26 January 2017

Sad to be packing at 1000KM day, still.....

End of AU adventure - container ready for pickup.

Thank you to all pilots for letting us fly some amazing gliders.


25 January 2017

WGC2017 from my perspective

From my perspective , I can divide my flying experience at WGC into three stages or phases :

1. Practice - easy and fun flying .

2. From contest day 1 to contest day 3 - shock therapy

3. From contest day 4 to contest day 6 - trying to fit in .

 1.Practice :

We had 6 practice days from December 31 to January 7. The style of flying on those days was almost like on a regular XC day at SOSA, or some of the contest days at Canadian Nationals . We were setting up our own tasks or flying as set by organizers . Start time was flexible and in the biggest gaggle before the start we had not more then 10-12 gliders, and usually 4-5 on course. Even when the results were not too good , I could easily see my mistakes and ways to fix them, blaming most of it on being rusty after sitting on the ground for 4 months. This simple answer made me overconfident .

2. First half of the contest . 

But when the real contest started my confidence was gone from day 1 . I was shocked by the speed and aggressive style of flying by most of the pilots in my class . Before the start, gaggles were still more or less organized, and when we stopped climbing after reaching thermal top there were just a few pilots who were trying to cut through and get inside , closer to the core to gain extra few feet . It changed when we went on course . Cutting in front of the other glider in the thermal , trying to get a stronger climb , starting to turn in the new thermal just few seconds after leaving previous one, or changing direction and crossing in front of a glider going straight was becoming a normal style for many pilots . It takes time to get used to this way of flying, and in the first few days I was spending too much time trying to adjust my piloting skills, and was lacking in tactical thinking - I just didn't have time for it .My other weakness, which affected my results, was the speed of decision making - I was too slow . If you think that flying in the gaggle is simple - just climb with the fast guy and move along - you are wrong  Following this simple formula, you will end up on the bottom and lose the group at the end . A gaggle or group with 15-25 gliders is always evolving; it separates into a few independent groups , converges into one group again , all while moving forward. This pattern repeats very quickly. You are constantly facing choices of following different groups , climbing in different thermals, or moving from one group to another . To make those decisions on time during the flight can put you on the podium, and making them too late might put you on the field .

3.Second half of the contest

Understanding of the gaggle style of flying, and a way of dealing with all tactical and strategic problems, came to me a little bit too late and didn't leave me any time to work on the details . The weather gave us only three more days. Finally the fun part of flying came back . I started enjoying flying and even prestart gaggles didn't irritated me anymore - I realised this just a part of the game, and you have to have the patience to be part of it .I started to fit in and as a result my confidence come back together with the higher scores .

A final note of gratitude:

Our crew and team captain Joerg have done an amazing job helping us and supporting us in this event . I'm very grateful for the efforts from everyone within and without the gliding community that made participation in 2017 WGC possible - we couldn't have been there without you. And a big thank you to our Australian hosts for their hospitality toward all of us pilots and crew.

24 January 2017

WGC2017 - Reflections of a newb

I would like to express my gratitude for the overwhelming support of the gliding community in Canada. Your kind words of encouragement and support through out the competition were heartfelt and a big boost to morale.  I am very proud to have had the opportunity to represent Canada on the international stage.  Although frustrating at times it was a lot of fun to fly with and learn from the best competition pilots in the world. 

What follows is a bit long for my taste but there is a lot of data to digest.  These observations are made by someone with little experience so should be taken with a grain of salt and a big spoon of skepticism.

The pre-start gaggles have little to do with climb optimization.  Most of the time the lower guys in the gaggle climb faster than the guys at the top.  As the lower gliders catch up the gaggle compresses in the vertical axis and spreads out horizontally.  Near the top you are flying wide circles, low bank - high speed.  In the gaggle most of your concentration is spent on avoiding gliders you can see around you and not upsetting the system too much.  Guys who try to out climb the others generally don't succeed and cause others to react rapidly which causes more dangerous situations.  In the worst cases some gliders leave the gaggle because it isn't centered, hit the core on their way out and start turning in the opposite direction.  I have heard the gaggles described as "A knife fight in a phone booth", I don't think this description is far off.

