliminates the true sandbag and contests like the Nats are set up to penalize you harshly for not being ready for any reason. But the old flight line call up presented plenty of opportunity.... one of my favorites was to have the timer "accidentally" drop the winch line ring just prior to hook up and having it snap back and snarl the retriever line - good for another 30 seconds of air reading time.

Ah, the good old days..........
Aug 25, 2004, 09:51 PM
aka: Dances with Buzzards
Originally Posted by ChuckA
I thought this was supposed to be a thread about novice contest fliers, not experts.
This keeps popping up and I disagree..... this thread is about expert pilots sharing contest techniques for all to read - the novices are welcome to read and ask questions as stated in the opening post. Some so called experts might learn something too..... what the heck.
Aug 25, 2004, 10:00 PM
Registered User


I'm with you Chuck, going downwind is for very experinced flyers with super eyesight and knowing where the lift is. To chase someone downwind from launch hight who is in lift is risky, that guy is going up with the bubble the base (bottom)of which is probably above you by the time you get there so all you get is a double sink.
My 2 cents
Aug 30, 2004, 12:15 AM

Stay out of the sink..

It is very simple..Stay out of the sink..I refuse to fly where there is sink in a contests. But sometimes that is all there is. The one out of 10 is when the sink is "everywhere" Brian
Aug 30, 2004, 06:47 AM
Registered User
Brian Smith also never sandbags. He is always one of the first to launch when a round opens at open winch contests.

I never fly longer than 10 minutes in a thermal. When the model reaches enough altitude to be reasonably certain of beng able to stay up for 10 minutes, I bail out and go back upwind to launch altitude and start over. If I don't find another thermal, I set up for a 2 minute drill for landing practice. I also try to hit a spot on time for every landing. The spot doesn't have to be a landing tape, Sometimes I thow my cap out for a spot or even use a bare spot on the ground. There is always something to use for an aiming point.
Aug 30, 2004, 07:39 AM
TLAR Black Belt
ejett's Avatar

It's not for novices anymore....


Regarding the comments about this thread being for novices. Jon started this thread I think because he and I had an email discussion about my attending the Tullahoma contest next month. I have never competed in a contest and thus I think this thread was born.

But, I don't think any of the discussion so far is discouraging to a novice (er, rank beginner, like me); the more we learn about contesting the more we are likely to participate.

You guys keep on posting your dialog. It has been really the best reading on this subject I have ever seen. Thanks everyone for your input here and DON"T STOP NOW! Great stuff.

Aug 30, 2004, 04:33 PM
Registered User
Great thread. When I first started contest flying, I found that having one of the expert class flyers time for me was more valuable than anything else (still is, actually). They know how to time, know how to read the air and can provide you with tips on your flying style, setting up for landings, etc. I learned more from a few contests with an expert timer than in all my years of sport flying combined! Even if you don't intend to fly many contests, the advice you get at one is worth it!

If you think you are interested in competing regularly, it really pays to practice using the format that your club competes with. You really need it to be second nature during the contest. Practice flying on cloudy and windy days- the contest will be held unless it's pouring rain!

Also be absolutely sure you have optimized your sailplane- CG, trims, throws, elevator-flap compensations, etc. Don't settle for "that's close enough"- strive to have your plane flawlessly set up and perfectly optimized for your style of flying. There are lots of good articles out there on sailplane set up.
Sep 01, 2004, 11:09 PM
Registered User
nuevo's Avatar

The Purpose Driven Practice

The Purpose Driven Practice

One-man Contest

In order to get used to the idea of contest flying, how about holding your own contest? Even if you fly alone. Sound weird? Sure! All I am talking about is having a countdown timer (i.e. Talking Timer), a piece of paper, and a pencil. Oh, and you need a landing target too.

Hereís the idea. Use your hi-start, winch, whatever. Fly 5 times in a row, and see if you can make 6 minutes every time you fly. Write down your times on the card. Write down the landing results, too. Just guess how far you are from the spot, and write down the number of feet from the spot. You donít have to compute a ďscoreĒ, just write down the results on the card.

Just the self-induced pressure to land on a clock (if you make your 6 minutes), and trying to force yourself to make a landing will improve your contest skills.

You only get 5 launches. If you get a time of 1:33, write that down. Consider that a sub-optimal round.

If you fly with a group, and donít want to embarrass yourself, donít bother telling anyone what youíre up to. Itís no big deal. I want to get you to thinking about doing the tasks, similar to what will be asked of you at a contest.

Here are some other ideas, to make your practice time more helpful to improving your contest skills.

Fly a lot. This can never hurt.

Fly the same plane.

