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Dixon's Notes

9. Practicing Skills

Remind yourself prior to every flight that you want to work on skills that may be weak. "Big ears", "speed bar", flying one handed and getting in and out of your seat are skills that all "novice" pilots should be very comfortable performing. More "advanced" pilots that have completed training in wing-overs, spirals, symmetric folds, asymmetric folds and b-line stalls should consider practicing these skills when conditions and altitude allow. By working on your weak skills in soft atmospheric conditions you'll be able to perform them more easily when you're under duress in a stressful situation. If you've forgotten how to do these skills, or lack confidence, then be sure and seek supervision from a qualified instructor before flying in strong conditions. Having only done "big ears" or b-line stalls a couple of times a year ago while at a clinic isn't good enough. Take advantage of altitude and smooth conditions and give every skill at least 30 tries over the course of a number of flights. These skills are a very real part of being a competent pilot and you shouldn't be flying in anything but simple conditions without them. We've seen novice pilots who aren't comfortable doing big ears or using their speed bars launch in very dynamic air - this is not appropriate. Dynamic air should be flown by more advanced pilots - and real advanced pilots should be proficient in the use of b-line stalls, spirals, wing overs and pilot induced symmetric and asymmetric folds.

An initial skill that's a must for a novice pilot is flying one handed. Letting go of your brakes to get into your seat, find the speed bar rope or to take a photo is very risky and should be avoided with determination. Flying one handed allows the pilot some surge and roll control if the atmosphere suddenly gets thrilling - this is VERY important. Have your instructor show you on a simulator how to bring your control toggles, aka the "brakes", together in front of your face on the inside of the risers. Don't reach around the outside of your risers as your arms will be restricted in movement. If you have taken a wrap on the brake line you should let it go prior to putting both brakes in one hand. Put the brakes in your dominate hand, or in the hand that's on the side of your reserve handle. If you have a front mounted reserve then either hand can hold both brake toggles. The reason for using your reserve throwing hand for steering one handed is to avoid an accidental reserve deployment if reaching down to your seat bottom to help pull your seat board under your legs. Flying one handed feels strange at first as you need to actually pull your hand opposite of the direction you wish to turn. Practice making turns while flying one handed and doing gentle porposing (pitch control).

Now that you feel comfortable flying one handed you'll want to practice getting in and out of your seat - (seems dumb, but letting go of your brakes or grabbing your risers with both hands to get in or out of your seat might lead to an uncontrolled pitch and thus possibly an asymmetric fold while near the ground - read ACCIDENT). Side note - many of the full protection harnesses, which we can't recommend enough, make getting into an upright position a little tough, you MUST get out of your seat when getting near the ground and be in an upright PLF position so you can land with your feet. Landing on your "bum" is statistically ridiculous!!! Even though your harness has protection you can still land hard enough to compress a vertebrae.

You'll also want to practice finding your speed bar under the front edge of your seat so that you can quickly get it in place without hesitation. Some pilots fly with a speed stirrup which can really help with getting in the seat and for finding the speed bar, but you still want to feel comfortable flying one handed.

Now that you're in your seat you should take a "wrap" on the brake line. All of the gliders we've seen from the factory have had brake lines that were adjusted to allow for kiting/launching considerations - thus a little long, which is just fine, don't shorten your brakes. By taking a wrap you're giving yourself additional "feel" of the glider and the ability to make more commanding surge control inputs when needed. When you advance to dynamic air you will find yourself using the full extension of your arms to dampen pitch oscillations, might as well get used to this skill early on in your development.

The next article will cover more skill development suggestions.