Flying cross country (XC) is a fantastic way to explore the word. However, it does mean you’ll need to develop both technical skills (in terms of thermalling effectively) and non technical skills (having the right mental state to leave the hill and fly unknown territory). The SEW club is committed to helping pilots develop their XC skills and here’s a few tips.
Initial XC ventures
Qualifications – to fly XC the BHPA advise that as a minimum you should be Club Pilot (CP) rated and within a coaching environment at the club. Most people who regularly fly XC are pilot rated and the club fully supports CPs making the transition to pilot rating as soon as possible. Contact us via Telegram if you want to get your pilot rating signed off (BHPA pilot tasks are here www.bhpa.co.uk/pdf/pilot_tasks.pdf).
The British Club Challenge (BCC) is a competition aimed at helping CP pilots make a transition to XC flying (to get involved contact us at the club and see www.flybcc.co.uk). Don’t feel that you don’t have the necessary skills to fly XC yet – we have all been through the learning process and the BCC is a good environment to meet similarly like minded people who are also learning, and also learn from some experienced pilots.
Post in the SEW planning group to find other XC minded pilots and make some XC plans.
Flying XC is very different to ridge soaring and here are a few of the skills that you need to develop in particular:
- Thermalling – this will mean flying in turbulence and becoming competent at active piloting. You can practice thermalling on a ridge and soon you’ll find yourself naturally drifting over the back of a hill in a thermal.
- Understanding airspace – Wales is a great place to learn XC as there is less airspace than in England. When you first start going XC find out where the airspace starts immediately downwind (XC planner is useful for this – see resources below). As you progress you’ll probably want to invest in an electronic moving map showing you where the airspace is.
- Make active piloting automatic – this is necessary so that you don’t have to think about flying your wing and will have the head space to think about the weather and XC flying. You might actually find you fly XC better on a lower rated wing as you’re mentally more relaxed . You’ll consequently fly better and further. It is often better to get 100% out of your glider’s performance and be less mentally tired than flying at 70% and being mentally exhausted about keeping your wing open. For a number of reasons starting XC flying on an EN A or B wing is a good option.
Non Technical Skills
You’ll need the right mental approach to be able to fly XC. Here’s a few principles.
- Think positive – push away any negative thoughts. Avoid the ground suck crew, get flying as soon as possible on every day and enjoy the bumpy thermals.
- Never give up until you are on the ground – you never know if you’re going to get a low save.
- Never worry about going over the back of the hill in the UK – you’ll always, always get back somehow. If you can get rid of this mental barrier you’ll soon be away. Carry on drifting with the thermal as it leaves the hill and soon you’ll find yourself a few thousand feet above terrain you never knew existed. If you can get rid of any commitments you’ve got that day you’ll have fewer things to worry about.
- Talk to others and join a group of like minded XC flyers – if you fly in a group you’ll go far. The best pilots work together (not alone) – this means going to the hill with others with a plan of flying together.
- Fly for time, not for distance – just concentrate on staying in the air for as long as possible.
- Don’t try and keep up with the hot ships! If you’re on a lower rated wing you’ll just end up speed barring yourself into the ground to keep up. Fly at your own pace but try and stay with people going at the same pace as yourself.
- Choose the best site for flying XC – not the most convenient site for you! This might mean driving to England and going flat land flying (where it is easier to fly XC).
Getting back is half the fun and just as much adventure as the flight itself. It can take longer to get back after a 10 km XC than a 100 km flight and sooner or later you’ll find public transport won’t get you all the way back and you need to hitch. Here’s some tips.
- Pick the right spot – make sure it’s easy for passing cars to pull in.
- Give drivers time to think – so try and find a spot where cars can see you well in advance.
- Stand to make yourself visible.
- Look smart.
- Get eye contact and smile – this will mean removing your sun glasses.
- Stick your thumb out and be visible.
- Put a retrieve sign on your bag – if you look professional you’ll be more successful.
- Show an interest in anyone who has picked you up and strike up an interesting conversation – you’ll be surprised to find how many people will drive you a little bit further and go out of their way if they’re enjoying the chat.
- If you can’t go all the way back, then pick a spot which will be easy for you to continue your journey (this might mean being dropped off at a train/bus station or a motorway junction).
No special equipment is required to fly XC just your usual flying kit. As you progress you’ll gradually accumulate some of the following kit:
- Modern GPS varios usually have thermal assistants, can display both the wind direction and your ground speed and can really help flying XC. They can also create an igc track log which can be uploaded to the XCL or Leonardo (free . KML files can be loaded into google earth).
- Mapping – electronic moving maps with a GPS make navigating air space a lot easier than reading a map from the air. Common mapping kit includes: XC Soar and LK8000 which are free programs which can be loaded onto Android phones or Kobo’s (e-ink devices), FlySkyHy (iPhone only), Oudie 4 vario’s.
- VHF Radio – you’ll want it unlocked so that you can transmit on the commonly used frequencies (143.700 to 143.950). Cheap Chinese imports made by Baofeng (e.g. UV-5R) do the job and are pre-unlocked.
- Compass – useful for flying out of a cloud if you accidentally get sucked into the white room.
- Tracking device – livetrack24 can be downloaded for free onto android phones or comes as part of FlySkyHy. Alternatively dedicated satellite tracking (like Spot trackers and Garmin inReach) can be set up on livetrack24 and XC retrieve too and may work better in parts of Wales where mobile phone signal can be poor.
- Water supply – not required when you first start but as flights get longer you’ll probably want to invest in a camel Bak / Platypus.
- Some toilet roll – for when you land very far away from a toilet.
- Retrieve sign – may help with getting a hitch back.
XC planner (xcplanner.appspot.com/) useful to plan flights. You can visually display airspace and also view all the common XC routes if you turn on the “Skyways” in the thermals box.
Notam info (notaminfo.com/) – a free resource to check out Notams and work our where you shouldn’t fly.
XC League (www.xcleague.com/xc/) – entry into the SEW club league is free, and you could win a prize! You only need to be CP rated to enter it.
Leonardo (http://www.paraglidingforum.com/leonardo/tracks/world/alltimes/) – a free global flight database where you can upload your flights to view them later.
XC Retrieve (https://xcrt.aero) – great for seeing where everyone else is flying XC and very helpful in getting a lift back. On a good day you’ll see hundreds of pilots flying the familiar routes. You only need a phone or suitable vario to get your pin showing up on it (although other live trackers like Spots and Garmin InReach also work). Further information here https://flyaszent.wordpress.com/xc-retrieve/
Tracker is an Android app http://mycloudbase.com/tracker and can be used to send an SMS regularly to your mates or if you are lucky enough to have a driver and it also links to Livetrack24. It also allows you to email you tracklog igc file (useful for sending flight details to a competion scorer).
Doarama – fun for playing back 3D images of your flights later.
Hilltop Analytics – see where everyone else has been flying XC in the UK. Visualise the best 50 or 100 km hills.
Bing maps (https://www.bing.com/maps) – you can get free online OS maps, satellite images and terrain profiles here.
GPS dump (http://www.gpsdump.no/) – a free program for downloading tracks and uploading way points to your vario. It can also be used for converting file formats.
50K or bust (Nigel Page) – a great beginners book on starting XC. www.50k-or-bust.com
Thermal Flying (Burkhard Martens) – the bible for XC flying and understanding thermic weather.
50 Ways to Fly Better (Bruce Goldsmith) – excellent for improving your flying skills.
Mastering Paragliding (Kelly Farina) – very useful for progressing your XC flying skills.