Donít bother getting ďthe bugĒ for the latest plane, radio, servos, whatever. If you are fairly new to contests, donít worry about it. If you fly the same plane a lot, you get to know that plane. You know what you can get away with, how to land, how fast it can go, how to launch, etc. Knowing (and I mean really knowing your plane) is a big advantage at a contest.

There are lots of pilots that change planes every 6 months or so. You donít have to be one of them. I believe your skills will improve faster flying the same old plane, rather than changing to a new one. Intermediate pilots sometimes tend begin changing planes, after they have attained some measure of skill. If you are observant, you will see some pilots with lots of money to spend, but maybe not the skills to go with it. Thatís ok. Thatís their choice. No problem with that. As a contest newby, I suggest you stick with one plane for quite a while.

Yeah, I know. Iím starting to sound like your mother. Boring.

Donít just fly around

Fly with a purpose. For example, what if you get in a big thermal and are skied out at 2 minutes into your flight. You can float around for 8 more minutes to a 10 minute task. (Actually, at a contest, I suggest doing exactly that). But for practice, try this. Put the spoilers out, or otherwise safely bring your plane back down to launch height. Now, make yourself go find more lift and see if you can climb out again. The mental work of finding lift, coring it, and climbing out are the real skills you want to build.

Did you see that?

Maybe youíve found a thermal and are twice launch height. Did you just feel the wind shift? Or maybe you noticed a tree in your area start blowing around, while none others are doing so. Assume there is lift caused by this event, fly over there, and see if you can find that thermal. Learn to notice changes around you while you are flying. Again, fly with a purpose. I often do exactly this. During play time on the weekends, I may notice a wind shift. I might even be in good lift. Sometimes, I will leave it and run across the field, just to see whatís there. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Of course, at the real contest, donít throw away any altitude. Keep the altitude (or weak lift) you have, and be bored. Let that clock keep tickingÖ


Guess what? On contest day, you get what you get. Wind, rain, clouds, sunshine, whatever. Sometimes, an afternoon shower pops up. The contest will be stopped for an hour. Guess what? They start right up after the rain stops. Have you ever tried to find lift after a local shower?

Go out and fly when you have the time. Even if the weather is not perfect. Maybe there is a complete cloud cover and overcast. Go fly anyway. Some days I have flown like this, there was plenty of lift to go around. On cloudy days, the lift is more subtle. Try it out and see how smooth you can fly under these conditions.

The biggest variable many of us see is the wind. Many people are afraid to fly in the wind. Try flying on a windy day. If the wind is gusty, Iíd say save your plane for another day. Gusty days can be dangerous landing. The plane can get slammed into the ground with no warning, when on landing approach. If itís not too gusty, go fly. Find out how your launch changes with the wind. How about the landings? A lot of folks land short in the wind. Try more landings. Learn to adjust your technique to compensate for the wind.

How about finding and staying in thermals in the wind. Thermals are harder to find, smaller, and they move with the wind. Imagine a thermal to be a slowly rising large balloon. It will drift with the wind. When you circle, let your plane drift with the wind. The best advice I can give, is to try to maintain a constant bank angle as you turn.

Donít be afraid to fly in the wind. If you never fly in the wind, donít count on winning a trophy if the wind happens to be blowing on contest days.

Flying style

Think about how you might adjust your flying style to different weather conditions. Things like land with more airspeed in the wind. Fly smooth, and with minimal control inputs in very light lift conditions.


In summary, put a purpose to your flying time. Your skills will improve.

Does all this practice sound like drudgery and work to you? That's ok. Maybe contests are not your idea of fun.
Sep 07, 2004, 09:29 AM
Registered User
nuevo's Avatar

You are correct. Going fast to get down is not the safest way to get down. A lot of bad things can happen to the plane by flying too fast.

I had my first plane at "tiny speck" height and did not know how to get it down. I was blessed by the appearance of a more experienced club member, who aided me.

My recommendation is to apply full up elevator, full rudder at the same time, and keep it there. With a mode-2 stick, this means putting the stick in the bottom left/right corner, and holding it there. The plane will enter a spiral and start coming down. It will look like a leaf spiralling downward. Try it out before you get too high. Because of the full-up elevator, the plane will not fly too fast. This is an excellent technique to bring an RES plane down.
As an aside, the above technique may not work too well on an aileron plane, with little or no dihedral. For an aileron/flap equiped plane, the safest way to bring a plane down is to first apply full flaps, then point the nose straight down. The plane will not overspeed with flaps deployed.
The other technique I recommend is fly to a completely different part of the sky. Get out of that lift. This has also happened to me before, as I was in a very large area of strong lift and the plane was getting smaller quickly.

If you have the skill, I have found a way to get my plane down is to fly inverted. I like to fly inverted, just for the fun of it, as more skill is required to maintain proper airspeed. One of my buddies can thermal that way. I find I just end up coming down.

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