Creating a safe and sustainable XC culture takes more than the Proving Grounds, but it helps.
Of course, Proving Grounds provides a easy to administer, stepwise development path for pilots interested in flying XC to identify the steps toward success and confidence – both for the pilot, and for the club, especially if at least the first few flights will be completed in club aircraft.
But what else might a club consider if they’ve struggled to create a culture supportive of developing the next generation of XC pilots?
Here are a few items we would encourage. No right answers, but things to consider. If you have additional key considerations, leave a comment with your thoughts!
1. Love the landout
Well, love might be a bit much, but at least tolerate, or accept it – do not condemn! Pilots who find themselves beyond final glide, struggling to get home, in a club that condemns the landout are at a much greater risk of developing a potentially fatal case “get-home-itis”. From a safety perspective, if your club doesn’t support making safe decisions on task, the risk is tremendous for your fleet and your people!
Work to develop good landout capacity culturally. When they happen, make the retrieve an adventure, introduce new pilots to the process. Ensure every pilot understands how critical it is to always keep an explicitly safe landing option within final glide/on course. For early XC pilots, this probably means another airstrip. If nothing else, review the ‘Glider Field Landings’ video below for some guidance on field selection if experience is scarce at your club.
Be ready to landout before you take off. We encourage pilots leaving final glide to have their vehicle hooked up to the glider trailer, the trailer ready to go, gas in the tank, and keys in the vehicle or stored centrally. You might have to explicitly identify a retrieve person, or rely on the culture at your club to allocate a body for your retrieve, expecting you to return the favour in the future. Having everything ready for a retrieve back at the club is a vaccination against “get-home-itis”, one less burden to put on your friends. On the back of the Proving Grounds task sheet is a landout checklist to help with field selection – memorize it, or reference it on task to identify fields en route – don’t be surprised if you need to land, always know where you would land.
What happens after the landout? If your club has a positive safety culture, you might be accommodating to recording the landout as an incident. Yes, landouts are a part of the sport, but no, it’s not a normal process – and there is risk. The Cu Nim Gliding Club has maintained a weekly newsletter called ‘Turnpoints’ and members who landout in club aircraft are encouraged to share their experiences to normalize landing out, and to share some of the tremendous experience gained through landouts.
We can’t live long enough to make all of the mistakes ourselves. Speak openly, be humble, ask questions, share what worked, and more importantly what didn’t.
2. Flight Computers
A moving map or final glider computer can not only provide a flight trace which can be shared and/or analyzed, but is also be a confidence inspiring aide for novice XC pilots. Easily being able to identify the nearest airport, confirming your position above or below final glide, visualizing thermal strength through the boundary layer among other data points provide validation and confidence that what you’re doing is working, and that you are or are not reading the sky correctly.
It might be a rule that any club aircraft leaving final glide, must have a flight trace available to the club, ideally posted on OLC or Skylines as a rule. The club deserves the right to know if the pilot is making smart decisions with shared resources (legally and sensibly). With this common expectation you’ll be supporting the club’s performance on OLC, and won’t be singling out individuals who might have done something silly and aren’t proactive in sharing. If the expectation is that all XC flights in club equipment are posted, not posting requires clarification, where suspicion in a “post at discretion” context is destructive to a supportive, transparent and humble culture.
At the Proving Grounds, we’re big fans of XC Soar! The free Android app is a fully featured moving map and flight computer that can run on pretty much any Android device (or a variety of other devices). The Proving Grounds is powered by .cup task files to evaluate .igc file submissions, and we have created a number of guides to support easy setup of an XC Soar device weather that’s for the club, or for individual pilots.
Pilots or mentors should be careful to stress the importance of using a MacReady setting of greater than 1 to have confidence that the altitude they have is enough to get them home safe. This risk is mitigated with a safe arrival height, but the two go hand in hand for peace of mind for the pilot, and the club.
Start flying with a flight computer, increase the MacReady setting and test out some final glides. It’s hard to believe how far these birds fly, at least until you start driving them in (mostly) straight lines!
3. Proving Grounds
With a culture that accepts that safe and considered landouts are a part of the sport, pilots equipped with the tools to support navigation and safe transit from airport to airport, you are ready for some objectives.
The Proving Grounds systematically develops pilots from the novice, local aviator, to a reasonably capable XC pilot. It is a guided system that provides social validation and recognition for objectively small tasks, develops a soaring vocabulary and requires next to no administration from over burdened tenured members of the club.
The Proving Grounds is made up of 3 fixed tasks, the same tasks, every year. We suggest the first task be a rhombus around the airfield that pilots can complete laps of without ever getting more than 10-15km away from home. This creates a task of about 50km in length. A second task takes pilots over accommodating terrain, usually a triangle of approximately 100km – this will require a few climbs beyond final glide of the home airport, and the pilot will need to move their “local airport” to an en route airport. The final task should expand on the middle task so pilots are familiar with the terrain, landout options and other airports. At approximately 150km with 2km turnpoints, this isn’t an easy task for the novice pilot – completing this should be confidence inspiring for the member, and the club. The club’s newest XC pilot is born!
The fixed tasks build capacity and a common vocabulary which in time becomes ubiquitous among members – eager novice or formerly novice pilots, mentors who may use the tasks for training, mentoring or shepherding. While many flights celebrated after a day of flying are described merely as a list of small towns, the Proving Grounds tasks become racing circuits with known characteristics, and a leaderboard.
And there are the trophies! Since novice pilots so rarely have the opportunity to be celebrated, beautiful task boards accompany the system and strips of magnetic white board material to record flight details and rank in order of average speed. Novice pilots will celebrate achievement, top pilots might validate the platform and duke it out for top spot.
The enabling element of the whole system is the automatic scoring of successfully flown tasks. Pilots attach their .igc file from their flight to an email and send that to the club’s custom configured ‘bot’. The trace is automatically evaluated against the tasks and a result is emailed back to the requesting email address in :30 seconds (or less). If the task is successful, the details in the email provide the information required to complete the magnetic slip and rank the flight – no waiting, no SeeYou, just results.
In a club that at least tolerates, but maybe values the landout, pilots equipped with tools to support safe decisions and provide navigational support, and a stepwise platform that requires little to no member time to support, the foundation is laid for a safe, systematic, and supportive XC culture to grow.
We believe that personal growth in this sport is the key to it’s survival. When growth becomes part of the culture, we will thrive.
The type of person attracted to soaring is undaunted by a challenge. Soaring XC provides limitless opportunities to grow, learn and experience this spectacular technical challenge, emerged in the most beautiful landscapes, doing what most people can’t imagine is possible. When this kind of person reaches an impasse to their development and growth, there is typically one of two responses – frustration or surrender.
One is bad for culture, the other is bad for viability – both can be managed with a considered strategy to support the best of the sport – the challenge and relative ease of flying XC tasks.
Fly deliberately. Fly tasks.