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Dixon's Notes

8. Winter Flying

The low Winter sun angle in our Northern Hemisphere heats less surface area. Behind every bush, blade of grass, and tree is more shadow throughout more of a shorter day than during the Summer, so less heat is accumulating. Thermals may still exist even in the Winter when the pressure is low and the upper atmosphere is cold, so still do your "thermal index" modeling and don't ever get complacent. Expect the triggering of the thermals to generally occur later in the day than in the Summer and for a shorter duration and interval. Very late in the day look for thermals over the forest areas as they give up their accumulated heat. Just because you're freezing cold doesn't mean there aren't thermals, heat still wants to rise. Get yourself some long johns, a good windproof flight suit, a bali clava, and some warm gloves. The thermals generally won't rise very far and for very long, but it's a hoot to make the most of light conditions. Getting good at using nominal lifting air may very well become your favorite kind of flying. It's sure fun to work super light lift as a possible welcome change from the Summer time "events" of "hanging on" in "nuclear" air. Leave the vario behind and fly by the "seat of your pants". Keep horizon reference, even while making circles. Try and feel yourself being lifted, the sink and being pushed sideways through the air. Work on using every bit of bouyancy to maximize your stay in the air.

Winter flying might also bring your local area widespread regional wind flows that can be soared for hours with relative ease. Watch for a day when you have a stratus clouded sky and look at the winds aloft for a model of upper level wind flow that isn't too strong for your skills and aircraft. Be aware that a cloudy day that breaks into sunshine may develop thermals very quickly and be sure to account for this potential increase in your ever updated evaluation of your immediate atmosphere. It can take only a few minutes of direct heating for the air to get turbulent on an unstable day, even in the Winter. More advanced pilots that have solid active piloting skills will look for areas of direct sunshine and boat around those potentially "productive" spots looking for a "lift". This can be a great time of year for pilots to begin flying unfamiliar sites that have been unapproachable in the Summer.

Take advantage of the soft Winter conditions to make loads of flights. Sled rides are great, really! You can often fly all day in the Winter and make many flights and thus perfect your abilities on many levels. Try bringing up your glider in all sorts of conditions and make clean and straight launches. Actually make a mark on the ground and try to make your launch without running to the side. To "loaf" off launch as you stare up at your glider often causes failed launches. A key to your success is to keep moving with your eyes on the horizon so your glider has more airspeed and is consequentially more manageable.

Get those accurate landings down pat. Keep your eyes on your landing target with your knees as a reference point. If the target is getting higher on your horizon you'll need to straighten out your flight path and get a better glide with your hands at "trim". If your target is getting lower on your horizon, then you better do something to reduce your glide. Glide reduction to avoid over-flying a target can be accomplished by making "s" turns while holding about 1/3rd brake. Keep an eye on your target, as well as the traffic, while making the turns and you'll notice your slope angle changing and you'll be able to straighten out your path and make your target.