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Bombing Out

A combination of tandem flying and flying sites with limited landing options has meant that pushing for even short XC flights hasn’t been much of an option for me recently. But over the last few weeks I’ve had a bit more of a chance to explore the skies, as well as being able to bomb out properly in a number of different ways!

I don’t hang my head if I land in some field just a kilometre or two from take-off. While initially disappointing, every bomb-out gives you the opportunity to learn and set yourself goals to improve your flying. In my book, it’s an essential part of improving your XC skills.

Here are a few examples…

Bomb out 1 – Panajachel, Guatemala
Trying to close a short out-and-return, I pushed along a ridge as far as I felt I could looking for the climb that would take me back. Not willing to get out of reach of a safe landing, I cut my losses and ran, but reached the landing with over 100m to lose before landing.

How to improve – Get really familiar with the glide on my wing. When going on glide, pick the spot you expect to reach – what height on the next ridge, which field can I get to? You can even do this on a soaring site – push out as far as you can while still being able to make it back. And if you’re wrong, so what? You land having gained a little bit more knowledge and experience to improve your flying. I also hadn’t factored in the lighter than usual wind (which was obvious in retrospect), which takes me on to the next bomb-out… 

Bomb out 2 and 3 – Roldanillo, Colombia
One day, I sat on take-off watching the day fail to improve then launched at the same time as many other pilots, fought briefly for weak lift in a disorganised gaggle then ran away from the melee, gradually scrabbling all the way to the ground. The next day, I launched earlier on the tandem, but landed exhausted after a hard-fought 15km only to watch the sky get better and better as I packed away my wing (an old shoulder injury limits me to about 90 minutes on the tandem at the moment).

How to improve – don’t rush off if the day looks like it’s going to get better. Likewise, if it’s not getting any better, get on with it! After each flight don’t ask yourself how far you got. Instead, ask yourself: “How could I have got more out of the day? Did I make the most of the conditions?” On both these days, I definitely didn’t, but by answering these questions I can learn to properly evaluate my level of fitness (mental and physical) on any given day – and therefore what I need to do to get the most out of it, as well as improving my judgement of the conditions, the impact of other pilots and a number of other factors.

Bomb out 4 – Bucaramanga, Colombia.
Going for a little triangle I set myself, I flew through a thermal, focusing on my next turnpoint. I had expected to get another thermal because there was usually one a bit further along the valley, but hadn’t really looked ahead to confirm things were working as usual. The thermal was a bit further away than usual, and with a bit of sink, I was on landing approach as I got there.

How to improve – don’t fly through lift unless you’ve got really good evidence you’ll get something else good! It sounds obvious, but this is a lesson the universe will keep teaching you until you really get it! Practice working out as many options for your next climb as you can while in a thermal and NEVER leave lift until you’ve made a decision on where you’re going. Learn to be more patient instead of rushing on!

I could go on. This is just a snippet of what bombing of has taught me! For every bomb-out, there’s something you can learn. In fact, that’s one of the main things it’s taught me and the reason I can enjoy it! It’s an opportunity – a chance to learn and improve and go further.

So next time you’re tending to those scratches from fighting through brambles out of your landing field, or drying your shoes after wading across that steam, or even facing the teasing of the pilots still sat on the hill as you get back, pat yourself on the back and smile! Because you’ve had an adventure, however small, an experience that they haven’t. And you’ve learnt from it! So next time, you’ll go further!

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