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Enjoy your first comp with Jakob Schrödel!

Our team pilot Jakob Schrödel took part in his first serious competition, the Pyhrn Priel Cup/Austrian championship and finished 2nd in the Sport category, flying the Volt 4. Here is his story, along with some tips for who might get into comp. Worth the reading!

Two weeks ago I participated in my first real flying competition. To be precise, I already did many hike & fly comps and twice I joined the “Newcomer Challenge” (which is a very nice event organized by the Austrian league to teach young pilots how to fly comps) – but this now was not a training but my first FAI Cat 2 (whatever that means) Comp – The Pyhrn Priel Cup which also happened to be the Austrian Championship. Two very good friends joined too so I was very happy to go there and fly with them- one of them already has some experience and he helped me a lot in preparing, answering my questions and reducing my all-round nervousness.

First day was an overcast day with some raindrops and we waited on the mountain till afternoon to fly a short task. I was amazed at how spot on the organizers managed to have the timing and distance right. First strong thermic bubbles came up a few minutes before the start and the day was finished not too soon after we landed. For me it turned out to be a perfect first day since I couldn’t fly as much as I wanted in the weeks before and felt insecure surrounded by all these CCC Wings in the gaggle anyways. In the evening I noticed how intense this kind of flying is. Though it was just a 2-hour flight and it felt like I was in the air all day.

We checked the weather report for day two and with this strong predicted north wind I wouldn’t plan to fly but the organizers were still hoping for a short early task before the wind would swipe through. It got quite rough before the start because of strong thermals mixed with the wind but I felt ok. Just before the start huge clouds were forming above us and I got a bit nervous as one pilot went down on a rescue. I flew out of the gaggle to be able to watch his landing so I could spiral down and help him in case it was necessary, but the landing looked soft and the terrain ok. I was asking myself if we would stop now or what would happen if a helicopter would come but everybody seemed to still be preparing for the race, so I got back up, but the thought of landing was on my mind.

The task started and people were flying like crazy close to and sometimes in clouds to the first turnpoint. I had to use the ears technique several times to stay in a safe margin away from them and chose the middle line between a group in front of the range and a smaller group all the way back close to the mountains. At the turnpoint, my speed dropped harshly, and I was stuck in a venturi losing altitude quickly. I just made a big mistake because I was focused on the race, not the terrain! So, I pushed full-bar and tried to get out of there but soon I was looking for landing options just to find out there were not many. With one meadow near a hut in sight I found the courage to push back to the next shoulder where things got better and I got back some calming altitude soaring up. Crazy how hardcore the others were flying, pushing in much lower than me keeping good hopes on their glide ratios so I lost sight of them.

Since I was alone in the back now, I decided to forget about the race but just fly slow and safe and try to finish the task if I felt comfortable with the conditions. To my surprise one hour later, although I had to wait for some rain to clear to get another turnpoint, I found myself feeling much more comfortable since I kind of understood the range and how it works with this wind. It was not an enjoyable, but a very challenging flight and it felt ok to be in this air. When I landed one and half hours later, I found out that the task was canceled when I was stuck in the venturi in the beginning. I was totally wasted and found out that I made myself a fool not noticing the cancellation, but one of the pros congratulated me on the flight which was very nice and boosted my spirits. Next day was a well needed and deserved rest day because of high winds.

The last day, the weather was perfect, and they set a 100km task flying to another valley and back. I was very motivated and absolutely in tune with my glider and keen to race fast. It was crazy how fast you can fly distance in the gaggle in good conditions! You can push the bar all the time and when you arrive at the next mountain the thermals are already mapped out and you are up and away in no time! So much fun! On the way back we were surprised by strong westerly winds in one area which flushed us down quickly. Just touching clouds and a few minutes later I found myself scratching trees in the lee to not land. I had already picked my landing site when I found some lift on a spire which I could soar up and join the thermal above. A real low safe. After that experience I switched gears to fly slower and make goal and not race myself into the ground. Also, I took some time to look around, my favorite mountain, the “Grimming” was in sight. I was happy landing after this task because the flying was so good, first half superfast in the gaggle, back it was more like regular XC-Flying – best of both worlds?

In the end I came in second overall in the sports category (up to EN-C) with my beloved Volt. The Volt 4 is a competitive glider in this class which had a big advantage for me in these challenging conditions because it is so easy to fly and safe if something goes wrong. Lex Robe took the much-deserved win; he is a very accomplished pilot winning X-Contest Worldwide and Comps before – to be honest I am sure he will fly faster than me on any airworthy garment out there- I tried to follow him on the last day but could only do so for a few minutes. It is great to experience this and see these pilots flying normal wings because then you really see their abilities!

Takeaways from my first comp experience:

– Learning curve is extremely high because you see a visualization of the air in front of you because of all the gliders

– And because there are many pilots much more experienced than you – they see so much more than me and I wonder If I will ever reach this level of anticipation

– I got puzzled many times by the decisions of the good pilots -> how could they know? Why did they choose this line? Why do they leave the thermal? If you find the answers you learn!

– People at comps have comp gear which is intimidating. It starts with the backpacks: They are carrying houses and you can feel strange when your hike & fly gear looks like their fanny pack- especially when you put it down next to theirs you feel you forgot something. It is getting worse when they start to open these huge bags…

– Be prepared to wait, also in flying conditions – this is part of the game and on the first days I was a bit annoyed why we are not flying already. But trust the organizers, they know much better than you when is the best time to take off and the comp is so much more intense that it will not matter at night!

– Try to be prepared: visit newcomer challenge or ask an experienced friend to make a training task with you – I think for me it would have been too much without this newcomer challenge experience- thanks Austrian league for that!

– One big drawback, at least for me: You are more focused on Instruments -> this fact contradicts one of the main reasons why I personally fly, I don’t want to look at screens but in comps you do this a lot…

– People at comps take more risks than normal, be prepared to watch out a lot and stay away from unsafe pilots. I saw lots of clouds flying and people losing control over their gliders…

– You will push bar much more than usually – my feet hurt from pushing bar this weekend

– The speed to cover distance in the gaggle is amazing, to be part of the swarm is a really cool experience, especially if you’re like me flying alone a lot

– The view of a mountain range in front of you with 80 Gliders in the picture is priceless, join a comp just for the glide to the first turnpoint (and bring a camera)!