The tactics for the most part seem to involve sitting on top of the gaggle until the guys below you get frustrated and leave on course; hopefully the guy leading the pack is one of the fast guys and if you can latch on he can drag you around so you get a high score.  If they aren't one of the fast guys they can still find you a climb or two as you use your height advantage to stay on top.  Because you left later than they did you have a speed advantage as well.  If they miss a thermal, this is not a big deal; you started higher so you have more range to find the better climb ahead.  One can choose to sacrifice a few minutes at the start and lead out, if the pack follows you just latch on and try to keep up with the group to get a good score.  If you are the adventurous type you can leave the group strike out on your own if an opportunity arises, this is a risk but if you succeed it can win the day.  If you leave too early you do not have the benefit of other gliders which is crucial on a blue day, if you leave too late you won't have the markers and you run the risk of not having enough time to finish the task.  The quote below is from Bruce Taylor's Facebook page, Bruce is a very experienced world level competition pilot:
"It is a sad measure of how this competition has been for me, that yesterday I made no real decisions of my own, and finished in third place! I just followed the pack, and for me, that is not a measure of skill. We need to do something about this. The answer is not simple, but many pilots I have spoken to feel very jaded about this problem."

Pair flying can be of great benefit provided it works, if it doesn't it will be a distraction and the pilots are better off flying individually.  As a member of a pair one has to be able to put away their ego and take pleasure in their partners success.  For some of the European teams this is easier to manage as they are funded and the pilots simply take orders from the coach.  As in any partnership being able to communicate effectively seems to be key to successful pair flying.  Sergei and I did try to team fly but communication was an issue.  Flying at this level is quite involved and having to tell your partner what you are doing or observing adds an extra layer of complexity.   Even if you succeed your partner may be busy and misses your transmission.  Personally I found it very difficult to express myself clearly, concisely and in a timely manner.  Quite often I would try to tell Sergei something only to find out he had already moved on and the information was obsolete.  On the occasions we were separated Sergei and I still tried to pass on information to each other.  It takes many contests to develop and synchronize a pair.  In North America this is nearly impossible as we do not allow pair flying.  Additionally Team Canada typically only sends one pilot per class as our IGC Country Ranking does not allow for a second pilot, so a pair does not have time to develop.

The team is essential to success.  Jerzy Szemplinski, Dave Springford, and Joerg Stieber have many years of world level experience which they shared with us;  I am grateful for their mentorship both in Benalla and over the past 10 years.  The team is not only the pilots and Captain, we were lucky to have a very dedicated and experienced crew with us.  Although crewing for other pilots Maria Szemplinska, Virginia Thompson, Jarek Twardowski and Marian Rakusan were always willing to land a hand.  2W crew, Marian Nowak, was instrumental in the smooth operation on the ground both before and after flying.

To improve one has to practice.  North American contests will make you a better pilot but do not prepare you for flying at this level.  Until recently the only chance we had to practice this kind of flying was at the WGC.  This is expensive, infrequent, and too late.  If we want to increase our world ranking the Pan-American championships are a good opportunity and we should do whatever we can to support Canadian pilots flying at these contests.  We should also look at developing a more structured coaching program.  As always all of this takes time and money, things most of us do not have in abundance.

I have been very fortunate to participate at the 34th FAI World Gliding Championships in Benalla, and will work hard to improve my results in the future.

Luke Szczepaniak - 2W
2W and MS after landing at WGC2017.  Photo by Maria Szemplinska

23 January 2017

2017 Worlds results and team flying

In virtual reality anybody could be called a winner no matter what points difference is there, its just a dream, while  in reality the winner is who got the most points.

German Team in 18m class didn't do team flying and still they placed on second and forth place.  Both pilots had their own strategies and it worked for both of them.

To be clear : there was never any discussion about the Canadian 18 m "team flying" before Worlds in Australia and  to claim that I was obligated to do team flying is misleading.

I informed Team Manager that I can share all information in the air like I did in Uvalde or other Worlds,  but without "team flying".  From my team flying experience for 6 years with multi time world champion I can say that  pilots not practicing for years team flying do not  have any chance for better results. It is known that each pilots has his own style of flying and successful teams are such, where  pilots have compatible style of flying  and  practice together. Best example of a  true team flying is German Open class team where both pilots fly together for years. 

There wasn't any practice team flying in 18meter class before Benalla and claiming that team flying will improve standing is misleading because error can be multiplied and

in effect to worsen result.

I admire Dave's excellent results on some days without any of my help or team flying attempts and this only proofs that  he is better off without me and team flying.

