Cross country flying – a state of mind

Jenni landing out after her first XC
Your first XC doesn’t have to be epic – just cut the apron strongs and go on a glide! This is a very happy Jenni looking back the 8km to take-off after her first ever XC

When we’re talking about XC flying, we find the mental stuff often gets the better of people and that people share the same questions and fears.

This summer we ran an introduction to XC course in Annecy for a small group of pilots who wanted to do their first XCs and learn enough so they could go on to progress on their own after the course. We talked a lot about the mental side of XC flying. This is every bit as important as the practical flying skills if you want to fly XC.

Here are some of the common issues and a few of the tactics we use when we’re flying XC that might help…

1) What if there’s nowhere to land?

Why would you put yourself somewhere with nowhere to land? XC isn’t just about joining up ridges and thermals, it’s also about flying from one landing field to another. When we’re flying, we’re always looking at landing options and making sure we’ve got a selection of friendly-looking fields in easy reach. Never leave one landing field behind until you’ve got another one within reach!

2) What if I bomb out?

Get used to it – you will bomb out!

There are lots of ways indications for whether you’ll make a glide – other pilots, you instruments, estimating the angle with your feet, etc. But you’ve got to put it to the test in the end and risk being wrong.

If you never bomb out, you’re probably not pushing yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail – you will make mistakes and you WILL bomb out. That’s one of the ways you learn (and often where the real adventure begins!).

3) Sometimes I get scared in the air…

Everyone does! Fear can be healthy – firstly work out if it’s rational or irrational. Having something to take your mind off it will help when irrational fear strikes. Chewing gum, singing songs, thinking about your shopping list, having something to eat or drink all help.

As I turn in a beautiful thermal, I see another glider heading over to join me
As I turn in a beautiful thermal, I see another glider heading over to join me

4) I don’t know where to go!

Pimp off others! Other pilots give you some of the biggest clues about what the air’s doing. If you’re not using them to maximise your climb, glide and distance, you’re missing out. BUT don’t follow them until you know they’re going somewhere good (not to work or to pick their kids up from school)!

5) It wasn’t really working over there…

Pilots often lose patience if they have to wait a while for the next thermal or when banging their heads against an inversion. They give up and wander off even if they don’t have anywhere better in mind and end up bombing out. They are often rewarded by getting to watch the other pilots they were scratching with then climb up and carry on while they’re packing their wing!

Be patient and don’t give up! Sometime’s it just takes perseverance to hang on until the next thermal cycle or fight your way through an inversion. As long as you’ve got a safe landing in glide, keep fighting!

6) I get tired and distracted after a while

Don’t forget the creature comforts. Have food and water easily available and go for a wee before you launch. Get your harness set up nicely and get familiar with your instruments in a stress free environment. Being uncomfortable in the air is distracting and will have you thinking too much about your landing field.

Happy pilots in goal after a challenging sunset task!
Happy pilots in goal after a challenging sunset task!

7) I started going for the next ridge, but changed my mind…

Make a decision and stick with it! Don’t just bimble around – you’ll either never leave the ridge or just keep changing your mind until you find yourself on the ground. Use all the information available, choose a (safe) route and follow it through. Then you can ask yourself: “Was it the right decision?” You’ll never know and learn if you keep changing your mind.

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