So any complaints that he could perform better with me has no merit and his line of thoughts is confusing at least. He had great results till he made some mistakes which all pilots do and this  had influence on his final scores and I have nothing to do with it. 

As per contest rules there is no such thing as virtual ties. There is no such class as "team class" and there are not " 2 pilots team scores" only individual pilots  scores.  The results are black and white, a pilot with cumulative  highest score after all valid contest days is the winner  by 1 point or 1000 points.

World titles were lost by small number of points difference and I never saw a Virtual World Champion because of it.

Results from Open class shows  exactly 13 points difference between World Champion and second pilot or "first loser" as we joke when we finish in  second place.

Picture shows Open class pilots with different medals each despite just 13 and 29 points difference as below.

1 E1 Russell Cheetham 6,562
2 EB Michael Sommer 6,549
3 80 Andrew Davis 6,520

In 10 points spread we can fit 10 pilots and only one will be the winner. 

Jerzy XG

22 January 2017

Final Thoughts - Dave

As I sit in the hotel room at the Sydney airport and get ready to head home, here are some final thoughts about the competition.

Although the weather for the 2017 WGC was not up to expectations for Australia the task setter, Tobi Geiger, did an outstanding job setting challenging tasks during the competition.  There were no easy days and nor should there have been given the calibre of pilots at the competition.

This competition, for me, was flown as an individual pilot as after the opening ceremony, our team captain informed me that the other 18 M pilot told him to tell me that he did not wish to team fly. 

I would like to provide a few statistics. We flew a total of 7 contest days. I had a very good start to the contest and was able to hold an overall position in the top 10 for the first 4 flying days.  I had 3 out of 7 days with a top 10 finish in the 18 M class with my best finish in 2nd on the first contest day only 23 seconds slower than the day winner on a 282 km racing task.  I had higher daily placings on 3 of the 7 contest days than the "highest placing North American pilot", I tied on 2 of the contest days and I placed lower on 2 of the 7 contest days than the "highest placing North American pilot".  At the end of 7 contest days, 13 points, or 0.213% separated me from the "highest placing North American pilot".  A virtual tie in the big picture. 

The competition featured a majority of racing (assigned) tasks in the 18 M class.  In the blue conditions we had most flying days this made tactical flying a critical skill.  One could not charge off into the blue and expect to do well on their own.  I found the thermals to have very small cores and while you could feel the bubbly air around the thermal, without the help of a few other gliders, accurately pinpointing the core and getting centered quickly was difficult.  At times you just couldn't find the core on your own.  One day, while flying several hundred meters to the left of another glider, I felt the energized air of a nearby thermal and moved left, striking a solid core and a 6.8 kt average climb for 2000 ft that put me on final glide.  The other glider missed it.  I beat him by 4 km/hr as a result of that one thermal that day and that made a 50 point difference in our scores, that day.  In this context, 13 points is a couple of seconds over the several thousand kilometers that were flown in 7 days.

What is this tactical flying that I mentioned above?  Flying alone at a WGC is discouraged by the scoring system.  Under the FAI scoring system, the points distribution is decided by the majority of the pilots.  If 1 pilot completes the task and all the other pilots land out then the 1 finisher will earn 1000 points and those who landout will earn about 900.  Since so many landed out, the lone finisher must have been lucky and is therefore awarded a lower point differential as the scoring equations focus on the majority of the group.  In the opposite situation if everyone completes the task and the 1 person lands 1 km short of the finish line his individual effort will earn him all of about 350 points compared to close to 1000 for the finishers.  It is very hard to gain points and very easy to lose points with this scoring system.

With this kind of scoring the tactics require that you be part of the majority.  To do this, you need to wait at the start gate until the majority have started and then start a few minutes later and catch up.  Since everyone knows this, no one wants to start and be the fodder at the front, so you wait, and you wait, and you wait until there is almost not enough time to complete the task before starting.

To avoid some of this, the task setter started setting longer tasks that would require everyone to start earlier or risk not getting home before the end of the day.  This helped a bit as it shortened the amount of start gate games, but it did not stop it.

You have probably seen the pictures of the huge gaggles that formed prior to the start.  This is a direct consequence of this tactic.  No one likes it, everyone complains about it, but nobody does anything about it.  There were discussions amongst pilots and I think many are getting tired of the game - hopefully, this will lead to some changes in the future.